Okay, so it seems like there’s a day, week or month for everything lately, but that’s what raising awareness is all about, having these times to make a push for change.
Last year, there was Invisible Illness Week and this year it’s Invisible Disabilities, which may cause some eye brows to raise. For many, myself included, they may think their condition is more an illness than a disability, albeit one that can be disabling in everyday life. So this is an all-encompassing week for anyone dealing with hidden illness and disability, mental and physical, whatever it may be and whatever its impact on your life.
What Are Invisible Illnesses / Disabilities?
I started this blog with the intention of covering invisible illness, be that raising awareness, providing a little support where possible, or sharing my own experiences. Invisible illness and disability are all unique experiences to that individual, so one cannot really compare to another, just as how we each deal with our challenges will all be unique.
There are numerous unseen illnesses and disabilities. A few examples include :
Migraine / Fibromyalgia / Stomas / Connective Tissue Disease / MS / Diabetes / CF / Sleep Disorders / Digestive Conditions such as constipation, Crohn’s or Colitis / Autoimmune Disorders such as Pernicious Anaemia / Thyroid disorder (ie. hypothyroidism & hyperthyroidism) / Chronic pain disorders / Dysautonomia / POTS / Lupus / Cancer / Chronic Fatigue / Depression, eating disorders, anxiety & other mental illness / Sjogren’s Syndrome / Intolerances & Allergies / Lyme Disease / Arthritis
… And the list goes on …
Oftentimes people will have more than one issue to contend with, and they can come with their own array of symptoms and difficulties in diagnosis, treatment and impact on life. The effects can range from the big things to the very minutiae in daily life.
Why Raise Awareness?
I think it’s important to raise awareness of issues that can’t be seen because the ramifications are extensive for such conditions. Diagnosis can be incredibly challenging, social stigma painful, it can affect work and relationships and every inch of our lives, and as a sufferer we can feel a host of emotions from guilt to embarrassment. While things are changing, there’s still a lack of knowledge and understanding of many conditions, and the unfailing assumption that looking ‘fine’ means you couldn’t possibly be sick. They’re hidden struggles and the person fighting the battles often gets adept at putting on a face to the outside world and keeping going.
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What I Want People To Know
> To those with invisible disabilities/illnesses : You’re not alone. The illness may be invisible, but you are not, so be your own advocate for your own health and wellbeing. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t, and hold onto hope for brighter days. Don’t feel guilty for smiling, and never forget that you are more than your illness.
> To society : A person with an illness or disability is still a person deserving of respect and happiness. Don’t rush to judgement just because they may not look ‘sick’, that doesn’t mean they don’t need that disabled toilet or that disabled parking space. A little compassion and empathy can go a long way.
> To friends & family : Don’t give up on those with illness because cancelled plans don’t mean they don’t care. They are warriors to get through each day and are dealing with far more than meets the eye.
> To medical professionals : Please have an open mind and look beyond a medical textbook. We are not seeing you because we like going to the doctor or hospital, we’re there because we’re struggling. You are in a position of responsibility and authority, please use that wisely and go beyond numbers on tests to see the bigger picture. Please listen to the patient and respect what they’re telling you.
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There’s an increase in mental health awareness, physical illness and disability awareness, and appreciation for conditions that cannot be easily ‘seen’. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. A lot of ignorance to reverse, a lot of judgements and stereotypes to challenge.
Invisible and/or chronic illness or disability can take a lot from you. Take back some control. Don’t shy away. Be yourself, be proud, appreciate what you do have. Listen to your body and do what you need to do to make sure you are okay. Don’t apologise for who you are or the condition(s) you have.
You are stronger than you think. So live fiercely.
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