Don't Judge a Book By It's Cover- The Truth Behind Invisible Illnesses
In my past articles, I feel like I have touched a lot on how MS has greatly impacted my life. Not only has it changed me in every way, in previous articles I have stated how it has aged me, and how it has helped me grow as a person. I don’t feel I have touched enough on how much having and dealing with MS has taught me though.
Having MS has taught me immense life lessons. It has taught me not to take things for granted. It has taught me that every day I wake up and I am breathing, walking, and talking that I should be grateful. It has taught me to cling close to the loved ones and friends who understand and support me. Most importantly though, I feel it has taught me empathy and to have compassion for others. You truly never know what another human being is facing. In other words, it has taught me not to judge a book by its cover.
Dealing with invisible symptoms and emotions
My walk with MS has overall been dealing with invisible symptoms. According to nationalmssociety.org, invisible symptoms are MS symptoms that are hard to see. These symptoms include fatigue, pain, cognitive problems, weakness, blurred vision, numbness, prickly or tingling sensations, heat sensitivity, dizziness, balance/coordination problems, and bladder/bowel issues. Although, I do not suffer from all of these symptoms, I can easily check off at least six of them. Having invisible symptoms can sometimes mean that people do not or will not choose to believe you have a disease. You look fine, so they assume you are indeed, fine. My very first article for MultipleSclerosis.net was But You Don’t Look Sick. The majority of my years with MS I haven’t looked sick, and while I am very thankful for that, it can at times be particularly frustrating. With MS, as I’ve already mentioned, we live with quite a few signs and symptoms that are not visible to the naked eye…but on top of those things we may also live with feelings of anger, uncertainty, frustration and fear. Every day is unpredictable, and many days the fear of the unknown is lurking in the back of my mind. I can say with certainty that I have dealt with each of those feelings and emotions on top of my other symptoms.
What dealing with all of this over time has taught me is that there are so many more people than we realize also dealing with invisible illnesses. In the past, at the beginning or prior to my diagnosis, I would go to the grocery store or be in a crowd of people, and I wouldn’t think twice about what the other people surrounding me could possibly be dealing with. But, over the past few years especially, I stand in a room and I know that others in there are probably dealing with something also. Before then, I would see people who appeared physically fine, park in a handicapped spot or casually roll around in the motorized carts at the store and think, “They look fine, they probably don’t even need that.” Wow! (Insert blank faced, blushing emoji). Now I look back and think, how insensitive and naïve of me. I recently looked up a list of invisible illnesses just out of curiosity to see how many there are. Did you know that there are over FIFTY?! Yes, fifty, including MS. That’s astonishing!
Everyone is facing something
Knowing that I also deal with an invisible illness, you would think that I would have been much more empathetic to what others might be going through early on, but it took me some time to get to that place. My past attitude towards others was very unsympathetic and rude at times. I knew what I was going through, yet I still managed to get out and about with a smile on my face... so sadly I held the attitude that others should do the same. In my mind I would think there was no way they had any idea of the physical pain, fatigue, weakness and other issues I suffered. I was bitter and cruel. When you’re diagnosed with something like MS as young as I was, you hold a lot of bitterness and resentment- or at least I did. I felt that others should suck it up, because I knew I was. I was continuing to live life like nothing was wrong, so they should too. Little did I know then, that all of that pretending I wasn’t sick or different was actually one of my largest hurdles I needed to overcome. But, thankfully since then, that all has changed. My eyes have been opened to the world that is full of invisible illness. They have been opened to the fact that most everyone is facing something (whether physically, mentally, or emotionally) and we all handle pain and other issues differently. I now realize that more people than I know can probably relate to at least one thing that I’m going through.
So, now when I’m out and see someone struggling or needing that handicapped parking spot despite not needing assistance walking, I wonder what they might be dealing with that day. When I see people easily snap or become defeated, I can’t help but wonder if they might also deal with MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, or diabetes, to name a few. We are surrounded by people who probably can relate, yet in today’s world we are so quick to judge and make assumptions. When it finally slapped me in the face that the outside world looks at me and they most likely see someone that looks normal, it changed me. It opened my eyes to realize that others might feel the same way…that they might be having a terrible, horrible day and yearn for someone to know or simply see that they are sick and hurting. If I’m honest, I have those days more than I like to admit.
Living with any kind of illness or disease is difficult, but some moments living with a primarily invisible one can be its own special kind of difficult. So, please, remember before the next time you jump to judge someone that they could be dealing with something bigger than you imagine. They may appear fine, but inside they are dealing with their own battles and demons. MS has shown me that empathy and compassion can sometimes make the difference in making and breaking someone’s spirits. The view isn’t always crystal clear from the outside looking in.
Does your employer provide workplace accommodations due to your MS?