Find Your Superpower

What’s your super power? Well I’ll tell you a story about mine…. A while ago my sister had a gene test come back as an abnormal mutation, and as soon as I heard this my brain jumped to the X-men who are all ‘mutants’ with super powers caused by mutated genes. I mentioned it to my doctors (not the x-men bit) at the Behcets Centre and they tested me and unsurprisingly it came back as positive too (TNFRSF1A variant R92Q incase your interested, it’s sometimes associated with TRAPS and MS neither of which I have). Since then we’ve been joking about what our  super power may be, I have ask my doctors when the power is going to appear, we’re all still waiting patiently whilst they look bemused. But it has got me thinking about how recently people with disabilities have been represented as superheroes and what the impact of that is.

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Image from http://superheroseries.co.uk/ who  are ‘the UK’s one and only disability sports series for the Everyday Superhero!’

There’s been a big change in the way people with disabilities have been seen in recent years. The Paralympics in London 2012 showed us athletes who were able to do everything despite having faced illness, accidents or birth defects etc (see Channel 4’s Advert Meet the Super Humans, it still gives me all the feels). Even the popular tv chat show, The Last Leg, sprung up from the games with 2/3 of the hosts having prosthetics. It championed disability and difference through comedy and sport. It’s still broadcasting in the prime Friday night spot over 6 years on (though it has sadly has moved away from its original roots of disability visibility and rights). With its triumphant music, Public Enemy’s Harder Than You May Think, reporting of the games it thrust people with disability into the mainstream as Superhuman, the true X-men.

One of the show’s prominent features is its hashtag #isitok and is used to ask is it ok that… type questions about current issues. In the beginning these were disability related such as.

 

But here’s where I want to ask my own question. #isitok to be disabled and not be a superhuman? #isitok to sometimes be weak and fall apart? #isitok to just be a normal everyday person?

Am I a superhero or a super victim?

Being chronically ill means that I often find myself sometimes being a little bit super hero and sometimes being a little bit the victim, but mostly a real person thats none of these.

I am very aware that people think I’m always winging about being ill or broken or in pain and its true (theres another post coming on this soon). The fact that the constant pain is held in 90% of the time is a feat of superhuman strength that you don’t see. BUT there’s points at which I reach crisis and fall apart and these are my ‘victim’ moments. These points usually come at times when everything reaches a peak pain levels, or I have fought so hard with benefits and housing and come across another stumbling block. At these times everything falls apart and I don’t want to be strong. This is the time that people offer words of support and point out how string I am the rest of the time, how i’m superhuman.

Most of the words about being strong come from others as words of support. I completely hear when someone is saying you are so strong and it is a compliment. It does boost my self esteem because it acknowledges that 90% of the time that my mouth is shut and fighting the pain, or the loss of my life as I knew it. But I’m going to say this because its the truth, not because I want to offend people: at the same time as it being a compliment it is also a burden. I don’t want to always be the hero of this story.

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Sometimes it would be nice to crumble and for that to be ok. To fall apart and someone else play the hero. Sometimes I’m tired beyond tired. The pain has worn me down to the point I can’t live with it anymore. The system of benefits has broken me and I don’t want to feel like a criminal for asking for help from the state that I’ve paid into my whole life so far. I don’t want to hear ‘stay strong’ when I can’t see an end to the housing crisis I’m in. I don’t want to hear this will change when 2 and a half years is my limit and I’m saying its gone on too long. I just want to fall apart and that be ok.

The pressure to perform

So I think you get that living with a disability isn’t fun and we to be honest we are not always feeling superhuman. We are ordinary people and like everyone some like playing sport and others don’t, a small minority will be athletes. The risk of presenting people as superhuman when they compete with a disability means that the rest of us that don’t are not doing enough to help ourselves. To be honest I hate playing sport, especially those played on the olympics (I do love watching them though). This is probably because I’ve been hyper-mobile my whole life and sport really hurts! But it’s just not in me to do it. Does that mean that I am a failure even at disability?

