Student Writer | Chris Keane
Any form of disability or long-term condition is debilitating, draining and difficult to navigate. Studies show that approximately 13.9 million people in the UK are disabled. Why does this number seem surprisingly high? Because a vast number of these disabilities are classed as invisible, with no visible signs for the naked eye to pick up on.
Invisible illnesses are problematic and draining for a number of reasons. However, there is one aspect of invisible illness that trumps all others – the notion of looking ‘fine’. It is unbelievably difficult and painful to explain your condition to somebody, only for them to reply “well, you look fine?” These 4 simple words have a hurtful undertone:
You look fine.
You don’t look unwell.
Why should I believe you?
Justify to me why you are not well.
You’re making this up.
To say invisible illnesses are physically demanding is an understatement. However, having to justify your illness or condition to those who do not understand can be equally draining. And this is not fair – nobody should have to justify something like ill health. Unfortunately, it is something that people have to do every day. You have to plead for disability benefit. You have to convince your boss you are genuinely unwell and cannot come in to work. You have to make your friends believe that you are not ‘boring’ for staying in your room, due to a flare-up of symptoms.
For those with invisible illnesses, it can feel like nobody understands what you are going through – and to a certain extent, this is true. Nobody can feel entirely what you are feeling when you are admitted to hospital in an emergency. However, this doesn’t mean you need to keep your illness to yourself. Firstly, find others with a similar diagnosis. Speaking about your experiences to people who have been in similar situations removes the feelings of isolation and solitude; you will realise that you are not alone at all. Secondly, when you are ready, confide in those who are close to you. Your friends, your family, your partner – as hard as it is to accept, if they truly want to be in your life, they will be there for you no matter what.
There is one final word that should be associated with invisible illnesses – resilience. Never underestimate your ability to overcome a situation; you put in an incredible amount of work in every day, simply to stay healthy. I am truly of the belief that if you can learn to navigate an invisible illness, there is nothing that can stop you.
Be open with others, be gentle on yourself when needed and accept your inner resilience – it is pretty impressive when you acknowledge it.