Episode 6: Melissa Cronin & Rachel Cronin

“I think the biggest thing is for people who don’t understand disability, especially invisible disabilities, to try to listen to those who are struggling and take it upon yourself to learn, rather than saying ‘Oh yeah I have that too’.”

On this episode of the podcast, CDCI business manager Rachel Cronin sits down with her stepmother, Melissa Cronin, as they talk disability. Melissa Cronin is an author and journalist based in Vermont. Before she sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2003, she was also a neonatal intensive care nurse.

The two talk about struggling with the idea of who qualifies as “disabled”, especially when it comes to your own identity, along with Melissa’s experiences of having an invisible disability, and how that’s shaped her post-accident identity.

A full transcript appears below.

Rachel Cronin: Welcome to the podcast, CDCI Connects. My name is Rachel Cronin and I am the finance manager and HR manager here at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at UVM. And my guest today is Melissa Cronin. Melissa is a writer and author whose work has been published in the Washington Post and USA Today, among many other places. She’s also a musician and an avid gardener and an impressive contributor to our family’s karaoke nights <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: <laugh> Great.

Rachel Cronin: She also happens to be my stepmother. Melissa, welcome to the podcast.

Melissa Cronin: Thank you.

Rachel Cronin: <laugh>. I’m so excited to have you!

Melissa Cronin: <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: So CDCI Connects is a way for us at CDCI to be in conversation with people in the disability community. So the first thing I wanna ask you is just to tell us a little bit about yourself, but maybe through the framework of what is your relationship to disability?

Melissa Cronin: Well it is the result of a traumatic brain injury that I sustained, was it 18 years ago now? And so that’s how I entered the disability world. And it wasn’t till three years after my injury that I was diagnosed with a brain injury. So the initial stages of it, I didn’t think about it in terms of disability. And it wasn’t until after I was diagnosed and then after…how do I say this? Disability, it’s funny, you know, I think of the term “disability” as something that’s coined through social security. Like it’s a term to qualify. And so until I officially was told that “I am disabled,” prior to that it was kind of a gray area, but now, once it was kind of official on paper <laugh>, it’s become more real. So I can say, yes, I have a disability. But that’s how it came about. My brain injury and having issues with PTSD. So that’s, does that answer?

Rachel Cronin: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think a lot of people deal with disability in that way where they’re thinking you have to qualify for a certain level of benefits, right? And like you have to fit to a specific diagnosis or you have to fit to a specific definition of what it is. But so for you, you sustained an injury, which, later on, was determined to be a traumatic brain injury. And it sounds like you have been sort of like not sure if that’s a term you would use to identify yourself with, like…

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: Would you identify as a person with a disability, or do you feel like that’s not a term you would apply to yourself?

Melissa Cronin: I do, I do now. Yes. I think it took some time to come around to that, even though, like I said, on paper, you’re considered disabled. At first, it was like “Hmm,” you know? I think it was a denial kind of process. And also I think because, how do I say this? A lot of people have said to me, “Wow, you look great,” or “You don’t, you never look like you were hit by a car,” which is how my brain injury came about. So I would translate that to mean, “Well, am I making this up? Maybe this isn’t real?”

So I struggled with that. But I do now, over the past several years, it took a while to come around to this. But I do, yes, identify with the disability community, and I do have a disability. As much as I sometimes choose not to talk about it, depending on the circumstances, especially with potential employment or in situations that it might mean that I’m excluded from something

Rachel Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Melissa Cronin: So I think there’s still that denial. Like, “Oh, I can do this” and “Well, maybe I shouldn’t,” or, I’ll give it a try, and if I fail, so what? But I’m also hesitant to fail <laugh> and to experience the failure.

Rachel Cronin: Right, right. Well, I mean there’s like a lot going on there. I can relate to that so much. The idea of when you have sort of like an invisible disability, which I mean <laugh> I don’t know, I have a chronic illness, right? Like I have an autoimmune disorder, which has a lot of effects, but it is sort of an invisible illness that people don’t see. And so that’s sort of like tension between wanting to advocate for yourself, but also feeling like you don’t necessarily “deserve” that sort of attention.

