A few years ago now, my then wife and I travelled back to where we used to live in London to spend the festive season with relatives and was met by looks of disdain by people not understanding about invisible illnesses.
On Christmas Eve we visited the church where we used to go and took part in the midnight service which included the blessing of the crib. Now, we were sitting towards the front of the church and were supposed to walk to the back, in procession, singing as we went. Because that is where the crib was situated.
At that time, I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but was still walking fairy normally although my balance was not perfect. And when I say ‘walking normally’, I already had foot drop and had to think about every step that I was taking.
That’s what many people just cannot understand, just how much effort it takes to achieve that state where they can utter those thoughtless words “Oh, you don’t look ill,” or the equally abhorrent “You’re looking better.” No, we’re not. We might be putting on a good face on the outside but on the inside it’s a different matter.
Anyway, back to the church. And here it is necessary to consider several factors: I was trying to think about walking so that my foot drop did not make me fall; I was walking in a procession and had to be sure not to walk into someone; I was trying to sing, looking at a hymn book; and I was trying to keep my balance. Now those are four things at once and I was never good a multi-tasking, let alone with MS.
Well, the inevitable happened and I stumbled. I didn’t fall but caught myself on one of the pews which moved considerably and noisily before I regained my equilibrium.
People spun around to see what had happened and I noticed a few disapproving looks of disdain from worshippers who had joined the church after we moved away. They had no idea who we were and no doubt thought I’d been enjoying too much of the Christmas spirit, the bottled variety that is – although nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only was I sober, I had not touched a drop.
This was one case of my then invisible illness, my invisible disability, bringing those looks of disdain from people who do not know me or my situation and are too quick to judge.
We meet people like that all the time, don’t we?