Recently, I came across yet another story from a friend with MS about how they were discriminated against because of their handicapped parking placard. This is such a disheartening thing to read, and it’s something I keep hearing more and more about. You’ve no doubt heard or experienced it yourself: a nosy person sees you parking in a handicapped spot, can’t mind their own business, thinks they are the righteous hand of mob justice, and then confronts the person using the spot, never considering that the person, despite what they see, may suffer from an invisible illness. It’s devastating to those of us it’s happened to. With this scenario playing out time and time again, I wanted to again plead with folks to please look past what you see on the surface.
Of course the issue extends past handicapped parking. I was also recently reminded of a person who gave me one of those classic, tilted head responses of “really?” when I explained I was on disability because of MS. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I look so good right? Many of us battling invisible symptoms have to deal with this on an almost daily basis. The tilted heads, the questions, the looks of disbelief. Trust me, I can’t work, I’ve tried. No matter what you think, not being able to work is a lot harder than actually working. Always remember, if you see me, in person or even in a picture on social media, that’s me at my very best. You don’t see the aftermath (when I’m paying that exorbitant MS Tax) or me at my worst.
It’s not all about invisible symptoms either. Even more problems can occur when we are using a cane or wheelchair. Especially when we are on the younger side. It can be a very unexpected sight for many people, a younger person in a wheelchair or with a cane. People want to gawk, they want to stare. They also want to know why. I was recently using my cane and a man came up and asked me, “rough motorcycle accident?” and then I explained the MS. He was embarrassed and said that because of my beard he assumed it must have been something like a motorcycle accident. I actually got a good laugh over that. My appearance doesn’t fit the mold of what people think MS looks like. That’s the thing though, there is no MS mold, we’re all little snowflakes in this disease, all very different. Perhaps more than any other disease, MS has a wide range of symptoms and demographics.
This isn’t only an issue between those of us with MS and those without. Because of the wide variety of symptoms, there can sometimes be issues amongst ourselves. A person in a wheelchair may think that another person with MS has it easy because they can walk fine. I’ve seen this cause issues among MS groups and it’s crazy. We of all people should recognize the invisible nature of this disease and that just because a person isn’t in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. We have to remember that no matter what symptoms a person has, we’re in this together.
Along that same line, let’s also cut some slack to those who don’t understand. That guy who asked about a motorcycle accident, I laughed it off but used it as a chance to educate in as fun a way as I could. The man simply didn’t know better (really, why would he?). So I make this plea, as we approach the holidays, for everyone to look deeper than what they see on the surface. Our world already faces a lot of problems because people are judgmental of what they see on the outside. So I urge everyone to do their part, try not to judge, try to educate (remember, humans are a curious bunch), try to look below the surface and helps others to as well, let it start with us!