Invisible Illness

Not only does migraine bring a wide variety of debilitating symptoms that can wreak havoc throughout one’s entire body, it comes with the frustrations of having a highly stigmatized illness that is invisible to those around us. Despite the fact that people with migraine (and sometimes those closest to us) can see the physical changes wrought by an attack — dark circles under the eyes, drooping posture, slack jaw, to name a few — most people think we look perfectly normal, if not a little tired. I believe the lack of obvious physical changes (or a cane or wheelchair) is one of the reasons migraine is so stigmatized. If someone doesn’t look sick, it can be hard for others to believe that they feel less than 100%.

Think about all the social, work, and interpersonal struggles you’ve endured because of migraine. Now consider that it is only one of numerous invisible illnesses. About 96% of all illnesses are invisible, according to the folks behind National Invisible Awareness Week. When I see that statistic, I have to wonder if that guy at the grocery store was just a jerk or if he was in such massive pain that he couldn’t engage in polite conversation. Or if that former coworker was the reclusive snob that gossips said she was, or if she was so sick that she expended all her energy getting through the day. Heck, I’m sure I’ve been written off as mean or stuck-up or rude for those very same reasons.

The difficulties of invisible illness are so immense that there’s a week each year dedicated to raising awareness about its unique struggles. Happening this week, National Invisible Awareness Week produces a plethora of resources every year, including seminars (which you can watch live or on YouTube after they happen) and blog posts and articles for people with invisible illness. Topics cover the gamut, from tips for finding balance to coping with identity loss to parenting with illness to managing friendships and romantic relationships. They even have resources for helping healthy people support a loved one who has an invisible illness. Be sure to check out their website — I’m willing to bet you’ll find at least one tremendously useful tidbit.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” is a quotation that pops up on social media from time to time. It’s true for everyone, but it seems particularly fitting for invisible chronic illness. You truly never know what anyone else is going through.

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