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The 14 biggest misconceptions of chronic, undiagnosed and invisible illnesses

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Having a chronic, invisible, or undiagnosed illness is difficult. Just getting through a day can be struggle, and sometimes you can't even get out of bed. If you manage to get up and get going, your illness soon knocks you down again. But the uphill battle does not end there. While you are feeling poorly each day, the people around you judge you and form hurtful conclusions, never hesitating to voice them. Following are just a few of those inaccuracies that are unfair, premature, and just plain ignorant.

1. "You're not sick! You're just fat!"

Unless you are fully trained and experienced in treating a patient's illness, you don't have the authority or knowledge to make this claim. And not all patients are overweight. Those who are overweight could be experiencing medication side effects, mobility difficulties, hormonal problems, swelling, and a entire host of other problems. They are overweight because they are sick, not the other way around.

2. "It's just depression."

No, it is not "just depression." Depression does not cause hair loss, unexplained bruising, butterfly rashes, bleeding, debilitating joint pain, or any of the other symptoms that are common with ongoing illnesses. Being sick every single day is certainly disheartening, but these patients do not fight an endless battle just for brief, fleeting moments of wellness because it's "just depression."

3. "It's all in your head."

This a common but very minimizing claim. Doctors have said it, friends and family have said it, and people will continue to say it in the future. This idea is never based on knowledge but a lack of it instead. It is invalid and inaccurate. It is worth noting that sweeping an illness under the rug will not make it disappear.

4. "You don't look sick, so you're obviously exaggerating or faking it."

Are you a doctor who is experienced in the presentation and treatment of the illness? Do you have appropriate medical credentials? No? Then how would you know? Many people with chronic illness look perfectly healthy to the untrained eye. Not everyone who is sick is curled up in bed with a fever and a box of Kleenex. Being sick doesn't always mean that you're sneezing, coughing, or vomiting. There aren't always obvious signs, and when there are obvious signs, clothing, makeup, and wigs can hide a lot.

5. "You just sleep too much - that's all."

People with chronic illnesses do what they need to do in order to get through a day. They know what works from experience. They sleep more because they need it. They rest more because they need it. A body that fights a battle against itself is tiring. Being in pain is tiring. Having a chronic illness overall is immensely taxing. Sleeping or remaining in bed does not cause or worsen psoriasis, lupus, celiac disease, fibromyalgia, or any other ongoing illness. Patients are not at fault for being sick.

6. "It would help if you exercised more."

This is another minimizing, unhelpful accusation. This unsolicited "advice" will never be helpful to those who hear it. Those with illnesses do as much as they can as often as they can, and sometimes more. It is often overwhelming at best. They know what works, and they do it. But some conditions actually require bed rest. Some chronic illnesses, upon exertion, can even cause the heart wall to tear open. These patients must actually avoid exercise. An experienced physician will know how to help, not family and friends.

7. "It would help if you ate a better diet."

A steady diet of pizza, fast food, and other bagged items will make anyone feel subpar. But with a limited income and an inability to drive, many people with chronic illnesses don't even have the resources to obtain such foods. What's more, many conditions create dietary restrictions that leave patients unable to eat a number of foods. Celiac disease, post surgical care, IBS, Crohn's disease, and allergies are just a few conditions that can make people avoid junk food like the plague.

8. "It would help if you got out more."

Patients with chronic illnesses stay home because they don't feel well enough to go out. If you are already in pain, exhausted, nauseous, or otherwise feeling unwell, going out will only make it worse. This suggestion, like the others, comes from a lack of knowledge. Avoid it entirely.

9. "It would help if you had a better attitude."

If you were sick every single day, you would be grouchy, too. People with ongoing conditions have positive thoughts just as much as anyone else, but it won't treat, cure, or cushion the blow of any disease. This minimizing idea suggests that people are sick because a bad mood made them that way. Even if you didn't mean it that way, you are better off not saying it.

10. "It's just mind over matter!"

If people could will themselves better, they would spend every waking moment doing so. But the fact is that the disease will work to counteract their efforts at every turn. They are not in the state they are in because they simply did not try hard enough. An illness will persist as strongly as ever, no matter how much willpower they have. And if they try hard enough, they will end up in the hospital or dead. As with all the other misconceptions, you are better off just not saying it at all.

11. Only paralyzed people need wheelchairs or power chairs.

A number of conditions, including injury-related nerve damage and multiple sclerosis, can make walking dangerous but not impossible. If you see someone in a wheelchair suddenly stand up, he or she is not faking it. Some people can only walk very short distances. Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge will take you a lot further.

12. "I saw a lady with a handicapped sticker on her car, but she had no problem walking back to her car with bags of groceries! She obviously lied to get that sticker!"

Again, not all illnesses are visible to your untrained eye. You can't accurately determine whether she is truly sick or not based on your amateur observations. Just because someone doesn't look sick to you doesn't mean that's not the case. Getting a handicapped sticker is a difficult. often-fruitless process. You have to submit extensive medical proof of your need for the sticker. Even then, you may not receive one. If someone has a handicapped sticker, he or she needs it, despite what your limited experience might tell you.

13. "People who are on disability are just a bunch of lazy, entitled mooches who just want to live for free!"

Getting disability of any kind is more difficult than getting a handicapped sticker. It entails years of frustration, court dates, lawyers, phone calls, and an endless uphill fight. There are far more people who legitimately need the help and can't get it compared to those who abuse the system. Additionally, living on disability is not a permanent vacation. You often feel useless and stagnant, without goals and a purpose. All you can do is sit and rot as you feel too poor to do anything else. Even those that win the fight often do not receive enough money to cover the basics each month. The majority will tell you that they would trade places with a working person any day.

14. "Other people have it worse. You just need to suck it up."

When you tell someone with an ongoing health condition that "other people have it worse," you're basically saying "I don't care." The response is minimizing, invalidating, and offers no comfort at all. It implies that a patient has no right to feel discontent, which is not true. Even if you weren't trying to make a sick person feel worse, you will if you say it. Avoid comparing one person's struggles with another person's hardships. You'll only pour salt into the wound.

Ultimately, there are no words of advice or premature conclusions that help anyone. The better option is to listen with open ears and an open mind. Chronic, invisible, and undiagnosed illnesses do not aim for deceit. People with ongoing conditions just want to get through the day comfortably and without judgment. They are not at fault for feeling poorly. They want you to understand. They react as anyone would. They just want to get better. Is that really any different from anyone else?

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