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What I'd Like to Tell People Who Question My Mother's Chronic Pain

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I manage a website called Pain Fog; it’s written by someone who has dealt with chronic pain for a long time, and doesn’t let it get the best of her.

This past year the health challenges kept piling on and on, and it seemed a little overwhelming. So she decided to do something positive and write about it. Every day she blogs about her challenges and successes while navigating through all aspects of neurosurgery #3.  She also shares the wisdom she has learned about living with chronic pain in hope of inspiring others.

Maureen and Jerri on a boat.
Jerri with her mom, Maureen.

This person is my mother.

This morning when I sat down to edit yesterday’s post, I was riveted; I stopped scanning carefully for mistakes and read it all the way through, captured. I was so moved by it. And I was so mad.

I shared her post on my Facebook page to try to spread her message, a powerful and important one that I believe needs to be repeated more often.

Not all disabilities are visible.

After I shared her post, I went on about my day, having my coffee and reading the news. But still I could feel that anger in my chest and in the pit of my stomach. I just couldn’t shake the feeling.

I wanted to gather up all of the people who have ever questioned anyone with a disability, whether it be silently or vocally, and ask them what gives you the right to judge? I want them to see my mother’s whole life story, everything she has been through, and then dare them to look at her with the same judgmental eyes.

But of course I can’t.

So I sat down to write this instead. Unless you have experienced a disability firsthand, or live with someone who does, it is very difficult to understand. I bet lots of people would read this post or her post and roll their eyes a little bit and think, that doesn’t happen, does it?

But it does. More often than you want to know.

To the TSA agent at Pearson Airport who made every head turn when he loudly said that you can only use the disabled lane if you have a real disability while staring at my mother, who after a long day of travel had trouble standing on her own two feet:

Not all disabilities are visible.

I bet you have no idea how hard it is to navigate that airport with a disability.

To the man who muttered under his breath and rolled his eyes at the grocery store last week when we parked in the disabled parking:

Not all disabilities are visible.

A smile would have gone a long way on a hard morning.

To the lady who seemed quite annoyed that she had to move her purse so my mother could sit down at the hospital after just being told she needed another complicated neurosurgery:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Your purse doesn’t have feelings; people do.

To the flight attendant who said pre-boarding was for those with special needs only, why don’t we get in line with everyone else:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Your sarcastic tone is demeaning.

To the server at a local restaurant who helped us rearrange the chairs so my mother would be more comfortable, without asking questions:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Thank you, we had such a fun night.

To the child who offered her seat in a packed airport to my mother:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Thank you for making a long hard travel day much easier.

To our neighbors who shovel the driveway when my father and I are away:

Not all disabilities are visible.

Thank you; you help more than you know.

To anyone who has ever offered help to someone who looks like they need it, or doesn’t look like they need it:

Not all disabilities are visible.

You put a smile on someone’s face for the rest of the day.

Often if we see someone else’s struggles, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Everybody has demons in their life. Some you can see; most you can’t. It hurts me to see my mother have to deal with so much judgment from people who have no idea what she has faced.

Asking for help is difficult to do, and it comes in all different forms: asking someone to move their bag, using the disability parking or accessibility services in an airport.

To the older “gentleman” who gives my mother a snotty look when she parks in the disability parking and places her permit in the window:

Not all disabilities are visible.

When you question people who are asking for help, it’s like kicking them when they are down.

The choice we face every day to be kind or to judge happens in a fraction of a second, but it has a lasting impact. So next time you are faced with a decision to judge or to accept, I hope you remember: not all disabilities are visible.

Follow this journey on Pain Fog.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 9, 2016
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