It's been a strange couple of weeks here at Scarlet Towers. It began with the reaction to my last Huffington Post column, which called for a greater sense of solidarity between the disabled community. While it was most humbling to find that the consensus was in agreement with my view, there obviously were a few that vociferously found my views most annoying. They all seemed to be fueled by a belief that there is a marked difference between those disabled people who "look" disabled and those who do not, and it was implied that many of these people with invisible disabilities were in fact faking it.
Before I had the chance to formulate a reply to this rather misguided, if sadly rather common, view I spent a day filming as a presenter on a pilot of a TV show called Mind The Gap that, if it gets commissioned, aims to explore the subject of and issues around mental health. I was asked to front the show as the production team liked the idea of having a presenter with an obvious disability fronting a show about one of the most invisible disabilities, which was great by me was I feel it is vital that this divide between the obvious and hidden are finally broken down. One of the stories that will be featured in the show is that of a young woman who while on suicide watch sadly managed to kill herself because the medical staff charged with ensuring her safety stopped watching her as she "didn't look suicidal". There were also stories of people being discriminated against by people who didn't believe that they had any health issues as the "didn't look ill". So this experience of "looking healthy" is a real problem for many people.
As the rather long day dragged on I found myself starting to feel a bit under the weather. I told the production crew that I felt a bit rubbish and we all laughed as it was commented that I "didn't look unwell". But as we finished for the day I found myself feeling more and more unwell. By the time I got home I was wracked with pain, shaking with a temperature and was in no fit state to anything other than go straight to bed. In the morning I was still very ill and when my GP paid me a home visit he informed me that I was not to get out of bed for at least a week. It transpired that a less obvious element of my impairment had flared up, thanks to spending a day wheeling the length of the Southbank from past Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge over some sections of poor paving and my arch nemesis cobble stones. So as well as feeling sick as a pig I also had to wave goodbye to a week of work, which as a freelancer is a massive tragedy, especially for my wallet which is always balanced on a knife edge.
Luckily this problem began to heal quicker than expected as I do heal well, but then another hidden part what makes Mik; Mik rared it's ugly and painful head. The temperature of the first few days had caused some of my trapped nerves to become inflamed and this always leads to many days of indescribable pain, 5 days in this case. It's the kind of pain that means I can't sleep until it passes, makes me scoff all manner of opiates, anti-inflammatories and any other medicine that might stop the pain like sweeties and that takes all of my strength not to scream at the top of my voice all day and night. Sometimes I didn't manage to stifle these screams this time and I must take this opportunity to say sorry to my neighbours for the night time horrific screaming that may have woke you over the last few days. As well as meaning I was really sick, all this led me to be unable to do another weeks work, loosing me all in all around £1000 plus. As a self employed person that's just gone, and I'm now looking forward to playing catch up on the bank balance front, as well as with my reputation. Let's face it not many employers like the idea of hiring a freelancer who might cancel on them with only a few days notice.
I could bleat on about how sad and tragic the last few weeks have been for poor little sick me, however I would rather use the experience to explore how these hidden elements of any impairment impacts on the lives of many disabled people. Even those people like myself who are obviously a wheelchair user will have other parts of their impairment that are not so obvious, and then there are the huge numbers of people who may look "fine" but are actually fighting against a wide range of medical conditions that really effect their day to day lives. The biggest issue they face, once we ignore the amount of struggle it takes to cope with illnesses and impairments that impacts on their life while leaving no noticeable trace on the outside of their body, is that in this era of the promotion of the idea that all disabled people should work why would any boss take on someone who looks OK but keeps taking time off due to ill health? I mean I only work freelance as I found no one would employ me when I might need to work from home from time to time, and I sit in the ultimate sign of disability, a wheelchair! Imagine what is would be like if when you look in the mirror you saw someone who should be healthy, but who just isn't no matter how much you wished it wasn't the case. Whatever conditions or impairments might be impacting on so many of these people who are held up as not "looking disabled" what is sad is that so many people in our society now feel they have the right to pass judgement without the years of medical study that is required to diagnose the less obvious conditions that can ravage our fragile biologies. What gives anyone that right, or the belief that they have the right?
So as I still battle to recover, which may take another two weeks without any pay before I am back to being as near to healthy as I get, I ask you dear reader that next time you see someone who says they are disabled, say someone parking in a blue badge bay who walks away from the bay seemingly fit and fine, before you judge them stop and think. Sure they may be one of those awful people who are using a blue badge illegally, and there are more of them than I would dear to admit (and I should know having had four of my badges stolen over the years), but they might also have a hidden disability of some nature. So rather than pass judgement unfairly, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Does it benefit you any to view them favourably? No, but if they are one of the many disabled people who live with a hidden impairment then you've just made their day a little easier as they won't have seen that flash of judgement on your face that is now so much a part of the lives of disabled people in our great country. If they are one of the very tiny number of fraudulent sods who are swinging the lead then let's just hope they suddenly get struck down with some hideous illness that blights their lives in horrible ways.
Oops, obviously spending this time stuck in bed, feeling very poorly has lessened my charitable nature, but not towards other disabled people... just the healthy non-disabled types who, while they are very few in number, have made the lives of "real" disabled people so unbearable in recent years. Never forget that disability benefit fraud is carried out by non-disabled able bodied types, so in truth it's the people who look healthy because they are healthy we should be having an issue with. And as soon as there is a sure fire way of spotting them I'm totally up for judging them, but for now let's just hold fire eh?
Please note - Any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors are due to my writing this while still in a state of illness. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!