Invisible disabilities have become a more pertinent discussion in recent years, but there is still so much misunderstanding about what it truly means to diagnosed with and live with a chronic illness that can’t be readily seen. More and more disability advocates, as well as celebrities, are shedding light on this important topic. Actor Selma Blair's recent Instagram post perfectly captured what life is like for many of us who have an invisible disability, and the struggles (and small triumphs) that come along with it.
This is not the first time Blair has been open about living with a chronic illness. The actor revealed in an Instagram post this past October that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) — an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, and can cause symptoms such as persistent pain, mobility issues, extreme fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Since disclosing her diagnosis, Blair has continued to talk about the living with this health condition.
In Blair’s Jan. 14 Instagram post, she went deeper into what living with MS is like. “There is a truth with neurodegenerative brain disease. It is uncomfortable. It is a stadium of uncontrollable anxiety at times. Going out, [and] being sociable, holds a heavy price. My brain is on fire. I am freezing.”
Further down in the caption, Blair shared the uncomfortable truths many of us with invisible disabilities know all too well: how deceptive these illnesses can look from the outside, how isolating they can feel at times, and, how much resolve it takes to cope with these illnesses. “We feel alone with it, even though the loving support has been a godsend and [is] appreciated. People write me asking how I do it. I do my best. But, I choke with the pain of what I have lost, and what I dare hope for. And, how challenging it is to walk around,” she wrote. The actor continued:
But, my smiles are genuine. This is okay. Life is an adventure with many shards of awakening. I can’t sleep at night, but [during the] daytime, I have trouble staying awake. I am a grown woman holding onto a bear that belonged to a sister type of mine. [...] We do what we can. I have a full week ahead with mothering and appointments, and things to look forward to. But, like many of us, I am praying. Soaking in love where I can. It’s not easy. That’s okay.
Invisible disabilities is a catch-all term to describe health conditions that are, well, completely invisible to the naked eye. As the Invisible Disabilities Association reported, one study estimated that around 74 percent of people in the U.S. who live with a severe disability do not use a mobility device. Mental health disorders, chronic pain, epilepsy, diabetes, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and autoimmune disorders, like MS, are among the most common invisible disabilities.
People with invisible disabilities often have to overcome many hurdles — both personal and professional — when it comes to having their illness perceived as “real,” or valid. Many people still respond with, “you don’t look sick,” or “you look completely normal” when someone in their life discloses having an invisible disability. What’s more, as NPR reported, people with invisible disabilities face discrimination in the workplace and at school; they may even struggle to get necessary accommodations because they don’t readily “look” disabled. This discrimination is so pervasive that it’s not unheard of for people with invisible disabilities to opt out of disclosing their illness during the interview process for prospective jobs.
The actor captured the reality of how difficult invisible illnesses can be to manage, but she also spoke to the power (and consequences) of engaging in small tasks. Sometimes, when you’re disabled, everyday activities — like going out with a friend, making yourself dinner, getting a night of restful sleep, or simply going for a walk — can be major victories. These things can be a form of self-care, but they can simultaneously take a large toll on disabled people, their health, and their energy. Like Blair explained, it’s often difficult to find (and keep) some semblance of balance between the negative impact that comes with disability, and the perseverance to carry on in spite of it.
With so much stigma that surrounds invisible disabilities, it’s invaluable when celebrities like Blair speak out on their platforms about the ways in which these illnesses affect day-to-day activities. A majority of people who aren’t disabled are probably still not aware of the full scope of challenges that often accompany invisible illnesses. It’s tempting, at times, to fake wellness to avoid these stigmas altogether. However, being vulnerable — and hearing others like Blair share their own experiences with invisible disability — can be so empowering.