So how do I define invisible illness; I could say it’s an illness or disability that is hidden or not apparent, but that doesn’t even begin to define what some of these illnesses really are, or how they impact the many millions that live with them everyday. You see, some people with sight or hearing disabilities may not wear glasses or hearing aids, BUT they are invisibly disabled. Someone that may have to sit day in, day out because they have chronic back or joint problems sitting, can be categorised as having a invisible impairment. Invisible disability/ illness creates so many challenges for the people that live with them. There are so many more examples that I could give to define a invisible disability. The reality of invisible illness or disability, is that they can be so difficult for others to recognise or acknowledge. This makes it difficult to understand the cause of the problem or problems, because they can’t see evidence of it in a visible way. So these invisible conditions have been captured under an umbrella term that captures the whole spectrum of hidden disabilities, known as ‘invisible illnesses’. Having so many illnesses and conditions under the one umbrella, means it is so hard to decipher and diagnose what is actually happening to a person that presents with unseen symptoms.
People with invisible illnesses can find it difficult to make others understand how their symptoms of such things as extreme fatigue, dizziness, pain, can be so debilitating. This misunderstanding, will in many cases be met with hostility, judgement and stigma by the bigger community and world.
People living with invisible illnesses and chronic pain are often accused of faking or imagining their disabilities. These symptoms are real, they can occur due to bouts of chronic illness, chronic pain, injury, birth disorders, they can even just come out of the blue and most importantly are not always obvious to the onlooker.
Many millions of people around the world, have a medical condition which could be considered a type of invisible illness or disability. Let me explain it this way, there are many that have a chronic medical condition of one kind or another, some of these people are not considered to be disabled, as their medical conditions do not impair their normal everyday activities. These people do not use an assistive device and most look and act healthy. So I’ve explained one side of illness invisibility, this is the other side, the side that causes and increases what can be debilitating physical or mental impairment that can lessen one or more major life activity.
It saddens me that when somebody sees a person in a wheelchair, wearing a hearing aid, or carrying a white cane, it tells us a person is impaired in some way. But for people living with invisible illness and/or disability living is a bit more difficult for many people in the world to acknowledge.
Invisible illness and disability can and do significantly impair normal activities of daily living.
Examples of Invisible illness Disability vary, here are just a few;
- Chronic Pain can be the cause from a variety of conditions. A few reasons for chronic pain may be because of back problems, bone disease, physical injuries, and many more reasons. Chronic pain may not be clear to people who do not understand the specific medical condition.
- Chronic Fatigue is a type of disability that refers to an individual who constantly feels tired. This can be extremely debilitating and affect every aspect of a persons every day life. It is totally invisible to the greater community.
- Mental Illness is a term for many illnesses of the mind. Examples are depression, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, bipolar and the list goes on. These illnesses can also be completely debilitating to the person suffering and can make performing everyday tasks extremely difficult, if not impossible.
- Chronic Dizziness is often associated with problems of the inner ear, chronic dizziness can lead to impairment when walking, driving, working, sleeping, and other common tasks.
I hope you are beginning to see that being invisibly ill, effects many areas of health which effects many areas of life. Many people living with a hidden physical or mental challenge are still able to be active in their hobbies, work and even be active in sports, but their are others that struggle just to get through their day and cannot work at all.
I want us all to be able to come together in understanding the true level of invisible illness and disability. Because, when we do we will truly begin to see awareness and support bringing better research and thus treatments.
I will finish today with a list of invisible illnesses that I’ve been creating to show the world just how wide the umbrella is…….but even I may have forgotten some. If I have, please let me know and I will add your illness/disability to the list;
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
Functional Neurological Disorder
Inflammatory bowel disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Repetitive stress injuries
Invisible illness and/or disability creates challenges for the people who have them. I’ve said it before and I will say it again and again, the reality of these conditions can be difficult for others to recognise or acknowledge. You may not even understand the cause of the problems, because you cannot see evidence of it in a visible way. So, I say to you – YES, YOU out there in the big wide world, if you can’t see something, how can you judge it! Let’s begin walking together supporting those that are impacted by the many forms of invisible illness. Let’s raise awareness and bring about more real life research so better information and treatments can be formulated to change the way we all see and relate to invisible illness and disability.
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Much love to you all