Invisible Illness Awareness Week 2016: Our Voices Need to Be Heard

Never heard of Invisible Illness Awareness Week?  You’re not alone. Jody Smith sheds a little light to make it more visible …


From time immemorial, people have been pushed aside and ignored for one reason or another. Nobody likes feeling invisible. That goes for the kid in the playground who doesn’t get chosen for baseball, for the person overlooked by the boss, whose name is left off the group photo.

It’s also true for people who are sick, but don’t look like there’s anything wrong with them.

Lisa Copen founded Rest Ministries in 1996 after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She went on to establish Invisible Illness Awareness Week in 2002.

Invisible Illness Awareness Week runs from September 26 to October 1, 2016.

Lisa has made a difference for others who are ill, and has helped to create a community for herself and others in the same boat, cut off from the rest of the world.

She wasn’t going to be invisible, and the hordes of other sick people suffering in silence, often without acknowledgement or help, were not going to be invisible either. Not if she could help it. And over the years, both her vehicles have shown great staying power and growth. People like Lisa have helped the invisible illness community immeasurably.

Many conditions are described as being invisible because the effects are not obvious to the casual observer. ADHD, allergies, asthma, autism, brain injuries, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, IBS , lupus and ME/CFS are just a few of the invisible illnesses and disabilities.

Disabled World reports that almost 50 percent of Americans contend with some kind of invisible condition.

As you and I know all too well, there’s invisible, and then there’s invisible. And ME/CFS is invisible in another way as well. It is still ignored by most of the powers that be … treated as if it doesn’t exist. The research isn’t forthcoming, the honest evaluation isn’t there and misdirection and maltreatment for vulnerable patients abound.

Some invisible illnesses are more invisible than others, and we know that better than most. When ME/CFS is talked about, it’s a crap shoot as to whether it’s going to be anything we can stand to hear.

Are we going to again be called a group of malcontents, of fakers, of stupid people who don’t know enough to move around a little? Are we going to be called hostile, vexatious or troublemakers who don’t know their place?

Will we be denigrated because many of us can’t work or take care of ourselves? Chastized for not pulling our weight? Given the cold shoulder because we don’t help with Christmas parties and family get-togethers?

Are we viewed with suspicion because we look fine and yet do nothing? What are we trying to get away with, or from? What are we trying to prove?

Surely what we are saying can’t be true. Nobody can be THAT sick. An hour of some kind of effort surely doesn’t put someone to bed for months at a time. What is this game?

So an unwelcome invisibility and lack of acceptance, lack of respect, has covered us like a cloak.

Every person with an invisible illness has experienced some of this. And every person with a disrespected illness like ME/CFS has experienced a great deal of it. But we don’t have to cooperate with this dismissal, and we refuse to do so.

About 65 percent of Americans who search online for answers have one or multiple chronic conditions, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Project.

Events and pushes like Invisible Illness Awareness Week are a way for us to step up — even if we cannot physically stand — and be heard. They are a way for us to join forces and no longer be stuck alone in a bedroom or staring out a living room window on an unconcerned world that is passing us by.

This era of electronic gadgetry makes it possible for even some of the weakest and brain-disabled of us to reach out and make contact.

We talk to each other. And we talk about each other. We are shored up by support and have the temerity to open our mouths to people in our own small “real” worlds.

We stop apologizing so much. We say why we can’t come, or go, or work. We describe our symptoms to people who want to hear us.

We begin to believe once more that we have a right to take up space and to use up resources, to have an impact on those around us, just like a “normal” person — or just like we used to before being enshrouded by an invisible illness.

We write blogs, and hope other sick people will read them and be nourished somehow, and that healthy people will read them and become enlightened about how the other (invisible) half lives.

We join forums and have conversations about how we manage our difficulties, how we feel about being overlooked, what our cat did today that was so funny and is it safe to colour my hair?

We learn from each other’s research, from each other’s doctor visits that have been helpful, from each other’s experience. We drink in the encouragement, the love, the acceptance from others who know how tough things are, and know how parched we are.

And we turn to face that outer world with our Awareness Weeks and expect our voices to be heard, expect our struggles to be respected, expect some action to be taken on our behalf.

The theme for this year’s Invisible Illness Awareness Week is “This is Chronic Illness.”

Think about marking this Awareness Week of 2016 by writing about your illness or making a video. Put what matters to you on your Facebook page, on Illness websites, on blogs and forums. Some of you have already been doing this for some time. Keep going.

If you share your story someplace online, sending a link to the Invisible Illness Awareness Week’s Facebook page would be great encouragement for Lisa and friends.


About RM. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

Invisible Illness Week Coming (Sponsored by Rest Ministries). Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

Invisible Illness Awareness Week facebook page. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week Was September 10-16, 2012. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

National Invisible Illness Awareness Week: Sept. 9-15, 2013. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

Join the Invisible Fight: It’s Invisible Illness Awareness Week. Retrieved Sept. 19, 2016.

We Honor Invisible Illness Awareness Week, Sept. 26 – Oct. 1, 2016.

Photo via unsplash/Pixabay


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