Having a chronic illness or a disability does not always mean your symptoms are visible to others. People are quick to discount you if your symptoms are not physically seen. When I go about my normal daily life, people around me probably assume I am a healthy young woman. Little do they know, I have suffered with a chronic illness for two years and have worked really hard to overcome it! Never judge a book by its cover.
I think the hardest part about having IBD is the invisible aspect. You feel like you have to constantly prove to others that you are sick or else they will not believe you. When I first started showing symptoms of ulcerative colitis, I was worried that my doctors would discount how I was feeling. When I had shingles at the age of twenty, all the doctors I saw did not believe it was shingles because of my young age and they kept giving me the wrong antibiotics – only making my shingles rash worse. If you are interested, you can read more about my experience with shingles on my very first blog post! It was a disaster. That one experience made me realize that when you are young, it is much harder to get doctors to show true concern.
Often times the reason we do not know if the person next to us has a chronic, debilitating illness is because they are doing their absolute best at hiding it. We place this fear in our minds that if we are too open about our illnesses, we will face discrimination in the workplace, at home, with friends, etc. Therefore, we do our best to downplay our symptoms or condition and just chug along like nothing is wrong. This is what I did in the beginning. For months, I was too scared to share my diagnosis with anyone because I did not want to be looked at differently. I was still the same person with the same goals, I had just hit a roadblock that most people do not have to face.
Chronic illness patients also struggle with asking themselves “Am I faking it?” We are so quick to think that maybe our pain is normal and other people are just better at dealing with it. Instead of complaining about it, we just deal with it quietly. I found this great article that talks about the struggles of living with an invisible illness and how imposter syndrome is associated with that. I am here to tell you that no, it is not “all in your head” and yes, your pain is real and valid! Sometimes doctors do not acknowledge this and it causes so much more trauma for the patient than is necessary.
This is the reason why I am such an advocate of sharing my story. It relieves my mind of the self-doubt I consciously put there and allows me not to be viewed as the “sick” person, but someone who seeks compassion, respect and understanding. By sharing, I have come to learn who I really am, who I want to be, and I have eliminated all that fear and self-doubt in my mind that consumed me for so long. I am no longer worried about what other people may think of me, because now I know it takes up unnecessary space in my head that needs to be saved for the good stuff!
This week, I encourage you to be vulnerable and share your story with someone you trust. Always remember to be mindful of those around you because you never know what they could be dealing with – visible or invisible.