When a Woman on the Train Assumed I Was Healthy Enough to Give Up My Seat


“That’s actually my reserved seat.” My tone was apologetic, because it’s awkward asking fellow train passengers to get up and move. But it was my seat.

“Well, o-kay then.” The woman looked about 60. She made a big fuss of collecting her luggage together, huffing and puffing and sighing. “Even though I’m older than you, and I need it more.”

Oh. This again.

I bit my lip and resisted the urge to tell her how sick I was of explaining this over and over and over and over. And how, even if I was completely healthy, this still wouldn’t be a polite way to get someone to give up their seat.

I bit my lip because I’ve learned to do that. Snapping at people can be tempting. Very tempting. But then they don’t hear what you’re telling them.

So I spoke quietly. “I don’t know how much you need the seat,” I said. “But I do know how much I need it, which is why I booked a reserved seat instead of just hoping I’d get one.”

I told her exhaustion was part and parcel of my daily life. How chronic tiredness coupled with back problems meant standing up, or sitting on the floor, for the next few hours would drain my energy and cause me severe pain.

How, last time I had to stand up on a train, I had collapsed. Nobody helped me. I woke up to someone stepping on my face, just walking over me like I wasn’t there. How I needed a seat so I’d be safe if I fell asleep and wouldn’t hit my head.

I told her I knew I didn’t look ill or disabled, but you can’t always tell by looking. And she apologized and left to find a new seat.

I didn’t want to show her up or make her feel bad. But her comment was designed to do just that to me. To make me look selfish and rude.

There’s a difference between saying “you’re young, so you must be healthy and have less need of this” and asking nicely if I can please let you have the seat.

My illness has got much better in recent years, thanks to finding the right medication. But my 100 percent isn’t your 100 percent.

I can’t tell how healthy you are by looking at you, nor should I try. It would be so much better if we stopped making these assumptions about each other.

I don’t look sick, though.

And I’m very, very tired of explaining that I am.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Chronic Illness

sketch of woman sleeping with window open

5 Things the Healthy World Should Know About the Chronically Ill World

Sometimes, the gap between us can feel insurmountable. Maybe we’ve become so immersed in our world of sickness and symptoms we can’t remember what it’s like to be healthy. We stare at you with curiosity and wonder like you’re an unknown species. Maybe you feel the same. You want to understand the chronically ill in [...]

Netflix and Chronically Ill?

Dating is hard enough, those awkward first dates, those heart-wrenching break ups. Now add a chronic illness, and poof! Dating seems like a wild idea. Sometimes we can’t fully take care of ourselves, feel stable, or even go out for a night on the town. How could we possibly meet a new love interest? The places [...]
Tissue, flu medicines and tea on bedside table sick woman

When You Can't Tell If You Have a 'Normal Person Sickness' or If It's Just a Bad Day

On any given day, my pain is at a six on a scale of one to 10. Some days it’s way worse, some days it’s maybe even a little better. I am so used to being in so much pain, that I have this disconnect with my body sometimes that healthy people without chronic illness [...]
Stylish girl with the bag goes shopping

What You Need to Know Before You Tell Someone 'You Look So Skinny!'

Weight has always been a sensitive subject for me. I’ve never been super skinny, and always compared myself to the other girls growing up. My pediatrician once called me “big-boned,” and that stuck with me. I felt like because I had a tummy and wasn’t the smallest size, I wasn’t as pretty as the other [...]