Episode 2 Transcript

[Intro music]

 

Sarah Todd:

Hi, I'm Sarah Todd Hammer, and this is Positively Opposite, the podcast where you'll discover through the experience and knowledge of myself and others that disability is not always a negative thing — but in fact, it can be quite the opposite. 

 

[Intro music]

 

Sarah Todd:

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Positively Opposite podcast. I am so excited for today's episode because I have an amazing guest with me today. I have Jen Starzec, who is my best friend. We have known each other for nine years now, which is so hard to believe. We first met in 2012 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Our moms met each other in a Facebook group for parents of kids with Transverse Myelitis, which is what Jen is diagnosed with, and Acute Flaccid Myelitis, which is what I am diagnosed with. And we met up at Johns Hopkins and immediately became great friends. And to this day we are like sisters. We've been through so much together. And we have actually written and published three books together as well. Jen is four years older than me, so she has already completed her bachelor's degree. She got her bachelor's in communication sciences and disorders and now she is currently pursuing her master's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And she is working to become a speech language pathologist, which is so amazing. Jen is so incredible and smart, so I'm so excited to have her here with me. Jen, how are you doing?

 

Jen:

I'm doing well. How are you?

 

Sarah Todd:

I'm great. I'm so excited for the conversation we're going to have. I know it's going to be great because you're so knowledgeable and experienced. So this is going to be really fun. So let's just get right on into the questions for today. So since we've been friends for nine years, we definitely have grown a lot together and we've experienced so many things together. So I'm just wondering, how do you feel our friendship has impacted your own disability experience?

 

Jen:

Well, it definitely had a large impact, considering I just pretty much just acquired my disability when we met only some months before, so most of my disability experience has been while being friends with you. I think writing together definitely helped me process my experiences a lot. All of our deep disability discussions we had over the years, all of our conversations, those have helped me process my own experiences, too. And I got a lot of insight from you and we kind of bounce ideas off each other when we talk about our experiences and how we feel about them.

 

Sarah Todd:

I love doing that with you. 

 

Jen:

So I think that definitely helps my own self acceptance as a disabled person and all of that.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, that's actually so true. I hadn't thought about how you hadn't been disabled for as long as I had. Like, obviously I knew that, but I hadn't thought about how that could have come into play with our friendship. Because you got your disability in August 2011 and then I got mine in April 2010. And although we were very different ages, like we both still had to go through that initial shock of becoming disabled and then learning how to deal with our lives having changed. So, yeah, that's really interesting that you brought that up because I hadn't thought of that.

 

Jen:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Sarah Todd:

And then also with our conversations that we always have about disability. I love that so much because I do have a lot of disabled friends now, and I feel like you and I just really love diving really deeply into the conversations surrounding disability. And whenever I get rude comments on my Instagram, you're always the first one I send them to because I know you always have good comments to make about them.

 

Jen:

All of the rants!

 

Sarah Todd:

All of the rants we have together! So to that end, do you think being disabled has had a positive effect on our friendship? Because it definitely has. As you mentioned, there have been these positive effects. But can you elaborate more on that positive effect?

 

Jen:

Yeah, yeah, so positive effects on the friendship. I mean, there's all of the adventures that we've had because of having a disability, which are great bonding experiences.

 

Sarah Todd:

Like the time you helped me take a shower.

 

Jen:

Exactly. So like the shower, the whole Starbucks adventure in Chicago.

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh my gosh. You should tell them about that. I think my listeners will love that story.

 

Jen:

Oh, yeah. So we were in Chicago in 2017, and we had a late night Starbucks craving, which was really random, because it was late and although it was dark and it was June, so it was like,

 

Sarah Todd:

It was really random.

 

Jen:

It was a really random late night Starbucks craving. And so we went out. We left the hotel that Sarah Todd and her parents were staying at. And for some reason, we had a hard time finding a Starbucks that was open and accessible, and then we found one. But there were a whole set of stairs to get down to it.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah. So we could not get to it because Jen uses a wheelchair, and we couldn't find an elevator anywhere.

 

Jen:

No. So we were looking all over for a way to get to the Starbucks. And then I think we found a different one. But then we had to work together to get that door open because it was a weird door. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh, my gosh. I remember that. It was either a push or a pull. And we did the opposite.

