Saturday, February 25, 2012

Again? Still? Another Invisible Illness and Society Post

I'm feeling a little - just a little - disheartened right now. I just saw a Facebook comment by a friend that said, "...all the handicapped seats were taken by people who weren't handicapped..." I almost responded, but my relationship with this poster is a little too close for me to want to risk a fight, and not close enough to comfortably say what I'd like and know it won't be seen as instigating an argument. (I don't fear a fight, but fighting is emotionally draining and very often pointless - especially on a Facebook or forum thread, on which there are witnesses and posters therefore feel the need to trump one another for the sake of ego.)

But the pervasiveness of this myth that physical handicaps will always be visibly apparent does bother me. Many people with invisible illnesses are treated quite rudely by uninformed members of the general public. Thankfully, I have only had to deal with overt rudeness a couple of times, aside from the treatment I dealt with from some members of the medical community while I was searching for a diagnosis.

One of those times involved, as so many of these incidents seem to, the use of a handicapped parking space. My son and I pulled up to a store in the pouring rain, and I used my placard to park. I didn't exactly make a mad dash into the store when we exited the car, but it is fair to say I moved at a fair clip.

Oooh, was some lady on the sidewalk giving me the stink eye and the pursed lips! She looked as though she'd just downed a shot of vinegar.

A few minutes later, while shopping, I relayed what I'd seen to my son. Then we turned a corner and saw the lady walking past! I had guessed she'd been leaving the store, not entering, but I suppose I shouldn't have made assumptions, either. She'd surely heard everything I'd said, and in truth, I was not sorry.

I had not said anything rude or insulting; I'd merely recounted the incident and made some comment about my ability to walk upon entering a store having nothing to do with my ability to walk upon leaving a store - which is true.

In fact, before I was taking any useful medication, my husband had at one point gently - gently - asked me to stop helping with the grocery shopping. Though I moved at a normal speed upon arrival, my movements inside a store became slower and slower as time passed. Without browsing or doing anything other than shopping from my list, I was adding a great deal of time to our outings.

You know what? I don't have or use a wheelchair or a cane. I don't have or use orthotics or prosthetics. A lot of times I limp, but a lot of times I don't. I look like a whole lot of other 40-year-old women. And I look handicapped.

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