To most people, it’s a compliment.
“But you don’t look sick.”
To us, the ones with invisible or hidden illnesses, those words can hurt. You can’t see what’s hurting us, and although that may make it less intrusive for others, it doesn’t diminish our struggle. Many of us are used to having the revelation of pain or difficulty greeted with skepticism; our inconsistent ability to function and act as “normal” people makes it hard for those around us to understand the legitimate problems hidden under our skin.
In my life, I’ve encountered those reactions so many times that it becomes hard sometimes not to doubt myself—until a door slams, or a baby cries, or a fork scrapes, and my phonophobic chronic head pain spikes and I’m plunged back into the real world, the world in which I live every second hurting. And I try not to tell people and try to keep living my life as I’ve learned to over these last four years of chronic pain.
I’ve met more persons with invisible illnesses than I thought I would, back when I was a scared 17-year-old trying desperately to rethink my life as newfound pain refused to go away and depression snuck along unacknowledged beside it. When your illness is invisible, you’re too often expected to either hide and get along like “normal” or to let yourself be seen only as that—your illness. I’m tired of both. Photography might be an unexpected way to present the reality of something invisible, but it gives me a medium through which to present to the world a group of volunteers who are willing to be photographed and speak to me about their invisible, chronic, and/or hidden illnesses, as well as their lives and joys. This collection of photographs aims to show a glimpse of these as real people dealing with legitimate, difficult issues that are typically hidden: now, you can see us.
Even if we don’t look sick.