I never really know how to tell people I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (T.O.S). Whenever I do tell people, they seem to just look at me blankly as if they’re thinking: “but you don’t look like you have a disability”; “but you’re a swimmer?” or “that’s a bit extra for pins and needles”.
How do you tell someone who you’ve never met before about a disability that is invisible? I usually tell people about my swimming before my shoulder comes up in conversation but recently I’ve found that I’ve had to bring up my disability more, and more.
I did a degree in geology and now work in construction, both paths being male dominated. Now let’s get something straight, I HATE people treating me differently because I’m a young woman in the construction industry, but sometimes I have to take their naivety with a pinch of salt as sometimes I can’t perform certain tasks, not because I’m a woman, but because of my Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. And you know what? Sometimes I wish someone would offer to pick something up for me because of my T.O.S, not because I’m a woman.
I told most people at university about my disability, it came as second nature in the end. University is about growing up and figuring out who you really are, right? For me it was about how to cope with my T.O.S by myself. I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself to anyone at university, maybe that’s why I found it so easy?
Telling people at work is different. I’m new, I’m a graduate, I want to show that I can do as much as anyone else in this industry! Telling people I have this disability is sometimes really tough. Explaining to a contracts manager why I need a hot compress and to sit down for a little bit at 2am during a night shift can sometimes look like I can’t handle the cold or standing around because I’m a wimp. Little do they know that I’m in agony because I have no support for my shoulder and the cold temperature is making my muscles tighter, bringing on the symptoms of my T.O.S in full force.
One day, once I explain to the all the people who need to know the most, about my disability someone will pick up a bag for me not because I’m a woman, but because of my T.O.S.