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.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Disability

Introducing the Disabilitini: For the Highs and Lows of Disability Living

I was going to write about how hard this past week has been. Maybe something sentimental on how being a mother is an ever-changing circle of highs and lows spinning you into infinity. I was going to talk about raising a child with a disability. Maybe something about how our milestones look different and sometimes [...]

Nike's 'Zoom Soldier 8' Shoe Is for People With Disabilities

Nike’s new shoes are making headlines for more than just their flashy looks. The company’s latest footwear, the Zoom Soldier 8, is designed for people with disabilities. The Zoom Soldier 8 story began back in 2012, when Matthew Walzer, a 16-year-old who lives with cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to Nike asking the company to consider developing [...]
A group of people in wheelchairs at a parade

This Is What New York City's First Disability Pride Parade Looked Like

On Sunday, July 12, nearly 3,000 people marched, wheeled and rode through the streets of New York City to celebrate the city’s first annual Disability Pride Parade. The parade honored the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which ensured civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. Hundreds gathered near a stage in Madison [...]
old flyer for a bike-a-thon that refers to people with disabilities as the 'r' word

When an Old Flyer Reminded Me How Far We’ve Come With the ‘R’ Word

Long ago (long, long ago) when I was 12 or 13, my friend, Sue, and I participated in a Bike-A-Thon. We met up with a couple of friends, Joe and Ron, who were also participating. I remember it being a lot of fun, with the exception of Susan smashing into and ruining Ron’s bike gears. [...]