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The Shirt I'm Going to Wear to Make My Invisible Illnesses Visible

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As a person with an invisible illness/invisible disability, I often get funny looks when being visibly disabled in public. We have all heard stories of the notes left on cars parked in handicapped spots asking “Where is your wheelchair?” I have often wondered if I needed to start wearing a sign in pubic to get any respect. I already developed some print-at-home cards to hand out to the particularly uneducated, but most people are not bold (read: rude) enough to question me openly.

On the days that I can function — at least to the average viewer — as a normal person, I often wonder how many people around me are doing the exact same thing. I look no different than any other person on the street, but only because they cannot see the hundreds of things going on in my body and behind the scenes to make me appear that way. How many people do I pass on the street who are fighting a battle like mine, putting on a facade like me, to get though the day. According to statistics, one in five in the US has a disability — so I probably pass by several every day, none the wiser.

So September 30, 2016 — the Friday of Invisible Illness Awareness Week — is going to be my Visibility Day. The day when I walk around with a sign on, or at least what most of use as our own personal billboard: a T-shirt.

As a person with an invisible illness, Invisible Illness Awareness Week has always had a spot in my heart. Whether it is an invisible physical illness/disability, invisible mental illness/disability, or invisible learning disability, many of us struggle for the recognition and validation of what we go through. It is one thing we have even common, even if how it affects our lives is completely different. A week where we can come together and share our struggle together, even if it is the only struggle we share. It is entirely possible I am the only person in my small town who struggles with dysautonomia, but I seriously doubt I am the only one who struggles with an invisible illness/disability.

graphic of blue t shirt with words dysautonomia and endometriosis

So I want a day where I wear the struggles of my life on my sleeve — literally. I plan on making a shirt with my conditions listed on the front (dysautonomia and endometriosis), probably using a hashtag (because we live in a Twitter world) and in the color of dysautonomia since I feel it has the most affect on my life. On the back, I plan to put “Don’t judge a disability by its visibility.”

graphic of blue shirt with words don't judge a disability by its visibility

And I encourage anyone else who wants to have their own visibility day to join me. Make your own shirt, or wear an awareness shirt you already have. Make you own on a site like CafePress or Zazzle. Buy iron-on letters or the print and iron t-shirt kits. Heck, take a Sharpie to a Goodwill shirt.

Whether you have dysautonomia, depression or dyslexia, Whether you have autism, anxiety or angina, I hope to see you repping your colors and your conditions on September 30th.

*Note: While not all invisible illness are an invisible disability, and vice versa, there is a lot of overlap. So for the purpose of my visibility day, I am including both of them.

Originally published: September 26, 2016
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