Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Inspiration...

At the start of 2008, I was going through a really rough patch. I had recently left a psychologically abusive relationship with my fiancé, and an equally damaging rebound, both of who had made me feel like I was an object, to be used or abused as they liked, relationships that completely eroded my self-confidence. I’d ditched my former best friend around the same time, when I could no longer deal with their constant negativity. I lived thousands of kilometres from my family. The previous semester I had scraped low passes in two of my uni subjects, and the current was looking as though it was heading the same way. I would ‘forget’ to eat for 2 days, then spend 3 devouring anything I could get in my mouth. I was stressed. I felt worthless, guilty of my misery, suicidal. I was not coping. And I was alone.

I come from a family that has long battled mental illness, in particular clinical depression. I knew that I had depression, and I desperately wanted to fight it, but when you’re depressed, there is a part of you that no longer cares, and unfortunately, most days that voice was the loudest. But one day, I heard a voice that was louder, and it was the catalyst for a change that probably saved my life.

I heard an interview with a female athletics champion, model and actress. She held multiple world records for sprinting and long-jump. In 2007, she was voted the President of the Women’s Sport Foundation. At 17, she had been the youngest person to hold top-secret clearance at the Pentagon! I’d missed the first part of the segment, but as I listened, her words appealed to me, wrapped me in them, and gave me a much needed whack up-side the head. I can’t remember the exact words, but to me it was screaming “You just need to do it! Get out there, do it for yourself, screw what the haters think!” I’m sure it was much more eloquent that that, but that was what penetrated the fog of depression. Maybe it was the competitive athlete in me, the side that had seen me play rep softball, high level gymnastics, attempt every sport my family could get my butt to, but I grabbed her message by the teeth, and shook it like a dog with a tug toy. I listened to the very end of the segment, threw on my runners, and went down to my local gym.

Over the next 9 months, I completely changed. 4-5 days a week at the gym, for 2 hours a pop, proving to myself that time and effort invested in myself was worth it. I clawed back my grades at uni, and was accepted into the lab I am still working for today. I became confident, bouncy, and stopped worrying about what everyone else thought of me, cause damn it, I LIKED who I was! I still carry around a photo of the woman who triggered that change, stuck in the back cover of my dairy, along with the derby legend Bonnie D. Stroir, because these two women inspire me, deeply. So what triggered me to write this?

Inspiration: Find it where you can, and carry it with you.
Photos: Amiee Mullins by Lynn Johnson,
Bonnie D. Stroir by Charlie Chu (HAM, 2012)
The ABC recently published an awesome article by Stella Young, about inspiration porn, and why people with a disability should not just be held up as ‘inspirational’ for getting on with their normal, everyday lives (“We are not here for your inspiration”, 3 July 2012). Whilst I agreed with the article, in particular the use of children in inspirational pictures, something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. It took a bit of thinking, and a flick through my diary to figure out what: the woman whose picture is stuck in the back of my diary is paraolympian Aimee Mullins.

I know (or rather I hope) that Stella Young wasn’t targeting people like me, who draw inspiration from someone who has a disability, rather than BECAUSE they have a disability. For me, it’s not about looking at a picture with a tacky motivational phrase and thinking “Wow, I’ve got it good”. That photo of Mullins would still get carried around with me if she hadn’t been born with fibular hemimelia, because it is her passion, attitude and intelligence that inspires me, not her 12 pairs of legs. Is that any different from my respect for the way Bonnie D. Stroir approaches Roller Derby? I follow Stella Young on twitter because aside from her acerbic wit, I admire her advocacy for the NDIS. Wouldn’t think that is any different from following Kate Ausburn because of her tireless campaigning against CSG. I’m sure it’s not how the article was intended (and probably has more to do with reading the comments), but it reminded me of the time in school where my brother and I were told we couldn’t have the same sports heroes, because they were Indigenous, I was not, and I “should really look up to athletes more like [me]”. Yep, my adopted brother looked up to Michael Long, Kyle Vander-Kuyp, Nova Peris-Kneebone, Ronnie Burns, but I should really look elsewhere for my heroes. Because I’m different. So, I’m going to tell the world what I told that teacher:

“I will hold as hero whoever inspires me to be my best.”
Neysa xo

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