Navigating the Storms

Thriving in the Midst of Invisible Disabilities

Relational Issues

Relationships for invisibly disabled persons get complicated. Everyone faces normal challenges in relating to others. Dwellers must factor in the strain of living with unending chronic problems which make it exponentially harder to connect with others.

  • Spouses, children, parents, and siblings in the home.
  • Friends, acquaintances, and strangers in social situations.
  • Co-workers and bosses at work.

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Questions to consider:

Do they know about your disabilities?

If so, do they believe you?

Can you change your expectations?

How is your attitude?

How does your disability and attitude affect others?

Actions to take:

  • Help people understand.
    • Refer them to resources for research or give a simple explanation yourself, as appropriate to the relationship.
    • Sources for referral for family, close friends, or bosses:
      • Your doctors
      • Books, articles
      • Computer links
      • Support groups
  • #2 - Work on your attitude, but don’t just stuff the bad things.
  • #3 - Do whatever you’re able to (but not more than you’re able).
  • #4 - Examine your expectations of others.

Spouse

Ideally, if you’re married, you and your spouse should be each other’s biggest supporters. Be aware, disabilities, or chronic illness of any kind, puts additional strain on a marriage. Roles may change because you’re unable to do what you used to. It may be difficult for you to maintain a decent attitude when you feel so bad. You both will deal with grief: you’ve both suffered losses, and your together-life will never be the same. Your spouse may need to take over more tasks. Your family’s income may drop. All of these things, unfortunately, contribute to the higher divorce rate of a marriage when disability is involved. Be encouraged, it doesn’t have to be that way. See the personal story.

Reflect on these difficult attitudes:

  • Are you expecting your spouse to pick up all of the slack?
  • Do you feel that you’re entitled to be taken care of?
  • Do you whine because you’re feeling bad? (Super-easy to do)
  • Have you given up on life?

Positive steps to take:

  • Try to do special things for your spouse.
  • Plan surprises.
  • Offer support for your spouse’s plans and job.
  • Work on your emotions and attitudes.

For more ideas on what to do and not do, see When Your Caregiver Is Also Your Significant Other.

Personal story:

Joe and I celebrated our 50th anniversary in July 2016. We only had 12 normal years before the disabilities hit followed by a slow downhill slide. We worked hard to maintain a healthy family life for our boys and have enjoyed the empty nest years. Yes, it has been difficult. "My" disabilities aren't just my problem: they are OUR problem. We’ve both had to grieve; it certainly hasn’t been the life we planned. We’ve both had to give-and-take a lot. Maybe Joe more than me, since much of the housework has fallen to him - not his favorite activity! He also misses me in the outdoor activities we loved. I love to read and do computer stuff to occupy my time, but I very much miss carrying out what I perceive as “my” responsibilities. There has been much compromising and cooperating through the years. But now we can enjoy looking back at our celebration!

Family life

Marriages can survive and thrive.

Children and grandchildren

Help them understand as much as they’re able. Then love them and parent as usual. Help them live as normal a life as possible.

Work

invisibly disabled relationships

The business world

If you’re still able to work, you’re likely facing some complicated relationships. Some co-workers are quite supportive and helpful, as my friend, Esther’s, were. In the last year or two that she worked, they rallied around her to pick up the slack so that she could continue working. So did the author, Joy Selak’s, co-workers.

Not all employees with unseen disabilities are so blessed, though. Some haven’t even told their co-workers. If you’re in that category, check out this article on unseen disabilities and the challenges at work, Invisible Disabilities.

Again, the most important thing you can do (if you have disclosed your condition) is help them understand your limitations. Then be patient and do your best, and see if things work out. The advice in Romans 12:18, live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you, may apply here. It just may not be possible to have good relationships with all your co-workers, no matter what you do.

Social life

The more your limitations increase, the more your social life gets curtailed. You’ll have to make choices about how to spend your time and energy. Shopping or golf with a friend or time with your kids? A phone call to your friendSocial life or making dinner? Special friends who understand (that word again) will stick with you, finding ways to keep up the relationship. Do what you can to nurture the connection.

You may just need to grow a tough skin where acquaintances and strangers are concerned. Depending on the situation it may not be relevant to disclose your challenges, so they may not understand why you have a wheelchair yet can still walk at all or why you use a disabled placard or … fill in the blank. And they may not be kind in their response. At that point, just remember there are people who do love and support you.

Disclose or Not Disclose?

  • Is it an acceptable risk to disclose your illness?
    • You may be stigmatized.  
    • People may wonder if what you’re claiming is truly real.
    • They may think you are trying to gain an advantage in some way.
    • They may speculate that you just want attention.
    • They may question if you’re a weirdo or a hypochondriac.
  • Consider the risks.
  • Think about the recipient: does he really need to know?
    • Remember you don’t owe anyone an explanation

Very close relationships like your spouse and kids, or maybe your boss, do need to know.

A doctor’s perspective

Once, I was complaining to my doctor because other people didn’t understand my challenges which caused me problems and unhappiness.

When I asked his advice, he responded,

“Does your husband support you?” Yes.

“Do your boys (teens) understand and help you?” Yes.

“Then consider yourself blessed. Many [people with invisible disabilities] don’t even have that much support. Their family/friends either don’t understand, or they don’t believe it’s real.”

His words could apply to your extended family, friends, and co-workers.

In Review

Invisibly disabled relationships have all the components of normal relationships plus factors stemming from disabilities.   

Understand. Understand. Understand. Notice that the word pops up over and over. The more each person can see the other’s viewpoint, the better that relationship is likely to work.

Be aware that this page only scratches the surface of this subject. May be you blessed as you interact with others!

 

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