Invisible Illness: Helping or Hurting The Health of Others?

What exactly is an invisible illness? What constitutes an illness that is visible? This has been something that has made no sense, at least in my opinion. There are actually a limited amount of illnesses that you can see.

If you think about it, you can’t actually see cancer. You can possibly see the side effects of treatment or physical symptoms, but the illness itself is not visible to the layperson. So, why are people so judgmental about others getting social security disability or a handicap parking placard?

Then, we all say things like “I have an invisible illness,” or “just because you can’t see my pain doesn’t mean it’s not real,”. I’m guilty of it as well. When we do that, we are also implying that those with physical conditions and side effects that are visible are experiencing some sort of negative effect from the illness or condition which may not be the case.

For example, someone who has been blind their whole lives and has learned ways to navigate, get around and communicate may not necessarily be in any way feeling physically ill.

Think about a person who has been deaf since birth. They can’t hear so does that automatically mean they’re in some discomfort? No. Being deaf or blind doesn’t necessarily mean it’s visible unless the tools and ways to navigate through their lives are in plain sight.

I understand what we mean when we say we have an invisible illness but what I am not understanding is why we have to defend our illness or condition when there are more invisible conditions than there are visible.

Personally, I’m not going to take off my shoes and socks, roll up my pants, take off my gloves and jacket just so I can show someone how my feet are turning purplish blue or the bruises on my legs from anemia. Even those are side effects of conditions but they are not seen in plain site, which I feel is one of the many problems leading to disability discrimination.

There is this sense of sadness and sympathy when some people see others in wheelchairs, walkers, amputees and so forth. But why? Who is to say they are suffering? I’m not saying people shouldn’t have feelings but there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. You may feel sympathetic and feel bad for another’s circumstances, but it’s a lot harder to imagine how another is feeling by attempting to see yourself in the other’s situation.

Using the term invisible illness seems to be used as a defense when people are judging them or saying they’re not sick. Let’s say a person has a traumatic brain injury and as a result, suffers from cognitive impairments. Are you able to see it? Most likely not because the head may be healed and consequences are lifelong.

No one is going to be able to see your inflammation or your nonalcoholic fatty liver. No one is going to know your pain or understand it unless they’ve experienced it. Just like no one is going to know how exhausted and drained the person going through chemo is unless they have experienced it.

I believe using the term “invisible illness” to describe conditions such as autoimmune diseases, mental illness, etc. is discriminatory as it groups those suffering from a disability into “invisible illness” and “visible illness”. Don’t get me wrong, I have used this term to describe my conditions and have called my conditions invisible, but I’m not so sure I believe in that term anymore.

No one condition or illness discriminates. They are all inclusive and age does not really matter. While some illnesses suggest common age groups, races, ethnicities and so forth, they are not set in stone.

I would also like to emphasize that you NEVER have to defend your condition or illness. You owe no explanation for why you use a cane at 35 years old or use a handicap placard at 20 years old. It truly is none of their business. I am open-minded and will always consider and appreciate the opinions of others.

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Written by Brittney Lindstrom

I am a mental health counselor and certified rehabilitation counselor. I am currently in my doctorate program for organizational leadership and behavior. I have been writing for over 7 years now.

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This is my second time of hearing about invisible illness. I think we really owe no one any explanation about anything

Margaret Zhang

I believe most time we have to share our feelings and experience with others, it doesn’t mean we owe them ay explanation but it’s only in sharing that we can find solutions

Voat Spy

The problem ia not telling someone but being judgemental is always the issue

I wonder what you tell strangers about me

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