Invisible Illness: The Truth, Myths and How to Support Those Suffering from It
It is estimated that 3-26 million Americans are living with an invisible illness. An invisible illness is a chronic health condition that does not have outward symptoms, making it difficult or impossible for others to know you are sick. Invisible illnesses can be debilitating and life-altering as you slowly lose your abilities or suffer through constant pain. This blog post will detail the many different types of invisible illnesses, myths surrounding these conditions, and how to help those suffering in your community.
What Exactly is an Invisible Illness?
An invisible illness, also known as an invisible disability, is a chronic health condition without outward symptoms. In other words, you cannot see any physical signs of the illness on the person suffering from it. Many invisible illnesses are autoimmune diseases, meaning the immune system overreacts to regular stimuli, causing damage to your body's cells. Other types of invisible illness include mental disorders such as depression or schizophrenia, neurological problems like Parkinson's Disease, or respiratory diseases like asthma.
One of the most common types of invisible illness is chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this condition affects about 2.5 million Americans, causing a debilitating lack of energy, making it difficult to complete daily tasks. Chronic fatigue syndrome also comes with memory issues, sleeping difficulties, pain in muscles or joints, headaches, tender lymph nodes, and post-exertion malaise. Many people also experience a flu-like illness at the beginning of their chronic fatigue syndrome, making it difficult to differentiate between a virus and a lasting condition.
People with invisible illnesses often face stigma from others who do not understand what they are going through or simply cannot see how sick they are on the inside. As a result, many people with invisible illnesses develop anxiety and depression over their condition or withdraw from society altogether.
The Most Common Myths About Invisible Illness
The following are some of the most common myths surrounding people who live with invisible illnesses:
It's Not Real: One of the biggest myths about invisible illnesses is that they are not real or serious conditions. Many people simply do not understand what it means to live with a chronic illness and think these patients should just suck it up and get on with their lives, even though there may be nothing more they want than to feel better.
It is a Choice: In addition to invalidating their conditions, many people also suggest that invisible illness sufferers choose this life for themselves. This myth is particularly harmful because it tells patients they have control over how sick they want to be and implies that your lifestyle choices are what made you ill in the first place.
It's All in Your Head: Some people believe that invisible illness is a psychological condition, not a physical one. This myth can make it difficult for patients to receive the treatment they need since some doctors may refuse to treat them if they do not think there is anything wrong with their bodies. Another variation on this theme is that invisible illness is the patient's way of getting attention.
They Seek Drugs: Some people also believe that invisible illness sufferers are just looking for pain killers or drugs to numb themselves against their disorders. They do not understand that many of these patients go through the painful process of seeing multiple doctors and trying out various medications before finding one that works if they ever find a treatment at all.
This is Just How Life Is: Many people believe that invisible illness is just a part of modern life and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. They think this way because they have never had to deal with an ongoing condition themselves, so they simply cannot understand the daily struggles that patients go through.
They Aren't Trying: Finally, some individuals accuse those who live with chronic illness of not trying hard enough and simply giving up on life. They believe that those who have invisible illnesses are just looking for attention or excuses for why they cannot do something, even though it is often their chronic conditions themselves that prevent them from doing things most people take for granted.
How Can You Help Someone with an Invisible Illness?
If you or someone close to you has been living with a chronic condition, it's essential to know how best to help them. The following are some helpful tips on caring for your loved ones:
Be Honest: Many of the problems surrounding invisible illness come from society's unwillingness to talk about the topic. This is wrong because it can contribute to patients' distress and further their feelings of isolation. While the patient may not want to talk about their illness at first, they would appreciate it later when you demonstrate that you are willing and able to be open with them.
Be Patient: Caring for someone who lives with a chronic condition can also take up a lot of time and energy, especially if they cannot always care for themselves or fulfill their daily responsibilities on their own. You must be patient and understand their limitations without being angry or frustrated because you cannot change the situation, even if it is frustrating.
Listen: Lastly, one of the best ways to help someone who lives with an invisible illness is by simply listening to them when they need a friend. It can be difficult living with a chronic condition, and the sufferer often must deal with a lot of emotional stress in addition to their physical symptoms. A supportive listener willing to stick by them through thick or thin can make all the difference for an invisible illness patient.
To conclude, you must never forget that invisible illness sufferers are not trying to make excuses or gain attention. Instead, they require understanding and compassion from those around them as well as the patience needed for living with chronic conditions daily. It is also necessary for society as a whole to stop accusing patients of faking their symptoms, exaggerating their illnesses, or simply looking for attention. Instead, we all must learn to be more aware and empathetic of those living with chronic conditions, allowing them to feel less alone in their struggles and finally begin getting the support they need and deserve from society.