Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
I was in the library one afternoon when I heard loud noises behind me. I turned to see a man twisting and turning in his seat and talking loudly to himself. Because I am so immersed in learning about the disabled community, I recognized that he was among them. I also realized that if I did not know that, I might think he was just some guy disrupting the quiet of the library.
Most disabilities, about 80%, fall into a category commonly called Invisible Disabilities. They are not easily seen or recognized, are usually misunderstood and often disregarded. The list is long and includes traumatic brain injury, chronic illness, chronic pain, heart, liver, kidney and other organ conditions, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, eating disorders, mental illness, cancer, asthma, allergies, muscular disorders, neurological disorders, learning disabilities, seizures, spinal and bone disorders, injuries, transplants, oxygen impairment, prosthetics and/or surgery.
An invisible disability is disguised because someone may not look any different. One may walk without an aid, shop in neighborhood stores and participate in social activities without being noticed as a member of the disabled community. In some sense, this is good, as there is no reaction from others and they just tend to be part of the crowd.
However, these are disabilities of silent suffering and there are many additional problems that these people deal with. Because the disability is not visible, others may have expectations of them that they are unable to live up to because they are hindered by unseen pain or exhaustion. They can be seen as “lazy” or even “faking” to keep from doing something. They may also be looked at as if they have behavior problems or are being uncooperative.
Most of us do not realize the toll these illnesses take on the body and mind. There are those who have endured a lifetime of chronic illness and those who have been newly diagnosed with diseases that have mind-numbing consequences. Many people fight every day to live their lives with as high a quality as possible and, for the most part, they endure alone. They don’t always get the support they need from family and friends or help from the community that they may desperately need. Health professionals may also underestimate the amount of pain they have or the mental anguish that accompanies their illness.
It is not unreasonable to expect that we need to be aware of those around us and try to understand that not all things can be explained away easily. Sometimes it is what we don’t see that is the most difficult. Disabilities that cannot be seen are no less severe. The restrictions may not be noticeable, but the pain and functional limitations can be just as or more debilitating as a disability that is seen.