If you have a loved one that is dealing with an illness that manifests in a way that doesn’t necessarily show physically, you may have heard a few frustrating remarks, including “Well, they look OK at the moment,” or “Oh, this must be a good day.” Those same people seldom realize that the person with the invisible illness is likely going through a painful struggle inside. A lot of people forget that simply because someone looks healthy, it doesn’t mean that they are not suffering with a chronic illness.
What are examples of an invisible illness?
Venus Williams, a Wimbledon tennis champion, has recently been diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome. Sjögren’s Syndrome is an example of an invisible illness. Why?
It’s a chronic autoimmune illness that no one would know she had if she didn’t open up about it. You can bet that many people upon seeing her have said words like “She doesn’t look sick,” while her immune system was at work damaging healthy parts of her body.
Like many other chronic illnesses, Sjögren’s Syndrome works invisibly. Some other invisible illnesses are:
- Chronic pain
And there are many more. For those who have an invisible illness, they have probably experienced the frustration of people simply not understanding that they are unwell because they look fine. It is just one of the many misjudgments that people living with a chronic, invisible illness have to face every day of their lives.
The fact that it can’t be seen makes it extremely hard for many people to understand how to help a loved one who is dealing with an invisible illness. Also difficult is how to understand what they go through daily. You might feel entirely useless while watching your loved one in pain.
Ways to support someone with an invisible illness
Here are a few ways to help and support your loved one who has an invisible illness:
Learn about the mental health condition
Your friend or family member likely doesn’t want your pity or to be left out of everyday life because you believe they won’t be up to it. Instead, it’s extremely helpful for both you and your loved one if you take the time to research their illness.
Doing so can help you to understand what is going on during their good days and bad days. For example, a good day doesn’t mean they feel illness-free.
Instead, it means they feel slightly more capable today and in less mental or physical pain than on a bad day. Most of all, your research will help you to learn not treat them differently. They are still the same person, and the invisible illness does not define them. You need to show that you understand that, and love them no matter what.
Accept that you can’t cure their pain
This one is tough. Watching your loved one suffer can be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.
You will want to help them in every way possible and try to cure the pain that they feel. However, Googling the best marijuana strains for pain relief may not be as helpful as you think. That’s because no matter how much you want to, you are not capable of crying away this invisible illness or your loved one’s pain.
Yes, it sucks. But really the only thing you can do is validate their pain. And that probably means more to them than you might at first realize.
Let them know that you understand why they are not able to do as much as they used to do, for example. Also, tell them it’s okay when they have days when even getting out of bed in the morning is difficult. That understanding will mean more to them than any pain killer you could offer them.
It’s important to remember you can’t see what is going on inside your loved one. If they are incredibly irritable one day, then lethargic and quiet the next day, don’t get frustrated with the changes in their mood.
Their illness is not going to stay the same all day every day. Instead, they will have ups and downs. And with those changes, their moods can alter suddenly and frequently.
It will be helpful for you to understand why they might be reacting in such a way to you, and to know when to give them some space. Though you want to take care of them as much as possible, they won’t want you to smother them. Instead, they likely want to retain what is sitll left of their independence.
If you are ever unsure whether your loved ones need alone time or a cuddle, it’s OK to ask them. Indeed, they will appreciate the concern and gesture.
Be selective about who you tell
Of course, just like your loved one, you will need to get off your chest any feelings caused by the effects of witnessing a chronic invisible illness. But, always be respectful of your loved one’s wishes.
Thus, it’s a good idea to check with your loved one if it’s OK to share their personal information with your friends or your partner. Respect their wishes if they do not want the information to go any further than you or close family. No matter their reason.
Watch for warning signs
Chronic pain is an example of an invisible illness that often goes hand in hand with mental health. If your loved one can’t carry out life like before, are unable to work, and have several bad days in a row, that can negatively affect their mindset. Over time, they can spiral into depression.
Thus, it is important to recognize warning signs of mental illness in your loved one. And talk to them about getting professional help if they need it.
With that being said, always respect their wishes if they are reluctant to seek help, unless they become a cause of harm to themselves or others. In that case, it’s vital you seek further help for your loved one for their own safety or the safety of others.
Also, if the invisible illness affects you deeply and you’re having more low days than usual, you might need to speak to someone or seek help for how you’re feeling. Of course, you will always want to put your loved one first, but at the same time you need to be healthy to look after your loved one. Talking to Samaritans or a professional therapist could help you or a loved one cope with the invisible illness that is now a major part of both your lives.
Final words on supporting someone with an invisible illness
As much as this time will be difficult for you, remember it is even more difficult for your loved one. Be patient and try to understand what they are going through to help your loved one.
That, and showing them as much love and support as possible. It will eventually get easier to deal with the invisible illness as you both learn more about it. But that takes time and is usually the process is slow. It takes a lot of understanding for both of you.