So today I parked in handicapped parking for the first time in 7 years of attending our beginning of the year convocation. At 7:30 in the morning it was already hot and humid, and my back already hurt even after taking my 4 advil. I credit crashing all weekend, and finishing up an antibiotic (they tend to cause joint pain for reasons I do not understand). I suppose it is actual quite fortunate that for the previous 6 convocations, my back actually DIDN’T hurt on our first day back to work. Of course, this year it was actually our second day back, but that isn’t particularly relevant to the topic at hand.
It felt weird to park in one of those spots, and there were quite a number of them available. I had one of my moments where I hoped no one would see me getting out of my car and “looking fine” as I strolled on inside. Was it just that the entire district was gathering or was it something else that had this effect on me? I often park in a handicap parking spot at my office (the district’s central office building). So why was this getting to me now?
Parking Placard history. I have had fibromyalgia (or at least known I have had it) for over 14 years now. I have had Interstitial Cystitis for 13.5 years. But I have only been the privileged owner of the handicap parking placard for 7. In fact, before I met my husband, and returned to graduate school, it never even crossed my mind to get one. Never. Of course, the fact that it didn’t cross my mind was likely related to the fact that I used to see myself as someone with a chronic illness, but not someone with a disability. It wasn’t really denial, I just didn’t think of myself that way.
Along came the return to graduate school. All of a sudden, there were barriers in my path that I had never crossed before. When I went to college and to graduate school the first time (to get my Master’s), I was not struggling with these issues, so these issues did not arise back then. But here, returning to school, I was faced with situations that would put me in pain. For example, waiting in a line that was going to take about two hours to get a parking sticker. Two hours? Not only can I not stand that long without pain, if I left to go to the bathroom, I would lose my place. And then there was the parking issue itself, the lottery # I was given would have me parking and then walking substantial distances, in Louisiana heat, carrying books and a computer, every single day. I realized I could not do this every day. Some days, yes. Some days, not so much. It was at that point that my husband (then boyfriend) encouraged me to get a handicap parking placard. And I didn’t want to. I really didn’t. I felt guilty applying for one, because I saw myself as so much more mobile than people who got the placards. But I knew I had to, or face days of not being able to make it to my classes.
So, I got my first parking placard in August of 2007. I had my regular Dr. fill the paperwork out for that. It was my initial appointment, but they did have my previous medical files. And they didn’t blink an eye or question why I was doing it.
When I decided to leave school and return to work in TX, I debated not getting another placard since the parking issue would not be the same. But I knew that, given the pain I am sometimes in, and more to the point, the bathroom access I need ASAP when I park somewhere, I needed to do it. This time my new urologist did it, again, not batting an eye. I was surprised both times, I really thought they would question me, because, lets face it, a lot of people abuse the system and I look just fine thank you very much.
So now I am entering my 7th year of having handicapped parking placard privileges. Let’s face it, it is one of the few, if any, privileges someone with a disability has. And I try hard not to abuse it. If I am not in too much pain on any given day (yes, it happens) I park in regular spots. I reserve using it for 2 things. Days I am in pain or need that bathroom now, or days I am hauling a lot of stuff and there is no close spot, like at my office. Why my office? Well, for some reason we seem to have more people who are in the office at any point in time than there are actual parking spots. And some of those spots are not close to where I house in the building. And I haul a lot of things in and out, every day I am there. Frankly, I don’t want to hurt myself, or cause more pain to myself, with all that hauling, by parking further away. At this point, most people who see me regularly know I park there. And I have only gotten nasty remarks one time, a couple years back, from someone who I don’t even think works there. Of course, I am not the best at looking all around me going into and out of the building, so there may have been some glares.
I have a love hate relationship with the parking placard. I love that I can park close to places when I need to. But I hate that I have to. There are some privileges I could frankly do without. But we don’t always get to chose what privileges we are given then, do we?