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He leaned over the table at Starbucks, all scruffy beard and intensity, what was left of his coffee now cold.

“You’re not disabled.”

I sucked in my breath. Bit my tongue. Pushed my chair back. Time to go.

In fact, I am. 100% military disability. Based on a whole lot of factors which, kindly, are None. Of. His. Fucking. Business.

This line of questioning had begun as I began to wrap up our date and drive to the local VA hospital all the way on the other side of town. East Kansas, we joke.

“Why would you go to the VA Hospital? Are you a volunteer there?” This after I’d clearly put military veteran on my profile. Guess folks don’t read. (Nope. They don’t.)

“I’m a military veteran. One hundred percent disabled.”

“But you’re not disabled.”

I got up. This conversation was over. Idiot.

I am beyond tired of people- especially men- who make declarations about my disability status based on the fact that I can hit the gym, ride horses, and do what I do in the world. That I am active, to them, is proof that I am just fine and dandy. Because I am over fifty and female, I can’t possibly be a veteran.

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I guess he’s a medical professional now. Huh. Funny, that wasn’t on his profile. A medical professional who can magically see my insides, the nature of my psyche, my heart, my soul. Magical. Shoulda put that on his profile.

As I said to my now-done date, “You have no idea what obstacles I have to overcome even before I even get to the gym.”

(A place he clearly had not been in years, BTW.)

Sometimes I get more than twenty hospital quality migraines a month. PTSD from multiple rapes. Makes hanging out with strangers a bit challenging. There are other things I juggle. I’ve written about them elsewhere on Medium.

My neurology PA (NOT a surgeon thank you) and I finally found a shot that seems to help prevent most of those migraines (Aimovig, works for some). That is a godsend. Otherwise, so many Imitrex shots a month I was risking a stroke.

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Yet still I work out. Still I work. Still I write. I have lost organs, I have hemophilia, rare for women but still. You just keep going. So what. I’m disabled, I am supposed to sit in my chair all day feeling sorry for myself and eating Chee-tos? Twelve cats and a cuppa cold tea? ION Television reruns?

My M.O for dealing with disability is to meditate, work out like a banshee, challenge myself, engage in distraction therapy, take care of my body better than most folks, and develop a sense of humor about what I cannot control.

Here is this total stranger, on a first (and last) date, demanding of me to prove that have a disability. Like he is automatically owed an explanation. Assuming that the only reason I would go to the VA Hospital would be to volunteer.

Of course I can’t be a disabled veteran. I’m a 66-year-old woman with serious biceps.

One of the reasons that I’ve worked out for 45 years is that slinging iron is therapeutic for me. Weights are mute. They don’t care if you whang ’em, bang ’em. You can get a lot worked out during a workout without hurting anyone, and while building a strong body. Endorphins help a great deal. Better than drugs. Not a bad trade-off in my book. Besides, to do what I do, you need to be strong. He assumes that if I look strong, my insides are completely fine. Some are. Some things aren’t.

Yes I am strong. I am still here, and sometimes that’s saying a great deal. A horrifying number of my fellow female vets who have been through what I have are no longer here. The suicide rate is astounding.

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As for the Veteran’s Administration, with respect, I earned that care.

Volunteer? Six years of service. Service he didn’t sign up for, but I did. In addition, I ended up being forced to do a lot of “servicing” I didn’t exactly sign up for. But you move on. You deal, and you also deal with the PTSD that follows.

Today, a dental appointment to clean the implants that anchor my dentures.

Dentures that I had to get after forty years of eating disorders cost me all my natural teeth.

Forty years of eating disorders that grew out of severe body dysmorphia after a gang rape initiated by a senior officer, a sexual assault by another senior officer, and a year of psychiatric “treatment” by yet another senior officer, an Army psychiatrist (clearly a sick one) who was happy to rape repeatedly me in his office. Treatment to which I was assigned to help deal with the previous sexual assaults. What a system, huh?

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You can’t make this stuff up.

Disabled? Me? Hell I can run, swim, ride, hike, climb. Sure I can. But disabilities- often some of the very worst- are invisible. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any. Same for any of the other some 35 million Americans who have invisible disabilities.

