I Waited 14 Years to Find a Parking Spot

Katie Avatar

It’s been 14 years since I was injured and ill, but as I’m now awaiting my delivery date for my new powerchair next month (!) I am just now applying for a disabled parking placard. 

Getting the placard was something I’ve kept putting off and pushing to the back of my to-do list…for years. I’d have friends and family ask “Why don’t you have a parking placard? You NEED a parking placard!” And I would just respond with a meek “Yeaaaa….I know.”

Why was I stalling on getting this assistance? It was just a little piece of plastic, but it represented so much more. Why didn’t it seem like help to me at all, rather, something scary and anxiety-inducing?

There were a lot of reasons why I kept putting it off. One was certainly my pride, especially when I was in college. I worked hard enough to feel confident hobbling around my university campus with a cane and a rolling book bag, then there was the huge TLSO back brace. Why call more negative attention to myself with a special parking spot?

Another reason was practical, it was that I wasn’t always disabled by my conditions. After my fusion at 23, I had a few spectacular years with minimal pain, lots of energy and strength. I still dealt with symptoms but I didn’t feel disabled at all, so I didn’t feel like a disabled parking placard was needed. I loved to walk, it was how I recovered from surgeries and it made me feel strong. The more the better! It was good for me to walk.

Then my health started flaring up again in 2013, and the thought of getting a disabled parking placard entered my mind more seriously. However I still always felt this reluctance to do it. What if they wouldn’t give it to me? What if they said I was too young? Would I be viewed as lazy? What if I wasn’t disabled enough?

A few weeks ago I realized with the powerchair coming I didn’t have a choice any longer, so I printed off the placard paperwork and took it to my internist. She promptly filled it out during my visit, it was painless. She also gave me a prescription for a placard too just in case I needed the documentation. As I pulled away from the DMV a few days later, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t so bad. Why was I so anxious about this?”

I had to take a hard look and remind myself that there was a time I wasn’t comfortable calling myself disabled despite being so. There was a time that the judgment from others, their harsh looks and pitiful statements were too much for me to bear internally despite the rock hard armor I’d wear out into the world every day. I couldn’t even talk openly about my disabilities, how could I possibly ask for help?

I had to remind myself that there was a time that I felt it was easier for me to limp along than to feel humiliated by a world that looked down on me for something I couldn’t control. And for me, that parking placard represented that “othering” that I didn’t want to feel. But as it does, life forced me to open that door and face that fear head-on.

I’m not perfect, not by a long shot. I can strut with my mobility aids, big bright hair, and colorful clothes, but I too am human underneath it all. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I often fall into the dark gap that seems to exist between disabled people and the rest of the world. The place where misunderstandings, judgments, ignorance and harsh words strangle any common decency that tumbles into it.

But I’m tired of falling into the gap and the gut-dropping, joint jarring, heartbreaking hurt of it all. I want to build a bridge instead. A fully accessible one!

This process has made me look at my fear in the face and embrace it, and I have remembered that my light is my own, and with all its flaws and beauty, it shines like no one else’s. Only I can keep it going and staying true to myself is the best way to keep it burning no matter what. 

I know there are other little girls out there, teenagers and young women like myself who are gritting their teeth and making hard choices on a daily basis that most people can’t fathom having to deal with. We face embarrassing situations, procedures, questions, interrogations from strangers and have our medical history demanded of us by random unqualified busybodies. We’re doing the best we can to bridge the gap of understanding in a world that doesn’t always understand us.

My takeaway from all of this is to give myself and others the compassion I would want to receive from a stranger. If I want to lead by example then being kind to myself and getting that damn placard was a good first step.

There are enough judgmental people out there giving themselves heartburn with their scalding assumptions and gaslighting-infused stress pains. Let’s make a better effort to understand one another and appreciate our differences instead. We all have our worries, challenges, heartaches, and hunger. We don’t know what each other is going through, but we all know everyone is going through something – that’s how life works. A kind smile costs literally nothing, why not share that instead of criticism? I know I want a life filled with love, understanding, and compassion, so I’m parking it right here.

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