What Are Invisible Illnesses?

“But you don’t look/act sick.” Have you heard these words or said them to a friend?

Visible illnesses and conditions are easy to spot because the person may use a device like crutches or braces to assist in movement. They may limp, have an unusual posture, or make expressions of pain (physically or vocally) when they move.

An invisible illness comes with few (if any) outward signs most (if not all) of the time. Some examples of invisible illness include:

Many people think of illness in terms of short-term (acute) conditions — like the flu or a broken bone. A person who is sick or injured needs to rest and recover, but then can go back to being “normal”. Many people don’t know how to respond to a chronic and/or invisible condition. If you’re a healthy, active person, it can be hard to understand someone who looks okay but can’t make it through an eight hour day of work.

Coworkers, friends, strangers, even family members can underestimate the severity of symptoms and how hard a person with an invisible illness struggles to keep going. It’s very easy to judge health by appearance — but you don’t look sick. If a person looks and acts “normal”, then they must be okay. People with invisible illnesses can face suspicion and judgment from others — “they’re just lazy” or “they’re faking it”.

This is why I love the Spoon Theory. It’s a great way to demonstrate the limitations of a person living with an invisible illness. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.

And for the record? I live with an invisible illness. I have depression. When I tell this to people, they have a hard time believing me. “But you don’t act depressed.” “But you’re so funny!” Well, thanks to medication and therapy, I’m able to keep the worst of the symptoms at bay. I don’t stub my toe and cry for two hours anymore. I don’t lay in bed in the dark and stare at the ceiling and not bother to feed myself. And just because I like to make people laugh doesn’t mean that I’m okay all the time.

Just saying.