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To the People Who Think I Shouldn't Have Taken the Accessible Bathroom Stall

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Do you struggle in public bathrooms? You might, but no one would know if you have an invisible disability like me.

I remember before my invisible illnesses took hold of my life, going to a busy public bathroom was more of an annoyance than one of the most difficult moments of my day. Have you ever been so bored waiting in line that you got lazy and leaned against the wall? I used to. Now I lean because I’m having trouble staying upright, I’m dizzy and my legs feel like they might buckle beneath me, but you wouldn’t know that unless I told you. If you looked closely you might notice me shaking, slumped down or, embarrassingly, covered in sweat because under distress my body has a tough time regulating temperature.

Sometimes I have to wait for the accessible stall because the other ones are so small I have a tough time maneuvering in them when my body is so unstable and in so much pain. I have fallen forwards more than once onto the toilet seat or partially into the bowl. It’s horrifying.

Looking at me on an ordinary day you wouldn’t know that using a public bathroom is a carefully planned and easily disrupted choice. Sometimes I don’t have much of a choice or notice as I take medication that exponentially increases my need to urinate. If I’m at an event I have to carefully think about my timing to use the public bathroom, as I need to get up out of my chair and move towards the bathroom and won’t necessarily have the capability to stand in a line, therefore I often must go during non-break times and may miss important presentations, performances or moments that most others get to experience in order to be able to use an empty public bathroom.

Picture yourself feeling pretty OK, you go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet expecting to do your business, stand up and leave the stall. Now, imagine all of a sudden you couldn’t stand up because your legs became weak, the pressure from the toilet seat instantly made your legs and feet fall asleep and the pain in your back skyrocketed. That’s something I need to be prepared for. In order to stand up I need to pull myself up and let me tell you, those toilet paper dispensers aren’t all that secure. Hand rails have quickly become a much needed device for me. How embarrassing to admit this at 25 when I should be experiencing the best years of my life.

Now, imagine doing something you needed to do, like drinking a glass of water on your lawn on a hot day. There is someone walking by on the sidewalk and they stop and say, “You know there are other people who need that water more than you, right?” Would you feel shame, even though you know you shouldn’t and you know you need that water, too? This is how I feel when I exit an accessible stall only to be glared and, scoffed at, and stared down by other people waiting in line who are of the mindset that only visibly disabled people can use that stall.

I also feel a slight pang of shame when I exit to see someone in a wheelchair waiting because I know they aren’t able to use the regular stalls, but I can’t explain to them why I needed it without feeling like I’m unnecessarily justifying my disability. My reaction is to hang my head in embarrassment, wash my hands and scurry out of the bathroom. The bathroom is supposed to be a safe place where we as humans execute some of our most basic functions, not somewhere where we should feel ashamed of ourselves and our abilities or disabilities. 

Although I struggle greatly in public washrooms, I have not yet reached a stage in which I feel I need to use a cane or other support system. I often need to sit, lean or lay down until my body recovers and I regain some strength, but that has just become the norm for me. I have been confronted before by people who thought I should not have used that stall. I feel horrible for having taken that stall, but I know there is a very real chance I could hurt myself or require a complete stranger to help me in one of my most vulnerable states if something happened in a small stall. Why should I feel ashamed for using the stall I need?

Please, don’t scoff at someone using the accessible stalls. Consider asking the rest of the line if they need it before you enter if you are able-bodied, and never feel ashamed of using it if you need it, regardless if you have a visible or invisible disability. Let’s stop assuming we know everything about a person just by looking at them. No one knows the struggles a person faces. We all need to pee. 

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Originally published: June 24, 2016
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