As we approached the end of the decade, the 10 Year Challenge began to circulate on social media. On all platforms people were sharing pictures of themselves from the start of 2010, & comparing them to current pictures of themselves. I was tempted to share a social media post showing my transformation, but as I started to put together the tweet, I realised it could easily be taken out of context. So, I decided to make a blog post instead.
The reason for my concern is this; 10 years ago, I wasn’t sick.
If I had posted that tweet, it wouldn’t have taken long for it to be turned into a pity-post, further contributing to the ableism disabled people face on social media & on the street. Worse still, the possibility of it becoming “inspiration porn” was not remote either. The truth of the matter is that the change that occurred over the past decade is a lot more complex than just becoming sick.
10 years ago, I looked like this:
I picked these photos primarily because they show me in engaging in some very physical activities; crossing the river via stepping stones outside Bolton Abbey, & hiking up to Bronte Bridge & Top Withins, the setting for the classic book Wuthering Heights. Another factor was trying to find images where I didn’t look like a complete dork. I may have failed on that count.
Anyway, here’s what I look like now:
The change is obvious; not only do I now have boobs, but I also have a wheelchair. Without full explanation, it would be all too easy to misinterpret the meaning of my post. If you’d shown me the current photos then, I would have freaked out big time.
When I first contracted meningitis, & then when I went on to develop M.E., it honestly felt like my life was falling apart. Nothing was certain anymore; my education, my friendships, my potential career, it was all gone or so I thought. Had you shown me the current photos then too, it could have only made things worse.
However, the physical transformation shaped & was eventually overshadowed by my personal transformation, & that is something no photograph can show. Adapting to life with a disability meant that I developed skills & emotional processing I could never have unlocked without it, which much like a vampire will never show up on camera. Posting those images straight to social media could not capture the most important part of the change.
My story is not meant to evoke pity, nor is it meant to be inspirational. What I want it to show is how adaptable even a naïve & inexperienced kid can be. Most people would have adapted to disability in much the same way I have, it’s just that never having become disabled they don’t know that. 10 years ago I would have said the same had someone asked me about how I would react to becoming disabled. While I want to show that seemingly impassable obstacles can be overcome, I also want to highlight that it’s still OK to feel frustrated by them too.
I don’t want to be pitied because of my transformation, although a little empathy would go a long way instead. I don’t want to be heralded as some kind of hero for surviving it either; we all have our own hardships to face, it’s just that mine aren’t as easily hidden as others (not that we should have to hide them at all). 10 years has changed an awful lot about me & my circumstances, but you’d be hard-pressed not to find someone who hadn’t undergone some significant changes in the space of a decade.
What I want to show is that the unexpected will come out of nowhere (I mean, otherwise it would be expected), & that all you can do is adapt. Survive. Overcome. This is what I did; no more, no less. Nor can I predict with much certainty what the coming decade will throw at me, but I’m not too worried about it either. I know I’m tougher than I look & I’m adaptable. Who knows what transformations lie ahead?