Illness more than skin deep

By Hayley Devitt

It would be great to have the power to turn invisible. I could mess with people and they’d never know it was me pranking them.

As it turns out, it isn’t so fun to have a disease which does exactly that. This week is Invisible Illness Awareness Week, and I would like to bring attention to a condition that affects a lot of our fellow students.

Invisible illnesses are chronic conditions that aren’t apparent to other people, and 96 percent of people with diseases have one that is invisible. Fibromyalgia, lupus, cystic fibrosis, renal failure, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis, which I suffer from, all fall into this category. In fact, any impairment, whether physical or mental, inhibiting one’s life activities is considered a disability. Thus, disabilities can be called “invisible.”

Disabled World defines invisible disabilities as “hidden disabilities or challenges” with symptoms that are “not always obvious to the onlooker.”

These would be conditions like sleep disorders, depression and anxiety, but also deafness without use of a hearing aid or cochlear implant, or blindness without a cane or guide dog.

The problem “spoonies,” or people with invisible illnesses, face is people who do not necessarily understand their illness will assume they are well.

Because they look fine on the outside, they aren’t always taken seriously when they say they are tired or in pain.

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not as legitimate as other illnesses, or as serious,” said Rachel Silverstein, senior special education major.

Silverstein told me she has Graves’ disease, Gilbert’s syndrome and renal problems.

These illnesses and disorders seriously affect our ability to go to class and get work done. For instance, having chronic depression means sometimes feeling like you can’t move. Getting out of bed or getting food in your body can start to feel like a chore. It is a lot more serious than just being “sad.”

Quite often, I’ll have trouble focusing in my life drawing class because it involves a lot of standing up. My lower back will ache, but more so my ovaries will start hurting like something’s clawing me from the inside.

Even before my diagnosis with endometriosis, I’d be drained of all my energy or have to leave school with awful menstrual cramps.

If you have a health concern or mental disorder that seriously affects the quality of your school time, it is important you get registered at NIU’s Disability Resource Center, located on the fourth floor of the Health Services building.

If that is not possible for you, take the time to discuss your situation with all of you professors one-on-one.

Beside that, you can also seek talk therapy from the Counseling & Student Development Center in the Campus Life Building. Health Services also has psychiatry services available if you are going on certain medication for your condition.

While being invisible can have a sort of comfortable anonymity, sometimes it is best to be seen.

For those of you who are suffering from invisible illnesses, many people, like myself, understand what you are going through. You are never alone.