A chronic condition is any condition or disease that either develops over the course of time or persists for at least 3 months. As a general rule, a chronic condition cannot be prevented or cured by medication. The symptoms of most chronic conditions can be treated, but these conditions also will not just fade away or disappear. An invisible illness is a chronic condition or disability that tends to be, well, invisible to everyone except the person suffering. To everyone else looking in, this person seems to be fine. They look healthy and, more likely than not, happy. They tend to wear the most careful of "masks" to hide how much pain and discomfort that they are in all the time. Some of these illnesses include pain, chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunctions, dizziness, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. More than 130 million Americans are affected by a chronic illness. 96% of those people are suffering in silence, a victim of invisibility. Many times, they smile and lie, saying, "I'm fine, doing ok", even to those that they love - spouses, children, parents, and even doctors.
The plight of someone with an invisible illness is a lonely one. Can you imagine suffering in silence? We have all done this at some point. But could you do it every single day? It is our nature as humans to judge one another based entirely on what we see. For many people with a disability, there is a way to see it, a visible impairment such as a wheelchair, cane, walker, even a limp. You look at that person and you know that they have a condition of some sort. You may even go out of your way to help them by opening a door or assisting them across a crosswalk. 74% of people with a disability do not use any of the aforementioned assistive devices. For those dealing with an invisible illness, there is typically nothing to show another person that they are in any way impaired!
How can you help? First, remember that every single person is different. Just because someone is in a wheelchair does not mean that they can't do a lot more than you might expect. Keep that same thought in mind for those suffering from invisible illnesses. They may look perfectly capable to you, but sometimes they simply aren't at 100% and will not be able to do everything that you think they should. Next, treat everyone with respect and kindness. You have no idea what they are dealing with on a daily basis. If someone looks tired, do not assume that they spent the previous evening at a party! (Yes, this has happened to me.) Be considerate and thoughtful. Don't make assumptions about people feel. Instead, ask. Ask how that person feels. Ask someone if they need help. Finally, join us this week for Invisible Illness Awareness Week, running from September 28 through October 4, 2015. This annual event was started in 2002 by a woman named Lisa Copen. After living many years with an invisible illness, she decided that we need to spread awareness, educate one another, and create a network of people helping one another to deal with the battle that we are silently fighting one at a time. This year's theme is My Invisible Fight.
Here on Vingle - and elsewhere - I will be doing my part to help spread awareness and shed a light on my own invisible fight. Later tonight, I will posting something called "Our 30 Things". This is basically a "30 questions" for those of us fighting a chronic condition. If you would like to post your 30 things, please, let me know and I will tag you in that post. Remember that you Are Not ALONE. You are no longer INVISIBLE. Together, we are Stronger. Edit: here is that card - My 30 Things.
Are you asking yourself if you even "qualify"? If you are asking, then you do. There are thousands of illnesses that are considered "invisible". This explanation is from the Invisible Disabilities Association: "We do not maintain a list of specific illnesses and diagnosis’s that are considered invisible disabilities. Invisible disabilities are such symptoms as debilitating fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunctions and mental disorders, as well as hearing and eyesight impairments and more. There are thousands of illnesses, disorders, diseases, dysfunctions, birth defects, impairments and injuries that can be debilitating. Therefore, all conditions that are debilitating are included when we talk about invisible disabilities..." Again, if you even think you MIGHT qualify, then you likely do! #invisiblefighting