The Common Misconceptions of Invisible Disabilities
People who live with an illness or disability that is not immediately apparent can struggle to gain understanding and empathy from others.
Invisible Disabilities are very common; 1 in 5 people in the UK are thought to have a disability with 80% of those being invisible. Types of invisible disability include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Lupus, Mental Health issues, Fowlers Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Aspergers – amongst others. Such conditions can be debilitating to life but due to their invisible nature are not as well supported or perceived in society as a visible disability.
We look at the common misconceptions associated with invisible disabilities.
You Can’t Have [condition], That Only Affects Old People
Some invisible conditions, such as arthritis or incontinence, are stereotyped as only affecting the elderly. Not only is this untrue, (arthritis for example can affect all ages, even children), it can be frustrating to anyone suffering from the condition to hear this assumption as it comes across as belittling the person’s suffering, questioning its validity.
But you Look so Well?!
The common “but you don’t look sick” misconception. The point of invisible disabilities is that they are invisible, so whilst it is great that the person doesn’t look sick it is frustrating to keep hearing as, again, it comes across as undermining the validity of how someone is feeling. Remember, someone who is depressed can put on a smile and someone in chronic pain can still get dressed, do their hair and makeup but feel absolutely drained for doing so. It is important to remember that there is more to illness than meets the eye and, like an iceberg, there is more beneath the surface than the visible tip.
You are Rude/Lazy/Flaky
Lack of understanding about certain invisible illnesses result in flawed assumptions. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for example, is not “just tiredness”; it is a condition that can be very difficult to live with, making day-to-day activities hard to to carry out and often requires significant lifestyle changes. One theory that helps raise awareness and understanding of the impact of invisible illnesses is “spoon theory”. This theory explains that energy is a finite resource with each unit of energy being represented by a spoon; every activity that you do in your day-to-day life uses a spoon. People with chronic illnesses have less spoons available and, by the end of the day their “spoons” have been used and they have nothing left. People with chronic illnesses will sometimes refer to themselves as “Spoonies” and spoon theory is where this term comes from.
It’s in Your Head
One common misconception with invisible illness is that seeing is believing; people struggle to accept what they can’t see as real. People can think that someone with an invisible illness is over exaggerating, or even fabricating, their symptoms. It is important to remember, as stated above, that there is more to someone than what you can see; if someone opens up to you about their condition, their symptoms or how they are feeling don’t brush it off just because “they look fine”. Do what you can to support them.
If you, or someone you know, suffers from an invisible illness you can find support and guidance here.