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What I Realized About My Invisible Illness After Waking Up on My Dorm Room Floor

I am a lot of things. I’m a girlfriend, a daughter, a proud member of the USC Trojan family, an advocate and an aspiring attorney. But for the majority of my life, I have found it nearly impossible to accept another part of my identity: my status as a person with disabilities.

I am invisibly disabled, a survivor of a double-edged sword of benefit and disadvantage that allowed me for many years to pretend I wasn’t disabled, but at the same time, forced me to act and achieve and think the exact same way an able-bodied person would since, as far as most people were concerned, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.

For many years, I pushed myself into a box created for and created by able-bodied people, insisting I should be able to do everything an able-bodied person did despite my pain or fatigue because, as I was always told, I looked fine. I tried to make myself fit into a role that was not meant for me and, as such, I felt like a consistent failure no matter how successful — academically, professionally or even personally — I was or seemed to be.

I kept the extent of my disabilities a closely guarded secret, shutting myself down the second anyone asked more than a casual, “How are you?” or noticed my frequent absences from work or class and asked where I had been.

That is, until I woke up on the floor of my college dormitory with the RA standing over me, looking concerned and frightened and nervously trying to make me laugh as I gradually attained consciousness and climbed onto my absurdly high bed.

In that moment, I realized that I had had enough. I was done simply trying to pretend that the health conditions I dealt with weren’t real because no one could see them, and I was done pretending that I didn’t need help to get through my bad days.

Identifying as disabled empowered me to begin opening up, starting with that very same RA who had been there when I most needed someone and had come to my rescue when I blacked out after failing to reach a bottle of painkillers in time. Little by little we talked, and laughed and fell in love. And each day, as she stayed awake for nights in a row to keep me company, or dragged me to the hospital at 2 am the night before she had a final exam or lifted me off of the floor when my own legs could not, she showed me just how rewarding it could be to open up and allow someone to love me for all of me, as I am.    

Invisibility, it turns out, is overrated.

Ariana Aboulafia the mighty.2-001

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.