NPR had this interview with a young woman suffering from an ‘invisible’ disease.  Bravo, NPR, for bringing awareness to these illnesses that can not be seen from the outside.

People With ‘Invisible Disabilities’ Fight For Understanding

In employment disability discrimination charges filed between 2005 and 2010, the most commonly cited disabilities were those not immediately obvious to others.


Some disabilities are more obvious than others. Many are immediately apparent, especially if someone relies on a wheelchair or cane. But others — known as “invisible” disabilities — are not. People who live with them face particular challenges in the workplace and in their communities.

Carly Medosch, 33, seems like any other young professional in the Washington, D.C. area — busy, with a light laugh and a quick smile. She doesn’t look sick. But she has suffered from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, since she was 13. There have been times, she says, when she’s “been laying on the floor in the bathroom, kind of thinking, ‘Am I going to die? Should I jump out in front of traffic so that I can die?’ Because you’re just in so much pain.”

More recently, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that leaves her in a state of full-body chronic pain and intense fatigue.

For Medosch and others who struggle with an invisible disability, occasional hospital stays and surgeries are not the hard part. Mundane, everyday activities can be more difficult.

“Washing my hair, blow-drying my hair, putting on makeup — those kind of activities can exhaust me very quickly,” says Medosch. “So you kind of blow-dry your hair and then you sort of sit down for a little bit.”

Walking to the subway or even bending down to pick something up can take a lot out of her. But that isn’t apparent from the outside.

“I kind of call it being able to pass,” she says. “So I can pass as a normal, healthy, average person, which is great and definitely helps ease my everyday life — especially in interactions with strangers, getting your foot in the door in a situation like a job interview.”

It is hard to pinpoint the number of Americans with an invisible disability, but it’s estimated there are millions. Their conditions may range from lupus to bipolar disorder or diabetes. The severity of each person’s condition varies, and the fear of stigma means that people often prefer not to talk about their illnesses.

But in employment disability discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2005 and 2010, the most commonly cited conditions were invisible ones, according to analysis by researchers at Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute.

“You know, it’s that invisible nature of an illness that people don’t understand,” says Wayne Connell, the founder and head of the Invisible Disabilities Association. He started the group after his wife was diagnosed with Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis.

“We’d park in disabled parking and she didn’t use a wheelchair or a cane, and so people would always give us dirty looks and scream at us,” he recalls.

“When they see someone in a wheelchair, OK, they get that they’re in a wheelchair. But what if they have chronic pain, what if they have PTSD — anything from cancer to peripheral neuropathy to autism?”

Medosch has had similar experiences with her handicapped parking tags. She also says that she faced challenges obtaining accommodations from a prospective employer.

Joyce Smithey, a lawyer who specializes in labor and employment, says that’s not uncommon. When people with invisible disabilities request accommodations, Smithey says, some employers respond, “We don’t do that as a policy.”

“And that’s a problem,” Smithey says. “Because that person is not asking to partake of a benefit that’s offered in a policy; that person is asking for an accommodation they’re entitled to under the law.”

When a disability isn’t immediately obvious, others — at work, school or even at home — sometimes doubt it exists and accuse those who suffer from invisible conditions of simply angling for special treatment.

Medosch says she’s comfortable being vocal about her disability now because she’s well protected at her current job. She hopes discussing her own experience will help boost understanding, but acknowledges invisible disability can be hard to fathom — especially when so many people who live with it seem, outwardly, at least, to be just like everyone else.


  1. Another eye-opening commentary. Thank you for this. My daughter, and her daughters and myself always see the judgment in the eyes of others when we take Willie to malls or grocery stores and other public places and he has his meltdowns. I tear up just writing about his Autism. I teared up reading your blog just now. My patients have all had obvious disabilities but it is sad that no one would recognize, or believe the existence of invisible disabilities. A wonderful and much needed post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words and for sharing a little about your sweet son. I know too well those moments, looking into those damning, judging eyes and seeing in your minds eye the wheels turning in their brains with hate. Bless you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your story. I know all too well the difficulties of have a chronically ill child. Yet I know a woman of great courage who speaks about it (and more) more eloquently than I and has much to say on the subject. I shall give you the link to the talk she gave several months ago at the Ted-ex Talks in Brisbane. Her blog is something else I highly recommend.

    Meet Carly-Jay Metcalf:

    Thank you for choosing to follow my poetry blog. Léa

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jessica has a beautiful daughter who has suffered since a pre-teen with an auto-immune disorder directly altering her brain function. This affects every movement, every thought, every second of her every day. Invisible diseases are so real and debilitating. Sandi has her own personal story. We pray constantly for any who may suffer. Thank you Patti!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for addressing this issue. I have multiple ‘invisible’ disabilities, and have had the same feelings that you listed in your post. Here’s hoping someone will listen. Maybe we can educate our world after all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am glad that you liked the article. I also have an invisible disability. I do this blog mostly for children, and the truth is that more children have these disabilities but are misdiagnosed or are not diagnosed. But the same does apply to us adults. We need to bring awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post. I tore a tendon in my left foot and it’s so inflamed that I need to wear a cast for a month.

    People behave so differently when a disability is obvious.

    As usual, a post full of great information. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

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