The third article in my weekly series for Cuddlist on Disability & Chronic Illness: Addressing Ableism.
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Today I want to talk a bit about invisible disabilities.
You may be wondering, what is an invisible disability? The Invisible Disabilities Association defines it as “a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that is invisible to the onlooker.” It “refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations, and vary from person to person.” (https://invisibledisabilities.org/what-is-an-invisible-disability/)
“About 10% of Americans have a medical condition which could be considered an invisible disability. 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with a condition that is invisible.” (https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/invisible/) Meaning that you can’t tell just by looking that they are disabled or chronically ill.
Having an invisible disability often means that people have a hard time understanding that you are sick when you “look healthy.” Myself, and others with invisible chronic illnesses and disabilities have all experienced people who do not believe that we are sick, including medical providers. We face an ableist culture where looking normal/healthy must mean that you are. And when you aren’t and need support and accommodations, it can be really challenging to be faced with disbelief, rejection, or worse. There is a constant burden to either prove our illness or to try and “pass” as healthy.
It’s important to be conscious of the emotional and physical pressure that is so often put on those of us with invisible disabilities and illnesses to act like healthy, able-bodied people. As Cuddlists, we have an opportunity to support clients with invisible disabilities by believing what they share with us about their health. We can provide a safe space by offering accommodations and more importantly, a space for them to be witnessed without judgment or a need to perform being healthy.
This compassion, trust, and care offered along with consensual touch are what drew me, a person with an invisible chronic illness and disability, to Cuddlist as a receiver and provider. I believe this work can be of great benefit to those of us with invisible disabilities and hope that my sharing will help other Cuddlist feel more comfortable working with people with all kinds of disabilities and chronic illnesses.
Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Until next Tuesday, hugs if you’re a yes!