"You look so good! You can't be as bad as you say. You look perfectly healthy."
"You think you have fatigue? Try working full-time plus having four children! Then you'll know what chronic fatigue is."
"I think you're spending too much time thinking about how you feel. You need to just get out more."
"If you really wanted to get well, you'd at least try that juice drink I gave you last week. It won't hurt to try it."
And the comments go on and on.
And it hurts.
Nearly 1 in 2 Americans has a chronic illness or physical condition that impacts their daily life. The definition of chronic illness can include everything from arthritis to cancer, migraines to diabetes, and back pain to fibromyalgia. Even mental illness or eating disorders are considered invisible illnesses.
One of the biggest emotional hurdles for people who suffer from daily pain is the invisibility of it. Statistics tell us that about 96% of illness is invisible—meaning the person who suffers from the chronic condition may appear to be a healthy individual but who actually copes each day with physical pain.
If you have an invisible illness here are 5 ways let go of hurt feelings and move on to a better life:
(1) Let go of expectations. This may be a life-long process, but you will consistently find that people will always disappoint yo. No one is perfect—including you! Remember, you don’t understand the difficulties that your friends are going through, whether it’s a divorce, the death of a loved one, a loss job, an ill child, etc. Your illness is significant in your life. Even when people care, they still will have significant things going on in their own lives. Listen to them share about their challenges too even when you think they pale in comparison to your own.
(2) Find supportive friends. When you are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired you don’t need to be around people who constantly belittle you or doubt your illness. End that relationship or distant yourself from that relative. Illness has a way of helping prioritize friendships. We don’t need friends that will send us spiraling into depression. Spend your limited energies with those that mean the most to you.
(3) Find joy in your blessings. Rather than thinking about how badly you feel find ways to bring more joy into your life. Appreciate the little things. Many chronically ill people even begin to write poems to help them examine what makes them happy and where their passions lie. You may not be able to garden like you once did, but you can grow a few plotted flowers or hire a neighborhood teenager to plant some vegetables and set up an automatic sprinkler system for them.
(4) Use your talents and skills for things you care about. If you’re no longer able to work because of your illness, you may feel like your skills are going to waste. Maybe you’ve always wanted to write children’s books or be a business consultant. Find a place to plug in and do some volunteer or part-time work for to be able to use these skills in an area where you feel passionate. Instead of focusing on what others aren’t doing or giving you, follow your dreams and give that gift to yourself. Many people find th advice of a chronic illness coach or counselor helpful. There are even some 12 step programs for chronic illness available on the internet.
(5) Encourage someone else. You personally know how hard it is to live with illness and to feel like no one understands. So take time to be vulnerable with someone else who is going through this. Whether you meet someone through an online group such as National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week’s message boards, or through your local support group, volunteer your time and expertise (yes, you’re an expert on living with invisible illness!) and use it to make someone else’s journey easier and you’ll find your own is more enjoyable too. Are you frustrated that no one at your church thinks your invisible illness is real? Rather than stop going to church, find ways to educate them, such as a column in the church newsletter or brochures about National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. These say what to say/not to say to a chronically ill person.
We can’t change other people, but we can educate them and give gentle advice. Then we much work on ourselves. It’s a delicate balance to find how to live most successfully with chronic illness. You’ll find that even when you want to change it can be difficult. It requires discipline and motivation for a better life. But you owe it to yourself and finding joy in your life despite invisible chronic pain will improve both your mental and physical health.
Get a free 50-page excerpt of Lisa Copen's book, “Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend” when you sign up for the National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week "Updates" Ezine at www.invisibleillness.com . Lisa is the founder of invisible illness week held annually in September and the author of various books on living successfully with chronic illness.