One woman’s journey coping with unseen pain may change how the world sees disabilities.

When Annie Segarra runs about her daily life, it’s not immediately obvious she’s in pain 24/7.

Since she’s so used to living with inconvenience, she’s able to walk around for a few minutes, but any longer than that, and she has to sit down and rest. However, the fact that she’s not always in a wheelchair makes many passersby question wether or not she really has a disability and often results in judging lookings and harsh words.

“They can’t should be noted that you’re in pain because you look ‘just fine, ‘” Segarra explains.

All photos via Annie Segarra, used in conjunction with permission.

Segarra has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome( EDS ), which is a rare connective tissue disorder that affects collagen in the body and causes joints to stretch farther than normal. While that may sound like some sort of superpower, it’s anything but, and it’s also just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the symptoms that people who have it experience.

Since collagen operates through the entire body, EDS acts as an umbrella for a seemingly endless list of ailments, including poor vision, chronic tirednes, and joint ache. It’s also likely connected to postural orthostatic tachycardia disorder( POTS ), which causes a person’s blood pressure to fell and heart rate to spike upon standing.

Segarra lives with all these symptoms and many others, but more often than not, they are invisible to the outside eye.

The discomfort and nervousnes that accompanies this is enough of a stres, but when you tack on doctors and everybody else not believing you’re in pain, everything’s amplified.

“It feels like being at the bottom of a well wailing up and there’s nobody there, ” Segarra says.

Annie with her cane dealing with a pain spike at the grocery store.

What’s worse, a large part of why she went undiagnosed for so long was because physicians continued to downplay and dismiss her symptoms and self-diagnoses.

Segarra actually started having symptoms as early as infancy, but she didn’t realize they might be connected until she reached her early 20 s.

She was working two jobs and taking care of her sister who has autism when she started experiencing severe ache in her feet while standing. One of her tasks at the time was as hostess at a restaurant, so she was confronted with that pain quite often, but she thought it might just be an intolerance to wearing heels.

When it got to the point where she could scarcely stand at all, she went to a ensure a podiatrist. He took an X-ray of her feet while she was standing, and it looked like she had flat feet. He assumed that was root causes of her ache, so he prescribed orthotics.( Later Segarra would learn that people with EDS often appear to have flat feet because of how their hyperactive joints react to weight .)

After orthotics did nothing to assist, the doctor suggested creating arches in her feet surgically. Not knowing what else to do, Segarra agreed.

The surgery left her in an unimaginable quantity of distress and unable to walk for close to a year. But the committee is also ultimately led to her diagnosis.

Annie in the hospital.

Segarra learned she was strangely immune to anesthesia — another EDS-related symptom. After six months in a wheelchair caused extreme back ache, she got an MRI that demonstrated something unusual: She appeared to have dislocated joints all over her body.

By that time, she’d been documenting her journey with chronic ache via a video blog for about two years and was regularly communicating with other chronically ill and disabled people online. When she described her symptoms, EDS had kept coming up. However, every doctor she mentioned it to dismissed it until the moment she broke down in front of her spine specialist.

At that phase, she had been managing intensifying symptoms on her own for over a decade, and every time she tried to get answers from a doctor, they either had no advice or mocked her for self-diagnosing such a rare disorder. She was scared and exhausted and had finally “ve had enough”.

Thankfully, a doctor( who happened to be a woman) came in at that moment and actually listened to what Segarra had to say. The doctor admitted to not knowing about EDS, but after seeming it up on her phone, she turned to the primary expert and said, “She could have this.”

[ Image Description: Annie, a young Latinx woman with tawny skin wearing a black tank top, in white letters and all caps…

Posted by Annie Segarra on Wednesday, December 21, 2016

That was the tipping phase. From there, Segarra was referred to a geneticist who recommended a chromosome blood test to find the genetic variant for EDS. Six months later, she had an official diagnosis.

After all that, Segarra still calls herself luck because her diagnosis only took three years to get. Many people with similar “invisible” disorders aren’t so fortunate.

The experience defined her on a mission to change the fallacies surrounding disabilities and train others about the many routes one can be impaired.

Ever since middle school, Segarra’s been an activist for one cause or the other. As a fag Latinx woman, she always had a lot to fight for, but after experiencing years of blatant disregard for her disability, this fight reinvigorated the rest.

“Becoming disabled induced me look at my activism real hard, ” Segarra tells.

