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What I Should Have Told the Man Who Said I Had the 'Most Pathetic' Walk

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“Wow — you look happy to be here!” A man I barely recognized from our work office sarcastically commented while effortlessly jogging up the stairs, “That is the slowest, most pathetic walk I have seen in my life!”

My heart hit my stomach. I gurgled a laugh a moment later as I eventually reached the top of the staircase, that he managed to dart up in the time it took me to climb the last four steps. “I don’t feel well,” I mumbled, feeling my heart pounding and my cheeks flushing. I didn’t know what else to say. He gave what felt like a slightly degrading laugh and waltzed into the office block opposite mine. I stood there for a second trying to absorb what had just happened.

As soon as I was alone I felt the tears swell up in my eyes and a crushing regret of not being honest about the situation… Not educating a stranger on the reality of my life. Letting him assume that I was a moody, tired teenager procrastinating starting my work shift. He was wrong. I should have explained the following.

I am registered disabled. I partially dislocated my hip, three ribs and shoulder getting here. I took seven pills to enable me to manage the pain, headaches, swelling, nausea and fatigue. But I did it. I got myself here despite all odds — my body begging for nothing but rest. I am determined to earn a living. To earn money to fund my education, to still remain an active contributing member of society while I still can.

I was happy to be there. It showed an invisible badge of determination and strength only those with a chronic health condition can understand. However, due to being too scared to receive *the disapproving look* of getting an elevator up just one floor in our six-story office I faced the stairs, despite it feeling like a crushing, painful challenge.

Fear took over and I blew off the comment with the first thing that came to mind due to embarrassment. I should have been honest with him. He assumed that because I don’t look sick and was half his age I was healthy and simply miserable to start my work day and made a joke about it.

His comment has shaken my confidence and made me reevaluate how others see me, but I can only hope that by sharing this story I can encourage people not to feel ashamed or too shy to speak up about their condition and to help educate people on the day-to-day reality of chronic illness — particularly as May is dedicated the awareness month for a range of conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and fibromyalgia.

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Thinkstock photo by m-gucci

Originally published: May 9, 2017
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