Cassi Carter began having “problems” in 2014. She was a sophomore in high school. She experienced shortness of breath and her heartrate would skyrocket. It wasn’t until recently, as a junior in college, that she got her diagnosis: Carter has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, also known as POTS.

POTS is a disorder that can cause dizziness, fainting and blood pressure issues. According to WebMD, POTS causes drastic changes in blood flow when someone changes positions, like transitioning from lying down to standing up. When a person with POTS stands, their blood doesn’t travel back up like it normally would. It stays trapped in the lower body. This causes their heart rate to spike as the body scrambles to get blood flow to the brain. Then, their blood pressure plummets.

This can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting and even fainting. All of these symptoms are things Carter has to worry about on a daily basis.

“Life is very hard,” said Carter.

Carter said that part of the reason she chose ETSU was because of the smaller campus size, which meant less walking for her. But that didn’t solve all of Carter’s problems. Because of her diagnosis, Carter now has access to handicap parking, but even that doesn’t always help. Handicap parking at ETSU can be limited, and Carter often finds that the few coveted handicap spots are already taken by the time she arrives.

If the building she has class in doesn’t have an elevator, it adds an extra 30 minutes onto her commute time. Her high heart rate makes it incredibly difficult to get up steps. Two flights of stairs take her around 20 minutes to climb. She has to take breaks in between.

Unfortunately, Carter has to deal with personal opposition as well as physical on campus. Carter said that people have come up to her to ask her why she gets handicap parking, even though she didn’t “look like” she needed it. Carter stressed that even though a person isn’t in a wheelchair or on crutches, they can still have a life-altering disability.

Illnesses like POTS severely affect the victim’s quality of life. While there are medications that help manage some symptoms of POTS, there isn’t a cure at this time. Carter hopes that her fellow students will understand that the pain someone is going through doesn’t have to be visible to be present. There are invisible disabilities.

To students with disabilities, Carter offers a word of advice.

“You should do what you need to do to have a good quality of life, instead of just doing what other people think you should do.”