Are There Really Advantages of Having an Illness That Can't be Seen?

By: Lisa Copen...

Oftentimes we only see the negative side of living with an illness that invisible to most people. But as time progresses, so does my own illness, rheumatoid arthritis. I can now see that there are advantages to having an illness that can be hidden or revealed, based on one's own desires or certain circumstances.
I don't notice the changes in my feet or hands very often unless I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror as I brush my teeth or try on clothes in a store's dressing room. I've heard a few children say, as they looked under the dividers of a dressing room, "Mom, what is wrong with her toes? Look at her feet!" There are times I wonder how anyone could look at my hands and not wonder what is wrong with them.
In the documentary about Farrah Fawcett's journey with cancer, her son made a comment like, "I know she will be okay. She just looks so good." Those of us with invisible illnesses were likely yelling at the television because we too have heard, "But you don't look sick." But it was true. There were days when she did look like the blond bombshell we all remember from the posters. But there were many other days when she looked like someone fighting for her life.
There is no doubt it can be frustrating to look healthy when you are feeling like you have the flue times ten. And yet, if we were to really be honest, do we want to look as bad as we actually feel? There truly are some benefits to having a disease that isn't immediately noticed by everyone you come into contact with. Lets take a second look at a few of those perks.
[1] You get to choose who to reveal your illness to and who not to. Some people you may immediately confide in; others you may wait and see if they feel "safe." Some people you may never tell about your illness.
[2] You don't receive advice about how to treat your illness. Since it's invisible you don't have to listen to people sharing about the experience of their aunt's mother's neighbor who had that same disease and how she cured it herself. If you make the choice to tell someone, especially a stranger, than you are opening yourself up to a can of worms, but it's still your choice.
[3] You can go to work and do your job without people having preconceived notions about what you can do or cannot do because of your illness. You get the option to reveal your condition in your own time and to the people you want. If you are doing your job with success, it may be something you keep personal for years.
[4] You don't have to deal with sympathetic looks or pity stares. The many people who have visible conditions, such as Parksinson's Disease, or those who use an assistive device like a cane or scooter, must learn not to care what other people think. Both friends and strangers often stares and don't know how to respond when they see someone struggling to tie a show, sit, stands, or walk.
[5] You can fake being healthy pretty easily. If you want to do your best to forget your illness for a few hours, you can try to by putting on some fun clothes and going out and pretending to be healthy and carefree. You don't owe anyone an explanation about why you aren't dancing or how much medication it took to just be able to get out of the house.
Living with what some call a hidden or invisible disability, can have it's share of drawbacks and this article does not intend to hide that. However, in order to enjoy life to the fullest, we must take a moment to count our blessings.
There are many days when the simple miracle of being able to look like we are well, despite feeling very ill, is worth admitting and accepting it for what is is.

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Lisa Copen is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness Week held annually in Sept and featuring a 5-day virtual conference w/ 20 speakers. Follow Invisible Illness Week on Twitter for prizes and info. Blog about invisible illness on your site, be a featured guest blogger, meet others, read articles and lots more. Make a impact today!

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