Not all disabilities are visible: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, celiac disease, and many more. The stereotype that someone should be sitting in a wheel chair or using a cane in order to be disabled still exists in this day and age. Just because information is available about the multitude of invisible illnesses does not mean that those who do not suffer will truly understand. Sufferers are often met with impoliteness, disbelief and hostility. Many are even told that they are down right lying. For those of us who suffer from the many invisible diseases, especially those they were difficult to diagnosis, we understand all to well the lack of awareness is to blame. I remember years ago sitting in a doctor’s office being told that perhaps anti-depressants would make my symptoms go away. I was not depressed nor was I mentally ill; I was suffering from the daily affects of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis in my mid to late twenties and I was not officially diagnosed until I was 32 years old.
Why does society struggle to understand that such invisible conditions exist? Moreover, how does that play a role in the treatment of people who suffer from invisible conditions where there is no cure? Many questions to ponder, but when you suffer from two invisible conditions, you question yourself, your treatments, your own attitudes and the attitudes of others so many times during the day. It is estimated that half of the American population suffers from some kind of chronic condition and that 96% of those people suffer from an invisible condition, and still, we live in an age of ignorance.
One thing I have learned from my own experiences is that looking at people beyond appearance is tricky. If someday does not look sick, how can they possibly be sick? As a thriving society, we tend to ignore illness because the days of contemplation are gone; every one is too busy making a living to stop and wonder about his or her own health let along the health of others. Aside them that, if you convince yourself someone is lying, then you can see past that person’s disability. You wouldn’t say the same for the person’s who disability is visible.
Let us also take into consideration that most invisible conditions are not only invisible but change on a day-to-day, even an hour-to-hour, basis. Someone who needs assistance may not be visible if their disability is invisible. A person in a wheelchair obviously needs reasonable accommodation, but a person who suffers from a chronic pain condition does not need such accommodation and does not know in advance if he or she will. Symptoms can arise with RA and fibromyalgia overnight. They can last for days, weeks and even months, sometimes for longer periods, other times for shorter.
People who suffer from invisible conditions have a multitude of symptoms. For example, symptoms of RA include (and this in addition to joint pain): fatigue, lack of energy or appetite, low grade fever, muscle ache and joint aches, stiffness, nausea and flu-like symptoms. Moreover, inflammation can affect organs and other areas of the body. Inflammation can also be founds in the eyes and mouth causing dryness. Other inflammation can be in the lung lining which leads to chest pain when breathing, shortness of breath and coughing. Chest pain can also be a result of inflammation of the pericardium (tissue around the heart); chest pain intensities and changes when lying down or leaning forward. Moreover, rheumatoid disease also can reduce the number of blood cells causing anemia.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia include: Chronic muscle pain, muscle spasms or tightness, and leg cramps, Moderate or severe fatigue and decreased energy, Insomnia or waking up feeling just as tired as when you went to sleep, Stiffness upon waking or after staying in one position for too long, Difficulty remembering, concentrating, and performing simple mental tasks, Abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and constipation alternating with diarrhea (irritable bowel syndrome), Tension or migraine headaches, Jaw and facial tenderness, Sensitivity to one or more of the following: odors, noise, bright lights, medications, certain foods, and cold, Feeling anxious or depressed, Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, hands, legs, or feet, Increase in urinary urgency or frequency (irritable bladder), Reduced tolerance for exercise and muscle pain after exercise, A feeling of swelling (without actual swelling) in the hands and feet, Painful menstrual periods, and dizziness. Moreover, fibromyalgia symptoms intensify depending on the time of the day. They may also get worse with fatigue, tension, weather changes (cold weather aggravates symptoms), hormonal fluctuations (such as just before your period or during menopause), and emotional factors like stress.
Last, part of having an invisible disease means it is really invisible. People with clear disabilities may have a wheel chair or a cane, but being almost 34, and having to sit down because it is impossible to stand too long can get you a lot of cold stares. I have learned to accept the fact that these conditions will not always allow me to give the seat to someone else and other times, I just grin and bear it. After all, I am invisible.
All I can do is blog and make my voice heard, and I am not the only one blogging to raise awareness. Tomorrow concludes Invisible Illness Week, but I will continue blogging, as will others who suffer from invisible conditions.