“I Don’t Believe You” – Dealing with an Invisible Illness

Dealing with an Invisible Illness

Dealing with an invisible illness, I’ve gotten to hear “I Don’t Believe You” more than once when I’ve been brave enough to share my mental health issues.

This post could be triggering. If you are in a tough place mentally, please read with caution.

I continue to be the first one to poke fun at myself. Little quips like “Yeah, I’m government-certified crazy” or “Any day with no tears is a good day” come easily off my tongue. After all, I have lived with my depression for a long, long time. I’m 44 53 and I can still feel the Exacto knife I used on my arm at 12, fascinated by the pain and the blood. It can feel like just yesterday that I stood in front of the mirror, punching myself as hard as I could. An act that is beyond humiliating to remember much less write about publicly.

I knew what I was doing was wrong. Unfortunately, it took years for me to learn not to do that type of destructive behavior to myself. It took an equally long time to get to the point of acceptance so I can sometimes make light of my illness.

While I was teaching myself how to deal with my self-hatred, I became a master at hiding it. I was already weird enough … the quiet girl who always had her nose in a book… and I didn’t want anything else about myself to stand out. About 10 years ago is when I found the courage to bring my voice to the table. I wanted to become a mental health advocate and teach folks that there should be no shame in dealing with depression. There should be no shame in dealing with an invisible illness.

It began during a conversation I had with my former in-law when I made a self-deprecating comment. She said, “I really don’t believe you.”. I got confused and simply asked, “What?”. She responded, “I don’t believe that you have depression or anything else wrong with you. I think you like not working and like the attention it brings you.”

Needless to say, that was beyond unsettling and extremely hurtful. Who in the hell would pretend to have depression or any other mental health illness?

She said, “I don’t believe you.”

I honestly don’t know if it was meant in a malicious way (probably). Perhaps it was even intended as a compliment. This person had known me for over a decade and truly did not have an inkling of how often I had bad days or the severity of them. It was, after all, during a med break. Perhaps I should have been proud to be able to mask so well without the support of medication.

Typically, I don’t shout from the rooftops when I fall back into the big dark hole of sadness. I hide from the outside world and work hard to keep my tears at bay and my negative thoughts of myself away from my children. There is no calling anyone to describe to them how much I can crave going back to cutting. I allow myself to drown in despair while the kids are in school. When they get home I hold myself together long enough for them to go to sleep. Then I allow the enormous sadness to wash over me. I fight to do that day in and day out until I’ve ridden that depression wave to come out the other side.

But you can believe me. I’m dealing with an invisible illness.

I have an illness that you cannot always see. There are days and weeks when it makes me cry endlessly for no reason and think really horrible things about myself. During those times, my energy is spent fighting it off so I can create a positive environment at home and focus on trying to make life better for other people.

We mask because we know that our tears are irrational and make you uncomfortable.

We rise by lifting others.

I rise above the depression waves more easily when I can help others. That methodology is what gets me through the rough times. This is why I keep coming back to writing and reposting old posts when I am financially able to restart my websites.

This post is also for many of my friends who unfortunately have to deal with invisible physical illnesses such as Lupus, Diabetes, Heart Disease (etc). I know they can relate as they too often have to deal with the “You Don’t Look Sick” syndrome.

When someone is brave enough not only to share with you about their illness but additionally tries to have a sense of humor about it, honor that trust. You break that trust when you tell that courageous person that you just don’t believe them. It invalidates their enormous suffering and undervalues them as a person.

You don't look sick but I believe you. I see your strength and I see your suffering.
Tell them this.

Instead admire them for their strength. Please realize that much of what you do daily without thought doesn’t mean that everyone can do them. Those everyday tasks that you take for granted most likely come at a great cost for them. These include but are not limited to just getting out of bed that day, putting a smile on their face, and trying to make you laugh.

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