The names in this article have been changed for privacy reasons.
I used to shoot intense glares of disapproval at those I saw parking in disabled spots and taking up the special needs seats on public transport, who seemed perfectly capable.
But my friendship with a woman who was born with cystic fibrosis has changed all that.
Invisible disabilities include mental health issues, multiple sclerosis, endometriosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes to name just a few. With one in five Australians suffering from a disability, the amount of those who live under the cloak of an invisible illness is higher than some may think.
Sarah’s illness zaps her of her energy, clogs her lungs with mucus and nearly halves her life expectancy. But she looks like any other 21-year-old and has spent her life battling between the need to be understood and the need to not be simply seen as the “sick kid”.
A frank, dark humour we share keeps her illness from becoming a taboo subject. We’ll often casually joke that she has the lungs of an elderly woman and she’ll brag about how much phlegm she’s coughed up that day. That’s just part of how we both deal with her illness but it becomes much more difficult with people who don’t know her well.
“I find it really hard how sometimes I want a different response from people, but then how are they supposed to know what to say unless they’ve been through it? And I don’t want to be the person who always goes on about their illness,” Sarah says.