Explaining Invisible Illnesses

Explaining Invisible Illnesses

How to explain it to your friends.

Invisible illnesses are difficult to understand. They are difficult when a doctor tells you that you have one and you spend hours staring at yourself in the mirror trying to see it. They are difficult when you feel like you are living with a giant secret no one knows about. They are difficult when you try to explain to people that you have one.

Invisible illnesses are any medical conditions, both mental and physical, which cannot be seen. Examples of invisible illness include anxiety, depression, migraines, heart conditions, and chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia. Often, those with invisible illnesses look “normal” and “healthy;” hence, the “invisible” aspect. Those with invisible illnesses try to blend in; you will never see one of us taking advantage of boarding first on an airplane, even if we need it – we do not dare draw attention to ourselves.

In our attempts to be understood and accepted for who we are, illness and all, telling the people close to us can be scary. There are many different ways to tell your friends that you have an invisible illness, but it is important to do one that benefits you. When I told my friends, I explained my illnesses and explained how they manifest in me so that they could start to pick up on them. Once your friends know that certain behaviors or movements are associated with an illness, it is no longer invisible to all of society – those who care about you can see some of the symptoms, which is comforting.

With my first friends in college, I tried to blurt out my illnesses in a random conversation. It was not really effective for our friendship, but I at least got the “secret” out. We were walking to the caf and really awkwardly I said, “Just so you know, in case it ever comes up or anything, I have full body chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.” That was it. They did not really know what to say to that and we ate dinner as usual.

The problem with that was I did not explain my illnesses, I did not even list all of them, and there was no real benefit to me in telling them. They were not able to be more aware of my symptoms, thus I needed to revise how I told my friends so that they understood the illnesses, symptoms, and how they could help.

With my most recent friends in college, I explained more and eased my invisible illnesses into the conversation. If I was having a rough health day, I introduced my illnesses into the conversation that way. When a friend asked how my day is and I responded with a less than satisfactory response, it provided the opportunity to say my pain, anxiety, depression, migraines, were acting up. If my friends were curious, they inquired more and it gave me the opportunity to explain one of my illnesses without having to plan it out in conversation because it happened naturally.

For my friends in nursing, I could mention the name of my illnesses and most of the time, they understood. For my best friends and those I spent a great deal of time with, I talked to them about my illnesses, but then followed up by texted or messaged them about my illnesses. I did not tell them everything in person because I wanted them to digest it on their own terms.

I gave them:

  • The name of the illness
  • A four to 10 word definition of each illness (I looked up the medical definition to keep it simple and changed it if need be)
  • Common symptoms I experience (if not already explained above)
  • How it impacts me

Example: “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – always exhausted, unrefreshing sleep, headaches, I can sleep as long or as little as I want but I still feel exhausted all the time.”

With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the quick fact sheet helps for my friends to understand that if, for example, I yawn, it is not because they are boring me, but because I am chronically fatigued. With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, friends can pick up on anxiety cues such as shaking and understand that there does not need to be an event to trigger it.

It sucks feeling mental or physical pain and going through health hardships that no one can see, but when your friends begin to pick up on your health cues, it makes your life easier and your friendship stronger.

Cover Image Credit: Mcreyscope's Musings on Chronic Illness

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I'm The Girl Without A 'Friend Group'

And here's why I'm OK with it


Little things remind me all the time.

For example, I'll be sitting in the lounge with the people on my floor, just talking about how everyone's days went. Someone will turn to someone else and ask something along the lines of, "When are we going to so-and-so's place tonight?" Sometimes it'll even be, "Are you ready to go to so-and-so's place now? Okay, we'll see you later, Taylor!"

It's little things like that, little things that remind me I don't have a "friend group." And it's been like that forever. I don't have the same people to keep me company 24 hours of the day, the same people to do absolutely everything with, and the same people to cling to like glue. I don't have a whole cast of characters to entertain me and care for me and support me. Sometimes, especially when it feels obvious to me, not having a "friend group" makes me feel like a waste of space. If I don't have more friends than I can count, what's the point in trying to make friends at all?

I can tell you that there is a point. As a matter of fact, just because I don't have a close-knit clique doesn't mean I don't have any friends. The friends I have come from all different walks of life, some are from my town back home and some are from across the country. I've known some of my friends for years, and others I've only known for a few months. It doesn't really matter where they come from, though. What matters is that the friends I have all entertain me, care for me, and support me. Just because I'm not in that "friend group" with all of them together doesn't mean that we can't be friends to each other.

Still, I hate avoiding sticking myself in a box, and I'm not afraid to seek out friendships. I've noticed that a lot of the people I see who consider themselves to be in a "friend group" don't really venture outside the pack very often. I've never had a pack to venture outside of, so I don't mind reaching out to new people whenever.

I'm not going to lie, when I hear people talking about all the fun they're going to have with their "friend group" over the weekend, part of me wishes I could be included in something like that. I do sometimes want to have the personality type that allows me to mesh perfectly into a clique. I couldn't tell you what it is about me, but there is some part of me that just happens to function better one-on-one with people.

I hated it all my life up until very recently, and that's because I've finally learned that not having a "friend group" is never going to be the same as not having friends.

SEE ALSO: To The Girls Who Float Between Friend Groups

Cover Image Credit: wordpress.com

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In Real Life, 'Plus Size' Means A Size 16 And Up, Not Just Women Who Are Size 8's With Big Breasts

The media needs to understand this, and give recognition to actual plus-size women.


Recently, a British reality dating TV show called "Love Island" introduced that a plus-sized model would be in the season five lineup of contestants. This decision was made after the show was called out for not having enough diversity in its contestants. However, the internet was quick to point out that this "plus-size model" is not an accurate representation of the plus-size community.

@abidickson01 on twitter.com

Anna Vakili, plus-size model and "Love Island "Season 5 Contestant Yahoo UK News

It is so frustrating that the media picks and chooses women that are the "ideal" version of plus sized. In the fashion world, plus-size starts at size 8. EIGHT. In real life, plus-size women are women who are size 16 and up. Plunkett Research, a marketing research company, estimated in 2018 that 68% of women in America wear a size 16 to 18. This is a vast difference to what we are being told by the media. Just because a woman is curvy and has big breasts, does NOT mean that they are plus size. Marketing teams for television shows, magazines, and other forms of media need to realize that the industry's idea of plus size is not proportionate to reality.

I am all for inclusion, but I also recognize that in order for inclusion to actually happen, it needs to be accurate.

"Love Island" is not the only culprit of being unrealistic in woman's sizes, and I don't fully blame them for this choice. I think this is a perfect example of the unrealistic expectations that our society puts on women. When the media tells the world that expectations are vastly different from reality, it causes women to internalize that message and compare themselves to these unrealistic standards.

By bringing the truth to the public, it allows women to know that they should not compare themselves and feel bad about themselves. Everyone is beautiful. Picking and choosing the "ideal" woman or the "ideal" plus-size woman is completely deceitful. We as a society need to do better.

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