Diseases don’t give you super powers

Yesterday I read a Facebook post that I deeply agreed with. The post lamented the attitude of some people who seem to almost glorify horrible diseases, infirmities, and disabilities, crediting them for achievements and accomplishments, and subtly downplaying their symptoms and all the distress they cause to patients.

This attitude is not uncommon. We all have seen titles along the lines of ‘How blindness changed my life for the better’, or ‘My disability made me achieve more than ever before’. Sure enough, at least some of these titles are meant to be clickbaits, but I don’t like attributing everything to malice.

Sometimes, when you’re ridden with an incurable disease, a certain way of downplaying your condition can help you cope, which is good. If your disease has taken the ability to walk from you and there’s no hope of getting it back, there’s little to be gained from wallowing in despair and focusing on your symptoms and on what you’ve lost. Focusing on what you haven’t lost and on what still is under your control, though, may help you make the best of a really bad situation. (This doesn’t apply to disabilities only, but to life in general.) Some people manage to do this very well and they end up achieving a lot despite their disability, and that’s awesome, but I think it’s wrong to attribute their successes to the disease.

Say you lost your sight. Suddenly, a ton of things you used to do with ease become very difficult or even impossible to do on your own or at all. You could throw in the towel, or you could muster up all of your inner strength and make the best of the situation. I’m not saying this is easy: I’m lucky enough not have any first-hand experience of it, but I’m sure it’s not easy at all. However, if you do manage to not give up, you might resolve that, although you can’t see any more, you still can hear, so fuck it, you’re going to become a musician. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t.

Say it does work out, and you become a great musician. Whose merit is it? Blindness’? Certainly not. Sure, maybe the thought of becoming a musician would never have crossed your mind if you hadn’t lost your sight, but you didn’t magically turn into Beethoven when the lights went off. You must well have put some effort into it to become a great musician, and it was that effort—not your disease—that took you where you are now. The merit is yours, not your disease’s. Couldn’t you become a great musician all the same, even without going blind first, had you put in the same effort? It certainly doesn’t take blindness to be a great musician, and not all people who go blind become great musicians. No disease is a default motivation for anything. It is up to you to find motivation to do anything. (Now don’t think I’m saying that in every situation you can find a plus side and it’s your fault if you can’t find any; I’m not. It may well depend on circumstances beyond your control.)

Give to Caesar what is due to Caesar: Diseases suck. They limit your independence, they make you feel like crap, and sometimes they even kill you. They’re not good, they’re not a blessing, they don’t give you super powers, they don’t make you wiser and they don’t hold the secret meaning of life. Whatever you may be able to accomplish despite your disease is your merit, not your disease’s. That’s why we have words like ‘despite’ in the first place.

People struck by diseases aren’t the only ones who may sugarcoat their condition. As said, article writers and the media in general do this fairly often. My guess would be that, perhaps, they’re trying to give a positive view and encourage people who suffer from debilitating conditions. Maybe they’re trying to show them that all’s not lost. I commend that, but there’s way and way of doing it. Don’t frame it as if the disease was the cause of somebody’s achievements. Don’t depict it as a blessing in disguise. That is disrespectful of the suffering of countless people, not to mention an outrageous lie. Instead, try to show how we can succeed even against all odds, if we put our minds to it. If you want to give people hope, remind them that science is working day and night to cure all diseases, and one day we will get there. Remind patients that, even as we speak, someone somewhere is working to understand their disease and find a cure to it.

I may have gone off at a tangent this time around, but only slightly. Remember that age-related diseases are as horrible, crippling, and lethal as some non-age-related diseases, and the reason not everyone realises this isn’t any different from the attitude I’ve described here. Calling old age the ‘golden years’, with all the many plagues that inevitably come with it, is the same as calling a spinal cord injury a blessing; attributing to ageing one’s wisdom and accomplishments is equally cheap and misguided. Biological ageing is no more, no less, than a vast set of diseases, and as such, there’s only one thing to do about it: Bring it under comprehensive medical control.

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