I just counted. In the past 9 years I’ve had 11 surgeries. From an accident that broke the hell out of my leg to the removal of an organ that decided it suddenly wanted to kill me.
People understood I was in need of extra care in the weeks immediately following only a few of those surgeries. There were clear markers (crutches) that said, “be careful with me.”
But put clothes on me and no one would have known about the 5 additional surgeries I’ve undergone and the physical and emotional toll those took on me, too. And when we took away the crutches, those final four suddenly didn’t matter anymore, either. Nothing mattered, except for the pain that lingered. Physical and mental.
On the surface, we all mostly look the same. We are human shaped.
Sometimes we are provided with visual clues that a person is different. A pair of glasses. Crutches. A white cane with a red stripe. These are visual indicators that someone might be in want of a helping hand. Might possibly need accommodations.
But when there are no visual clues for our pain? Our needs? Our struggles?
When those things are invisible, we are left to drown. We have to advocate for ourselves. We have to fight. And sometimes we just can’t do it on our own. A lot of times we can’t do it on our own.
Mental illnesses aren’t the only invisible struggles I deal with on a regular basis or am living with right now, even.
I get migraines. I have intense chronic pain from the leg I broke in 2013. And lately, I have been trying to deal with a badly frozen shoulder. The pain from that can get so intense I want to sob. Not even just from the physical pain, but the emotional pain that comes from feeling useless and broken all over again.
It’s all connected.
When someone can’t SEE why I am struggling with something or why I say I am “out of cope,” we are told that we are just making excuses. And those reactions from people who don’t understand fuel the negative feelings that I have to always fight against.
There are so many examples of this from my life. Too many to go into. There are examples of this from the lives of most other people who live with invisible illnesses.
When chronic pain and other invisible illnesses are dismissed or treated as invalid, they can be the cause of or can intensify anxiety, depression, or additional mental health issues.
I have remind myself. And I have to listen to the people in my life who are listening.
I am NOT lazy. I am NOT a failure. I am NOT a burden. I am NOT irresponsible.
I am allowed to ask for help.