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Don’t Judge by the Cover

I received a text today – that made me want to write up an article about this issue. The text was from my good friend (twin) Kara, who also has MS and is around my age. It said, “You know the saying: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? It’s like… don’t judge a person by their invisible illness.”

I know that the whole ‘judgment’ issue has probably been covered before, but I feel like I need to vent about this, as well as expanding on the whole judgmental thing.

There is that famous saying, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I’ve heard it all my life and I know that a lot of you probably have too. Even most of the general public has heard that saying before, have repeated it, etc.

However, its one thing to say don’t judge but it’s the follow through that really has an impact on someone as an individual and the people they surround themselves with and come into contact with.

I do know that there are a lot of people with Multiple Sclerosis who are unfortunately ‘viewed’ as disabled, due to a physical symptom caused by MS. But there are some people with MS, myself included, that don’t seem to have any type of impairment.

Just the other day, I went into my local county’s office, to get my new-handicapped placard, because mine is expiring this month. After sitting there and waiting for a bit, which drives me insane, I finally get called up. I figured that getting my new placard would be an easy process, that didn’t require a lot of time. Well, I was wrong.

I had my neurologist write me a script for the placard, even though I have been prescribed a placard in the past for a ‘permanent’ placard, just in case. Well I’m glad that I had that on hand because I don’t even want to know what would have happened, had I not.

Now, I had my current (almost expired) handicapped placard with me in the office, so that they could pull up my file. I honestly felt like I was being interrogated by the police, rather than just trying to get my new placard. I answered multiple questions, sometimes more than once. I guess they were trying to see if I was lying? They also were trying to make sure that the prescription wasn’t forged and they also wanted to make sure that my ID wasn’t a fake.

Why did this happen to me you ask? Well, that’s a VERY good question. Just going off of the questions I was asked, I would say that this happened to me because I look “fine”. Why would I need a handicapped placard? Now had I gone and done this in the middle of Texas Summer, I don’t think that I would have been given the interrogation. Usually with the extreme heat, I am a bit more impaired and at times, need assistance with my mobility.

This just goes to show you that people shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover.”

There was also that whole Kanye West Convert incident that made headlines, about how he wanted the WHOLE crowd to stand up at his concert, and if they couldn’t they had to ‘prove’ they were handicapped, or at least that’s what the media reported.

I just feel that if my neurologist and the State classify me as disabled, what gives others the right to judge me about it? Or want me to prove my disability? This isn’t something I want to ‘flaunt’, it’s not something that I want for myself or anyone else. I know that there are some people out there that abuse the system when it comes to claiming disability, but that shouldn’t cloud individuals judgment when it comes to someone who is actually disabled, for a legitimate reason.

I also sometimes need to use my cane if I’m having a bad day, if I over did previously, etc. My friend Kara I brought up in the beginning, chatted with me today about this issue, because she is out using her cane while running errands and attending community functions. Here are some of the things she sent me,

“ I hate pity looks. Needing to walk with a cane, and then you get those pity looks from people. OR When one day you don’t necessarily need the cane, then you get judgmental looks. Probably thinking/saying, ‘Oh I bet she didn’t really need it in the first place.’ Know what I mean? Ticks me off!!”

Note:(Some words were edited, but you get the picture.)

My friend and I shouldn’t have to ‘relate’ about this issue, or anyone else for that matter battling MS, or any other invisible illness. There is no age limit when getting diagnosed with MS, there’s no specific disease course we all follow exactly… we are going at this blind. We don’t know what’s going to happen with our disease progression.

It’s exhausting to have to ‘prove’ ones disability when it comes to invisible illnesses/invisible symptoms. Before anyone tries to make a snide comment about our MS and how we’re affected by it, they need to be educated about the disease prior to making any judgment/statement.

For those of us who battle an invisible illness every single day of our lives, we don’t need any type of negative judgment, comments, actions made towards us. Unless you can walk a mile in our shoes, DO NOT JUDGE BY THE COVER!

Okay, I’m going to end this article here, before I get anymore heated that I already am. I could write about this specific topic for days and most of them be from personal encounters.

For those of you reading this and in complete agreement with me and/or understand what I’m talking about, here is a big hug for you! Because no one should have to go through this, we shouldn’t have these judgmental situations in common.


Ashley Ringstaff

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • AJoy
    5 years ago

    Thank-you for a great article!

    I waited until I had pretty much no choice, to get my placard. I think by then I was using a cane more often than not. I could still use the regular cart in the grocery store, for the most part then. Then, as things progressed, I needed to use the motorized mart-carts. Now, I use the walker more often if I go anywhere out of the house, and I can just make it into the store with the cane to get to that scooter. If there is no scooter, I don’t shop, lol.

