#InvisibleIllness VS #VisibleIllness. How REAL is real ENOUGH? #chronicpain #mentalhealth

A few weeks ago on social media, someone I know was discussing a moment which truly knocked them for six; a moment where ignorance became arrogance and invisible illnesses meant having to prove yourself to people. The a few of the comments which appeared underneath their post made me feel sick and a bit upset, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what they felt like at the time. Ever since that FB post, I have become even more determined to fight for the right to remove the stigma attached to invisible illnesses; starting right here, right now.

Let’s start with the basics.

If you were to look at a person walking down the street, would you be able to tell if they had an invisible illness or not? No…
Why not?

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Notice a difference (apart from the gender, smart alecs)? No, because to an outsider, or even our friends and family, we look absolutely hunky dory. However, this is where it gets interesting. People WITH invisible illnesses are anything BUT hunky dory, believe me, I should know. According to PapWorth Trust website, there are about 11.9 MILLION disabled people in the U.K. Now that figure covers both invisible AND visible illnesses, however, the website also states that 38% of those 11.9 million people are disabled due to breathing issues and/or fatigue, with mental health coming in at a mere 16%. I know what you’re thinking; ‘how is fatigue a disability?’ or ‘why is mental health a disability?’. Whilst those are actually okay questions to ask if you genuinely do not know the answer, they are also bloomin’ ignorant questions too.

& I will tell you why…

The definition of invisible illnesses, according to Wikipedia is: ‘Invisible disabilities are chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living’.
To what extent day-to-day activities impair a person, all depends on their make up AND what illness(es) they are having to battle with. Invisible illnesses come in a range of different sizes, such as: fibromyalgia, crohns disease, coeliac disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (aka join hypermobility syndrome), IBS, lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and many, many more. Mental health is also one of the many illnesses that remain ‘hidden’. However, the term ‘mental illness’ covers a HUGE range of illnesses/disabilities such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety, personality disorder, ADHD, AND even anorexia and bulimia.

Fatigue is classed as a disabling condition due to the fact it isn’t just TIREDNESS, nor will an early night or a rest just simply fix it. Chronic fatigue is when your body is absolutely exhausted, you may even fall asleep anywhere and everywhere and then wake up feeling as if you haven’t slept for weeks. The slightest thing will make the person even more exhausted. So, to a regular, healthy person, when they get tired they do get an early night, manage to sleep and wake up full of the joys of spring. For sufferers of fatigue, we want to sleep but more often than not, we can’t or sleeping doesn’t even do what its supposed to do. Therefore, seeing as fatigue/overtiredness will lower our reactions, hardly safe to go back to the day job of being Bob the Builder now is it?

As for mental health and why that is a disability, I actually cannot believe people are still immune to mental health as a topic. Imagine feeling trapped inside your own body, scared of your own thoughts and your own actions, without the ability to rationalise anything. Sounds scary doesn’t it? It’s debilitating for sufferers as their minds are controlling every single thing within them, and has binned the hope, good memories and warmth to oneself; replacing them with thoughts that they don’t even recognise. How on earth can you tell someone to ‘snap out of it’ when you have absolutely NO idea what their minds are doing to them? & yes, anorexia IS classed as a mental illness, even though people do assume that an anorexic CHOOSES not to eat, or that a bulimic CHOOSES to purge. No, no, no, NO. They don’t just wake up one morning and go ‘I know what I’ll do today, starve myself/make myself sick as I’m bored’; the reality is a lot different and much scarier. Sufferers of those two illnesses lose the control over how food, and their bodies, are viewed, meaning the one thing they have control over is whether that substance enters or leaves the body in a way that THEY choose.

