Invisible Disabilities Week; Behind the Scenes of an Invisible Illness Magic Trick [Guest Post]

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Jennifer is an intuitive mentor to chronic illness warriors. Her superpower is using her intuition to create practical ways warriors can thrive & get the most out of life 

Invisible illness warriors really are master magicians; we put on a show for the rest of the world, we keep our reality hidden and we can fool even the most savvy of people that we really are “fine”. Invisible illnesses are the ones you can’t necessarily see in front of you but they can cause the person with the illness to experience pain, discomfort, exhaustion and mental anguish at the very least equal to those with visible disabilities. 

The thing with invisible illness is we are subject to many assumptions because of how we look and that causes all sorts of turmoil for us, namely: Do I make a fuss and justify myself or do I keep quiet for an easy life? 

Maybe there’s a lot of people out there thinking “If I was me I would definitely stand up for myself” but would you? Would you voice your private health issues to a room full of strangers or your peers? Would you stick up for yourself when you’ve not slept in days and are in constant pain and just want to curl up in a ball and make it all go away? Would you really feel like justifying yourself for the 4th time this week, when you’ve said the same thing so many times you’re considering just having a tattoo on your forehead with it? 

So what do invisible warriors really want from you? I think maybe what we want most is for people to just pause a moment or two before speaking, before making an assumption, stop and think what might actually be going on behind the scenes. Here are some examples of situations you might want to think about what’s really going on:

The Disabled Parking Bay:
Unless you are a parking warden, ask yourself if it is your place to put someone in the awkward and upsetting situation of questioning their right to park in a disabled bay.
Pause. Think. 
There are reasons why a person with an invisible disability needs a bay close to the store. Some people are in pain that you can’t see, some people might look OK but they can actually only walk for so long, that extra walk from further away may not seem a big deal to you but to them it can be the difference between getting their weekly groceries and not getting them. Some people have issues that require them to get to the toilet quickly and without warning. A bay close to the entrance is often a bay closest to the toilet and can be the difference between a dignified trip to the shops and an embarrassing and soul destroying incident.  

The Priority Seat:
Priority seats on trains and buses are not just for the elderly or pregnant or outwardly disabled. They are for anyone who struggles to stand or to stand for a long period for any reason and for any reason that makes those seats more suited. They are purposefully situated close to the doors and often close to the toilets which again, like described as above can make all the difference for someone who cannot just wait for the toilet. Invisible illness doesn’t care how young you are, so before you dismiss that young person sat in a priority seat maybe instead make the assumption first that they have a good reason. This one can be difficult, for example if there is someone else you can see is in need of the seat, it’s a busy train and you’re not sure if they are sat there just because the seat was empty. You could try saying something like “are you in need of this priority seat? It’s totally fine if you are I don’t want to assume anything I just thought I’d check before I help this lady find another priority seat”

It’s a polite way of saying “I’m not sure if you have an invisible illness” and giving them the opportunity to say “yes I need the seat” without them having to justify their private medical information to a total stranger.

Work flexibility:
You might envy that person who seems to have a lot of flexibility at work and the opportunity to work from home but for them it may not be a nicety, it may actually be a necessity that allows them to still work. It can be a little too easy to fall into a trap at work or comparing what your colleagues get and keeping tally of who gets what and what seems like favouritism especially if you get turned down for something that someone else has been approved for. But it doesn’t mean it’s your business to ask why and it’s not your business to hold it against them. Think for a moment and put yourself in their shoes. You may not know what’s happening in their life or what invisible struggles they are dealing with that require them to have that flexibility. People with invisible illness often want desperately to work. Flexibility isn’t laziness it’s the opposite, is what allows them to continue to work. You may not see the struggle but they might need to be close to a bathroom at a moments notice, they might only be able to work at certain times or for certain lengths of time without a break. They may even need a greater number of days rest between work days just to be able to do those days work. They may need adaptions that are impossible to have anywhere but in their own home.

All illness warriors want is for people to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that , like you, they are just doing their best in life.

Stay Classy warrior friends and friends of warriors!

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