After my service dog Henry was trained, I started taking him to work and to public places. This was when I learned the true meaning of the term “invisible disability.”
“Why do you need a service dog? What’s wrong with you?” complete strangers would ask.
To answer them properly I could have said, “Well, my immune system sucks, so I frequently poop my pants, and I’m often short of breath and faint because I only have one lung. Oh, and I should mention that I suffer from anorexia, depression and anxiety, so having this conversation with you may trigger a panic attack. I hope that answers your question.”
But I’m a people-pleaser, so I usually just said, “He helps me.”
My illnesses are not completely invisible, since I have a feeding tube and I’m pretty skinny, but that doesn’t explain the need for a service to the general public.
I’ve always been ashamed of being sick, and have done everything in my power to hide my disabling illnesses. For many years I pretended to be “normal,” in order to blend in. So when Henry’s presence drew attention to my problems, I was totally unprepared and painfully self-conscious.
I loved little Henry, but his presence was making my life harder, not better. I wanted to give up and let him retire, but thankfully he wasn’t ready for that. He did his job and stuck with me as I learned to negotiate life with a service dog. Over time Henry has helped me face the reality of my disabling conditions and I feel less ashamed of being sick. No one should feel the need to hide their illness, whether it’s physical or emotional. I’m glad there are organizations that provide support for people like me.
WHAT IS AN INVISIBLE DISABILITY?
According to Invisible Disabilities Association, “the term invisible disabilities refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences and mental health disorders, as well as hearing and vision impairments. These are not always obvious to the onlooker, but can sometimes or always limit daily activities, range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.
Unfortunately, people often judge others by what they see and often conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. This can be equally frustrating for those who may appear unable, but are perfectly capable, as well as those who appear able, but are not.”
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