The Cassia Life

‘New’ Word For Not Seen: Invisibility

The Cassia Life
By Jesse Watkins, Cassia’s own resident blogger

Becoming invisible. Not seen. Feeling like it. A teacher, a pastor makes eye contact with others but not with you. Ignored, denied, avoided, not chosen. Elders aren’t spared.

Many years ago, I was bicycle touring the California coast, hugging the ocean on the closest trail, road, or highway. Day three south of San Francisco was rainy, cold–a mess. And I was a mess–muddy and wet. At lunchtime I rolled up to the entrance of a roadside semi-fancy restaurant, locked my machine to a post and walked into the café’s small front entry room, stopping there to remove my muddy poncho. A couple entered behind me, walked by, no nod, no eye contract.  I might as well not have been there. A group of three entered, did not look at me, made no comment about  the weather, no look of disapproval, just hurried on inside. A group of four the same. I was unpleasant to look at, therefore invisible.

Does getting older automatically bring on invisibility? How common is the problem? Whose job is it to solve—spouse’s, the nurse on duty where you live, your own?  

Geni Hart, now 76, moved at age 65 from Fargo, ND, to the Phoenix, AZ, area and became invisible. “Here, at first, I didn’t get the recognition and respect that I did in Fargo. There, I was known as a long-distance cyclist and runner and a helpful community citizen. Early on in Arizona, where I wasn’t known, my feeling of being invisible was at its greatest. I had no voice. I’d offer an opinion and not be heard at all, it seemed.” 

Living in Arizona 11 years now, the insecurity– the invisibility–has lifted, “I’m seen more clearly now, and I’m known in the community. It’s much better. I don’t feel angry about the way things happened. Of course, being a woman adds to the problem,” she says.

“You have to work hard to overcome not being seen. And you have to speak up more, sometimes when you’d rather not.”

Geni noted also that in an extreme situation, invisibility as we are discussing it here, can be an asset. In WW II, for example, women whose most notable quality was their ordinariness were selected to fight in the French Resistance. It was an advantage to become invisible.

Rev. Jan Brosen, a Lutheran pastor and a resident of Cornerstone Elim Community in Plymouth, MN, said she felt some invisibility at her early onset of dementia, which probably is Alzheimer’s, she says. Her memory loss began with a fall in her bathroom followed by a 12-hour wait for rescue. “After that I began to take notes to aid my memory.”

About feeling invisible, Rev. Brosen observes, “It‘s easy to think we are forgotten. We may believe when younger that the church will be there for us when we get old, or before, and usually it is, but the response may take longer than we think it should.”

Nellie Searles, moved recently from Augustana Apartments in Minneapolis, an assisted living community, says emphatically that she is not subject to invisibility.

“I have plenty to do right here, people to connect and visit with, a table of four to have meals with, TV, movies, and games to play together. We recently had a Halloween party.”   

Sarah Karber, Augustana Chaplain in downtown Minneapolis, notes that there is a loneliness problem among seniors, and that it includes people with depression and folks living with a major loss, such as a spouse. Depression will tell people lies about themselves. One is that they are not connected, another that they are not worthy. It’s hard not to believe.

Use of “Small Care,” a system that focuses care on the high physical and emotional care of individuals is increasing in use. For myself, plain old vigorous workouts in the fitness room pushes back feelings of uselessness.

Psychiatrist/counselor Leah Streitman at Behavioral Health Services (BHSI) says patients seeking attention usually seek only the specific attention perceived as needed, as opposed to a broader solution. ”I encourage patients, senior or not, to talk through their feelings, not just on the surface, below the surface. What are the feelings that cause a person to feel invisible.”

Extreme feelings about invisibility, perhaps fear that one actually has become invisible, should be dealt with by a professional therapist.