‘Special needs’ jibe on shopping trip brings Exmouth ME sufferer to tears

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 April 2018

Pen Reed, left, says a supportive family is important in coping with her conditions.

Pen Reed, left, says a supportive family is important in coping with her conditions.

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An Exmouth M.E. sufferer brought to tears by comments made towards her on a recent shopping trip says more education is needed about ‘invisible’ illnesses.

M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, says a supportive family make all the difference in coping with her conditions. Picture by Pen Reed. M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, says a supportive family make all the difference in coping with her conditions. Picture by Pen Reed.

Pen Reed, 53, from Brixington, was left ‘frustrated’ and crying after a woman ‘tutted’ instead of offering to help when she was struggling in pain.

In a post, on the Exmouth Community Facebook page, she wrote: “To the woman behind me in M&S Exmouth... No, I wasn’t going slow because I’m ‘special needs’, as you told your daughter.

“I was in actual pain from my M.E. and fibro and at that point I was struggling with my bones ‘fizzing’ and the arthritis in my fingers flaring up.

M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, says the conditions have 'stolen' her life. Picture by Pen Reed. M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, says the conditions have 'stolen' her life. Picture by Pen Reed.

“I just hope the little girl you had with you grows up with more compassion and better educated and more understanding of invisible illnesses.”

Her post received more than 180 reactions, 50 comments and multiple shares, with many people voicing their support for Pen.

Pen suffers from fibromyalgia, osteopenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), M.E., asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety and depression.

M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, on a day when she feels well. Picture by Pen Reed M.E. and fybromyalgia sufferer, Pen Reed, on a day when she feels well. Picture by Pen Reed

Her symptoms can be severe – such as pain and exhaustion – but are not always visible to others.

Talking to the Journal, after the incident, Pen explained she had been at the self-service checkout when she noticed the woman behind her impatiently ‘tutting’.

Pen said: “I was struggling to get everything through the scanner, because of the pain, and the woman was tutting.

“Then she said: ‘Oh, it’s alright, she’s special needs’ – which I am not.

“She continued tutting and then said: ‘People with special needs shouldn’t be allowed to come out on a Sunday’.

“I couldn’t get the £20 note in the machine and she kept tutting – I was trying to get it done quickly, but was getting more and more flustered.

“I was in tears by the end of it and on the walk home; I felt frustrated, angry and upset that somebody could be so ignorant; if I see somebody struggling, I ask if I can help.

Pen, who has been married to husband Si for 13 years, says having an understanding family makes all the difference in coping with her condition and believes more awareness would benefit all.

She said it would be helpful if there was more support locally for people affected by invisible illnesses and those who want to understand them more.

She said: “For somebody to say that to a complete stranger is just ignorance.

“M.E. and fybro have literally stolen my life; before being signed off from work I was able to do a job that I loved. I was also able to socilaise, do Karaoke, play darts, pool and have fun.

“Now, if I go out for a couple of hours I will have a flare up, or ‘payback’ as we ‘fibro-babies’ call it. All we ask for is some consideration and understanding.

“Maybe teach them in school about invisible illnesses and then people might have a better understanding – we all look the same, but not everybody is the same.”

Read next: Young Exmouth woman crowdfunding for life-changing wheelchair after left ‘housebound’ by chronic illness

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