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What People Don't See When I Walk Into the Accessible Bathroom Stall

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I can hardly blame people for their reaction when I walk into the accessible restroom. After all, I am not the stereotypical, frankly ableist perception of what a disabled person looks like. I don’t resemble the stick man in his wheelchair on the door. Everyone else sees a young woman with no mobility devices, no stroller, no children, and no reason to be using a facility meant for those who really need it.

• What is PTSD?

I see the disapproving stares at the airport, the campground, the mall. I hear the people who comment under their breath that I just want to skip the line. Most of the time, I’m too tired or too embarrassed to explain that I need the separate accessible bathroom, that invisible disabilities exist.

I have muscular dystrophy, but that is not the reason I use the separate bathroom. I should not have to give an explanation of why I need accommodations to the public, but for the sake of helping people understand, I will.

Like many survivors of trauma, I have PTSD. While fireworks or unexpected touch are not triggers, bathroom stalls are. As soon as I am in one, in a vulnerable position, separated from my neighbor by a flimsy sheet of plastic, I either dissociate or panic. I have tried exposure, gone to years of therapy, but public bathrooms still are terrifying for me.

It is not the simple fear of being too smelly or having someone know I’m on my period by the sound of unwrapping a pad. It is a petrifying shutdown. If I feel threatened, my body can’t relax enough to use the bathroom. I have gone 24 hours without relieving myself, in great discomfort, because of this issue. I’ve sat out panic attacks. This is not a matter of skipping the line.

But that is just one reason. There are hundreds of others. Perhaps a person needs to change an ostomy bag. Perhaps they need an adult changing table. Perhaps the sticky locks on the stall doors can dislocate their fingers. So please, be gracious. There is more to the story.

Getty image by Fabrique Imagique.

Originally published: February 17, 2021
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