Written by on April 29th, 2014 – 2 Comments

I am a 28 year old woman with a current diagnosis of RRMS. I have had this disease for just over seven years now. In those seven years I have become acutely familiar with one thing, judgment. Unfortunately, at times, this diagnosis makes me feel judged. Right or wrong as persons with MS we are judged. We are judged by doctors, family and friends. We are judged by the outside world and even judged by our friends within the MS community; a jury of our peers so to speak. I am in no way implying that all judgments are meant to be malicious. It just simply goes with the territory. I wish more people were aware of this fact and endeavored not to play into the judgment game. I would like to hope that in the future these judgments can be removed from this territory and that the simple exchanges of experiences become the primary focus.

Upon receiving our diagnosis we are told that each person with MS is a different case. Each person has to walk their own path. There can be a parallel with symptoms but no two cases are exactly alike. I then ask myself why then is there so often comparison and judgment? Again, I suppose that just comes with the territory. We all make judgments each and every day. Not all of them are kind and not all of them are fair. So how to those judgments affect us? What can we do about them?

Those who have been following my blogs know that my MS has primarily affected the function of my legs. I spent over a year requiring crutches to walk and still sometimes require the use of a cane. During relapses I often have to use those crutches again. To make things a little less of a struggle at 19 I was given a handicap placard for my vehicle. This decal is a permanent one and I often receive looks of reproach when I use it. I try not to use the decal if I can. However, sometimes after walking around a mall or having gone grocery shopping, my legs become fatigued. In those instances I use my decal even if I am not using my mobility aids. Not walking across a parking lot with my arms full of groceries with the constant need for concentration of placing one foot in front of the other can be a glimmer of hope. I know that my disease is not always readily apparent, my struggles are not always out there for the world to see. I just wish people didn’t jump to the worst conclusions when they see me leave my vehicle with no discernible disability. These are some of the comments I have gotten while using my placard.

“You don’t look like you need that spot.”

“You shouldn’t be using your grandparents parking placard.”

“You know those spots are for seniors, right?”

“Being lazy isn’t a handicap.”

There have been many more hurtful comments over the years and I used to quietly take them with a look of shame on my face. I now no longer feel shameful. There is nothing shameful in having a disease that we certainly didn’t ask for, or want. In one particularly painful incident I went to a local shopping mall with my best friend. As I knew we would be spending several hours walking around and shopping, I parked in a space requiring my handicap placard. After leaving my vehicle a woman came up to me and my friend saying you need to have a placard to park in that spot. I kindly pointed out that I did and that it was hanging from my rear-view mirror for all to see. She then went on to say that it had to be my placard. I reaffirmed it was indeed my placard. She looked at me in disbelief and said it couldn’t possibly be mine. My frustration was growing at this point.  After more comments calling me down, she finally got to her point. She had been shopping a few weeks ago with her husband who had suffered a stroke. She wasn’t able to obtain a handicap designated spot and she felt I was not someone who looked like I didn’t need said spot. I calmly told her if she wanted to take my disease off my hands I would gladly give her my placard and spot and with that I started to walk away. Her final words tossed to me so casually at me were, “well, at least you can walk.”

My best friend witnessed this entire encounter. She has been with me every step of this painful journey and has defended me on more than one occasion. She was livid. She knew those casual words would cut me to the bone. She knew of the months I had spent unable to walk, and or, walk properly. In a loud but firm voice she responded with the statement “Yeah, today she can.” Encounters like that are what need to change. No one should feel the need to have to defend their medical condition. No one should have to take hurtful comments with any degree of shame.

A quote that often echoes in my head is, “be kind you never know what battle someone is fighting.” Maybe it’s because I know many people fighting battles and that I myself am fighting a battle, but I tend to reserve judgment on many situations. We never know the ins and outs of the situations others are facing so why add judgment to that situation? Why make things harder for someone else? My hope is that people endeavor to be kind to one another. Let’s try and eliminate needless judgments and just focus on supporting each other. I may be naïve, but I would rather believe in the good of those around me than dwell on the bad. So join me my friends and let’s reserve judgment and just be kinder period!

– Loribelle

2 Responses

  1. Lelainia says:

    Oh Loribelle, this is such a great post! First of all, I feel really annoyed when people think that those placards are for seniors. Being old is NOT a disability. You can’t get one just because you’re over 65 or have grey hair. It’s for people who have mobility issues!

    I served 2 years on our city’s Universal Access-Ability Advisory committee. There was a councilman who was on a tear because he thinks less people should have the placards. What he doesn’t realize is that if you have one, you NEED one. It’s ignorance on his part.

    Summer Mortimore, a very decorated Paralympic swimmer got home from the London 2012 Paralympics and a few days later parked in an accessible space. When she got out of her car, some seniors berated her for using the accessible parking spot. Clearly no one is immune to erroneous judgements.

    I also have a placard (for the last 5 yrs.) and I am just waiting for someone to say something to me. I plan to take up their time educating them when they do. So far it hasn’t happened, but how can you tell by just looking at someone if they are disabled or not? I mean can you tell at a glance if someone has a pacemaker and might need to be parked closer to a door at the mall? NO. Is the person making the judgements a doctor qualified in your disease? NO. I plan to challenge someone if they challenge me.

    One of the things my placard allows me to do is to find parking at the local hospitals where I spend alot of time having treatment. There is nothing more stressful than not feeling well and driving in circles looking for a spot or having to park miles from the hospital and having to hike back, especially in the summer when my legs don’t work well in the heat. Getting to my car quickly is important. Usually, there are multiple accessible parking spaces open at the hospital, so I am not cheating anyone else by using one.

  2. Tracey says:

    Its very true of this disease –its invisible but impactful presence (even when the physical impairments aren’t seen). I’m sorry to hear that people act this way. Seniors aren’t the only ones who need assistance and its such a narrow minded view of people take on the issue. And you should never have to explain to others about this — and I hope that you don’t encounter this too often (I have dealt with other people judging me based on my disease and I found that very hurtful). They’ll never understand what its like to have a disease like MS and it seems like a waste of your time trying to get them to understand. I hope you encounter just as many supportive/open minded people in life as individuals as this —and focus on their positiveness because we don’t have time to waste on narrow-minded judgmental folk. Life is too short to deal with negative individuals.