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: You know, there’s some tension in that.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the real hard part of it all. When things come up, certain things, whether it might be a workplace accommodation or when I went back to school years ago to get my masters, it took a lot of pushing and encouragement from my therapist saying, “let them know your issues.” And I didn’t want to because I felt like, “well, maybe I’m overthinking it,” or “I don’t want them to think I can’t do this or I won’t succeed.”

Rachel Cronin: You didn’t wanna be judged basically.

Right. Yeah. Or again, you know, looking at me and thinking, well, really, I never would’ve guessed so that’s hard, you know?

Rachel Cronin: Yeah.

Melissa Cronin: I think sometimes it still is, but not as much as it used to be. I think I’ve gotten better about it. Not always, but I think, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah. You talked about going back to get your master’s degree, which was how many years ago was it that you got your master’s?

Melissa Cronin: So I finished in January of 2013.

Rachel Cronin: Right.

Melissa Cronin: So nine, a little over nine years ago.

Rachel Cronin: So what was that process like? So previous to the injury, you were a nurse.

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: Right. Like an ER nurse? No, a baby nurse.

Melissa Cronin: In the neonatal intensive care unit, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: <laugh> Neonatal intensive care unit, right. So both of those things together <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right, yeah <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: And you sort of left that career?

Melissa Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Rachel Cronin: Do you feel like you left, that you left that career as a result of the injury, right? You, it was too much of a challenge with your disability to maintain working in that kind of environment?

Melissa Cronin: Right. At first, it was the physical part of it.

Rachel Cronin: Oh, right. Yeah. Cause you had like a lot of PT that you were doing to just get back to.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah. Walking and strength. and then it was more about multitasking, which obviously, I struggled with that. I shouldn’t say obvious, but, you know, the brain injury <laugh>. So, and having a lot of things thrown at me at once because I’m slower. I have to really think things through. So working in critical care is really not the ideal place <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: I can imagine <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: For someone who gets brain fo easily <laugh>, right?

Rachel Cronin: Yeah. But, so you went back to get your master in writing, right?

Melissa Cronin: Yes.

Rachel Cronin:In creative writing, right? Not creative writing.

Melissa Cronin: Yes. MFA, yes.

Rachel Cronin: In non-fiction, your MFA, right. Your masters in fine arts in non-fiction writing

Melissa Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Rachel Cronin: So was writing something that you had always been passionate about, or was that a change in your career? Was it something you discovered after leaving the healthcare field?

Melissa Cronin: It was something I discovered. I never thought as a kid, like, “Oh, this is my dream. I’m going to be a writer someday.” So no, I never would’ve thought of it until after this accident and trying to figure out what, what am I gonna do with my life and where am I going? And I tried various healthcare settings once I could return to work part-time, and it didn’t work out.

I struggled a lot in the workplace, in healthcare. So I kept a journal, and then took a class at CCV or like a writing research class, and loved it and the instructor was great. So I thought, “Okay, I enjoy writing and maybe I can see where this takes me.” And so, the instructor of the class, I asked her to be my mentor for a while to help me with writing, and she did. And then I took some workshops and joined writing groups, and I loved it, and decided, okay, well maybe I could go back to school. And the teacher that I had at CCV, she had gone to Vermont College of Fine Arts years earlier, so she suggested that I look into that.

They had a conference that was taking place so I went to that and I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna do this.” It gave me a sense of structure, something I had to show up to every day and do a certain amount of work and writing. And so it helped form my days, and then I decided I really wanted to write a memoir about this accident, or based on the accident that I was part of. And so that became my focal point, and that’s how I got into writing. And since then, it’s been more freelance and writing for local newspapers and like different publications. So yeah, otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve entered the writing world if it wasn’t for my brain injury and this accident that occurred. Yeah. So that’s how that came up <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: It’s sort of like a sliding door sort of moment. It’s hard to say that, like, having this injury that has greatly affected your life had a positive result, but like <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right.