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Invisible illness and sport

When I look at the Paralympics I do also want to ask is it also ok to ask why invisible disabilities are not included in the games? In fact we are rarely represented at all on screen or even as disabled people. How, with fatigue, can we train and practice to compete? How with joints that dislocate can we complete in running, leaping and jumping? How with fluid in our joints and excruciating pain can we whizz round a basketball court or hit a volley ball on the beach. I think all this highlights is that the disabled community itself still hasn’t accepted chronic illness and invisible illness fully. So I’ve asked myself what sport could we compete in? Where are the events for napping, getting dressed, walking the dog? Because sometimes just daily activity is our superhuman feat: that getting out of bed in the morning is like flying to the moon and back.

I’m going to finish this post with an anecdote from a close friend who has narcolepsy (she’d be my competitor on the napping event for sure). She once asked me ‘If you could lose your legs or have a chronic illness which would you choose?’ And my answer in a flash was lose my legs, and she said she had answered the same in a conversation with her husband. It in no way comes from a place of saying losing your legs isn’t life changing and devastating, because it is. But it comes from a place of certainty and being able to adapt. With losing my legs I would learn what I can and can’t do and work with this. My capability wouldn’t change so drastically from day to day, but be a constant thing I could learn around. It wouldn’t be easy but I’d still have my health and energy. I could work towards something like the Paralympics.

Syndromes like Narcolepsy, Behcets, Auto-immune, Fibromyalgia. Lupus, RA, EDS etc. don’t allow for this. They are tricky because its like flu everyday and its unpredictable. They rob your life in a different way. In addition to this the symptoms are often not seen by others so completely misunderstood. You don’t see that under my clothes my joints are hot, full of fluid and dislocating. That I have sores that burn and ache. That at the beginning of the day I can’t walk properly for 3 hours or that at the end I’m moaning in bed from pain of the day. That my biggest spend this Christmas was on eco incontinence pads. That the fear of running our of painkillers produces panic. That I’m tied to medication and its a constant worry. That my diagnosis is permanent, incurable and my life changed forever.

The Paralympics 2012 began to change the world’s view on disability and watching that superhuman advert still fills me with awe. But it is only the beginning. The fight doesn’t stop here. I know that I am not represented by these athletes but I know they’ve opened a gateway into acceptance. That those few people competing have changed the view on what disability means. But most importantly they’ve made disability visible. The next steps are to make ALL disability visible. But to do this in a way that recognises that superhuman means coping with the everyday. I got up and wrote today, no one will give me a medal for that. But I am happy that I’ve achieved this.

I am a superhero of napping, baking, gardening and making. My superpower is creativity. I’ve often been encouraged to apply for the Great British Bake Off but I know I couldn’t because of my disability. I was so encouraged to see Bryony this year compete and that her disability wasn’t drawn attention too, she was a competitor, that was it. I would love to work with producers to find a way for this dream to happen but I just don’t know how it would work.

I found my superpower because it is my everyday and my drive. Everyone has their own too you just have to dig to find it. I also know is it is ok to be strong and also sometimes weak.  It is this that makes the best super hero story, the ones we love are the ones that are human and mess up. We are all super human, some are just a little more tired and achey, but we are just us.

Whats your superpower?

How to find joy

  1. Walk with a dog, more people talk to you than if you walk alone
  2. Use the ‘golden hour’ to take a photo and marvel at your skills 
  3. Wake up just to see the sun rise and do step two. You’re allowed to go back to 
  4. Laugh really really hard till it hurts. Friends and YouTube videos help
  5. Make someone cake for no reason and share their joy 
  6. Show a child ‘wonder’ and watch their joy, it’s infectious 
  7. For slow burning joy plant some seeds and feel joyful each time you see them grow a little bigger, and think ‘I made that happen’ 
  8. Light a fire, indoors or out, and spend time roasting parts of your body till they go red. Decide it’s probably bad for you so sit and stare and getting lost in the flames 
  9. Eat cheese and don’t feel bad
  10. Climb as high as you can to get a really good view

Disentangle

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You say we were two lives that need to disentangle.

But really some of each other became the other one.

That’s the problem. Where do you stop and I begin?

It’s less un-knotting and more a case of cutting it out.

It’s not like cutting out fat, sugar and carbs for my diet to make myself more attractive.

If I do this then I crave the bad.

Maybe I let a remanent of us remain?

It’s a dangerous game, I binge then purge.

More than that its like something that’s diseased.

You cut the tumour out stop it spreading.

I find rancid places to cut you out.

A surgeon, a butcher, a self-harmer.

