The Ministry of Lisa Copen

Lisa Copen, Founder of Rest Ministries which serves the chronically ill, shares about mothering, illness, ministry and more.

I Don’t Feel Lucky That My Illness is Invisible, But Am I?

handOftentimes we only see the negative side of living with an illness that invisible to most people. But as time progresses, so does my own illness, rheumatoid arthritis. I can now see that there are advantages to having an illness that can be hidden or revealed, based on one’s own desires or certain circumstances.

I rarely see the changes in my own body, such as my hands or feet deformities, unless I see a reflection in the mirror, for example when I am trying to clothes in a dressing room at a store.

I’ve heard children ask their mom, “What is wrong with her feet?” as they’ve looked under the divider from a nearby dressing room. I can’t help but wonder how people don’t realize I have some sort of illness when they see my hands and fingers.

In the documentary about Farrah Fawcett’s journey with cancer, her son made a comment like, “I know she will be okay. She just looks so good.”

Those of us with invisible illnesses were likely yelling at the television because we too have heard, “But you don’t look sick.” But it was true. There were days when she did look like the blond bombshell we all remember from the posters. But there were many other days when she looked like someone fighting for her life.

There is no doubt it can be frustrating to look healthy when you are feeling like you have the flu times ten. And yet, if we were to really be honest, do we want to look as bad as we actually feel?

There truly are some benefits to having a disease that isn’t immediately noticed by everyone you come into contact with. Lets take a second look at a few of those perks.

[1] You get to choose who to reveal your illness to and who not to. Some people you may immediately confide in; others you may wait and see if they feel “safe.” Some people you may never tell about your illness.

[2] You can avoid unwanted advice. When your illness is visible, even the person in line at the grocery store feels the burden to share the latest cure for your condition or tell you what you should be eating. With an invisible illness, no one knows and offers comments unless you choose to mention it. And then you chose to open up that whole can of worms.

[3] You can do you job without preconceived ideas about what you can and cannot do. At some point you decide who to reveal your disease to, but if you are doing your job successful, you may be able to keep it personal for years.

[4] You aren’t on the receiving end of pity or sympathy stares. People who use assistive devices like a cane or wheelchair, or who have a visible illness, must learn to not care what other people (both friends and strangers) may think when they see them shaking, or struggling to walk.

[5] You can fake it! If you want to just forget your illness and go out for a night with friends, no one has to know how much medication you took just to be able to go out. You don’t have to explain why you aren’t dancing. It can seem like your life is constantly controlled by your illness, but ultimately, you still can choose to put on some fun clothes pretend to be healthy and carefree for a few hours.

Living with an invisible illness, or what some call a hidden or invisible disability, can have plenty of negative aspects and this article does not attempt to belittle them. However, to truly live life to the fullest, we must count our blessings.

Some days the simple miracle of being able to look healthy despite feeling terrible is worth acknowledging and accepting it for what it is.

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14 Comments»

  C. Cheatham wrote @

Thank you for the article about remembering the blessings of having an invisible disability. I have a hard time with the fact that people cannot see my pain and thus do not acknowledge my needs. But, I forgot about the fact that if I looked as bad as I felt, I would probably scare people away on certain days. (Ha, Ha) Not receiving advice from EVERYONE is a blessing, since I can’t use most of what I am getting now. It is true, there are times I am glad that people don’t know and that I can act like an able-bodied person from time to time. Thank you for reminding me, I needed it!

  Cleo Pascal wrote @

There are some people who have an invisible illness but they still appear as if they’re taking medicine every hour. Some medications have side effects that are inevitably visible, and that’s quite hard to fake and hide. This has happened to a friend of mine, and it led her to try alternative healing methods. I guess it’s not so bad to explore your options, especially if your health is on the line.


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