Chronic Illness and Blue Badge Struggles

Every wheelchair user, chronic illness fighter and blue badge holder have all endured societies ignorance at one point in their lives. Maybe several times or just the once but however many times it may be, it happens to all of us and its never nice to receive.

Blue badge holders vary hugely, with thousands of different diseases and disabilities being the reason we hold one in the first place – no one person is the same. In todays society, the majority of the public still seem to be just as clueless regarding the nature of chronic illnesses, as ever.

An illness has no preference nor does it care about the colour of your skin, gender, age or religion. It simply does not care about the challenges you already face nor does it care about wealth, height or weight. An illness simply does not care, no opinion is formed and no choosing is done. Any illness, any person, any victim to a deep poisoning within. If any illness can strike any singular person, why is there still a problem with the vast range in people who hold a blue badge?

I’ve had a blue badge since the age of just 13, a mental hurdle in itself dealing with yet another unwanted ‘aid’. I’m 17 now. I’ve been through two blue badge licences, of which both include an up to date, sickly pale teenager. When we think of a blue badge and therefor a disability, I can be fairly certain when I say this – the majority think a blue badge must belong a 90 year old granddad with crippling arthritis, hunched over, shoulders high, dragging his one leg behind him. Disability comes in many forms, that we’re getting better at understanding. The logical bit – disability means possible blue badge? Eh not so much.

Speaking as a chronic illness fighter and a blue badge holder of almost 5 years, I can tell you wholeheartedly that parking in a disabled spot thoroughly makes me nervous – here’s why. As we pull up to a spot, whether it be at the side of the road that requires a badge or the disabled bit of Tesco’s, I and whoever I’m with is instantly judged for that decision.

I can’t truthfully say it’s just the abled-bodied majority of the population that are doing the judging; the very community I’m apart of are probably the worst. Thankfully I’ve never received worse than head shakes or glaring as they walk on by. I’m lucky enough to miss the notes under the window wipers or the verbal abuse received by some of the chronic illness fighters among us, none of which is acceptable by any means, whatsoever.

After years of going place to place with my mum as my best friend, the pair of us have seen the head shakes and the evil looks thrown our way and have glared right back. Although it begins to get fairly tiresome and we shouldn’t have to put up with any of it in the first place, I’ve become increasingly nervous about parking in a disabled spot (if need be) by myself. Now I can drive, my blue badge is my saviour. Without it, trips to get a sandwich to bring home after college would be more than painful on the bad days that often make an appearance.

I’m not sure whether the fact I’m 17 is the issue, or maybe because I’m not always in my wheelchair. Maybe its because I can drive, I just don’t know. What I’ve noticed is the blue badge holders themselves, typically the elderly majority, see themselves fit to make something I benefit from, embarrassing. As I leave the car after setting the badge on my dashboard, I walk away knowing the people sitting in the cars are watching as they always do, and I wonder to myself. What are they thinking?

I have never once thought necessary to prove my health is what I know it is: not healthy. As I stroll past, I wonder if they watch the way I walk, the way I carry myself and the speed I do it at. I wonder what they’re accusing me of in their heads as I walk past their horribly parked cars, heading for the entrance. These thoughts aren’t built of nothing, these thoughts and worries are built from the stories we share among each other and the vile looks of disapproval and theft from the elderly and disabled.

I read an article actually related to an illness close to me. The lady featured in the news had fibromyalgia, and although she was in the wrong for what was told in the article, the comment section disgusted me. ‘If she can drive, she’s not disabled’ and ‘fibromyalgia – a way of cheating the system’, comments alike. Supported by hundreds of people, reading these comments only further fed my thoughts about the whole situation.

I can drive yes, on the bad days I don’t. To prevent the bad days, I walk as little as possible and even then, sometimes that’s too much. My legs work fine, they’re perfectly functional. Although I experience pain throughout my body, driving 10 minutes to get to town is nothing compared to the pain caused by walking. I’m supported in the car, my back can rest, my shoulders and arms too and my legs move very little in order to drive. Not all disabled people are paralysed, not all disabled people struggle to drive. Ever thought some people hold a CERTIFIED blue badge because their legs are weak, they pass out while walking or they have no balance?

As for my age, I can only assume it’s half the problem. It always is. Chronic illnesses can also be invisible illnesses, meaning my illnesses aren’t going to be painted on my face and no, I don’t carry a sign either. You can’t see the illness and struggle, but its very much there. Did you know I know more young people with chronic illnesses and disabilities than I do old? I may be young but being old isn’t a necessary requirement to hold a blue badge you know.

I think the problem lies in the disabled community itself. If we can’t show each other compassion and support, how can we as a community expect the abled to do those very things for us? Instead of making me feel uncomfortable for pulling up in a spot being the age I am and the way I am, think about what could possibly lie behind the smile and the steady walk. Instead of making me nervous as I walk past you, as you stand huddled outside Aldi, looking and whispering, get on with your life and leave me be. I think I can speak for the majority when I say we have enough to deal with, without the embarrassment of walking past a clearly old and disabled elderly and feeling targeted for parking in the same spot.

Just in case you’re incredibly uneducated or something alike, blue badges aren’t easy to get hold of. If you think they hand them out to teenagers, you need to rethink your way of thinking itself. It’s not easy and I deserve help for my many illnesses just as much as any other disabled being.

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