The Mighty Logo

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

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“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.

Originally published: September 14, 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