Geeks Vs Loneliness: disabilities that you can’t see

Just because we don't see disabilities, it doesn't mean that people aren't sometimes struggling to get by...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our spot on the site where we chat about things that may be affecting you, or people around you. Our basic rules here are that we’ve no miracle cures, but hopefully every now and then, we hit a topic that’s of some use to you.

This week, though, is about something that’s happening all around you. If not directly in your life, then in the lives of people you encounter. And there’s a decent chance you may not know. For I’m going to talk about invisible illnesses and disabilities.

If a disability is visible, in my experience, people are kind. If people see someone in a wheelchair, for instance, they tend to try and help. If someone is obviously physically struggling, I believe that most human beings will try and do something helpful. It doesn’t always work out, but more often than not, I do believe that to be the case.

The difficulty comes when a disability, physical or mental, isn’t obvious. When the person presented to the world looks whatever we define as normal (don’t ask me, I’ve never understood what normal is), and a set of assumptions kicks in.

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If someone can stand up and walk, that means they can do that for a long time, goes the assumption. If they can walk, they can run, they can stand in a queue, they can carry things. If someone doesn’t have crutches or a wheelchair, well, they surely don’t need that seat on the bus – that’s for people with disabilities. It someone’s happy on the outside, they’re happy on the inside. Oh, and why are they using the disabled toilet? They don’t look like they need the disabled toilet?

These aren’t blanket assumptions, granted, and not everyone assumes the same things. But I do believe they hold a little too much water. And they are often false assumptions.

Unfortunately, they’re damaging ones.

If you’re struggling with a disability or a condition that nobody can see, then how do you explain it? Knowing that umpteen times a day, you may need to map out to someone that you need to sit down, or that you’re struggling to face the world, knowing too that they’ll have to take this on trust? That without obvious physical evidence, they might just think you’re taking advantage, or trying to get out of something? What’s more, even if you did have physical evidence, why should you have to show it?

Imagine, then, having to have that conversation even twice a day, and then not even knowing if you’ve explained things properly, or if someone believes you? It takes a degree of confidence for any of us to get out of bed and face the world, but such conversations do nothing to help that. And it only takes one bad reaction to do significant damage too.

If you’re on the other side of the conversation, then firstly, please know it’s often taken a good lump of courage for the person in front of you to tell you what they’re telling. It is not easy, and often, someone may want in and out of that particular topic as quickly as possible. Please do respect that, ideally with the minimum of fuss.

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But also take in what they’re saying, and act on it if you can. Ask questions if you need to. Do what you need to do to wrap your head around what you’re being told, else the conversation is bound to come up another time.

Once you’ve taken it in, try and leave the door open to future conversations, but also, there are other topics of conversations still available. Just because someone has a disability or illness you can’t see, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want a good hour chat about Jason Statham movies.

Physical disability is all around us, and yet often we don’t see it (here’s an excellent piece at Scope, that gives an example). Mental health challenges are all around us, and often, we don’t see them. We get a small snapshot of people’s lives, and don’t always know why people behave the way they do. If nothing else comes out of this piece, let’s just stop for a few extra seconds, and cut each other some slack.

Thanks for reading, as always.