 

Jen:

Yeah, we did the opposite first. That was us being dumb -- not because of our disabilities -- but still we tend to work together when we open doors in general, which sometimes goes well, sometimes doesn't. But yeah. And then we got our Starbucks, and then we went back and that was just the two of us. Quite an adventure. 

 

Sarah Todd:

We were bound and determined to get our Starbucks because I'm like this a lot — and I think you are too -- once I decide I want to do something, no matter how hard it is, I am getting it done.

 

Jen:

Yeah, exactly. And I think we wanted it more when we saw the Starbucks and it wasn't accessible like, well, no, That's not going to stop us!

 

Sarah Todd:

We were bound and determined to get into that Starbucks.

 

Jen:

We have to do it. Yeah. So we found a way. So adventures like that and adventures like the Starbucks adventure just. Yeah, lots of things like that. There's also this automatic mutual understanding that we have that a lot of non-disabled friends either don't really have or don't have right away, and it takes longer to figure out. So like the automatic understanding of not jumping in to help when it's something that your disabled friend could probably do on their own, even if it's more difficult, but also helping each other if we do need it and recognizing that very easily. I feel like if either of us needs help from the other with something, it's this super easy -- I don't even know how to describe it. It's like we both know each other so well.

 

Sarah Todd:

Right. Yeah, it is really automatic. Like you especially -- I feel like you very much know what I need help with and when I kind of want you to jump in and I'd rather you not. And you're always very good about that.

 

Jen:

Thanks, you are too. And also, there's also the middle ground where sometimes you want help figuring out how to do it on your own. And so, like, brainstorming got her like the applesauce and stuff. Yeah.

 

Sarah Todd:

You are so good at that. I'll text you stuff a lot, and I'll be like, “Do you have any idea how I could do this?” And you'll send me some wild way to do something. Like with the scrunchie. When I wanted to put my hair up in a ponytail with one hand.

 

Jen:

We spent so long for so many hours trying to figure it out. I was just walking you through it. 

 

Sarah Todd:

And then I didn't even know how to put my hair up, because I hadn’t done it in so many years. And so you had to teach me that. We had to go to step zero. You helping me put a scrunchie on — that whole thing — that reminded me of when you said that sometimes you really want to try to let me figure out if I can do it on my own or not before I ask you or before you step in. It reminded me of when I tried to open the blush, and I was going to get that blush open. Like I told myself that. And then I did. I did. I got it open. I think I dropped it before I got it open, and then it just spilled everywhere, and I had just gotten my bathroom redone, and this pink blush got all in the white grout in my bathroom.

 

Jen:

That was so rough. And I felt really bad because that was one where I was kind of stepping back, because you were super determined, but I was like, oh, you having a hard time with that? You did technically get it open eventually on the floor,

 

Sarah Todd:

Not in the way we desired!

 

Jen:

Right. When you were going to open my blush and the thing was slightly broken and I was like, “No, you don't fit in a certain way!”

 

Sarah Todd:

Oh my gosh. Imagine if I'd done that. I would have been raging.

 

Jen:

Oh, yeah, good times.

 

Sarah Todd:

But you're certainly right. We definitely do have a lot of adventures together that we don't really have with anyone else.

 

Jen:

No, it's really interesting. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Okay, soThis leads me into a little bit of a different topic, but I really want to highlight your speech language pathology career, because I think that it's really incredible you're pursuing that, and you're literally going to be a working woman. You're so grown up and intelligent, and I think people need to hear about it. So has your disability influenced your career choice at all?

 

Jen:

Yeah, it was really interesting because I did want to do speech pathology my whole life, like well before I was disabled, but then when I had my disability, I had a whole, like, mini crisis at some point, like, is that actually what I want to do or do I just want to do it because it's consistent with who I was before I was disabled. And it was a whole weird identity crisis thing going on with when I wanted to do so. Then I changed my major a couple of times and then went back to it because I ended up realizing that it was what I wanted to do. And so I kind of had a separate. Like when I actually wanted with what I. You know, with what I was afraid I would or wouldn't be able to do physically and separate from my identity before and after being disabled, and it was a whole thing. So it did influence that process to coming to the conclusion in a way. And I probably a lot more confident in my choice than I would have done if I had never been disabled and just never questioned that or anything.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense because I knew that you had wanted this career for a long time and it was before you became disabled and then you did switch it up a few times and then you eventually realized like this was what you really wanted to do. And you came back to that. And I think that's an interesting point you made about separating your, like before disabled self from your now disabled self and thinking about how that impacted your career. Like, that's really interesting. I hadn't thought about that.

