Thoughts on Attending BlogHer '13 with a Disability

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There are many blog posts about the mega BlogHer event that concluded in Chicago almost two weeks ago. Each one I read was wonderful, detailing the unique camaraderie between bloggers, discussing the brands at the Expo Hall, and summing up what each blogger learned both from the sessions and their own personal experiences.

As a writer and a health advocate, I can’t sit still without using my own voice about BlogHer from the point of view of a midlifer and someone living with a disability.

I had many concerns before going to BlogHer because of the enormity of the event. Would I be up to the task of reaching my personal BlogHer goals without re-awakening the monster of MS?

The issues people with Multiple Sclerosis suffer can be the same ones you suffer with your own illness. Here’s my experience at the conference. Did you experience this as well?

Stress: The enormity of BlogHer caused me great stress, even before leaving my front door. (Stress can exacerbate MS, so you must be careful to control it as best as you can.) How did I “de-stress”?

One word: Friendships.

At this point in my life, I never imagined I’d meet so many like-minded women that would become close friends. It seems extraordinary to me to be able to form an instant bond with so many people I’ve known for less than a year. I can’t explain it. I won’t analyze it. I’m simply grateful the gods looked down on me and decided to gift me with their presence.

Fatigue: This is a big one, because my body usually requires me to nap most afternoons. This year, BlogHer was taking place in two locations a few miles apart. I worried about the fatigue factor. There was a lot of walking during the day, and sometimes I felt my legs might give out in the middle of the hallway.

But something new happened. At least new to me.

I remember when I used to walk with a cane and drive with hand controls. I got many stares (really!) and heard people whispering about me (once I overheard someone say I was “faking” it. Can you imagine? Why in the world would I fake the need for a cane?) Even a well-known New York City anchorman asked me why I was using a cane when he spotted me walking toward my car in the handicapped space! (The last time I saw him, he was relegated to reading tweets on CNN to Wolf Blitzer.)

Pure ignorance.

At BlogHer, exhibitors were kind and caring. If I asked to sit in their chair (particularly James at WeMontage, Natalie at BackBlaze and Kristi and Kelly at Serta -- how I loved that bed and pillow!)

Enjoying the Beds at Serta
Credit: BlogHer '13

Next year, I hope BlogHer will consider holding the event at a place that is more accessible for people with disabilities. The venue was lovely in Chicago, but if it could be held under one roof, or in two venues closer to each other, that would make all the difference.

Awareness: There is more awareness about the difficulties of living with a disability since the enactment of The Americans with Disabilities Act. Awareness can lead to tolerance, tolerance can lead to compassion, and compassion will certainly lead to the hope of a better world. It is my hope that by writing about living with a disability, it will create a world of hope and promise and equality.

At BlogHer, I felt hope come alive. I felt the compassion. (“Cath, are you tired? Let’s take a break.”) I felt the tolerance. (“Cath, do you need to slow down? Let’s get some coffee.”) And I felt the hope. (“Why don’t you get in touch with me? I’ll hook you up with my mother-in-law’s disability group.”)

Gusher Alert: BlogHer was an extraordinary experience for me, and I’d like to thank my friends for making this experience a magical one. If I had a quarter for every laugh we shared, I’d be a millionaire. I came home feeling as if I were on Cloud Nine (except for the horrible all-day event of flying home). You are all an amazing group of women, and I thank Sharon Hodor Greenthal for the day she invited me to join Generation Fabulous.

Conclusion: Attending large conferences are possible for people with disabilities. As I said in my post about attending BlogHer with a disability, pre-planning, taking breaks and communicating your needs are important ways to stay healthy while enjoying yourself at a conference.

 How did you take care of yourself while you were at BlogHer?


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