Invisible disabilities provide us with an important reminder: Don’t be a jerk

Invisible disabilities provide us with an important reminder: Don’t be a jerk

Photo Credits: JAMES CRIDLAND [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle (said NOT Plato)

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Everyone says Plato said so, but no one really knows. It’s like 2,500-year-old gossip. Besides, “Says Plato,” is a lot catchier for our mugs and mini wall art than “Says Ian MacLaren,” or “Says John Watson.” Who are they and why do I care? To what degree do we follow “Plato’s” sage adage anyway?

We may not overtly rail against the seemingly-surly jerk ahead of us in line at the bank or the asshat cutting us off in traffic, but the landscape inside out heads might not always be as pretty as we’d like others to think or as we’d like to delude ourselves into believing. That person is too quiet or standoffish or awkward and they make me uncomfortable, so I’m going to take the easy way out and simply walk way over here now…

It seems like many of us on social media talk up a massive help/care/love-thy-neighbor/mental health/inclusive game but fail utterly when asked to put that into action concerning the people around us in real life. That #Anxiety meme looks so pretty and clever and poignant, but actually practicing compassion takes serious emotional energy and outside comfort zone-ing (#MemeAboutMindfullness). OMG, I perceived that person as being such a jerk to me just then, and ouch MY precious feelings! And who was Plato again? Cultivating empathy and sympathy in the moment and keeping the notion that people sometimes behave in the less-than-ideal ways for a reason at the forefront of our minds can be, well, exhausting.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The invisible disability is one of those harder battles that is getting a lot of attention lately. There is even an Invisible Disabilities Comedy Show coming up in Sacramento on May 26 and a new accompanying open mic every second Wednesday. The Invisible Disability Project defines invisible disability as the following:

An “invisible,” “non-visible,” “hidden,” “non-apparent,” or “unseen” disability is any

physical, mental, or emotional impairment that goes largely unnoticed. An

invisible disability can include, but is not limited to: cognitive impairment and

brain injury; the autism spectrum; chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis, chronic

fatigue, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia; d/Deaf and/or hard of hearing; blindness

and/or low vision; anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many more. We understand

the body as always changing, so disability and chronic illness may be unstable or

periodic throughout one’s life.”

If someone is exhausted, in pain, depressed, anxious or, heaven forbid, a combination of all, they are not going to have the luxury of being their best self around the people they encounter out in the world. If someone has early onset MS, there’s no culturally acceptable or established shorthand button for them to pin to their lapel that will translate into everyone’s understanding of and accommodation for their extreme fatigue. If a student has to navigate campus with PTSD on constant alert for the next trigger, they are not going to be able to enjoy the luxury and privilege of inhabiting their normal personality that would have them smiling as opposed to frowning at their classmates and professors.

This current prominence of the invisibility disability phenomenon can be unpalatable to some people with visible disabilities. After all, the experience of someone who, for example, uses a wheelchair or cane is going to be very different than that of a disabled person who largely passes as able-bodied. But there are more common denominators than not. People in both camps will experience the pity of others. Additionally, both will experience accessibility issues, possibly extreme isolation and significant amounts of unsolicited advice from both those close to them and complete strangers. For the invisibly disabled, however, judgement is also a difficult issue. Often, they struggle to be taken seriously or even believed, or the fact that they are disabled is overlooked or forgotten.

With the existence of these invisible struggles coming to the forefront, the necessity of our everyday compassion becomes handily highlighted and the answer isn’t exactly an open mic (though I for one am always down for some morbid humor about chronic pain). Laughter between entertainer and audience is one thing, but have you ever experienced a consciousness shift one-on-one? Have you ever been the impetus for someone else’s bad-to-good day shift and seen their face lift? Or have you been on the receiving end of a simple smile that completely saved your headspace from your anxious, depressed, preoccupied, pained, panicked self? It doesn’t take much. Give someone else a little ammo for their battle. Give them a rocket launcher. Give me one less meme and go out to see how it feels to reveal the beautiful human behind someone else’s suffering — invisible or otherwise.

Written by: Lauren Frausto — lrfrausto@ucdavis.edu

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