Having an invisible disability doesn't make it any less real

Laura Kaponer


Having an invisible disability doesn't make it any less real

Editor's note: Laura Kaponer is a consumer of mental health services and recently open public advocate for living with a mental illness, rather than a professional mental health care provider.

It's easy to judge something or someone from the outside and make certain assumptions. But just because someone is smiling doesn't mean she's happy, and just because someone isn't bedridden doesn't mean he isn't sick.

There are so many different levels and ways of being sick that might appear different from what we as a society are conditioned to recognize as sick.

Let's start with the misconception that if you aren't well enough to work, you aren't well enough to enjoy life. The stresses, restrictions, expectations, and time commitments of employment can in no way compare to that of a social outing.

While they are preferable, there are generally no hygiene or dress code requirements with friends. Social obligations are often more like social options, with plenty of flexibility regarding attendance, level of participation, start and end time, etc.

I know many fine folks who do not work and are on disability for a multitude of reasons. I, too, was very briefly on disability. Being on disability does not mean one should never leave home nor attempt to enjoy life.

Yet far too often, those on disability are shamed for doing so:

"If you can go to the movies, you can have a job."

"If you can attend a comic book convention, you can have a job."

"If you can go out with you friends to do anything for amusement, you can have a job."

All those statements - and so many more - are based in ignorance.

If someone is sick and can manage to muster up the ability to do something that truly brings joy, in what world is that wrong?

Is that sick person meant to lock herself in her home, sit in the dark and be devoid of anything that can even temporarily distract her from her struggle or suffering?

If this is true, then what is the point of such fantastic organizations such as Make a Wish? Or why do celebrities visit hospitals to spend time with the sick?

I'm here to let you know that someone can be ill, even on disability, and still enjoy life. Those two things can exist at the same time and very well should.

Additionally, you don't know what it took for the person to even make it out of the house for a few hours. It's likely he or she spent quite a bit of time "recovering" after the fact.

Maybe the next time you see someone with a disability or illness out and about, before you judge, maybe instead be happy for that person.

Laura Kaponer is a mental health advocate and social media blogger, as well as a volunteer with the local chapter of NAMI. #Laura Kaponeris1in5 (as 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness).