I read what you wrote to the lady who was thinking about getting an abortion (Jan.2000 issue) and I think you’re a great writer. But if I was that lady and I knew that my unborn baby had this disease, I won’t even think twice about getting an abortion. I have Muscular Dystrophy and my life is a living hell and I won’t wish it on my worst enemy. I don’t believe anything good can come from having MD. My whole life is just trying to survive and not get teased and stared at. You probably think it’s horrible to say, but there are times where I wish my parents would have aborted me if they knew.
I know our disabilities are hard to live with and that physical pain and illness can be overwhelming. I wouldn’t want to bring a baby with MD into this world either if I didn’t believe anything positive could come from the baby’s life. But I do believe the disability experience can be a positive one. In fact, I think our disabilities may be one of the most potent teachers of happiness that we could ever have.
In my experience, most people who say they hate their disabilities or who believe they’d be better off dead are more upset about their lifestyles or environment than their actual disabilities. It’s easy to blame our disabilities for all of our unhappiness, but if we look carefully I think we will find that something more basic is the cause for our deepest despair. In your letter you say that your whole life is just trying to survive and not get teased and stared at. I think what you’re meaning is that you are not only upset over your physical suffering and limitations, but by the limitations put on you by society-the way you are treated and viewed by others.
Human beings have basic emotional needs that if filled will help us be happier with our lives. We need to feel we have a purpose in life. We need to feel we are respected, appreciated and needed. We need the opportunity to help out and contribute our talents for the welfare of others. We need friendships and intimate relationships. We need autonomy and independence. We need to feel we belong. We need to be able to give and receive love.
It is terrible to think of how routinely people with disabilities are denied these basic human needs because others believe we are incapable or unworthy. It is no wonder depression is such a serious problem among people with disabilities.
On the other hand, depression is an epidemic everywhere in our society. We don’t even know what true happiness means. We spend our lives trying to make happiness artificially. We are bombarded with superficial ideals telling us that having money, success, a lover and (most importantly) a beautiful, young and healthy body will bring us happiness. We idolize and envy people who have these things. But eventually, even the strongest, healthiest and most perfect body gets old and looses function. What then?
At this time, a person who has based their “perfect” life on material or physical things will be shattered. Their lives will seem to loose all purpose and just like the majority of elderly people in our society, they will become unhappy and depressed.
I like to think of the people who go through a traumatic experience and from that one glimpse past superficiality their whole life changes. There is a softness in their eye of peace and compassion. Often they have a greater understanding of the human spirit and meaning of love. In the same way, our disabilities challenge us to find deeper meaning in life. It’s hard to be shallow when you are constantly dealing with survival or hardship. The pain, fear and isolation we endure can help us learn compassion for others. It would change our lives forever if we could see our disabilities as teachers urging us toward the discovery of true happiness. If only we would stop shutting down our hearts by comparing ourselves to the false ideals presented on billboards, TV and movies.
The prejudice against us is real. We are seen as in-valid human beings. We are constantly denied opportunities to give and share. We are forced to live in poverty. As long as our worth is judged by the superficial ideals of physical and material perfection, this oppression will continue. By blaming our unhappiness on our disabilities and saying people with disabilities should not be born, we are perpetuating these harmful beliefs.
Our lives are worth living. By making the effort to find the value in our lives we can be an example of truth for others. I suggest you try to see what part of your misery is based on your own self-judgement and belief in superficial ideals. Once you can see how you have been misjudged and oppressed you will naturally get angry. Use your anger to help reclaim your life. Speak out, join an advocacy group, and write letters to the editor, make friends with other people with disabilities – start staring back.