Giving Invisible Illnesses, Visibility
Updated: Apr 9
In the age of social media, it can feel as if we know everything about everyone just by looking at their profiles. However, the reality people face away from their perfectly curated and organized feeds is that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Oftentimes, the people struggling the most are the ones you’d least expect.
One struggle that many people battle in their daily lives is that of invisible illnesses. These illnesses can range from depression and anxiety to debilitating autoimmune diseases, though you would never suspect them because the person doesn’t look sick (hence the term “invisible”).
In recent years, this term has gained popularity due to social media's emphasis on the importance of mental health. Luckily, we’re here to break down what exactly invisible illnesses are, what patients go through, and how to support those around you who may be suffering from them.
What are Invisible Illnesses?
Invisible illnesses can be defined as an “umbrella term for any medical condition that isn’t easily visible to others.” For example, it’s usually pretty easy to spot a cancer patient due to their symptoms like loss of hair and frail body parts, but someone suffering from an autonomic or autoimmune condition may appear extremely healthy when they are actually really sick. Their symptoms can range anywhere from dizziness and fatigue to joint pain and vision loss, which all happen internally.
Mental illnesses are among the most common invisible illnesses, since they do not always have a lot of seen physical symptoms. People with these illnesses may have panic attacks, changes in their moods, or even behave in ways that may be mistaken for being "lousy", such as forgetfulness. Other examples of these invisible illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and endometriosis. All of which you should research more into so you can either understand it yourself if you are going through it, or understand it for someone you know is going through it.
What is it Like to Live With an Invisible Illness?
People who experience invisible illnesses face criticism, judgment, and self-doubt almost every day because they are often told it's all in their head. This can lead them to develop even more hidden issues such as depression and anxiety, ultimately making their situation even worse than it already is. It is not uncommon for doctors to brush patients off or not take them seriously when they are describing their symptoms, because many invisible illnesses can be hard to diagnose.
As someone who has been diagnosed with several invisible illnesses, I can say that it is extremely frustrating when the people who are supposed to help you, ignore you or don’t fully listen to what you have to say. You begin to feel hopeless and wonder if you really are going crazy, which can lead to a fear of seeking help in the future.
Because of this, it’s important to openly communicate your concerns with your physician(s) and be your own advocate, because you know your body best and what’s normal or not. If you feel like your doctor(s) are starting to turn against you, ask more questions and demand further testing be done until you get answers. If all else fails, it may be time to find a new doctor.
How to Support Those Around You
If someone you know has been diagnosed with an invisible illness, one of the best things you can do is simply check up on them from time to time. Those who are struggling will typically suffer in silence due to them already feeling like a burden for being chronically ill, so a simple “how are you?” or “can I do anything to help you?” will go a long way.
In addition, it is important to be patient and understanding with them. If you are constantly making plans just for your friend or loved one to cancel at the last minute, most likely it isn’t because of you. They may not feel like themselves and their body may not even be able to produce the mental or physical energy to leave the house.
If you feel like they are pushing you away, don't take it personally and instead, reassure them that you understand the situation and that you're not upset with them. Lastly, make sure to give them plenty of space if they ask for it because people dealing with invisible illnesses are easily exhausted and value that alone time to relax and recharge.
Next time you find yourself envious of someone's seemingly perfect life according to their Instagram, remind yourself that it might not be as great as it seems. People only post the highlights of their life, so be careful with what you say and how you treat others because we are all silently facing battles behind closed doors.
To put it simply, be kind to one another. Comment below what invisible illness you've or someone you know has experienced and how you dealt with it.