In 1995, when I was five years old, I started to get bullied. At first it was name calling, or asking if they could do a dot to dot on my face as I have freckles. But, before long, it became a lot worse. The name calling turned to ‘omg fatty’ and ‘people can hear you before they see you as you’re rocking the ground’. Bear in mind I was FIVE, I wasn’t fat but even if I was, I was FIVE. The vile name calling continued to ages and it even branched out into physical attacks, however, my problem was about to get even worse than that. Food became a poison, and if I did eat a little, I automatically thought I would end up looking like the Michelin man, even after eating a cracker. Did I choose to feel that way? No, I didn’t. At school I had to get watched by the dinner ladies to ensure that my food was eaten before I left the dining hall, and not thrown in the bin; I managed to get round that though and put the food in the bin. At home was a similar situation, except I was dropping food on the floor or drinking water/fizzy drinks before and with my meal, to fill me up. By the time I was 11 years old, I was ‘rocking’ the scales at 4.5 stone with rehydration sachets becoming my new ‘bestie’. Well, in theory anyway. I hated the way I looked. I hated the way food left me. Yes, I was a mess as eating became too much and too upsetting, I was scared of it. Unfortunately, the bullying days continued until the age of 13 when we moved away and my home circumstances changed; my eating was minimal but at least I was eating. When I became 18, a massive 13 years after it all began, I was able to look at food in a different way, but I still had no idea what hunger felt like. I’m 27 now, and to be honest, I still don’t truly know what hunger feels like as, despite people’s thoughts, the actions of an eating disorder may diminish, but some sufferers truly cannot recover from the illnesses, mentally. It stays there, in the back of your mind, waiting to attack again; it still hinders me now.

All what I have mentioned so far is 100% real, yet to the eye they’re invisible. But are they? Really? The illnesses themselves may be invisible, nobody will go ‘oh I can see your diabetes!’, yet they might go ‘you’re shaking!, as more often than not, the symptoms are what’s visible. However, to make it even more confusing, those illnesses could have over 600 symptoms to it. Take hypothyroidism for example (underactive thyroid). You won’t say that you can see a problem with a thyroid itself, hell, not many know where it actually is! You may notice how a hypothyroidism sufferer may be lacking in colour, dull eyes, hair loss, fainting, to name a few. But then again, folk are way, way too quick to judge and more often than not, come out with ‘ah your hair will grow back’. Erm, maybe so, your point is? ALLLLLLLL of the invisible illnesses are only really invisible if the sufferer chooses not to divulge them and/or pretend they are in fact ‘hunky dory’, to save judgement, OR they’re only invisible as people CHOOSE not to see them as there isn’t ‘any evidence’.

Bryony Gordon wrote in her latest book, Mad Girl, about chest infections and how because its seen/heard, people are more likely to tell you to go and fix it. However, all the stuff that is hidden people do not take seriously, meaning we then have to prove ourselves. At the beginning of this post I mentioned a FB post and the disgusting comments, I have had the permission to name that person with a bit more information. Angela Clarke, author of Watch Me, has her own health limitations and got made to feel guilty for using the disabled/easy accessible toilet and having to PROVE herself ‘worthy’ to use it, with a disability card. The comment on the post AGREED with said person who required proof as we could be lying.

Come again? If we wanted to lie about something we would choose things WAY more beneficial to lie about, instead of being in pain 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Totally lie worthy! Why SHOULD we have to prove ourselves? Just because YOU cannot see it or you CHOOSE not to believe it, doesn’t make us liars or our illnesses any less real. We already feel failures, shame, embarrassment of what our lives have become, without ignoramuses judging our every move.

We are only touching the surface with this post and I will be back another day, with another post because I NEED to support my chronic illnesses sufferers and campaign to rid the stigma.

Why? Because my name is Kaisha and I have to live with hypothyroidism, carpal tunnel syndrome (with chronic muscle wastage), fibromyalgia, joint hypermobility syndrome, IBS, anxiety AND depression, every single day. Tell me, are my illnesses REAL ENOUGH yet?

