Making the Invisible, Visible

Understanding Invisible Disabilities in a Modern Society

As we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, there doesn’t seem a more appropriate time to write this article than now, especially as I am also having an exceptionally long flare-up. In the news and on social media, I have always seen so much conflict and hypocrisy, yet also an incredible amount of kindness. People have the power to be incredibly uneducated and ignorant; yet simultaneously can be so selfless, considerate and kind. I am someone with several chronic (and predominantly invisible) illnesses that play a significant part in my daily life, and experience the negativity stimulated online towards my conditions that is now embedded into our lives. I’m here to talk about the impacts that invisibility has on us and why we need to change our behaviour for the better. 

The many misconceptions that exist around chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities are incredibly unproductive and detrimental. Most disabilities are actually invisible, and depending on the day, sometimes they become visible. Some days are much better than others, and even on those bad days some of us may still outwardly look ‘fine’. But the truth is, we’re really not, and we don’t let most people see how bad it gets because we want to try and hide it, to deny it…we want to carry on with life like normal; we don’t want to be stuck at home when our bodies physically won’t let us move, yet half the time this is the case because we are always on catch-up, compensating for the exertion that we’ve done in the days gone by. This exertion might be going out, walking to the shops, or just getting ready in the morning, and it varies day to day. Yet we are constantly stuck in this juxtaposition of pretending to be okay but wanting people to know that we’re not, because societies’ expectations of us are so contradictory. It’s also worth mentioning that although some people won’t feel comfortable discussing their conditions, if you’re in doubt, please just ask us about what it is we’re dealing with and how to help; this is so much better than looking something up online and taking that as the only truth, or making assumptions. There is no ‘one-fits-all’ approach, but just treating us like normal people and not belittling or comparing our illnesses makes all the difference.

Credit: CareCo

So in a society where people are seemingly so unaware of themselves whilst their heads are in phones, it begs the question; how do we notice those who need help, but do not initially appear as if they need it? It’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while, especially as our conditions aren’t disappearing any time soon, despite there being a new virus in town. 

Many campaigns are starting to recognise the importance of making us more visible to the public, such as for access to toilets, disabled seats or spaces, extra support or generally improving people’s understanding when we do things that may appear ‘weird’ in order to relieve our symptoms (for instance, I often sit or lay down anywhere I can as I have a tendency to fall over or faint). These include the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme, an initiative widely recognised by several major transport hubs and retailers whereby the staff see the sunflowers and know that the customer has an invisible disability and may need extra support. Coloured wrist bands and cards (many found on sites such as Stickman Collections) can indicate to people what conditions we have and what help we may need, alongside signalling how good we are feeling today. Medical ID bracelets and cards on phones are also incredibly useful, and these are just a few examples. 

Credit: Hidden Disabilities

If you do see one of these items, please be mindful and helpful when needed, and please do not make any assumptions about someone’s condition based on their appearance (for example, I put a full face of make-up on every day to feel better in myself despite the pain, fatigue and countless other symptoms I experience all the time). However, not everyone has access to them, and you are not going to be able to identify people with invisible disabilities just by looking at them. This is so important to remember especially in times like these where many of us are at higher risk, and age isn’t a factor.

Credit: Red Bubble

So, what am I saying? I’m saying that kindness costs nothing, and we need to work with each other, not against one another, now more than ever. Don’t make assumptions or believe in preconceived notions that you’ve heard online (no, we’re not just tired, and yoga really doesn’t cure us). Take a little extra time out of your day to notice people, notice your surroundings and the world outside of your own. Make an effort to smile at that person you’ve just walked past in the street. Think about your actions and consider that you never know what someone else is dealing with, and if they do choose to tell you, listen. Listen and acknowledge and adhere to help and support them where you can, because although we may need some extra support, we are still equal, and we still have a life we want to live and succeed in, and above all else we are incredibly strong individuals. As human beings, we have the capacity to help and love each other every day, so please utilise this and realise that there is more to life than what is initially in front of you, and there is so much good to be done, for yourself and for others. Let’s hold each other up and support one another, take a new perspective on life and learn that we are better when we work together, not against one another.

  1. Wow Hollie I am so impressed with your ability to put things across so everyone can understand its context. I am proud of you for the information and details of the daily drawbacks this has in your daily life and how you manage the conditions to be able to cope what every day throws at us . Every time I see you as I know you personally you appear to be up for a laugh and show that you have humour 😀👍it’s either you are coping well or that I am just funny 😀Anyhow well done for sharing this with others and from you doing so I know it will make others feel they are not alone and it will be a godsend to those that have similar .

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Concourse is Keele University’s independent student-run publication and has a long history of promoting student journalism. Having been established in 1964, Concourse has become an important part of the university and has been read by generations of Keelites.

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