Updated: Jul 21, 2021
No one checks on me, no invitations, no hellos;
No birthday cards, no inclusion, ignored;
Unseen, overlooked, misunderstood, underestimated;
Unreceived credit where credit was due;
And slowly disappearing-no one ever knew.
(Poem by Bobbi Gibson)
Struggles With Invisible Disability: It is easy to disregard or misunderstand someone. We all do it. We are busy with our schedules, planning, daily routines, and tasks. It is easy to live life and never know that someone was aching to have a friend, be noticed, or needed help but had no one to ask.
An invisible person feels hidden or unseen by others regardless of their efforts to be seen. They can make an effort to reach out but are often misunderstood, disregarded, and seen as annoying.
Why? Many don’t understand the deep ache in another soul who is desperately trying to connect but can’t figure out how to fit in or understand people’s rules.
Invisible disability is often the underlying cause. Those who struggle with hidden disabilities can experience deep loneliness and have no one to reach out to.
Invisible disabilities are anxiety, depression, PTSD, Autism, Hyper Sensory Sensitivity, Chronic Pain, Chronic fatigue, Diabetes, and this list can go on and on. It’s a disability you can’t see just by looking at a person.
For someone struggling with a disability, reaching out to others may take a considerable effort. Those whom we reach out to can have no idea the difficulty because maybe they have not walked in our shoes or had that same experience. One can never understand until they have walked the same path.
We all went through and are still going through the great struggles of Covid-19. Some of us get to take off our masks and socialize, while others do not. For some of us with disabilities, nothing will change. Our lives have been shut down for a long time and will remain that way.
For those who are basically stuck at home from disability, it was nice to have Zoom. Suddenly the world had to learn about Zoom and how to connect online. church, school, family time, community meetings were all meeting on Zoom. What a blessing to those who were aching to engage but can’t leave their home due to disability.
Many people can’t wait until they can meet in person and no longer have to meet over Zoom. But what about those of us shut-in who found Zoom a Godsend to human connection. Are we going to be shut back down after Covid? Can others gain awareness and understanding that Zoom can help people to feel included? Can we make an effort to continue to add Zoom to help with inclusivity?
Helping Others Be Seen:
Notice people. Who is sitting alone, who doesn’t speak, who is absent, who just wiped a tear, who has the smile plastered across their face in an attempt to hide the struggles they are experiencing and who answers “I’m fine,” and will never tell you how much they indeed suffer.
Make a difference in someone’s life by saying “Hello.” Ask if anyone needs you to pick up groceries for them when you go to the store. Send a weekly or monthly card checking in on people. Let people know you are a shoulder to lean on, an ear that will listen without judgement or problem-solving. Let people know if you are someone they can call when they need help.
Best of all, analyze who still needs Zoom to engage with others. Who in your circle of people is the least engaged with others? Why? Keeping Zoom as a part of the option for meetings makes a difference for those who struggle.
Be patient, don’t judge. It is easy to judge when we haven’t walked in another’s shoes. Support, gain awareness of the struggles, never criticize, value each human being as a precious gem.
Understand the person’s behaviors and why they choose to do things in a specific way to understand their needs. Strive to be a supportive and caring person.
My Personal Story:
I am Autistic. I struggle with communication to a great degree. Most people avoid me, and I always have felt invisible. When people are patient, accept, set judgment aside, and communicate my way, we can have a successful and meaningful conversation.
However, that means tremendous patience as I use my AAC device to communicate. AAC means Augmentative and Alternative Communication. I use text-to-speech apps, American Sign Language (ASL), and writing. That means being willing to understand that the computer is my voice. That means not being rushed when communicating with me.
It is easiest for me to have meetings using Zoom because I can use the chat box to add to the conversation and brainstorming. At my present job, the boss allows for all methods of communication so that everyone is included.
He also has speaking people watch the chat to make sure those in the chat get heard. They will read the chat communication and suggestions out loud. You have no idea how welcome that is for me, who has had to really fight to be seen and heard.
I have Hyper Sensory Sensitivity also. I struggle with lights, sounds, temperature, textures, and crowds. It is extreme, and even whispers to me are overwhelming.
I am not able to handle sound well at all. I have to wear sound-canceling equipment and manage my work and home environment to manage life and function.
This alone is an isolating issue for me. To others, the sound that is causing so much trouble for me is barely audible to someone without Hyper Sensory Sensitivity. I might suggest that for me, it is like living in a world with fire alarms constantly in my ears. Anyone would get overwhelmed by that.
Zoom has allowed me to be a part of a social situation because I get to control the sound. I can turn the volume down or mute it if needed.
Knowing that Zoom or an online connection of some sort might be the only way some people can connect with other humans means we should consider still having it as an option. Especially if we want to be inclusive.
Be aware of who might be struggling with the feeling of isolation by taking an inventory of who sits alone, who doesn’t speak, who is absent or frequently absent.
Invisible disability is just exactly that-invisible! You might never know who is suffering in silence. We can try to be people who will listen. Just listen. Listen with compassion. Too many people try to share the cure. Really we just need a compassionate ear that will sit and listen. We need to be heard.
If we are aware of someone suffering from an invisible disability, find ways to help that person be seen or know they are seen by you by your support and caring. Say hi, send a caring card, find ways to help them be included and visible. Ask yourself if Zoom was a way the person can be included in meetings and social activities and keep using Zoom, so they are able to connect.
Walk in the shoes of another. Imagine yourself in those struggles. I learned the difficulties of those in a wheelchair when I lived in one for a year. My heart is filled with compassion for others who need support with their mobility. When I see someone in a wheelchair, I analyze what they may struggle with. Do they need help with the door, a high shelf?
I personally struggle with communication. No one knows what the struggle is until it’s experienced. Try life without speaking for an hour, day, week, or longer. You will see how difficult it is to connect with others and see how valuable AAC devices, ASL, and gestures are when you need to be heard.
Thank you so much for reading my article. Let’s stay connected. You are invited to sign up for my newsletter.
Remember what a gem and blessing you are,
Bobbi Lynn Gibson
The Radiation Box. https://theradiationbox.blogspot.com/