The medical dictionary says that disability is "any result of having a condition that limits what you can do". It is easy to recognize that everyday consequences of MS symptoms could be classed as disability (e.g. fatigue or chronic fatigue) and yet the public, i.e. most people, perhaps, look more for outward symbols of disability like walking sticks and wheelchairs. This is not surprising, given the symbol of a wheelchair which is often used for disability.
In reality, three quarters of people with MS never use a wheelchair full time but they may have symptoms, including the more invisible ones like fatigue, which severely limit what they can do. I know that I am severely limited in what I can do. But, limitations are not always physical ones. MS can cause difficulties with slowed thinking, known as cognitive symptoms (brain fog), which may affect what someone can do. It affects what I can do. The impact of Mental Illness such as Anxiety and/or Depression can also impact hugely upon a person's quality of life, and this really should not be understated.
The Equality Act defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". MS is automatically treated as a disability under the Equality Act. This means that a person with MS is protected by the Act effectively from the point of diagnosis even though they may not see themselves as disabled at all.
But what does it mean to have MS? What does it mean to carry the label 'disabled'?
As most of you that know me are aware, and as I have commented in my 'About Me' biography, I am struggling. I am finding it difficult to come to terms with my 'disability'. It is tough to re-adjust, to accommodate the changes; to accept that I am not the person that I was, or that I want to be - and to believe that the person that I am now is good enough.
I have mentioned before that I have had people comment: "Oh! You are really lucky; you've got a disabled parking badge." To which I have to remind them that I was awarded a disabled parking badge because I am 'disabled', not because I am 'pretty'!
Living with MS I have learnt, and am still learning, to 'focus on the positive'. To try to look at the things that I 'can do', rather than be defined by the things that I can't. This isn't easy, there are days when it doesn't 'seem fair'; and I am right, it isn't fair; but with the support of my wonderful family and of REALLY great friends, a lovely MS Nurse, a splendid Neurologist and a truly fabulous GP - it is possible. I don't want to be disabled, I want to be perfect. But I am not. This comes as something of a disappointment, and perhaps a shock! I am not perfect. Who'd have thought?
I am however very fortunate that I have family and I have friends who accept my imperfections. Who largely ignore what I am not able to do and focus on what I can do, and who make a huge effort to make me believe that I am, that I can, and to believe that the person I am is indeed good enough.