Quotes about invisible illness are too often filled with sappy, inspirational cliches, IMO. But that doesn’t change the need that people with chronic pain and invisible disabilities have for guidance, understanding and truth.
Quotes about invisible illness– why exactly? Because it’s invisible.
August is Pain Awareness Month, so I wanted to bring attention to the conditions that nobody can see. Starting in my teens I experienced chronic pain seemingly without any cause or explanation, and although I looked completely “normal” it changed every aspect of my existence. In the two decades since I’ve managed to build a life and become a person I’m proud of. During that struggle, I’ve collected a few quotes about invisible illness (and pain, hope, and joy) that really speak to me.
Some of these quotes are from people who experience(d) invisible, chronic pain, like Anne Reeve Aldrich and Elizabeth Taylor. (And check out my profile on Selma Blair for another chronic illness badass!) Others, like the quotes from Dostoyevsky, Kahlil Gibran, and the Greek stoic Seneca illustrate the wisdom that can come from the loneliness, suffering and struggle our medical conditions (and their consequences) cause. Finally, there’s hope, which is absolutely vital for anyone with health struggles… or struggles in general. Check out the quotes from Joseph Campbell, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Frederick Buechner and Barbara De Angelis for meditations on how to keep hope alive.
All the amazon links are affiliate links, because why not, but if you can, I’d rather you buy from your local bookstore!
“You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and… you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about your business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” – Elizabeth Taylor
You almost certainly know Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) as one of the most celebrated actresses in America. But did you know that she was born with scoliosis? I definitely didn’t know that she had been in chronic pain since falling off a horse at age 12! She also had pain from bulging discs and a constellation of other health issues for the rest of her life. But did that stop her? Nope. My favorite of her quotes is this one:
“Find a place inside you where there’s joy and that will burn out the pain.” – Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell is one of my all-time favorite writers…. hell, one of my all-time favorite people. You may have read pieces of Hero With A Thousand Faces or The Hero’s Journey during school. But if that’s all, I urge you to pick up some of his other works. (Like The Power of Myth or A Pathway To Bliss!) Joseph Campbell is an absolute must-read for anyone struggling to find a way through this life. (IE, all of us.) But his ideas are especially important for those of us who don’t have faith to fall back on.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Kahlil Gibran
Chronic pain and invisible disabilities are difficult and isolating enough on their own. But to be young and not know anybody else going through anything similar? It’s just about the loneliest thing you can imagine.
While not specifically quotes about invisible illness, Gibran writes about how to be human in a world filled with pain & beauty. Start with some books that collect his quotes and aphorisms! Sand and Foam was very important to me when I bought it in high school, and the Prophet, his best-known work, is also great. Or just grab his collected works— bonus, it’s one of the prettiest books I’ve seen in a long time!
“It is only through the gates of suffering… that we can pass into that tender sympathy with the griefs of all mankind which ought to be the ideal of every soul to attain.” – Anne Reeve Aldrich
Anne Reeve Aldrich (1866–1892) published her first poem at only 17, and quickly began establishing herself as a major talent. In her mid-20s, however, a debilitating illness changed everything. She continued writing poetry, dictating it when she was too weak to write, until the very end. It killed her at only 26.
Aldrich published her first book of poems (public domain) (which she called “chiefly in a minor key,” a detail I love) in 1889. A year later, she sent this moving letter to the poet Emily Dickinson. Despite her fame today, Dickinson had died four years earlier without ever publishing a book of poetry. Knowing the circumstances in which Aldrich wrote this makes it mean so much more to me.
“To be a human being among people and to remain one forever, no matter in what circumstances, not to grow despondent and not to lose heart– that’s what life is all about.” – Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) was arrested and sentenced to death in his late 20s for circulating forbidden books. On December 22, 1849, in Saint Petersburg’s public square, he was prepared for execution. But just before the end, a pardon came through: Dostoyevsky had escaped death. In the aftermath of the experience, he wrote to his brother about despair, hope, love, and the new perspective on life he’d gained by almost losing it all. This new drive inspired his most famous works, Notes From Underground, The Brothers Karamazov.
“There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
Those Greeks had some shit figured out, didn’t they? There’s a lot of wisdom you can find through reading through the Stoics, particularly Seneca— while they aren’t specifically quotes about invisible illness, they’re about the pain and struggle and triumph of being alive. And that’s a pain we all feel.
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘It will be happier.’” – Alfred Lord Tennyson
“One life on this earth is all we get, whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can.” – Frederick Buechner
Author, Presbyterian pastor, and theologian Carl Frederick Buechner is worth checking out even if you don’t consider yourself religious. This quote from A Room Called Remember has always seemed particularly relevant to those of us with chronic pain or invisible disabilities we struggle with.
“The journey in between who you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.” – Barbara De Angelis
Not all of these quotes about invisible illness come from dead old white men! I don’t know where I originally heard it, but this is so, so true. I don’t know much about the source but to learn more, check her website or read more quotes on instagram!
Quotes about invisible illness: what are YOUR favorites?
Drop it in the comments below or shout at me on social media (now including threads!). If I find it really compelling, it’ll make it onto the next post I’m planning on quotes about self care or quotes about mental health!
Want even more?! I added a couple of my faves, but click the previous image☝️ to read the first set of the best quotes about chronic pain, disability and mental health! Or the brand new post of quotes about self care with invisible illness! Then pin these so you remember where these great quotes come from!