Rachel Cronin: Of course you don’t want to say that, but like, you know.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: I feel like there’s so much in your life that could have gone totally differently if you hadn’t been that there that day and had that accident.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. A lot, much different.

Rachel Cronin: When we were talking before the podcast, we were talking about, you were saying that there were definite cons, and we’ve talked about some of those in terms of like how you’re perceived by people and how you perceive yourself and those kinds of things. But in terms of like pros and how you’ve adapted, you said something about having to be able to think outside the box, which I thought was interesting.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think I’ve always been a curious person and interested and when something comes up that I don’t understand or that’s interesting, I wanna know more about it. So I think that helps. And so, yeah, I’ve all along I’ve felt like, okay, I need to figure something out. And when something excites me or along the way I’ve tried to think, Okay, is this something that I can sustain long term? Am I really interested in this? So I try it and see where it takes me like the gardening <laugh>, for instance, which I know that’s something that really resonates and has really changed me. I realize that this is something that belongs to me, is part of my world and it’s kind of like being a nurse because I’m taking care of plants and nourishing seeds and watering. So it’s the same feeling in a way.

Rachel Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Melissa Cronin: Which really helps, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: Do you feel like, I mean, I don’t know anybody <laugh> who can be so committed to like, learning a new task and taking on, like you didn’t do any gardening and now you’ve got this beautiful garden and you make the, I can’t think of the word because I’m having my own moment here, but the harvest from the garden was so, so beautiful last year <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah. Yeah. Crazy <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: <laugh>. But I sometimes wonder if that aspect of that you have, where you’re just super interested in learning something new and developing a new skill set and also being committed to succeeding at it.

Melissa Cronin: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Rachel Cronin: Is that something that you’ve always had? Is that like who you always were or? I sometimes wonder what parts, because I only know you post the injury, right? So I’m like, “what parts of Melissa were there before?” And which parts are new parts of you.

Melissa Cronin: Right. Yeah, I think that’s always been who I am a part of me. So that hasn’t changed. Yeah. I’ve always been that way.

Rachel Cronin: <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, definitely, I would say so. And I think, to my benefit, that’s helped along the way.

Rachel Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Melissa Cronin: So yeah, yeah. I mean I think that comes with frustrations cause I’ve always been hard on myself and when I do something, I feel like I have to do it exactly right <laugh> or else, you know, ‘it’s not good enough’ kind of thing.

Rachel Cronin: Right.

Melissa Cronin: So, yeah. And I’ve had to learn that imperfection is perfect in its own way, so I remind myself of that a lot or just say it’s good enough, you know?

Rachel Cronin: Mm-hmm <affirmative>. That’s a great way to say it. Imperfection is perfect in its own way. I like that. You sent me this thing before the podcast about the ‘no end in sight void’ and I wanted to know if you, what you wanted to talk about related to that or what your thoughts were around that, or to explain it to the listeners who probably don’t know what that is, <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Yes. You know, this is new to me, so I happened to see it on Twitter <laugh> and for people in the disability community, not only people with brain injuries, but people that have chronic illnesses that seem to others on the other side that seem vague or like I said, invisible and how, you know, it’s chronic, it’s every day. And the struggle to be seen and to be heard and understood. And so it’s kind of this place for people to come together and talk and connect and brainstorm to understand one another and to try to help others understand like, this is real, what I’m going through.

I’m not fictionalizing it or especially in healthcare and especially with women, I think, you know you go to a doctor or any healthcare professional and they’re like, “Okay, well, it’s probably menopause or something” <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Right.

Melissa Cronin: Or you just had this major life change so it could-

Rachel Cronin: You’re depressed, you should go to a therapist, you should-

Melissa Cronin: Well, yeah, Right. Well of course I’m depressed because,

Rachel Cronin: <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Who wouldn’t be? <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: So I’m depressed, but it’s a result of this other thing that’s going on <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: It didn’t come out of a void. Well, maybe it did, you know <laugh>. So, yeah. I mean, I shouldn’t say cause there is depression in my family, clinical depression, whereas it’s not necessarily linked to something specific. And I think that’s the hardest part for people to understand.

