Invisible Disability: An invisible disability is a chronic condition in which a patient’s symptoms are not immediately apparent to others. In the United States, roughly 96 percent of patients living with a chronic condition exhibit no visible symptoms of their illness, making it difficult for others to understand the physical and emotional hardships they face. Common “hidden” or invisible disabilities include:
- Hearing and Vision Impairment
- Psychiatric Disabilities (i.e. depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Chronic Pain Disorders (i.e. fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc.)
- Attention Deficit-Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
While these disabilities may not produce any signs that are visible on the surface, the pain and challenges a patient faces are very real. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. While this pain can be severe and in some cases debilitating, the condition is difficult to diagnose as it is undetectable on X-ray scans and other lab tests. Because of this, patients with early cases of fibromyalgia were not taken seriously and were even told that the illness was “all in their head.”
Today, most medical professionals recognize fibromyalgia as “real” illness, and rely on a physical examination to properly diagnose the condition. However, you may still face difficulties in convincing others you are dealing with a real condition. Here are some tips for living with an invisible disability:
Invisible Disability - Lifestyle Tip #1: Find the Right Doctor
You know your body better than anyone else. It is important to talk with your doctor about any alarming changes in your physical and emotional health. However, if they ever question the legitimacy of your concerns, it may be time to find a new primary care physician. According to Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, “If you have to convince your physician you have a real disease, you are seeing the wrong physician.” Dr. Teitelbaum urges patients living with fibromyalgia to see a pain specialist belonging to the, as they are more familiar with these invisible disabilities.
Invisible Disability - Lifestyle Tip #2: Create a Strong Support Network
Because patients living with an invisible disability shows no signs of their illness on the surface, friends and family may have a hard time understanding what you are going through. However, you should not have to convince those around you that the illness you are suffering from is in fact real. Consider bringing a friend or relative to your next doctor’s appointment. Hearing a medical professional corroborate your concerns may open their eyes and help them understand that the illness you are living with is real. However, if they continue to question your diagnosis, it may be time to let that person go and find yourself a more solid support network of caring and supportive individuals.
Invisible Disability - Lifestyle Tip #3: Educate Yourself and Others
One of the best things you can do to cope with your invisible disability is to educate yourself and others about the chronic condition. You may find others saying things like, “but you look healthy” or suggesting that your illness is “all in your head.” While this is certainly frustrating, offer to teach your loved ones about your illness, so they may better understand what you are dealing with and learn how they can support you in the best way possible.
Invisible Disability - Lifestyle Tip #4: Connect with Others Who Understand What You’re Going Through
While family and friends can offer some support, it is not always easy for them to relate to your illness. Look for support groups online or within your community, which can help you connect with others who understand the difficulties of living with an invisible illness. Create a free account attoday to share your story with others. Helping others who are struggling with a chronic illness can help make your own journey more enjoyable.
Invisible Disability - Lifestyle Tip #5: Make Time For Your Hobbies
People living with a chronic illness understand that most disorders create physical and emotional limitations. Fibromyalgia-related pain can make it difficult to participate in physically demanding activities you once loved. However, this creates an opportunity for you to explore new passions and interests you may have never thought you’d enjoy. Check out your community’s recreational center to see what activities are offered. Rather than let your illness consume your life, find a hobby that is both challenging yet manageable.
For more tips on how to cope with an invisible illness, check out’s .