Why It’s Time to Bring Your Invisible Disability Out into the Open

lower half of face of dreadlocked manAs someone who is almost completely deaf in one ear, I understand what it is like to have a disability that no one knows about unless I tell them. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and grief often fall into that same category of invisibility. It’s a two-edged sword: I like no one knowing of my deafness unless I tell them, yet they can’t make any allowances for my hearing loss unless I share my disability.

When someone has a visible disability, like needing a walker or being blind, everyone knows they are dealing with certain challenges. While we are all familiar with the litany of unkind and insensitive comments they may have had to endure, at least there is the option of being considerate and thoughtful. With unseen disabilities, there is no way others can offer extra help, or sensitivity, unless you mention the problem. This is true not only for physical disabilities, but for psychological ones as well.

I remember being on an especially scary flight once where the plane was running out of fuel. The woman next to me shared how frightened she was, which enabled me to go into therapist mode and soothe her nerves. If she had stoically resisted telling me out of shame or wanting to keep up appearances, she would have had a much rougher trip.

For those with invisible disabilities who typically keep things close to the vest and have been anxious, depressed, or grief stricken, this can feel like a very lonely place. In addition, it puts the onus of deliberately sharing your situation and asking for help on you. In a society that prizes people who look and act as if everything is OK, it is extremely challenging to deal with a visible disability. For those with invisible disabilities, the societal pressure to look just fine often results in not sharing any information to the contrary.

As a holistic psychotherapist and yogi, I am all about being one’s true self and sharing that authenticity with the world. If you are anxious, tell someone. Still disturbed by a death that happened years ago? Let your friends or family know. Feeling blue after a breakup or divorce? Join a group where you can support each other. Make a point of looking for conversations in which you can open up about your experiences.

As long as keeping up appearances is paramount, you have a greater chance of feeling isolated and alone. Yes, it is tempting in the short run to do what you can to fit in; however, in the long term it can create a feeling of disconnection. People see you one way, while your internal life feels diametrically opposite. That dissonance can create a boatload of stress. Aside from freeing you to be your true self, sharing the truth of who you are sets an amazing example to others and gives them what I like to call a “cosmic permission slip” to be their authentic self.

Allow yourself to start small. Tell one person what is going on with you. I recently had a conversation with a friend about some health issues she and I had experienced in the past. Because she was so open with me, I felt free to share more with her than I had with anyone. Even though the problems had passed, it was incredibly liberating to say those things out loud, and it made me feel closer to her.

If you decide to enter this initially scary territory of sharing, it may help to remember there’s nothing to be ashamed of once you realize we all have disabilities, even though some are not discernible to the naked eye.

The only way society will change is if, as Gandhi said, we become the change we want to see. Sharing your true self honestly and openly, including the issues and conditions you may have kept hidden, is the path to a better relationship with yourself and the world.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • SH

    February 4th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    I have never felt comfortable enough around anyone to share all of the depression and anxiety inside that I feel. I feel like I need to keep it a secret because no one will understand this pain the way that I do, and that someone will look down on me for struggling with this very real issue. So I have always kept it all on the inside hoping that I can mask the feelings and that no one will ever be able to tell what is going on within. I know that this isn’t the healthy thing to do, but it keeps me from having to do too much explaining, and the reasoning is that it’s just easier this way. But after I read this I now wonder who this is actually easier for, because it takes so much energy to try to hide it that I see I have nothing left to try to heal it.

  • ellis

    February 4th, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    You may only feel comfortable revealing a little at a time, just knowing that those who truly love you and care for you will still do so even when you allow all of that truth to come out.

  • Nicole

    February 4th, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    Hello SH,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me.
    You are so right, it takes a ton of energy to suppress one’s truth.
    Perhaps, it would be a good idea to find someone you think is safe and trustworthy and share a little of your challenges with depression and anxiety.
    You don’t have to share your whole life history with everyone, just enough so you give some people a chance to show you they can accept you as you are.
    Best of luck.

  • Syd

    February 5th, 2014 at 3:43 AM

    Now is definitely the time to start coming forward, because I have never witnessed a time that was more hopen and willing to accept those from all walks of life than what I see right now. I don’t think that any longer do we view mental illness as something that has to debilitate you every day. Rather I see many who embrace their personal challenges as just that, a way to move forward and learn more about life and about each other. The support for mental illness is tremendous in many areas of the country, and thank goodness it has moved past being so taboo to even talk about it or admit that this is a problem with which you struggle. If those of us who are managing to overcome are the voices of constancy and consistency then we are the ones who are going to keep this positive momentum in motion.

  • melanie

    February 6th, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    If someone is going to dismiss you simply because of this then don’t you think that this would be a good time to rid them from your life?

