Last week, I blogged about what health clues can be found by looking at your skin, hair, nails, tongue, and nails. In honor of National Invisible Chronic Illness Week, September 13-19, 2010 (http://invisibleillnessweek.com/), let’s take a look at what goes on under the surface of a body affected by chronic illness. Illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and tick-related conditions all exist with relatively few visible physical indicators.
For a condition to become chronic, it means that “dis-ease” (lack of ease) has been going on for an extended period of time. Chronic illness is systemic; every system of the body is affected and compromised by dysfunction.
When I was at my sickest point, I wrote down the many symptoms that affected me. Listing them on page 16 of my book, FibroWHYalgia, they total almost three dozen. It’s no surprise to anyone struggling with chronic illness, that very few of these symptoms are visible. In fact only six are symptoms that can be readily seen.
Here’s a sampling of the invisible symptoms that can a person with chronic illness may experience:
Cognitive dysfunction/mood disorders
Compromised immune system
You may feel that one item on this list is included in error — malnourishment. After all, if someone is malnourished, you can see it, right? Wrong!
A person’s weight isn’t an indicator of whether or not he or she is malnourished. People who are malnourished can be overweight, underweight and every measure in-between. Poor nutrition is a common denominator to many chronic illnesses and lack of vital nutrients can strip the body of its resources. A compromised immune system (and infection susceptibility) is one casualty of nutritional deficiencies. Add stress to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for hormonal/adrenal disaster, among other things.
But getting back to our topic of the week, reviewing symptoms is an important way to analyze our health and to track our progress as we heal. Symptom lists vary by each individual. As we take a moment to honor the intent of National Invisible Chronic Illness Week, I suggest we focus on our similarities rather than differences. It’s easy to single out those who share our particular diagnoses and judge everyone else with an “us” or “them” mentality.
Observing another’s personal characteristics rather than the characteristics of their illness can lead to greater acceptance. You may find shared traits such as compassion, patience, determination, loyalty, and a strong sense of curiosity about health.
I wish you all a wonderful National Invisible Chronic Illness Week and please share with me your ideas on how you plan to spread the word. It’s true that our conditions may be invisible, but we are not!