An invisible disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits someone's movement, senses or activities. That's me, Fiona, in the photo above (second from left) after a group of us hiked up Mount Snowdon for charity. And I'm living with an invisible disability.
I have joint hypermobility syndrome, so my muscles work extra hard to keep my joints stable and it's easy for me to hurt myself; it also affects my mental health, as well as all sorts of other things. I'd been injuring myself for twenty years before my diagnosis and had long periods off work when I couldn't use my hands, or walk or stand for long periods. Because there is absolutely no physical sign of it (unless you are a health professional), I had years of people thinking I was 'putting it on', 'being awkward' or making excuses about being tired or in pain. I even used to feel guilty about sharing what I'd been up to in my spare time, when I was well. How could I expect people to understand if I was 'swanning off climbing up mountains' on a good day?
It still embarrasses me to remember cutting a bit close in front of a couple of ladies in a car park once. I was having a panic attack because the pain in my feet was so intense that I just had to get back to the car as quickly as possible and sit down. 'They just can't wait' I heard one lady mutter. I was mortified that they thought I was some rude, impatient person who had wanted to push past, but I felt I had no choice. And over five years later, I still blush when I remember that comment.
You can never know what limits people face, or the choices they are making every day so they can walk the dog, help their kids with their homework, or just cook, then eat and wash up. I've managed to stay in work, but I have had to give up or limit several activities. That way I know I can cope with work, jobs at home and still stay well. I am grateful that I can lift my mug of tea, brush my hair and walk in the hills, because there are times it's really hard, or impossible.
So if someone barges past you in a queue, or forgets to say thank you when you hold the door open, first be kind. We can all be guilty of assuming people are acting a certain way because they are selfish, but they could be living with an invisible disability. Second, be grateful for your health. I am very lucky compared to others; there are still limits to what I can do because the damage I have done is permanent, but I am so grateful for what I can do now.
If you'd like to read more about our Snowdon trip, the team's blogs are here.
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