Something has been really bugging me for the past few days, and it took me awhile to be able to put it into words here.. This time it’s not so much about what I deal with, but more about how others deal with me. Or rather, us, those who are sick in their youth.
When we were little, we were taught to always respect our elders. Its like a mantra that is ingrained in our brains since infancy. I couldn’t tell you when I first heard it, but its been repeated to me throughout my entire life. And I get it, being respectful of your elders makes sense. But how did that start? Why was it only ‘be respectful of your elders’ and not taught just to be respectful of everyone? Because now I fear, that in teaching everyone this ideal, we’ve given some a false sense of superiority. Like bad behavior is okay if its from the elderly because somehow they’ve earned it?
Also, what is the rule for the elderly then? If all us younger folk have to be respectful and gracious to those older than us, what do they have to do towards us? Anything? No? Here lies the problem. It may not seem like a problem for most, but for those of us who are under the age of 60, and are living with chronic illness, it is one. Most of the elderly that I have been in contact with since becoming ill have absolutely no regard or respect for the fact that I am sick. They either don’t believe it, or flat out ignore it. Because somehow, I couldn’t possibly be ill or disabled if I don’t carry a senior citizens card.
My first example of this is from a couple of weeks back when a friend and I were outside a local mall. We were sitting on a bench eating ice cream cones in the sun, and watched as an older couple in their 50’s were pushing a young woman in a wheel chair who looked to be in her mid-30’s. It wasn’t clear what the young woman’s disability was, but her parents (I’d assume) were helping her sit at a table of an outside cafe adjacent to our bench. The older couple looked tired, but were diligently helping their daughter whom clearly couldn’t walk. I don’t know what it was about this scene that made me smile. Maybe just a nice reminder of support from loved ones, for those of all ages with disabilities. The smile faded however when an much older woman walked past them, and decided to speak her mind on how she saw the situation. I didn’t hear everything, but I did hear the older woman tell the young woman in the wheelchair that she should be helping her parent out instead of the other way around.
I was outraged. Especially, since this was not the first time I’d seen these behaviors. In the almost five years since I was diagnosed, I have been confronted with this quite a few times. And by this, I mean older people than I mouthing off at me or other young disabled people, about how we can’t be sick/disabled and shouldn’t rely on our elders.
I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there was a rule about not being sick before having wrinkles…
Another example of this happened to me just the other day while at the bus stop outside my local grocer. As I was waiting for the bus, I watched two elderly women in their late 60’s-early 70’s push their shopping carts past the sign that forbids carts from leaving the premises. They crossed the street, went down a block, and stopped at my bus stop where they abandoned the carts outside the front door of a local clothing store. A salesperson came out and while he seemed visibly annoyed, said nothing, and proceeded to push the carts back to their home. The women stood next to me with their grocery bags, and as the bus came into view I signaled the driver to stop. Now, I was taught to respect my elders, and I always let them get on the bus first. So, as the bus stopped and opened its doors I stepped back politely. This was not necessary however, as one of the women physically pushed me back with her arm, causing me to stumble, and said “respect your elders”.
ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME?
How is pushing someone you don’t even know, whom politely stepped aside for you, and then barking at them to be respectful, a gesture to be respected?? The bus driver asked if I was alright, and after picking up my dropped grocery bags, I boarded the bus and sat in the rear, as far from the rude lady as possible. They then spent the next five minutes I was on the bus, talking about how rude young people are and how they need to learn respect. This is where I draw the line.
No, I did not say something to the rude lady. I did, however go home and have a long think about how I would approach this blog.
Here’s the thing… Respect goes both ways. It shouldn’t be something we teach kids to follow just based on age. Because somewhere down the line, this ideal got warped, and not just in the eyes of youth, but in elders as well. Of course, I know these were isolated incidences. And not every single person over the age of 60 is rude to anyone younger. I have a lot of family and friends in my life whom have always been respectful of me, despite my age or disability.
But at what point did people of a certain age start thinking they were superior just for reaching that age? And at what point did the idea that a young person who is disabled, have less rights than someone who is elderly? Even back when I lived in Hawaii, and rode the bus there, I was often shamed by the elderly for using the disabled section on the bus. In their eyes I was too young to be truly sick or disabled. Like my illness didn’t matter because I hadn’t lived long enough.
