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Multiple Sclerosis Can Teach Us to Use Our Status to Speak Up

A blogger shares what it felt like changing from an “abled” person to a “disabled” person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege in recent months — what it enables as well as what it prevents. Those who benefit from it may not be aware of their position, and when their privilege is pointed out, they have a hard truth to face. Many refuse to accept their advantage; they deny it or decry the person who points it out. Others begin to examine their situation more closely and use it to the advantage of others. Privilege isn’t only a “white thing” or a “male thing,” though these two groups do benefit from many advantages in our culture. Privileges come with socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, sexuality, education level, and physical and mental ability.

As a white, straight, happily married, Christian woman who has a master’s degree and comes from a two-parent home, I enjoy many advantages. It wasn’t until I learned I had multiple sclerosis in 2004 that I slipped out of one of the privileged categories, from “able” to “disabled.” (Yes, I know the term isn’t ideal, but that’s the way most Americans view the dichotomy, so let’s go with it.)

Being an MS patient means perhaps not walking or talking like “normal” people. It involves fatigue or troubles with coordination. The brain becomes sluggish from time to time. One “runs out of gas” before most people their age would. Medications are injected, something others never have to think about. Spontaneity is often impossible because planning ahead and practicing a kind of self-care is necessary, which “able” people would find exhausting.

Many people are understanding and try to help. They encourage and support us on the bad days as well as the good. However, others don’t understand what it means to live with a chronic, incurable (for now) disease. These folks are the ones who criticize us for where we park or for asking for assistance in public spaces. They’re the ones who don’t want us to speak up or advocate for ourselves.

I think there are two reasons for this. First, we don’t “look sick,” and why should people who don’t look miserable get special accommodations? The second is more elusive. I firmly believe our illness freaks out “able” people. There’s no genetic cause for MS like there are for other illnesses. We didn’t do it to ourselves through poor life choices. Multiple sclerosis just happened. And having us around is a reminder that it, or something similar, might land in their laps one day. I would never condone such behavior, but I can understand why they might want to push us away with both hands.

Read on: Multiple Sclerosis Can Teach Us to Use Our Status to Speak Up 

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