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To the Woman Who Shook Her Head at Me When I Used a Handicapped Space

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I know you didn’t realize I was in pain or was sick. And I’m sure if you really knew of my long list of diagnosed medical conditions, you sure wouldn’t have looked at me in that way and walked up to my car shaking your head in disgust. Well, at least, I hope you wouldn’t have.

When you saw my car in a handicapped space, you probably expected someone in a wheelchair or an elderly person with a walker — because that’s what a disability looks like, right?

But my disability doesn’t look like that. My disability looks young and well-dressed. My disability looks like a university student. My disability has a face full of makeup and jewelry on. My disability has its hair done. My disability appears to walk fine on a good day, and if you don’t look too closely, you won’t even see me relocate any joints! My disability is invisible — almost.

woman with glasses

It’s invisible to almost everyone except my mom who also has some of the same conditions, and she knows exactly what’s wrong when I fiddle with my thumb in a strange way to make sure a subluxation doesn’t turn into a dislocation.

It’s invisible except to my fiancé who knows I’m struggling to breathe because either my chest is so tight and that maybe this time something really is wrong with my heart or because I’ve dislocated another rib.

It’s invisible except to only my closest friends who know I’m having a bad day when I say I can’t see them or when we’re shopping and I have to sit for a while to avoid passing out.

It’s invisible except to my doctor who can see how tired and in pain I am behind my full face of makeup and then suggests a disabled parking permit could help me a lot.

You see, I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), slipping rib syndrome, costochondritis, a redundant colon that twists on itself and causes bowel obstructions, Raynaud’s disease, a herniated disc in my spine and migraines. It’s all mixed in with a dash of anxiety because who wouldn’t be anxious when just about every part of your body doesn’t work properly or spontaneously falls apart! It’s a little bit of a mouthful, and it would probably be slightly too long to have written across my car. So instead, I have a neat little blue badge.

I don’t really like parking in a handicapped space. For one, it means I’m disabled and that isn’t really fun to think about. But sadly, one of the worst things is the stares, scoffs and the disgusted headshakes I get while I’m just trying to get through my everyday life, using a facility that is not only designed for people like me, but that I also applied for and have been granted access to use.

So when you see a young woman who appears “normal” in a handicapped space, remember that disabilities don’t care who you are or what you look like. They don’t care if you’re young, dress nicely, wear makeup or do your hair. They definitely don’t care if other people can see them or not.

So before you shake your head or scoff at me in disgust, remember I could be struggling greatly just to be in public, and parking my car in the handicapped space may be the only reason I am even able to. 

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Originally published: November 3, 2016
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