The First Time Someone Glared At Me For Using a Handicapped Pass

The first time someone gave me a dirty look for using a handicapped pass happened in the grocery store parking lot. I was wearing a fluorescent coral dress and nude pointy-toed heels. My stomach was growling and the cheap grocery store sushi was calling my name. I planned to rush in, grab some salmon that’s hopefully not crawling with parasites, and scurry across town in time for the writing class I was taking.

(Who am I kidding? I’m always late.)

Weird looks from a passerby

A guy wearing a blue grocery store vest looked at me and stopped pushing the row of carts in front of him. I smiled and gave a little wave. He looked puzzled.

This dress must be brighter out in the daylight, I thought to myself.

A woman in an SUV crossed in front of me as I shut my car door. Her eyes narrowed and her face twisted into a look of disgust.

My first thought was that I must be having a wardrobe malfunction.

My eyes swept downward. Thankfully, I was still fully dressed and had avoided flashing the entire parking lot.

Then the realization hit me.

Oh. I look like a normal person and I’m using the handicapped spot. They think I’m healthy.

They think I’m a jerk.

My prescription for a handicapped pass

My doctor first wrote a prescription for my blue handicapped pass 2 years previously. Back then, I looked the part. I had just been hit with a life-threatening neurological flare. As my brain unraveled, I lost my ability to walk. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t remember what I did for a living, let alone how to do it. I couldn’t read anything longer than a sentence. I forgot simple words like hairbrush and pillow. Sadly, I didn’t forget how to talk, so I chattered incessantly about everything and nothing until my caretakers’ eyes glazed over.

And then I kept talking.

My disease itself didn’t make me look sick, although anyone interacting with me would have known right away that something was off. To save my life, my doctor prescribed a high dose of IV steroids. If I had looked normal before, I certainly didn’t anymore. The steroids made my hair fall out in clumps until only a few stringy strands were left. My face grew round and puffy like a basketball. My leg muscles atrophied until I was barely able to sit up in my wheelchair.

Recovery was slow. It took 2 years for my face to return to normal. I still have stretch marks so deep I can feel the veins under my skin snake up my arms and stomach.

Managing judgment from others

At the time of the parking lot incident, it had been 2 years of blank stares from people who knew me before the flare and no longer recognized me. Two years of frightened glances from little children. The glare from the woman in the truck confirmed that I finally look normal, if not exactly myself.

During the months spent in bed, I wondered how I would handle it when I started to look better and people assumed I was healthy. I knew that at some point, someone would glare at me for using a handicapped pass while not looking handicapped. Maybe that person would even try to approach me. Maybe they would say something unkind or call me a name.

I had thought this would bother me. People’s misconceptions and judgments can be devastating, especially when you feel like you’re fighting a battle that only you can see.

I decided to take this woman’s stare as a sign that I was looking better. Maybe I don’t look like someone who needs a handicapped pass. But wasn’t that always the goal?

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