Brijana Prooker is a freelance journalist and the emotional support human for her dog. She joins Mia on this episode of Shit We Don’t Talk About to talk about disabilities that we might not see, but are still real and impactful.
Disabilities of some kind impact up to 25% of the population by some estimates. Most are surprised by this statistic because we don’t talk about disabilities in the media very often, and many of these disabilities are real, yet invisible.
Invisible disability or illness does not present in a typical way. Originally used to reference chronic illness, the term has now expanded to include physical disability, mental health issues, and even neurodivergent conditions.
Invisible illness or disability is not a new thing. We just called it by different names. Hysteria is a good one, especially when applied historically to women. And while we’re on the topic, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of “wandering womb” which was an ancient explanation glued to any woman exhibiting signs of distress. Yes, people thought that a woman’s uterus would literally wander around her body, causing her to act kinda crazy. Good times.
Brijana deals with an autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s that causes serious problems with her circulatory system. It is an illness, and a disability in that it does impact her ability to function without some accommodation. The fact that her disability is largely invisible and seen by nobody but Brijana and her medical team means that she is often ridiculed or even attacked for her use of pillows to take the pressure off the blood vessels in her legs (for example). Being called “the princess” by the nurses in a doctor’s waiting room isn’t really what Brijana is hoping for when she walks out the door in the morning.
Autoimmune disorders are often invisible disabilities. 50 million people are impacted by autoimmune diseases, with 75% of them being women. This creates a huge gender bias when it comes to identifying and addressing invisible health issues that impact women.
It may not be that these invisible disabilities are rare as they are normally described, but just that they are under-diagnosed, under-researched, and not understood.
There can also be a huge racial and cultural bias when it comes to recognizing or medically diagnosing hidden and invisible illnesses. Medical students learn about vasculitis (for example) based on pictures of white skin, making diagnosis among non-white populations VERY difficult.
People with hidden disabilities – or really any disability – can often be desperate for relief and will try anything. This leaves them vulnerable to every “healer” that claims that their special form of intervention is a miracle cure. In the case of autoimmune disease, the idea that we can magically control our own immune systems can be offensive, insulting, or even damaging.
Brijana addressed the story of Mickey Rowe, an autistic actor that played the part of an autistic character in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time. Mickey described his experience as being treated like a kid from the Make-a-Wish foundation rather than like a talented, qualified artist. This put Mickey through some very difficult situations, which was likely the result of his neurodivergent status being a largely invisible and misunderstood condition. You know the producers don’t understand the nature of that particular condition when Mickey has to be “autistic, but not TOO autistic” on stage.
About Brijana Prooker
Brijana Prooker is Los Angeles-based freelance journalist whose words have appeared in Washington Post’s The Lily, Shondaland, Newsday, ELLE, Good Housekeeping, Bitch Media, Observer, Well+Good, and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Additional bylines include Hello Giggles, The Progressive, Narratively, and Entrepreneur. Brijana is also the mama to two peanut butter-hued rescue girls: a pit bull named Ivy and a cat named Doosis.
It’s Time For Women To Break Up With Politeness – ELLE Magazine
Paid Time Off Should Include Period Time Off – Goodhousekeeping
Menopause link mentioned:
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