Have you ever seen someone park in a handicap parking spot and get mad and think “They aren’t disabled! They are stealing a spot from someone who needs it!” Well you might just be wrong about that. Nearly 1 in 3 Americans suffers from a invisible, or chronic illness. This translates to about 100 million people. That’s a lot of people walking around, looking like nothing is wrong with them. Many people with chronic illnesses are in pain all the time, yet they don’t show it. You could have a friend that has one and you will never know unless they tell you. 96% of people with chronic medical conditions show no outward signs of their illness, and 10% experience symptoms that are considered disabling.
Emy Anderson is just a normal 19 year old girl from San Diego, California. She arranges music and records covers of her favorite songs. She has a cat and a boyfriend and she loves to read. You would never know it, but Emy suffers from not one chronic disease, but four of them: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia (POTS), Mast Cell Disease, and Fibromyalgia.
EDS is an inherited disorder that affects the connective tissues, joints, skin, and walls of blood vessels. Symptoms include overly flexible joints, and skin that is fragile and stretchy. For Emy, this manifests itself in frequent dislocations, and what some people would call being “double jointed.”
All of Emy’s symptoms combined cause her to not be able to hold a steady job. She is habitually bedridden and cannot complete simple daily tasks. Low energy, high-pain days are what a lot of people from the invisible illness community call “low spoon days” after the spoon theory.
The “Spoon Theory” was created by Christine Miserandino, the founder of butyoudontlooksick.com. Miserandino came up with the concept as a way to explain what it is like to live with an invisible illness. She explains that being healthy is like having an unlimited number of spoons, a metaphor for the number of activities that you want to complete in a day. Having an invisible illness is like having a limited number of spoons that you have to choose to allocate carefully in order to complete necessities in your daily life.
Emy, Christine, and many other “spoonies,” as they like to call themselves, have created websites and facebook groups like butyoudontlooksick.com and invisibleillnessawarenessweek.com to create awareness for invisible illnesses. Many people are still unaware these illnesses exist, and get angry and defensive if they think someone is abusing a handicap parking spot, using the elevator to go up one floor, or sitting down for the pledge of allegiance. If you have ever been one of these people, perhaps think twice before judging someone. They might be in severe pain.