When people look at you and they think, “Well, you have such a great life.” I’ve had that said to me, a friend from years ago, when I was really struggling after the accident, she said, “You know, everything’s great. You’ve met this great guy, you’re getting married, Like, things should be good.” And I’m like, I know, thanks <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: That had to have felt so diminishing. It’s like you’re not allowed to feel the things you feel <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right, yeah. So it’s no wonder why people are afraid when you are struggling with something, a disability or depression or an anxiety disorder or any of it, that they are reluctant to say anything or pretend you’re somebody else, someone you’re really not. Yeah. So that’s a hard part of it.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah. I was just listening to this podcast well, an episode of “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross on NPR. And I sent you the link to it.

Melissa Cronin: I actually listened. I did listen, I listened to most of it.

Rachel Cronin: Did you listen to it?

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: It was so interesting. So the topic of it was ostensibly about long COVID, so like people who have gotten COVID and the people who are still struggling with the kind of symptoms. Which I didn’t even realize what the symptoms were to long covid.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: The idea of chronic fatigue, and brain fog, and these kinds of things, which are symptoms of my own chronic illness. And so I took a listen to this podcast and it was so, ostensibly it’s about long COVID, but then it becomes more about navigating a healthcare environment that is not set up to treat people in a holistic way.

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: And the way that she was talking about it, I so related to her, it’s like, “Oh, you’re having this issue, here’s how to fix that one thing.” Like “Here’s this medicine to take, or here do this thing.” And there’s nobody that’s coming in and saying, actually what you have is this other thing that you need to treat, you can’t just treat the brain or the hormone or the gland or the whatever.

Melissa Cronin: Right, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: You have to treat all of it together for it to have a result. And we just don’t have a medical system that’s set up for that. And the idea that like women in particular, I think you’re right. Like of course mental health issues are a real issue and for some people the treatment is to seek mental health support, but like for some people, they go to the doctor and they’re told over and over again, you have anxiety or you’re just depressed or, I don’t know. Two different doctors told me to go see a therapist, which was like, I should see a therapist, but because of you <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: <Laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: So I think that’s interesting and like the kind of interconnectedness between disability and chronic illness. And I didn’t realize that it was three years after your injury that you finally got,

Melissa Cronin: Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: After the accident that you finally got diagnosed. Like what was that process like?

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, it was a little under three years. What happened was because I had returned to a workplace, it was 14 months after the accident, after I had been in rehab and PT, and I had returned to part-time work as a public health nurse, a desk job mostly. And there was some driving involved, and it didn’t take long before I found myself struggling with multitasking. And  I would be at my desk and I would shift papers from one pile to another and kind of <laugh>, I’d get things done but I needed a lot of guidance or I was very slow to understand things and it was a lot of anxiety.

And I had been diagnosed with PTSD, so I assumed it was all related to that. And there’s an overlap between brain injury and PTSD because sometimes the symptoms are similar, and a lot of times people that have PTSD it could be the result of something traumatic, like a car accident, <laugh>. So I had been in treatment for PTSD, so I just assigned it to that. And then when I was, I almost got fired from that job, but I quit. And then I took another job in a pediatrician’s office, which was really-

Rachel Cronin: I remember that <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Ridiculous, talk about denial. So I was like, I can do this. And that was only 16 hours a week, but that didn’t last long because I just, I couldn’t handle the constant multi-tasking and the high-paced, fast-paced environment. And so my job was threatened there and I ended up leaving and that’s when I actually saw a specialist, a neuropsychologist.

