I wore my soft canvas slip on shoes, my steps not making a sound, as I walked through our local health food store. My shoes with a giant bow atop, to show they are a gift to my often achy feet, are loose fitting allowing for optimal comfort when comfort is impossible. Celery, broccoli, pink lady apples, and kale are on top of the list- juicing is a priority!
This health food store is what you would expect- it’s warm, the lighting shows energy conservation, it smells of vitamins and minerals, and the employees, though helpful, are mostly socially awkward. Over the years we’ve grown to know a lot of the employees and as a result they are awkwardly friendly and talkative. One guy always talks sports with my husband and with others we talk about our delicious vegan meals and recipes. My husband and I always used to always grocery shop after work and therefore were always together. When just one of us showed up to do the shopping there was always questions about the other. “Where’s your husband? Is he okay?” they would all ask. It seems now they are accustomed to seeing my husband alone and are surprised to see me with him. I often wondered if they assumed we were no longer together due to my sudden absence.
I walked over to the raw cashew bin when the woman with longer blonde hair (there is a woman with short blonde hair too) and a warm smile approached me. “Are you okay?” she kind of giggled and continued, “I noticed you were limping.” “Oh, my knees are bothering me today,” I explained not realizing my limp was that noticeable and continued shopping. She smiled, let off an odd audible laugh, and walked away. Ouch. I suddenly became sad, self-conscious, and acutely aware of my limp.
She rang us up at the register a few minutes later and I stood silently as my husband put everything on the counter, bagged, and cashed out.
As we packed up to leave, the woman said, “I hope your knees feel better.”
“Thank you, I have rheumatoid arthritis so it is what it is,” I explained.
“Oh, a …man that also shops here takes magnesium for that and it has worked wonders. You should try it!” she eagerly said.
“Oh really? Okay, thank you,” I said as my husband and I made a rapid exit. I was too tired and frustrated to educate.
Since I have been drinking oodles of magnesium. Only kidding, of course.
If only she knew that I am on crazy immune suppressing medications and that if something as simple as magnesium worked wonders I would already be taking it! If she only knew that I don’t have arthritis… yet. If only she didn’t hear a familiar word to then pass judgement and offer assistance. If only she did not awkwardly laugh at me as I limped through the store.
Though this was all initially hurtful, I know she meant well in all of her thoughts and reactions. My mom recommended that I say that I have an autoimmune disease rather than RA. Like all things my mom says, I think it is a wise suggestion. Perhaps it will bring more awareness/education and result in kinder and more sympathetic actions, reactions, and thoughts.
There is a staggering number of individuals living with various and often multiple autoimmune diseases however, our society in the U.S. are largely clueless. And autoimmune diseases aren’t the only medical concerns which are largely ignored- there is a hefty list. The key is to not pass judgement on someone who appears fine. That person who parked in the handicap parking spot who looks fine is not. That other person on the street with nice name brand clothing on or other device/thing that doesn’t match their supposed “class” has been through the incomprehensible. That person on welfare with an iPhone is not a stereotype for a “broken system.” Things are not always so simple. Things are not always as they seem.
I often walk, sit, and talk with no obvious signs of illness. I smile and laugh. I paint, shop, type, curl my hair, apply makeup, go to the movies, and eat out. But it is still there, all the time, even though it may not be visible.