I Am Proud of the Disability I Once Feared

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

by Jennifer (Jenn) Powell |

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I feared becoming disabled more than I feared multiple sclerosis.

At the time of my diagnosis, I was moving about well enough. My mobility changed as my disease progressed. My severe foot drop, unsteady gait, and change in speech were impossible to ignore.

My prejudice toward the disabled was hard to ignore. I was embarrassed by my disability. I marginalized myself and my needs. I later learned this was a form of internalized ableism. I familiarized myself with the meaning to better understand that which I feared. I faced head-on that which I feared most: being disabled.

I soon realized that much of my internalized ableism was rooted in childhood and resulted from systemic ableism.

According to writer Jahleel Wasser, “Systemic ableism is a system of institutions, policies, and societal values that disadvantage people based on societal values of intelligence, physical ability, and mental abilities. Systemic ableism consists of numerous barriers such as attitudinal, communication, physical, policy, programmatic, criminal justice, social/environmental, and transportation.”

Hindsight has offered perspective on the limited purview I had. While not malicious, this has inspired awareness.

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Raised in an affluent enclave in Marin County, California, I wanted for nothing. I participated in a myriad of sports and activities and excelled at sailing and skiing. As an active child, I was not around others with disabilities. I noticed two or three individuals in wheelchairs in a specialized classroom. But this was only during school, and our classrooms were different. Outside of class, I rarely saw or interacted with anyone disabled.

I can see how this contributed to my seeing those with disabilities as different. And while some outward aspects differ, as people, we are all the same. As children, different is castigated and banished. Children fear the atypical. I harbored those same feelings as an adult. I neglected to differentiate the pattern of a child from the mind of an adult.

I no longer feel limited or intimidated because of my disability. I feel empowered and enlightened! And what better month to celebrate than July, which is Disability Pride Month.

According to AmeriDisability, “This annual observance is used to promote visibility and mainstream awareness of the positive pride felt by people with disabilities. … ‘Disability pride’ has been defined as accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”

I discovered beauty in myself when I decided to embrace what I had once feared. And when I did, I never looked back.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Leanne Broughton avatar

Leanne Broughton

i am not proud of my disabilty. Usually pride comes from an achievement, something special, a success. MS is none of those things to me.

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Tom Anderson avatar

Tom Anderson

So many MSr's are on the bandwagon of "Life Can Be Great with MS; Beat MS; Fight MS, I won't let it get me down", on and on. I suppose some of that is true.. For me, it is accepting it and treating it where possible (plus throwing in a couple of unproven approaches), learning how to talk about it when needed, and moving on as best I can, without dwelling on it. My support in life comes from people without disabilities, although I have plenty of room for them. I consider myself normal; regular; with MS. Not proud of it. I am happy about not paying my student load debt, getting a meager check for life as well as health insurance.

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Jenn Powell avatar

Jenn Powell

Hi Leanne,

Although I do not feel similarly, I hear you when you say you are not proud of your MS. I hope that one day you can feel pride in who you are. You have been through a lot with this disease and are sharing your feelings. I think that is pretty huge.

I take pride in the changes I have made with my disease, not the disease itself. This has been a long road and one which continues to have the road bumps along with the triumphs.

Just as MS disease differs from person to person, so too do our feelings surrounding it. I am sending you kindness.

Jenn

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Jennifer Powell avatar

Jennifer Powell

Hi Tom,

You explain toxic positivity perfectly! I have been toxic to myself and am learning to accept my triumphs as much as the trials. I like how you say it is accepting, treating, learning, and not dwelling. I hope to take each day as it comes and be able to decipher each with as much clarity.

I am proud of how I have embraced my disability as opposed to being ashamed, frightened, or even loathsome. I once was all three. That is huge growth and something I am greatly proud of.

minimizing student debt, a paycheck and health insurance are understandably things to take pride in. Kudos to you!

Jenn

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Tom Anderson avatar

Tom Anderson

Thanks for your + reply, Jenn. And I'm glad for you, you are trying to find a "normal" life with MS (if there is such a thing). As to my last sentence, I am referring to having student loan debt (through graduate school) all cancelled due to disability- you have to qualify for SSI first, in which case you can activate medicare insurance. It was a lot easier to do after I had tried unsuccessfully over and over to prevail without assistance. Luckily, before school I had worked a lot of part time jobs, and did get a few years full time employment in here and there. So all in all, it is enough to survive; will never be taken away, and I can play around on the side if I don't do "too well." Funny how it all works. I found acceptance by others was more difficult than acceptance by myself.

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