‘But you don’t look disabled?’ What living with an invisible disability is really like
I shouldn’t have to prove I’m disabled by showing my scars
If you were sat opposite me on the train or if you looked at my Instagram, you'd never guess I'm disabled. You'd never guess I had major surgery three weeks ago, or that I've been having operations my whole life.
I've lived with double curve scoliosis, which I've just had corrective surgery on. I now have two metal rods and 14 screws in my back. I was also born with developmental dysplasia of the hip, which means I only had one hip socket. It's left me with a weak right leg, so I struggle to stand or walk for longer periods of time.
Unless I'm walking, nobody can see this or would be able to tell. But just because I look fine, it doesn't mean I am fine.
I know it's nothing in comparison to what some people have to go through, and I'm in no way suggesting I even come close to comparing to more serious disabilities. But this is a struggle that only those with invisible disabilities like myself will be able to relate to. We look completely fine, but we're not, and we're constantly having to explain this to people and having to justify our actions.
No one has X-ray vision. No one can magically know what's wrong with someone with an invisible disability straight off the bat, but we're usually in constant pain. It never gets any less embarrassing having to explain this to strangers when they judge for not giving up a seat on public transport. Or when I park in a disabled space, which is always subject to glares off elderly people who don't think you can be young, independent and disabled.
I openly talk about my medical problems. I joke about it with friends, and I often make light of my own situation. But the hardest thing for me is unfortunately, my positive outlook on things can sometimes cause others to unfairly make light of my situation and not take me, or my disabilities seriously. We don't want to be treated like some special snowflake, I try to not take myself too seriously – nobody wants to be friends with someone who's constantly complaining – but it's hard when those around me are unable to realise when I'm actually struggling, and think I'm just joking about when I say we're walking too fast.
My peers don't treat me any differently, which is great, but it can be easily forgotten that I'm not able to walk for long distances. I need to get a taxi home from pretty much anywhere if we're not driving. In that sense I do feel like a bit of a nuisance, especially if everyone else wants to walk to the chippie on the way home.
There have been incidents where I've been shouted at and humiliated for saying I've got a disability, particularly at events where members of security don't take me seriously and laugh in my face because "you look fine, love".
Even pulling up the side of my dress to show bouncers multiple deep, red surgery scars isn't enough to convince them. It's the little things, like being able to take shorter routes through a building or a festival ground to save an extra 10 minutes of walking. These are measures security would allow elderly people or someone on crutches with a twisted ankle to do, but I've been denied, and not even politely, because these people think I look "fine".
Just because I'm young and look like any other girl, it doesn't give anyone a right to use that against me. It's embarrassing enough to have to admit to someone I have problems, especially in a club queue at 11pm, but to then have them refuse to believe me because I don't look incredibly ill, or have something physical to show I need assistance such as a wheelchair or a crutch (at this present time), is disheartening and frustrating.
People who assume things based on appearance need to realise not every disability is visible, and we shouldn't have to "prove" it by showing our scars.