 

Jen:

It also influenced my more specific interests, too, because I have a more specific interest now in motor speech disorders and acquired speech language and swallowing disorders. Especially seeing, like some people with AFM and TM and stuff do have speech and swallowing impairments, so that definitely helps with that career in the setting I want to be in because of the physical rehab that I went through because of TM.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, because you're aware of how being disabled can affect certain aspects of what speech language pathologists take care of. So you're going to be more passionate about that, more interested in that, which is a good thing for your career. So also because of your disability, do you think you're more dedicated to and interested in speech language pathology?

 

Jen:

Yeah, that probably influenced the passion a lot because I never had a speech pathologist working with me, but I had PTs and OTs, as you know, who helped me a lot. Not just directly with my disability as much as helping me with the disability identity and stuff like that. Just having people in my life who believed in me and my abilities and helped me maximize my independence and stuff was really helpful. So I’d love to help other people with that. And obviously, having a disability makes me more aware of disability issues and will help me make sure not to be ableist within the profession. Like, you're not fixing someone's disability. You're helping someone access their own communication abilities, so it’s not fixing it. That’s kind of a balance that all of us who are disabled have dealt with. That balance between feeling like we need to be fixed and that being the purpose of a physical rehabilitation versus maximizing the abilities you do have and what you want to do with your life and figuring that out from that aspect.

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I think, like you said, you've had therapy before, and although it wasn't speech therapy, you have experience with other forms of therapy. And so that'll help you know what you would want to have in a therapist.

 

Jen:

Right. Exactly.

 

Sarah Todd:

Like that can help shape how you are with your own clients. And I think that's so important because you have kind of both sides of the experience. And so your clients will have that benefit because you've almost like, in a way, been in their shoes, but just kind of in a different way.

 

Jen:

Right? That's what I hope.

 

Sarah Todd:

Mm hmm. Sure. Yeah. Because also, like you mentioned, with the whole fixing thing, I think that is a tricky topic that therapists do encounter, like therapists of all kinds. And it's something that's difficult for people to understand, and especially if you're someone who hasn't experienced disability yourself. So, again, you have that unique perspective of knowing the boundaries there, which I think will be so beneficial to your clients.

 

Jen:

Right. I hope so. Yeah. Because if you're fixing someone, it means that there's something wrong with the disability, and I know that was a really hard thing for me personally to deal with. That ingrained idea that disability is inherently wrong and negative. And when your whole goal is to fix it and become able-bodied again and everything, it’s really hard for, as you know, it's really hard for your own self-esteem and confidence and everything. And so, I would hope that my clients also would know that there isn't anything wrong with their bodies or their speech or whatever the way it is. I want to help them with whatever they want to be helped with.

 

Sarah Todd:

Like you're there to kind of serve their needs and cater to their needs.

 

Jen:

Right? Exactly.

 

Sarah Todd:

And to that end, you obviously have developed this healthy mindset of accepting disability and making sure that we don't have any, like, negative talk around fixing the disability and like fixing the person. And so, like, how has your journey been with that? Like with developing a positive mindset around your own disability and then, like disability in general even?

 

Jen:

Yeah, that's definitely been a very long journey that's been very up and down.

 

Sarah Todd:

Book reference!

 

Jen:

As you will maybe hear about in the book, Up and Down. You do get a little bit of that idea. But, yeah, that was definitely a difficult journey when I first became disabled. I had a lot of feelings about what that would mean for me. Our society's views on disability are mostly negative, so I guess that's pretty much all I knew was that if you were paralyzed, that you would never be able to do anything, and you don't get very much representation of what disabled people can do, and so I definitely felt like it would be a failure on me and my life, and I’d never be able to do what I wanted with my life if I wasn't fully recovered. So the goal at first was full recovery. And it was really disheartening when I didn't progress as much as I wanted to and when there were still things that were difficult. But then, as I lived more of my life with a disability, I learned to adapt to things and it was a lot easier to adapt than I would have expected, and it didn't take long for me to not have to think about the majority of random everyday adaptations I was making. And it didn't take long before the disability itself wasn't something that I was thinking about constantly. And my goal was no longer to get rid of it. And so I eventually had to learn that it's not inherently negative. A lot of good things came out of the disability and being a disabled person, friendships and the connections I made, and gaining the ability to adapt in that way, being more flexible and all of that. That was all because of the disability experience, so I had to eventually learn, reflect on all of that and learn that it's not only negative and most of the negative aspects of disability are from systemic issues and ableism and other people's ideas about me.

