So, today it happened. I’ve heard about it happening to others with invisible illness, and I thought I had mentally prepared myself. But I was wrong. A man yelled at me for parking in a disability space because, and I quote him, “you look fine to me.”
Here’s what happened:
I had a doctor’s visit today and it’s right near a grocery store so I decided to take advantage of that fact and get some groceries while I was out. I have a legitimate disability tag from my doctor. This is because at age 48, I have late stage Lyme disease (almost 12 years now), fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
As many of you can relate, every day I am in a high level of pain and it is often coupled with debilitating fatigue. That said, I’m very careful about when I use the disability parking tag. My doctor wanted me to be able to conserve energy on any given day. But I always feel like someone may need it even more than I do so I try to just use it on my worst days – the days when my pain level has me close to tears if not in tears.
That was today. I even chose an open spot quite a distance from the grocery store. It’s a little mall of sorts and I parked one store away at a disability parking space in front of a tax firm. I noticed there were several open disability spots much closer to the grocery store so I was content that I wasn’t taking the only spot, nor the best.
When I finished my shopping, I placed my bags in the trunk. I noticed a gentleman pass me with a slight limp. But I didn’t realize that as I crossed the street to try to return my shopping cart, he was watching me. I don’t have any broken bones. I can walk normally. But I do pay for any energy that I exert with amplified pain, so the amount of walking I do is limited.
That’s when he yelled, “Why did you have to take a disability space? You look fine to me!” He said, “I can’t walk!”
Meanwhile, as I tried to start explaining why I was parked there, he was just shy of running and I could hardly keep up. You see, he wanted to yell at me but he didn’t really want to hear my explanation. I ended up having to yell towards him to please do a little research on things like chronic pain, Lyme disease, and fibromyalgia. I asked him to please do me a favor and research those things so that he doesn’t do that to someone else again who does not look like they are sick. And I mentioned while some people may lie about their health issues, I was not one of them. By that time, he was quite a distance from me and I was not about to try to keep up or raise my voice anymore so that he could hear me.
This ruined my day. As I drove away and shed some tears, I started to think the situation over again. I wondered why he didn’t park in a regular spot much closer to the grocery store (where he was going). I also mulled over the fact that I could hardly keep up with this man who told me he couldn’t walk. I had to speak to his back because he was so deliberately trying to run away from me so that I couldn’t defend myself.
I wished I had asked him to please stop running so I could give him an answer to his question. And then I realized that it was really none of his business what my condition is. And that made me a little angry too. I would have thought that someone dealing with some sort of disability himself would be more understanding or at least show more kindness.
I may write to my local newspaper to educate others that just because an illness is not crystal clear, judging a situation without all of the facts is not wise. Life for those of us with chronic pain and/or fatigue is difficult enough without having to deal with judgment from people we don’t even know – and who certainly don’t know us.
Originally published on The Mighty.