    Yesterday, I went to a very busy grocery store, at what was obviously a very busy time of day, and found a cart right near the door. I got through the produce isle- my first- when it started beeping and the red light flashing. It crawled back to the front of the store, just barely, so that I could try to exchange it for another scooter-cart. I felt very much ignored by the gathering of employees standing at that counter, but was able to switch over to another that had been plugged in. I got up and down a few more isles at normal speed, when it just started crawling, green light still on for a few minutes, and then beeping and blinking red. Turned around to head to the front of the store again, and it just DIED! I felt like an idiot just sitting there, halfway to the checkout, in the middle of that front isle-way. The cane was buried under groceries, it was already not a good movement day, and I just sat, hoping someone who worked there would go by, other shoppers having to go around me.

    I don’t “look like” the “”typical” scooter-cart user. That store is frequented by many elderly, and “visibly disabled” folks. In general, if I am not trying to walk, you likely would not know there is anything “wrong”. I hadn’t thought of it at the time, but there may likely have been some of that judgement going on. “Why can’t she just get up and use a regular cart?”

    An employee finally did go by, and being on her way out off her shift, had to call over another employee. They had no other scooters, and I was offered another cart, but I just had to get out of there and be done. So, we transfered my items to a cart, and I pushed through the checkout, using the cart as a walker, as best one can.

    I like to do what I can by myself. If there is something on a higher shelf, I can still get up enough to try to reach. I can still unload my cart into my car on my own. Its not easy, but I still manage to carry most of it into my house alone. I am always greatly appreciative when other shoppers in the store offer assistance! But, just because I try to do those things on my own, don’t look at me and wonder why I am sitting to shop.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    5 years ago

    OMG! I hate seeing that at stores… and I have gone off on someone before using the scooter cart – because it was a bunch of teenagers laughing and each taking turns driving it… I couldn’t help it! I just went off… what did they do? just laughed, got off of it and left it there. So I got the manager, pointed them out, and he took care of it and the cart. UGH!

  • Chris G
    5 years ago

    Hi Ashley, I can really relate to your story. If I walk with no cane, People look at me as if I’m drunk or high on drugs. It’s a look of disgust. When I walk with a cane, I get the pity look.Some days I’m forced to use my walker, and the pity looks are even worse. I try to ignore their stares, because it is important for me to be among “The People”, I will not let MS make me feel “ISOLATED” again. I try to make eye contact to the person, and smile / sometimes they just look away, but sometimes I get a smile back. I understand some people are afraid of the “unknown” and fear it, But If they only understand We deal with the “unknown, “fear of it”, and more all the time. THANK YOU for posting your story, you inspired me to reply on a post for the first time.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    5 years ago

    I’m glad that I could inspire you in anyway! That means SO much to me.

    I do know that some people stare more out of curiosity, then anything… and that’s fine.. but it’s the snarky looks that I can’t stand! I just want to ask them if their mama taught them any manners!!

  • Pam
    5 years ago

    I can totally relate to your story. I have rrms.. and thank the lord, not in need of a chair, or a cane.. but sometimes I use a walking stick. I get fatigued fast. my walk will turn into a limp and drag my leg. but, when I get out of the car and walk into the store I feel like all eyes are on me because I don’t “look the part”..

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    5 years ago

    Cathy – I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. I had a similar situation… where I was walking to the parking lot from the store, and this man in his ‘nice car’ honked at me and told me to speed it up. I had been shopping with both of my kids and was worn out.

    I wasn’t going to do anything in front of my kids, but had they not been with me, my full cart would have accidentally taken a swerve and hit his car! UGH

  • Cathy1959
    5 years ago

    I know exactly what you are talking about. Having had MS for over 30 years I have a lot of stories about people who are so rude. When I was younger & didn’t use a cane I would get looks from people. So I started using a cane, and then I got looks from people, then I started using a walker and I still get looks from people, mainly because I don’t look like I am “sick”. I now have upgraded from RRMS to SPMS. My legs are weak, so I have had to get hand controls installed in my car. Just this morning I had a “run in” with a man who didn’t think I drove fast enough for his taste. I was in a parking lot, looking for a space. How fast am I supposed to go? He finally drives his car around me and gives me the finger as he drives by. What? I wanted to follow him and explain the whole MS thing, but I decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation. I am so used to people being rude after all these years that I have decided I don’t care what people think and I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. It’s not worth the effort.

  • Ashley Ringstaff moderator author
    5 years ago

    Ugh! it’s annoying, right?
    I mean, I can’t say that I have never stared at someone using an assistive device, but I’m wondering what made them the way they are… not being judgmental or negative in any way.

    Stay strong! xoxo

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