To the people who’ve made me feel guilty for using the disabled toilets,
I know what you see as I open the door to leave the disabled toilets. You see a young girl, whose legs and arms work just fine. You see a young girl, who’s dressed well and had time to do her makeup that morning. You see a young girl, who looks just fine.
You see a young girl, who looks healthy.
I know this. I know this from your judging eyes, the way you look me up and down with a sneer. You don’t even need to say anything.
Though sometimes, you do. You’ll tut under your breath in disgust that a young girl has used the disabled toilets when there looks to be no need.
You’ll make a comment on my being physically abled to your friend, as they nod in agreement.
You’ll approach me and tell me off for using something that I’m not in need of, even questioning my need for using it.
Worst case scenario, you won’t even let me explain myself through shouting at me, disgracing me in public in front of a crowd of people who assume I’ve taken something from a person in need.
When I first started using the disabled toilets, I wasn’t worried about it. I’d been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, and after my bowel nearly perforated I was operated on and given a stoma bag – I knew the use of disabled toilets would be something I’d need when out in public.
When I lived with a stoma bag, the disabled toilets were a necessity for me. I needed the space to change the bag – and the changing table to ensure my products had a sanitary place to sit. I was sure people would rather this than watching me change it in the public toilet sinks.
After having my stoma reversed, I continued to use the disabled toilets. Due to the side effects of the operation, I needed to have privacy, and again, a sanitary environment to put aside products I was using for treatment.
I wasn’t just using the disabled toilets for the sake of it. I was using them because it was much easier to sort myself out in a larger room than it was in a tiny cubicle as people huffed outside because I was taking too long.
But the bottom line is, I was allowed to use the disabled toilets. I am both a ‘Can’t Wait’ card holder and I also have a Radar Key – a key that gives me access to thousands of disabled toilets across the UK. I had been given actual permission to use the toilets because I live with an invisible illness.
But unfortunately, some people don’t get that.
Even when I’ve explained my situation to strangers, strangers like you, my needs have been disregarded because I’m not in need of a wheelchair or a walking stick. You disregard my needs because I’m young and therefore assume I’m healthy.
And because of this, I have over time grown weary of using the disabled toilets. I’ve grown fearsome of using them, in fact.
The comments, the stares and the tuts have become too much to bear. I can no longer use a disabled toilet without worrying about who’s going to be on the other side as I come out, what presumptuous comments I’m going to be subjected to and whether I’m going to be shouted at or not.
These experiences have deeply hindered my health progress, both mentally and physically. From being made to feel so embarrassed and so guilty about using the disabled toilets, I’ve developed ‘toilet fear’, which as discussed in a recent blog post, has left me seriously blocked up inside.
But it doesn’t matter how much I try to change this – the awful comments are far too prominent in my mind.
Recently, so many supermarkets have been trying to make it easier on those of us who live with invisible illness, by introducing disabled toilet signs that depict those who are physically able.
But while it’s a start, it’s still not enough.
A real change can only come from you. You who refuses to believe that disability comes in all shapes and forms.
You who’s convinced yourself that it’s okay to shame someone for using a disabled toilet without even knowing their story.
You who believes it’s okay to dictate whether someone needs to use the disabled toilets or not.
The sooner you come to understand that the disabled toilet is a necessity for more than just those who are physically impaired, the sooner those with invisible illness, including myself, will stop feeling scared about – or even guilty for – using them.
Please, if you see a physically-abled person leave the disabled toilets, remember that not all illnesses are visible. Remember that that person is probably terrified of the looks and comments they’re going to receive just for using them.
Be a person who gives them a smile, instead, letting them know that you understand that despite them looking well on the inside, their needs for the disabled toilets are just as important as those who present disability on the outside.
They’ll thank you for it more than you’ll ever know.