It was recommended by other healthcare providers. And so I underwent some intensive testing, and it was determined that I had sustained a brain injury based on what I was experiencing and the kind of injury that I had, where I was hit, where I had been thrown and hit my left frontal lobe. So, there was questionable bleeding on a CAT scan. Not anything major, but it was questionable. They were like, okay, so this probably is, or definitely is, they classified as a moderate brain injury. Which surprised me because I thought, how could it be, you know of course I’m gonna say that. So that’s how that all came about. You know, because I was put to the test when I tried to go back to work. And so that’s the whole trajectory of that <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: It’s interesting to me that given the nature of what happened to you, that when you’re in PT and you’re in rehab, that’s not a thing that they were testing you for then. Or did they?

Melissa Cronin: They did. Well, they did, when I was in the hospital, they had somebody come and just, it was very surface testing. Count backward from 10, and can you remember these 10 or whatever it was and so it was very simple. And I had so many other injuries that they were focused on, you know, I had a ruptured spleen.

Rachel Cronin: Right.

Melissa Cronin: And things that they had to do to just save my life in the moment, so my brain was secondary because on the CAT scans, they didn’t see any obvious bleeding and I didn’t lose consciousness for very long, or that I remember, I have amnesia, memory loss from the accident so they accounted for that, but it wasn’t a priority for them. And I think that’s a problem not just for me, but for so many people that maybe sustain a concussion, which is a brain injury, people are like, “Oh, it’s just a concussion.”

Rachel Cronin: Oh my God <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: I know, right? It’s like, “well, it’s not just.” So I think that’s where people fall through the cracks and they struggle and struggle and years can go by. And unless you have the right support and you’re connected, you just might never know. And then you’re just frustrated forever, <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Right. And also, I mean, you had to advocate so hard for yourself.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: You knew something was wrong and you had to push it forward to be able to get the answers you wanted to get. It wasn’t gonna come without you doing the hard work of figuring it out, you know?

Melissa Cronin: Right. And I was fortunate because I had a lot of support systems in place with therapists and others that encouraged me to seek these options out. So I wasn’t doing this solo. So that was, I don’t know if I would’ve pursued it. I might have said, “Oh, no, no, it’s just me, it’s my problem.” Or I mean, it is my problem, but I mean, <laugh> just overthinking it or something. And so I think along the way over the years I’ve had a lot of help.

Rachel Cronin: Right, and not everybody has that level of support.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right. And it’s still hard. I have visual processing issues, so I’ve been in and out of treatment for that. And that’s an area of brain injuries that still needs a lot of work, a lot of people to be in that field and for people to understand that this is part of the process.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah, there’s like not a lot of research around it.

Melissa Cronin: There is but there’s still a long way to go, especially here in Vermont. There aren’t a lot of providers, there’s like maybe one that I know of or two. And they’re learning about how to diagnose it and to treat it. And it’s a lot of how the brain connects to your, you know, your eyes aren’t separate from your brain, like your gut is not separate. Everything’s connected. Right. <laugh>.

And so I hadn’t thought about that until the recent years because whenever I’m outside, like, especially in the fall, if I’m walking, there’s a lot of brightly colored leaves. I’m very hesitant. I feel like I’m gonna slip or I’m gonna fall. And it’s just, it’s my spatial relationship with the leaves <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Well, no, I get it. Yeah. Like your environment,

Melissa Cronin: Yeah

Rachel Cronin: You’re not processing it and so you’re not sure where the solid ground is.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right, right. Yeah. So a little weird.

Rachel Cronin: Do you feel like there’s a, like a general, I don’t know. I mean, when I was a kid and growing up, I don’t feel like there was a lot of this sort of preventative healthcare, self-advocation for yourself if you’re not feeling well or those kinds of things.

I feel like there’s been a shift a little bit in the medical world where people are starting to realize that, like you said, you can’t just treat the brain. It’s connected to your eyes, it’s connected to your everything, what you eat affects your brain. I think if I were to say that 20 years ago, “what you eat affects your brain,” people would be like you’re nuts, <laugh>. You know?

Melissa Cronin: Right, right.

Rachel Cronin: So do you feel like there’s a move towards thinking more holistically about health?

