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.