The Invisible Disabilities Association, a not-for-profit organization in Colorado founded two decades ago by the spouse of an invisibly disabled person, has designated this week as its annual Invisible Disabilities Week. An invisible disability is any disability or ongoing medical condition that may have disabling effects that may not be readily apparent to casual observers. While any disability, visible or invisible, may present physical, psychological or societal barriers at least some of the time, there often are specific challenges to others’ awareness and understanding when invisible disabilities cannot be seen.
Many of us with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) know this well. Almost all of us can relate to one or more of the following questions or considerations at some point in our journey with IBS. Do we tell family members, friends, acquaintances, employers, teachers and classmates about IBS? How much and how often do we discuss it if we do? Do they believe us? Do they– and medical professionals– believe IBS pain, exhaustion, GI symptoms, stress, commonly co-occurring conditions like anxiety or depression and other non-GI symptoms are real and worthy of help? Why do they say things like, “You look good,” when we’re in bad shape? Do they really get it? If they do get it, will they continue to support us months or years later when IBS, as a chronic, incurable condition, doesn’t go away? If they don’t get it, is it worth trying to educate or not? Why are there not better medical options for our poorly understood condition? Why don’t we have more resources related to X? Why doesn’t some celebrity come along and donate millions for a cure?
It is well-known in the IBS community, both anecdotally and through research, that many people with IBS are isolated. Some do not have a diagnosis or support for years. Some withdraw from discussing IBS with others, inside or outside of the IBS community, because of negative interactions or disappointing symptom management results. Still others seek information and help from various IBS forums, but unless they have other disabilities or medical conditions, some of which commonly overlap with IBS and others which are separate, they often are not aware of the common, similar experiences we share with groups affected by other invisible disabilities and health conditions. While gaining that knowledg may not help the medical situation per se, some people with IBS gain perspective and comfort in knowing that we are not alone and in finding a certain solidarity with other health communities.
According to the IDA, because there are so many types and levels of invisible disabilities and individual people are also affected quite differently, the organization chooses not to list or focus much on specific diagnostic labels. Most of their resources and awareness materials are applicable to a wide range of people with an equally wide range of invisible disabilities.
IBS Impact encourages readers to check out the site and see if anything is helpful to them. Also, for those so inclined, take on the challenge with which the IDA presents us this week, and talk to people or share something on social media about IBS.