 

Sarah Todd:

It really is like a whole journey, kind of within your own mind. Kind of wrestling with all of these ideas and learning — or I guess unlearning — a lot of your own ablest ideas that we have because of what society tells us about disabled people. A lot of it includes just thinking about the disability experience within your own mind and realizing how it affects yourself and your surroundings, like the people around you and how that comes into play. So it really is a whole journey, I think, for every disabled person. And not every disabled person will be able to reach the point of acceptance, because it definitely is difficult. And I wish that more disabled people could. And I think they could if there were more support and more positive talk about disability, which is one of the reasons why I want to highlight all these positive aspects of disability in my podcast. But yeah, a lot of what you said, I could definitely relate to myself. I didn't accept my disability at first at all, especially the first two years, as you know, were really difficult. And even into the first four years of my disability experience were really difficult for me. And then honestly, I think once I started accepting my disability, it kind of came a little more quickly for me. I think I just kind of took it in stride. Once I realized it was okay to be disabled, I stuck with that and I was like, “Okay, I'm going into full acceptance here.” So, yeah, it really is a unique journey that a lot of us disabled people go through. So today, do you find it difficult just at times, even though you've gone through this journey of acceptance, do you find it difficult to maintain a positive mindset as a disabled person?

 

Jen:

I wouldn't say it's necessarily difficult. There are definitely certain things, like any time there are certain obstacles that you run into that have to do with disability, it's a little bit of a step backwards and can be really disappointing sometimes and really frustrating a lot of the time. So that difficulty doesn't come from the disability itself, though. It's more, again, coming from how society tells us how we should feel about our disability. So as you said, you have to unlearn those things, but we kind of get this message all the time that we should feel so negatively towards the disability. And it's really hard to push back against that. And it sometimes feels weird to be positive about it because we've grown up feeling like that's not how you're supposed to feel about it. So that has made it a little difficult and still occasionally does. And as I said, the disability doesn't tend to bother me except when I run into things that make me fear that systemic ableism will stop me from reaching my full potential one way or the other when I worry about barriers. Sometimes I'll worry about employers being discriminatory and not wanting to put accommodations in place, and that's technically illegal, but there are so many loopholes that we can't do anything about. And whenever that comes up, I get a little scared about it. So whenever things like that bring that fear up again, that makes it a little difficult to maintain the positive mindset and bring some of those feelings again would be so much easier if I wasn't disabled because I wouldn't have to worry about these things. But really, that's not the issue. It would really just be so much easier if our world was built more for us and was more willing to accommodate us and everything.

 

Sarah Todd:

It's so true. And when you mentioned that we're told that disability isn't something that should be positive, like when we maybe start accepting our disability and then we're like, "wait, that's not something I should love!" That is definitely a tough thought to have. And I know I had that when I first started realizing, like, actually I've had a lot of great things happen because of my disability and I'm thankful for the great things that have come out of my disability. I remember thinking, “that's not something I should love.” And I actually remember texting you and telling you that I was kind of viewing my disability as a good thing. And like, I love a lot of things that my disability has given me. And I felt like that was weird and wrong. And you said something about how I was feeling that way because society says, like, you shouldn't love your disability, like it's just society saying it's something that's negative. And that was what was making me not love my disability or it was what was making me be hesitant about loving my disability. So I love that point that you made because it is hard to get past that initial thought that you have.

 

Jen:

Right. I don't remember that conversation, but I'm glad I did.

 

Sarah Todd:

So, yeah. Like I've learned so much from you. Like, seriously, I've had my own growth, but a lot of how I feel about my own disability. And just through the conversations we've had together, like I've learned so much about disability and the experience of being disabled and like, yeah, you teach me a lot and I feel like I tell you that all the time. But it's true.

 

Jen:

I me a lot to do because you've had a lot of good insight about it too. And thank you.

 

Sarah Todd:

So we teach each other.

 

Jen:

Yes, exactly.

 

Sarah Todd:

So as you mentioned, you have realized that society views disability very negatively. And why do you think this is? Why does society view disability as solely a negative experience?

