I know that you're staring at me in the parking lot. I can see you shooting me dirty looks. You're whispering to yourself about how wrong and terrible I am. I pretend like I don't see it but, it's happened too many times for me not to notice. I feel ashamed every time I go out and it happens. I move quickly to avoid confrontation. I put in earphones so I won't hear if someone shouts at me. While I haven't had notes left behind or gotten into screaming matches over it, I know many people who have.
I'm 22 years old. I'm a normal, healthy looking college kid. I don't have mobility aids. But I do have and use a handicapped parking pass.
I was prescribed a permanent handicap pass (the blue sticker hanging from a lot of grandparents rearview mirror) when I was 20. I was at a point in my chronic illness journey where I was struggling with severe pain and chronic fatigue. A permanent handicap pass was a possibility that I had been dreading for years. I had heard the horror stories of notes on cars and mean-spirited comments hurled across parking lots. I knew people wouldn't understand. I don't look sick or disabled, so why would ever need a handicap sticker? Even if I proved it was mine, they would probably still be annoyed. One time, I parked at school and saw the parking officers snickering at me. They "knew" I couldn't have a pass and were excited to write a ticket. (I didn't get one because I had a legal pass, obviously). After that, I've always had anxiety about using it. I try not to use it with others in the car. If I have to, I throw in a joke and hope it blows over. Even on days when I desperately need it, I still stress about hanging that blue sticker.
I try to do everything my peers do but sometimes I can't. There are days where I can run two miles and feel pretty good. Other days, I can't get out of bed. I have joints that don't work right, muscles that don't cooperate and a body that has been through hell. That is the reality of living with chronic illness. On days when my body doesn't want to work, I use a handicap pass to make things a little easier. It helps me not be in as much pain. It makes running errands possible. If I didn't have a handicap sticker in my car, I wouldn't be able to go to class. It would be impossible for me to make the trek across campus. It is not a luxury or a "cool" privilege; it is a necessity.
There are many others like me who live with rare, invisible and chronic conditions. There are people who are scared to get a handicap pass like I was. They don't want to deal with the ridicule or hate that could accompany it. There are disabled people who have been belittled and berated because they don't "look" disabled. Yes, there are those who abuse the system. But please don't judge all of us because of what a few people do. Next time, you see what appears to be an able-bodied person getting out of a car in a handicap spot, please don't roll your eyes. Don't shoot daggers at us or leave mean notes on our cars. Chances are you a giving a dirty look to someone who is truly suffering; someone who is already nervous about using that handicap pass. Please, be kind. We all could use a little of that.