Hidden Illness: 'A lot of people discount it and say it's all in my head'

In our hidden illness series, we're talking to people from all walks of life who deal with illnesses with no visible symptoms - and how this affects their treatment and day-to-day life. Jennifer McShane speaks to a young woman who has a range of conditions and how judgement from those who don't understand affects her self-esteem.   


"I have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, severe anxiety, and arthritis," Corii tells me." I'm also a cancer survivor and we think that's what most of these illnesses have stemmed from."

As all of the above conditions present symptoms that aren't necessarily visible to the naked eye, Corii says she's used to a range of reactions from others. It is the dismissal that she's so frequently treated with which can linger.

"I've had positive and negative reactions. Some people get a little excited and reveal that they suffer from something similar and are happy that they aren't alone. Some people understand and keep it in mind. However, a lot of people discount it and say it's just "an excuse to be lazy" or not have a "real" job or that it's all in my head. There are more people who don't understand than who do and they don't understand how complicated it makes life," she said.

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Related: 'My pain fell on deaf ears - I was told I'd be grand'

And it is, she says, is the same comments that creep in time and time again. "The interesting ones are always the "but, you're so outgoing, you don't look sick!" It's hard to explain to those people."

"When talking about various aspects of my illnesses, unfortunately, it's been mostly negative and I usually have to deal with harsh criticism from peers because they don't understand. They may not have to deal with crippling anxiety or their body not wanting to move in the morning, but I do."

Judgment 

Constantly having to explain herself means that she is susceptible to judgement and as a result, when she is feeling up to being more sociable often means she hasn't the want to make the effort which could make her symptoms worse.

"There have been several times that I've been told I'm not a good person because I "made it all up" because I couldn't see someone or was unable to show up for something. Unfortunately, I am quite the hermit and not wanting to be judged from these illnesses is one of those reasons. I don't like people seeing me as a bad person."

Related: 'There were days I worried so much, I made myself physically sick' 

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In her experience, Corii tells me that the stigma surrounds illnesses which aren't immediately obvious can sometimes be warranted as there'll always be some who might choose to be untruthful, but most of the time, it boils down to what is seen as "normal" in society.

"It's true; people might use these illnesses as an excuse because they can't be seen and they may not actually have them," she continued. "That obviously makes it a lot more difficult for those of us that have conditions that aren't visible. I've had people ask me to "prove it" before they would stop discounting me. Society thinks that in order for someone to be "sick" it has to be evident and that's just not the case."

 Women are more open about these types of things, so I think that's why they're targeted more in terms of stigma. We're seen as weak to a much of society, so we're an easier target.

There will only be a change, she says, if attitudes begin to change and education and empathy are actively prioritised.

Related: 'I was in denial; I was in pain': Selma Blair gives first interview since revealing MS diagnosis

Even if I have to show proof that I have these illnesses, I want people to start understanding and being empathetic. I don't want sympathy, I just want to not be attacked when I can't attend a birthday party because my body hurts too much. I think children should also be taught about these illnesses in school. Diabetes is invisible, yet people don't have a hard time believing that. Why are pain and mental disorders any different?"

If you'd like to share your story, please email: [email protected]

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Main photograph: Unsplash


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