By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC
What a stranger meant as a demeaning insult, 21-year-old Harley Skorpenske and her mother have turned into good.
Last year, while getting into her car outside a drug store near Ohio State University, Skorpenske noticed someone had left a note on her car, which was parked in a handicapped spot. The note read, “You should be ashamed. When you take a handicapped spot an actual disabled person suffers. You were not raised as you should have been.”
It was the third time Skorpenske had received such a note. Outwardly, she doesn't appear to have a disability. But due to having lupus, she often has severe hip pain from missing some cartilage and, right before the note was written, had the same lung collapse three times within a 30-day period. She can't walk long distances.
According to the National Institutes of Health, lupus is a “serious and potentially fatal disease that mainly affects young women.” Nine times more woman than men have lupus. It can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain.
In a telephone interview, Skorpenske said, “I've tried understanding where people are coming from (when they write such notes), and realize that a person parked in a handicapped spot and looking normal can be difficult for people to understand. I think the person writing the note was trying to advocate for the people she thought really deserved the spot.”
Her mother also read the note and answered back with a Facebook post that went viral, receiving more than 300,000 shares. Skorpenske said, “My mom has seen everything I've been through. She struggled with the note more than I did. She wrote a very long open letter to the person. The letter gives details of my health problems over the last two years. (My mother) talks about hidden illnesses and how someone may need a handicapped spot and not look like it.”
For years, Skorpenske had dreamed of medical school and becoming a physician, but changed her mind after realizing the stress medical school might cause her. Elevated stress often can lead to lupus “flares,” when symptoms become especially problematic. She now is a zoology major at Ohio State.
She advised people recently diagnosed, “Pace yourself, learn your triggers, and be willing to give yourself a break (from stress). You will need to relax and stay in bed at times. That needs to be done.”
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