17 November 2017

The Invisible Illness Stigma


I'm tired. Tired of there being a stigma around invisible illnesses. Whether it's a physical illness or a mental illness, if you can't see it, it can't be real. Because that's logical. I happen to have both. I have ME and I also have anxiety and OCD. You can't see it. But it's real. Shocker.

It's 2017 and yet there is still a massive stigma around invisible illnesses. We're described as lazy and weak and that's putting it nicely. I will admit, lately that stigma is breaking, especially around mental health. But there is still so much to be done. I think part of it is a generation gap thing. From my experience, I've found younger people a lot more accepting and open around invisible illnesses. For so long we've been told to keep it to ourselves. No one wants to hear about it. Maybe they don't. Maybe that shouldn't matter. You wouldn't call someone with cancer lazy or weak. So why is it any different for someone who has depression or fibromyalgia or any one of the hundreds of invisible illnesses. I can't even count the number of times someone has said to me, but you look fine, you look healthy. Well, by that logic if it's sunny it must be hot. Looks can be deceiving. 

I've been trying to think of what can be done to shift that stupid stigma and the one thing that comes to mind time and time again, is to just talk about it. Shout it from the rooftops. The more we talk about it, the more we smash it to pieces. No one should be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed because of their health.

Honestly, I'm not sure anyone will truly understand what that stigma feels like unless they've been through it. It crops up when you least expect it. I could be out meeting friends or family and someone asks me what I do, am I in university? Well that's not an easy one to answer. No I'm not in uni because my health didn't allow it. I could stand there and explain (sometimes I do) but it depends on who's asking. You can often tell if someone is going to get it or brush you off because they didn't like your answer. Because they didn't get it. Because they didn't try to. Because there's a stigma.

We need to bring invisible illnesses out of the shadows so they don't hold such power over us. It's not something that any one person can do alone. We need to do it together. It's needs to be said over and over again, that it's ok if you're struggling. Say it. Repeat it. Paint it on your walls. Teach it in schools.

Blogging has opened up my whole world. Before, I was the only person I knew of who struggled with invisible illnesses. Thanks to social media, I now know I'm not alone. There are so many of us. There's a strength in numbers. And yet it saddens me to see us silenced because of our health. Again, you wouldn't treat someone with cancer like that.

It's 2017, it's time to talk. It's time to smash the stigma. If you feel comfortable talking about your struggles, do it. If you know someone who has an invisible illness, make sure they know that they never have to hide it. That they are not alone and should never be ashamed of it. Be their voice.

Just because you can't see something, doesn't mean it's not real. You can't see air, but it's there. You can't see someones brain, but it's there.

Having an invisible illness does not make you weak. It doesn't make you lazy. It makes you strong. It makes you work even harder. Quite frankly it makes you a superhero.

As always, thank you for reading.

Avani
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