When Strangers Judge Me for Sitting Down in a Random Place

I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Like many chronic illnesses, this causes widespread pain. It also brings along its co-morbid friends, like postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). POTS is a disturbance in your autonomic system, causing symptoms such as: dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, fast heart rate, low blood pressure, nausea, anxiety, blurred vision, exercise intolerance and fainting. Heat also exacerbates my symptoms. While it mainly occurs when changing positions (laying to sitting, sitting to standing, etc.) I have found my POTS strikes whenever it likes.

When I feel a POTS episode starting, my immediate reaction is to sit down so I don’t faint and fall over. I try to find a chair, a bench, or another piece of “appropriate” furniture. But, as my POTS is not considerate as to where I am at that time, I am known to randomly sit wherever I am. Middle of the kitchen floor, the shower, a parking lot, a shopping mall.

I remember one time I was at the dog park. It is just a big grassy area with a walking track where dogs can wander off leash. It was an evening in the summer, still warm but not as boiling as the rest of the day had been. I was there with my little dog, letting her run around, when all of a sudden half way around — nope, I had to sit down. The park was fairly crowded that day, and I couldn’t get my heart rate to slow down. I was nauseated, dizzy and felt horrible. While my dog ran around near me, I called my boyfriend (now husband) to ask him to come get us.

While I waited, two men in their 40s “lapped” me twice. The second time around they stared at me, and started to make rude comments. “What, the walk is too far?” “Enjoying sitting there? I know this is sooooo exhausting.” I was taken aback. I know I “look” like a regular, healthy girl in her mid-20s, but they had no idea what was going on. How could these two random men say these things to me? How could two grown men think that kind of behavior was OK? I was so upset at their harsh judgements. I left the park miserable and ranted to my boyfriend about how they could be so ignorant.

girl sitting on floor of grocery store in cereal aisle
Brittany sitting in the cereal aisle.

I read stories far too often about people parking in accessible spots, but since their disability isn’t visible, they are judged unfairly — sometimes going as far as to leave nasty notes. I realize people will continue to judge those with invisible illness. We have no control over all the strangers in the world who don’t know better, but we can control how we respond to their rude stares and comments. We can control how we let them make us feel.

So, I chose that day to no longer pay attention to the people who are judgmental, and when I notice them, I give them grace. They don’t know what is wrong, and no, they shouldn’t immediately jump to conclusions, but they just don’t know any better. And by giving them grace, I give myself peace. If my POTS happens to strike while I am shopping, I sit down — and if that means I am sitting down in the middle of the cereal aisle, so be it. I need to take care of me, and I am not going to let the opinions of others prevent me from doing so.

The Mighty is asking the following:  Tell us about a stranger’s comment about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness that has stuck with you for one reason or another. Why has it remained significant to you? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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