Invisible disabilities, commonly known as hidden disabilities or invisible illness, can be as equally debilitating as any other disability that an individual may be dealing with.
An invisible disability can include hearing impairment, vision loss, chronic pain or any disability that is not immediately obvious to an onlooker. In fact, an individual with an invisible disability will oftentimes appear to be healthy despite feeling unwell. As a result, individuals are often accused of imagining or overdramatizing their illness, and others might think you are able-bodied. This lack of understanding from society can have a huge emotional impact on the individual who is affected by the disability, leaving them feeling anxious, hopeless and misunderstood.
It is important to recognize that in order for someone to be considered disabled, a disability does not need to be seen or made obvious. Certain conditions such as depression and fibromyalgia – conditions that Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary sees in patients quite often – are not always visible, and are instead diagnosed based on the symptoms that the patient is experiencing. Food allergies, chemical sensitivities, Crohn’s disease and MS (Multiple Sclerosis) are some other examples of invisible illness, some of which can be life threatening.
When it comes to certain types of invisible illness, such as fibromyalgia, pain is the number one side effect that a patient will typically complain of. The pain associated with fibromyalgia is usually widespread and can affect various parts of the body. Individuals with fibromyalgia will also often complain of fatigue and cognitive difficulties, such as an inability to focus/pay attention. It is also not uncommon for fibromyalgia to co-exist with other painful medical conditions such as IBS, migraines and headaches, and temporomandibular joint disorders (also known as TMD or TMJ).
Treating invisible illness, especially chronic pain, can be difficult, making daily life a challenge for individuals. They may find it hard to go to work, go to school, attend family functions, get together with friends, and live what others would consider to be a “normal” life.
As the cause of many invisible illnesses is unknown, there is a growing need for more awareness and understanding when it relates to invisible illness/disability, which can be done through conversation. By having open dialogue we not only help society understand what an invisible illness is like, but also help physicians and researchers in the process.