ME/CFS: dealing with an "invisible" condition

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is one of these "invisible" conditions that can't be seen on the outside. There are no external signs to announce to the world that you feel ill or in pain; no drops of blood, no casts on your arm, and no neon signs around your neck. This can offer solace in many ways. It provides for privacy and the ability to hide your illness if you so wish (to the extent possible).

At the same time, however, it means that the world may be oblivious to, and at times even skeptical of, the difficulties you face. How can they appreciate what is wrong when outwardly you look just fine? Why would someone give up their seat for you on the bus when you appear healthy and fit, perhaps even young? How can family and friends easily "get" the problem when you look the same as you always have?

The words "You look great!" can be bittersweet for someone living with an invisible illness. While compliments are of course welcome and boost the self-esteem (as they do for anyone!), you can sense the underlying doubt in their mind: "So are you really sick?" It can be frustrating and even a strain to explain or reiterate that you are not as well as you look, especially when it is perfectly obvious to you how rotten you feel.

CFS is a condition that has faced skepticism from the medical community in the past, where health professionals and insurance companies have commented that people with CFS "are not really sick because they look fine." This makes it especially difficult for people with CFS to regulate their emotions because they are getting conflicting responses of both friendly compliments and professional disbelief.

If someone you know is coping with an invisible illness, do your best to keep the lines of communication open and the support flowing. Try to place yourself in their shoes and imagine what you might feel in their situation. Open your imagination and provide a supportive environment. And if you need an extra reason to go the extra mile, think of it as building good karma. After all, you never know when you'll need others' support yourself!

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2021. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: