Hidden Symptoms - When Your Suffering Can't be Seen

AbilityVoice: a blog about mobility topics

Hidden Symptoms Make it Easy to Mis-judge

I took my Braun Entervan to a class reunion recently and couldn't help but notice how great many of my classmates looked. Most were tan, well-dressed and seemed very happy. But as I talked with them one-on-one, I found out that many had health problems or conditions...and many of them had hidden symptoms.

"Do not judge your neighbor until you walk two moons in his moccasins." Cheyenne Indian folklore

Of course, those with mobility problems were easy to spot. They used canes or wheelchairs or walkers, etc. Some walked with an arthritic limp. But there were several others who were suffering from invisible symptoms and were frustrated when people said, "You're lucky that you're in great health!"

One member of my online chat group for MS agrees, stating, "My family seems to assume that if they can't see it, there really is nothing wrong with me." But, of course, there are dozens of hidden symptoms of numerous diseases and conditions.

From MS to fibromyalgia to mental illness, any number of conditions can cause non-obvious symptoms ranging from visual problems to pain to dizziness. That's why the National MS Society launched a "But You Look So Good!" support group to address the challenges of living with hidden illnesses. Unless you choose to tell someone how you're feeling, they won't know that anything's wrong. That may be fine until you're asked to take on an extra project at work or volunteer or attend a social function. Then comes the worry that people will judge you for being lazy or unmotivated.

It can be a difficult decision, but it usually helps to tell people about your illness and when you're having a rough day. It may be a good idea to tell some co-workers or neighbors about our health and avoid bottled up frustrations about looking good, but feeling less than healthy. On the flip side, we have to commit to not using health as an excuse for not doing our part and habitually using our condition as a crutch.

And sometimes I have to remind myself not to judge others. I catch myself doing this once in a while...especially when I see someone in an SUV park in a handicap van parking spot and then jump out. Some people deserve the judgment, true, but I have to remember that they may have hidden symptoms I can't see on the surface...just like I do on occasion.