Heidi Tonning Rader of Haleyville, Ala., may have been laughing, smiling and seemingly looking healthy when she went to the store last June, but that's what invisible illnesses tend to do — make someone look outwardly fine when they're actually sick.
Rader didn't look like she belonged in a wheelchair, nor did she look like she was only two and a half weeks past a life-threatening brain surgery when strangers in that store judged her.
Tired of all of the assumptions, Rader had had enough. She posted a message to her Facebook page, which has since gone viral (and viral again this week) addressing those people who feel like they know the whole story just by looking at someone.
'To the lady who rolled her eyes at me ... to the woman who made me back up in my wheelchair a good 25 feet to 'let her by' ... to the cashier who became frustrated when she saw me 'roll up' ... to all the glares and whispers: Invisible Illnesses SUCK!'
In the post, she went on to explain how though she had no cast or visible ailment to validate her wheelchair, she still struggled in ways those people had no clue about.
"Of course you don't know I'm 2.5 weeks recovered from a life threatening brain surgery, or that I'm not allowed to stand for more than a few minutes at a time, or that I have severe osteoarthritis and 2 types of Lupus, currently in a flare," she wrote.
"Yes I'm smiling and laughing. I'm thrilled to be ALIVE! But you don't see the struggle I face daily to sit up in my bed, how painful it is to take my first several steps in the morning. You don't realize I have a migraine that NEVER ceases...ever...24/7, and that there is no cure for my rare type of migraine. All you see is a young woman in a wheelchair, with 5 children in tow (we actually wanted 7), and immediately place judgement."
She shared an image of herself in the wheelchair with her message that got more than 168,000 shares, which makes sense considering 100 million U.S. adults live with a silent illness or a disease not visible to the eye. In fact, 96 percent of diseases people have are invisible.
On behalf of herself and those people, Rader decided to take a stand.
'The point to my post is don't judge according to appearance. You don't know what a stranger's circumstances are,' she concluded. 'You don't know how difficult it was for them to swallow their pride and sit in that wheelchair. You don't know how difficult it was for them to get out of bed.'
After logging onto her Facebook page last week, Rader saw she had a thousand friends requests.
"I'm overcome with emotions, the strongest being sorrow. It hurts my heart to know that so many people relate," she wrote in an updated post last Thursday. "What if each of us set out to do ONE good thing EVERY single day? It doesn't have to cost a penny. Kindness is free. Smiles are free. We can ALL make a difference!"
As most kindergarten teachers would say: If you don't have anything nice to say (or do, for that matter), don't say anything at all.
Eye rolls included.