I was just abused at my local shopping centre.

Why?  Because I used a trolley (electric shopping cart in America) for three grocery items.

supermarketACThe items were two boxes of coffee pods and a three litre bottle of milk.  Three litres of milk is very heavy for me to carry, because I have a pretty severe case of rheumatoid arthritis.  My hands and wrists are weak, and carrying something that heavy is very painful, and not at all sensible.  I have dropped three litres of milk before, and if that bottle breaks let me tell you it makes a hell of a mess.

So I used a trolley.  The shop was packed, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand in line holding the heavy milk.  I believe that’s exactly what trolleys are for.

Because my ankles, knees, and hips are flaring (as well as my shoulders, wrists and fingers) the trolley is also helpful to get around the store. I use it like a walker. The truth is I always use a trolley, because it’s a walker in disguise.  I lean on it. It takes some weight off my joints.  It helps me keep my balance.  It helps me to walk.  Shopping for groceries is a huge task for me. One of the hardest things I have to do every week.

I try to hide my disability.  I try to hide my pain.  That’s my personal choice.

Today I was in a lot of pain. I should have just gone to my local shops and got the milk and coffee and gone straight back home.  But it’s my daughter’s birthday soon.  She is with her father this weekend, and it was a good opportunity to get her a (rather large) present, while she’s not around.  And get it hidden away!

So I went into town where, because it’s a rainy day, every man and his dog were shopping.

In every large group of people, you’re going to run across a certain amount of assholes.  Seems I have a talent for finding them. Actually THEY find ME.  Or that’s the way I see it.

This woman accosted ME.

I was in the ‘12 items or less’ express lane.  It has a wide aisle so as to be wheelchair friendly, so it was also wide enough to accommodate a trolley.

I placed my trolley at the end of the line, and a few people lined up behind me.  The line was long, and turned at a right angle, so as to allow people to get past and continue shopping around the long checkout queues.  A man on a mobility scooter didn’t realise the line was going the other way, and jumped the queue.  The lady behind me politely explained to him that the line went the other way, and the end was in the other direction.

I watched his face. Anger crossed it.  He didn’t move his scooter however.  I moved forward with the queue, around the corner, in front of him and closer to the checkout.

Then from behind the man on the mobility scooter came a loud female voice telling me that ‘HE was next’.

An old, sixty-ish woman was defending the rights of what she saw as the disabled person.

By yelling at another (invisibly) disabled person.  Irony.

Surprised, I politely explained that the queue went the other way, and that I was, in fact, next.  Just as the lady behind me had done moments before.

This woman started talking at the top of her lungs saying

“This man is in a wheelchair you know!”

Unsure if, and why, she was addressing me, I said nothing.

She then started yelling.

“Can’t you see he’s in a wheelchair?  And you’re there in front of him with a trolley for three items you stupid selfish cow.”

Three items.  Ok, she’s definitely talking to me.  Stupid, selfish cow. What?

In a normal voice (not yelling) I told her that I have severe rheumatoid arthritis and that I can’t carry three litres of milk,  it’s too heavy for me to hold, so yes, I use a trolley. I have been in line for a long time and I am in a lot of pain.  And that all of this was none of her business.

She continued to yell.  She told me I was taking up too much space. She told me it was wrong to use a trolley for three items.  She swore at me. She repeatedly called me selfish.  She created a scene, and she would not stop.

I have no idea why she chose to pick on me.  Is a trolley with three items in it really that offensive?

No one intervened.  We were at the checkouts, several staff members surrounded us.  No one even tried to quiet her down.

She continued to berate me, and call me names.  I repeatedly explained my disease and told her to educate herself.  She claimed to have arthritis. I told her if that were so, there would be no way she would have spoken to me that way, because she would understand why I need a trolley.

She would not stop talking. She would not back down.

I told her over and over: I have a disabling disease. I am in pain.  I am using the trolley because I need it.

She told me I should get a **** T-shirt and go wah-wah-wah poor me.

I was close to tears but I don’t think anyone could tell.

She started saying she was sick too.  She said she had sore shoulders.  She even said she was sicker than me.  She was sarcastic and cold and told me someone ‘my age’ could not be in much pain.

I’m  44.

I was trapped. There were people everywhere, tightly packed.  I seriously considered walking away from the damn trolley and getting out of there before I cried.  I again told her that my health, and my trolley, were none of her business. That she had attacked me for no reason. That she needed to educate herself on invisible illnesses.  That she had no right to judge me.  That she was being a horrible, nasty person for no reason.

She swore at me again. Called me a cow again. She said I didn’t look sick.

And I don’t.

