Many with invisible chronic illnesses know all too well how frustrating it can be to not be understood, or to be judged with the use of a handicap placard. When most healthy people see someone park in one of these spots, I think they expect to see someone elderly or in a wheelchair, or maybe using a cane or walker. This is understandable, as this is what society believes disabled means. But, the reality is that there are a number of invisible illnesses where a handicap placard can be extremely useful.
Invisible illnesses like arthritis, connective tissue disorders, autoimmune disorders, internal injuries, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and more, all could require the person with them to need the help of a handicap placard. For some, the reason is purely pain. Chronic, excruciating pain no matter where it is in the body can be disabling. Even if you cannot tell that the person is in pain on the outside, they may be battling with each step on the inside. This is because those with chronic pain tend to be better at hiding it than the average healthy person. Pain tolerance is much higher due to our ‘normal’ level being much different than ‘normal’ for those without chronic pain. People with chronic pain may not even know what it is like to not be in any pain at all, for some have had it their entire lives.
You see me walking from my car, quickly and with a smile, but what you don’t see, is that every single joint feels like it is breaking with each step, my head is pounding, my heart is racing, and the fatigue is making it hard to move my legs. But this is every day, every moment, so I have learned to hide and and just get on with my day.
For others, it isn’t about just pain, but fatigue, or even a heart condition that makes the heart race, or the person light-headed like they will faint. For some, it is about the weather. Heat and cold intolerances are more common than you think, and cause pain, nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue, etc. Just because it doesn’t look like someone is sick or hurting, doesn’t mean they aren’t.
Please don’t be that person that asks every person that doesn’t look sick whether they should park there, or worse make rude comments to them, or tell them they are terrible for parking in a spot they have a right to. You really have no idea what they are going through, and it is more likely that the person truly is disabled, than someone just abusing the spot. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt. Next time you see someone parked in a handicap spot that doesn’t necessary look handicap, try giving them a kind smile, or opening a door for them. Kindness is contagious. You might change their day around. It is hard enough dealing with invisible disabilities, but to get constantly judged and rudely remarked at, only makes it harder.
Endurance and Optimism. We can get through this together.