 

Jen:

I think one of the biggest things is fear and lack of knowledge or lack of exposure. A lot of non-disabled people have their own personal fear of ever being disabled, because they just do not understand anything about the disability experience. And then that fear influences their views of us, because they fear ever becoming us. So they think that we must be miserable, and then that's a whole cycle there. And then there's also such a severe lack of true representation, which means that most people -- most non-disabled people -- are not properly exposed to the realities of the disability experience. They're not exposed to what the actual difficulties are. They're not exposed to all of the things that disabled people can do and any of those realities. So they have a very untrue understanding of what the disability experience is and then also all of those unknown aspects of disability, because, again, the lack of representation, all those unknown things make it scarier, which fuels that fear even more. And the representation we do have tends to be very negative and very focused on the challenges. The movies we have about people who are disabled usually aren't written by disabled writers. The characters are usually played by non-disabled actors. And so all of that makes the representation just come from the non-disabled person's viewpoint. And that's usually just completely wrong. It's not actually what it's like. But then other people see that representation. They think that's what it's like. And then that makes it seem scary. And so it's just like -- 

 

Sarah Todd: 

It's like a cycle.

 

Jen:

Right. It's a whole cycle and it's really complicated. And then also I think there's a part of people — maybe not consciously — but a part of them do realize that we have these barriers as well. Because again, systemic ableism. So I think a part of them just kind of realizes that and that also would fuel the fear, because if you can't always access a restaurant -- like if you're a wheelchair-user -- and you can't always access a restaurant because of the stairs or there are tables crowded together you can't move through. And it's like, “Oh, that must be horrible, because I can't like go to these places,” but you attribute that to the disability and not the way that the restaurant is set up, you know? And then that goes for any accessibility issues in general, but that's just an example. So, I think subconsciously they also recognize those barriers, but they just misattribute it. So they misattribute where the real difficulties come from. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Yeah, a lot of what's at play here is the medical model versus the social model. Like, the medical model being that the disabled person and their disability -- that's the problem. And then the social model being that it's society and the barriers that are the problem. And I think the medical model can be a little tricky, because it can kind of blame the disabled person and their body for the inaccessibility, and that can cause issues with self-worth and feeling like a burden. And the social model really puts the onus on society to do their part and make things accessible. And if people realized this difference more and they focused on the social model more, then they would actually realize that accessibility benefits everyone. And if something is accessible, it's good for society as a whole — not just disabled people. So it really benefits everyone, and if people learn that more and realize that, then the world would be a much better place.

 

Jen:

Yeah, and a lot of people try to ignore slash hide from the fact that anyone could be disabled at any time. I think a lot of non-disabled people think, “that would never be me,” but it very well could be, so it is your issue, too. And most people will eventually become disabled, because when you get old, you generally have more health issues and mobility issues and stuff like that and benefit from accessibility. So it very literally does benefit everyone, but people don't like to think about that, because it's a scary thought for them, but they don't like to think about that. Plus, if they blame it on whatever conditions and stuff — you know the medical model — if they blame any hardships on the disability itself, that kind of makes it so non-disabled people don't have to put any effort into accessibility, because it's like, “well, there's nothing we can do, because I can't cure spinal cord injuries ,so I can't help people's spinal cord injuries, because I don't know the cure for that.” But it's like — that's not — that's not the issue. It doesn't need to be cured. We need so much more accessibility and all of that. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Right. And also when you mentioned the fear and how they're just so scared of becoming disabled — that should really motivate them to want the world to be more accessible. 

 

Jen:

Right. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

It's really weird that people are so scared of becoming disabled because they're obviously kind of thinking about the challenges that come with it, but then they're just not going to advocate for accessibility, and they won't call out inaccessibility. They'll just be sitting there scared of being disabled, and they're worried about that. So being disabled wouldn't be as scary if the world were accessible and accommodating, and if people weren't ableist. 

 

Jen:

Right. If it was just as normalized as having nearsightedness. Like, some people wear glasses and some people don't. It's like if disability was as normalized as that, and the accommodations for a disability were also as normalized and integrated into society (because technically glasses are an accommodation for being nearsighted or farsighted, etc., you know any visual issues that can be corrected by glasses). And it's very normalized for that to be accommodated by some people wearing glasses and having the option to sit the front of the classroom if your eyesight isn't as good, you know? 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Right. 

