Sunday, February 5, 2012

Visible Invisible

Patients with chronic illnesses that aren’t outwardly apparent are caught between two worlds, the healthy and the sick. They look healthy the majority of the time, yet they live the life of a person with significant medical problems. From the surface they look like everyone else. For example, say they are a freshman in college. They go to class and blend in. No one sees them as different. They are just another teenager out on their own for the first time. Their professors think that too, so when they don’t come to class on Monday or Friday they think “they probably partied too hard.” Unless the student registered with the disability office or was proactive and told them differently, the professor doesn’t have any reason to think they have a chronic illness and were truly sick. They aren’t in a wheelchair, they aren’t on oxygen, they don’t look “sick.” This puts the student at a disadvantage because they have a real reason for missing class repeatedly, but the professor doesn’t know that. The professor is not likely to make an exception and give an extension for an assignment. The other side of it is that the student looks like the other students. They don’t have the stigma of being sick. They don’t have to worry about their classmates thinking they are going to catch something, or leaving them out of something because they are uncomfortable being around them.

I’ve lived life with an invisible illness for years. I have had some outward signs of being sick, being pale and underweight, having trouble breathing and coughing a lot, etc. But I also ran, taught martial arts, volunteered at an animal shelter, was a teaching assistant in college and worked at a veterinary clinic. Unless I was caught on a bad day I was just like my friends, my classmates, my colleagues. I liked that. Granted, a lot of people knew I had medical problems but only those who had to know. Now that I’m in my last year of veterinary school I’ve had to let more classmates know of my limitations so we are all safe, but out in the real world (if there is such a thing in vet school) I was normal. That is until now. That is why I’m writing this. I have a sign that I’m not like everyone else that you can see across the room, at least when I am walking. And that makes me uncomfortable.
I’ve been questioning myself if the reason why I am uncomfortable is truly that I think people will either baby me, avoid me, or try to be over protective or is it that I am not comfortable with myself. With the change that places another limitation. As a population I think patients with DTP, lupus, RA, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, mitochondrial disease, asthma, MS, etc spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think and not enough looking inside at how they view themselves.

The problem is being visible and invisible in your mind at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. mmm yes!
    "The problem is being visible and invisible in your mind at the same time."