The Woman Behind The Disability.
"On Becoming A Woman"
Forgive my use of the Title, I find it a fascinating one, It implies such beautiful secrets, well that's what I thought anyway when I was first introduced to the book (written by Harold Shryock), in my Teenage Years. I remember clearly having unanswered questions and felt privileged to finally be getting the well sought after answers. The beautiful Title did little to stem the thoughts that ran rampant through my mind when as a Young Woman I first held it. It, however, did answer the questions most Young Women had, in a most antiseptic way, as only a Male Clinician could. Throughout the Years the Title has stuck with me, a grim reminder of the function of the Female Form. As I grew into maturity, I quickly realized what Harold could never, and would never understand. Women are so much more than the sum of their parts.
The Feminine Mystique.
Being A Woman is so much more than reproduction, It's the waking up every Morning and having the deep, appreciation for the way, you walk, talk, smell, the color of your hair, eyes, and body, even if no one else thinks it. It's about Loving yourself for all that you see. It's that heady, happy feeling, like a smile that starts inward, moving through each vein, touching muscles, ligaments, bones, then radiates outward. It makes Men and Women alike take that second glance because you are so profoundly confident in who you are.
When you find yourself, in that position whereby, People ask "What is it about..., In my case Molly"? Then you know true contentment. In truth, there really is nothing out of the way special about me. I just really enjoy being Female, the complexities that come, the moody, unrealistic, me, is in all Women, I just embrace mine and revel in all my different Personalities. It's a beautiful reminder to me of the role Females play in the grand scheme of Life.
The Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Americans With Disabilities Act, although signed into Law, in 1990 by Congress; had its initial start during the 1960s it came about as a grassroots movement, following closely on the backs of the Civil Rights Movement. It basically sought to afford the rights to People with Disability, the similar or equal rights to access, as other segments of the Population. "The impetus for the ADA grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Federal legislation to protect civil rights initially focused on the prevention of racial discrimination. Having seen the federal government involve itself in protecting racial minorities, advocates for the disabled began to agitate for protection for their constituency as well"
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 out of almost 5 People in the U.S.A has a Disabling Condition. Statistics include Children. Of the 56.7 Million People with a Disability, Adult Women made up 20% of the Population, and Adult Men made up 17%.
Types of Disabilities That are More Accepted.
Decreased or loss of Mobility is physical in nature and includes injury to the upper and lower limb. Poor and loss of co-ordination of various body parts. Impairment disability can be congenital or acquired with the age due to Musculoskeletal disease, or injury.
Spinal cord disability: Associated with disease or injury to the spinal cord, in the case of the disease there are several that can affect or lead to the long-term condition being disabling. Arthritis being the number one reason. Spinal cord injury can be complete or incomplete. Incomplete spinal injury, there is the complete loss of sensory or motor skills; More definable because the individual will be confined to a Wheeled Chair.
whereas in incomplete spinal injury, the ability to function is not completely lost. Family members, Doctors in some cases, Peers have a difficult time coping with incomplete spinal cord injury. The Individual may not look sick, or incapable, however, there are physical limitations.
Mental Disorders/ Cognitive Dissonance:
Most Mental disorders although not easily defined by a Lay Person is identifiable, due in part to the fact that Medication alone cannot control fully; behavior. The Individual will exhibit low or limited ability for self-care, not due to physical limitations, but due to depression and the ability to react normally to everyday routine.
Cognitive Dissonance is a break from reality, due in some cases to Mental Illness its cause is attributable to disease or illness, as in the case of Alzheimer's, Head Injury, and Dementia to name a few.
Blindness total or partial does not carry with it as profound a stigma as with other disabilities, with the advancement of technology, People who were once impaired visually can now undergo surgeries to correct the loss of sight. Not to diminish or dismiss the serious nature of the issues that an Individual will experience, Like any Disabling Condition, it is Life changing. for the Family as well as the Individual experiencing it.
Deafness/ Loss of Hearing also attributable to Disease, Injury or Birth defects. The Deaf has a community and support system all their own. Of all the Disabilities, the People affected may be some of the most well-adjusted, and in most cases are accepting of their conditions; that is if they are born Deaf. A newly Deaf Individual, will experience depression and mourn the loss of their ability to hear. As with Visual impairment, new technology can restore or ensure that hearing is restored in some cases. Keep in mind that not everyone will experience disabling conditions the same way. We are individuals with differing Family dynamics, support system, and self-awareness.
How The World Views People With A Disability.
When we think of Disabilities, we often bring to mind someone with a missing arm, leg, or wheeled Chair bound. What happens when the condition is physical but not visible or when it's internal. People tend to think of Disability in terms of how severely it manifests itself physical. If it's Mental we have this stereotype of someone who perhaps, is un-kept, walks the street talking to him or herself. Or homeless.
Let's face it, we all have a stereotype of what an Individual with a disability should look like. There are some who live up to and look the part. Often times we see Women in Wheeled Chairs or walking with a cane, and I must admit, I wonder if they realize that appearance doesn't have to dictate or define them. No one has to live up to the Stereotype to the point whereby they neglect Personal Hygiene.
Loss Of Identity:"Vanity Thy Name Is Woman".