Melissa Cronin: I do. I definitely do. because I think also maybe even a decade ago, I might have been reluctant to say something to my primary care doctor about, “Well, I wanna take this supplement.” And now the primary doctor I have, she’s great.

I feel comfortable saying, “Well, I wanna try this.” Like I take lavender supplements at night to help with sleep because I’ve gone through periods of time where I have very vivid, violent dreams and lavender has been shown to help calm that. And that was only because I went to a naturopath. And so I think there’s more and more people that are practicing that, and there’s more availability of providers that are open to those kinds of treatments that, especially food and diet-related. I’ve learned a lot about healthy fats and I remember years ago people were like, “Don’t eat fat.” You know, like, eat pretzels and eat whatever, drink Diet Coke, <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: <Laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Or tab whatever <laugh>. And now, I was of that thinking and now I’ve learned over time especially a specialist I went to for my visual processing, she actually a few years back was the one that told me, Try not to eat so much gluten, have healthy fats, you need that for your brain. And I was like, oh, okay. So I do that, I eat avocado every day and these are things that I think 10 years ago, was kind of, I don’t know.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah. People just didn’t buy into it. And I think that’s part of the feeling about like <laugh> I hate it when I go to a restaurant and I order something gluten-free and the server’s like, “Do you have an allergy?”

Melissa Cronin: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Rachel Cronin: And I know they’re just checking-

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: Cause they need to make sure that they do the right things in the kitchen. And I always am like, “Do I go into like my whole health history for them?” <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Do I explain that I have an autoimmune disorder, but it’s not celiac, so it’s not gonna really kill me. Like I feel like that’s my life.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: And so that’s part of that feeling of feeling like the thing you’re dealing with because it’s sort of invisible, people can’t really see it, that when you have to step up and say, “Well, this is a thing I do,” and everybody looks at you sort of like, is it? <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right.

Rachel Cronin: Like you have to convince people that taking lavender at night, even though it’s a you know, but makes sense because it works for you.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s like, yeah, people look at you like, “Oh, you’re just jumping on the bandwagon,” or, just cause everyone says to do it, so do it. It’s like, no, this is, this works. So yeah. I think we have a long way to go in terms of the holistic medicine field. Maybe, I think physicians, especially healthcare providers that are new to the field or are entering, maybe there is, I don’t know, like in medical schools or in nursing programs to have more of a holistic track, so to speak. Or there’s a focus on that, an emphasis as you enter the workplace. So, because there’s more and more people that are seeking that out, those alternatives.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah. I thought that was another interesting aspect of the NPR episode, or the “Fresh Air” episode where well, she talked about the doctor, I don’t have the woman’s name off the top of my head-

Melissa Cronin: I know, I can’t remember.

Rachel Cronin: I can look it up <laugh>, but she talked about how she started seeing a doctor that was trained, could write a prescription, trained in the standard western medicine, but also had experience and had been trained in being a natural path and being more of a holistic healthcare professional. And what a great combination that was. I’m so lucky that I found someone like that here in Vermont too.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: And not to mention the health insurance I have that allows me to kind of explore these different things to try and pinpoint what’s wrong. But she also said in that podcast interview that there’s a huge increase in the kinds of diagnoses that people are seeing of these sort of chronic illnesses or these sort of invisible things. More and more people are getting diagnosed with these sort of autoimmune disorders and that kind of stuff.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right.

Rachel Cronin: And I’m like is it that more and more people are actually getting sick, or have those things or is it that we are better at having that empathy of believing people when they say they’re not feeling well <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: You know, like, was it always this way?

Melissa Cronin: Yeah. It’s funny, I was just thinking about that earlier today as I was preparing for this, thinking how over time I’ve been willing to speak out about it more, be more vocal about my disability. I’ve become more comfortable, even though I’m still uncomfortable sometimes because there are more and more people out there that I’ve connected with, social media makes it easier. And I mean, that can be a bad thing too <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin:  <Laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Can go wild to that. So yeah, I wonder about that.

Rachel Cronin:  Yeah, I was just trying to look up the-

Melissa Cronin: Oh, the name?

