Invisible Disabilites

  • July 5, 2006
  • #6308

Joni share about one woman's struggle with her invisible disability.

AL: Joni, that wheelchair of yours can't help but attract attention. I'm sure it's been a conversation starter more than a few times, right? 

JONI: This past weekend I was at Ruby's restaurant with a girlfriend of mine - kind of a 50's hamburger joint connected to the local mall. And as you'd expect on a Saturday afternoon, the place was packed - kids and their parents heading off to the theater or around the mall. It was noisy, there was lots of 50's music playing, the aisles were crowded... 

And the way I was sitting at the table, when I looked up, there was a young woman sitting right opposite me. Because we were facing one another, it was impossible to not catch each other's eyes every once in awhile in between bites of hamburger and salad. Once, when our eyes met, I smiled at her and she smiled shyly and quickly looked down. In that crowded restaurant, she was the only one sitting alone.

I was interested to see if anyone would join her, but in the time it took us to eat lunch, no one came. When we got our check, my friend went on ahead, but I wheeled over to that woman. I said, "Ma'am, excuse me, but I couldn't help but notice your friendly smile and it looks like you're waiting for someone." She seemed happy that I stopped and she replied, that, yes, she was still waiting for a friend who was late. I told her that she looked like she needed a little bit of company and that I hoped her friend would arrive soon.

As I started to wheel away she stopped me, she put her hand on my chair and said, "I don't know who you are, but I just want you to know that I have a hidden disability and I'm always afraid that people might see that. I don't want them to know about my problems inside. But seeing you out and about in your wheelchair and even that (she hesitated here a bit) even that you don't mind that your friend feeds you a hamburger and holds it up to your mouth, well... I just want you to know that really speaks to me."

I had a lump in my throat at that point. I didn't say anything, but just smiled. I shared with her that I thought that having invisible disabilities is harder than having something show on the outside. I told her, "People have such high expectations of folks like you, like, 'come on, get your act together.' but they have such low expectations of folks like me in wheelchairs, as though it's expected that we can't do much." That's when this lady really smiled. She knew what I was talking about! 

When I left the restaurant I was so glad I took the time to just stop and share a few words. People with "whatever" disability sometimes struggle with loneliness and feeling "different from others." I know I sometimes struggle with that. And this reminds me: Sharing this woman's story reminds me that we here at Joni and Friends have an excellent list of resources for people with invisible disabilities, hidden handicaps. And I want to offer this list to you today.

AL: Joni, this would be a great help to people with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia or other connective tissue disorders. At Joni and Friends we have recently updated our resource pages for people whose handicapping conditions are hidden and we'd like to send you this resource list today... perhaps you have a friend like this woman Joni met at a restaurant. Or perhaps you have a family member... or you yourself are struggling with lupus or arthritis or some other hidden affliction - this resource list will put help at your fingertips!

JONI: Like the lady in the restaurant

Previously aired as Program #4782 on 8/29/00.

© Joni and Friends

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