Like you, in the past, I probably would have judged someone like myself too. On good days, I look healthy and young. Outwardly, there appears to be no reason why I was walking so slowly and couldn’t move out of the way fast enough when I saw you coming. If you could see inside my body, it would tell a much different story.
After losing 45 pounds and most of it being muscle weight, I struggle everyday with weakness, fatigue, and body pain. Looking at me, you can’t tell that I have a disability, that’s why my illness is so often coined as an “invisible illness”. When my feeding tube is disconnected and tucked under my shirt, I look no different than your average 19 year old. I am different though.
On a normal day, I use several mobility assisting devices. In order to be able to shower, I use a shower seat because I can’t stand long enough without getting weak and possibly fainting to shower. Getting into the shower itself is a struggle and I need my mom’s hand to help me balance and lift my legs over the bath’s walls.
Right now, I am confined to the top floor of my house because I am too weak to do the stairs on a regular basis. To leave my house though, there are three stairs down and I need help to go down them. I have a physiotherapist who comes to my house every second week to try and help me regain my strength and, in turn, my independence.
When I go out someplace like the mall or the hospital, where there will be a lot of walking involved, I have a wheelchair parking pass I need to use to spare me enough energy to walk where I need to go. Sometimes, parking close to the building isn’t enough help and I require a walker or a wheelchair to get where I’m going.
Before all this, if I would have seen myself out in public, I probably would have judged and gotten annoyed too as you did. I would have thought that I was perhaps just being lazy and that’s why I parked in a wheelchair spot. Or gotten mad thinking I was taking the parking spot of someone who actually needed it.
It’s normal to have those judgmental thoughts but it’s important to step back and reconsider them. Maybe that teen you saw using a motor chair borrowed from the store actually needs it. Maybe that person is taking the elevator because they can’t physically do the stairs. Maybe the girl walking slowly in front of you in the store isn’t doing it out of laziness but more so because she has no choice.
Most disabilities aren’t visible. Just because we look normal on the outside doesn’t mean we don’t need extra assistance in our day to day lives. There truly is more than meets the eyes.