We’re just now nearing the end of cold and flu season in North Texas (and everywhere else), and Facebook and Instagram have been overflowing with posts about tissues, chicken noodle soup, and Oscillococcinum. As moms, we band together when our families are ill. We drop off dinner to each other, we offer to pick up kids from school, and we enthusiastically utter: “I’m here if you need anything!” While we hate seeing our babies in misery, it’s almost worse when mom is struck down with illness because everything seems to come to a halt.
Reading posts about moms who are stuck in bed with the flu and the amazing support they receive from their friends often causes me to reflect on illnesses that are not as outwardly noticeable, aptly named “invisible illnesses,” that many of my mommy friends and I endure. Before I continue writing – no, I’m not looking for sympathy or pity, merely an understanding of what it’s like to suffer “behind the scenes.”
For many years I’ve experienced pain and fatigue from invisible illnesses every single day. While I won’t name what I’ve been diagnosed with, suffice it to say that medication and diet can only help ease symptoms to a degree. A Google search of invisible illnesses leads to an astonishingly lengthy list of autoimmune disorders, along with diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, digestive disorders, migraines, and mental illness, just to name a few.
When someone is suffering from an invisible illness they don’t look sick on the outside. They aren’t posting pictures of themselves wrapped up on the couch in blankets or waiting at the doctor’s office for the 10 millionth appointment that month. They might mention it once or twice, but they aren’t seeking commiseration. In fact, if they did mention it every day, it would go something like this:
Monday: “Back to the doctor’s office for more tests. Wish me luck.”
“Trying a new medication; hope the side effects aren’t too harsh.”
Tuesday: “Missing work again…I can’t get out of bed this morning.”
Wednesday: “Lab work is back: no improvement.”
“Worked through the pain today, so early night tonight.”
Thursday: “My kids don’t understand why I canceled a play date again. Mom of the year.”
Friday: “Another doctor’s visit. I feel like I’m dying.”
“Hurting all over. Weekend plans may be canceled.”
You get the point. If your friends did this on Facebook, you’d be “unfollowing” them faster than it takes a child to gag during a Strep test. You would be sick of them, no pun intended.
We don’t blast our symptoms for the world to see; we suffer silently. We smile even though we’re in pain. We force ourselves to get out of bed when the last thing we want to do is move our stiff bodies. We push ourselves farther than we should because we want to avoid judgment, and because we’re moms so we don’t get days off. Our invisible illnesses are an annoyance; we completely agree. What I’m asking…no, begging, from my fellow moms is this: If you know of a mom who lives with an invisible illness, drop off dinner to her on a random weeknight and offer to pick her kids up from school. Treat her like you would a friend with the flu and say those six crucial words: “I’m here if you need anything.”