3 Reasons to Pass as “Healthy” (and why you probably shouldn’t)
Telling someone about your illness will change how they see you forever.
Stop a minute. Take that in.
No matter how close they are to you. No matter how nice they are. No matter how much they talk about treating everyone equally regardless of their situation. That person is no longer going to look at you the same way.
It’s shitty, but it’s true.
If you were to see me on the street you probably wouldn’t notice my illness. Pale. Thin. Short. All of the above. Whether or not I’m ill…on a good day you might not notice.
That’s right folks…I’m passing as “healthy”.
As someone with a complex, rare and invisible illness I have the luxury of mostly being able to appear “healthy” in my everyday life. But it raises a question, should I? And should you? When you have an invisible illness every new interaction raises the choice of whether to ‘pass’ or disclose your illness. The decision can have massive consequences. It’s kind of a big deal, especially on top of managing your health.
What exactly is ‘passing’ in everyday life?
Passing is a “term used to describe people from marginalised groups who intentionally change or manipulate their bodies or behaviour in order to claim identities that are not socially assigned to them at birth” Spratt, T.J.R (2022).
OK so is honesty always the best policy when disclosing your long term health condition to others? And what are the drawbacks of keeping that information to yourself?
Here’s three reasons why you should think twice before disclosing your illness.
1. Life’s too short
It’s ok not wanting talk about your condition to every single person you meet. Likewise, they probably don’t want to hear about it! Especially when you first meet.
We all know that one person who overshares every minutiae of their illness every time you bump into them and I’m not just talking about your gran. I’m happy they feel empowered enough to do that, but it’s so exhausting…especially when you’re dealing with your own health matters.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s healthy to share updates with trusted friends and family, but a casual acquaintance or person you randomly sit next to on the train…maybe not so much.
Save yourself time and precious energy by only doing the ‘big’ reveal when you need to.
2. Work in progress
Respect to anyone who can hold down a job with a chronic illness. There’s whole article alone about how hard that can be!
I’ve got a steady job, with a manager I trust, but it hasn’t always been that way. Back when I was temping and desperate to keep hold of a job I never used to mention my condition. I feared being let go. I’d push myself to exhaustion to fly under the radar and keep the money coming in.
No doubt I’m not alone.
Even with a secure job, disclosing an illness can hurt your chances of promotion and lead to discrimination. The stigma around both mental and physical ill health is still around — though I wish it wasn’t.
There’s no straightforward best approach here I’m afraid.
My only advice is to be careful. Whilst passing might make your life easier at work in the short term, not disclosing can have a huge impact if your condition begins to impact your work and your employer does know your situation.
Pick the right time to disclose at work.
3. You have every right to some privacy
The one thing they never tell you about having a long-term chronic illness (especially a rare one) is that every medical visit takes away a part of you. Every measurement, every probe and prod a doctor makes pushes you further away from who you are (or who you were). Slowly, as your privacy evaporates, you start to feel less like yourself and more like an object.
In a small way this happens when you to disclose to anyone. Hamlet might disagree, but you can be true to yourself without having to disclose all your personal health information to others.
When you ultimately tell someone else about your illness, consider how much you need to tell them. Every detail? Broad strokes? Whatever feels most natural to you and only disclose if you are 100% happy with them knowing.
You have the right to tell others about your illness on your own terms.
Activating cloak of invisibility!
If you’re happy to share then share. If you’re not then don’t feel bad about it.
Whether it’s a family member or a random person at work, I wish I could tell you that people will treat you the same way after you disclose your illness, but they won’t.
Interactions that happen after disclosure will be filtered through the lens of your illness. You will miss that promotion. You will get dumped. Your friends will accidently forget to invite you that party.
But if you ever want to have healthy and long-lasting relationships in your life then they will require total honesty and transparency. Them’s the breaks kid.