Hermit Crab What?
Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Invisible Inks
Never encountered an invisible illness before? (Lucky you. Clearly, the Universe finds you favorable)
Or maybe you’re wondering what the hell a hermit crab essay is. (Yes, the adorable motif WILL be a recurring theme)
I hate leaving people in the dark. So let’s kick things off with some basic definitions to clear everything up. Then you won’t wander around, bumping into the different “shells” and get confused.
Invisible Illness (AKA: Hell)
Invisible illness is the umbrella term applied to any diagnosis that doesn’t affect the outward appearance of an individual. While your insides go on a rampage, your lovely face and body continue to resemble a healthy, functional person. (Good times)
Simply put, it’s ANY disease NOT visible from the outside - even to healthcare professionals.
This “normal” visage is often the tip of the iceberg for people struggling to gain help for their myriad symptoms. No one takes you seriously unless a limb is dangling by a thread. Stroll up to an ER with a crippling migraine or incapacitating pain, and medical professionals look at you with skepticism. You stand MUCH better chances of obtaining help if your body displays bruising, open wounds, or SOME physical example of what you’re feeling.
But these diagnoses don’t offer that kind of assistance.
And the list of invisible illnesses is LONG (this is just a TASTE):
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Oh, wait - did you see mental health conditions? Well, you don’t SEE psychological conditions, do you? Yeah, they’re invisible illnesses. And when you add the anxiety and depression of trying to convince medical staff to believe you’re not crazy into the mix, things get worse - for everyone.
There’s a reason living with these conditions is HELL.
You can either sit on the floor and cry (a lot), or you can laugh. Or you can do both.
(Trust me on this one - you’re going to do both)
Hermit Crab Essays
The medical industry has making people cry down to an art. There’s no point touching that one. But getting a laugh here or there? Maybe that’s worth attempting.
Enter the hermit crab.
A hermit crab essay is nothing more than an essay in a form you don’t expect. The term showed up in 2003 when Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola used it for their book Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction:
This kind of essay appropriates other forms as an outer covering to protect its soft, vulnerable underbelly. It’s an essay that deals with material that seems to have been born without its carapce - material that’s soft, exposed, and tender and must look elsewhere to find the form that will best contain it.
ANYTHING is free game when it comes to hermit crab essays. Well, anything besides the average essay format. (No one wants the expected) And that freedom of form allows you to explore truths in a new way, conveying your story to people through methods they don’t expect.
If you do a quick scout around (or read the companion to Tell it Slant, The Shell Game), you’ll find essays written in the form of:
If your imagination’s open enough, odds are you can take whatever you come across on a given day and piece a story into the format. (Giving your squishy little hermit crab a different shell) It’s a different path from the usual literary works people expect.
While still conveying the same insight.
I can’t gift you extra spoons.
One, I need every broken splinter of the ones I have. And two, I don’t think anyone’s figured out how to transfer the damn things via the internet yet.
But I CAN offer you somewhere that understands the frustration of not being SEEN - not the way you want, anyway. (How insanely ironic is it to get diagnosed with an invisible illness as everyone stares at you when you park in a disabled spot?)
And I promise to offer slices of humor, courtesy of the little “shells” I find each week. Pop your email in the subscribe box, and they’ll arrive every Friday afternoon. (Pinky swear)
And don’t worry: Laughing only uses one spoon. A smile only requires half.