The French have coined a phrase, esprit d’escalier (literally: ‘staircase wit’) which loosely translated means thinking of the perfect retort for someone, but only when it’s too late to deliver. Most of us have had the experience of thinking of a zinger comeback to a nasty comment and wished: “Darn!! If only I had thought of that then..”  That ‘should have said feeling’ has been coming up a lot for me recently thanks to the large number of posts on social media about the hot-button topic of Handicapped Parking and Invisible Illness.

Essentially, this issue concerns the public perception of what it is to be handicapped, and the nastiness that can ensue when some people (mis)perceive that parking spots for the handicapped are being abused by those who are healthy and could park anywhere. This nastiness can be both anonymous, in the form of a note left on a windshield, or the too personal kind, the crude and mean comment made right to one’s face.

What are we, the Inflamed Nation, to do about this? We already carry the war within us, must we wage it without, as well?

The way I see it, rheumatoid arthritis has robbed me of a lot of things, but it has not taken the choice of reacting versus responding. If I get a nasty note on my windshield or a glare or a comment I have to choose what to do. Do I really want to get into it right now with a stranger here in the parking lot when my pressing reality is a tiny keyhole of opportunity to get in and out of the store for Ibuprofen and toilet paper and kid’s lunch in a fog of ache and fat-fingered fumbling? I am already feeling physically vulnerable and have about one teaspoon left to deal with this.

I don’t know about you, but when considering whether to use my handicap placard I have to do a little calculus first that involves the distance to be walked and duration away from the vehicle, the available number of handicap bays and alternatives, my current and anticipated flare level, my blood medication level, anticipated groceries or burdens and my general feeling of self-worth and validity in the universe at that moment. Because I am often able to walk without hindrance I carry a residual feeling of not deserving ‘handicapped’ status, even if I am having a major flare at the time.

Walking away will avoid confrontation, but if it this goes unaddressed it will be entrenching this as acceptable behavior for both of us. All the patients following in my footsteps will have to deal with this misjudgement and the vilification that it seems to inspire.

Not. OK.

How do I meet this random undeserved animosity? One delightful blogger wrote how she was brazenly humorous and innocuously bizarre in the secure knowledge that it is solely a matter between her and her doctor. It brought a grin to my world, but I can’t imagine myself with that kind of moxie and humor on a tough day. And I have to reckon in that a snappy answer taken the wrong way could get my car keyed while I’m in the store and who really needs that..?

I’m hoping that should this ever happen to me that I have the presence of mind to be kind, instead of outraged. If I just channel just a bit of my pain outwards it will get ugly in a hurry, so I’m wishing hard from here that I can take a few minutes and summon the peace of mind to see that here is a person vigorously standing up for disabled people. They may have a slightly skewed picture of what that has to look like, but they are on the right track!

How best to make an ally of this person sputtering indignantly at me? (Notes are a separate issue..) Well, calmly would be the only possible way for me because if I get all righteous and pissy they will get entrenched in their view and, well, that’s losing. So, perhaps I can acknowledge them for being a stand for the disabled and ask them what they expect disabled people are supposed to look like, and at what point on the spectrum does one get cut off. Wheelchair? Crutches? Cane? New artificial knee? Sprained ankle? How about eroded joints with bone grinding on bone? Stabbing pain with every step?

And then, sir/ma’am, who exactly gets to say who is deserving of this parking privilege? Both my Doctor and the Parking Division seem to think that I have a case.  Could it be possible that I look sprightly and able now, and that 2 hours of sitting in a movie seat will leave me hobbling like a 90 year-old? Let me introduce you to my friend Arthur (Arty to the inner circle), a ruffian of the Righteous Itis, and leveler of young and old alike. No, not like the arthritis in your aunties elbow that had her take four Tylenol that one time, but its psychotic slasher-novel twisted and sadistic cousin twice removed. Imagine Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ as a disease and you’re on the right track.

At this point I imagine asking if they had any questions, thanking them for the time to clear up a misunderstanding before politely excusing myself.

If only I can live up to that..

What do you think the best response is?

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