No, I Didn't Steal Grandma's Disability Parking Permit!

I can walk, but I can't walk very far, and it's always with pain and fatigue.

I can stand, just not for very long.

I use a mobility scooter -- a small version of an electric wheelchair -- and walking sticks.

Limited as my mobility is, I am still made to feel like a faker.

I don't look sick enough. I don't look disabled enough. I'm too young.

If I get these comments when using medical aids, imagine what happens on the very rare occurrence that I don't use my aids and park in a disabled bay, which I am legally entitled to use.

You got it.

All hell breaks loose.

Just because I don't fit the societal constructed mould of "disability" or conform to how a sick person should look and act.

The much-used universal symbol for disability -- the wheelchair -- doesn't always reflect reality.

The definition of disability is often pigeonholed as someone requiring a wheelchair, or, at the very minimum, crutches.

It is so much more than that.

Painful, invisible conditions exist that entitle a person to a disability parking permit.

Unfortunately, as has been demonstrated all too often of late, these invisible conditions are often assumed illegitimate by strangers.

We are branded as fakers and con artists.

Told over and over that we don't look disabled enough to be entitled to a disability parking permit.

Left abusive notes by anonymous citizens on car windscreens.

When Justine, who lives with secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis, parked her car in a disabled bay in a shopping centre in Melbourne, she had no idea that she would return to a nasty, anonymous note. The note, with the words, "Did you forget your wheelchair?" was stuck to the windscreen, directly above her disability parking permit on the dashboard.

How could this be?

Simple: Justine walked into the shopping centre.

Our opinions and conclusions are greatly influenced by what we see.

If someone looks healthy, they obviously can't be too sick, right?

Too often these judgements are completely wrong.

I ask you this: Would you like to stop breathing on the idea that air, being mostly invisible to the naked eye, isn't a real thing?

No, I didn't think so!

Invisible illness, ghost illness, whatever terminology you want to use, manifests internally, destroying the body from within.

Many don't understand what an invisible disability is really like for a person.

Extreme fatigue, chronic pain, disorientation, dizziness, vision impairment, difficulty with mobility, cognitive issues, neuralgia...the list goes on and on.

We smile, we laugh and we get on with things, trying to live each day to the best of our abilities, to be happy.

Know this though: For all my apparent healthy appearance and sunny disposition, I am legally disabled.

I am battling a daily struggle. I am restricted by chronic pain, fatigue and neurological dysfunction including numbness, weakness and intermittent spasticity in my limbs.

As I recently described in a conversation to my doctor:

"My right leg has been numb from thigh to ankle for the past three weeks; my hands are tingling and short circuiting like a failing strobe light; fatigue has knocked the wind out of my sails; pain is having a party at my expense; the nerve burn is kicking into overdrive in my want me to keep going?!"

These symptoms aren't always obvious to the untrained observer, so even though my life is far from normal, I am often mistaken for having a perfectly functioning body.

And I'm persecuted for it.

We need to start assuming the best of people instead of the worst.

Don't jump on a driver with a parking permit just because they or their passenger isn't in a wheelchair.

As Justine, who took the note as an opportunity to raise awareness for invisible illness, posted on Facebook, "I am sick of people like yourself abusing me on my good days for using a facility I am entitled to."

If a disability parking permit is displayed, don't adopt the negative stance and assume the person has stolen it from their Grandma.

Yes, I understand that faking disabilities can and does occur, but I choose to believe that the number of instances is relatively low, despite what the media may report.

We need to advocate for the rights of the disability community, but abusing people over a parking permit they are legally entitled to use is not the way to go about it.

Reporting the Ferrari double-parked across two disabled bays without a disability parking permit might be a better place to start.

Bree Hogan is a certified holistic health coach and the founder of Starbrite Warrior, an online resource and support community for women living with invisible illness who want to do more than just simply cope. Visit Starbrite Warrior for updates, inspiration and a free eBook from Bree!

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