Guess what, y'all? It's National Invisible Illness Awareness Week! I'm about half a week late on this, because, guess what else? Yeah, that's right-- I was busy being sick with my invisible illnesses ;) Funny how that works, ain't it?

Anyway, I'll be catching up with a few little things here and there that other bloggers are doing to 'celebrate' this week and to bring awareness to invisible illnesses and what life with them is like, but for now, all I've got is a post from my other blog, the more public one, that gives a little insight into what life is like for the invisibly ill. It's hard to deal with diseases that no one can see, and ones that aren't main-stream, popularly accepted diseases like cancer or ALS or autism. ALS and autism have some symptoms that are on the more visible side, but for the most part they suffer in relative anonymity.

When you have an invisible illness, it's easy to judge and be judged. "But you don't look sick!" I know, I know. In fact, I look pretty good, if you discount the weight gain. (Some would even say that I look better now, with the extra weight and curves, than I did before!) But the suffering is just as real, just as valid, as someone with a broken leg or a shattered spine. My disability is just as devastating and pervasive as anything else you can think of, but I don't have the "legitimacy" of a cast or an IV pole or something tangible that signals I've got a terrible reality squatting on my shoulder at all times. I suppose that I'm "lucky" in that I need my walker, the Bling Chariot, to get around outdoors because it lends me an air of disability that wouldn't be there if I simply limped around and sat whenever I got the chance. People often ask me if I've had surgery or injured my leg somehow, though. When you see an otherwise healthy looking young woman your first thought will probably not be, "I wonder if she is dealing with crippling physical symptoms that have totally devastated her ability to participate in society in a regular manner?" I think that now, when I see people with a particular gait or look on their face. I watch people much more closely now, and I understand a bit more than I did previously, but here's the thing: until you or someone you love has experienced something, you just aren't going to think about it. You don't know, you don't know a damn thing, and you really can't. And you know what? That's okay. That's okay because how could you possibly, unless someone explains it to you?

That's the whole point of Awareness Weeks. People don't know, they don't understand, because it's not visible and it's not obvious and if you haven't had experience with it you could never, ever guess what it's like and what we face. I didn't know. I'd never heard of fibromyalgia or chronic pain or connective tissue disease or Addison's or thyroiditis until they all happened to me. Food allergies I'd heard of, in passing, but I didn't know anything about them until I was forced to, for my own survival. I was told by a doctor yesterday that I am one of the most well-educated patients she's met, and though it's not the first time I've been told that by a medical professional it always shocks me. Shouldn't at least the people who have the diseases care? Shouldn't they want to know, to learn, to be as in control of these crazy diseases as you can via knowledge? But apparently many choose the path of ignorance, even when their very own body is on the line.

In closing, I can tell you that some of the most moving and profoundly meaningful things I've heard since I got sick came from family and friends who have told me that when they learned the name of what I have, they went and researched to understand it better, to understand me and my new reality better. My friend, The Artist, shares stories with me about how she defends me to friends of hers that see my comments and posts on Facebook through her account and question the veracity and legitimacy of my claims. Am I faking it for attention? Exaggerating? Fibromyalgia is just a "throw away" diagnosis; it means the doctors don't know what it is and they tell you that to keep you happy. She's probably not as sick as she claims to be. And so on. But this girl stands up for me, she calls these friends of hers out, and she shares what she's learned from me and from her own research and she shuts those kids the hell up! And it melts my heart with gratitude and something more, every time. It reaffirms my value as a person, as a friend, and her trust in me and the self that I present to the world. In short, her bringing awareness to others on my behalf validates me entirely, and our friendship to boot. It totally almost makes me cry every time I hear about it.

Personally, I think that's how awareness spreads the best-- through the personal connections. I am not going to stop sharing the hell out of articles and pictures and blog posts on Facebook, but it's the personal connection I have with my friends that makes them want to read the articles, to learn more, and to pass on the information to others when they hear ill-informed opinions being bandied about. Truthfully… I'm super humbled by the friends that have stepped forward to be by my side for this lifelong fight I'm enlisted in. There's no way, absolutely no friggin' way, that I could do this well in isolation.

With that in mind, happy National Invisible Illness Awareness Week! May our friendships and relationships be sturdy and true, and may they lead to greater awareness in others… and within ourselves.

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