Feeling Judged

my proof of disability

Yesterday I went to the Secretary of State’s office and picked up a handicapped parking placard. It’s incredible how difficult the process can be. Not in terms of complexity, just that both times I have had to get one of these I’ve had to endure lectures from doctors (and others) about not abusing it, only using when I really need it, that just having MS isn’t good enough reason, etc.

As if I would have any interest in parking in a handicapped spot when I’m healthy enough to walk.

Hell, when I can make the walk easily, or even passably, not parking in one of those spots is one of the most exciting parts of my day. Just try to get me to use that pass on days I don’t need it.

Strangely, when I was first dx’d, people were constantly telling me to apply for a pass so I never had to worry about parking again. That was 25 years ago, and it never crossed my mind to actually do that. Now, when I truly need it, I still have to listen to lectures from doctors, and deal with disapproval from others (ironically, this probably includes most of those who told me 25 years ago to apply for the pass).

Humiliating.

Fortunately the guy at Secretary of State was very cool. But you walk out of there with the placard, and it’s bright red, and you feel like everybody is watching you and judging whether you seem “disabled” enough to “qualify” for this wonderful privilege.

I thought, “Am I limping enough? Do I look pathetic enough? Should I engineer a subtle trip, or a loss of balance, or perhaps an outright fall on my face? What exactly are these people looking for?”

I don’t think they really knew, but I do think our culture is one where we want to make sure potential abusers of “privilege” know they are under scrutiny and will, at the very least, have to endure the disapprobation of the public. That is, unless the abusers are wealthy or powerful, and the privilege is real — in which case they are unequivocally and enthusiastically off the hook.

Incidentally, it shouldn’t need to be said, but being admitted into the ranks of the poor, the abused, the ignored, the homeless, the friendless, the weak, and/or the sick is no privilege. For some reason we reserve our disapproval for those who are admitted into all the categories none of us would ever want to be in, even as we continue to defend and fawn over real abusers.

Why? I think it’s simple. We approve of the wealthy because we fear poverty. We approve of the powerful because we fear powerlessness. We approve of the healthy because we fear illness. We approve of the beautiful because we fear being considered ugly and undesirable. We disapprove of people who embody things we dread and fear.

We’re a shallow, shallow people, by and large, I fear. We’re people who think it would be really awesome to “be able” to park in a handicapped parking spot. That’s true, though. It would be awesome to be able to do that. It just sucks beyond belief to have to do it. The issue is not ability, what a person is able to do. It’s disability — what we can’t do. Or can’t do well, or effectively.

To someone who struggles to walk, there’s nothing most of us want more than just to be able to walk competently, instinctively, without constant conscious focus and effort.

But a distant second would be using those handicapped spaces — for me, a symbol of creeping defeat in the long battle I am fighting, of “progress” along the slow slide into disability — without feeling judged.

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  • Good food for thought here David. So often people don’t have an idea of the scale of disability. It’s not black and white, wheel chair or mobile, but a whole scale in between. I’ve had people suggest that I should get a disabled badge. I haven’t. As was your experience prior to how you’re doing now, I don’t need it. If I had an MS episode like the one I had three years ago, it would be very useful though. I limped a lot then so maybe people would have gotten it. Maybe not. It’s so easy to judge. Hard when we have an illness that doesn’t always show itself on the outside either. The criteria isn’t there to be judged. I worked for years with adults with disabilities and so had a disabled parking badge for the work car. I remember once the disabled spaces were taken so we were forced to park quite far away. It was a struggle. When I saw a disabled space free I left the rest in the supermarket and quickly moved the car. Of course I ran to the car and then moved it to the disabled space. I later realised that a couple were looking at me and pointing and looking very annoyed. I went back to my group and realised that the man was following me. Of course, once he saw the people I was supporting, his face cleared and he slinked away. I understood his reaction. It didn’t look good. But sometimes we don’t have all the information. It’s hard to be judged. I hope that you will have days when you can celebrate not needing to use that badge. For the days when you do need to use it, I hope that it feels like a support and not another battle to face. It’s good to raise awareness. Not everyone that needs to use a disabled badge is going to look like they need it. I will share this post on twitter.

    • Good thoughts, Rachel. So can you tell me, why did you not get the badge years ago when you might have needed it? Just curious.

      My approach has been to try to get one when I think I’ll have days when I need it. Even if docs don’t think I look like I need it in the office, the very next day could be way worse.

      Ultimately I have to decide for myself. I used it at the hospital two days ago for my infusion. Haven’t used it since, but tomorrow is another day.

  • Kevin

    Hi Dave,
    In truth, people just need to be introspective and work on their own disabilities. Not one is righteous. All are sinners; therefore, each person is disabled to some degree from one to another. Sin is the root of pain and suffering. Disabilities is not a disciplinary judgment from God! Hope your transition of the handicapped parking placard becomes easier to deal with. God and you know what is true Dave and that is what really matters. Some people are just down right cruel and I know this from first hand experiences. Stay positive Dave.

    • Thanks, Kevin. Sometimes a good old fashioned “chin up, boy” is good for the soul. I appreciate it.

  • Kim Nebel

    I’ve noticed a shift in myself lately, where the negative thoughts of others really don’t bother me. I don’t care about others any less, just don’t care when they have negative thoughts about me. It also doesn’t effect my positive desire for good things for them, even when they are down right mean to me. I’m going to be praying that this delightful attitude covers you like fairy dust my dear brother, as I’m pretty sure that it’s a Holy Spirit thing, and showering you with blessings, I’m quite sure is one of His favorite things to do, as you are quite precious in His eyes I know it with a certainity.

    • Good thoughts, thanks Kim. Yes, it is good to walk through this world fairly unconcerned with what others think about us. I think the problem I’m detailing here is that suddenly (and perhaps temporarily, perhaps not), who I am in the world has changed — in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. On a certain level, of course. And so now, as is so often the case, I have to go back and do some of my work over again.

      My other thought is that I wrote this piece, as usual, to teach and inform people, so that those who may not connect or relate to disability can see it in a new way. To that end, I think I was able to describe an aspect of the handicapped experience that healthy people might not consider, and so — even as I do my work — I hope people can learn from my experience.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Kim Nebel

        Yes, it provides very good and much needed insight into what disabled people experience and how they are judged. So many disabilities can’t be seen with the naked eye, and yet we are all so quick to judge when we see someone getting out of a car parked in handicapped space, or hear of any benefit they are receiving that we aren’t. You continue to be a blessing and beacon of light. On a different note, should you have put so much personal info (drivers licence no, date of birth, etc ) on the internet? Thinking in terms of identity theft

        • Thanks for the heads-up, Kim, that had not even occurred to me. Notice I took your advice and blackened out a few of those details!