Three Abstract photos in a line. One of the photos is off-kilter revealing a tunnel behind it with light shining out from behind the photo.

What You Don't See

This spring, I noticed a “what you don’t see – chronic illness version” tag on social media. People re-shared a selfie and wrote down the things that were happening behind the camera.

What people saw was a person dressed up, smiling widely, maybe socializing with their friends, and probably looking carefree. What people didn’t see was a range of invisible symptoms due to their chronic condition.

What's happening behind the camera?

I was intrigued because I am a beauty and lifestyle blogger, so I often take selfies wearing makeup and nice clothes. If you looked at my photos, you would never guess the war my body wages on itself daily.

More on this topic

This tag was primarily done by Spoonies (or autoimmune warriors), but I wish everyone would do it because, in this brave new world of perfectly curated online content, we forget a photo NEVER tells the whole story.

The photo never tells the whole story

We find ourselves judging someone’s story from one quick snap and we compare ourselves to someone else’s seemingly perfect life.

But that’s photo is only 1 percent of their life. We don’t see what happens during the other 99 percent.

The invisible, unseen parts of living with RA

This inspired me to start a series on my social media where I take my photographs and dissect what’s happening behind the scenes. I focus on the rheumatoid arthritis/disease symptoms to spotlight the unseen battles I go through every day.

What you see: An (expletive) awesome makeup look, nice shiny hairstyle, and a smile.

What you don’t see: a terrible flare, bad costochondritis, and hair falling out in clumps (even as I move it around during photos).

The unseen parts are pretty tough

When people look at my photos, they see someone who plays with makeup and nail art. They see someone who loves their pets and is a "positive" personality. People see the best version of myself; that 1 percent.

The other 99 percent is pretty rough, though. I miss my cat, I am experiencing one of the worst flares of my life, and some days I can’t keep any food down. But, some mascara, a well-placed face highlight and a smile can hide all that.

Awareness of invisible illnesses

And that begs the question, why should I hide it? What I deal with is very real, even if other people can’t see it. I certainly feel it. Maybe I should be more vocal about what I go through to bring awareness to chronic conditions and invisible illnesses. There is a fear that people will peg me as a hypochondriac or an attention-seeker because the sad truth is we are conditioned to only believe what we can see. We don’t practice empathy. We should.

Openly talk about unseen symptoms

Maybe the best way to break those stereotypes is to openly talk about the unseen symptoms. They do exist and are a big part of who I am and how I live my life. That’s okay. They don’t make me a weaker person; they make me a stronger one. I can talk about it. If other people have a problem, that’s their issue. Maybe they should ask why they have such a dismissive reaction to other people’s experiences.

I’m curious. When you take a photo what do people see? What are you hiding? If you’re comfortable sharing, let me know in the comments!

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