I’m as guilty as most when it comes to inspiration porn.
Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”.
Prior to acquiring my disability I had very little insight into the life that people with disabilities lived so my exposure to disabilities was mostly through motivational posters and token good news articles about how some poor disabled person overcame the atrocious adversity of being disabled to accomplish something great like getting a job or using assistive devices to do every day tasks.
When I was a kid there was a well known man in my then hometown which became a city. I would see him every time I went into town, in his electric wheelchair, smiling face, no lower limbs, waving to passers by and collecting for charities. I remember one day saying to my mother, “It makes me grateful when I see Benny. He gets up every day, gets himself dressed and comes into town rain, hail or shine and he’s ALWAYS happy. You look at him and wonder what he’s got to be happy about. Maybe we should try to be more like Benny.” I was horrified when her response was something like “His kids dress him and drop him in so he can make money for himself. He smiles all the time cos he’s too stupid to know any different.” My mother never had time for anyone who could possibly have had a more unfortunate life than her.
Still I looked to people like Benny who I considered having a more unfortunate life than I and tried to remind myself that if they could do it, then so could I. In all honesty now that I look back I think I was always looking for ways to deny that my life was really as crumby as it was. I didn’t have the power to change it then. Once I found the power, I did change it.
It wasn’t truly until I lived the experience of having a disability that I began to understand, people would look at me in pity and I knew they were silently telling themselves that their life wasn’t so bad. It could be worse, they could be me. After some adjustment time of living with a disability I saw my life the same as before. I just had to fight a little harder for people to include me and that wasn’t my problem, it was theirs. I still had this sense of being the unachieving gimp. What astounding feat was I going to achieve whilst afflicted with this neurological disorder as I clutched my walking stick in one hand and self propelled my wheelchair with the other?
I was never good at sports, I couldn’t run a marathon before so why in the world would I try it now? I was a pretty smart cookie but I’m no Nobel Prize candidate. All I’d ever really been good at was blending in and being average. So what made me think I had to suddenly become this greatly recognised over achiever just because I found myself suddenly disabled? Two words. Inspiration Porn. That and the expectations of society that people with disabilities who aren’t trying to do anything amazing are just a burden on society who just won’t try hard enough. It sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud but that’s honestly the way it feels. It isn’t just the pressure put on us by non disabled people. There are people with disabilities who fall into the “On the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational, This is what we call the Muppet Show” trap and whilst they’re up there on their very unstable pedestal, telling the rest of us how if they can do it we have no excuse. Probably because like me the most exposure they got to people with disabilities was glamorous inspiration porn, or were the only person with a disability for a 500km radius surrounded by non disabled people who told them they can do anything they set their minds to, which is right in euphemistic terms but in reality unless technology assists, no one with a severed spinal chord is ever going to walk. No one with amputated legs is ever going to grow them back.
I met a lovely young man who at a young age acquired a disability by way of an accident. We are from different worlds. We have different desires, different needs and different expectations in life. For a brief moment when he posted a photo of himself at the gym lifting his own bodyweight and his wheelchair off the ground with the comment “What’s your excuse?” I felt rather pathetic that I hadn’t gone to the gym all week. Then I remembered, I’m 40 not 25. I have a degenerative neurological disorder and a degenerative skeletal disease, not a spinal cord injury. In terms of disability comparison we are chalk and cheese. No, I don’t need to be dragged into the Muppet Show and exploit myself to make others accept me because I can do what they can’t or want to or wish they could.
Eventually I found myself comfortable with letting go of the expectation that I had to be anything other than average and that my life IS normal for me. Just like yours is normal for you. I don’t have to achieve anything great just so that society will consider me worthy of the assistance I get for having a disability (which is no luxury believe me). I worked to contribute before I became dependent on welfare assistance and I am fortunate enough to live in a civilised society where we provide for those in need. I don’t need to justify my existence. I’m happy just being my children’s mum. My cat’s servant. Friend to my peers.
I’ve let go of the need to motivate others and inspire them based on living with a disability. If I have any grounds to motivate and inspire people it’s based on the crap I survived long before I became disabled. The only thing that changed was how I do things now. That and I sleep a lot more.
What’s my excuse? I’m not interested in running marathons thanks but if you want to do it then good for you! Quit? How do you quit something you never even started? Don’t live up to the expectations of others. Just do what you want to do and be happy with it. That in itself is amazing already.