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Invisible Illness and Mixed Emotions: 5 Ways to Cope

Mar 28, 2008
"You look great today. You must be feeling a whole lot better?" "You haven't really experienced chronic fatigue until you've had twins and worked full-time!" "I think it you sit around thinking about your pain too much. Just get out of that house more and it may just heal itself." "If you really wanted to get well, you'd get serious about taking that juice I recommended. I don't understand why you won't at least try it."

And the comments go on. . . and on.

And it hurts.

You may be surprised to hear that nearly 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic illness or physical condition that affects their daily life. The range of diseases and included everything from back pain to fibromyalgia, arthritis to cancer, and migraines to diabetes. Oftentimes, one of the largest emotional stumbling blocks for people who suffer from illness is the invisibility of the pain. About 96% of illness is invisible. This means that the person who suffers from the chronic condition show no outward signs of physical pain or disability, nor does he or she use an assistive device like a walker or wheelchair. But the incredible pain each day can be disabling within the confines of the home.

If you have an invisible illness here are 5 ways to let go of some of the frustrations:

[1] Free people from the expectations you typically have had of them. This step will likely be a life-long process, but without taking it, you will consistently find that people will always disappoint you. No one is perfect-even you! And it's important to remember that those with illness do not understand the difficulties that our friends are going through, such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, an ill child, a loss job, etc. Your illness is momentous in your life. And even though people do care, they still will have significant things going on in their own lives. Don't hold that against them.

[2] Find supportive friends. Is there someone in your circle of friendships who is constantly belittling you or suspicious about your illness? Is he is beyond listening and instead spreading gossip about how he saw you at the grocery last week and you looked perfectly fine? This should be a relationship to let go of or, if it's a relative, distance your self as much as possible. Illness can help us easily prioritize our friendships and that way we can spend our limited energies with those that mean the most to us.

[3] Search for the joy in your blessings. Instead of dwelling on thinking about how badly you feel, find ways to bring more joy into your life, even if it's just appreciating the small things. Explore what makes you happy and what you are doing when a natural adrenaline takes over and you have extra energy. That's likely where your passions are! Focus on bringing more of this into your life. And don't let your limitations stop you. For example, maybe you once loved to garden. Now you could grow a few potted flowers or hire a neighborhood teenager to plant some vegetables and set up an automatic sprinkler system for them. You could even start a garden consulting business.

[4] Use your talents and skills for things you care about. If you're no longer able to work because of your illness, you may feel like your skills are going to waste. Maybe you've always wanted to write children's books or be a business consultant. Find a place to plug in and do some volunteer or part-time work for to be able to use these skills in an area where you feel passionate. Instead of focusing on what others aren't providing you with that you want so much, follow your dreams and give that gift to yourself.

[5] Encourage someone else. You personally know how hard it is to live with illness and to feel like no one understands. So take time to be vulnerable with someone else who is going through this. Whether you meet someone through an online group such as National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week's message boards, or through your local support group, volunteer your time and expertise (yes, you're an expert on living with invisible illness!) and use it to make someone else's journey easier and you'll find your own is more enjoyable too. Are you frustrated that no one at your church thinks your invisible illness is real? Rather than stop going to church, find ways to educate them, such as a column in the church newsletter or brochures about National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. These say what to say/not to say to a chronically ill person.

None of us have the capability to force another person to change, or to make them care. But we can educate them and give gentle advice. We must also continue to work on ourselves, however, because you will find that even when you want to change it can be a real challenge. It requires discipline and motivation for a better life. You owe it to yourself to find joy despite your illness, and by focusing on how you can change your circumstances, instead of change other people, you'll be much more rewarded.
About the Author
Receive 200 tips from "Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend" by Lisa Copen when you sign up for HopeNotes chronic illness ezine at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Awareness Week
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