“Faceless In The Crowd” by Marie LeBlanc

03/07/2014

Overlooked in disbelief, financially insecure and emotionally overcome, people with invisible disabilities remain faceless in a crowd. Many suffer in silence for fear of discrimination. Falling through the cracks of society, they are virtually impossible to spot because they look “normal.” Like a cover on a book, they are judged from the outside, yet are screaming inside for help and understanding. Awareness of invisible disabilities must be spread in order to create a just society.
An invisible disability is a hidden illness that does not require the use of visible assistive devices. People with invisible disabilities are often accused of being paranoid or faking symptoms because they “look fine.” With emotional and physical pain they struggle to keep up with society and act “normal.” The disbelief they encounter is heightened by those who fake their illnesses, discrediting those whose disabilities are all too real.
Facing hopelessness, homelessness, unequal pay, unemployment, inaccessibility to treatment and a lack of understanding from government agencies and health-care and insurance providers, people with invisible disabilities are often left on their own to survive. With everything taken away, many commit suicide as they feel there is nowhere else to turn.
A report from the Canadian Human Rights Commission recognizes that three percent of Canadians have been diagnosed with some sort of environmental sensitivity – only one of many types of invisible disabilities – and acknowledges the importance of accommodating the needs of sufferers. But due to a lack of research in the area, many people are misdiagnosed or left untreated.
Given the chance, many people suffering from invisible disabilities would prefer to work and live in a society where they are acknowledged and accepted for who they are and for their qualifications, and not excluded from society due to lack of understanding. But businesses are apprehensive to hire people who disclose their invisible disabilities due to their fear of the unknown. It seems safer to hire people whose disabilities are visible and easily defined.
Each person with a disability finds his or her own niche carved out of their own experience. Many start their own business out of desperation caused from the exclusion of society. Their individual talents and abilities can make them as valuable as the able-bodied people in their same communities, and their insights into many of life’s challenges can come from a unique and helpful vantage point.
As a person living with invisible disabilities, the scrutiny, doubt and lack of understanding from those around me has been very challenging. Facing barriers at every turn, my personal experiences with dozens of medical procedures, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities, interstitial cystitis, scurvy, memory and concentration issues, insomnia and chronic fatigue syndrome have affected every area of my life. People are more than willing to dispute I have an invisible disability, as to them I look “normal.” Due to the invisible nature of my conditions, I have been overlooked by society. Misunderstood, I need special accommodations for my most basic needs while trying to survive. This leaves me searching for answers, desperate, isolated and determined to find a way to live a sustainable, healthier life.
Though it is difficult to deal with excruciating pain and odd hours of sleep, I have found outlets to cope with the barriers of life. If it were not for my disabilities I would not be on the path in life I am on now. I have discovered organizations that will allow me to volunteer at my own pace from home to help create awareness for people with invisible disabilities.
I have also been using visual art, poetry, performance art and photography as ways of being in the present moment. Without my disabilities I would not have discovered these hidden abilities. I use the camera to see where I have been and where I am going. It serves as my memory bank and helps me create a visual record of what I have done during a day. My disabilities prevent me from remembering things and my visual distortions are getting worse, so I use the eye of the camera to capture the shadows and reflections that define the physical world around me.
In this world where exclusion and isolation are the norms for people with all types of disabilities, I feel that inclusion, understanding and awareness of invisible disabilities would transform society. We all have our own abilities to offer the world. We all matter. There is only unity where neither illness nor status defines us.
Marie LeBlanc is an artist and disability activist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Without my disabilities I would not have discovered these hidden abilities.

Credit Notes:
This article was written by my friend Marie LeBlanc who lives in Winnipeg Canada.
“This article first appeared in Geez magazine, Spring 2014, see geezmagazine.org.”

2 Responses to ““Faceless In The Crowd” by Marie LeBlanc”

  1. Hello Marie…
    My name is Genny, short for Genevieve, Kuepfer. I’ve read your articles posted on Howard’s blog. I know Howard as we live a few blocks away from each other. He encouraged me to read your articles and am happy to have done so. You are so on point with all of your comments!!!. In fact, I’ve done public speaking on sexual assault while in my doctorate program, Many of the things you mentioned in your articles I said in my speeches. I would love to contact you and perhaps, create a diaologue with you. I’ve written a book about my assault experiences while serving in the US Navy. It’s currently under revision right now. But I’m holding to the belief it will be published. Nonetheless, CONGRATULATIONS to you for speaking out. We need to speak out and take back our lives and show the world that we are valueable citizens who can make contributions to our families, friends, communities and countries. (Just a small note: I actually was stationed in Newfoundland at the last American navy base in the early 1990’s. Therefore, I’m somewhat familiar with your medical system, both mental and physical. I love your country and the many Canadians I met and worked with.) I hope you’ll accept my invitation to begin a relationship with me. I thank Howard, who is, in my opinion, an exceptional human being. I owe him a lot. When the VA let me down, Howard picked my up a few times and got me back on my feet. I hope one day to be there for him when he needs help.
    So please feel free to contact me at beuwolf@comcast.net. I sense we are kindred spirits and want to pursure talking with you. I admire your perserverance and “gun ho” attitude and can relate to it. Thank you for your outstanding articles and shaking up the world. Keep going, Marie. There’s powers in numbers, as the old adage goes. Thank you for reading this and hope to hear from you at a time convenient for you. And, Howard, if you’re reading this, thank you for introducing me to Marie! You’re amazing!

    Hugs and waggin’t tails…Genny, Wolfie and Semper Fi
    (W and SF are my Mental Health Services dogs)

    • Hey Genny & Marie,….

      I am pleased to hear that Genny has offered an opportunity of connection to you Marie; moreover, I know that both of you wonderful Women have a lot in common. Both of you have the capability to choose to be a fantastic support for each other at the very least…!

      I’m also pleased that my Blog has played a part in the potential supportive connection between the both of you.

      Howard

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