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Confronting the Pressure to Be 'Wonder Woman' as a Woman With a Disability


I am so very sick of Wonder Woman. Nope, not the Amazonian super hero coming to a theater near you. I am sick of the Wonder Woman I feel like I am supposed to be, to be a “worthwhile” sick person.

Is there any better click bait than a headline with this formula: normal to unexceptional person — disaster strikes — dark night of the soul — now better than they have ever been. They are so grateful for said disaster because (now close in tight on the stark photo of soft smile and bright watery eyes) they are ever so much better. They now know how strong (insert faith, mind, spirit, friends here) are. End scene, turn off the lights.

That is one very compelling narrative. I can’t help it. I click. I cry. I feel. I read. It is, after all, what almost all of our most cherished myths, fairy tales, and stories are based on. Who doesn’t love a feel-good story that reminds them that everything happens for a reason? That it’s not over until everything is OK, better than OK, it is inspiring and amazing. If you keep going you, too, can be Wonder Woman.

I will click every time trying to sift out my own experiences to see where I could be better, do better, and have that ending. These stories elicited such an outpouring of support and praise for the hero, the inspiring one, that I think it can make any other narrative or experience seem dangerous and isolating.

Sensing an element of bitterness here? Sure, absolutely. I can also do inspiring. I have had my own story. Sick from childhood. Got a bit better and ran a successful photography studio until the skies darkened and my disorder forced me to close my business and go on disability. Limping gave way to a cane which gave way to a wheelchair.

Whatever could an Amazonian superhero do? I didn’t really cry or grieve. I was too busy trying to figure out the next amazing super inspiring thing I would do. Something that would give meaning to having the body of what felt like an 80-year-old just this side of 40. So what is wrong with that? What is wrong with inspiring?

Nothing, if it is honest. I don’t think I was. I was afraid of losing the few friends who stayed. I did not want to tire them out with anything resembling sad. I wanted to be inspiring. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wanted to be better than before and have something to point to. This. If I did not get so sick I would never have been able to give the world this.

Why this honesty now? Now that Wonder Woman is here to inspire us and show everyone power and grace? I realized as I thought about what Wonder Woman means to me and what a female superhero means that I was far from where I need to be because I had not taken some time to say goodbye to a life’s work that I deeply enjoyed.

So now do I find my next super inspiring 15th act? Trust family and friends to stay and watch? I’m not sure, but I think in the disability community there should be an understanding of how much pressure we put on ourselves and is put on us to be “inspiring” or to be Wonder Woman.

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Photo courtesy of Wonder Woman Facebook page


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