I peel the taste buds from my tongue

because they shared a love of flavours,

that only we could understand and create.

A menu bittersweet.

I gauge the black place in my heart.

Like cutting the mould from cheese to preserve the rest.

Yet you always worry there’s some you didn’t remove,

and you’ll end up all bile inside.

I remove objects and reminders from my home.

Like cutting the pieces of a stencil,

to make it make a new pattern.

I like the way it looks better than before.

I cut poisonous people out of my life,

it’s an attempt to make it happier, but really I’m afraid.

Scared of their judgement,

because that’s what I became.

Some cut the story from the paper

in order to remember and celebrate.

But the card from last year which says ‘I’m still glad I’m in love with you’

is better forgotten as a manipulative lie.

I cut the nails from my toes,

to stop gouging out the flash at the sides.

Occasionally I don’t do it straight enough,

those feet that danced together become hot and infected.

I dig at my flesh, open wounds and peel back scabs.

I cut you out of me but I keep forgetting where me ends and you begin.

I bleed a little to prove I’m still alive,

and it’s still possible to hurt.

Maybe I’ll let a small piece stay,

like an inked scar to mark the moment we were one.

Is this violent act self harm self-preservation? Cruel to be kind?

I cut away part of myself to make room for more.

Somedays

Somedays the world is an ugly place. I know this morning was not helped by the anxiety of returning to England and the early start. Maybe I wore the wrong eyes for viewing it? It was a catalogue of bad sights, smells and tastes.

It started with my bag (too heavy) and a very fast bus ride through Barcelona’s packed streets (the driver was a the love child of Jesus and Otto Mann). Add a dash of concrete pounding and avoiding last night’s dried vomit slicks (the pigeons were enjoying it). Finally to the bus,  despite there being 3 staff, they watched and tutted as both me and my sister (both disabled) couldn’t get my bags in. My hands, which shake all the time now, couldn’t grasp the thin paper ticket (don’t cry).

In the airport I waited by the mobility help kiosk (noted there are no chairs). I watched a man vomiting into a bin for 10 minutes before the cheery Xavi picked me up in a wheelchair (I always book ahead now for mobility and I always ask the name of the person assisting me). When you get assistance at airport you end up in all sorts of corridors and pens waiting, seeing behind the scenes. Once over the embarrassment ( I still get weirded out by crutches and wheelchairs) you get taken in buggies and strange contraptions to get you on the plane. You forget all the normal airport stuff but find yourself saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ a lot.

I watched amused as the people fight to get ahead in the plane queue. Almost slinking up the walls to get closer to the front. Then our gate changed and everyone made a mad dash across the concourse. The shoal was so choreographed any dancer in a ensemble would be envious. I trailed behind with the cabin crew, no rush, after all we’re all getting on exactly the same plane and our seats are already allocated. The dance continues as people who pay extra can get to the front of the same queue and other frantically sort through bags after bring too many or ones too large. The panic continues on the plane like a game of musical chairs. Last one seated is off,  I guess that’ll be me then (jokes).

Now travelling does something to my head, it makes me time travel to the past or future. I’m terrible at it. I fret and tremble recalling past pains. I nauseate over details of conversations not yet had. I caught myself in the moment of full anxiety (I’m good at catching thoughts by now). I realised what I was doing and I can only describe it as running down a dark alley with doors that open to the past and the future. You witness times of joy and pain and live events that haven’t happened yet (and probably never will). The alley narrows and it gets harder and harder to turn back. As you are squeezed between the ever narrowing walls you realise you’re stuck. It’s so tight and dark you can only see and believe what your brain is showing you. I held back the tears and swallowed the anger. I realised my brain was back in the place of no hope.

By the time I was in my plane seat I’d died a dozen times in my head. To write it down seems ridiculous. As I was drawn back into the real world again I became aware of a boy behind me. He was possibly 8 and making some curious noises. A sort of cry mixed with excitement then outbursts of ‘the plane is going to go. Suddenly the couple behind the family announced the wanted to be moved. This was loud enough for most of the plane to hear. Most people politely stayed looking at their phones but I’m not very good at that. I swivelled round to see a family with children of different ages. This boy clearly had learning difficulties and was anxious at flying. It came out of him in little bursts like he didn’t know whether this was a terrifying place or the most thrilling ride. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he just said out loud the feelings that we probably all were thinking. I watched as the boy’s mother turned in natural defence of her child. ‘Are you asking to move because of my son?’ she asked half vicious in defence and half shocked beyond belief. ‘Yes’ the couple announced to the plane, ‘we are moving because of your son.’ Every part of me wanted to jump in fierce and wild to stop the pain.

