When a Man Asked 'How Dare You Take the Elevator' at the YMCA

I worked for the YMCA for almost 14 years. When you work for the “Y” and wear a “Y” shirt, I guess people expect you to be healthy and fit. I, in fact, did not work in a fitness center or in a pool. I worked as an executive assistant to the CEO. I loved my job. It made me feel valued. That’s the thing with chronic illness — it steals so much from you, including your sense of worth. But working was very rewarding for me, stressful, but rewarding. I had to stop working two years ago. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I still dream at night that I work. I miss it every day.

During work, I had to park my car in a parking garage across the street from our building. It wasn’t a long walk. But, for me, some days, it seemed like a journey. I would always park in the same spot — second floor (which was the first available floor for permit parking) in the handicap spot right next to the elevator. I received looks everyday for parking in the handicap spot, every day. And I got even worse looks when I would take the elevator down and up for just one floor! I was very aware of the looks and whispering around me. It made me extremely self conscious. But, I had no choice. I needed to conserve my energy for the walk to work and then for my day actually at work.

Many afternoons when work was particularly hard and while taking oral chemo, I actually would go to my car and sleep in my back seat at lunch. You can imagine the looks when I climbed out of my back seat. I can still see the judgmental looks in my head.

One of those days, I was really dragging. I was wondering how I would get myself home that day because I was on zero energy left. One man had the nerve to zap the little will I had left. He looked at me while I was on the elevator and said to me,

“How dare you take the elevator for one floor?! You work for the Y — you should be exercising! That’s being lazy!”

I held back the tears, smiled and said, “I have lung disease,” as I got off the elevator.

The tears flowed. The man was speechless. I wanted to say so much more. Something mean. How dare he question me. Why was he on the elevator and not walking the stairs? I thought of so many things to say after, but of course it was too late.

In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t yell. I wish I would have used it as a way to raise awareness about my disease. But I did what I could do — what I had the strength to do. The only thing I could do was speak softly and hold back tears.

For all of us fighting, keep fighting, however you can. There is no right or wrong way to fight.

I know it gets hard. I would love for just one day to not have to fight. Let someone else fight for me today. But these are not the cards we were dealt. Just keep fighting the best you can. Please. Just don’t ever give up.

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