An Invisible Illness Becomes Visible

I finally understood why Sandy cut herself.

I was confused as well as repulsed; Sandy, a pretty young woman cut herself. It seemed completely inexplicable to me. Of course I recoiled from her. Interestingly soon after this encounter, one of my daughters broke her foot. Suddenly she attracted people who were eager to help her. I was struck by the contrasting reactions. Two women, both hurting, yet only one garnered sympathy.

Picture these two separate scenes.

In the first vignette, a smiling young woman with a cumbersome backpack, leans with both hands on a walker as she edges towards heavy doors leading to a lecture hall. Before she can even touch the handle, two young men sprint up, open the door and solicitously offer to carry her bag till she is sitting comfortably at her desk. She is an accepted part of the young men’s social group. Her disability, although permanent, does not repulse the other students but elicits empathy.

A diametrically opposed scene focuses on another young, pretty woman but she slouches with her head down. As she struggles weakly with the same heavy doors, an impatient young man sighs, shakes his head at her and roughly yanks the door open . He steps quickly past her after glancing at her sideways because her hands are trembling. She refuses eye contact because she is ill at ease and self-conscious.

The first woman’s physical disability is clearly understood by the male students; they confidently offer the kind of help that she needs. The second woman makes the young guy uncomfortable because it is obvious that she is emotionally or mentally ill but he really does not exactly know why she is ill or how to help her.

Ironically physical illness often has the power to bring people together by calling forth virtues from both the one in pain and those around them. On the other hand, mental pain is harder to bear, even more difficult to help.

I finally understood why a pretty woman like Sandy, in tremendous emotional pain,

cut her arms because those visible wounds

took her mind off her mental pain.

A cut became the visible symbol

not only to herself but to society

of her inner illness that until then

had been invisible.


21 thoughts on “An Invisible Illness Becomes Visible

  1. How very true. Despite the attempts to create more awareness around mental illness, we as a society continue to feel discomfort & ignorance in assisting those suffering. What an insightful piece.


  2. When someone cuts herself, she experiences physical pain, an outward sign of her inner pain. She can also experience physical healing of the cut, an outward sign of her inner hope.


  3. I used to beat myself up with the possibility of having caused my physical illness with my emotions or thoughts. And you know, it may be partly true, I am not sure. What I did figure out though, was that even so, it’s still sickness of the heart and should be treated with the same compassion.

    I think the hard part is when the depression or other mental illness causes the person to act in ways that are off putting (i.e. irritability, chronic sadness, etc.) and is tougher on those who simply do not understand the nature of the illness.

    I recall often a time when my daughter had major surgery on her spine to remove a cancerous tumor. Between the pain and the drugs, she was miserable. Of course, I let it go. Of course, I knew why she was acting that way and didn’t take it personally. Was it easy to take? No, but when I look back, I am so glad that I handled it with love and compassion.

    Now, as she struggles with mental illness, I am trying to handle it in the same way. It is a daily struggle, but marked with hope and the loving hand of God.

    I guess I have made up for my lack of comments on the other posts, but I am always reading along. Thanks so much for touching and teaching.


    1. Michelle, God bless you and your family. Thank you for being open and sharing from your heart. I don’t usually write comments to other folks here but wanted you to be encouraged. Keep up the daily doses of love and compassion!


  4. Melanie, this is wonderful. This is not only insightful, but filled with God’s love and compassion. The fruit of the Spirit is love……….Galatians 5. Thanks again.


  5. Well-said.

    I sympathize with folks who feel uneasy around those with disabilities – physical or mental/emotional. It is, I think, a very natural reaction: quite possibly, as you speculated, stemming from uncertainty.

    I’m also one of ‘those people,’ with a lurching walk and neurological glitches that weren’t diagnosed until decades into adulthood. The combination could, I’m sure, have been rather disconcerting.

    Times change, though: for the better, in many ways. And that’s another topic.


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