If there were a competition for invisible conditions, I would be quite the contender. Seriously, I’d have trophies I think. At least one of those super cool participation awards.
After years of unexplained, chronic pain, I received a diagnosis—the doc was like, “You’ve got fibromyalgia.” And I was like, “Doc, this is going to damage our relationship. I was just startin’ to like you.”
The diagnosis didn’t really come as a shock (my gray hairs, which I found out about recently, are far more shocking, I’ll be real). I’ve known something was up with my body for a long time. I ardently avoid doctors until I’m dragging a limb behind me (who am I kidding? I don’t even go to the doctor then). But I did feel a little bit frustrated at first.
My thoughts: Come on. I’ve got bipolar. I’ve got depression. I’ve got anxiety. No one can physically see those things most of the time. Some people don’t even believe in those things—they tell me “just be more positive,” “remember all you have to be grateful for,” “eat more bananas” (I’m not even making that last one up). They don’t believe in the invisible conditions I already have, and now I’ve got fibro? Another invisible condition?
I wallowed for a solid five minutes. I gnashed my teeth a little. I did that Hunger Games three finger-signal thing and whistled sadly. OK, OK, everything after “wallowed” is pretty much a lie.
However, what isn’t a lie is this: when I was done wallowing, it occurred to me that this is the perfect opportunity to talk about invisible conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar, fibromyalgia, lupus, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, etc. This is the perfect opportunity to remind others that yes, invisible conditions are out there affecting people in drastic ways. People are human. People are real. And just because we don’t see them struggling doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling.
You can’t see my blood type, right? No (and if you can, I really, really, need to know my blood type, maybe tweet me or something). Does that mean you don’t believe I have a blood type? Of course not. Everyone has a blood type, and even though we can’t see it with our own two eyes, we believe it. What makes it any different than invisible conditions that people struggle with daily?
My point is this: If you struggle with one or more invisible conditions, I recognize that it’s hard. You’re not alone—even if you can’t see that. You are valid. Your struggle is valid. If you struggle and you’re able to talk about these struggles, please do. Every person that speaks up helps erase stigma. Every voice that speaks up brings much-needed awareness. Your voice is so important.
And if you don’t struggle, and often invalidate the invisible conditions others have, please try to stop. Please try to understand that it’s no different than a blood type, and it could be you one day. We all—at some point—will likely struggle with mental illness or a debilitating chronic health problem. In the end, we’re all in the same boat, so let’s row together. Except me. I can’t swim.
I’ll cheer you on from the shore, though. Let’s walk these invisible paths together, friend.