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I'm No Longer Ashamed of Using Disability Parking With an Invisible Illness

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

These are the words I heard recently as I approached my car. They were coming from a woman who had just exited the same store I was in and was walking to her car a few spaces away from mine. At first, I had no idea why this woman was saying these words to me. As I approached my car, I realized she was scolding me because I was parked in a disability parking space. This was not the first time this had happened. It certainly will not be the last time.

I have several chronic illnesses that include an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, two neurological disorders, a lung condition, and a laundry list of other conditions. I do not use an assistive device. Although there have recently been several times that it is obvious I am struggling to walk, most of the time, I appear well on the outside. The inside is an entirely different story.

My symptoms, and their severity, vary day to day, and subsequently, so does my use of the disability parking placard. Some days I experience weakness in my legs, difficulty keeping my balance, or I may walk with an unsteady gait. Other days, I struggle with severe joint and muscle pain, bathroom issues, extreme fatigue, and breathing difficulties. On many days, I can experience all of these symptoms. This is why many chronic illnesses are also termed invisible illnesses; we look fine on the outside but are far from healthy on the inside.

Over the years, I have responded in different ways to these accusations, from becoming angry with the person to calmly attempting to explain invisible illnesses. Neither approach has ever yielded a positive result. I have found that engaging with a person like the woman at the store escalates the situation, and

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