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I have anxiety and having a blue badge will change my life

Without a blue badge for parking, driving around the hospital car park for the sixth time, desperately looking for a space, I start to cry.

My back is soaked with sweat, my heart is pounding and my jaw is clenched. My friend turns to me and says: ‘We need to find somewhere else to park,’ but all I want to do is go home.

It’s become common for me to turn up to hospital appointments drenched in sweat and shaking.

I’ve suffered from anxiety since my teens. When I am symptomatic just getting out of the house is a monumental task.

The people, the noise and the irrational fear that something terrible is about to happen send me down a spiral of panic.

Anxiety can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome which makes travelling on public transport to appointments difficult – on more than one occasion I’ve jumped off a bus to run into the nearest public toilet which has made me late or miss appointments altogether.

When I heard the news that the Department for Transport had issued new guidance – which means those with hidden disabilities like anxiety and autism can have blue badges – I was overjoyed.

I currently take taxis to the hospital so I can be dropped off and picked up from the front door but to have the freedom to drive to hospital and park in a space near the entrance would impact my life immensely.

I would have a level of independence I’ve not been able to enjoy in years. It’s difficult to describe how anxiety can make the simple act of getting from one place to another that difficult, but when you’re in a state of blind panic a familiar place – like your car – represents safety and being able to get there sooner makes a huge difference.

There are currently 2.35 million blue badge holders in the UK and the new guidelines will extend to hidden disabilities including dementia, autism and mental health conditions.

I imagine the number of accessible parking bays will need to increase to accommodate the likely upsurge in demand when the new guidelines come into effect on in August.

There’s a danger that the inclusion of hidden disabilities will pit two groups against each other – that people in a vulnerable mental state will be made to fight for their right to be considered worthy of a blue badge.

Decisions are made at the local authority level and I hope that training is given so that administrators of the scheme show the necessary empathy and tact when processing applicants with mental health conditions.

I know there’s already stigma around using a disabled parking space when you don’t ‘look disabled’ and experienced it first-hand in 2013.

My mother was given a blue badge after her diagnosis of terminal cancer, but to the casual observer, she didn’t look sick.

When we parked in a disabled bay you would hear tutting and mutters of: ‘There’s nothing wrong with her.’ At the time she only had a few months to live but short of carrying around her medical records, there was no way of proving her eligibility.

I’m prepared for the inevitable backlash. Claims that ‘generation snowflake’ will be stealing parking spaces from the others.

I’m not after a blue badge to grab a prime spot when I pop to the supermarket for a pint of milk, I would only use it in circumstances where my ability to function is hindered by being unable to park near my destination.

It feels like the disparity between the treatment of mental and physical health conditions by the government is finally being tackled.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘As a society, we don’t do enough for people with hidden disabilities. I hope this change to blue badge guidance will make a real difference to people’s lives.’

There are still people who believe that living with a mental health condition isn’t life-limiting or debilitating.

The blue badge scheme was created to make access to work, shops and hospitals more accessible for people with physical disabilities, I’m just disappointed it’s taken until 2019 to acknowledge that mental illness also limits access to those places.

How to apply for a Blue Badge?

To apply for a blue badge permit, you’ll need to fill out an application online where you’ll be asked for proof of identity, proof of address and proof of benefits (if you get any). In addition, you’ll have to provide a recent digital photo showing your head and shoulders.

Your local authority can charge you for the badge but it will only cost £10 in England and £20 in Scotland. However, it is free in Wales.

What are hidden disabilities?

According to Scope, over 13.9 million people in the UK live with a disability however there are no statistics to say how many of these conditions are invisible.

Invisible disabilities are not obvious to the public, which often makes it hard for people living with it to receive help. Hidden disabilities can vary from autism, sickle cell, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, lupus, visual and auditory disabilities as well as mental health conditions.

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