Come As You Are, In Sickness And In Health
Remember Sharon Stone?
The actress had a massive career in the 1990s starting with Basic Instinct, and then following that up with movies such as Sliver, Casino, and other blockbusters. She frequently graced movie posters and magazine covers throughout North America and beyond.
And then, in an instant, she vanished.
Except she didn’t vanish. In 2001, Sharon Stone had a massive stroke and a brain hemorrhage.
While media accounts downplayed the severity of the incident at the time, Stone now says that she was given a 1% chance of survival, and that it took her 7 years to recover.
Even though Sharon Stone managed to survive, her career did not. In a presentation this week, Stone mentioned that she’s struggled to get work for the past two decades since her illness, and the restrictions within her contract to protect her health (shorter work days than other actors) have placed her at a disadvantage in the industry.
Sharon Stone may have the podium of her fame to address these issues, but they’re issues that millions with invisible disabilities and health challenges struggle with on a daily basis.
For centuries, disability was automatically equated with weakness, as though it were some sort of moral failing.
We were taught that illness or infirmity should be a private matter, and not something that was to be talked about publicly.
Physical illness? You’d best go and hide. Mental illness? You keep that to yourself.
Times have changed so much over the past few decades on both fronts, and the influx of technology has done wonders to level the playing field.
When on a video call from the neck up, your audience may not be able to tell if you’re a wheelchair user, have a limp, on an ostomy bag, or living with depression, and many believe that these issues should still be kept private within one’s personal life.
Those are likely the same folks that believed that Sharon Stone should have worked hard to stage a glamorous big screen comeback, and dismissed her illness flippantly as a “thing of the past.”
But real life doesn’t work like that.
Real life is all of us coming to the table as we are, in sickness and in health, with whatever history and whatever challenges we may be facing at the time.
Real life means that whatever challenges you face make you who you are, and form an integral part of your story.
Countless individuals with disabilities fight hard against being identified exclusively by their disability, and with good reason. A person with vision loss or a hearing impairment is so much more than that – they may also be a spouse, sibling, child, friend, professional, artist, etc.
This is not to say that anyone should be identified exclusively for those reasons, nor that there should be any sort of mandatory disclosure for those who are still uncomfortable revealing their challenges to the world.
Rather, for those who have grown in their comfort around disclosure, it’s about making whatever disability you live with simply another part of your story.
It’s about taking whatever you’ve learned from living with your challenges – be it empathy, strength, patience or anything else – and letting those qualities make you a stronger leader in your business, a better advocate for your clients, or a more understanding business partner.
It’s about showing the world that there is NOTHING about you to be ashamed of – not who you are, and not the challenges that you are living with on a routine basis.
So, if you’re ready, now is a great time to tell your whole story. Talk about the things that make you you.
If you’re comfortable using your story to uplift and inspire others, great! If you’re not ready to do that yet, that’s okay too. But please please please don’t feel the need to hide in the shadows just because you worry about perception, or making others comfortable. You have so much more to bring to the table than other people’s opinions of you.
To quote the great Captain Raymond Holt from Brooklyn 99, “every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.”