We are more disabled by the society we live in than we are our disability.
If I am not in my motorized wheelchair, people say I don’t look ill, which tells me they have a preconceived idea of how I should look and act. Not all disabilities are visible. There are a plethora of invisible disabilities; however, that should not diminish or be cause for disregard because of a preconceived idea. For an example of an invisible disability, I will, with some trepidation, provide information about my struggle living with chronic pain.
While serving in the United States Marine Corps, I was injured in 1975, twice, and subsequently honorably discharged two years later from military service. The injury was sustained in my back, primarily the lower back. That is an invisible injury that manifests as a visible impairment resulting in a physical disability. However, the resulting abundance of problems stemming from that invisible injury created another invisible disability. I suffer from chronic pain 24 hours a day.
Chronic pain is much more than just pain. It is disabling. It is isolating, resulting in adverse effects on my mental health. Many studies have shown the correlation between the amount of chronic pain suffered, the length of the chronic pain, and the severity of depression suffered. Some wonder how chronic pain can be responsible for depression. I have experienced medical doctors who, only knowing of chronic pain from the medical text, dismissed me as having a pain processing problem. How would you feel if you had to give up on your dreams for the future? Imagine living your life having to take low wage employment because of a physical injury the government claim’s didn’t happen even though the damage is the reason for release from active duty. Then having to tell employers, friends, family, and strangers you have a disability that they can’t see? Or not being able to run or even walk more than a couple of city blocks. All outdoor activity is either completely off the table or severely limited. Your marriage affected, even to the point of divorce. You can’t sit or stand for more than 5 or 10 minutes without experiencing a burning, stabbing, and sometimes crippling pain. The list goes on, but you probably get the idea.
When you live with an invisible disability, you have to tell people because no one knows you are disabled. Society is not comfortable with people who suffer a disability, much less a long term disability they can’t see. The way people treat me speaks volumes to the ignorant or uneducated stereotypes interwoven into our society. I live and fight with this every minute of every hour of every day. Somedays medication doesn’t help, and as a result, I isolate myself physically in an attempt to focus all my attention elsewhere.
Now for some good news. I believe education and understanding can eradicate the isolation that those of us with invisible disabilities face on a daily bases. The education and understanding I mention is a two-way street. Disciples Path Ministry is focused on helping not only those with disabilities but those taking the time and making an effort to educate themselves on people with disabilities. This brief study can only cover highlights and hopefully inspire you to study further on your own. The following is my coping mechanism learned over decades of prayer, practice, research, successes, and failures.
I have learned throughout my life; the only thing I can always believe in and depend on 100% is God. Without sounding all preachy, unlike people, God has never lied or deceived me.
He accepts me for who I am and never forgets what I am - human. God sees the man I am inside. Best of all, He blessed me with a calling He reserved just for me. Not being born with but acquiring disabilities humbled me. I began to study His Word. Studying Scripture keeps me humble. I know deep in my heart that what I understand now is not the final word of the Bible. I once heard something to the effect of we cannot explain sufficiently and finally the word. We cannot make finite the infinite. But what better way to serve God than to go on this quest with no end?
I encourage those suffering and those choosing to minister to those suffering to search Scripture. There is example after example of people with different invisible disabilities being chosen by God to do things of an epic nature. Start with Moses and his speech disability. Reflect on his calling and all that God accomplished through him.
I wouldn’t dare compare myself to God’s elect from Scripture, but I know, deep inside of me, God has called on me to minister to others. Those with invisible disabilities can and will find peace in God’s Word. If He did it for me, He would do it for you. How can I be so sure? The Bible tells me so!
Borrowing from the Letter of James, Jesus’ brother, I want to close this article with some of his wisdom. He wrote, (2)count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. Trials test our faith to make our spiritual journey complete. (3)for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.By creating steadfastness in us, it enables Him to bless us with gifts such as wholeness. We can only become whole through His grace by becoming and remaining humble and patient. (4) And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. We must trust God, learn, believe, accept, and live our lives, knowing our disability is a powerful gift of God. The blessing of our disability will significantly increase our spiritual maturity if we let it.