The Mighty Logo

Why a Joke Made at the Drive-Thru Wasn't Funny to Me as a Brain Injury Survivor

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“First time drive-thru user?” he yelled. He burst into laughter, and I saw the rest of the crew laughing behind him.

I had just pulled away from the drive-thru after paying, and noticed I had only one of the two items I had ordered. When I realized my mistake, I backed up to retrieve the rest of my order. That was the response I got.

No big deal, right?

No, it wouldn’t be a big deal if I wasn’t a brain injury survivor who doesn’t venture out to get a latte and breakfast treat more than once a month. It’s actually a very big deal for me to drive up and use an intercom to order. But it’s better than the alternative of going into the store and trying to withstand all the noise.

As a consequence of my brain injury, I have the typical reduced cognitive function. I also have hyperacusis, which is an abnormal sensitivity to everyday sound. The injury also exacerbated the auditory processing disorder I have lived with all my life. Together these things leave me with an oppositional relationship with sound. I have great difficulty understanding speech in environments with background noise. Even the effort it takes to extract meaning from speech in quiet environments leaves me fatigued and confused. I only use the phone for emergencies, as gathering meaning without the benefit of visual context clues is almost impossible for me. I can’t enter a business that plays music without wearing noise canceling headphones, and even then sound seeps through and I can become overwhelmed and have to leave before I have completed my shopping. Get-togethers with more than a couple of people are a thing of the past. I can’t sort out multiple voices speaking.

Like lots of people with invisible disabilities, I am sometimes regarded as a source of humor. At other times, I’m a source of pity. Most often I’m a source of disdain for people who label me a faker or scammer, especially in doctor’s offices when they see a young-looking, able-bodied woman pull out a Medicare card.

All of this hurts.

I am trying the best I can to move forward with my life. I have a husband whom I love very much. I have friends I love, who love me in return, even if I can’t talk to them on the phone. I am not an unhappy person. I have rescue animals that mean the world to me. I have my writing and my quilt making. I have worked very hard to salvage a life after this setback. Why on earth would a thoughtless person try to take away the joy I have done so much to cultivate?

Because people think thoughtless equals harmless. But it doesn’t.

I smiled at the man at in the drive-through who had shouted the insult. He didn’t mean any harm, I knew that. He was just having fun at work. But my smile had a hint of shame, and it turned to small tears as I drove on to my doctor’s appointment. To that young man and all of the others who have caused hurt without thinking: I forgive you. And I implore you to please give more thought to the impact your words may have.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: March 28, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home