People may not understand how invisible illnesses disrupt our everyday lives – precisely because they're hidden. Root Experience trustee Tilly Baker tells us how an untimely bout of her condition created a new understanding with a work colleague.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from migraines; intense, persistent headaches that reduce you to a feeling of utter wretchedness. There must be millions of you out there who know exactly what I mean.
When you’re holding down a job, you can’t just go and lie down in a darkened room for a few hours until the painkillers kick in, you have to keep going, smile, exude positivity. Often people around you don't know or understand what you're going through. Holding forth in front of a class of Year 11s on Pip’s unquenchable passion for Estella in Great Expectations is tough when all you really want to do is hide in the book cupboard with a wet paper-towel over your forehead.
I will always remember the day when I was on break duty in the school playing-fields – while suffering from a particularly awful migraine. My colleague offered me a biscuit and I thanked her and said I had a headache and was feeling rather sick. I promptly explained why. Right away she asked me what class I was teaching after break, and I replied that I had a double lesson with Year 9 on Chapter Four of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
“Go and get your head down in the corner of an empty classroom until the painkillers kick in,” she said.
“I’m free after break so I’ll cover for you; you can’t possibly teach.”
This teacher understood and acknowledged what was invisible in me because I had to tell her. As soon as I did, her empathy and humanity were overwhelming. I will be forever grateful for that act of kindness.
Do you have a Hidden Story you'd like to share with us?
We'd like to know how your invisible condition has affected your day-to-day life, and hear of the kind gestures or dismissals you've experienced along the way. Or can you offer a perspective as a friend, family member or carer? Or as someone who now feels differently after learning about someone's experience with an invisible illness?
The stories we collect will form part of our Hidden Stories project, which is about exploring – as a community – the way we behave towards people with conditions and illnesses which can't be seen. Only by sharing our experiences can we begin to understand them.
Get in touch with Jessica (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll help you to (sensitively) share your story and find support if you need it.
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We've started an online Hidden Stories community for those living with or affected by invisible conditions and disabilities. As a closed Facebook group, it’s a safe place for sharing stories, asking questions, and for mutual support and solidarity – amongst people who really know how you feel day to day.