As children, we often ask each other the question: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
It may have been telekinesis, super speed, telepathy or maybe even the ability to talk to animals.
For me, it was to be invisible.
I grew up thinking Violet Parr from “The Incredibles” had the coolest ability. I thought about how easy it would be to go from place to place and not be seen.
In my childlike mind, I could go anywhere in the world and just mysteriously pop up. Not to mention, being invisible would make games of hide-and-seek so much easier.
But being invisible isn’t as fun as I convinced myself to believe.
Invisible illness gives an entirely new and daunting meaning to what it means to not be seen.
This term refers to chronic health conditions that can’t be easily diagnosed or acknowledged just by looking at someone. It includes conditions such as migraines, celiac disease, IBS and lupus.
Typically, when people see a seemingly able-bodied, smiling and active person, they assume they’re completely healthy and well. Personally, many people I interact with on a daily basis wouldn’t know at face value that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and an autoimmune condition while managing multiple leadership positions.
In my experience battling with invisible illness, I’ve encountered people socially and professionally who continuously claim, “You don’t look sick,” or say, “You can’t always not feel well.”
They may mean no harm, but their words have a harsh impact.
Their words, on top of attendance policies with a limit of three absences, having to cancel plans with friends and choosing to stay home for the sake of being able to function the next week is a burden I wish I didn’t have to face.
Having an invisible illness can feel like the world keeps moving while many people don’t see you or seek to understand.
Barely anyone sees behind closed doors. The sleepless nights, extensive doctors notes and medications all add to the unbearable mental and physical toll it has on me.
The medical setting is the one place you would hope to feel visible, but it actually makes things all the more complicated.
Imagine walking around with symptoms of the flu, not just for one day, but a month. You have headaches, body pain and constant exhaustion, but you face the doctor with no runny nose, fever or cough.
There’s obviously a problem, but it can’t be seen with a simple look. The doctor looks at you with a puzzled expression, and he doesn’t see anything.
You’ve tried every over-the-counter medication with no relief and the doctor sends you off by saying, “Remember to stay hydrated, and take medicine.” It’s one of the most irritating feelings ever.
This scenario has been my reality.
I’ve sat in urgent care and Student Health Services multiple times this semester. I’ve had consistent symptoms that flare up because of my condition. But each time I get checked I receive a blanket diagnosis of a virus, despite my noted medical history.
While I do get sick easily, oftentimes I feel brushed off with a “It’s that time of year, everyone is getting sick,” or a familiar “You’re doing everything right. Come back if it gets worse.” Last year, I was even referred to an off-campus physician because they weren’t sure on how to proceed.
There have recently been days where I’ve attempted to make an appointment with Student Health Services to address a problem, only to find out they’re completely booked for a couple of days, or even into the next week.
During a crisis, it’s much more physically, financially and mentally taxing to find a ride and a local urgent care that isn’t at capacity in a health crisis, than it is to use campus resources.
There’s often no follow up unless you reach out yourself or make sure to get in contact with accessibility resources to work on accommodations and contacting your professors.
As a college student who lives away from my home city during the school year, I can’t always go straight to my specialist in person, but that doesn’t mean the care I receive here shouldn’t be held to the same standards.
For students like myself with chronic conditions, Student Health Services is the one place we expect to get accessible and quality care during our time in school. But it’s discouraging knowing even though I’ve ultimately tried everything, I know going in to be seen will almost always have the same outcome it always does.
Morgan S.T. Ross is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Morgan Ross is an assistant news/features editor.