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Why Getting a Disability Parking Pass Made Me Feel Conflicted

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Ever since I left physical therapy school five years ago due to my mental health, I’ve been on a long journey toward accepting both my mental illnesses as well as my cerebral palsy. It’s a long road, and I know I’m nowhere near where I want to be on my path toward acceptance.

The last five years have been spent with my treatment team helping me learn the skills to move out on my own and be successful “adulting” without my mental health spiraling out of control.

Part of my journey toward acceptance meant recognizing my physical limitations due to the pain and fatigue I feel from my mental and physical disabilities. One major discovery I’ve had while living on my own the past few weeks is how fatiguing going grocery shopping and to department stores can be when I go on my own. I no longer can send my parents out to get essentials when I am fatigued and struggling to make it through the day because I’m not living with them anymore.

I know my physical struggles — fatigue and pain — contribute to the negative feelings I have toward my body and only help to increase my depression. With that said, I needed to find a way to be successful going out when I need to without getting completely worn out.

At age 28, I finally asked my doctor about getting a disability parking permit to use on my bad days. When I received the pass in the mail yesterday, I felt a confusing mix of emotions. I felt relief, anxiety, sadness, and guilt all wrapped in one.

I felt relief knowing that on my bad days I at least have the option to park closer to the entrance when I’m already sapped for energy or the terrain of the parking lot is in poor condition. I hope this will decrease some pain and fatigue and therefore help both my physical health by not overexerting myself and my mental health by not having to grapple with unnecessary pain and fatigue. Sometimes, my adventures out in the community can leave me paying for an afternoon out for days to come.

I felt anxiety for a few reasons. I felt anxiety because I am still living with the voice of my eating disorder constantly chatting away in my head. So often, I hear that parking far away in a parking lot is one easy way to increase step count and therefore burn more calories. My eating disorder really likes the idea of making small changes to increase my daily calorie burning. My eating disorder loves to have me park far away when I know that’s not the best option for my physical health.

In addition to anxiety from my eating disorder, I am anxious about whatever comments I may get from family, friends, and strangers who see me using a disability parking spot because my disability is pretty invisible. I don’t “look” disabled to the majority of people. But I am. I already do what I can to minimize the pain and fatigue from an afternoon out by wearing my AFO and pushing a cart whenever possible even when I may not be purchasing anything.

I feel sadness for needing to recognize that my physical health isn’t what I want it to be. I feel sadness for having to admit that I need to stop pushing my body so hard on a daily basis in order to take care of my body and not overexert myself. Overexerting myself will only do more damage to my body in the long run and may even limit my future activities that much sooner.

The most uncomfortable feeling I have about receiving my disability parking pass is guilt. I feel guilty because part of me feels like I shouldn’t “need” to use a disability spot when there are many people who may need the accessible spots more than me. I feel guilty because my eating disorder just tells me I’m lazy for not walking farther. I feel guilty because if I’m able to make it through an hour-long Zumba class, why can’t I walk that much farther in a parking lot? And I have to remind myself that Zumba and walking are very different activities and require different movements and muscle recruitment to perform the two activities.

In order to acquiesce to all these initial feelings, I remind myself that I am not required to use the disability spots all the time. Instead, I have it as an option. I have the ability to take each trip out individually. I can take into account who else may be in need of an accessible spot – will there be people who require the nearby ramp or need the extra space on the side of their vehicle to use a lift to get in and out of the car? I can observe just how many accessible spots are available at each different location and how full the parking lots are.

With all these conflicting emotions, I know it will take a while for me to feel more comfortable using disability parking, but I know in the long run it is better for my physical and mental health to at least have the option. I have to do what’s best for me and push aside whatever negative comments I may hear from those around me.

Getty photo by MyImages_Micha.

Originally published: November 11, 2021
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