‘I have a disability but you can’t see it’

By Evelyn Bradley

Endometriosis Awareness

I waited until the end of Endometriosis Awareness Month to talk about this because I want the conversations about invisible disabilities and BIPOC bodies to not be confined to one month.

There is often a disconnect between the intersectionality of cultural identity and health (or being perceived as healthy).

I find that because I am young and energetic, there is an assumption that I couldn’t possibly be unhealthy.

Endometriosis is a crippling disease that plagues millions of women and non-binary folks across the world. It presents in different ways and can appear at various stages of life.

For me, it causes chronic pain in most of my lower body.

Endometriosis on its own is difficult; however, when combined with other health irregularities, I suffer from debilitating pain for several weeks every month.

You can’t see my disability

“You can’t possibly be sick because …”

This is something I have heard from many people throughout my life. What is actually being said is, “I don’t ever see you sick, so…”

Not only is endometriosis an invisible disease, I was taught to put my best foot forward and to “fake it ’til I make it.” As a result, most people don’t know by looking at me that I require daily support to do basic tasks.

Because I don’t “look sick” and I don’t share my personal health information, it is assumed that I am either exaggerating or that it couldn’t be as bad as I say it is.

I am painfully aware of the stereotypes associated with being a Black woman. It is because of these stereotypes that I do not have the opportunity to be vulnerable or to show that I experience daily discomfort. I am expected to be one of two things: I must be a Strong Black Woman or, if not that, then, as a Black person, I am lazy. To combat the latter, I must be overly productive.

These unrealistic expectations are exacerbated by constant commentary about my perceived work ethic and ability to perform at an elite level.

But what happens if people are more than we can see?

People assume that because I am young, that equals faster and stronger. People assume I can operate at a certain level of capacity and ability. This assumption is fundamentally false. And when that assumption is coupled with the implicit bias around racial identities and expectations, the result is a fiasco.

In writing this, I hope it encourages some of you to pause, take a moment, and check your assumptions. Stop jumping to conclusions about what wellness is and what it looks like.

I hope to encourage all of us to start the work of combating our internal cognitive short-cutting and ableism. Let’s start by not assuming everyone is able-bodied. Let’s stop assuming that illness looks and sounds a certain way. We can start actively listening to people, not just looking at them.

This is, of course, just a start. But we have to start somewhere.