ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - For Meridith O’Connor, every day provides a challenge.
“Most of my days I’m struggling with fatigue and weakness. I’m pushing through,” said O’Connor, 27.
Sometimes people can see something is wrong.
“The inability to smile, chew, swallow,” she said.
But most of the time, no one would likely know she is suffering.
“For the most part, I live with an invisible disability,” she said.
When Meridith was in eighth grade, she was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. It’s a rare condition that causes weakness and rapid fatigue of muscles. It can be difficult to spot and diagnose.
“Often this diagnosis is missed because people think ‘Well maybe my child is just tired’ or ‘My child is a teenager, she'd just not getting as much sleep as she used to,’ explained Dr. Anne Connolley with St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
She has been treating Meridith since she was a young teenager and while every day requires multiple pills and rest, Meridith is living and thriving despite her diagnosis.
“Meridith is a remarkable woman, so let's just say that straight away. She has learned over the years with medication to know when to give her body rest, by understanding that one of the best treatments we have for it, apart from medicines, is good sleep patterns, including needing to take a nap,” said Dr. Connolley.
But explaining to a teacher or an employer that she needs a nap in the middle of the day can be difficult. Meridith recently graduated with her masters degree in social work from Washington University. But one of her passions is writing. She writes and blogs for outlets like The Mighty about her invisible disability.
The Invisible Disabilities Association says “To define invisible disability in simple terms is a physical, mental or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that is invisible to the onlooker. Unfortunately, the very fact that these symptoms are invisible can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions and judgments.”
That’s a lesson Meridith hopes others will learn as they hear and see her story.
“I’ve had plenty of times when people would leave notes on my car [when parked in an accessible spot], people scold me outside of their car, because if you look at me, you wouldn’t know I have a disability or that I’m suffering on the inside,” she explains.
While the medicine she takes every three hours to stimulate her muscles helps with the symptoms of her disease, it’s her support system of family and friends that help her get through the hard days.
Their support and strength are what encourage her to keep living a life others might not expect, something she touched on in an article for The Mighty.
“Stop caring what other people think Mer,' and I have somewhat. But if I stop caring about how people perceive invisible disabilities, then everything I have overcome, and everything I have accomplished in spite of my disability is worth nothing.”