The Impact of “Invisible” Illness

When he was writing his book, Starting Points for a Healthy Habitat, Carl Grimes interviewed me for one of his chapters. Although Mr. Grimes was addressing the emotional and psychological impacts of someone with an environmental illness, what I said to him easily could be describing someone with a head injury or any other invisible condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome. The following is a quote from his book.

“Carl Grimes: What happens to someone when they have an ailment that is not obvious to others, such as one they believe to be caused by an exposure to an environmental contaminant?

David Pasikov: The ailment is not obvious because its symptoms and attributes are not familiar to others. A common example is a person with a broken leg who requires a cast and crutches. The cast and crutches are not only readily visible but also provide an obvious and generally acceptable excuse for that person’s behavior deviating from the accepted standards of their family, friends and peers. Also, because the healing requirements of a broken leg are fairly well known, that person’s behavior – although now much different than their peers – is fairly predictable and acceptable. No real surprises.

However if the ailment is not visible or not immediately accepted as a legitimate excuse for not meeting common standards of performance, then that person is expected – even demanded – to stop misbehaving. If they don’t, then they are assumed to be malingering – meaning that their own behavior is controllable by themselves, but they aren’t willing to do so.

Carl Grimes: What effect does this have on the person with the ailment?

David Pasikov: Their self-esteem suffers and their stress level increases. The experience usually retards their recovery process because they are now focused on, among other things, meeting the expectations of others at the expense of doing what is necessary for themself.

Carl Grimes: What happens socially?

David Pasikov: If their illness continues, they will gradually lose their friends. They won’t be much fun anymore. Furthermore, as you retreat to “lick your wounds” so to speak, you are also removing yourself from society. Your world becomes smaller and you increase your chances of becoming depressed.”