Living Well with a Hidden Disability with Stacy Taylor

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Join psychotherapist Stacy Taylor for a discussion on how to transcend doubt and shame and reclaim your life when living with a hidden disability.

Event Date: 02/24/2000.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live! Our guest today is Stacy Taylor, MSW, LCSW, and the topic is "Living Well with a Hidden Disability."

Stacy Taylor is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Living Well with a Hidden Disability. She has lived with a hidden disability for seven years.

The opinions given by Stacy Taylor are hers and hers alone. If you have specific questions or are concerned about your health, please consult your personal physician. This event is for informational purposes only.

Welcome, Ms. Taylor. What is a hidden disability?

Taylor: Millions of people such as myself look okay, yet are suffering from chronic illness, chronic pain, or a psychiatric disability like depression. I have fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) so I look healthy, and yet I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis. There are so many people who are also coping with pain and illness and yet people may not believe that you're in pain because you look fine.

Denisse_Lycos: I work in a very tight-laced environment where there is a general atmosphere of 'don't say anything if you're are not feeling well.' When the FMS affects my work performance, I feel a lot of shame and anger because I fear I will be judged for being sick so much. Even though I mostly can function, there are those days when it's just really hard, but I can't always take sick days for it because it's so frequent.

Taylor: It sounds like a difficult situation. As I said, I have FMS, too, and my last work environment was similar to yours. My boss felt any time off was a sign of weakness. I decided to keep a low profile as much as possible, and disclosed only to people I felt I could trust. However, there are times when you may need to take some time off or ask for special accommodations. It's important to know your legal rights since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does offer protection for people with disabilities. In my book, called Living Well with a Hidden Disability, I have a whole chapter on issues with work. The most important thing you can do is support yourself. Don't let them make you feel ashamed of yourself. It's not your fault you have FMS.

pml323_WebMD: How do you get family and friends to accept hidden disabilities?

Taylor: First, you might try educating them. A lot of people are under the misunderstanding that we cause our illnesses and can easily cure them. This way of thinking is simplistic and can be hurtful to somebody with a hidden disability. They need to be educated that the illness is real, and you can give them some information to read. Also, it can help to try to understand the other person's point of view. Perhaps they're feeling helpless and overwhelmed about your illness but don't know how to communicate their feelings to you. Just like your body has changed, their relationship with you may change, too, and they may be struggling with this. If, however, you feel you have tried your best to explain your disability is real and they are still not sensitive, you may limit your contact with them for your own physical and emotional well being.

elainehankins_WebMD: What does anybody say when someone asks "How are you?"

Taylor: That depends on the person. If this is a casual friend, someone you see rarely, just answer 'fine' and not go into great depths. It's important to maintain a sense of privacy about your life. You don't have to tell everybody everything. At the same time, if it's a close friend, or someone you can confide in, it might be okay to tell the truth that you're having a down day. You have to strike a balance between sharing too little and sharing too much. If you share too little, the other person may feel cut off from you and helpless on how to connect with you. If you share to much, the person may become overburdened. What I recommend is taking some time when you're feeling well to call those good friends and focus on the other person, so they feel they are being listened to, also. But when you're in a lot of pain, you may need someone to confide in. The Internet is a great way to find people you can talk to without the fear of burning them out.