Imagine feeling the evil eye seared into the back of your head by a half dozen people when you squeeze into a crowded elevator so you can go up 1 floor. “You couldn’t take the stairs?” You hear the person behind you mutter.
Imagine overhearing nasty, sarcastic comments about how healthy you look when you pull into a handicapped parking space: “Where’s your wheelchair?”
Or having your request for workplace or academic accommodations being questioned because “You don’t look sick.”
For people living with invisible illnesses, this is reality. Dealing with naysayers can be just as exhausting as dealing with the medical condition itself.
Some 125 million Americans are living with at least 1 chronic condition, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association.
Here are 3 tips to remember when you have an invisible illness:
1) Know how and when to explain your condition to a naysayer
Sometimes all the naysayer deserves is a polite reminder to mind his or her own business, especially random strangers who are mad about the handicap spot.
But it gets trickier when it comes to current or potential employers.
If you’re applying for jobs, the US Department of Labor says you should disclose your disability on a “need-to-know” basis. You have the right to:
● Expect full confidentiality and respect
● Disclose your disability at any time during the hiring process and even after
● Receive reasonable accommodations for interviews
● Be considered for positions because of your skills and merit
● Answer questions about your disability in order to determine the type of accommodations you need, if any
If you’ve decided to share your condition with someone, but you’re having trouble explaining your condition, talk to your healthcare provider about it. She’s probably used to explaining the condition to her own patients and their families and may know what resonates and what doesn’t.
In extreme cases, particularly with employers, have documentation of your condition available. However, keep in mind that, depending on who the naysayer is, you may have no legal obligation to show this to them. Knowing who deserves proof of your condition and who doesn’t will save you time and hassle.
2) Be prepared to advocate for yourself
The sad reality is that if you have an invisible illness or disability, you may face unnecessary questions and skepticism when you ask for certain accommodations. This is unfortunately true whether you are applying for a handicapped parking pass or if you are seeking disability benefits.
That is why it is important to educate yourself on your legal rights to access and accommodations under U.S. law. That’s where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) comes in.
The ADA aims to eliminate discrimination based on disability status
Source: American with Disabilities Act
If the idea of telling someone about your disability in order to receive accommodations makes you nervous, try practicing what you might say with a friend or family member. This can ease your nerves about the best way to word your case.
3) Keep calm and carry on
Remember that in most cases, the naysayer is not a medical professional or expert on your condition. They have no right to make you doubt yourself, nor do you have to prove anything to them.
Defending yourself to people who choose to deny what you’re experiencing is up to you, but allowing it to become a focus could increase your stress level about what may already be a stressful illness.
Besides, you know yourself better than anyone else.
Ask your doctor about Mountain View Hospital’s resources to help people whose conditions are not obvious.