So you’ve been diagnosed with an invisible illness. Maybe you have Lupus, Crohn’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or any other serious illness that may go unnoticed by anyone that isn’t you. No matter what disease you have, there are always people that want to give you an opinion on what you are going through. These are the five types of people you can undoubtedly expect to encounter when navigating life with an invisible illness.
1. The person that is skeptical about your disease.
Having a chronic disease will sometimes lead to cancelled plans. As the person suffering from your illness, you know exactly how hard it can be to even get out of bed. Your friends and family may not. This can be extremely frustrating. People will make statements such as, “But you were fine yesterday! You even went to the gym!”, or even, “You don’t look sick.”
Do not put your body through anything it is not prepared for just to satisfy the skeptics. There will be people who cannot even begin to grasp the discomfort you are in, but the people worth spending time with are the ones who try their best to understand.
2. The person who scolds you for using disability services.
Seeing is believing. It didn’t take me long after being diagnosed to realize how many people live by this statement. I often hear people berate those who park in handicapped spots that do not appear to need the spot. The key word in that sentence is appear. If they cannot see that you are disabled it does not exist to them. So when they see someone who parks in handicapped spots that does not appear to be sick or elderly, they don’t rationalize that the person they are criticizing may need to be as close to the restroom as possible to ensure that they make it in time or that their arthritis will flare if they walk too far. People often need these concepts broken down for them, and even then, be prepared for them to still doubt the necessity of your accommodations, whatever they may be.
3. The person who assumes that you are feeling ill if you act even slightly different than normal.
Last year I went through a small flare up towards the end of the spring semester of my freshman year. Unfortunately, this led to me missing a few too many morning classes. Luckily, I had a very understanding History professor. One day I was supposed to attend her office hours after class to discuss my absences. Instead, I decided that I would rather go home and take a nap. Naturally, I ran into her on my way out. Before I could even begin to explain she said, “Are you going home? I understand, you looked putrid in class today!” I was relieved that I no longer had to make an excuse but somewhat confused as I was feeling better than usual, I was just simply bored. Once she knew that I had Crohn’s Disease she automatically dismissed any of my disinterest in class as a symptom.
You may read this story and interpret it as a blessing, and it definitely can be in some situations. The problem is when people constantly blame your disease for your attitude and therefore dismiss important feelings.
4. The person who knows nothing about your disease but thinks that they know how to cure you.
Undoubtedly, the most obnoxious type of person you will encounter is the self-proclaimed know it all that actually knows nothing about your disease. These are only a few of the delightful pieces of advice you will be given from complete strangers:
“Oh, you have Fibromyalgia? My sister’s boyfriend’s cousin has that! She started juicing and it put her into remission”
“Gluten causes so many problems, you should probably give it up, I think it’ll help get your Ulcerative Colitis under control.”
And my personally favorite: “How do you know you really even have a disease? Maybe this is a ploy from big pharma!”
While this can be extremely annoying, many of these people are simply trying to help make you feel better, try to remember this before you scream at them (which you will definitely feel like doing).
5. The people who know exactly what you are going through.
It’s easy to feel alone in your suffering. Especially when you rarely meet another person with the same disease. The thing to remember is that there are people that feel the exact same way as you do. Believe it or not, those cheesy support groups your doctor encourages you to join or talk to online can actually make all the difference. That is where you meet the people that understand. There are some that have been in your situation and excelled. It’s where you meet the person who is at the exact same point as you and will always be up for a venting session. Sometimes you even meet people that are worse off then you. This is where you meet the inspiring people, the ones who still show up to the fight day in and day out despite being in unimaginable physical and emotional pain. This is where you discover just how inspiring and strong you are, and use your experience to help other people find the inspiration that is so important when fighting an invisible illness.