It was a few days before Christmas and I was really feeling every symptom of my illness. I don’t know if it was the stress or the weather, maybe a combination of the two but I was literally a mess. I had tried desperately to get to Target early that morning. I had a few last minute gifts I HAD to get and groceries. My body was cooperating at all and by the time I dragged myself to the store it had been open long enough for the parking lot to fill up.I drove around for at least five minutes praying for a closer spot but it was right before Christmas and it just wasn’t going to happen. I pulled in the closest spot I could find, far at the rear and collected myself. It was cold, bitingly cold to the point my bones felt like they vibrated beneath my skin. I put on my “grin and bear it” face and walked toward the store. Halfway through the lot, my legs felt like they would go on me at any minute. I wished I had had the forethought to grab a cart at least that would have held me up. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of falling in the parking lot (again) and that I would make it into the store. Thankfully, I did.
I walked slowly through Target, soaking up the warmth for my return journey back to my car. I even sat in the Starbucks for a while, all in an effort to garner as much strength as possible for the return walk. When I felt like I could finally handle it, I ventured out. As I sat in my car, fighting back tears from my legs that yelled in protest all the way from the store to my car, I thought this would have been so much easier if I just broke down and applied for a handicapped tag.
I picked up my phone and typed a simple request as my Facebook status. Does anyone know how to get a handicapped tag because I really need one? I was not prepared for the response that I would get. Some of my friends were helpful, they told me what to do and others, not so much. The rest of the people that responded went on to insinuate that I was lazy and part of the problem of fraud. They went on ad nauseam about how it was people like me who take away spots from the “real handicapped” people. They made me feel like I was wrong like I was a horrible human being for even suggesting such a thing. I stared at my phone in disbelief as tears welled up in my eyes, sad, heartbroken tears which quickly gave way to hot, angry tears.
I thought, maybe I’m not really handicapped. Maybe I just need to toughen up, maybe all these people that look at me and see someone with no physical disability are right. Or just maybe, they’re all wrong.
Handicapped is defined as, “having a condition that markedly restricts one’s ability to function physically, mentally, or socially.” Nowhere in its definition does it say that someone must rely on a wheelchair. My illness has restricted me physically, sometimes I’m just not able to walk at all. It restricts me mentally, when I have headaches so bad that I become disoriented and don’t know who or where I am. It restricts me socially because sometimes I just refuse to go out. Or go out early so I can avoid people and get a closer spot to the store. I am handicapped. That’s when I decided that I could sit by and let people make assumptions about people like me or I could fight back.
I decided to fight back and wrote, “this might be the pain talking or this might be some truth that every single one of my so called friends and family needs to hear. I just want to thank you for making me feel like a piece of scum because I finally broke down and decided, I need help, I need to start making my life easier.
I wake up every morning in pain so bad that I can’t make it from my bed to the bathroom. I’ve fallen down the stairs because my legs just decide to stop working. I’ve sat on the floor in the Walmart when I couldn’t stand in the line any longer but had to get milk because we were out and it was the closest store. I’ve been living like this for the past two years and will probably have to live like this or worse for the rest of my life.” I concluded my rant with, “if you’re reading this and you want to judge me, then please do me the honor of hitting the unfriend button because I don’t need that negativity in my life.”
In the end, no one unfriended me but instead they offered apologies. They learned by my uncharacteristic outburst that not everyone’s handicap is in plain view for the world to see. Hopefully, they walked away from the experience a little less judgmental about things they are blessed not to know anything about. I also learned the power of communication, that all of us who suffer from invisible handicaps need to be vocal and stop hiding. The only way someone is going to know that you’re suffering is if you say so.