Pulaski Technical College honors student Julie McGovern spent her high school and early college career balancing all kinds of sports, including cheerleading and track. A few months into this past year, however, she began to fall ill.
Julie could no longer do as much as walk to her mailbox without feeling fatigued and dizzy. She would get nauseous, have migraines, and often feel faint. While initially chalking her illness to typical “dorm life” sickness, she quickly began to realize that something was seriously off.
After going through a dizzying array of doctors, Julie finally got her diagnosis: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (more commonly known as POTS).
POTS is a sinister disease that renders the body unable to easily adjust to the pull of gravity when they are upright. This can make walking, doing chores, or even standing extremely challenging at times.
“POTS symptoms are always changing, they come and go, and appear in many different combinations. No one POTS patient is treated medically the same. The symptoms I have today, I may not have tomorrow. I can be fine one minute and on the floor the next. It is very hard to make plans due to the unpredictably of this horrible syndrome,” Julie said in a Facebook post.
Because of her diagnosis, a doctor issued Julie a handicap parking pass. She was terrified at the prospect of using it.
“I have always been afraid of what others would say and I often sit in my car until I felt no one is around so that they wouldn’t judge me or accuse me of using the system,” Julie posted.
And then, just recently, her worst fear was realized with this note that was left on her car window:
This hateful note, left by someone who didn’t even know her, judged Julie by her outward appearance. Surely nobody that young, and apparently well, could possibly need a handicap pass! She must be a fraud, a con, a cheat! And instead of confronting her themselves, they scribbled a rubbish little note and pinned it on her car.
Even in her academic setting Julie has faced an uphill struggle to get her disability to be recognized. She sat in a class where she missed several sessions due to hospitalization related to her POTS, and despite having a record of her disability with the University, the instructor was extremely reluctant to offer accommodations.
And more people have invisible disabilities than we may initially suspect. Roughly half of all Americans have some type of chronic illness. And of those, only 6% of their conditions are actively “visible,” whereas the other 94% are “invisible.” We are surrounded, everyday, by millions of Americans who are going through hidden struggles that all affect them in different ways.
Julie posted her picture and a message on Facebook in an effort to raise awareness of all invisible illnesses. Her story has been shared almost 200 times.
“A handicap comes in all shapes and sizes. Don’t judge someone by the way they look. If you are unsure, approach me and ask me about my illness. I am always happy to share my story and raise awareness, because if it reaches even one life or inspires one person, or helps many more, it was worth it,” Julie said.
She hopes now to stand up for everyone who is forced to fight for recognition of their handicaps. She hopes to get her undergraduate degree in political science and then work toward a law degree and advocate for all disadvantaged persons. She concedes that some days are hard, but quitting or compromising her dreams has never been an option.
“Sometimes people ask me why I don’t give up. Well, it isn’t an option. I can’t give up. I have to move forward and I have learned to show up and do my best and if today I did my best, tomorrow is always an opportunity to do it a little better. Give up? No way. I didn’t fight this hard and this long to give up easy. I will fight until the last battle is fought and I will be a voice to our story until every ear has heard.”