Sep 22, 2010

Response to Anonymous Note

A few evenings ago after buying a wedding present and returning to my car fifteen minutes later, I was greeted by a note on my windshield saying, "NOT HANDICAPPED, JUST LAZY." Thanks ignorant person for making my day a little worse. People like that perpetuate the injustice surrounding invisible illnesses; they don't believe what they can't see.

I was so shocked, appalled and upset by this note that I posted the aforementioned incident on my Facebook page to vent and was simultaneously surprised and saddened by the amount of responses stating that the same thing has happened to many of us before. I decided that instead of wasting any more precious energy being angered by this ignorant individual, I would do something constructive and write him or her an open letter explaining my situation and why it is important to think twice before acting on a selfish impulse.

Dear Anonymous Note Writer,

Please, if you are going to invest the time and energy to write me a note and place it on my car in the pouring rain, at least have the guts to sign it. Or better yet, confront me in person. Even a first name would have been nice so that I could assign you a hypothetical identity, not that it would have even mattered because I am not as inclined to make snap judgments about people as you apparently are. And if you would have kindly provided your e-mail or phone number, I would have surely contacted you to defend myself and all the others suffering from invisible illnesses who have been wrongly accused of cheating the system.

The truth is, people like you represent all that is wrong with the world today. You judge a book by its cover without thinking twice about it. You must have seen me park in a handicapped parking stall with my sticker hanging in the windshield and walk into Bed Bath & Beyond without any apparent signs of physical distress or discomfort. I can even understand the thoughts that may have been running silently through your mind: Is that girl really disabled? She looks fine, how did she get that sticker? I wonder what is wrong with her, if anything at all? She is not walking with a limp or using a wheelchair...

Prior to getting struck with an invisible illness out of the blue, I may have been asking the same questions myself if I saw a young, seemingly able-bodied individual walk effortlessly into a store after parking in a handicapped stall. The difference is, I would have never had the audacity to confront them about it, because I like to assume that all people are inherently good and decent until proven otherwise. There is no need to attack or confront someone simply for using a handicapped parking sticker that they may very well need. I am sure there is the occasional incidence of a handicapped parking sticker being stolen from an elderly person, but I highly doubt that it happens too often. The fact is, most people who have a current handicapped parking sticker actually do need one. And it is not up to anyone other than their doctor to decide whether or not they need one.

What compelled you to write that note to me? Did it make you feel better about yourself to impose judgment on someone else? What did you hope to accomplish by leaving it anonymously? Were you waiting to see my reaction? To see if I would laugh, cry, or yell about it? Well, as I'm sure you probably witnessed from afar, I cried about it. I hope you are happy. You didn't accomplish much except for making a young, chronically ill girl cry and question her place in the world. It is hard enough to have an invisible illness, but even harder to have one at such a young age. Although I may have looked fine to you on the outside, on the inside my body is fighting an internal battle I'm sure you probably can't even begin to fathom.

By the time I got back to my car a mere fifteen minutes later, I was lightheaded and weak with a racing heart, and had to put my feet up on the dashboard so that the blood pooling in my legs would slowly circulate back upwards to my heart and brain. Once I became oriented and alert again, I noticed the note on my windshield and got out to retrieve it. My heart sank when I read, "NOT HANDICAPPED, JUST LAZY." Talk about adding insult to injury. After enjoying the first somewhat "normal" day I'd had in a long time, you, a complete stranger to me, try to bring me down by making an unfair and untrue assumption about me. I am anything but "lazy." Before getting sick, I could do it all. I was valedictorian, a first-generation college graduate, a television producer and a talk show host. Now, I exercise every single day just to maintain circulation in my legs. Not the typical characteristics of a "lazy" person, are they? Do you exercise every day? If you don't, does that make it acceptable for me to call you "lazy"? It certainly doesn't, because it is not my place to judge you. I do not know your situation in life. I resent being belittled by someone who knows NOTHING about me or my current circumstance. I can only hope that my illness is just temporary, but since you saw my parking sticker, you surely noticed that it is a permanent handicapped parking sticker because no one, including my doctors, know if this cruel condition will ever go away. This condition, should you care or bother to educate yourself about it, is called POTS, a form of dysautonomia. In a nutshell, it means my body's systems are constantly fighting to be normal and I struggle with debilitating symptoms on a daily basis. My electrophysiologist (heart doctor) issued me the sticker to help give me some independence back. Independence that you are lucky to have.

I am sorry if my young age and appearance offended you. You should be ashamed of yourself for judging a book by its cover and maybe next time you will think twice before making rash assumptions about others. And please, don't bother picking on people with handicapped parking stickers ever again. My best guess is, you don't know the half of what it's like to walk around in our shoes.


Ms. DefyGravity


  1. That's so horrible. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. It's one of the things that has stopped me from getting a disabled sticker. I have the paperwork and my doc said I need it, yet I am loathe to put it in. It's so nice to see that people can spew things like that anonymously. As you say they could at least have the guts to do it in person. I'm so angry on your behalf. I hope it's less raw for you now. Sending hugs. Michelle

  2. Thanks Michelle. Just writing this made me feel so much better. It took me a long time to admit that I needed a sticker and now that I have one, I only use it on "bad" days, but it has still made life much easier. I no longer have to be dropped off and picked up at the door all the time so it enables me to drive myself places again (only short distances of course). If it will improve your quality of life in any way, you should get one. It doesn't mean you have to use it everyday. But it means that you can use it if need be. People will always have their opinions I guess, but they likely have no clue what it's really like to reside in our crazy bodies. Who cares what they think. After this experience, I can hardly wait to educate the next ignorant person who wants to question why I have a sticker. Don't be afraid to submit the paperwork if your doctor thinks it may benefit you. You deserve the best life possible and getting a sticker is one of the little things that may improve your quality of life greatly.

  3. Last week I shared your experience with several friends, I told them your expreience is one of my worst nightmares. I always worry that someone out there will judge me by my outside appearance. Every time I use a handicapped spot I want to carry a large sign that says "I have POTS, and invisiable illness!" Thanks for sharing, you did a great job!

  4. Thanks, Michele! A sign certainly would make things easier... I have thought about making a sign to attach to the motorized grocery cart/chair so people won't question me if I use one. That is one thing I have still not tried for fear of judgment I guess. We all want the acceptance and approval of others. It couldn't hurt to have a sign prepared and keep it in the car just in case a situation arises where we may need to "prove" our sickness.

  5. so glad to see the plight of the invisibly disabled well articulated. i have been harassed endlessly by both able bodied and "real" disabled people. when i have to walk with my cane, i am "just faking", when i don't, it is evidence there is nothing wrong with me. i am lucky to be in my thirties - many people with what i have die by my age. but nope, that is not good enough. i am not in a wheelchair, therefore, i am not "really" disabled.
    the majority of the people who make these kinds of snap decisions are so woefully ignorant that they can't even spell "dignity", and yet set themselves up as diagnosticians.
    cheers to you for the courage you show in living through it, and fighting back in an honourable and decent way.

  6. Thank you for your kind words, Alexes. I am so sorry that you too have been questioned by those who just don't understand and aren't qualified to make judgments in the first place. I wish you improved health and happiness!