I bit my tongue and caught the mum’s eye, I offered her my row of seats in front away from the couple. The cabin crew swept in and expertly moved the couple away to the back of the plane. The mother burst in to tears. The cabin crew tried to placate them both by offering sweets and a ‘trip to the flight deck’. These frantic gestures were lost so they listened whilst the family explained that the couple had been discriminatory and said appalling things about their son. I felt for the mother in that moment, she had tried desperately to shield her child from the horrible hatred. She was in a state of pure panic. How could anyone do this just because the child made a sound or spoke in a way that is ‘abnormal’ (I personally found him a joy)? Later in the journey I turned and caught the mother’s eye. I wanted to say how appalled I was but just mouthed ‘are you ok?’. She whispered back a thank you and smiled. I didn’t want to save her, but just let her know she wasn’t alone and others were with her.

When you enter the world slightly outside of the normal realm you see how difficult and unforgiving the world can be. My sister has talked at length on her blog about grieving (it’s worth a read and is here ). Its not always about the death of a person but sometimes the death of something else, like your expectations or the life you thought you had. I know I have been experiencing extreme grief as part of my relationship breakdown. With this has come a whole lot more. I’ve experienced the death of my life as I know it. I am unable to work, looking at a future on benefits and no longer able to do all the things I once could. Auto Immune has irreparably robbed my life and I sometimes grieve for what I once had.

So forgive me if I get sad from time to time. I’m trying more than you know to keep my shit together. In amongst these moments I cling on to the small acts of kindness we are all capable of performing. Smile at a stranger or ask someones name, it costs nothing but a little bravery. None of us know what path the other is treading, what came before and is to come in the future. Maybe the couple who had asked to move had been anxious flyers or something else had happened that day. Their actions weren’t the best way of behaving, but we all make mistakes right?

I will continue to fight tis anxiety daemon, its not a linear journey and I’ll bounce around. I’ll also continue to to fight the prejudice and invisible illness in the best way I can, with compassion and kindness. I’m back to start all over again.

I saw this today, which says a lot of my ramblings far more succinctly.

Love, and kindness to you all with the most open of hearts.

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Today

The streets itch with discontent,

The map was off centre all day.

Childish tears threaten to break through the adult face.

The stone walls sweat yesterday’s rain,

I pound the concrete with sticky heat between the layers of my clothes.

The lipstick curdles and I wipe it raw with paper.

 

Fingers bandaged from no fight,

I’m neither citizen or tourist just broken knees.

Guts cramping propel us from cafe to cafe.

Food sticks in my throat as I push it round the plate.

My hands tremble as they try to raise the cup,

Thick black coffee drives my blistered feet.

 

Something is not right in the world, I’m not quite here or there.

It’s ugly criminals saunter like they own the roads.

We ask ‘why are people so cruel?’

Then the man stops to pick up some other’s rubbish.

A women tends the silk and velvet with more love than she knows.

The smile of the woman on the bus is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

 

The flash from no camera, the sky opens and moans.

White then orange makes my heart pound.

‘Don’t walk on the floor with bare feet’ she says.

It makes me want to feel it’s force, to feel alive,

to take off my socks and dance with life on the cold tiles.

I bleed with the sky and prepare to begin all over again.

Well hello Autumn 

The trees are finally catching up with life, or maybe life is replicating nature. In other words its all change. And lets face it change is tough but I always have a special place for the summer to autumn turn. The world is a fucking beautiful place and right now it’s showing off

・・・

I recently set up an adventure group on what’s app to protect myself with my friends. This morning in the group chat a collaborative haiku was created:

An autumn morning 

The skies they are sighing 

In a slow grumpy roll

#CapturedInWords

Well done @thecafecat for collecting it.


Today I was super kind and had a massage to heal, made soup from the garden, walked the dogs and went to the cinema. So many anxieties came and went. But I pushed through and spoke with an honest and kind intention to everyone I met, oh and myself too. Instead of hiding in the house I made sure I did things to fill my heart.


