“You Look Fine To Me!”
What is it like to live with an invisible illness?
It’s different from living with something that
everyone around you can plainly see.
If you break your leg and you’ve got a cast on,
that is at least a clue that you might be in some
pain, that your life is probably very different
than it used to be before the broken leg, and
that you might appreciate some sensitivity.
An “invisible illness” is a disorder…
a medical condition or a mental health
disorder…that is not obvious to others.
Examples of invisible illnesses include
Chronic pain, Chronic fatigue syndrome,
Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Interstitial Cystitis,
Crohn’s disease, Rheumatoid arthritis,
Depression, and other mental health issues.
On a bad day, a person’s symptoms might be
noticeable, but on a good day, no one would
ever know the person suffers from a disorder
they have to manage every single day.
Although different illnesses may have different
symptoms, almost all invisible illnesses include
the symptoms of pain, fatigue, problems with
sleep and appetite, sensory sensitivity, and
feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
In addition, most people with an invisible illness
have suffered from it for months to years before
being correctly diagnosed, due to others under-
estimating how sick they are and because the
person with the illness also thinks since they
“look okay” on the outside, they must be
exaggerating how bad they feel on the inside.
Why Don’t They Show It?
People with invisible illnesses often paste a
smile on their faces when they leave their homes,
so others won’t know they are in severe pain or
depressed or have only gotten 3 hours of sleep.
They have learned over time that when people
ask “How are you?”, they don’t really want to
know the answer if it isn’t “Fine!”
They may also be afraid of losing their jobs
and becoming a burden to friends and family.
They just put forth the best face they can.
How Can You Help?
No matter how many “bad days” you’ve had, if
you have never been diagnosed with severe
depression or chronic pain, you have no idea
what it is like to try to function everyday with it.
Save any advice or opinions you have, and
instead, ask if there is anything you can do to
help…and then ask again, and again, and again.
It’s the only way the person with the invisible
illness will begin to believe you really do mean it.
Then listen, and follow through.
It takes a village to remain functional when your
body or your mind decides to check out on you.
Try to be a helpful neighbor, not the village idiot.
What To Do If You Have One
If you are managing an invisible illness, the
first thing you need to do is learn everything
you can about your illness and join a support
group (online or in your community), so you
will know you are not alone in this experience.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to figure
out how to manage pain or depression…others
have been where you are and found ways out.
One of the best online sites to check out is
this one: But You Don’t Look Sick.com.
You can manage an invisible illness with help.
You are not invisible, even if your suffering
You deserve all the help that’s out there!