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34 thoughts on “#InvisibleIllness VS #VisibleIllness. How REAL is real ENOUGH? #chronicpain #mentalhealth

  1. Good for you for drawing attention to this. I am beyond counting how many people tell me I’m just a young thing nothing wrong with me other than I’m lazy or similar things. It is hard to bite my tongue and not ask them if my over 20 tablets a day are just placebos. Mental health & chronic pain are real and effect all ages. Too many people don’t understand unseen illnesses and are too quick to judge x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally nailed this Kaisha. Two days ago I was sat in the office of the mental health charity I volunteer at working. Today I had workers coming to me, my husband back in carer mode, meds being added and changed because my bipolar took a turn for the worst and they are trying to keep me out of hospital. This is why it’s a disability because long term functioning is nearly impossible with these illnesses, and on the outside nobody has a clue, I’m still smiling and chatting to people. The only people who know are the one’s I’ve told! Like you I want to talk about it and share the reality, but I find it sad that we have to.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Such a strong and powerful post, thank you so much for writing so openly about this, this is exactly what we need! I see you, and I recognize those illnesses. And I need to spread the word. Thank you for this step xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Passionate post, Keisha, and I’m completely with you. Invisible illnesses and invisible disabilities can bring extra misery because people find them hard to assess and react to. Therefore those assessments and reactions are sometimes not what we’d hope for. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease last year but prior to that, I had a series of health problems that seemed unconnected and never really got to the bottom of. I had to take a few periods of time off work and although they were really supportive in that respect, I did begin to feel like they maybe thought I was exaggerating the illness because I would be asked to come back to work sooner and because I didn’t have a medical term for what I was going through. Once I was diagnosed however and found out that some of the things I had been through were classed as unusual symptoms, it was as if it was validated for other people, so I’m really glad you put this up because it’ll be good for people who don’t have a diagnosis to see that it’s ok to feel that way and that it’s not always just all in your head (which is what I was starting to believe) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hats off to you for this post. People can often be remarkably quick to judge invisible illnesses, and that includes friends and family. Everyone who writes about the realities of living with such conditions helps raise awareness about the additional difficulties people with invisible illnesses face – slowly educating and creating change. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for this post, Kaisha. You are being incredibly brave.
    I completely agree with everything you’ve written and can only add that I think it’s even worse if you haven’t got a diagnosis as you start to doubt yourself even more and have less arguments to prove (how I hate that we have to do that) that you aren’t well.
    I suffer from invisible illnesses myself, among them depression and hypothyroidism. My mum has so many invisible illnesses that she can’t leave the house most days and is constantly made to feel lazy even from family members. My sister has diabetes. My best friend suffers from MS, chronic fatigue, depression, personality disorders and bulimia.
    I’m nearly 23 and every day is a struggle. The first time I had to stay in a psychiatry I was only 8 years old. I have to fight my depression every day, but every year there are some months that I feel so bad that I missed several months of school. I finally got my higher education entrance qualification in autumn last year. Only two weeks later my dad told me to get a full-time job now as it would help our family finances. I started crying immediately and ran out of the room, as already a new bout of depression had started and I wasn’t able to work.
    My dream is to study medicine. I hope I’ll be able to start studying for the entry exam soon, as I’m not giving up my dream, however long it takes me to get there.
    My best friend is 28 and studying psychology, although she hasn’t been able to go to uni for more than a year now. Last year she was verbally attacked on public transport after not giving up her seat for an old lady. During that time, her MS was so bad that she didn’t have feeling in her legs and could therefore barely stand. She nearly stared crying, but didn’t want to show how upset she was.
    I could go on and on, there is so much to say about the struggles with invisible illnesses and the ignorance of other people. What I think is really bad though is that not even all doctors get what it means to live with invisible illnesses. An example: A therapist saying that you had no reason to be worried about the future more than a healthy person as no one knows what the future holds. And that to a friend with a deteriorating illness who knows for sure that her health will only be declining.
    Thank you so much again for being so brave. I can only say that I’m not.

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  8. Firstly, I love your stick figures. Secondly, people are silly. We know the truth and if they can’t believe what we are going through or judge us hardly then are they really the kind of people we need in our life?

    Like

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  12. This post is absolutely amazing!! I actually struggle with both physical and mental health issues. All invisible. I have a Connective Tissue Autoimmune Disease, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder. It has been so difficult for me to come to terms with it in a society that tells us we have to look and act like everything is great. The number of lies I have told just by responding with “I’m doing good”. Yet when we tell the truth we’re attention seekers? Hello I HATE attention it causes me.. you know.. anxiety. Anyways thank you for this post and your honesty. There is obviously people out there who need to hear this!!!

    Like

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