THIS is what Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus and Ankylosing Spondylisitis and Sjogren’s Syndrome and Mixed Connective Tissue Disease LOOK LIKE

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I was just abused at my local shopping centre.

Why?  Because I used a trolley for three grocery items.

The 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 passed 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 quieten 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 item s 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 enquiring.  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.

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THIS is what Rheumatoid Arthritis looks like. Ordinary. Normal. Nothing to see here

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.

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.

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.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I am so very sorry…:(…Shopping for me has become a “Night-mare” to.
    I have RA and I use a cane, ALMOST a year now. (Broke My Heart) but I am okay…:(
    Sometimes I use a manual wheel-chair at a store I shop at, it has a grocery basket attached and I can sit down. Along with the RA I have a few other lovely co-morbidties.
    Sometimes I just wonder at the ignorance and rudeness of people, their lack of empathy or compassion.

  2. OH MY GOD!!!! I cannot believe what you have just gone through. Everything you have written besides the abuse part could have been written by me. I do all of those exact same things when I go to the dreaded shops. Only one time someone said something to me. It was Christmas time and I was shopping in the evening as it was so much cooler and I had to have a trolley as I just couldn’t go without. I didn’t have anything in the trolley and went into a sports shoe store as I knew I wouldn’t get through this shopping trip without orthotic thongs and the guy that worked there laughed at me when I walked in with the empty trolley and made some smart remark. I turned and said simply “I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I just can’t tonight” He smiled, apologised and helped me find the most comfortable and almost fashionable thongs. A very different response that you got. Obviously the difference here is the man I dealt with was born with empathy and had manners. This lady you came across is nothing but a selfish, self-absorbed, self-important, unsympathetic and sad excuse for a human being. You did an amazing job of keeping it together. The most unfortunate part of your beautifully written post is that people like this lady would never bother to read something like this and therefor will never understand what we go through every single day. I admire you for your strength to write about this and for allowing yourself to acknowledge your feelings – not everyone can do that. I really hope tomorrow is a better day for you xx

  3. I am so sorry that the world is filled with arseholes. My family tell me to strength my biceps when all my biceps have been cut and damaged by surgery. Not that it would help the illness any way. The show there ignorance when you say you have you have rheumatoid arthritis as if to say ah you got a cold. Do not understand that arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are light years apart and the one is an auto immune diseases. I was told also to bring my positivity to a do and not my illness. You hear it all. Why the hell do they think you depressed. Your brain works but your body no longer can function. Can they not see the stress lines in your face and look in your eyes and see the pain and misery it is to do a simple task like make a cup of tea.
    My dear God sees all and never jest that women may one day have our diseases as God has a strange way of justice.

    God Bless

    • To get such ignorance and cold treatment from your own family is heart breaking. And how dare anyone tell you to leave your illness at home…if only it were that simple!

  4. I cried when I read this cause I had a similar situation happens to me and my son. (Son has cerebral palsy and systemic arthritis). lady decided to confront me and shout that my son do not deserve a disable badge. Etc. I stood trying to justify my son’s illness to her. I was so upset and cried so much. The ironic part about it was that a few days before he was in so much pain he could not walk or even move his head. And the one day he felt well enough to go out we met her in the supermarket car park. Blessings to you. Arthritis is no joke. Continue being the strong woman that you are. I showed this to my son and he said “mummy I know exactly how she feels”….

    • I cried for you and your son too Crystal. That someone could treat your son that way! It’s hard to be the target of this stuff, but to watch someone abuse your child, that is so much worse. I’m so sorry that happened to you both. People are so quick to judge. What gave her the right to ruin your one good day? Its not fair. I’m even more committed to doing more to raise awareness and MAKE people understand. And if they don’t understand, at least they can learn to keep quiet! Wishing more good days for your and your son. Take care of you both xxx

  5. You are awesome! You handled the situation with grace and dignity. Invisble disabilities are hard. People don’t understand the difficulty you have to overcome each day because you look healthy on the outside.

    I had an injury and suffer with pain and inflammation on a daily bases and find it difficult to carrry heavy items or walk for and extended time or fast. Even my family sometimes can’t understand what I go through because on the outside or what I choice to let others see, look normal and healthy. Sometimes they walk far ahead of me and beck for me to catch up or look at me strangely when I struggle to walk up or down hills because I look fit, like I could run a marathon. But the struggle and pain on the inside is real. If they only knew. But unfortunately some will never understand unless it happened to them.

    Thank you for writing this article to educate others on invisible disabilities and when in doubt it would courteous to ask before assuming that the person didn’t nit have any disabilities. I wish you all the best and continue being positive and empowering others – you are awesome!

  6. I’m so sorry you had to go thru this. I can’t believe how strong you were. ISo many of us have to endure things like this far too often from strangers and worse sometimes family or friends. They don’t understand what we feel or what destruction is happening inside of our bodies.

    Our diseases need a serious public relations overhauls, actually all invisible illnesses need better recognition.

  7. Ugh. Some people are assholes. There’s no way I can imagine yelling at someone for using a grocery cart at the store. It’s not their business or their concern. What a jerk.

  8. Hun, i have been in your place before and i know it sucks. You did what you had to do. I get the same sort of behaviour everytime i go to the supermarket and park in the disabled spot. When i go to the gym and have to use the chair lift to get in and out of the pool!
    i get told off by old people for not really needing to use mt disability permit. But they can not see that my bones are worse than theirs, that i have metal rods holding my legs in one piece!
    I have been abused and i have had people be really really mean – even when i was on crutches! or when i was walking with a cane! People can be horrible. and yet if it was them they would be horrified.
    If you do make judgement on what or why someone is or does something chose your words carefully. imagine if it was you how would you feel. It sucks to be us. it is something we live with day in and day out. I used to even cop it from my own kids!

