Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Invisibility of Disability

by Sarit Z Rogers
Thick, like cold honey, oh how hard it is to move, to breathe, to rise and dissolve the sleep from my eyes, with bones, stiff and swollen, this immovable framework tangled in bed-sheets.

An invisible disability is only invisible to you. To me, to us, it is glaring, screaming at us from within, beating the drum of felt insignificance. The “I can’t do this” becomes a mantra, the “I’m too tired” becomes a way of life, as we wear our loneliness like a shapeless shift. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have experienced sideways glances as I park my car in a handicapped spot – I appear to be able-bodied so why am I parking there, right? I have heard people devalue the experience of those of us suffering from an invisible disability while comparing their physical disabilities to what they can’t see in us. I need to remind us all: Pain and discomfort isn’t a contest. Having to prove you don’t feel well just adds to the problem.

Experience can be varied. One common scenario is this:
You look fine.
Are you sure it’s not in your head?
Have you tried _____?
It can’t be that bad.
I heard _____ is psychosomatic.

The internal process is sometimes like this:

I’m so tired.
Can I die from being this tired?
Surely you can die from being this tired.
Sleep. Yes. Sleep.
I am so tired. I feel like I’m going to die.
Wait, what was I saying?
I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached. 

However, we ask this of our friends and loved ones:

Offer help.
Come by and give us a hug or have some tea or both.
Don’t take last minute cancellations personally.
Remember that just because you can’t SEE what’s happening with us, our experience is very real.
Don’t compare. Everyone’s experience is his or her own. 

With doctors offering meds to help everything from pain to sleep deprivation, it’s easy to get swept up in the pharmaceutical haze of assistance. Some meds are necessary, while others simply compound the matter. What’s helped me the most is staying present–staying in this moment, this breath. Meditation has proven to be especially helpful: The simple but difficult act of paying attention to right now. Right now, I am sitting, or lying down, or walking. Right now, I am breathing. Right now, my shoulder hurts, may it soften and move with my breath. Right now, I am scared, may I be safe and free from suffering. Right now, my belly is expanding. Right now, I am exhausted, may I find rest and care. Everything has become about right now. Not yesterday or tomorrow: right fucking now. And the best part? I can’t do it wrong!

Even my yoga has changed. A lot. The vinyasa and power yoga I once did have shifted to the yoga I do now: slow, and deliberate, focused on breath as a radical act of self-care and presence. I have learned to relish in the wholeness of my breath as it moves through me like a river. I relish in the connectedness of my body as it makes contact with the earth. My practice is accessible: props are my friend, resting in wisdom (child’s) pose is advanced practice, and handstands are a thing of the past. They didn’t make me any cooler anyway.

To those of you tangled in an invisible illness, may you be seen, may you be heard, may your suffering cease, may your heart be unguarded, may you be loved, and may you be at ease. To those of you who love us and don’t know what to do: we love you, we need you, hold our hands, wipe our tears, hold our tea cups when they feel too heavy, and do what you need to do to take care of you.

Sarit Rogers is a multi-faceted photographer based Southern California. She specializes in fine-art portraiture, creative commercial photography, musicians, yogis, and the occasional pinup. Sarit Z Rogers is also the founder the LoveMore Movement, which she co-founded with her husband, Joseph Rogers. Her years of activism, social justice work and fierce body-image advocacy led her to create a movement that focuses on highlighting individuals who altruistically help others so as to encourage others to do the same. Over the last several years, Sarit has photographed several book covers focused on shifting the paradigm of standard beauty within the yoga industry. Her work can be seen on the covers of 21st Century Yoga, Yoga Ph.D, and Yoga and Body Image.

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