This Comic Reveals the Hidden Struggles of Living with Invisible Disabilities

Originally published on Empathize This and republished here with their permission.

Editor’s Note: The text below the comic was submitted by a reader to the original publisher. The author uses the term “female-bodied,” which doesn’t reflect our preferred language (designated female at birth) as the term implies that a “female” body is made up of particular parts. 

The unspoken struggles and stigma of living with invisible disabilities come out from the shadows. We hope it makes a difference for something that’s far too often misunderstood.

With Love,
The Editors at Everyday Feminism


I am 31 and female-bodied. I’ve had ADD all my life. Since puberty hit at 14, I have had progressively worse arthritis and periodic migraines. I also have anxiety attacks, depression, and mania.
I don’t pick up social cues well. Crowds are bad because social cues are harder to pick up on in a high-stress environment. On good days, I might manage to make it through without blundering badly – but I’m always worried that I’m missing something.

On bad days, they all collide – I struggle not to feel angry (or at least not to show it), I feel like I’m in a fog, and my joints are so stiff I can’t get up without someone picking me up off the ground.

No one wants to believe that a woman who looks like she’s barely old enough for college – just a girl, just a girl – has chronic and recurring pain. It’s hard for people to believe that I’ve hurt for so long that it no longer registers as pain, but as constant irritability. Sometimes all I can manage to do is stop myself from screaming, yelling, and throwing things.

And I can’t show that irritability, because then I’m being unreasonable, I’m being a hysterical female, I’m wrong, wrong, wrong.

Needless to say, it’s hard to hold down a job. My disabilities also make it impossible to live on my own – the longest I’ve managed is a year and a half. I also can’t afford medication, and I can’t even afford to go to the doctor. I certainly can’t afford medical insurance – and there is no public option when you’re living in a household with an income that is supposedly above the poverty line.

But because my disabilities are invisible, I have to deal with questions about why. Why is a woman in her thirties living with her parents, why am I not getting a job, why? And then there are the insults and questions. People think I’m lying about being ill, and that my issues can’t possibly be real. Or people think I’m just not trying hard enough.

Sometimes I don’t even need other people to insult me, because they’re all there in the media, in the social expectations. They’re all in my head from hearing them being said to others who can’t pass for normal as well.

I’m lucky I have parents that won’t let me go homeless or hungry. I’m lucky I have friends who at least try to understand. And yet there are days when it’s all I can do just to survive.

This comic was drawn by a guest artist, Devin Parker. You can check out more of his stuff here

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Empathize This develops comics based on audience-submitted stories about how prejudice and hardship affect their lives. They believe that a visual element helps some people understand a story better, that having the comic can help drive the narrative’s point home. Please follow them on twitter at @empathizethis.

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