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“Are there no stairs from the first floor?” a random lady asked me mockingly as I, an apparently able-bodied whippersnapper, got off the elevator at the second floor.

I just stared at her. “I had an injury recently,” I said. She turned red and shut up.

Truth be told, the injury had happened a while back, when a car rolled into the crosswalk and hit me while I was crossing. My left knee hasn’t been the same since. But I took the elevator not just because my knee was acting up, but because I was feeling fatigued.

“Wait ’til you’re old like me,” they say when I expressed how exhausted I was. They pretended to make it a joke about themselves, but it was really intended to dismiss my experience as invalid.

And the worst: “What do you have to worry about? You’re young and you’ve got a whole life ahead of you,” they say when I admitted I suffered from depression and anxiety.

Ah, the stereotypes of youth, which apparently is wasted on the young. Except believe me, I would have celebrated my teens and twenties a lot more had I not been so crippled by my conditions, which were regularly misdiagnosed in part due to these very stereotypes. Add in a lingering sexist idea that any pain experienced by a female is simply due to “anxiety” or “emotions,” and I started to lose count of the number of times a medical professional told me to just de-stress. “Focus on self-care,” one told me.

Well, self-care is hard when you can barely summon the strength to do anything!

On my fourth hospitalization, I got a physician who dug deeper. After extensive testing, his team discovered that I had a severe B12 deficiency because I couldn’t properly absorb it from food. They also shook their heads at previous doctors who’d continually tried putting me on SSRIs that clearly weren’t working. They put me on a mood stabilizer instead.

With this new regimen, my life was completely transformed. I had bounce in my step, my depression lifted away, and my panic attacks evaporated. I still have days where depression crops up, as it will, but overall, I feel, dare I say, happy and energetic most days!

After all, young people can’t have disabilities, can they?

Rachel Wayne is a writer based in Gainesville, Florida, USA. She earned her Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Film Studies from the University of Florida; her thesis was on the relationship between the media and interpersonal violence, particularly bullying and sexual violence. She writes about society, culture, film, politics, feminism, and entrepreneurship.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list: http://eepurl.com/gD53QP

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