I know a number of people who suffer from what are sometimes called “invisible illnesses.” I’m one of those people.
I have fibromyalgia. It’s a chronic pain condition, and when it’s at its worst I describe it as “being wrapped in a blanket of pain.” On those 1-10 pain scales hospitals use, my baseline is other people’s 2. There is never a time some part of my body doesn’t hurt.
In addition to the pain, fibro gives me “brain fog.” Sometimes I can’t remember things, even, at times, how to do something I do on a regular basis. Which is pretty dang scary, let me tell you. And it and the migraines I also experience affect my balance and depth perception to the point that sometimes I can’t make it down a flight of stairs without help. (Going upstairs is easier; going downstairs, I might miss the step. And I can’t even attempt down escalators, because between the movement and the wonky depth perception, I can’t guess where to put my feet.)
I’m not saying any of this to get pity or sympathy. I’m saying it because I look like a perfectly healthy human being. On my low-pain days, I can move around and walk easily, other than those pesky stairs. The only time anyone other than my loved ones notice that I’m in pain is if I’m at the higher end of the scale—except if I’m at a 7 or higher, I usually don’t leave the house.
I have a handicapped parking tag for my car, one of the type you hang from the rearview mirror. I also have a cane, which I try really hard not to use, but sometimes I haven’t much choice. If it’s a reasonable day, I park in a regular parking space and go without the cane, but if I’m in pain or my balance is off, I use my tag and take a handicapped spot. And I get out with my cane…but sometimes I still get glared at, because I don’t look like I need the spot or the cane.
The point I’m trying to make is, don’t assume someone’s healthy just by how they look. Mental illnesses don’t show on the surface. Neither do physical conditions like fibromyalgia, migraines, immune deficiencies, and a number of other things. Instead of assuming someone’s lying or faking it because they don’t look like your definition of sick, assume they’re being honest. Remember that you can’t tell what’s going on in someone else’s mind or body.
It’s a cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Please.