Those of us whom are young and battling chronic illnesses should have the same rights as anyone else, age be damned. We shouldn’t be shamed by others for being sick, because trust us when we say, we don’t want to be. We don’t want to be using canes or wheelchairs, it embarrasses us that we have to use disabled placards on our cars, and park in special parking to get closer to an entrance. We didn’t sign up for this, and we had no idea it was coming, unlike old age. We don’t ask people to respect us, nor do we make a big deal about it in public. And we don’t teach kids to respect the ill or disabled, but we should.
Instead of teaching children to respect their elders, why not teach them to respect everyone?
And to the elderly who think I’m too young to be sick and disabled…I agree. I am too young, but that doesn’t mean I’m not. So please respect that.
This morning I took an interesting bus ride to my doctors office downtown. The bus itself was not all that interesting, and just once I’d love to get through one ride without the overwhelming smell of marijuana or bad body odor lingering in the air. I don’t understand why they don’t ventilate city buses better. Come on, it’s common sense. Bus jam packed full of people in various stages of smellyness, no open windows, and very little air conditioning circulating. Not to mention it being a breeding ground for germs due to the elderly and children never covering their mouths when coughing or sneezing. Yuck.
I’ve deviated..oops.. Back to today..
So I boarded the bus at my regular stop and sat down in the forward facing front seats that are technically in the elderly and disabled section. There weren’t too many seats open in the rest of the bus and I had a right to be there as much as anyone else. Though to avoid confrontation I kept my Disability Bus Pass out so if questioned I’d have proof.
After a few more stops the bus started to fill up even more. The front seats were flooded with elderly, though the seat next to me was taken by a guy who looked to be in his late thirties or early forties. He smiled as he sat, and put a bag underneath his seat and I noticed that he too was holding a Disability Bus Pass. This made me smile. Not because I rejoiced in someone having a disability as well, no one is happy to be sick or in pain, but because this man clearly had an invisible illness like I did. I don’t often see many people when I’m out and about that are like me, well at least not to my knowledge. We don’t wear signs displaying our disabilities and it’s not like there are beacons above our heads like in a Sims game.
After only one more stop along, an elderly gentlemen the who seemed very mobile for his age (he had pep in his step) boarded. He walked right up to the man sitting next to me and asked him to vacate the seat because it was for the elderly only. To be honest, the older man was a bit rude. The younger man next to me showed the older man his bus pass and stated that he was allowed to stay where he was as he was disabled. This clearly upset the older man. Loudly, he proclaimed that he was elderly and this seat was for him. I was quite surprised that he made such a deal out of it. There were more empty seats in the back that he could just as easily have sat in, and the sign above our seats clearly states they are for the elderly and the disabled, not to mention that he was moving quite well and without difficulty.
The man next to me stood his ground and politely refused to give up his seat, stating there were other seats nearby that the man could sit in, and that he was perfectly justified in his seat choice. He then turned to me and said “Our seat choice”, gesturing to the Disability Pass in my hand. I gave it a little wave to the older man and smiled awkwardly. By this time the bus was filling up, and the older man finally conceded and moved to another seat.
While I did feel uncomfortable for having to go through the awkward exchange I also felt liberated. Usually when I deal with people who are upset at the invisibility of my disease it’s alone, I don’t tend to have a partner in crime with me. But today I felt vindicated! Not only was it clear that I was not alone in the fight against invisible illness, but there were also people out there like me, who wouldn’t stand to be pushed around or shamed! Others would stand their ground like I did, like I do, all the time.
The rest of my ride was quite pleasant as the man next to me and I shared our disabilities with each other. He was suffering a head trauma from an accident, and carried a portable chair that folded up into a back pack. What a great invention, I exclaimed! I gotta get one for my growing narcolepsy! He smiled and was genuine and nice. He even pointed to my swollen fingers that not many tend to notice, outside of my doctors and my mom. He asked what type of Arthtitis I had.
When I reached my stop I was in a genuinely good mood. Today the world reminded me that I wasn’t alone. There are others that go through the same struggle as I do, and that its ok to stand up for yourself no matter what.
I’m not alone.
Not at all.
If you would like to help contribute to my cause, please visit my donation page, all help is greatly appreciated.