    How are going to be biased against someone and judge them for something that is not truly in their control? These are people who have issues just like you and I but perhaps their could be more debilitating than what we have experienced.

    I have never understood that mindset of being so judgemental about things that are seriously beyond one’s control.

    It doesn’t make them a bad person, it’s not cantagious, it’s simply that they have struggles that are likely a little different than our own.

  • Nicole

    February 6th, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    Hi Syd,
    You are so right!
    And what a wonderful thing it is to both celebrate diversity and stop pathologizing the many psychological issues most humans struggle with.

  • Mark Howard Braun

    February 6th, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    I have been a clinical pharmacist and a nuclear pharmacist with a spotless record for 39 years. CA and TX State Boards of Pharmacy found out I had bipolar illness through an employer spotting mood stabilizers on my medication profile illegally and I lost both licenses. I made no mistakes, broke no laws, don’t drink or use drugs. You are totally wrong. Mental Illness is the last taboo. These are all health care professionals sitting on these Boards. Google it, they even put my diagnosis on the internet. Take my advice and trust no one with your secrets.
    Mark Braun,MS,RPh

  • Nicole

    February 9th, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Hi Mark,

    I am so sorry you had your licenses revoked.

    I was not suggesting people disclose their psychiatric diagnoses or meds to their employer, but to a trusted friend or family member.

  • Mike

    February 18th, 2014 at 7:12 PM

    I agree with sharing stuff that is ripping you apart emotionally, It does however seem like the double edged sword.

    In my experience being a male. It almost always leads to being alienated by your closest friends (typically males) If you tell them what has been wrong your whole life it almost always leads to them making fun of you calling you things like soft, and when they are bored of that it leads to them telling you to go to therapy.

    I do agree with getting help. In my experience some problems just can’t be solved by simply talking/meds. People alienate themselves when they realize that their mental illness isn’t going to be fixed by an outside source such as therapy, medication, willing it away, or praying etc.

    There is only help for people help and support for people that have 5 things…

    People don’t have time for others problems in a capitalistic society it slows them down. They have to make money to survive.

    Why would anyone put up with someone who can’t be fixed/difficult when they could just find people who are normal and don’t have all the drama/problems? It’s rather simple.

    I have been an emotional roller coaster my whole life. Tried almost everything and still feel broken. I let all my feelings out and I am standing alone because no one will ever truly get whats wrong with my brain. Until humanity can TRULY understand genetics and brain chemistry I fear that many people will be lost because of the inability to cope with their inadequate emotional processing and broken cognitive ability.

    You see what I mean? Who would want to put up with that? It’s like a lawyer who represents a person who is a murderer as someone who is innocent when the lawyer knows deep down his patient is guilty.


    That it’s not the person who’s driving the car that is broken but the actual car itself.

    My personal opinion is I would rather have society spend its time helping people who can actually be helped than waste it’s time on someone like me to be completely honest. It only makes sense. I guess I will have to bite my tongue and wait in line until my time runs out. That’s the way I feel, broken.

  • Elisabet

    February 20th, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Definitely you seemed to have brought up a good point. But not every individual will perceive you the same. What you may see as hopeless and broken not someone worth loving is your own perception from traumas. I can relate to you feeling worthless and unable to help myself brings the same thoughts. But I love a man that has experienced these same emotions but to me he is my Angel of Salvation. So beautiful inside and out. I love that man and he has completely changed me. I still battle these thoughts it’s a constant battle. But one thing I will say. You are worth loving. There has to be one person that sees you exactly how I see my boyfriend. Don’t give in on those thoughts. Have a good day please.

  • Rhonda

    April 4th, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    I recently went public with my bipolar depression. One of the most freeing and liberating things I have ever done. I am now blogging, tweeting and face booking about it all. Struggles, loneliness, successes and everything in between. I love my life now. I’m helping myself in my own recovery while at the same time reaching out to others and creating awareness.

  • Tim

    October 29th, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    Rhonda, I don’tknow if I should be contacting you like this. I had to, though. Even a slight hope that I reach you is better than the emptiness in my heart. I miss you. I don’t know what happened during the 18 months I was n jail. I’ve been getting different stories. Some people said you are dead – killed on the freeway. Others say you’re in a “home” somewhere. I just hope with all my heart that you’re ok and in a good situation. I love you.

  • Nicole

    January 25th, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Hi Mike,

    I am just seeing your comment.

    Here, in Buffalo, NY, we actually have resources for people who don’t have money to get excellent psychological help. Most areas have a Catholic Family Services, a Jewish Family Services, or an out-patient program affiliated with a local hospital that provides comprehensive help. Please check around and see if there’s something near you.

    One thing I truly believe is there is a solution for every issue. You may not have found the right kind of help, yet, but it is there.

    Wishing you every goodness.

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