Invisible Illness Week

Monday, September 08, 2014

"Awareness is the greatest agent of change." -Eckhart Tolle

"I have a chronic illness." These are some of the hardest words I have ever had to process. 

Nobody wants to think of themselves as sick. No one wants to have to consider how an illness will affect their future, career choices, college options, or relationships. No one wants to be forced to accept the fact that their life is completely changed by this string of apparently unpronounceable words now branding them "sick." 

But for many of us, this is exactly what we must do. In fact, nearly 1 in 2 Americans is living with a chronic illness. That's approximately 133 million people.

Now, you might be wondering- is it a big deal? Well, the answer is yes. Having a chronic illness affects every area and aspect of the patient's life, as well as the lives of those around them. Depression is 15-20% more likely in those with chronic illness, and in as many as 70% of suicides, physical illness and chronic pain play a huge part. Of these suicides, over half were younger than 35.

"But Ana, why have I never known that? How could I miss it? Why do I not see all of these sick people around me?"

Of the 133 million people in America with chronic illness, approximately 96% of these have an illness that we refer to as "invisible". They don't use a cane, walker, or wheelchair. They have no identifying marks that make them stand out. In fact, they probably look much like you.

These "invisible illnesses" include Diabetes, Lupus, Chronic Fatigue/ME, IBD, Arthritis, Ehler's-Danlos Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Dysautonomia, Multiple Sclerosis, various mental disorders, and many more.

You can't see any physical evidence, but they are struggling. They are hurting. And they are living with a disease that has no cure, and sometimes, very few treatment options at all. 

And the fact that their illness is invisible only makes it that much more difficult. When others can see evidence of illness- being bald from cancer treatment, a wheelchair for dealing with paralysis, etc.- patients are met with a certain amount of social stigma. But many people also find that friends, family, and even total strangers are willing to lend a helping hand and offer support.

When there is absolutely no physical evidence of illness, patients are sometimes met with skepticism, disbelief, or suspicion- especially in illnesses with very little awareness or those that are misunderstood. They are accused of not needing a disability car tag or the handicap seat on the train. Doctors don't understand what's going on. Family and friends think they're exaggerating. 

When you can't easily find other people like you- people with your same illness- you start to feel isolated. It begins to seem as though you're the only person in the world who is suffering like this. It feels like no one can truly understand.

But the truth is that we are not alone. We are one of many.

And that's why September 8th-14th, 2014, is Invisible Illness Week (IIWk)- to remind all of those suffering from an invisible illness that they are not alone, and to show the public that just because an illness isn't immediately apparent doesn't mean it won't change your life.

IIWk isn't about raising funds, or even just spreading awareness. 
It's about spreading hope.

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