April marked six years since I hit publish on my very first blog post. Six years of sharing, reflecting, reminiscing and pivoting from one element of my life, my story and passions to the next. It’s safe to say that it’s been a journey and a half, and despite some of the potholes, it has all led to some pretty wonderful destinations.
With this highly anticipated bounty of reflectiveness occupying the forefront of my mind, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my thoughts on something I’ve been meaning to address for a while now. In the name of transparency, I feel a tad nervous to put this post out there, but I’m hoping that when I click that publish button for the 281st time (oh my!), that I’ll be met with some semblance of reassurance that I’m not the only one.
Let me introduce you to the catalyst for this post; the concept of being an ‘inspiration’ and how I identify with this sometimes welcome, other times not so welcome ‘compliment’ as a disabled person.
There are a couple of disclaimers that I’d like to put on the table before we get into this – yes, I’m digressing, again, but it’s important to hear me out here.
Firstly, this isn’t a ‘Hey, look at me, I’m “inspirational”,’ kind of post. It’s merely an invasion of late night musings that I didn’t want to betray by not writing them down.
Secondly, I’m noting my own thoughts here and despite the fact that some people might be able to relate, it’s not a reflection of every disabled person’s experiences or opinions.
Oh, and thirdly, this post isn’t designed to enforce any offence, scepticism, or wariness when it comes to this topic. I simply want to shine the spotlight on some of my personal thoughts and hope it presents some food for thought in the process.
Now that’s out in the open, let’s talk.
“You’re an inspiration” – The conflict of the compliment
I’ve touched on the concept of being an inspiration on here in the past, back in the day of some truly cringe worthy content on my part. In that post, I called it an ‘honour’ to be labelled as ‘inspirational’ for sharing my experiences as a vision impaired and chronically ill person online.
That feeling still stands.
It’s empowering, motivating and uplifting to hear that my writing or advocacy work helps people, or inspires them to think of or consider something in a slightly different way.
But there’s also another side to the coin; a slightly rougher side that completely alters the meaning of the word when said in less forgiving fashion.
Let me explain.
I’ve heard the phrase ‘You’re an inspiration’ in two different contexts. Firstly, as part of my dalliances in blogging, writing and public speaking, and secondly, in the mundanity of my day-to-day life when walking with my cane around town (pre-pandemic), cooking a meal, picking an outfit, the list could go on.
The latter is what prompts this conflict, it’s like the strain between two magnets before they connect.
I remember one time I was navigating the stairs in M&S, cane in hand, when the person I was with said ‘You’re a star, so inspiring,’ out of the blue. Now, perhaps my mission to reach the free from millionaire’s shortbread was pretty impressive, but to be called inspiring for simply navigating a mundane task (well, depending on your feelings on M&S food), threw me off guard.
It’s in that moment when I was safely off the threat of the stairs, that I started to reflect on what hearing that meant to me. And then the spiral of inward questioning ensued, tangling into a web of confusion as to what ‘inspiring’ really means.
I rejected the idea of being inspiring in that moment because I didn’t feel as though the situation called for such praise. Non-disabled people aren’t considered inspiring for walking around a shop, so why should adding a cane into the equation automatically slot me into the list of synonyms for the word?
A tinge of hesitancy in accepting the word ‘inspiration’ has also saturated corners of my mind when people have called me as such after reading or watching a piece about me in the media. Again, receiving such lovely feedback is incredible and I’m so grateful to all the people who have reached out to me over the years, but I’ve also been left to wonder how and why people reach that conclusion when they’ve only been exposed to one fraction of my story.
Perhaps the fact that the media is the only place some people are introduced to stories of disabled people is at the crux of this matter, perhaps some people find it inspiring to hear stories and experiences they haven’t come across before, that’s fair.
But to automatically assign the label when you learn that someone is disabled is to simply assume the mask of a stereotype. It blurs the details of someone’s story and experiences.
I don’t set out to create inspiring content, this space is merely a reflection of thoughts that I’d like to share in the hope of raising awareness and helping others in a similar situation. Sometimes it can also be quite a selfish space which I utilise to indulge in my passion for writing. But I’m touched and happy that I can offer some semblance of inspiration and motivation through the content I create and through the platforms beyond my blog that I’ve also stepped to. I’m glad that I can shine the spotlight on topics that might have previously existed in the darkened recesses of society.
I’ve learned to accept the word ‘inspiration’ when it’s plucked from someone’s opinions after learning about my experiences, how I navigate through them in an authentic and positive way. But the bottom line for me is that I don’t want to be considered inspirational for simply living and existing as a disabled person. There’s just something about that that doesn’t sit right with me.
I’m vision impaired and chronically ill, that’s simply who I am. In my life, that in itself isn’t worthy of praise or recognition.
We all learn to adapt to different hardships in our lives, we foster techniques and attitudes that will help guide us along the journey. Nothing makes me happier than hearing that someone has taken something away from the blog posts I’ve shared or that my content has prompted them to find a little light through the positive messages I try to promote on here. But I’ll always feel a little unease when someone spots my cane and assumes me to be an inspiration. Unless I manage to transform that cane into some kind of magic wand then that situation definitely doesn’t call for such a label.
To be dubbed ‘inspirational’ for sharing my story and hopefully helping others is an honour, but to be labelled as such for simply picking an outfit, going out and about with my cane, or taking on the stairs in M&S… simply demeans the word.
If you believe someone to be inspirational then by all means welcome that into your arms and embrace it. All I’m kindly asking is that you ensure it’s for the right reasons.
Maybe it’s my inability to accept compliments that prompts such dramatic reflections on this topic, or perhaps I’ve been thinking about this for far too long which inevitably led to this pouring of thoughts into such a long stream. Either way, I feel a little soothed after getting it all off my chest here. Six years on and my blog still succeeds in assuaging my inner-conflict.
Personally, I feel inspired by some content creators too; those who are putting their stories out there by choice in the name of raising awareness and creating a platform to offer support, reassurance and guidance.
That’s why I’m still here, sharing my story too, whether that’s inspirational or not, I’ll leave that one up to you.
I’d love to know that I’m not alone when it comes to my thoughts on this. Have you, or do you, find yourself being called an inspiration? How does it sit with you? It still catches me by surprise when I hear it, and depending on the context it stems from, it can either cast a fog over the shape of my thoughts on stereotypes, or, alternatively, it can cast light on my own inspiration and encouragement, something I wield as motivation to carry on sharing.
I’d love to know where you stand.
P.S. I couldn’t leave this post without adding a little footnote to say a heartfelt thank you for all your support over the past six years. If you’ve read one post or you’ve read them all (hats off to you if you have), your comments and feedback goes such a long way in motivating me to carry on populating these online pages with my ramblings. The last six years wouldn’t have been possible without you so I hope you stick around to see what the future holds for My Blurred World. We’ll have to wait and see to find out if it’s inspiring or not…