There is nothing more uncomfortable than looking up to find a dozen people staring at you! This was the feeling I had recently on my commute to work.
Breaking wind loudly, accidentally saying the word “lol”, swearing profusely at that last little green pig that refuses to die on the latest installment of Angry Birds, these are all valid reasons for staring at me on the train. Not that I would admit to doing any of these things… recently…
However this wasn’t the reason for the concerted looks. Nope, instead I was once again privy to the plight that is the ‘invisible illness’. That blind assumption that the normal looking 29 year old, is in fact ‘normal’. (Please keep the jokes in your comments to a minimum)
As someone with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), I am often akin to ‘bad’ days. This (fortunately) was not one of them. Nor however was it one of those rare days when I am pain free. It was just an average day for an average spondy.
About 10 minutes before the collective glare we had stopped at one of the busier stations along my route. Joining the normal melee of commuters was an elderly couple with accompanying suitcases. After 5 minutes a gentleman a row down from where I was sitting – very chivalrously – offered his seat to the elderly lady, as the train had become very full with only standing room left.
Now by this point in the journey I was away in my own little world, catching up on the news and my emails (read: playing angry birds) before my obligatory train ride nap, which I usually have to endure as part of my daily journey. I know, such injustice.
What I hadn’t noticed was the elderly gentleman was still standing. It was also quite apparent that his mobility was very poor, and he was clearly in need of a seat.
Being thoughtful, a fellow standing passenger shouted (loudly) down the carriage, “Can someone offer this gentleman a seat please?!”. A reasonable request, and she did say “please”. Even if her tone was the one she uses to tell her children off (assuming she is a mother of course).
This was the point at which I looked up to find people staring at me.
Maybe they weren’t just looking at me, but it looked as if they were. After a rather uncomfortable silence, someone gave into the social peer pressure and offered up their seat. Problem solved.
Some passengers at least had assumed I would do the good deed, being the youngest on my section of the carriage by a good decade. Was this wrong of them, most likely. Was it wrong of me to assume that I was worse off than the others, also most likely.
If someone had asked me directly to give up my seat that day I’m still not sure what I would have done. I’d like to think I would have. After all, he was clearly more disabled than I. But the atmosphere left me feeling very defensive and vulnerable. So maybe I would have tried to explain that I would rather not, and that I in fact have AS, a chronic degenerative condition. Maybe that would have helped spread awareness? Maybe not.
The Invisible Illness strikes again
That sounds like a really bad horror movie doesn’t it? Anyway…
Have you experienced something like this before? What did you do? What would you have done in my situation? Was I wrong to assume that others were more able to offer their seat up? After all, I was feeling hostile towards those that were doing the same towards me.
Is there ever a right way to approach “The Curse of the Invisible Illness” (Yet another bad horror movie title)? Should we take the moral high ground? Or perhaps take the opportunity to educate people about AS, even if it involves confrontation?
Or maybe, we should do the traditional English thing:
Keep Calm and Carry On