There's a certain irony in the fact that I didn't know that the week of September 10-16, 2012 was National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week until it was over. This was particularly ironic because I live with chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that falls right smack in the invisible arena.
My first reaction to this gaffe was to make a mental note to be prepared for next year's Week. But I've since decided that being a week late is better than being a year late.
The small amount of exposure and promotion this Week receives from mainstream media may suggest that the chronically ill are a minority. But one out of every two Americans has a chronic condition. More than 90 percent of these don't look sick, falling into the category of dealing with an invisible illness.
In a Sept. 13, 2011 article on Huffingtonpost.com, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that more than 133 million people live with chronic illness.
Many chronic illnesses are invisible. These include some better-known conditions like arthritis, diabetes multiple sclerosis, as well as chronic pain conditions such as migraines and back pain. Other conditions that are just beginning to be known by the general public are fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome, also called ME and CFIDS.
The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Project in 2010 reported that 65 percent of Americans who search online for answers have a chronic condition, or more than one.
What are they looking for? They're seeking research and medical information, blogs and articles by other sufferers, and forums where they can talk with others in the same boat.
Chronically ill people have historically been isolated, misunderstood, neglected, overlooked and helpless. The advent of the internet has been life-changing for those who can type a keyboard, allowing the growth of a sense of community where none existed.
People with invisible illnesses have an unprecedented opportunity to become visible. National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week was initiated by Lisa Copen in 2002, and has grown with each passing year in the past decade.