The widespread and mindless assumption that the disabled aren’t disabled unless we are in a wheelchair informed this guy. That if I was headed to the VA it sure wasn’t because I was the veteran.

This is just a part of what we women vets deal with every day.

It’s also what a good many Americans (ten percent, and likely more according to this article) also deal with every day. People all over the world.

If I can’t see your disability, then how can you have one?

That he had the gall to ask precisely what organs I’d lost... How, pray tell, is that any of your business?

And why should I have to prove my disability to you?

What, you’re terrified your tax dollars are going to support a reprobate?

How about you go after all those professional slugs who live in trailers, live off other government support, punch out units (kids) with great regularity and vote vehemently for Trump? So that they can wave their AK-47s around, goose-step in white supremacy marches and talk about evil immigrants while crops rot in the hot sun and kids get ripped out of their parents’ arms at the border?

Don’t get me started.

You’re not disabled.

I work. Write. Consult. Speak. In fact I work my ass off but can’t pay myself a salary because of government regulations governing veterans. The money I earn goes right back into the economy. I pay my suppliers, pay all my bills on time (thank you, my credit rating is 842 out of 850) and add considerable value to the economy.

Not. A. Slug.

I can’t work full time for anyone because the migraines have a way of making me completely unreliable. Ask anyone else who has more than twenty migraines a month how easy it is to work full time. Like a great many other military veterans, I lived with that disability for years while trying hard to work full time. That ended in a medical bankruptcy. As it does for millions of Americans. Imagine paying $400 to $1000 per shot, you get twenty migraines a month, and trying to juggle bills. Didn’t work for me, either.

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I am disabled. Yet on a good day, a day without a migraine, I can do a whole lotta stuff, if for no other reason than I am so grateful to not be in that kind of pain that I will do a little happy dance of gratitude upon waking.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with a migraine so severe that I wanted to walk out in front of a truck. Happily, the VA pays for the shots I have when the Aimovig doesn’t prevent them.

By 3 am the migraine was gone. I’m in a pretty good mood as a result. As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, when we have a toothache, we desperately want release from that toothache. But when we have non-toothache, we aren’t grateful for the absence of pain.

Ask a migraine sufferer how bloody grateful we are to be in non-headache. They are disabling.

This article speaks to the growing problem we have with widespread ignorance about invisible disabilities.

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This caught my eye:

But mental health literacy in most segments of the population — and even among many young people themselves — simply isn’t that common. Though the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 18.5 percent of U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, a 2013 poll by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47 percent of respondents would be uncomfortable living next door to someone who had a serious mental illness, and 41 percent would be uncomfortable working with someone who had a serious mental illness; similarly, a 2016 Harris poll found that 53 percent of respondents didn’t know that people with anxiety disorders are at risk for self-harm.

Men in particular seem to not understand how inappropriate it is to pry. To question. Like my body and its idiosyncrasies should be laid out for his inspection like a cadaver at med school.

Why are you going to the VA? You’re not disabled.

Hey, buddy, what’s that proctologist gonna do for you today? Cough for me, will ya, while I sip my coffee at Starbucks?

Here is how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines disability:

… an individual with a disability is a person who: Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Those of us who have lived with or manage anxiety disorders (my hand is up), for example, really don’t need the additional anxiety of being challenged as illegitimate. But we do.

I can’t see it; it can’t exist.

Look Sparky, you can’t see carbon monoxide either, but it kills. Wanna test the veracity of that?

I’ve had three dates this year. This is likely my last. The first started asking me about the protocol I was using for my healing shoulder and then immediately began trying to sell me on his product line.

Another tried to get me into his MLM downline. I was a dollar sign, not a date.

This is a DATE, you idiot.

People wonder why they’re still single. That, and the fact that yesterday’s date claimed he was “athletic and toned” and showed up with about thirty pounds of athletic and toned hanging off his midriff. Straining his shirt, belt and pants. He’s about as athletic and toned as my neighbor, who gets winded walking down his driveway.

Dishonesty will detract from a girl’s mental health, too, Sparky.

Yah. Believing profiles will definitely cause mental stress.

Which is of course, invisible. And disabling.

📝 Read this story later in Journal.

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