7 People With Less Visible Disabilities Talk Misconceptions and Stigma
Some disabilities are more immediately apparent then others, particularly if the person uses an aid such as a wheelchair. Others, however, aren’t as obvious. The Invisible Disabilities Association defines invisible disability as “a physical, mental, or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, sense, or activities that is invisible to the onlooker.” As a result, not only do people with invisible or less visible disabilities have to make day-to-day adjustments to exist in the world around them, but they must also navigate misconceptions about their condition —including the idea that they aren’t “disabled enough.”
Of course, there is no such thing as being disabled enough, and no disability is more or less important than another. But because society so heavily judges disabled people, Teen Vogue spoke to seven people about their less visible disabilities and the common misconceptions they face.
LaLa Love, fibromyalgia and OCD
Fibromyalgia means that I usually get very stiff or freeze up in the mornings and throughout the day, so I have to get up very slowly. I also can’t stand on my feet for too long or else I get swollen feet or knees. This means that things like cooking can be very tedious and I have to use a stool to sit by the cooker. With regards to my OCD, I get quite severe intrusive thoughts and I do routines to keep myself sane, and to potentially stop bad things from happening. I’m always paranoid that if I leave the house I’ll be attacked, raped, or run over. So I use meditation to calm me down but unfortunately it isn’t a cure.
People often assume that I’m able-bodied. Even if I wear my “Please offer me a seat” Transport for London badge, my disability is completely overlooked. Being young definitely plays a part, plus I’m not visibly disabled.
Most days I spend in bed, in pain and in tears. People don’t realize or even believe that you have an “invisible” disability but that’s not my problem, it’s theirs. It’s devastatingly difficult but I wipe my face and keep pushing because it gets easier.”
Ellen, autism and bipolar disorder (type II)
Being autistic colors the way I see the world in almost every aspect, but because I didn’t get diagnosed till I was almost 19 (I’m now 20), I didn’t know that all my life I had been making adjustments for myself to survive.
I research everywhere before I go there and use Google maps and street view to create a visual story. My headphones are noise cancelling and really help, especially being in London where I can get overwhelmed. Socializing uses up all of my energy, but it is also especially taxing when the environment is overwhelming. Sometimes I phrase things too bluntly or don’t understand tone of voice — I mean well, I just miscommunicate. In the past have gotten into difficulties where people thought I was being malicious and I couldn’t explain or even understand where I went wrong.
And for my bipolar disorder, I’m having weekly therapy and just started medication. I have to be very aware of my moods and it can be hard knowing you are tipping into an episode, or are in one. Money, relationships, academic studies, taking on projects are all things I have to be aware of because they can be hugely affected by being depressed or hypomanic.
No one believes I am autistic, and no one believes I have bipolar disorder. Everyone is shocked, or I get dismissed as ‘oh well you must be high-functioning’, which is a label I find really ableist. Especially as someone who is largely deemed successful In my academic studies and career and who has gotten to a high up point very young, most people can’t compute that I did that whilst disabled because, for them, their idea of disability is synonymous with failure, or an innate inability to achieve.