Sunday, November 1, 2015

Invisible Disability

When the word "disability" comes to mind, many people often think of someone in a wheelchair, walking with a limp or a cane, someone with an amputated limb, something easily visible to the naked eye.

But then there is the invisible disability. The invisible disability is something that preys on a person and controls them, devastates them, incapacitates them, but you may never know that person is struggling. On the outside, they may not look very sick at all, but a never-ending war goes on inside their body and mind.

As a child, I was always pretty healthy. I got quite a few cases of strep throat, but I never had any instances of major surgeries or hospitalizations. In December of my senior year of high school, I became extremely sick. And so it began. Months and months passed before I received a diagnosis, but even then, it was a slow process of realizing more and more than I had a disability--an invisible disability. I found out that, for an indeterminate amount of time, every so often, my dura mater surrounding my spinal cord will tear, which would completely debilitate me for at least four weeks. After that time devoted to recovering, I would have to return to life--the life that kept racing forward while I was benched for four weeks. While I was down for the count, my friends kept living life without me.

Although it would seem that the surgery and immediate physical recovery would be the hardest part, it was the declaration of war within my mind that would prove to be the hardest part of my invisible disability. Pain medicine and nausea medicine can take away the side effects from surgery, but what can take away the pain of the loneliness, the depression, the anxiety, the neglecting, the stress, the hurt? What can take away the pain from trying countlessly to try to explain to my friends and family what I am going through, and have them still not understand? What takes away the sadness from watching life from the sidelines and missing out on my very favorite things? What takes away the embarrassment of the stares when I park in a handicapped spot, but externally may appear perfectly fine. Or the embarrassment of having to miss so much class do to my pain. Or the stress of constantly feeling behind in my class work. Or the frustration of trying to convince someone that I actually am struggling even though I may not look like it.

People often say "there's no such thing as disabled, only differently abled."

Well that is just not true.

Because of my disability, I will never again be able to do some of my favorite things. Never again can I ride a rollercoaster, drive a Jetski, go tubing on the lake. And, I have to take so much caution in every day tasks like trying to reach something from the top shelf, or bending over to pick up my keys. For those who know just how much I love traveling, you know how much is devastates me now since traveling is now one of my most difficult tasks. How am I supposed to fly on a plane for 24 hours to reach my home in Kenya that I miss so dearly. I am not differently abled, I am disabled. There are things I simply cannot do.

There is so much guilt and shame, which often does not make sense. I feel guilty because I am not able to be as good a friend as I need to be. I feel guilty from missing important events. I feel guilty because of all the time my parents have had to drop everything to take care of me when I cannot do it on my own. I feel guilty for all the medical bills forced upon my family. I feel guilty because my roommates have to live with a sick girl who cannot always wash her dishes or pick up after herself as she should.

There is so much shame in being so sick that I cannot even take care of myself at some times in life. The shame that I cannot even get out of bed to fix myself something to eat, or even struggling to take a shower after surgery.

There is so much total frustration that is often paralyzing. It is frustrating living with a disability at only 19 years old; especially because most of my peers have no clue what it is like to live with a disability, or how to act around a friend who does have one.

I sometimes feel like my invisible disability is a thief. It stole my freshman year of college from me. I missed out on so many of the experiences one is supposed to enjoy during freshman year. And now, it is stealing part of my sophomore year, leaving me feeling even more isolated and angry.

My life is not nearly the same as it was two years ago. I've changed a lot as a person. Sometimes the overwhelming depression and insecurity from my invisible disability prevents me from just getting out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it poisons my relationships.

There are really no words good enough to describe exactly the hardships, the pain, and incapabilities that I experience on a day-to-day basis.

Sometimes, out of pure desperation, I cry out to God to please take this burden and this hardship away from me. Instead, however, I should be praying for the faith, the peace, the patience, the strength, and the courage to endure this suffering. I should be praying that God will shine through me as I suffer so that I might suffer beautifully. That is what I truly want--to suffer beautifully. I want people to see the strength, the courage, and the faith with which I faced this hardship and be encouraged that, with Christ, they too can endure this present darkness.

This world is flooded with darkness. It pours in from every direction, swallowing people and destroying everything in its path. But what can kill darkness? What can kill the darkness that devastates? Light. 

I pray now that God will use my suffering to make me light. Make me a light, Lord, to help pull people from the darkness so they too may join me in the light. A light so much stronger and so much greater than any darkness. A light only found in the love of Jesus Christ.

Suffering is a difficult part of life, and sometimes phases of suffering last a lot longer than you ever could of imagined. I never imagined that my suffering that began at 17 would still be suffocating me at 19. But there is a purpose and there is hope in the fact that one day the suffering will end. In heaven, there will be no more suffering and no more pain (Romans 8:18). So until that day of utmost healing arrives, be a light. Use your suffering to bring you closer to Christ. Use your suffering to encourage others. Use your suffering to be a light.

Now, I continue on, fighting my best fight, learning to suffer beautifully.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden."
Matthew 5:14

"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."
Deuteronomy 31:6

"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."
Exodus 14:14