As Women, we tend to view ourselves as beautiful, and Worthwhile based on Physical appearance. It has everything to do with seeing oneself as we think an intimate partner would view us. So facing and coming to terms with a Disability is difficult. It is not vanity to use femininity to cover up a Disability, it's called caring about one's appearance. "Most men tend to focus on the physical aspects of a relationship. They are stimulated, drawn, captivated by the sight of their wife. They get excited or at least interested quickly by visual or physical stimulation". How Men and Women Differ in How They View Sex, Dennis, and Barbara Rainey. That is not to say, that Men view physical Disabilities as a turnoff, Men are less superficial than we give them credit for. It's not the disability that's a turnoff, but the way a Woman accepts her condition. Instead of focusing on the limitations, focus on being confident, and accepting, your limitations, while playing up the positive.
According to the U.S. Census, The leading cause of more People being disabled is due to Arthritis, leading to spinal cord Injury. People are sustaining Disabilities at a much younger age, the average as indicated by 2010 statistics is 22 Years. This is attributable to a variety of factors: More young drivers, Military service/War, more Women taking on jobs that were traditionally Male dominated, and believe it or not, less physical activity in the form of exercise.
With so many young Disabled People making up the Population, having a disability is not viewed as a precluding Marriage or starting a Family. People are no longer as focused on the physical as they are of common interest, achievement, and companionship/love.
Being Disabled and Being A Woman.
Your Former Self.
Depression, and Anxiety. This natural and a normal progression for someone who has experienced loss due to a disability. Self esteem, and body image issues become the focal point for everyday life, concentration on not being able to do the once normal things People take for granted leads to depression and anxiety, the more chronic (long term) , the condition, the longer depression will last.
An individual's view of body image and self esteem is directly relational to how the individual is viewed by peers: Co- Workers, Family, Friends and even professional caregivers. Most Women who are disabled will sink deeper into depression, and not care about appearance.
Malingerers: Individuals who feign, over exaggerate symptoms, Mental or Physical for gain. I'll go a step further to add based on lack of compassion from the Community as not in all cases are the individuals exaggerating, or feigning. While there is no doubt that having a disability is life changing, People who are still grieving after Years of dealing with loss of self, do it for a variety of reasons. Malingerers are not necessarily continuing the behavior due to monetary gain as the definition of Malingering implies. Lack of an understanding support system may influence how a Person dresses, and acts. Since it's normal for Healthy individuals to not understand a Disability they cannot see often times the Person who is disabled will present an outward appearance that identifies them as being disabled. Not to gain sympathy so much as to ensure that care givers can see the level of suffering.
People are visual creatures, if we cannot see it then of course it doesn't exist. This outlook forces the Person with the disability to act, or linger on what they cannot accomplish. According to James W. Breakey. "Those who have disabilities often must contend with the effects of stigmatization. Stigma refers to an attribute, either physical or psychological, that makes a person different from others and therefore less desirable (11). Considering the stimulus that a person presents and the feedback received purely on the basis of physical appearance, it is conceivable that others' reactions to a newly disabled individual may influence how the individual perceives him- or herself. For instance, if the response is negative, the person may begin to view him- or herself as deformed, incompetent and inferior. A comparison of his or her body appearance and capability with those of others, combined with the potential effects of spread and stigmatization, may lead him to a negative body image, which also may affect his or her subjective well-being".
Accentuating The Positive: Redefining Self Image
While it's true that having a disability will define who an Individual is if the Disability is Chronic, with Counseling and a good Family support system, one can live as normal a Life as possible. What Family members and Peer groups need to understand is: As difficult as it may be for them to come to terms with the Disabled Individuals Limitations, it's even harder for the Person with the Disability.
Most Women who have come to terms with their disability will continue to dress as they normally did. We are after all first and foremost Female. When a Woman walks, assisted be it using a cane or a Walker. The first thing anyone will notice is the assisted device, but if she is appropriately dressed and confident the cane or walker does not become the focal point, nor defines who she is as an Individual. I can speak on this because I am 1. Female, and 2. I am disabled. I don't try to hide my Disability, however it does not define who I am. No one can tell that I've had five spinal cord surgeries, or that I am partially paraplegic, due to nerve damage in both legs, the Arthritis, Rheumatoid, and Osteoarthritis is not visible, and Yes I wear high heels, on the few occasions I have gone out. because I am Female and despite everything else that I have to go through on a Daily basis the number of pain pills I have to swallow, just to get out of bed, high heels shoes make me feel more feminine, I wore them prior to being disabled, and will continue to wear them. My shoes, like makeup, is to most Women, is my confidence aid.
Despite popular beliefs that Women tend to overcompensate having a Disabling condition, by paying or taking special care with their appearance. That is not the case, Women who took painstaking care of themselves and dressed a certain way, will continue to do so. Having a disability will not miraculously, cause a Woman to focus more on her appearance, however we do learn different approaches to ensuring we still feel and look feminine. Emphasizing those details we see as a positive, while downplaying those that draw attention to our Physical limitations.
You Are Not Your Condition
It is important for Women to note, that you are not your Condition. There is Life after Disability, a Partner who loves you prior to or after you sustain your injury, will continue to love you unless you initiate their removal from your life. No one can endure the long-term loss of intimacy. You may come across the occasional runner, who has no idea how to handle the challenges, forgive them and move on. Their Fear and lack of caring have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with their self-esteem being tied to an image.
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Body Image: The Inner Mirror (1997). James W. Breakey, Ph.D., CP
Recent U.S. Disability Statistics from the Census Bureau - See more at http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/census-stats.php#sthash.Dklt5ouK.dpuf