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Living with an Invisible Illness

What is an invisible illness?

An invisible illness also referred to as an invisible disability, is an illness that is not immediately obvious to the eye as they are not as visible as physical disabilities. There are many different types of invisible disabilities which include but are not limited to:

"Allergies and food intolerances, arthritis, cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression and mental illness, diabetes, digestive orders, migraine and headache sufferers, heart conditions, lupus, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, Sjogren's Syndrome."

There are different ways in which those with a disability that is not so obvious prefer to self-identify as. The term 'invisible' can be interpreted as demeaning as it dismisses the validity of a disability whilst making those with the disability feel disregarded; the term 'non-visible' is preferred over 'hidden' as this implies that the person is purposely hiding their disability and 'less visible' does not include those whose disability is non-visible. There are some non-visible conditions that are visible or obvious sometimes and are recognised by those who understand the condition but are still not visible to others.

Impacts of an invisible illness

The impacts of living with an invisible disability vary from person to person as it can have a huge effect on someone or be very little but it is different for every individual. For some people with a non-visible disability, it can be harder to access what they need. It is not just people with visible disabilities that have access problems such as wheelchairs and the elderly, but many with a non-visible conditions also struggle which is not talked about often enough. People with mobility issues will find it harder to use stairs and not every building has accommodated to this, deaf people experience communication problems over the phone and in everyday life as a great deal of people are not educated in the deaf community, and those with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis) cannot always access a public toilet and have to plan their trips around the availability of toilets. These are just only a few examples of the access problems faced by those with a non-visible disability that continue to make their lives difficult.

There is a Spoon Theory which is a story created by Christine Miserandino to describe to her friend what it is like to live with a chronic illness which is also a non-visible disability. The spoons in the theory represent units of energy which is limited for those with a chronic illness and can be affected by many factors including pain, fatigue, and stress.

"Miserandino took away a spoon for every single task: showering, getting dressed with painful joints, standing on a train. Skipping lunch would cost a spoon too. When the spoons were gone, it meant there was barely any energy to do anything else."

Completing simple tasks like washing the dishes or making dinner can drain a lot of energy for someone with a chronic illness but it is a non-visible disability so not a lot of people understand just how difficult it can be to live with this type of illness.

Raising awareness

There are many people in today's society that do not realise or recognise the struggles and difficulties that are faced by those with a non-visible disability which needs to be changed. More awareness needs to be raised and spread as far as it can so that non-visible disabilities are acknowledged and seen in a new light; this can be accomplished through social media to advertise campaigns, post videos and images relating to a relevant topic, increasing support in understanding throughout the education system so that children are aware of the non-visible disability community at a younger age, and the workplace need to become more accommodating to provide better access to those who need it.

Supporting charities can also help raise awareness a great deal whether that is through volunteering or donations to help contribute to the funding of charities as any amount makes a large difference to the lives of people living with a non-visible disability. Some of the charities that individuals can support include:


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