There is often a lot of talk about how annoying “slow walkers” are. I have always fallen into the “annoyed” category since God gave me long legs at birth.
When I was 22 I got sick with a chronic illness — Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. It started off as a debilitating sickness. I could only walk about twelve feet without resting, and could only make the long journey up a flight of stairs to my bed once a day with the help of my parents and taking little breaks between climbing a few steps and sitting down to rest until I reached the top.
When I was finally well enough to go out of the house for a fifteen minute errand to the grocery store it was a big deal. I felt like I had this tiny piece of normalcy in my life, even though I felt constantly dizzy and nauseous.
Wegmans was my number one choice for a field trip, and I wanted to see if I could go find a salty snack and chocolate bar while I was there. One salty snack, one sweet treat. That’s it.
I walked to the dessert aisle first, as it was closer to the entrance, and my eyes grazed over dozens of choices. The room spun as I tried to read new labels, and my body started to gently sway. I knew I wasn’t feeling well enough to stay in this upright position much longer, but I was determined to be normal again — at least for a few minutes. I snagged a bar I thought might be halfway decent and took each step to the popcorn aisle as carefully as I possibly could. I didn’t want to fall, and I absolutely was not about to faint in public for the first time — not today.
As I put one foot in front of the other I vaguely noticed the bustling around me. I felt mildly panicked as I began to realize I shouldn’t be alone anymore and that my heart was racing the way it does when I’m about to pass out. My eyes slowly scanned the aisle, and I couldn’t feel my footing anymore. My feet were still planted firmly on the ground, but my head was spinning in circles.
“What the hell is her problem,” I hear behind me. I turn, dazed, as a woman my mom’s age firmly nudged me into the shelf that held some sort of food I couldn’t quite make out. It wasn’t until I was intentionally lying on the ground* to get the blood to flow back to my brain moments later that it all clicked. I was the one with the “problem.”
Tears welled up behind my foggy eyes. I had never been different before, and I wasn’t used to having a disability. No one could tell by looking at me that I was sick, but my body reminded me every second of every day that I was ill. The room kept spinning, but somehow I kept thinking.
I was a heavy mix of angry, frustrated, and devastated. Why aren’t people more patient? Why can’t we have some sort of label for the chronically ill so that people would know I need extra help? But wait, why can’t people just be kind to others in general and realize that you never know what someone else is going through by of the way they look?
These are questions I never really thought about before I got sick. I am guilty of complaining to friends about “slow walkers,” moody waiters, and distracted baristas. Having a chronic illness has taught me the very important lesson that just because someone looks fine doesn’t mean that they are. People can have a hard time for a number of different reasons, and instead of making their life any more difficult by making snarky remarks or getting frustrated, we should all take a minute to practice patience and kindness. After all, even if someone doesn’t need it, there is never any harm in being kind to others and treating them the way you would like to be treated. Sure people can be frustrating sometimes, but is the hustle and bustle and rush of life really worth hurting another human? Is whatever you are rushing to really worth upsetting anyone over? I think the answer for most of us if we sat down and thought about it would be “no.”
*This is a tactic POTSies use to ward off some of our symptoms and feel a little better, hence the “Postural” in “POTS.”