When people look at me, they see a healthy young adult who has their life put together. For the most part, I would agree. I am in good mental health and I eat relatively well, or as well as any university student can. My life is generally put together because I have a great family and some fantastic friends, I have a job and do well in school. However, I am not a healthy person and I am not in great physical health. That is because I have an invisible illness that I don’t really talk about. Unlike most invisible illnesses, my illness is probably the least extreme (to the point it is not added to most lists out there on invisible illness) and the most manageable. When I tell people that I am not feeling well, I always seem to get a look of disbelief or misunderstanding. I have also seen looks and heard sighs of “not this again”. Eventually, I come up with other excuses simply because I feel like people won’t believe me, or they’ll think that it is always my excuse, even though it is true. I have heard almost everything from “you are too young to be sick” to “its all your head” and “its just stress.” And these types of comments get to me and sometimes (most of the time), they hurt. Because I am not too young to be sick and its not all in my head. I have been diagnosed by a doctor, and its not stress, its an illness. And these illnesses are something I will deal with for the rest of my life.
Now why would I tell you my story of invisible illness? That is because there are so many people out there that have similar or worse conditions than me that struggle everyday to manage their illnesses. There is such a stigma around invisible illnesses because when you look at people with them, you automatically think they are completely fine. People judge others who can’t run as they are out of shape (when they have asthma), people who use disability parking who look like they can manage (when they have severe joint pain). Invisible illness causes people to have a decreased quality of life in different aspects. And these illnesses are not just physical, they can be mental as well. And invisible illness affects many university students with illness such as ADHD, depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and many more.
All this talk about invisible illness and its stigma may have you questioning, what is anyone doing about it? Well, lots of people are opening up and talking about it. There is an invisible illness awareness week, forums, and groups with people going through the same thing. It is also becoming a part of company policy and ethics to help people. More people are aware of invisible illnesses, but there is still room to grow and improve.
Although my struggles are much smaller compared to those with Lupus or diabetes, I hope that me opening about my illness will allow for others to open up as well, and for dialogue to start on campus. People should feel comfortable in their skin and not feel judged about who they are. They should feel like they are not alone and that help is always there when you least expect it.