Last November, Dustin and I stopped by our local Petsmart to pick up a Christmas present for Rosie. We had just come from a beautiful morning wedding ceremony for some good friends and were running some errands before heading to the evening reception. After picking out the biggest antler chew the store could offer, we made our way back to the car. As we started getting in, a man who was walking by us yelled in a nasty tone: “ARE YOU REALLY HANDICAPPED?” and shook his head muttering “Disgusting.” Dustin just about ripped his head off, yelling that the guy had no idea what I had been through and he had no right to judge us. Not going to lie; it ruined our afternoon.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. Last summer as I got out of my car on campus, a lady who was sitting near by on a bench asked: “Excuse me, I know this isn’t any of my business, but are you really handicapped?” I stared at her in shock before sputtering out: “Well, yeah, I have a total left knee replacement and I’m a cancer survivor!” She was so surprised by my answer and muttered a “sorry” as I stormed away.
I am often blind-sided by these people who assume and accuse me of abusing my great-grandmother’s handicapped pass and taking away parking from other, more deserving handicapped people. I never am prepared to respond. I even offered to show a cop who stopped me in the mall parking lot my 16 inch scar on my leg so that he would believe that I actually qualified for the pass instead of telling him: “It’s kind of unprofessional of you to ask me why I’m handicapped!”
It’s really hard to be accosted by ignorant people every time I park my car. I see the way people look at me when I get out of my car to go to Walmart; I see the disgusted looks and the way people judge me the second I start walking away. It is so hard to not let that get me down. I have to remind myself that they don’t know; they don’t understand and that it is a good thing they look at me like that because I look so healthy now. I mean, no one looked at me like that when I was 16 and my mom was helping me out of the car with my bald head and a 25 pound cast on my leg. I look normal to all of the people who pass me by in the parking lot and they don’t understand why I get to park in the “old folks” spot.
At times, I want to scream at them, to tell them that I am 25 years old with a total left knee replacement and donor bone and that I am in some kind of pain or discomfort with every step I take, even if they can’t visibly see it. But, I have learned to let it roll of my back. My handicapped parking spot is a safety measure in place to keep me on my feet; to make sure I don’t fall in the icy parking lots of Idaho and break my hardware. It is to ensure that I don’t have to make the trek through the rows of cars on bad knee days when my pain levels are higher then normal. It is there to protect me and to help me and that is what is most important.
And I have learned from my parking experiences. I have learned that everyone is fighting their own battles and they are not all visible. I have learned to view people differently; to try harder not to jump to conclusions, to try to give them the benefit of the doubt. And I have learned to not apologize for my scars; to stand up for myself and to educate others who don’t think it’s possible for a 25 year old to qualify for handicapped parking.
So yes, ignorant man in the Petsmart parking lot who feels like it is his job to judge me and call me out for my chosen parking spot, I do have a disability that qualifies me for the pass. And when you yell at me like that, I consider it a form of bullying and I will not accept it anymore. You will not make me feel ashamed for my scars.
I am powerful, despite my injuries.
Do you have an invisible illness or disability? What are some of the things you struggle with?