Spoon Week and Inspiration Porn

Everyone knows that there is a social stigma associated with having a disability. But something that isn’t talked about enough is the stigma people face from themselves. People are naturally self-critical, and when you bring disability, chronic illness or mental illness into the list of things you don’t like about yourself, it’s easy to feel like you are less than other people.

For ages, I used to blame myself for my depression. I thought it came from a deficiency within me, that I wasn’t capable enough to deal with the real world. Mental illnesses are funny like that, they try and convince you that you should be totally fine and that there’s something wrong with you as a person, rather than feeling as though you’re legitimately unwell.

This makes it really hard to get help when you most need it. Because you’re too afraid to tell anyone if you need help, there isn’t a clear way forward, and the spiral of anxiety continues. In a uni context, it’s daunting to try and talk to tutors or course convenors about what’s going on.

During my first year of uni, I didn’t sign up to Access and Inclusion (formerly Disability Services.) I was initially too scared to go in and talk to an advisor, in case I was told there was nothing they could help me with. I wasn’t sure if I was “disabled enough” to qualify for special consideration. In fact, most days I’m a pretty regular person. But when I’m having a depressive episode, I’m completely incapacitated. I struggle to get out of bed, I have no energy and can’t talk any louder than a whisper. The thought of dealing with any uni-related work is completely impossible. When this happens close to an assessment deadline (which it often does, stress and depression are good buddies like that) I often feel there’s no way I can talk to the lecturer to try to get an extension.

So, as I learnt the hard way, when you’re feeling better and are finally ready to face real life again, telling your lecturer “sorry, I was stuck in bed busy trying to hurt myself, uni wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind” isn’t an acceptable excuse for not talking to them before the due date.

After learning that uni is slightly less casual with the whole deadline thing than high school, I had to toughen up and registered with Access and Inclusion. This helped me learn what services the uni could provide me with so that I’d be able to get the adjustments I need to do my work.

When I went to register, I was so terrified that I brought my mum with me. Luckily, the process of actually registering was very straightforward and all the advisors are very understanding and helpful, so I didn’t need Mum to stay for long. I was able to get adjustments to take my exams in rooms on my own and the process of how to easily apply for extensions was explained to me. There’s a room for students registered in Chifley that has space to study with all kinds of equipment. But most importantly, I know my grades won’t suffer because I have a disability.

I still struggle with not shaming myself for still having depressive episodes. It’s hard to accept help from others when you don’t think you should need it, and even harder to reach out.

There’s so much pressure on people to not have any flaws. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we need to look, act, speak and think in a certain way. Whilst attitudes towards disability are slowly changing, it’s still something people rarely talk about openly.

It is seems that it is ok to talk about the things that you’ve overcome, but not before you’ve gotten through it. “Inspiration porn” – the term for a picture of a person with a disability doing an incredible physical feat, often accompanied by an “inspirational” message like “what’s your excuse” or “the only disability in life is a bad attitude”-objectifies the person with disability for the benefit of able-bodied people. They also contribute to the narrow view so many people have of disability.

Disability is an umbrella term that covers impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. It covers physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities, chronic illness, developmental disabilities, mental illness… anything that differs from the so called “norm”. There is no set criteria to what allows a person to identify as disabled.

At the ANU, anyone who faces barriers or impairments to their full and effective participation on an equal basis with others is eligible to register with Access and Inclusion, and get adjustments in order to help them perform as well as they can.

Accepting your identity as a person with a disability takes time. For me, the way to finding meaning was by being open about my experiences, and not letting the fear of judgement from others stop me from doing whatever I want to do. Not fearing the opinions of others helps me tune out the most critical, self-destructive thoughts I have.

If anything within this article makes you feel distressed, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the ANU Counselling Centre (http://counselling.anu.edu.au) ANU Access and Inclusion can be contacted on 6125 5036 (http://disability.anu.edu.au/)

The term ‘inspiration porn’ came out of Stella Young’s Ted Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en)

Ana Stuart is the 2015 Disability Student Association Officer (htttp://www.anudsa.com)