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How 'Inspiration Porn' Affects Me as Someone With a Chronic Illness

As a disabled person, “inspiration porn” makes me doubt the authenticity of relationships in my life.

“You’re just such an inspiration. You’re amazing. Your faith, your fight despite all you go through is such an inspiration.”

It’s a sweet sentiment coming from someone you know. But how do you respond when it’s said by a complete stranger, someone you met not even 10 minutes before?

This situation has happened a handful of times. But last time, it left me with this uncomfortable sensation, like a bug bite on the bottom of your foot on a day you have to wear sneakers, or an uncomfortable itch that is impossible to scratch. A sweet statement seemingly marinated in insincerity due to the “norms of society.”

I’m one who admittedly struggles to accept compliments in the first place. But after it was said to me, instead of going to my usual default response of, “Oh you’re too kind!”  or the generic thank you, I felt the uncomfortable itch of the statement really get under my skin. And in all honesty, my first thought was, “You have no idea if I’m a great person or not. You seriously met me 5 minutes ago. I could be a serial killer for all you know. Why are you singing my praises? In this amount of time, you couldn’t know my character, especially the way you are describing it.”

Then all of a sudden my brain tuned in to the not-so-silent hum of the portable oxygen machine hanging from my back, and noticed the subtle pulse of the continuous air supply from the cannula under my nose that was currently keeping me upright. And an invisible hand gripped my stomach as I was met with a nauseatingly familiar internal question. “They don’t know me. They are judging what they see, the oxygen cannula on my face.  Am I just a walking St. Jude’s commercial to them?  Living, breathing ‘inspiration porn.'”

Inspiration porn is a term coined by the late disability activist Stella Young, and refers to the objectification of people with disabilities in media, which serves the purpose of making the consumers, people without disabilities, feel good. In my opinion, it’s, “Be grateful because your life doesn’t suck as bad as mine, and I’m an inspiration for just making it out of bed with my pathetically hard life.

Do they see me, or do they just see my cannula?

Maybe the compliment is sincere. But it seems impossible to put someone you have barely met on this pedestal that only the ill and the underdog seem to be placed on. Seconds seem like hours as I’m stuck inside these narratives and questions in my head, trying to find an answer. I try to take the good in their statement. Maybe I just made a good first impression? I try to bury my massive insecurity that people may only like me because society has basically deemed it inappropriate to dislike those who are sick.

A sick person isn’t inspirational for tying their shoe or making a sandwich. They are trying to exist. Just like you. And sometimes all I want is that tinge of normalcy. No pressure to be that awe-inspiring individual who always smiles and never gives up. And permission to just be the messy, broken, funny, angry, scared, tear-filled individual I am, that most of us are, inside.

Getty image by Carol Thacker.

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