Publication Date: September 7, 2023
Jennifer Gasner is seventeen when her dreams are shattered overnight. Receiving a diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare genetic neuromuscular disease, means she must prepare herself for a life of loss. When she starts college, she can still walk on her own, but as her disease progresses, she spirals further into sadness, denial, and alienation. She turns to alcohol and a toxic relationship to distract her from what she refuses to accept—that her body, her self-esteem, and her hope for her future are failing.
When Jennifer develops a friendship with rock star Dave Matthews, her outlook changes. She begins to understand that using a wheelchair doesn’t mean her life is over. In fact, when she discovers disability culture, she realizes it’s not her body that needs to be fixed but her assumptions about being disabled.
In her captivating memoir, My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis, Jennifer invites you into her world, where she must learn to view her changing body with compassion and choose gratitude over anger as she finds strength and acceptance in a whole new way of moving through life.
For Jennifer Gasner, the road to accepting a diagnosis of Friedreich’s Ataxia has been filled with challenges. At 16, she knew something was wrong with her motor skills.
She details her story in My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis,. The contents are raw as she uses alcohol to mask reality. Rather than acknowledging her urinary accidents and seeking help from her doctor, she feels shame and embarrassment.
Back in the early 1990s, disabilities were treated much differently than today. As a teenager, anything that was different than the norm was considered to be inferior. That attitude changes as Jennifer’s mobility becomes severely compromised.
While her early dreams of a dream college required some adjustments, she didn’t let the diagnosis stop her. Her passion for music resonates throughout the story, especially her experience as a student radio DJ and an encounter with the Dave Matthews Band.
Seeing life through the author’s eyes offers a much different perspective as she matures and grows to embrace her differences.
My Unexpected Life gives a first-person account of life with a neurological condition causing a complete upheaval of her future plans.
Jennifer Gasner received her BA in English from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and her MS in recreation from Western Illinois University. Her work with Independent Living Centers enabled her to learn about various disability programs throughout the country and ignited her passion for disability culture. She relocated to San Diego, California, on her own at the age of twenty-eight.
As a mentor for What’s Next, a program for youth with disabilities, and as co-chair of UC San Diego’s Staff Association for staff with disabilities, Jennifer solidified her role in the San Diego disability community. In 2020, Jennifer became an ambassador for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), raising awareness about Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA). She participated in Rare Across America, meeting with legislators to discuss laws affecting more than 25 million Americans living with one or more rare diseases.
Jennifer is a member of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association, and her writing has been published in Shaking the Tree, volumes 3 and 4. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, movies, and traveling. She lives with her boyfriend Gregory and their dog. My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis is her first book.