Rethinking Superhuman Strength as Someone With Friedreich’s Ataxia

Is it possible to 'override' your disability in an emergency?

Kendall Harvey avatar

by Kendall Harvey |

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Most of us have probably heard inspiring stories about “mom strength,” “superhuman strength,” or “hero strength.” This phenomenon, known as hysterical strength, refers to extraordinary displays of human strength, typically prompted by a life-threatening situation.

As someone living with a degenerative condition called Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my strength and abilities, or lack thereof. As a mom and classic overthinker, I’ve also spent a lot of time worrying about emergency situations.

I like to think that, if I were confronted with a life-or-death situation like those stories we hear on the news, I’d miraculously be able to override my disabilities, rise to the occasion, and save the day by performing feats of superhuman strength. Who wouldn’t like to think that they would be a superhero, even if only for a moment? And what person battling disabilities doesn’t fantasize about being not only able-bodied but exceptional?

Unfortunately, I was recently in an intense situation that not only made my disability extremely inconvenient, but also made my inabilities seem dangerous.

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My husband had been battling a substantial kidney stone for about a week. His pain got so severe that he was vomiting and couldn’t see straight, so I had to rush him to the emergency room for the second time in four days.

The whole drive there, I was trying to figure out the logistics upon our arrival. How was I, a disabled, 115-pound woman, supposed to help my 185-pound husband, who was screaming and doubled over in pain, make it from the car to the ER entrance?

He couldn’t lean on me for support. I despised the thought of prolonging his agony by making him wait for me to get out of the car, walk around to get my walker, and slowly make my way to the emergency intake doors to collect a wheelchair for him.

I was absolutely heartbroken that he was forced to walk inside, all hunched over, by himself. He actually began the check-in process before I even made it to the ambulance bay. He was able to demonstrate hysterical strength, and my disability didn’t even give me a percentage of a reprieve so I could move with urgency.

There are so many times that I have cried, screamed, and complained about the unfairness of having FA, and that moment when my husband was in great need is a moment of unfairness that will haunt me for years to come. I desperately wish that I could’ve just hopped out of the car and rushed to help him to the door, but my body wouldn’t let me, no matter how badly my heart wanted it or how irrationally I believed that I could outthink FA, even just this once.

I’m trying to adjust my perspective of that memory. Even though I wasn’t able to physically be a superhero, I was able to safely get him to the proper heroes despite the tornado of thoughts swirling around in my mind. I knew what he needed at that moment, and I met that need as quickly as possible.

In many situations, there are ways to be heroic, demonstrate grace under pressure, or positively affect the outcome that have nothing to do with physical abilities. I will continue seeking those opportunities out and try to be my own form of superhero.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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