“It would have been better if my arm was cut off…

… then people would understand that I can’t do the things that I used to do.”

This is a recent comment from someone close to me. And I think many with a hidden disability would recognize and empathize with this statement. In this particular case we talk about a tinnitus, or constant noise in the ear. Can you imagine never hear yourself talk, or being afraid that you shout, having trouble focusing or not sleeping – constantly feeling tired? It cannot be seen, but it sure makes an impact on your life!
About 13 years ago I had a hidden disability myself. I was so fortunate that it lasted only two years, something I am extremely thankful for. I had an inflammation in my right shoulder and it went so far that the whole shoulder and arm became “dead”, I couldn’t use it and I had pain 24 hours a day. Same thing, it couldn’t easily be seen and people didn’t see my pain either. In a way it was good, because I didn’t want to be labeled as “someone with a problem”, but on the other hand it was difficult, because I constantly had to explain why I couldn’t do this or that. Funnily enough, this is what people remember of me when I meet someone from that period of my life. People tend to remember the negative things (I learnt today that this is actively used in the media) and I was indeed coupled with my disability label.

So, what can people without disabilities do to help and support the colleague, friend, family member with his/her disability? Observe. Ask. Respect.

  • Observe; is this a person who would like help? Or maybe who would be offended by getting help?
  • Ask; “how are you doing”, or maybe “you don’t want me to ask?” “What can I do for you”, or “what don’t you want me to do or ask?”
  • Respect; whatever the person tells you. Each person has her/his way of dealing with the hidden disability. Some people prefer to keep it hidden, others prefer to have it out in the open. Also have enough respect for the person that you challenge her/him like you would do anyone else.
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