Aspirations of Inspiration.

When I started this blog as a student, I barely expected anyone to read it. I thought a few of my friends & peers might find it interesting, and I found that writing about my experiences helped me to process them. It wasn’t until some months after starting to write that I even set up social media to support my blog, & it took over a year before I bought a proper web domain, having never expected Diary of a Disabled Person to get beyond its first birthday.

As the weeks turned into months, & the months into years, my words appeared to be having a bigger impact. More people were visiting my blog, & more of them were returning each week for my latest piece. My follower count was climbing, not just on WordPress but on social media too, in particular Twitter. While I am under no delusions of grandeur or infamy (except for the fact that I am undeniably fabulous), it is hard to deny that my influence is growing.

Anyone who knew me at school will know that I was mostly quiet & reclusive, putting up walls before allowing people to get close, & preferring to spend time with my cat than other people. These traits have mellowed but still exist to this day. My loud & brash mannerisms displayed on the internet give the impression that I am an extrovert, but in reality, if I get an unexpected phone call, you can find me hiding behind the sofa. Yet I unwittingly find myself at the head of a slowly growing movement towards improved accessibility & equality for the disabled, with people looking to me for advice & asking me for my opinion on stories in the news.

Almost on a weekly basis I get emails asking me to participate in equality groups & societies based in Leeds, inviting me to give interviews for articles, & even to appear on documentaries representing the disabled community. Increasingly I’ve had to politely turn down many of these opportunities, as working full time while running a blog leaves little time for rest as it is, & I do have a chronic illness after all!

As an aside, if you message me trying to get me to sell something for you, you’re going to get ignored. If you persist, you’ll get blocked. I don’t do shady business because, contrary to my appearance, I have standards.

Anyway, to go from a complete nobody to slightly less of a nobody in the space of two years has been a lot of things; exciting, enthralling, & downright bloody scary. Recently, an American teacher emailed me to ask if he could use my short stories to educate 9th grade children about disability. After googling what on earth 9th grade means, I said yes, but the idea that I could be having an influence on impressionable youths across the globe does make me worry for the future generation.

I’m proud to achieve what I already have, & I’m excited to see where this goes next. I hope that my influence continues to grow as I would like to help disabled people of future generations have a slightly easier time of it than I did, if only so I can use “back in my day” to annoy them.

While it’s important to me that I don’t become “inspiration porn”, deep down everyone secretly wants to have left a mark on the world, & I feel like this is mine.

Inspired.

Being referred to as an inspiration should be a compliment. It means your influence has impacted others, caused them to change their behaviours, or take action on a particular problem. It means you are respectable, even exceptional. Unfortunately, as any disabled person will tell you, this isn’t always the case. Being called an inspiration can be flattering, uplifting, and empowering, but it can also be embarrassing, patronising, and downright ableist.

Recently I went for drinks after work with several colleagues, my boss, his boss, and the boss of my boss’s boss. It was a fairly small and quiet affair, with the alcohol flowing perhaps a little too freely, and all pretence of professionalism left behind at the office. As the evening progressed I ended up in conversation with Supreme Leader Debs (the boss of my boss’s boss). We had discussed a few elements of work as I was still fairly new to the team, but conversation naturally drifted towards our activities outside of work. I mentioned the whole writing thing very casually, as well as my activities in support of equality and inclusion both in and out of the workplace, and also that I was soon to be married. After listening to me talk about my very full life, all of which happened outside of a full-time job while living with a debilitating chronic illness, she told me I was an inspiration. Was I uncomfortable in any way with this? Quite frankly, no. I was actually pretty excited.

Just a few days after that I paid a quick visit to the corner shop to pick up a few essentials, nothing major, and nothing as exciting as the glamourous lifestyle I like to project on Instagram (hey, we’re all guilty of that, right?). An older man at the self-service checkout next to me tapped my arm and told me I was a true inspiration, very loudly and very much in earshot of everyone else in the shop. I stammered an awkward thank you, knowing he meant well and not to offend, and tried to hide my beetroot-red face from the rest of the shoppers. I was extremely uncomfortable, and would have made a quick exit had it not been for the fact that I hadn’t yet paid for my groceries and would have been arrested for shop-lifting.

Two very similar things had been said to me, and yet they evoked two entirely different emotional responses. Why?

There are several factors to consider here. First of all, Debs was not a stranger; she knew me and my capabilities, and could make a much better judgement of my lifestyle because of that. Secondly, this was said in one-to-one conversation in a noisy pub, not projected loudly across an entire shop. The fact that a little alcohol was involved in the first instance may well have reduced social inhibitions on both our parts, making it even less likely to be embarrassing for either party. Perhaps most importantly of all was the topic of discussion at the time; I wasn’t just doing something as mundane as getting groceries, but was talking about essentially having two jobs and quite the double life, managing to perform well in both, all while I was ill. Put blatantly and a little arrogantly, this is no small feat.

It can be hard not to feel patronised or even a little exploited when a random stranger declares you worthy of knighthood for existing, loudly saying as much in public. I know that no offence was meant and that’s why I try to be patient, just smiling and nodding before carrying on with whatever I’m doing. At the same time it’s almost impossible not to be annoyed at people’s ignorance and lack of empathy; it’s not like this is the first time this topic has been touched upon. Nor, I’m sure, will it be the last.