Many of us who live with painful diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis have experienced unpleasant reactions from people who think we don’t ‘look sick’ or ‘old enough’ to need handicapped parking. No one has ever made a nasty remark when I’ve gotten out of the car in a disabled spot or left a note on my windshield saying I’m some sort of faker, but I have been given some glaring and questioning looks.  Recently, however, I experienced a new kind of parking aggravation: someone parking on the stripes next to the handicapped spot.

hcparkingThe other day when I went to pick my kids up from their day camp during the holiday break, there was a woman, whom I had seen on several occasions, park on the stripes (which is NOT a parking spot) between the two handicapped spots facing one another directly in front of the building. The striped area is part of the handicapped spot and is meant for people in case they have a lift or need extra space to get in and out of their vehicles.

I needed the extra striped space.

I am not in a wheelchair but I was having a rough day, my hips were catching, and I was having more than my regular difficulty getting in and out of my driver’s seat

What was especially infuriating was that the parking lot was not too full and it would have been super easy for this woman to go several spots down the aisle and get a parking spot. But, I suppose that was too much for her.

I went inside and told the young woman at the front desk. She apologized and said she would speak to her manager. I went to get my kids and on the way out the manager stopped me and spoke to me about it. The gist? The woman was just doing it when she picked up or dropped her kid off at the camp, and it was really quick so she wasn’t there a long time and inconveniencing anyone. Besides, the woman was leaving right then and I shouldn’t have any trouble getting back into my car.

But I did have trouble getting back in because she leisurely sat in the spot next to mine with her car idling and no sense of urgency.

How do you explain to someone that a few inches can kill your hips and make it difficult for you to function for the next few days if you aggravate them in the middle of a flare? Or, that if you move in any kind of “limber” or unusual way that those same hips could lock up and you won’t be able to move them more than two inches in either direction? Or, having to slow down for a difficult movement puts extra stress and pressure on your hips which can cause sudden, sharp pangs that knock the wind out of you and causes you to lose your balance and fall—possibly causing more damage?

Maybe it just can’t compute for someone who has no idea what it is like to wake up daily and be at the mercy of your body. Someone who bounces out of bed on a daily basis, or can take a nap and feel rested, or can’t predict the weather based on the amount of pain and swelling coursing through their body has a difficult time understanding what it is like to be knocked around on a daily basis like a damn rag doll by the very thing that is supposed to house and support your endeavors through this life – your terrestrial abode.

So, now I look like a whiner and grumbler for complaining because this woman was being ‘quick’ –and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were labelled a petty jerk because I asked the manager to do something—enforce the parking laws in her own parking lot (which she was obviously unwilling to do because she didn’t want conflict).

I walked away angry.

I need handicapped parking and the stripes that go along with it, and shouldn’t have to settle for less.