Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • lara
    6 years ago

    Thanks for this article.

    I also think that some migraineurs have gotten used to hiding their disability/condition due to the stigma AND to protect their interests whether it be employment or relationships.

    If you’ve ever lost of a job or had someone end a relationship because “you were just too much work” or because “you were faking it” then you’ve probably gone to great lengths to hide signs and symptoms. Which, of course, makes it that much harder to convince people your condition is real when a debilitating migraine does hit.

  • Janet
    6 years ago

    I made the mistake of hiding the migraines so well my husband gets furious when I say my head is really hurting so bad….I need my meds and bed for the night. He says you didn’t tell me how bad it was…my reply was “you were tired of hearing about them”…very long story short he knows they’re chronic…they’re everyday…just to what degree…it’s still a challenge because he still believes up and around and walking maybe not talking means it can’t possibly be that bad….WRONG!

    Of I wanted my extended family to tolerate me I have to pretend…this I’m invisible, not them. At least I am 1600 air miles away.


  • slhart
    6 years ago

    Thanks for posting this article. I suffer with daily chronic migraines and I know that I might have appeared to be a stuck up snob at some point to someone. Honestly it takes so much effort for me to get out and about that I rarely pay attention to others. I do give others the benefit of doubt when they are not as pleasant as I feel they should be. You can’t go wrong with being kind!

  • Poll