Rachel Cronin: Yeah, Meghan O’Rourke is her name.

Melissa Cronin: Yes, yes.

Rachel Cronin: Who wrote a book.

Melissa Cronin: Mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Rachel Cronin: I’ll tell the name for people who are interested. The Invisible Kingdom is the name of her book, Meghan O’Rourke.

Melissa Cronin: Right, yeah, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: So I’m interested to read that book <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, yeah. And you know, speaking of more people talking about invisible disabilities or just disability in general and mental health issues and autoimmune issues, I find that there are more and more books coming out about that, or writings, and maybe it’s just because I’m attentive to it or just, my little flag goes up whenever I hear the term related to disability in the writing world. It just seems like there’s more out there to access in terms of reading about it or listening, podcasts.

Rachel Cronin: Do you feel like your memoir that you’re writing taps into these kinds of conversations in terms of healthcare or?

Melissa Cronin: Yes. Especially the invisible disability aspect of injury? Yes, it definitely does. The process and what you go through to get a diagnosis and how to deal with it and the red tape and the whole bureaucracy of gaining what you need or access. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah.

Rachel Cronin: Well I mean I feel like I’ve hit on all of the things in my notes. I don’t know, how do you feel?

Melissa Cronin: No, I feel good about it. I know I took a lot of notes. I just think that yeah, this is a good conversation. I think, I hope, I want others to benefit. I think the biggest thing is for people that don’t understand disability or especially invisible disabilities and to try to listen to those who are struggling and take it upon yourself to learn rather than be quick to say, “Oh, you know, yeah, I have that too. Yeah. I get brain fog” <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Sometimes I worry that I do that to you cause like-

Melissa Cronin: Yeah, I’m sure we don’t.

Rachel Cronin: You know we’ll be talking things that are symptomatic to your disability and I’ll be like, “Oh man, I totally relate to that” <laugh>. But I know it’s a very different thing. And I think you’re right that people are often dismissive of those kinds of things, like brain fog or “Oh, she’s just not as quick at picking things up as other people.” They don’t think about it as a thing that you’re struggling with.

Melissa Cronin: Right.

Rachel Cronin: They just think it’s who you are, you know?

Melissa Cronin: Right, right. And I mean, I think it’s okay for people to say I can relate to that. It’s nice to have a connection with someone who can share the same symptoms or same experiences because then you don’t feel so much alone. You’re like, “Okay, I’m not crazy” <laugh>, you know?

Rachel Cronin: Right.

Melissa Cronin: This is real. So that can be helpful. It’s more about kind of the dismissiveness like you said, the “Oh, don’t worry, you’re fine, everybody forgets things once in a while.” It’s like, okay <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Right. Yeah. Like in general, just like being able to be more empathetic with people who might have a different life experience than you do.

Melissa Cronin: Right, right. Yeah, yeah.

Rachel Cronin: Where can people find you online, Melissa?

Melissa Cronin: I’m on Twitter, Instagram, I haven’t been on Facebook as much.

Rachel Cronin: That’s probably a good thing <laugh>.

Melissa Cronin: I’ll say these days Twitter, my website MelissaCronin.com and yeah, that’s probably <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: Yeah, the website MelissaCronin.com links to a lot of your writings too, if people are curious to read more about your thoughts around lots of different things.

Melissa Cronin: Right. And I have a newsletter that I come out with once a month and so on my website, people can sign up for that. And it’s not just about brain injury, it’s about just different things, interesting <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: I love your newsletter and there’s always such great tips for new things to read or watch or think about.

Melissa Cronin: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s short and easy, so it doesn’t take up too much bandwidth and much space on your computer or your email <laugh>.

Rachel Cronin: <Laugh> That’s true. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.

Melissa Cronin: Well, thank you. This was fun <laugh>.


Green Mountain Disability Stories is the monthly podcast of the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI). Each episode features a conversation on some aspect of disability, by and with people with disabilities and their families and advocates. The views of guests on the podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the CDCI.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *