Chronic Illness,  Chronic Illness and Invisible Disabilities,  Uncategorized,  Writings

Invisible Disabilities and The Harmful Idea of Quiet Strength

I was scrolling through Twitter (as I tend to do) and found this Tweet by Matthew Cherry that didn’t sit right with me right away. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I opened the thread of responses. There I found a string a responses by someone else pretty much idolizing Chadwick for his “strength”. Here they are:

Both of their responses were pretty tone deaf, not gonna lie

I scrolled down a little further and found responses by Adriana White that nailed the exact feelings that I couldn’t name. (Which was very brave because they were getting attacked left and right, whew)

I was really upset because they were attacking Adriana instead of trying to understand where Adriana is coming from. It was disappointing (but not surprising) that people couldn’t understand: 1. Cancer is a serious disability and 2. This rhetoric is very harmful. Needless to say I added my own response(es).

I’m a smart*** because it really shouldn’t be that hard to put together and I’m tired of being nice to people when explaining it

I want to start by saying that setting boundaries for the sake of your own health with chronic illness is so hard! I struggle with it daily and sometimes I feel guilty for it even though I know I shouldn’t. It is a strange and unpleasant feeling.

It hurts to imagine what the last few years have been like for Chadwick. Acting is something he wanted to do with his time, and I’m grateful for it. But, he gave us so much more than he had to. It wasn’t without a cost and people aren’t getting that. People who are not disabled have no concept of what it’s like and most of the time they don’t really care to know. It is frustrating.

Disabled people, especially those with invisible disabilities, are taught to hide their pain and hardship. We are praised by society for allowing people to overstep our bounds. We are praised even more for crossing our own healthy boundaries.

We’re socialized to believe that it is admirable to struggle through it alone. Somewhere along the way we are taught that we should push through no matter the cost. There is always a cost. For some people it is deadly to “push through”. At the least it’s dangerous, painful, and expensive.

To speak more to the narrative of being strong, we aren’t born stronger. We’re not weaker either. We just live differently than others, the same way that everyone has to find their own way in life. We endure because we have to, and sometimes we choose to in order to do something we love. But, it is never as a result of strength that we suddenly had one day. It is a continuous uphill battle. For Chadwick, he was a very private person so we didn’t get to see what he really went through. People just see him and his roles and go “wow, he’s so strong”.

You’re so strong, man

If I tell you my life’s story and all you can say to me is “girl, you’re so strong”, throw the whole man away. Like, were you even listening? It’s better to say, “wow, I had no idea you were experiencing that. It must have been difficult” or some other form of acknowledgement. We need to acknowledge that the “ugly”, difficult, parts of having a invisible disability instead of pushing it away by labeling someone as “strong-willed” or “heroic”.

I think that because we are disabled, we are shaped differently by our experiences in the world. As people with invisible disabilities, we have to form tougher skin. The world has many things to say about the way that we look, speak, and hold ourselves. It sees our disability as an “excuse” for us to be “lazy” or “unmotivated”. We learn not to depend on agencies, institutions, (and generally other people), to advocate for us. Our silence, persistence, and seemingly unbothered presence is viewed by outsiders a kind of ‘quiet strength’. This may appear to people as being “strong” but in reality, it’s a culmination of experiences related to our health that we’ve had to learn and grow from over a long period of time. I say again, it is a constant push and pull. No one is instantly “strong”. This idea is something that can change, if people want it to. I hope to be a part of that. But, we still have a very long way to go.

Choosing to protect our boundaries and our bodies is worth celebrating just as much. Having a disability is not something to be ashamed of. Having a disability is not a negative thing. Having a disability does not mean that you are being deemed incapable of something. It does not mean you are weaker or stronger than others. That’s it, that’s the blog post.


  • Miriam Breslauer

    I had all sorts of dreams of being an R&D design engineer and owner of an R&D facility. My body gave out to disabilities at 30 years old. Prior to that point I was on track for my goals. I pushed my body past its limits for 10 years and it just “gave up”. I collapsed and I was unable to sit up in a chair again for an hour for over 6 months. It took years of PT and hard work to regain the ability to sit up in a chair for 4 hours. I never regained my ability to work again.

    Chadwick gave us all a special gift when he made movies despite his body giving out on him. However, he probably paid a very high price physically that could have contributed to his Cancer challenges.

    It is OK to pick where you want to spend your gifts and conserve your strength. Don’t let anyone force you to sacrifice your body for their convenience or wealth. Your body your choice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 × one =