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Pardon me; are those my shoes on your feet?

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Opinions, everybody’s got one. Some are hurtful, some are helpful; sometimes one really does have to be cruel to be kind.

But all too often, it’s none of their business.

Catch me on the wrong day, the wrong way and in the wrong place and it’s time to bring out the shoes.

No, I’m not talking about an episode of Jerry Springer, although there are times when it is a tempting thought, but only for a momentary lapse of reason.

I am talking about bringing out the proverbial shoes, specifically, whose shoes are on my current critic’s feet. So far, I have yet to find a single person wearing my shoes, let alone walking in them. Yet they still feel compelled to pretend they know what they are talking about.

Today I feel compelled to tell them, “game over”.

To all of the self-righteous out there, allow me to enlighten you; first impressions are not always as accurate as you choose to believe.

“When I was raising my children…” is a popular one, isn’t it? Quite frankly, I don’t give a rat’s behind if you raised your kids 15 years ago or your last one left the nest 15 minutes ago, unless I see my shoes on your feet, you better get stepping in the ones you’ve got.

You may not like the way mine feel.

Okay, you might be thinking, most of these parental intruders’ intentions are well meaning. True, perhaps, but we have all heard about the road paved with good intentions, yes?

I am, however, hard pressed to find any excuse for the next group of offenders, whom, for the purpose of this article, I shall refer to as profilers.

The profilers are people who judge you based on strictly what they see. They seem to be born with some sort of genetic abnormality that does not allow them to distinguish what they think from what they know.

They also seem to believe they have some divine right to take their warped perceptions directly to the perceived offender.

One of their personal favorite causes involves handicap parking spaces. If you think you may fall into this well-meaning category, please allow me to enlighten you.

There are many reasons that someone needs to utilize handicap parking, some are obvious and some aren’t. But if someone has a handicap placard hanging from their rear view mirror, one can rest assured they didn’t buy it at Wal-Mart or pick it up during a K-Mart blue light special.

A physician has to fill out a small stack of paperwork, and one must meet certain medical criteria in order to qualify. In other words, even if your doctor feels you are impaired enough to warrant this courtesy, state bureaurocrats still have to approve it.

Anyone who ever had to deal with the government on any level, which is nearly everybody, please consider yourself enlightened.

Don’t want to take my word for it? Allow me to introduce you to something called Invisible Disabilities.

There are over 50 such diagnoses, and they are deemed invisible because their symptoms are subjective, meaning how a person feels is not always seen. Objective symptoms are what everyone recognizes, as they are clearly visible to the naked eye, such as someone who is wheel chair dependent or someone who uses a cane.

The term ‘invisible disability’ has been around for a long time. The Invisible Disabilities Association, founded in 1997, has a wealth of information on the subject.

For those of us who suffer from invisible disabilities such as fibromyalgia, MS, or Crohn’s disease, to name a few, we often find ourselves explaining to someone that we need that parking space or those front seats on the bus, if we do not drive or cannot drive that particular day.

It comes down to good days and bad days, but to explain it to a healthy person, I think a more accurate description would be bad days and better days. Good days would be symptom free; hence they don’t exist in the world of the invisible sufferers.

The better days are when you see us parking in that coveted space near the front of the store or sitting at the front of the bus where we have a little bit more room to maneuver or to avoid falling on our faces by trying to walk further back while the bus is moving. Drivers have a schedule to keep, and many of them will take off before all the passengers are seated.

More often than not, our bad days often follow right behind our better days, because we push ourselves to be as independent and productive as possible on our better days. In the simplest terms, we over do it. Why?

Because, sadly, profilers are not always strangers.

All too often, our harshest critics are those in our own inner circle, and it’s less stressful to try and do everything ourselves rather than open ourselves up to all that drama. The stress exacerbates our symptoms, and it becomes a classic catch 22 situation.

Fortunately, I have paid my dues on a personal level, but I don’t feel I owe the world an explanation every time I leave my house.

What is even more insulting are the times when someone is beginning to chastise me for parking in a handicap space and then stop in mid-sentence to apologize only after they see my husband exit the vehicle, with his cane. Suddenly, it’s okay, because they think we are parking there for him.

The funny thing about it is that I often need the shorter walk more than he does. We have a running joke about the fact that I have to struggle to keep up with him.

But that joke got old pretty fast.

And then one day it happened.

Profiler: “Hey, lady, you shouldn’t be parking there; that space is for the handicapped.”

Me: “Are those my shoes on your feet?”

Profiler: “What?”

Me: “The shoes you are wearing; are they mine?”

Profiler: “Well, uh, no, of course not.”

Me: “Well, I thought maybe you were confused.”

Profiler: “I’m confused?”

Me: “Well, yes. If you aren’t walking in my shoes, then how do you know how I feel or whether or not I have the right to park here?”

The puzzled look on that man’s face was priceless as he walked away and at a temporary loss for words. I got quite a good laugh out of it.

More important, however, was how good it felt to know I got him thinking. The seed I planted has the potential to grow into a mighty oak of awareness one day.

At least, that’s what I would like to believe.

So, the next time some well-intentioned fool oversteps his/her boundaries with you, just get out the shoes. I have yet to find anyone willing to step in mine.

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