Invisible Disabilities: The Need for Recognition & Validation

  • Topic Info:When you hear the term "disability," you may think of someone who is confined to a wheelchair or is missing one or more limbs.

    But what many people don't recognize is that invisible disabilities can be just as challenging and just as debilitating.

    What is an invisible disability?

    Often referred to as brain-based disabilities, invisible disabilities can include learning disabilities, mental illness, anxiety, developmental disabilities... anything that can cause people to struggle in the way they move through life and the world, whether that be in relationships, jobs, academic settings or social environments.

    The reasons for these struggles are not readily obvious. It's not like seeing a person in a wheelchair, for example, and knowing they are unable to walk.

    Because of the invisible nature, many people have an expectation that you are able move through the typical world in a typical way.

    Co-host of Naturally Savvy, Lisa Davis, and her co-author of Easy to Love, Hard to Live With, Tricia Bliven Chasinoff, both have had multiple experiences with invisible disabilities.

    Lisa's mom suffered from severe sensory issues. Unfortunately, in that day and age, she was simply written off as "quirky." People would say to her, "You're too smart for this." She never got any recognition or validation from health professionals. And, tragically, she died never getting a name for her illness.

    Now, Lisa's daughter has some of the same issues as Lisa's mother. But, fortunately, Lisa recognized the signs early on. And, while there is far to go in acceptance, recognition and validation, it's a much different scenario now than when Lisa's mother struggled.

    Tricia has had a similar yet different experience. Having suffered with multiple anxiety disorders and OCD for many years, she was not diagnosed until she was in her 30s. In her case, people would say to her, "Relax. Why are you so worried?" They were speaking to Tricia as if her anxiety was a choice or just a bad habit. And even though she was anxious and scared ALL the time, she came to accept that it was just an unpleasant aspect of her personality.

    No one understood what she was feeling, but part of Tricia's continued suffering was that she didn't share her challenges with anyone.

    If she had just one or two people who would have shared their story with her, Tricia believes she would have dealt with her isolation and shame in a far different, more constructive way.

    If you suffer from an invisible disability, or know someone who does, what can you do to help ease the pain?

    Online support groups and books can be helpful, and sharing your story with others is extremely beneficial. Oftentimes it feels like you're living in an alternate world, where no one truly understands. But by creating these connections with others, you can gain understanding and recognition.

    Tune in to this eye-opening segment with Lisa and Tricia, as they share their own personal struggles with -- and triumphs over -- invisible disabilities.
  • Book Title: Easy to Love but Hard to Live With
  • Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH