8 things you’ll only know if you’ve ever feared using the disabled toilets

I’ll admit it, I am absolutely terrified of using the disabled toilets. 

I never used to be – I felt as though I was totally okay to use them as I hold both a Radar Key and  ‘Can’t Wait Card’, provided by Crohn’s and Colitis UK after I underwent surgery for an ileostomy following a nasty bout of ulcerative colitis.

My key means that I can open virtually any locked disabled toilet in the UK, and my card means that should I need to use a staff toilet while in a shop, they should let me use their toilet (note the should, because not all staff members are that understanding).

But several times, I’ve gone into a disabled toilet feeling okay, and I’ve come out feeling absolutely mortified.

Why? Because my illness is invisible, and therefore nobody believes my need for the disabled toilet when I look perfectly fine on the outside.

Here are 8 things you’ll only know if you’ve ever feared using the disabled toilets.

You get a sense of dread in your stomach every time you head over to the disabled toilets

You contemplate what’s going to happen. Are you going to be in and out quickly, or are you going to end up being in there a while, only to find out there’s a whole queue of people ready to glare at you for ‘taking advantage of their needs’ as you do the walk of shame out?

You try to talk yourself into using the toilets in hopes of convincing yourself it’s okay

Of course it’s okay, but the way you’ve been made to feel about using them beforehand isn’t. Sadly though, time and time again we get so close to the disabled toilets before swiftly walking into the public ones where there’s no privacy for noise, no sanitary place to put your medications/cleaning products/stoma needs but hey, at least you won’t get called a monster for going in there, right?

You’ve been asked ‘Do you really need to use those toilets?’

I remember a month after my surgery and I was having to pop to the disabled toilets at lunchtime to clean and re-dress my wound. I needed to use the baby change in there to do this. But as I was waiting for another woman to finish, an elderly woman stood behind me. She kept looking at me, annoyed that she was going to be waiting even longer for a girl who looked healthy. Eventually, she couldn’t take it, and, in front of her friend asked me ‘Do you really think you should be using those toilets?’ I decided I’d had enough, and I replied: ‘I’ve actually just had major surgery to remove my large intestine and my stomach is currently bleeding so needs cleaning. But you go ahead though, I’ll wait.’ I’ll never forget the looks on both of their faces. It was priceless.

When you’re in the disabled toilets, you attempt to rush everything

The thought of someone waiting outside for you is too much to bear. Often, you’ll rush your toilet routine to the point it was pointless in you even using the disabled toilet. But you can’t help but fear the comments waiting on the other side.

People haven’t let you used locked toilets despite you having a ‘Can’t Wait’ card

While the radar key opens most disabled toilets in the UK, it doesn’t open all. And of course, the one’s that are still locked are usually guarded by people who have never met someone with an invisible illness. There have been so many members of staff in public places that I’ve had to explain my ‘story’ to, for them to completely reject me and point me to the public loos anyway.

You meet people who really do take advantage of the disabled toilet

Though it’s hurtful and has led me to becoming extremely anxious about using a public toilet, I can understand why people with physical disabilities are weary of those with invisible. I was once waiting for a girl to finish using the disabled toilets for half an hour – and it turns out she was just getting changed and doing her hair and makeup. Another time, I went to a festival after having ileostomy surgery. It was a bad idea. I was in the disabled toilet, and one section the public toilets had stopped working. There were still other working sections and only one disabled toilet. Of course, around 100 people queued up the the disabled toilet and attempted to knock down the door while I was in there. It’s these sorts of people that give people with an invisible illness a bad name.

You’ve been asked to prove your needs before

Some people just don’t understand that you can have a need for the disabled toilet without being in a wheelchair. And so, even when they ask you why you need to use them, it won’t be enough for them. There have been so, so many times where I have been asked to lift my shirt to prove my scars. One day maybe, I’ll find enough confidence to do that – but until that day, I feel I should in no way be made to prove to illness in such a manner.

The worst thing about everything, is that you actually feel guilty for using the disabled toilets

You begin to feel incredibly guilty for using the toilets. Not because you should do, but because you start to question yourself after being insulted by so many people simply for using them. If you thought you could safely and comfortably use the public toilets, you would. But at the end of the day you can’t. My invisible illness means that for the most part, when in public, the disabled toilets is my only option.

And I’m sick of apologising for that to people I don’t know just because they can’t seem to comprehend that an illness doesn’t have to be visible.

Words by Hattie Gladwell

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