The Mighty Logo

The Calculated Risk of Disclosing My Invisible Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Invisible illness isn’t invisible. It’s just easy to ignore if it’s not happening to you.

It’s in the little mechanisms we use to cope, like the compression gloves I wear when my rheumatoid arthritis flares make my hands ache and burn. The gloves are thin and grey and fingerless. I wear them frequently, but I’m still guaranteed to receive comments when I do.

“Oh! I need to get some of those! This office is freezing!”

“Nice gloves! You should get sparkly ones like Michael Jackson used to wear.”

“Are you cold? I thought it was pretty warm in here today myself.”

It’s in our absences, physical and mental.

“I heard you were out sick. I hope you’re feeling better.”

“You should take a day off. I’m sure you’ll improve after some rest.”

It’s in grimaces and gritted teeth, in glistening eyes and lips pressed tight. It’s in the faltered step, the stumble on flat ground. It’s in the lost thought, hidden in the brain fog.

“You’re as tired as I am! I had such a rough night.”

So many assumptions. So many missed clues. So many split-second decisions to make on how to respond.

Do I just smile and nod? Do I offer quick explanations, partial truths?

“No, I’m not cold. I wear the gloves for arthritis.”

“I wasn’t sick, exactly. I just couldn’t make it to the office.”

“No, I don’t feel better. But thanks for asking.”

When and to whom do I reveal the full story? What will it cost me to share my pain?

“Have you thought about alternative medicine or yoga?”

“Wow, my troubles must seem so small to you. I shouldn’t complain to you anymore.”

“I thought this would be too much for you. I asked someone else to do it.”

What does it cost me to hide it?

“I’d never have known something was wrong if you hadn’t told me.”

“How can I help?”

“I’m going through the same thing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Originally published: July 3, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home