I have visible illnesses (eczema, sometimes my allergies, sometimes my asthma) where I have symptoms that are obvious to anyone and people don’t really question my sickness. I also have invisible illnesses, like Celiac Disease and food allergies. Unless I’m having an anaphylactic reaction, my food allergies are not obvious by looking at me. Many of the symptoms of Celiac Disease are not visible at all and people can only judge based on what I tell them.
This is somewhat related to the difference between signs and symptoms. Symptoms are subjective and self-reported (fatigue, headache, pain). Signs are observable by people or doctors (though it can include things that regular people cannot see, such as blood pressure).
A lot of people with visible illness wish their illness were invisible. I can relate to this feeling about eczema because people wouldn’t stare at me or make rude comments about my appearance.
A lot of people with invisible illness wish their illness were visible. I can relate to this feeling about my food allergies because people wouldn’t do things like try to sneak nuts into my food to see what happens.
But no matter if an illness is visible or invisible, they are more alike than not. People who are suffering from invisible and visible illnesses are more alike than they are different.
- People make rude comments whether you are obviously sick (“oh my gosh, what happened to your skin?” “Are you okay?!”) or look perfectly fine (“Celiac Disease is no big deal!”)
- People disbelieve how sick you really are. Visible: “Well, that must suck, but surely she can still do X,Y,Z.” Invisible: “Her allergic reactions can’t be that bad! I’m sure she’s just exaggerating.”
- People are annoyed or made uncomfortable by you. Whether your sickness is visible or invisible, there is always the sense that you’re a burden.
- There is a feeling of isolation. If you’re obviously sick, you don’t necessarily feel comfortable going out in public. If you’re not visibly sick, you feel like you’re the only one of your friends and family that has to deal with this…
- There is the overall sense of feeling that people just don’t get it. They don’t understand what you’re going through, they can’t empathize, and it’s frustrating.
These are things that invisible and visible illnesses have in common. In my experience, the only big difference is that when you’re visibly sick, people stare at you. And when you’re invisibly sick, people don’t look twice at you because you look “normal.” For myself, I would pick an invisible illness over a visible one, any day. For me, it makes it much easier to keep calm, carry on and feel relatively normal.
Anything you would add?