I’m a nearly six foot red head, size extra-large.  I look healthy. I carry extra weight, but I look fit enough.  I have muscles.  And I usually have a smile on my face.

But I am also in pain.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  If I waited for the pain to go away to be happy, I’d be waiting a very long time.  I have worked hard to be happy despite the pain.

I do not deserve to be judged. I do not deserve abuse, for using a trolley, which, by the way, is what trolleys are for.

But why did no one stand up for me?  Why did no staff member stop her from accosting a fellow customer?

Because I don’t think anyone believed a word I was saying.

There were many, many people in the packed queues of people just wanting to get through the checkout and get home.  I hope some of those people listened to me, thought about it, and decided that they wouldn’t be so quick to judge in future. I really, really hope so.  But I don’t know.

No one supported me. Not so much as a smile for me.  No one was impressed with the loud, rude old lady.  But no one would meet my eyes either.  No staff member came to my defence.

How many other people were wondering why I was wheeling a trolley with three items in it?

How many other people were judging me? How many other people thought I was a selfish cow for taking up so much room on such busy day?

Let me let you in on an open secret.  If someone is doing something in an unusual way, there’s a reason for it.  People do NOT just do this stuff purely to annoy you.  You may not understand the reason, but there IS a reason.

Invisible illnesses are very visible, to the initiated.  A person may not look sick, or in pain. But it’s visible in the way they do things.  From their travel light handbags to their comfortable, unfashionable shoes to their trolleys with only three items, invisible illnesses are not invisible.

The meaning of these actions are just not understood but the world at large.  The reasons.

The moral of this story?  Take a moment to think before you judge.  When you see something strange, like a six foot redhead, size extra-large with biceps bigger than your boyfriends’s, wheeling a trolley through the express lane with three items in it, remind yourself that there’s probably a reason she’s doing that.  That few people go out of their way to make life more difficult for other people. Or want to ‘take up too much space’.

If you don’t understand the reason, there is nothing wrong with politely inquiring.  But if you start yelling at someone about how selfish they are, remember you might be abusing someone who is actually really, really sick. You might be abusing someone who is in a lot of pain. Someone who maybe spent last week in hospital.  Someone with multiple health conditions, who hasn’t quite kicked the pneumonia she picked up in hospital, after she got over the surgery and the collapsed lung and the pancreatitis. Maybe she’s someone who spends her life in and out of hospitals and waiting rooms, and maybe she doesn’t WANT to look sick. She sure doesn’t want to BE sick.  She just wants to be normal.  Maybe she just wants to get home, just like you do.

Maybe she has no business being in your way at the grocery store, but she’s a person too. Maybe she’s been trapped in her house for weeks and needed to get out to battle the feelings of depression that were creeping up along with the pain.  Maybe she spent all morning messaging all her friends trying to find someone who wasn’t too busy for a coffee, but everyone who is healthy has a life and is enjoying their long weekend.  Maybe she has a family too, but her marriage fell apart when she got really, really sick and her kids are with their father this weekend.  But if she couldn’t be with her daughter, at least she could get her daughter a birthday present.  And then maybe she remembered she needed a few grocery items.  And maybe she decided to grab them, even though she was tired and in pain, so she grabbed a trolley to get it done.

Without being abused.

Maybe…

Ultimately people believe what they see.

This is what I look like.  This is me.  THIS is what rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis and Sjogren’s Syndrome looks like.  This is what mixed connective tissue disease looks like.

Neenselfie

Arthritic Chick

You can’t see my eroded joints. You can’t see how much that hurts. You can’t see when my kidneys are failing, you can’t see when my liver enzymes are dangerously elevated. You can’t see pleurisy. You can’t see pericarditis.  You can’t see vision loss.   You can’t see the scars from my multiple surgeries, or cortisone injections.  You can’t tell how much time I spend in hospitals, and waiting rooms and in scanning machines.  You can’t see the fatigue and pain that just grabbing some milk and coffee causes.  Because those things are so simple for you.    You can’t see the narcotic pain medications, or the chemo therapy drugs, or the corticosteroids without which I wouldn’t be alive at all.   You can’t see the swelling inside my joints.  You can’t see the constant, ongoing, never ending pain.This is whalike.  This is me. THIS is what rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis and Sjogren’s Syndrome looks like.  This is what mixed connective tissue disease looks like.

And you can’t see my tears because I WILL NEVER cry in front of you.

You’ll see me smile.

I walked out of there head high.  I walked slowly, and I made it to my car before I broke down and sobbed.  Why I let that stupid, horrible bitch break me down, I don’t know.  It was a long, long time before I was OK to drive home.