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The First Time I Used My Disabled Parking Placard at College

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I started taking college classes my senior year of high school. Over three years I’ve gotten two degrees, two scholarships, have been active in many clubs, was on the President’s List semester after semester, and was accepted into the nursing program. To many outside viewers, it seems like I’m your average, successful, hard-working college student, but here’s the catch: I have multiple chronic illnesses and it’s not always easy to keep up with this lifestyle.

I live with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, asthma, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and a handful of other associated illnesses, and others in the process of being diagnosed. While most of the time I am pretty “high functioning,” there are still days when the fatigue and fainting spells overwhelm me and I am painfully reminded of how sick I really can be. On the days when my illnesses rear their ugly heads, I have to remind myself to use the tools that I have to help myself, despite my own stubborn nature. This is the story of the first time I hung my disability placard at school.

It was the first day of my first nursing class, which was of course, an 8 a.m. class. I didn’t sleep well the night before due to my nerves, and was extremely symptomatic (thanks to Crash-tober) that morning. I pulled into the parking lot and circled around a few times to try to find close parking, but the lot was full and the only parking was in the very back. I was trying to figure out how on Earth I was going to make it all the way up the parking lot, all the way across the building and up to the third floor once I was inside. That was when I remembered the little blue and white card that had been sitting in my glove box, unused, for months.

I pulled back around to the front of the lot, into the accessible spot, hung my placard and just stared at for a moment. In that moment, a million thoughts entered my mind and before I knew it tears were rolling down my face. I had heard all the horror stories of other people with invisible illnesses being judged for using accessible spots and that was naturally my first fear, even though my usage of the spot was 100 percent justifiable. My next thought was that I hated the fact that I had to use it. I was a nursing student, accepted into one of the most competitive programs in one of the top schools for my state, one of the “elites” with a navy jacket that so many others would kill for to be able to wear — how was I going to make it through one of the toughest programs if I couldn’t even walk a parking lot?

I took a minute to compose myself and realized that this placard did not add to my disability, it added to my ability, to get into school safely and to conserve my energy for learning. I was supposed to use it in these situations, and not feel guilty for it. When I got out of the car nobody said anything to me about “not looking sick enough” to use the parking spot, there were no mean notes left on my car, and I actually felt empowered by using the placard. After that string of events, I was even more nervous for class than before but I ended up pleasantly surprised. The program director’s daughter had just been diagnosed with POTS, so the entire faculty were completely aware of the condition and they were (and still are, as I’m about half way through the program) incredibly supportive.

The point that I am trying to get across here is never let fear of judgment, embarrassment or other people’s opinions get in the way of doing what you need you to for your health. Whether you are using a disability placard, a mobility aid, braces, etc., keep your head held high and walk (or roll) with confidence and do you. And remember that there are always people in your corner, even when you’d least expect it.

Getty photo by coffeekai

Originally published: September 9, 2018
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