Sunday, May 11, 2008

On having an invisible disability

Found some interesting articles on having an invisible disability. They mostly deal with invisible physical disabilities, but I found that they spoke to my struggle with mental illness as well.

First, "But You Look So Good, and 7 other things never to say to someone with an invisible disability."

From there I discovered this article, "Coping with an Invisible Condition".

This resonated with me:
People's expectations
Based on the well-sick-invalid framework, you are allowed to be sick or limited for a while. After some months, people will be expecting you to be back to 'normal' - that is, a healthy, fully productive state. If you are not, but you look ok on the outside, there may be misunderstandings, rejection. Some people judge you as lazy, exaggerating, or accuse you of faking to get insurance benefits or attention. Or they expect too much of you, overestimating your current ability. Dealing with people's misunderstanding and judgment, suspicions, and assumptions is painful. Having to justify your lack of productivity is an extra stress on top of having the actual condition.

As well as this...

Not acting sick
If you have a chronic, invisible condition, you have an important job: to look after yourself as well as possible. This will make you look better, despite your symptoms. You need to do this, because there is a cost for letting other people's opinions keep you from activities that give you health.

...It is sometimes a dilemma whether to make a point of "showing" your illness. You want to appear "normal" and to fit in, not stand out and be noticed. You also want people to recognize and understand your problems. Some people struggle with this.

Now that I am really wrestling with my illness, I am trying to be very in touch with all the stigma I feel about myself and what I am doing with my life.

I remember a conversation I had with someone last year, he said he thought that depression was a cultural problem in Western society, implying that I was not ill, just... just what? A malingerer? It was a very hurtful thing for him to say, but I also understood that it was said out of ignorance. It is true that we are, as a society, too eager to medicate regular sadness. But I feel the very real changes in my brain chemistry (or whatever the hell it is that happens to me), and I cannot simply choose them away. My condition is real. I'm fighting hard against so much and fighting hard to have a life I love.

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