 

Jen:

Like those are very just typical accommodations that we make that are just so normalized. Like you wouldn't think anything of a fifth grader who wears glasses sitting near the front of the classroom so he can see the board better, and nobody would give that a second thought, but that is technically an accommodation just like the accommodations we make for disability. But accommodations for disabilities are just not normalized. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

They're not normalized. 

 

Jen:

Like people don't think of them as much, and it's like a whole like big deal if someone does get accommodations and quote unquote “special” accommodations for the disability. People either will be jealous that they get it or they fear it so much that they don't really think about the really easy everyday accommodations we can make. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Yeah, and I'd actually never even thought of that myself. Like the glasses comparison and sitting closer to the board is a great example. Like I've had so many people in my classes go up just at the front of the board and no one thinks anything of that. 

 

Jen:

Exactly. But then, if you're in a classroom and you need — it's like if you're a wheelchair-user, and you just need an accessible desk that doesn't have a chair by it and is high enough to fit your wheelchair under it — and then suddenly that's like this big eye catcher, and everyone stares at the other desk.

 

Sarah Todd: 

They’re like, “Woah, what is this?!” 

 

Jen: 

They’re like, “what is this?” or if you're at an assembly, and you can't sit on the floor and most people — most kids — are sitting on the floor, and so you're given a chair to sit in. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

I've had that experience! 

 

Jen:

Yeah, exactly. I was thinking about you. Like, if you have trouble sitting on the floor because of your disability and you're given a chair to sit in. And suddenly everyone's just like, “well why do you get a chair?” But like, yeah. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Or, “you're so lucky you get to sit in a chair!” 

 

Jen:

Like everyone's staring at that as if it's not just this really simple accommodation to be made. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Right. 

 

Jen:

And it just — it should be really thought about and normalized more, but again, nobody thinks anything of someone with glasses sitting at the front of the classroom, so. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Right, right. And it is the same thing. It's an accommodation! 

 

Jen:

Exactly and people with glasses don't think of it as an accommodation, but a lot of it is. People who wear glasses would be disabled if we didn't have glasses, 

you know? 

 

Sarah Todd: 

Right, exactly. So clearly, accommodating people and normalizing these accommodations can help disabled people recognize that it's okay to be disabled and help us feel more welcome, but what do you think could be done to help disabled people who are struggling to find positives within their own experiences and help them recognize that there are some positives? 

 

Jen:

Yeah, I think a big thing would be just someone telling them that it is okay to question those internalized ideas they have about disability and recognize them and sort through them. It's okay to have some negative feelings about it, too, and that's always completely valid. But I think it's important for people to explore where the negative ideas about their disability come from. If it's from their specific disability, or if it's from the messages that they have unconsciously received their whole lives about disability. So I think just closely examining them can help find positives in that experience. And also I guess reflecting on anything that has come into your life because of disability. That is, anything that's come into your life because of your disability directly or indirectly that makes you happy. Like my friendship with you makes me happy, so that's obviously a positive. There are more indirect things. Like, swimming makes me happy, and I probably wouldn't be swimming if I could still run, and just a lot of things like that. Like singing makes me happy, but I probably wouldn't have done choir if I was still able to play an instrument. There are just so many things that are positive that probably wouldn't have happened. Even like obscurely indirect things. Like, my friends here in grad school make me really happy, and part of that is because they're really really good about adapting things without a second thought. 

 

Sarah Todd: 

They're so sweet. You have the best friends. 

 

Jen: 

They're so accommodating of my disability. My one friend -- she made me a bracelet, and she made the strings longer, because she thought that would make it easier for me to get it on and off. That's just like -- I know such a really simple thing, and she just said it really casually. And I was so proud because I was able to get it on and off myself. And she was like, “Oh, yeah, I really hoped that making the strings longer would help with that.” And I was like, “Woah -- 

 

Sarah Todd:

That's adorable. 

 

Jen:

— I wouldn't have even thought of that.” 

 

Sarah Todd:

I wouldn’t have thought of that, either! 

 

Jen:

I was like, “Yes, Megan!” 

 

Sarah Todd:

That is so sweet. 

 

Jen:

Yeah, so like little things like that that just -- I wouldn't have recognized obviously if I didn't have a disability as something that's a good friend thing to do. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, it makes your friendship stronger in a way, because you have the vulnerability of needing help from them, but them also really enjoying helping you and loving how it makes them closer to you. 