She employs her abilities as a performer and storyteller to dedicate a face and voice to her illness. On her YouTube channel, she tackles the prejudice people with less visible disabilities face on a daily basis.

Segarra has firsthand experience being called a faker simply because people don’t is understood that some disabilities don’t involve people to use an assisting device like a wheelchair all the time.

A note someone left on the car of a person with an invisible disability.

She also explores how having a disability affects things like body positivity and being in the LGBTQ community.

Unsurprisingly, Segarra’s passion and strength is affecting a growing number of followers, but she knows there’s still much more work to be done.

Right now, there’s hardly any the representatives from people like her in media, which stimulates it easy for the world to remain ignorant about them. For example, Segarra had a heck of a period determining a character to be for Halloween because people with physical disabilities barely exist in pop culture.

But her activism is slowly but surely changing peoples’ perceptions. She says she gets lots of commentaries like, “Thank you for saying this because I was one of those assholes who guessed like this.”

She’s also helping people who are still searching for a diagnosis realize they’re not alone on their journey.

Segarra hopes that one day , no one will be discounted for having a less visible disability . However, for that to happen, we have to learn to squelch their snap judgements, and that begins with admitting we don’t know what all disabilities look like.

Learn more about how to spot disabilities( spoiler alert, you can’t) here :

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A pediatrician told this mom her son had autism. A second opinion changed everything.

When Jacob was merely 3 years old, his mom noticed that he was acting a little differently than his siblings had at that age.

He had started to develop certain habits and propensities that were somewhat flustering to his family. By the time he turned 5, his pediatrician had diagnosed him with autism.

But after that, his behavioral issues only got worse.

All photos via Dignity Health.

Not merely was he falling behind academically, he started acting out uncontrollably in class. One time, he had such a bad tantrum that the students had to be evacuated from the classroom while members of the faculty subdued him.

His teacher ensure enormous potential in Jacob, but she was unable to get through to him.

“He’s a brilliant child, he has great notions, ” she tells, “Putting that on paper is really hard.”

His mother, Erika, felt similarly.

“I know he felt alone, and he didn’t know how to express himself well enough to have us even understand how it was impacting him, but we could see it in his face, ” Erika explains.

She felt at the end of her rope. She knew she had to do something new to help him since what they were currently doing didn’t seem to be working.

So Erika decided to take him to watch a new pediatrician — Dignity Health’s Dr. Andrew Katz .

And he made a surprising suggestion — maybe Jacob’s autism diagnosis was wrong?

“Erika’s main concern was does my child have autism, but it wasn’t genuinely my leading believe, ” Katz says.

Katz with Jacob and his mom.

While this second opinion was certainly momentous, it’s not all that strange given this country’s pre-occupation with autism.

Studies have shown that ever since researchers started tracking autism rates in the United States in 2000, the number of cases has risen dramatically, almost in tandem with the growing awareness. This suggests that it’s more likely to come up as a possible diagnosis simply because it’s on parents’ and doctors’ radars.

Thankfully, however, Katz is very discerning. He listened intently to what both Erika and Jacob had to say and came to a totally different conclusion than what they’d heard in the past.

Katz told Erika he thought her son actually had a severe instance of attention deficit hyperactive disorder( ADHD ).

He also said that Jacob’s behavioral issues is very likely to resolve once he was on the right drug.

Sure enough, within just a few days of being properly medicated, Jacob’s behavior totally turned around. He began talking more articulately and focusing on undertakings. His experience at school changed; he was more social, he was able to deal with letdowns in much more constructive ways, and his academic performance improved significantly.

The switch was truly amazing for everyone who cared about him to behold.

“For a while with the diagnosis of autism, we were wondering if Jacob would ever be able to live on his own or get a undertaking, ” Erika remarks. “And now, he’s capable of taking care of himself, and I actually don’t question that anymore.”

Of course , not all diagnoses are misdiagnoses, but sometimes it’s worth getting a second opinion, especially when you’re dealing with unfamiliar territory.

For Jacob’s family, the move was life-changing. Anyone who’s met him can see that.

“He’s compassionate, he’s intelligent, he’s thoughtful, he’s organized, which is amazing for someone with the diagnosis he has, ” Jacob’s teacher says. “In the future, I believe Jacob can do whatever he wants. I think he’ll be just fine.”

Check out the whole story behind Jacob’s diagnosis here :