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

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.

Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.

7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Being Sick In College Is A Real Struggle

Being sick in college is definitely not as fun as having a sick day in middle school or high school.


Something that I have had to deal with multiple times these past two semesters is being sick while in school. It can be a real pain especially depending on what type of sickness it is. I have had tonsillitis, mono, and I'm pretty sure I also had the flu.

Being at school and away from home can make being sick worse because there is nobody to take of you such as your parents. Another thing is having to make the decision to get the rest that your body needs in order to feel better or staying on top of your assignments to avoid falling behind. My parents will always tell me to get a good night's sleep so my body can feel better the next day. However, sometimes I will feel more stress if my work isn't getting done and I feel like I'm falling behind and leaving things to get done in the last minute.

Currently, I am sick now and the past few days haven't been easy, but I still attended all my classes so I wouldn't miss any material or assignments that were given. I usually end up feeling the worst at night when trying to fall asleep, and by that time the doctors are not present at the student health center. Even though my health is important I usually don't like taking too much time out of my day to go to the health center to see a doctor. Some days I don't really have much free time before the evening.

I don't believe I have been over-exerting myself, but I don't want to just stay in my bed all day and sleep, even though that may be what is best for me. Most professors will be understanding if I email them and provide them a doctor's note as well, but I also just got back from a conference where I had to miss two days of classes next week.

I have been trying to keep hydrated so that way my body can fight the sickness. Also, I have been told if you stay hydrated you can flush the virus out of your body quicker.

Eating can also be a pain when you have a sore throat, for the past couple of days I have tried to have some soup in order to help. Most meals I would have to force myself to eat something of substance in order to give my body some type of energy in order to get through the day. It's also never fun not being able to breathe out of your nostrils. If it wasn't my nose being stuffed, then it would be constantly runny so there was no winning that battle.

Looking back, I probably should have done a bit more work over spring break in order to get ahead in the case that something like this would happen. I wanted my break to be exactly that, a break. After not being home for a few months I just wanted some time off to relax.

Related Content

Facebook Comments