Oh yeah the grateful things:

  1. Feet that carry me on adventures
  2. Seasons that show us that change happens and everything is ok
  3. The rspca 

Let’s Pretend…

Do you ever think we are just playing at life? Being different characters in some elaborate story?

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post because it’s mostly rambling thoughts! Maybe it’s being in theatre that I always see people as playing parts in their everyday life. Of course there’s  Shakespeare’s famous passage from As You Like It...

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And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

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It hints that our lives are predestined, and in terms of ageing they are I guess. But when do we become these stereotypes and copies of our own parents? Just now I overheard my sister’s husband asking her ‘did you find the gravy boat?’. It made me smile, I wonder if he rewound ten years to uni he’d imagine ever uttering this phrase? Then I realised I don’t have a gravy boat, does that mean I’m not an adult yet!?

If we are characters can we choose the parts we play or the dialogues we speak, or do we say certain phrases just 4d2eef3c2201ad1d82e0ce3043a006c8to conform? This is partially true with the relationships we have with others. I’m a people watcher and listener and love to eavesdrop. Over the past few weeks I’ve had 3 hospital visits in which there has been an enormous amount of time to observe. It’s interesting watching the dialogue between patients and health professionals. Sometimes it seemed as though they’re having two entirely different conversations. The doctors hone in and focus on individual areas of the body or conditions. They narrow down and diagnose and defend their decisions from the get go. Maybe this is because the NHS has a focus on cuts and blame and its created fear and narrow practice? But what these conversations do are damaging, they create a dialogue in which the patient feels it’s their right to be healed and the doctor is constantly defending the attack. Neither lead to comfort or healing or 4db5a8f3a5b0b85573115a9dc7cfdd59treating someone as a human. Whilst watching I almost wanted to jump in and direct them like actors to resolve the conflict. It’s even more scary when you find yourself in the same conversations despite having seen them happen five minutes before and promising you wouldn’t. The way we are spoken to lures us in without realising and takes real effort to remove ourselves..

If we can change our dialogues can we then we change our relationships and outcomes? I’m a great believer in the fact we cant change others, only ourselves. Sometimes its good to examine how we speak 39a826434d0482e19e4b342e6b265ec9with others and shift our relationships to something that works better.

More importantly, I think,  it’s how we speak to ourselves that seems so vital. Our inner dialogue is with us every second of the day so if it’s in conflict or defensive it leads us to dangerous places. CBT has helped me recognise this and although its not an instant cure it makes us aware of catching those thoughts that are damaging. Also being able to see the positive lifts changes our gear and puts us in a better place.

Positive thinking is not an easy task to do, especially when drowning in negative thoughts. But the rule of attraction is strong and we can 0ae880eb77832884e8a19c3e3f357953certainly influence our paths by changing our thinking patterns. I love trying exercises and activities that help with this. I like Tiny Buddha’s 10 Tips to Overcome Negative Thoughts

Then there are the times that everything seems totally out of our control. I often wonder about things being predestined. My life has been a roller
coaster of events and emotions. Without being dramatic I’m sure that I’ve endured more than the average person. Sometimes I find myself wondering if it’s something written out for me or some kind of karma. These thoughts happen 81576b699d8a8a514f8f9c01113dfb10especially when I’m down on myself. I genuinely believed that I had a Christmas curse in the past. Just ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll confirm it.

e5c9e117e8a4050b05a4c1d031710423Since being really young I also used to fantasise about being part of a conspiracy. I used to lie on my back and l9979724392b6d1da5b80638e18b720c4ook into the blue sky. Somehow looking into the brightness meant that I could see these little circles that I assume were the shape
of my pupil and iris. In my head they were eyes of bigger beings watching me, not threateningly but there watching my life go by or having a say. I know this sounds a little odd but I guess it’s part of figuring out the world. When years later I finally saw the Truman Show it played on my mind for years days. Even now I get flashes of thinking I’m being watched or there’s cameras everywhere. I did giggle when I discovered it was an actual condition. Not that I need another diagnosis but I’m sure I’m borderline Truman Syndrome

So in conclusion its seems like some of life we can control and other things happen and we can choose how to react. I’m not sure if any is predestined but I can’t think of a better way to say how to manage it than this:

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