I had an interesting encounter on the weekend that reminded me of the realities of living with an invisible illness or a hidden disability.
So I was at Canada’s Wonderland (did you expect me to be anywhere else?), using up a free “fast lane pass” I had been given as part of my 2016 Season’s Pass renewal (hell yeah, for perks!). For those who aren’t aware, the fast lane pass allows the person carrying the pass to skip the regular queue, thus getting you on rides faster.
While I’d normally request a boarding pass during my visit, there really was no need to get one on that visit. Because of the pass, I could get on any ride in under 20 minutes or less, allowing me to empty my pouch without any issues (and I did empty my pouch 3 or 4 times during my visit).
Now, there are several types of boarding passes, with the most common being one they give to parents of kids with Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder. There’s another pass for medical disabilities, too, which is the one I’d normally get. My reason for getting a boarding pass is that I can’t wait 1-2 hours for some of the more popular rides without having to use the bathroom (and losing my spot in line), so the pass allows me to get into a virtual line based on a ride time; it’s a completely valid reason for getting a pass, and the park has no trouble issuing one to me or any other ostomate who requests it.
I visited the park alone, and was really enjoying some big coasters, when rode with a guy who was probably in his 50’s – Stewart is his name. He was an interesting guy who also loved coasters, so we really hit it off. We ended up running into each other a few times during our visit, as we were both frantically trying to get on as many rides as humanly possible.
Near the end of the evening, we spent a good hour or so riding together, and chatting about everything from theme parks to raising kids (and grandkids). While in line to get on the front row of Leviathan, the biggest coaster in Canada, we were told by the ride attendant that we would have to wait for the next train to arrive because there was a family using a boarding pass ahead of us.
Stewart turned to me and said (and I’m paraphrasing here): “I don’t know… they don’t look disabled”.
I turned to him, smiled, and said: “You know, if I didn’t have this fast pass, I would be using my boarding pass, too, because I’m also disabled”. And after explaining a bit about my ostomy, and my inability to control bowel movements because of it, I think he understood that there’s often more than meets the eye.
It was pretty cool to be in a situation where I’m able to offer some insight into the lives of people with a hidden disability. I’ll be honest, I don’t notice the eye-rolls, and comments coming from others who have to wait an extra few minutes while I use my boarding pass, but I’m almost certain that it happens a lot – we are very often being judged.
This is why I feel that public awareness of ostomies, IBD, and other invisible illnesses is always needed. Sometimes, when we “don’t look sick“, it only takes one person to change someone else’s perspective, and that benefits everyone.
So the next time you have an opportunity to talk about your hidden illness or disability, do so proudly, because you have a chance to turn prejudice into understanding.
I’m thinking that the next time I visit the park, I’ll be wearing my “Ask Me About My Ostomy” t-shirt!