Have you ever been out in town and seen somebody who looks perfectly healthy get out of a car they had just parked in the spot for disabled people or seen somebody on a mobility scooter park outside and walk into the shop? If you are anything like I was before I fell ill, you might think these people are faking and milking the system for benefits and attention, but you'd be wrong, just like I was!
This week is Invisible Disabilities Week. An annual awareness campaign where patients and activists share their knowledge and experience of life with invisible illness and disability. In 2015 I became severely ill with an invisible chronic illness. Before that, I was very judgemental about others when it came to illness and disability.
I believed that if people ate healthy, did exercise and avoided cigarettes, drugs and alcohol that they'd not get sick and that wheelchairs were for people who couldn't walk - the real issue was that I was simply ignorant of the realities of chronic illness and invisible disabilities. I just didn't know any better.
Chronic illness has completely turned my life and the lives of my whole family upside down, restricting me to my house and often my bed for years, but if you ever saw me outside, you'd think I was still completely healthy because my condition doesn't cause any physical deformities and cannot be detected visually. I have an invisible disability.
A year ago today I got my wheelchair! I was almost completely bedridden at the time. Walking just a few steps every hour or two just to keep circulation and muscles alive was a chore.
As a family we were house-sitting in the Lake District at the time. It was a long term arrangement, so was kind of our home away from home, but I had been confined to an upstairs bedroom and was unable to get out to see the countryside around me.
I would enjoy, for a few minutes, watching the birds at the feeders outside my window and the gorgeous orchids that adorned every windowsill. Although it was a freezing cold winter, I longed to go out and explore.
It's a strange feeling of gratitude, shame and even guilt as a thirty-something year old woman, who looks perfectly healthy, walks around a supermarket with a walking aid most commonly used by the elderly. When elderly people who are clearly struggling are walking around the same supermarket without any mobility aids, the looks you get cause all sorts of emotions to surface.