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The Problem With Saying People 'Suffer From' Health Conditions

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I have cerebral palsy and depression. I live with cerebral palsy. I also live with depression, and no, I am not suffering.

Often, in the media – on TV, in magazines, and on social media, I hear the phrase “suffers from” when it comes to introducing a person living with a disability or health condition. I hear phrases such as “suffers from depression,” and “suffers from cerebral palsy,” but how does the media know the specific experience of each person with a condition when they’ve never met them? How does the media know how to qualify my experience of the conditions I am living with?

When the media uses such phrases to describe a person and their relationship to their condition, they’re assuming that people living with disabilities must be suffering.

The last thing I want is to be described as suffering due to the fact that I am dealing with multiple chronic health conditions. Using the term “suffers from” makes me cringe. It’s harmful to people with disabilities to constantly be described as suffering because it implies our life experience must be negative and “less than” that of someone experiencing life without such conditions.

Phrases like “suffers from” make me feel like I’m supposed to have a negative relationship with how my conditions affect my life experience. But what if that’s not true? What if I actually appreciate living with each of my conditions?

The life experiences I’ve had while living with cerebral palsy have introduced me to amazing people, given me a unique, empathetic, view on how to treat other people, and even led me to go to school to be a physical therapist because I wanted to be just like the people who helped me as I was growing up.

Living with
depression has made life difficult sometimes, but I still wouldn’t trade it for not being depressed. There are days where it would be nice if the fog of my depression lifted so I could experience life with less unhelpful thoughts running through my mind, but I’m not suffering from depression. I live with suicidal ideation every day, and although I had to leave school to go to residential treatment (again) to manage my depression and suicidal thoughts, leaving school has allowed me to be home to spend time with my nieces and nephews as they grow up.

The way I relate to and treat the people around me has been significantly influenced by my experiences with depression and cerebral palsy.

While it may be hard living with a disability, I think it is society and the lack of accessibility that really holds back people living with a disability from reaching their full potential, not the disability itself.

Experiencing life while living with these (and other) conditions doesn’t have to be miserable. Society, please stop telling us we should be suffering from these conditions when every day, people with disabilities strive to move past that. While people living with disabilities may be at the mercy of their condition in that there’s not much they may be able to improve it, please leave it up to the individual to decide for himself whether or not he considers his experience as suffering.

I am working to move away from suffering as I choose to live with my depression, and my cerebral palsy and to use them as strengths. Allowing people with disabilities the chance to live and not assume they suffer reduces the stereotype that people with disabilities are incapable of living full, meaningful lives.

Today, I choose not to let my conditions make me suffer. Today, I choose to allow my conditions to help me live the life I want to live.

Getty image by Marko Rupena.

Originally published: April 17, 2020
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