  9. Hi my name is Gustav
    I belief that there is a cure for most of what you have
    Although you would have to try it in the evenings be for going to bed
    I is a very good chronic pain killer and makes you sleep wonderfully
    It also has the ability to heal your body in many areas
    It has been legalized now in all 50 states of USA ,Canada and may other
    country’s all over the world. it is medical cannabis oil and Hemp oil or fresh juice from the Hemp plant
    Yes it does make you a bit high “cannabis” but if taken before sleep it is not experienced
    you can read a lot about it on the net

    • Hi Gustav, I have read a lot about Cannabis oil. I am definatley watching it as a treatment, but unfortunately it is not yet legal here in Australia. Thank you though, for your comments. I know it has helped a lot of people!

    • I know this is old but sadly there’s zero cure for RA. CBD oil does help with pain as does kratom (tea family, zero side effects, no withdrawals, can’t overdose-it stopped me being bedridden and I work 40hrs a week at a factory).

      There are natural ways to help the pain lessen. But RA etc is not curable. Hopefully some day, but unfortunately not now.

  10. I feel your pain. I too have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I’m 40 years old. I get stuff like this all the time. I get glares when I use my handicap parking placard. Those looks that say they just KNOW I’m using my grandma’s placard. One time I came out of the store to find a note place under my windshield wiper that read…”I hope you never REALLY need to use that handicap parking spot.” I sat in my car and cried for a good 10 minutes before regaining my composure enough to drive home….angry and hurt. I don’t know what I would do most days without the RA group I’m in online. They are my RA family. I hope you have one too! Thank you for sharing your story. I hope some people that don’t have RA will read it and the comments of those who can relate.

    • I do have an online support group. I have met some great friends online, people who really do understand. I have been told repeatedly I shouldn’t let people get to me, and that they are wrong, so I should just ignore. But when people are rude, judgemental, and SO outraged and SO (wrongly) righteous that thety leave NOTES on your windscreen…well, that shows that a lot needs to be done to raise awareness, and create a more compassionate society. It DOES hurt. It DOES upset me. It DOES make me cry. Partly because its so unnecesarry. Life is hard enough without selfish ‘do gooders’ who think all disabilities are visible. I’m glad you have some support. Sometimes you just need to vent to people who have been there. And feel better.

  11. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but it sounds like you handled the experience well given it was so unexpectedly rude. Recently I found myself correcting a friend who commented on how she didn’t thought a lady was just using a walker for attention just based on how she was moving about. I was quick to point out that she couldn’t see how sick the lady was on the inside, just like you can’t see how sick I am just at first glance. No one understands what it’s like to have an invisible illness unless they themselves have one.

    • Very true. It most often takes one to know one. But people can choose to be compassionate. I wonder what it was about the way this lady was using her walker was ‘wrong’ in your friends opinion? Good for you for correcting her. All opportunities for education and spreading awareness. Unless you know someone very, very well and spend a lot of time with them, you have no idea what their ‘real’ life is like.

  12. WOW. WOW. So many assholes concentrated in one place! Starting with the jerk in the mobility scooter who wouldn’t go to the end of the line and who later didn’t man-up and stop the bitch behind him from pitching that fit on his account. At least the store staff should have jumped in to straighten out who was next in line. Cowards. And that goes for the other miserable shoppers in the queue. As for the lady who wouldn’t STFU, if I were there, I would have intervened on your behalf. Normally, I’m quiet and avoid confrontations. But something like this would make me go on auto pilot and do the right thing. Perhaps that lady struck such fear into everyone there, as if she seemed armed and dangerous, so nobody was going to stop her. Regardless of your invisible illness, you should not have to justify your use of a trolley to anyone, nor should you have been treated with such utter disrespect and unkindness. I swear, some people just need to be sedated. There is no way to reason with them.

    • Yes, very true! Many, many assholes!!! (I guess a lot them probably thought I was the asshole…LOL!). But yes, I think its a really sad statement on our society. I’ll admit though, that I find it hard to stand up to people, and I’m not good at confrontations. I can’t think fast enough and can’t get any words out! But I am committed ot improving that. I have seen so much hatefulness and nastiness lately. It needs to stop.

      And on reflection, I was really loathe to say much about the guy on the scooter. But he DID kick off the whole misguided tirade from that woman…she thought she was standing up for someone with a disability. But he WAS just being an asshole. Being on a mobility scooter doesn’t give you the right to jump the queue. And he could have shut the whole thing down. Thanks David 🙂

  13. SO SO SORRY for your ordeal !! I also have been verbally attacked in the Grocery store. A MAJOR Bit** actually hunted me down in the checkout lines, just to do so. I do believe I was in shock the entire time she was yapping & flappy that nasty mouth, When she felt like she was done with me, I never even responded, the cashier was in as much shock, as I was, but she also knew my health issues & did say “MAM, she IS a very ill person that SHOULDN’T have to put up with people like you, PLEASE exit the store !! I Thanked her very much, while I sobbed like a big baby, NOT because of the rude one, but because someone DID understand & DID step up & DID do something on my behalf !! Hope you all have a PEACEFUL, PAINFREE day !! :):):)

    • I so understand, Joy. The rudeness and nastiness shock you into silence, but the kindness make you cry. I’m so glad that someone was there to stand up for you.

  14. I’ve been through this so many times that I avoid going out. People do not like knowing or looking at anything that might make them question their own health and future. I honestly believe that eventually the disabled, elderly, unemployed, walkers and wheelchairs will be ban from the streets like the homeless.

    We are already made to feel so bad about our disabilities we avoid being in public.

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