When a Woman at Disneyland Said 'Those Girls Look Totally Healthy'

Oh, Disneyland! Memories abound from when my family had annual passes when my sister and I were growing up (yeah, they were affordable in the 80’s). It was the best feeling in all the world when my mom would wake us up on some random weekday morning and announce we’d miss school and were headed to Disneyland. Oh man… those were the days!

Fast forward 30 years and several autoimmune diseases later, and that once-excited Disneyland announcement is now met with trepidation and days of planning, plus hoping and praying I can be well enough to make the trip. Questions abound, like will I feel good enough to go that day? Will we get there and have to leave soon after because I’m too fatigued? What food can I eat? Will I ruin my family’s day if we need to bail? Oh yes, let’s not forget the fact that I’ll have to rent one of their motorized scooters just to possibly make it through.

I’ve been to Disneyland twice since my health changed. The first time was still when they had more leniency for people with disabilities. Man, that was nice! The second time, well… that’s why I’m writing this blog post. We had dear friends visiting southern California from Colorado, and we planned to meet their family at Disneyland to spend the day together. My friend was recovering from hip surgery, so I had a buddy with a motorized scooter. Score! Side note: I don’t know what happens to me when I’m “behind the wheel” of one of the scooters. I’m a menace and a total speed demon. You know, maxing out at 7 mph. I’m a rebel like that.

We had enjoyed a couple of rides and were headed off to “It’s a Small World.” They have a special line for folks with disabilities, so our families waited in that line. My friend and I were chatting and our husbands and kiddos were chatting, and then my friend paused from our discussion. She was silent for a little bit. She then leaned in and said there was an older couple in line behind us, and the lady just told her husband while pointing to us, “Those girls look totally healthy. I bet they just rented those scooters to get their families to the front of the line.” Sigh. Keep in mind this is coming from someone who was also in the line because of a disability. Even the happiest place on earth has its mousetraps.

There is no other way to put it… this kind of stuff sucks! Most of us who battle invisible illnesses get that most people don’t understand. Some are really well-meaning and some are just plain ignorant.
Although the woman’s comment did not detour me from enjoying my day with friends, later I did reflect on what she had said. The comment itself was minuscule in the scope of what others have said to me. Yet, all of the hurts, losses and pain that come from illness add up and are severe. It’s lonely. It’s hard. At the same time, I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me and continues to teach me.

I’ve become far less judgmental of people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has their own invisible pain. My hope in battling this ever-present, raging war with chronic illness is to learn as much as I can from it. To be open to its teachings. To be transformed by its pain. If you have an illness, what are the lessons it teaches you?

A version of this post originally appeared on Sisters Undercover.

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