Have you ever wondered about the woman who rides around the grocery store in the motorized grocery cart or who parks in the handicapped space in front but doesn’t look handicapped? What about the man who uses a cane but doesn’t appear to need one or even the child who doesn’t run with the other kids but appears perfectly healthy? You may think these people are lazy good for nothings when in reality they are me and millions like me. they are the invisibly disabled.
What are invisible disabilities? According to the Invisible Disability Organization they are the disabilities you cannot see like “debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments.” These Types of disabilities are not always obvious. They can range from “mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.” Regardless, they seriously impact a person’s day-to-day life in ways that normal, healthy people cannot begin to understand.
Approximately 10% of all Americans have some kind of invisible disability. I am just one. There was a time when I was terrified of anyone knowing how badly I truly suffer in my day-to-day life. After all I am a prosecutor, I am the strong one in the family, I am the rock. Don’t get me wrong, it is still very hard to talk about and I still fear that I will be judged by it but recently I felt thoroughly invisible and thought it time to speak out for the other truly invisibly disabled.
The other day, I was at the airport walking to my gate. I was walking as fast as I could but was having a particularly difficult fibromyalgia day. You see, I have chronic and sometimes debilitating fibromyalgia along with the eight knee surgeries and one back surgery and myriad of other health issues I have had over the years, some days are worse than others. Fibromyalgia is a disorder with associated musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue and sleep issues among other symptoms. A young woman brushed by me, texting on her phone nearly knocking me down. It was as if I was not there. I was walking as fast as I could but I was in particularly bad pain that day. She was rude and unapologetic about her actions.
You may say that it was more about her than me but this type of action is not isolated. I get dirty looks from people when I use my handicapped placard or use the motorized grocery cart on days when the pain is particularly bad. I have had to explain my use of my handicapped placard to strangers when they have confronted me. There are times when my own family doesn’t understand the problem and ask for more than you feel I can give but I give it anyway ending the day in total and complete exhaustion.
My husband will say things like “You look alright to me.” But that is the crux of the matter. I know I look alright but it is easy to overlook the unsteadiness in my gait, the stumble over my words, or the slight shaking of my hands because as a whole I look alright. People don’t see the struggle I have just to brush my hair in the morning or get dressed. They don’t feel my pain. They see what they expect to see and what I allow them to see and nothing more.
For me and the millions like me it is a day-to-day struggle trying to move forward with a positive attitude. I have not always had one. I have my family, my job, my hobbies, and yes, a future filled with pain and fatigue. But the pain and fatigue will not win. I will win the best way that I can with the most positive outlook I can have, but even a positive attitude is not enough for some sufferers. Many cannot work or take care of their homes. I am one of the lucky ones. The next time you look down your nose at someone who may not “look” disabled think twice before you judge them because they may be me. They may be one of the millions of invisibly disabled.