“I ain’t a doctor, I don’t have time for that.” The police officer scolded me as he asked to see my disability card before he would let me in the lane labeled for people with disabilities. I didn’t have a disability card being newly diagnosed. Yet I was determined to maintain independence, mobility, and enjoy myself by going out.
I had driven 70 miles to see Fantasia and was fatigued from the ride and from looking for a parking space when I arrived. I nervously applied my lipstick in the car—twice—and intentionally left my cane because I didn’t want to be stared at for walking slower, being masked up, and for not “looking sick.” Chronic fatigue is a life zapper. Energy preservation is key when you have things you want to do and only a handful of energy to do them. On this day with wanning energy and growing excitement, I got in the disability lane to skip the long line of concert-goers.
With my heart pounding, my chest tightening, and my breathing shallow, I mustered up the courage to approach the lane. The officer blocking the entry looked at me and shook his head “no.” I stated my need for fast entry, and he asked me to show proof. I’ll spare the details of the conversation, but the point here is the plight of people who have invisible disabilities. Many things are harder than they need to be when you have a disability, and in a world with so many resources and education, this should not be the case.
An invisible disability is “any physical, mental and emotional impairment that goes largely unnoticed,” as defined by the Invisible Disability Project. When it comes to invisible disabilities, people make assumptions about what you can do, how much you can do, and the bias and discrimination can be emotionally taxing.
Do I have to disclose that I need support to receive kindness and empathy? You may not be able to see my pain, but can you feel my pain simply because you, too, are human?
Explaining the need for assistance, desiring empathy, and needing community care have become my new normal. Social isolation in the pandemic has been painful for me, being a social butterfly-turn-recovering busy bee. In addition to the forced changes of our social landscape, becoming ill with Dermatomyositis (a rare auto immune condition that impacts the skin, muscles, and lungs) has made life feel even more isolating.
The illness and grief have been shame-inducing, especially as a millennial in a society that praises individualism and takes pride in productivity. I know that my worth in this world is more than how hard I can work and how fast I can move, but I often feel punished for my inabilities. I know that I have purpose and value, but it’s hard adjusting to a world that still doesn’t quite see disability rights as an important part of inclusivity and an enhancement to quality of life.
The irony in such an individualized society is that we are all grieving, and we need each other for hope, comfort, and to experience global change. While all these facts can feel heavy to carry alone, the silver lining is that we can be more compassionate toward the struggles of others through learning, understanding, and collective efforts.
Here are a few ways we can show more empathy and provide community care:
- Share a smile or start up a conversation
- Open a door for someone, allow someone to pass in front of you without angst
- Serve at your local food bank or homeless shelter
- Donate clothing and home goods to organizations that serve marginalized people
- Host a free or scaled offering for your services
- Give to blood banks and infusion centers
- Consider the immunocompromised and wear your mask in public
We all need to feel a sense of belonging, that we are loved and we are safe. What I hope for is a world that sees me, that sees you, and one where we care for each other.
When “love your neighbor as yourself” is actualized, I believe we will see some alleviation of emotional pain, loneliness, and their impacts. Many of our needs can be filled simply through a lifestyle that embodies kindness, graciousness, and the truth that we are better together.Leave a Comment