 

Jen:

Yeah, exactly. So those are just a lot of things — so I guess thinking about things like that that are really related to your disability in some way -- that kind of helps find the positives in it. And I think also reading about disability — reading about the disability experience and disabled identity and stuff like that — can help with that acceptance of yourself as well. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, for sure. I love what you said about trying to think of the positive things that have come out of it, and that is really what helped me when I first realized like, “Wow, I had a Make-A-Wish to meet One Direction, and that wouldn't have happened without my disability.” 

 

Jen:

Right. 

 

Sarah Todd:

It sounds silly, but that was an amazing experience, and I've had so many more things come out of it. My number one thing is definitely my friendship with you, because we are just so close in a way that I don't think I could ever match in any other friendship. We just have so many unique experiences to share with each other as we've talked about. So yeah, I definitely think it is a good idea to, if you can, just try to maybe sit down or even journal and think about the positive things that have come out of your disability. Because even if it takes some time, with some digging, you should be able to find at least one thing that has come out of your disability. 

 

Jen:

Yeah, and hopefully examining where those negative feelings come from also helps you realize that that isn't against your self-worth, you know. The difficulties you have about disability — it's not because you're disabled in a direct sense. It's because of society and these systemic barriers, so it's not your fault, and those negative feelings aren't your fault. And so hopefully, that kind of helps with your own self-worth as well. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yes, I love that so much! That was such a good answer. So finally, I saved this question for last on purpose, because I think this will just be really interesting. So I really want to know: for you, what has been the most positive aspect of your own disability experience? 

 

Jen:

I feel like it's hard to say the most —

 

Sarah Todd:

Just one thing.

 

Jen:

— yeah, like just one thing. Obviously, our friendship is up there. The most positive. Because as you said, that sort of bond and type of friendship I can't imagine having — I can't imagine having with anyone else, and that wouldn't have happened without the disability. A lot of our deep disability talks. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Deep conversations! 

 

Jen:

Yes. 

 

Sarah Todd:

We wouldn't even know each other existed, which is so weird.

 

Jen:

Oh, that would be super weird. But I think I've also learned a lot more about myself than I would have otherwise without a disability, because I kind of had to figure out who I was beyond physical ability, as I said, because I think we put a lot of emphasis on physical ability as being part of your worth and being who you are. I mean I was — I don't know — a big part of my identity pre-TM was being super active and strong, and — 

 

Sarah Todd:

Because you ran! 

 

Jen:

— right, I ran, I did a lot of gymnastics and tumbling classes, and I really loved doing cartwheels. And I loved walking on my hands randomly, and I wasn't good. I would just go around the house walking on my hands sometimes. If I tried walking on my hands now I think that might be a disaster! Yeah, so disability jokes. Also those, you know? Always a good time. So I kind of had to obviously examine who I was beyond that, which kind of — I think I learned a lot more about what makes me happy and everything, because not just physical things make me happy as it turns out. There are plenty of other things that do. And so I think that just — that helps a lot with that. 

 

Sarah Todd:

Yeah, I love that. It doesn't have to always be a sport or doing something active. And those things can for sure bring joy, and —

 

Jen:

Right.

 

Sarah Todd:

— you still participate in sports, because you do adaptive swimming, but there are other things. Things we can't even see. For me, one of my main things is I've learned so much about myself, but also just in general. Like, about the disability community. And so I love that I have that increased knowledge and insight. So yeah, I think it's interesting just to hear what everyone who has a disability has to say about their own favorite positive aspect of their disability, because it's different for everyone, so yeah. 

 

Jen:

Yeah, it's really interesting. 

 

Sarah Todd:

So, this has been a fantastic talk. You literally have the best insight ever. This is why — like well — this is one of the reasons why I love you so much. I learn so much from you every time we talk, and I know my listeners have definitely learned a lot from you as well. So Jen, thank you so much for coming on my podcast. This was incredible. I really enjoyed it, and I always love getting to chat with you! 

 

Jen:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's always fun to converse with you about these things. 

 

Sarah Todd:

We have so much fun together! 

 

Sarah Todd:

Thank you so much for tuning in to this week's episode of Positively Opposite! If you'd like to connect with me, visit my website, saratoddhammer.com. Transcripts of each episode will be available there. Also, be sure to follow the Positively Opposite Instagram for all the latest updates and special content regarding the podcast. I hope you'll join me and another amazing guest at the next episode!

 

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