I get quite a few invitations to Disneyland every year. And I’m always really popular during Christmas shopping season. I know that I’m super fun to hang out with — and maybe I’m being skeptical here — but I have a feeling that my blue disabled person parking placard might have something to do with it.
Not that I blame anyone for inviting me; I know those lines at Disneyland can get really long!
Yes, there are some perks of having that blue placard. If you have one, you know. But if you’re like me and your disease is invisible most of the time, then you probably also know the major disadvantage: dealing with strange looks, and occasional rude comments, from people in the parking lot who see you get out of the car and walk toward your destination like anyone else.
What they can’t see is how I feel inside, whether it’s my heavy legs, aching body or throbbing head. Sometimes it’s my immediate need to pee, something that could happen if my bladder implant isn’t working very well on that particular day. (When I don’t have bad symptoms and I’m feeling pretty good, I won’t use my placard.)
But what do you say to those annoying people who give you dirty looks? How do you respond to their glares?
For me, it helps to think back to a particular instance when I was out with Poppy, my now-deceased stepdad who was always looking out for me.
At the time (circa 1997) I wasn’t walking very well at all. In fact, I was using my cane. We pulled into a handicapped space, Poppy was driving and I was in the passenger seat. As Poppy walked around to help me get out, a man driving an old muscle car rolled down his window and yelled to him, “You don’t look handicapped!”
As I watched through the window, I assumed the man was just asking for directions. But I knew something else was going on when suddenly Poppy opened my door, grabbed the placard from the rear view mirror and told me “I’ll be right back.” He handed the guy my handicapped placard and told him he could have it — as long as he takes my MS too.
The man backed off and said, “Oh. I didn’t see her.”
Needless to say, Poppy wasn’t happy after that little incident. He used a few choice words about people who are nosy and quick to judge.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve thought about limping if someone is looking at me, questioning the validity in my using a handicapped placard. Using my placard makes me self-conscious, and I wish it didn’t. I’d like to say, “Can I help you?” or “What are you looking at?” But most days I try to hold my head high and remind myself that parking in a blue space is my right as a person living with MS.
I think most of the time, people just don’t know much about invisible illnesses and are simply jealous that I got a parking spot closer than theirs. That’s why I am always happy to educate anyone on MS.
Even the stranger who doesn’t know anyone with MS can benefit from learning about our disease, don’t you think?