DKC Voices: Living with Invisible Disabilities

5 min readJul 31, 2023

July is commemorated as Disability Pride Month. At DKC News, we are committed to amplifying voices within our community while providing a safe space. Join us in celebrating this observance with DKC Voices pieces from Danielle Tarabay, and Michael Spencer as they all speak on their experiences living with invisible disabilities.

Danielle Tarabay — Account Coordinator, Media Tech

I was a problem child. Well, according to my parents, only 5% of me was a problem, but it was a big 5%. I would have mood swings and “tantrums” that came seemingly out of nowhere and sometimes, I’d go completely nonverbal. This got me in all sorts of trouble with my parents and at school, because other than these bombastic, obviously attention-seeking acts, I was a star pupil.

Fast-forward to my teens — the “tantrums” never stopped, but I learned how to hide them well enough to not get punished for it. I didn’t want to act this way and I still couldn’t put a name on whatever I was doing, but it was exhausting, nonetheless. I learned the term anxiety long ago, but growing up in a culture where mental illness is regarded as nothing but a silly term people use to play the victim, I simply thought it was a synonym for nervousness. It’s not.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point — it manifests differently in all of us and for different reasons. After all, life is filled with anxiety-inducing situations — final exams, presentations, job interviews, going to the dentist — the list is endless. Luckily for most, it’s not a chronic thing, but for some of us, life is like the constant smell of gas in your home, never being able to find the source.

From the moment I finally became aware that those “tantrums” were really just panic attacks, and my mood swings were actually bouts of major depression, I fought to be seen. I read, researched, listened, and studied — I scrubbed my brother’s college copy of the DSM-5 cover to cover. I learned everything I could about mental illness and wellness but as long as I was here, a part of this culture, I was nothing but an attention-seeking victim.

It wasn’t until about a year ago when my panic attacks got so severe that it became nearly impossible to leave my house, or my bed for that matter, that I finally started to break through to my family. Any move I made immediately shot 1,000 thoughts of doom through my mind, and my body responded accordingly: heart palpitations, hyperventilation, nausea, sweating, etc. Years of untreated anxiety and depression lead to other chronic health conditions too: migraines, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, etc. One day in the office I had a panic attack lasting about 6 hours that I just couldn’t hide, and finally, my family started to see that it wasn’t just a desperate act. This was when I finally felt confident enough to take the first steps in getting the help I needed.

There’s a lot of shame that comes with having any sort of disability, including mental illness and neurodivergence, because though we’ve come a long way, there is still an immense stigma surrounding mental health and its importance to holistic wellness. We take care of our bodies by feeding them healthy foods, getting our daily movement, and engaging in extensive hygiene routines, but too often our brains go on the back burner.

The way I like to think about it is that some of us are born with a different set of tools from the norm. Where someone else might logically use a screwdriver, a neurodivergent person might only have the option of using a spoon. Our brains work differently than most, and it often takes a long time to learn to traverse life with this in mind, but every day millions of us manage. Just remember to treat your neighbor with grace.

Michael SpencerAccount Coordinator, Sports

During a routine doctor’s visit in 2018, a nurse noticed something off in my blood work. I can’t exactly explain what she saw, but I remember being told that I needed to wait to hear from my doctor. I knew something was wrong because my chart was transferred from one nurse to a doctor, a psychiatrist, two medical students, and an infectious disease specialist.

After two months, several visits and six vaccines, my doctors concluded that my immune system was just weaker than average. I needed constant blood work and biweekly visits to learn how weak, but I was free to go home.

Over time, I’ve faced multiple infections and a ton of new allergies, but on any given day, I feel the same as I did in 2018. It’s just another day and my health is just another thing that I need to remember to care about.

Having an invisible disability is really similar to wearing a cast or knee brace: at first, it feels really annoying, and it sticks out, but eventually, nobody even notices it’s there.

In an article on Verywell Health, the term “invisible disability” was defined as any condition that stereotypically doesn’t present in a physical way. People’s experiences with health and disability are extremely personal, and the stigma surrounding invisible disability proves to be an often-isolating personal experience.

Despite there being no shortage of stories about people struggling with mysterious diseases or families discovering genetic conditions, there are still so many misconceptions that prevent people from understanding invisible disabilities in both their own life and those around them.

Living with an invisible disability includes living with misconceptions and stigma about it. Depending on the condition, people face pervasive beliefs that impact entire communities or they’ll discount their personal experiences because of common-held beliefs. That’s not to mention insurance, affordability, and access may all be factors preventing someone from pursuing professional support.

Honestly, when I think about my path to treatment, I feel lucky because someone noticed something on a routine visit that could have gone unnoticed for years. In some cases, people experience prejudice for appearing able-bodied despite having limitations or they struggle for years to get a diagnosis because they just don’t ‘look sick’.

Everyone should focus on being active with their education regarding disability and healthcare. There is a wealth of information available about the subject and there are so many people sharing their stories.

Go on social media and follow influencers who are living with disabilities and listen to their stories. There isn’t a shortage of people willing to teach about their community and how it relates to life at large.

As an ally, focus on finding your way to the stories of others. Instead of asking someone or waiting for the information to appear, search for it. Put in the effort to learn. Once you know more about the disability experience, create an environment that’s more accepting and understanding of people facing different challenges in their daily lives.




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