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What is "On Being a Cripple" by Nancy Mairs?

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"On Being a Cripple" by Nancy Mairs is an essay about the experience of being crippled. Mairs begins the autobiographical work by owning the word "cripple" and identifying herself as such. The remainder of the essay details the diagnosis and lifelong effects of her multiple sclerosis.

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"On Being a Cripple" is commonly referenced in medical humanities courses. While tackling a serious topic that has the potential to make audiences uncomfortable, Mairs carefully intermingles playful banter and the wisdom that dealing with her condition has helped her to develop. Though she is brutally honest when describing the difficulties of being a cripple, she makes a point of reflecting on the humorous and enlightening moments that have come about as a result of her progressive multiple sclerosis.

Mairs explains some of the physical effects multiple sclerosis has had on her, but she spends as much time celebrating the abilities she has retained. She also dedicates a good portion of the essay to the social consequences of being a cripple, including the burdens on her spouse and children, who have remained consistently supportive in spite of challenges. As a woman and a feminist, Mairs acknowledges the psychological effects of being crippled, especially the self-deprecation and body image issues that come as a result of being crippled in a society with a narrow concept of beauty.

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