Recently, a 24-year-old British man named Ste Walker took to Facebook to explain that while he may look fine on the outside to the everyday passerby, underneath his clothes he lives with and battles Crohn’s Disease daily – despite its invisible nature (*even writing Crohn’s produces a red squiggly line underneath because it doesn’t exist as a word, which sends a deeply microaggressive subliminal message*). Walker’s photo and message deeply resonated with those witnessing and sharing on social media, and the post has gotten over 66,000 likes and more than 21,000 shares in two weeks!
As a Crohn’s Disease survivor myself, I couldn’t believe when I started to see this trending on Facebook and had a couple of friends message me about it. Being able to read this post for the first time was incredibly powerful for me personally, and after reading Walker’s inspiring words that accompanied his photos, I knew just why others were also finding this so significant and inspiring. Walker starts his post by stating:
“People are too quick to judge these days, just because I look normal and speak normal, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a major disability….to look at me I look like any normal guy my age, but that’s because I want you to view me like that….look a bit closer tho, or ask me questions, and you will soon realize that I have a major illness…”
From across the seas, Walker was speaking to something that I experience and feel every single day as I navigate the world with invisible chronic illness.
Walker goes on to end his post with even more truth that most able-bodied individuals never even consider:
“So the next time someone says to me ‘well you look perfectly fine, why are you using that disabled toilet, or parking in that disabled spot, your conning the system, your not disabled, you don’t need that walking stick,’ just stop and think maybe I just want TO BE FINE or to feel normal, you don’t no what I go through on a daily basis and you have no right to judge me just on your perception of me that you can see because you don’t no what goes on inside…..so stop and think before you speak, think about the struggle I’ve gone through just to get out of bed and get dressed and tried to look ‘normal'” [sic]
AMEN to that. I encourage all our readers to take this opportunity to pause and reflect on these words (reading them again if you need to) and then just STOP. Please stop judging others based simply on their appearance when you have absolutely no idea of what types of physical or mental warfare they are currently enduring. A daily example of this in my life, is the consistent struggle around getting a seat on the train on a day I really need to use it – either not being given access to the disability seating (even when I’ve asked) when the train is packed, or being able to get a disability seat and then feeling the intense judgmental looks from those around me (which for me is compounded by others’ fatphobic assumptions) or the guilt of not being able to physically give up my seat for an elder when they come on.
(Have you ever wondered what it feels like to need to take a seat due to your invisible illness, but not match the physical description of the signs? Extremely problematic and painful.)
If you’re still not understanding how deeply painful and problematic these daily lived experiences are for those of us living with Crohn’s Disease or those living with any invisible chronic or mental illness – I’ve compiled a list of 3 Reasons Why Walker’s photo is so important:
1. Visiblising the Invisible
This experience is one that many people beyond the chronically ill can truly resonate with and needs to be spoken to proudly rather than internalized with shame. Many people live with intersectionality that is often physically invisible to others – whether it be racial identity, sexuality, or Crohn’s Disease!
(This card is given to Crohn’s patients for bathroom emergencies, but I have always felt too much embarrassment to be able to use it even when I’ve needed to.)
2. Releasing Shame of Crohn’s Disease Through Transparency
According to Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, Crohn’s disease is ‘a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can affect any part of it.’ Symptoms vary from patient to patient, the tell-tale symptoms of Crohn’s Disease are those that are deemed socially unacceptable and shameful, thus are often left unspoken out of embarrassment. These symptoms can include:
- Persistent often uncontrollable diarrhea
- Rectal/intestinal bleeding (can lead to anemia)
- Urgent need to move bowels
- Abdominal cramps and intense pain
- Sensation of incomplete evacuation
- Constipation (can lead to bowel obstruction)
Because you could have 10 Crohn’s patients in front of you, all presenting different symptoms to varying degrees, it can become confusing to understand and difficult to explain. I highly recommend reading up on this more at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America website, because, with the growing prevalence of this diagnosis, I can almost guarantee you know someone personally who is living with it right now. Plus, this photo and message did so much more to expose the truth of Crohn’s than any of the amorphous and daunting new Crohn’s commercials I’ve had the pain of watching (whose end game are typically pharmaceutical sales).
3. Utilizing Social Media as an Activist Platform and Tool for Healing
Scoff as one may at the frequent outpour of intense feelings that come through all forms of social media, especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, they have proved themselves time and time again to be productive and efficient connectors of shared human experience. This photo and written message, which Walker shared is a beautiful example of that – express yourself passionately and you too might just resonate with thousands of people who can’t help but click those “like” and “share” buttons! Not only does this serve as a unique outlet for activism, but it can prove to be a cathartic way to “vent” or “rant” aka release shame and societal oppressions – to be seen and heard. To heal.
Thank you to Ste Walker for his shared vulnerability and bravery (and to all the other Crohn’s Warriors out there) – so inspiring for all those battling Crohn’s Disease daily and all those who support them. This is also important for anyone who has no idea what Crohn’s is but battles their own ableism daily without even knowing it! Please consider your privileges and respect those who don’t share in them.