Some illnesses are invisible. You can look at a person and have no idea how much they're hurting.
Allie Cashel and Erica Lupinacci know firsthand that living with an invisible disease can be difficult to talk about. That's why they've started Suffering the Silence, a photo series and online community for people living with chronic illnesses to share their stories.
In the photo series, photographed by Amanda Crommett, people write their invisible illness across their arms and reveal things about themselves that you'd never know without talking to them.
Cashel, who suffers from chronic Lyme disease, and Lupinacci, who has lupus, are also featured in the project.
"Suffering the Silence has given many people a safe space to talk about their illnesses experiences in a way that they haven't before," Cashel told A Plus. "Disease and illness communities can sometimes be very insular. This project is open to a much larger audience than just one disease or one illness, and I think it's enabling people to find connection, support and community in places they didn't necessarily expect to find it."
Cashel has suffered from chronic Lyme disease for sixteen years, but many people in the medical community actually don't believe chronic Lyme disease exists. She decided to share her experience in a book titled Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial. The book, which comes out next week, was the inspiration for the photo project.
Cashel kicked off the photo series by sharing some of her struggle.
"For a long time I was terrified to tell people about my illness experience because I was scared they wouldn't believe me. I needed to become an advocate for myself, especially in conversations about my controversial diagnosis. I had doctors tell me I was having a mental breakdown and needed to find the strength to tell them otherwise. It hasn't been easy, but finding my voice and sharing my story has been an incredibly powerful tool in my healing process." — Allie
Here are some of the other inspiring stories people shared on 'Suffering the Silence's' website:
1. Reisha, Asthma.
"Something simple like breathing is a hard thing for people living with asthma. So if your goal is 'today I want to breathe,' that is a big feat because even walking down the stairs, the subways in New York, the pollen, smog, everything gets in the way of breathing. I heard this quote before that said 'a life as an asthmatic is like a fish with no water' and it's very, very true." — Reisha
2. Evan, Crohn’s Disease.
"Since developing Crohn's Disease, I've had to scale back a few goals of mine. For example, I can't join the military and I can't tour as a musician because I can't get a cold place to store my medicine. It's a humbling experience." — Evan
3. Christian, Type 2 Diabetes.
"It's not only important to educate yourself, you have to educate your significant other, your friends and your family. Sharing with my friends and my family, not only about my condition but also the educational part of being a diabetic has really helped me along in my journey to be accountable not only for myself but everyone around me." — Christian
4. Tatianna, Endometriosis.
"The biggest thing, especially with Endometriosis, is that so many women go undiagnosed for so long because they've never heard of it. The problem I had with my doctor was that I would go in complaining of pain and he said "Everyone goes through this, it's called a period." It took me a good six years before I finally got diagnosed. Although on the outside it may look like every now and then I get period pains, you don't realize that no, it's an every day thing and just because I don't want everyone to know I'm in pain — I am." —Tatianna
5. Patrick, Hemophilia.
"90% of people with Hemophilia contracted HIV and/or Hepatitis-C in the late '80s, early '90s because of the Blood Contamination Crisis that is one of the most unfortunate events in American health history. On the converse, today we have the medicine to live very normal lives. I'm a part of the first fully healthy generation of people with hemophilia and yet 80% of the world still doesn't have access to the medicine or care that we do, that allows someone like me to live to see beyond the age of 3 or 4. The history is dark and the people who lived through it still feel the effects of that. It's a very conflicted community. It's strange to look and feel normal but be a part of something that is very specifically complicated." — Patrick
6. Ty, HIV Positive.
"There is such a stigma around HIV, people automatically disable you and don't think that you can do anything else. Just because I have something like this doesn't mean that I still can't go out and sing and do the things that I am meant to do. It doesn't mean that I can't date, that I can't love, it doesn't mean that I can't do any of those things. I'm still a person, I'm still human." — Ty
7. Erica, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
"Every day I'm trying to learn how to love a body I can't control. The unpredictability can be the most painful aspect of this disease. I get scared that my body will keep me from living the life I envision but I've also decided I won't let that fear hold me back. I'm incredibly passionate about my life and am dedicated to making my very big dreams come true. Fighting Lupus has helped me truly understand the extraordinary power of believing in yourself." — Erica