There are people in wheelchairs, bound to beds, who walk with limps. It is very clear to society that these individuals have a disability of some sort. At some point in time or currently, a chronic illness physically impacted them – their battle is visible. Many of you will have empathy for them, holding the door open, getting up from seat on public transport, offering them support of some kind whether you are genuine or not. Others among you may pity them, which is never okay, feeling their lives are somehow void of something because they are not functioning in the same way that you are. Some of you don’t see them – this could be intentional because you feel guilty for having been “blessed” with all of your physical strength. Some of you don’t give them a second thought and couldn’t care less.
Then there are us, those with invisible illnesses whose impediments aren’t obvious, well hidden, purposely or not. We sometimes struggle from day to day with our Lupus, Psoriasis, Depression, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hypermobility, Anxiety – those are just the ones I suffer from. There’s ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Brain Injuries, Coeliac Disease, Crohn’s, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Fructose Malabsorption, Hyperhidrosis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Lyme Disease, Chronic Migraines, Scleroderma, Ulcerative Colitis – this is not even an exhaustive list. But more than anything we struggle to express to others what our needs are, what our impediments are, what our restrictions are. Many of these disorders and disabilities and have symptoms that are not easily interpreted by those around them. And in a society that is taught to take everything at face value, it leaves those going through active bouts of disease at a loss. Often accused of hypochondria or asked to just get on with it, the chronically and invisibly ill sometimes push themselves to persevere. After all, there’s always someone who has it worse, right?
There are times when I have neglected a social obligation or didn’t answer the phone because I felt unwell. After which, I felt worse. Why? Because guilt visited me and reminded me (or lied) about how inadequate I was and told me to compare myself to those who were fighting fit. But guilt isn’t the only being reminding you of this…. your family are condescendingly talking to you about how blessed you are, your friends are rolling their eyes that you are sick yet again. So you retreat to the familiarity and judgement-free zone of your space – your home, your couch, your art, your writing. You find it difficult to relate to people because your retreat has turned into a sabbatical where you only see doctors and those who don’t make you feel bad.
What society doesn’t realise is that invisible illnesses can cripple with emotional and physical pain and many will suffer in silence to make you feel comfortable. But what will you do to ease the burden of the sufferer?
My honorary little sister has Muscular Dystrophy and has weathered many a storm. Instead of sitting silently at the back of the class, she launched a clothing line, that acknowledges and celebrates her disability and the illnesses of others. It’s where I got this cute shirt I am wearing below along with my Fenty Beauty Stunna lip paint (compliments the shirt perfectly!).
If there is someone in your life with a visible or invisible illness, don’t avoid the topic of their challenges. Ask them questions. Ask them how they are feeling. If you are offending them. If you can help them. How you can help. Take some time to find out about what ails them. I am sure this bit of compassion would be appreciated, never pity.
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