I Am Not My Disability

June 11, 2017

4 min read


Despite being a diabetic paraplegic, I view myself as a healthy person. Why?

I don’t think of myself as a “sick person.” I think of myself as someone strong and healthy, someone who can get by with very little sleep. I think of myself as someone who is careful about what I eat and that I always make the healthier choice.

But the truth, when I face it, paints a very different picture.

Twenty-one years ago, due to doctors’ negligence following an epidural during birth, I became paralyzed from the waist down and was forced to re-think my life in an instant. Within ten days I lived through a traumatic birth, major spinal surgery and a transfer to re-hab for an undefined although clearly long time. I was forced to find someone to take in my new born son and to help my husband look after my five other children, the oldest of whom was barely six and a half.

I became very sensitive to labels, assertively correcting anyone who referred to my “illness” insisting that what I had was a disability and I was not sick.

I was right, but in the long run I was also wrong.

Paralysis and its sedentary lifestyle bring along with it a veritable shopping list of possible and probable ills.

During my next pregnancy, I developed gestational diabetes. Because I was not sufficiently active, it morphed into a pre-diabetic condition which sneakily, silently turned into Type II adult-onset Diabetes. Paraplegics can no longer feel or control their sphincters so anti-bacterial bladder medication and antispasmodics entered my life.

I was now at-risk so I was given statins, blood thinners and cholesterol lowering medications as well.

I take 17 different medicines every day and that doesn’t include vitamins. The list of foods that I have to avoid is longer than that of the foods I can eat. I suffer from intestinal disorders, diabetes and bladder ‘issues’. I am supposed to prick my finger 4-5 times a day to check my blood sugar and I use the bathroom according to a schedule instead of a natural feeling. My eyes are puffy and my legs swell up, my hands are painful and become numb easily when I am writing, typing or driving. Many days I cannot get out of bed because of pain, upset stomach, bladder infections or just having had a ‘bad night’. I often cancel plans with friends and family or miss out on events and celebrations.

Yet I continue to hold onto this view of myself as a healthy person. Why?

I have a disability and I also have illnesses, but I am NOT the disability, nor am I the illness.

I think of myself as a healthy person because it is what gives me the courage and strength to go on with my life, not just living but living to its fullest.

I believe that 9/10s of healing is attitude (read Bernie Siegel’s books). Norman Cousins believed that the right attitude amid lots of laughter could heal a person of almost any of his woes. I cannot deny the diabetes, the bladder infections, the recurrent stomach and digestive issues. I cannot ignore the breath-stealing pain in my hands, wrists and stomach, but I can look myself in the eye and say, “I am a healthy person!”

I’ve had two children since becoming disabled. I’ve studied psychology and life coaching and created courses for others with disabilities to become peer counselors. I started a dance troupe for women in wheelchairs. I’ve opened my home to friends, family and strangers, hosting sheva brachot dinners, lecture series and a safe haven for individuals with disabilities and their families.

I have a disability and I also have illnesses, but I am NOT the disability, nor am I the illness. I am a woman, healthy in my mind, in my attitude, in my approach to life. And if I cannot get out of bed today because of pain or other issues, well thank God tomorrow is another day!

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