Thursday, January 12, 2012

What You Don't See Is...

Courtesy of

It is easy to be invisible.

These words occurred to me on a day when my head hurt so badly that I could barely speak or socialize with the family gathered on Christmas Day.

If I sat quietly and did not say anything, I could disappear into the noise of my gregarious and outgoing Irish family.  I realized that I frequently do just that.

This not-so-unique idea extended to others like me.  People who suffer from silent, not obvious illnesses become invisible, just as I do. 

Fibromyalgia?  Oh, what’s that?  The invisibility curtain drops.
CFS? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?  Oh, I think I heard about that 20 years ago.  Down comes the curtain.
RA?  Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Alcoholism?  You're in AA?
Addiction to what?
It is so easy, so very easy, to hear these words.  However, because the person speaking them looks “just fine”, it is amazingly easy to shuttle them aside.

I once suffered a serious injury in which the tendons of my right elbow were almost torn from the bone.  I was told by the doctor that it would have been much better if I had simply broken the elbow. 

The problem with no cast or obvious scars, no one realized how serious the injury was.  I looked “just fine”, even though in constant pain. 

It is easy to become invisible.  Just ask anyone.


  1. Never mention a pain or an illness or a problem. People don't want to hear about it. Although, they will be happy to discourse by the hour on their problems etc.

  2. An excellent post, Susan, about a topic I've been thinking a lot about this past week when I had an experience with a woman that at first I didn't know was schizophrenic whom I was thinking about hiring to do some respite for me with my daughter. But she wasn't the one who told me she had this disease. The point being, as your post says, she didn't APPEAR ill - at first. Then when I knew she had this problem, I recognized some of its symptoms. But they're difficult to notice; they're "invisible" to the untrained eye. In this case, however, she wasn't one of those people who talk, talk, talk about their illnesses. In this case, she talked all around it, focusing on other noticeable problems. A very difficult situation.
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

  3. Dear Susan,
    I understand the being invisible because the symptoms of an illness aren't readily apparent. I live with Meniere's Disease and often appear absolutely fine and dandy!
    And much of the time I am. And yet, I know friends who live with chronic pain and deep bipolarity and depression. They "look like" everyone else but within their minds and their bodies there is agony.

    When Meniere's was at its worse in 2006, my friends asked me to tell them how I was. They wanted to know the story. But for many, friends and relatives weary of the story of someone's pain and want to hear only about "uplifting" events and happenings.

    So a person in pain becomes invisible. It is a tragedy.


  4. Interesting . . . the issue of invisible pain has come up with our family twice in the past few days. Emotional pain is invisible, too, and so often very difficult to explain to others. Hard to hide at times, also.

    Great post!

  5. Oh yes. Shortly after I was diagnosed with MS one of my fellow workers insisted that I needed a second and a third opinion because 'you don't look like you have MS'. Add being a woman of a certain age to the mix and I am completely invisible for much of the time. Which is not all bad. Not at all.
    As an aside one of our neighbours used to wear a bandage around her ankle when she had a headache so, when asked what was wrong she could tell people. As a young thing I though she was loopy. These days I do see her point.

  6. Excellent post. Thank you. The worst is being invisible with grace as many around you believe excusing yourself from an activity is whining, and behave accordingly.

  7. There is so much to this post, more than meets the eye (no pun intended lol). This is so powerful; I know I'll be thinking about your words for the rest of the day.

  8. To all above: I believe everyone has this sensation of 'being invisible'. Some walk through life believing they are invisible to everyone. If we act okay, respond and listen, then we are okay.
    I just now finished a book "The Ice Queen" by Alice Hoffman. She wrote about invisibility beautifully. I read it in 18 hours--yes, it is good.
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience with being invisible.


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