A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to become involved in a photo-shoot for Nikki Hind’s athleisure fashion label, Blind Grit. It was an incredible opportunity to connect with so many beautiful people, and lend my untried talents as a makeup artist and, for the want of a more comfortable word, a model. It was a powerful experience for me, not just for the fact that I got to be a part of a project with such potential to positively impact people’s lives, but also for the distance it put between me and my comfort zone. I was so far out of the comfort zone particular to introverted empaths, that I found myself in ‘The Zone’, wherein my discomfort was invisible from the outside and delayed in ways, until after we’d packed up and gone home. I had no idea that I was capable of entering that place commonly ascribed to athletes and performance-artists, in such a social arena- I formerly believed that I could only perform creatively in the confines of my own, extremely private space. I was interacting with more people than my mood would ever have permitted, and it wasn’t the usual kind of interaction with strangers that can be handled with throwaway ‘mmhmm’s and amiable platitudes. It was intimate, and despite being a surface encounter in ways, we were engaged and engaging, connecting and reflecting whether we meant to or not. I had never put makeup on another person’s face before; I’d never put as much makeup on my own face as I wore while putting sparkles on the cheeks of some shining individuals. I was pushing my limits, without thinking too much about how or what limits there were, and I was able to do this primarily because I was pursuing a meaningful vision.
I’m the kind of social recluse who spends her Sundays reading articles about philosophy and positive psychology. I’m incredibly sensitive to the world outside my door and find it especially taxing to interact with people for any lengthy amount of time, unless I’m actually connecting with them- engaging in meaningful dialogue, in some way participating in an empowering experience, or working towards my vision for creating a more emotionally intelligent world. I ordinarily find it quite a challenge to be involved in community activities because I have an unusual sensitivity to injustice and suffering, and a limited ability to channel my passion for authentic connection towards flogging dead horses. I’ve never been able to do small talk- I’ve never had enough breath to waste on conversations that amount to upholding a frankly messed up status quo. I believe I am this way predominantly because I’ve experienced an extreme degree of trauma, from an early age and with an uncommon severity. I say that not so as to compare suffering, but to give recognition to an aspect of myself that has until recently been an obscure, somewhat inchoate reason for my social withdrawal. The time has come for me venture out from the social periphery, and turn the wisdom I’ve gained through processing my traumas, into a worthwhile contribution to society. I’m strong enough, recovered enough now to be more transparent about my traumatic experiences, and I am just now beginning to harness my ability to make a meaningful contribution because of the things I’ve been through.
This has always been a driving intent behind my adamant insistence on retreating from mainstream involvement, and after many years of focusing on healing and recovery away from society, I find that I’m in that unsteady state of actually being ready to edge back in; to begin a project or two; to pursue my mission. It’s scary, but it’s worthy; it’s scary precisely because it is worthy. Being included in Nikki’s vision for her fashion label, felt like an essential spark in launching my own vision into action. I’m just at the very start of embarking on a career path in line with my mission to cultivate emotional intelligence through creativity, but as a result of feeling somewhat thrust into focus that weekend, I’m more motivated and inspired to pursue it. It was almost easy for me to step outside of my comfort zone because Nikki’s aims for Blind Grit aligned so resoundingly with my own purpose and vision. I say almost because I have to give due acknowledgement of the obstacles I overcame, and the ones which I will undoubtedly have to conquer again, in order to even attempt to manifest my aspirations.
Being literally in the centre of the space, with cameras circling, making contact with more than merely the faces of the people there to model Nikki’s designs, and potentially appearing on the local news, was more than enough to draw me out from my sense of cosy obscurity. While I’m aware that it’s hardly the level of exposure that equates to being widely known, I’ve been clinging to anonymity in this town for as long as I’ve lived in it, as some kind of protection from unwanted attention. I generally don’t like being the centre or even much on the edges of attention, and yet I have a message to convey, which I feel deserves attention. Applying eyeshadow and shimmers to the faces of the many beautiful people who came to be photographed for the Blind Grit funding campaign, delivered another level of discomfort as I came face to face with my projections of how I would experience someone completely strange touching my face. There’s always a twinge of recognition that accompanies any thought of what the face means to personal expression, which challenges me to accept the way that my own face was violently altered just as I was beginning to believe in myself enough to show it. It’s a wound that has taken ten years to recover, which has deeper implications than the scar tissue which binds my cheek to my jaw. I’ve been a pretty good sport about it, fielding questions with grace and bearing the sideways glances and scared interpretations of the story behind it for years, but like my apparent ease at the photo-shoot on Sunday, there’s been a secret struggle at play.
I was tired, my arthritis had just started to flare, I was exhausted from the changes which occurred only the week prior, and I’d gotten three hours sleep that morning. While that sounds like a shopping list of complaints I’d usually keep to myself, it’s a valid exercise to afford my context the fullness of its challenges. I was pushing hard against the physical impositions of debilitating pain alongside the psychological barriers created by CPTSD, anxiety, and depression. I was painting faces through waves of overwhelm, anxiety, exhaustion and pain. It literally hurt to contribute, to be present, to participate and make the effort to connect, and I hope that, far from making a martyr of myself by detailing the limitations I experienced, I can illustrate how value driven action can far surpass obstacles which often create suffering. It’s not fair or possible to expect myself to be able to persevere through those levels of pain every single day in an attempt to emulate a life that isn’t impacted by disability, but it is possible, with adequate support and self-compassion, to accomplish meaningful, mission fuelled action. Acknowledging my context is a relatively new habit for me, but I feel it’s an improvement on hard-headedly burning myself out to spite it. As odd as it sounds, giving context recognition clears the way to accomplish more than denying it ever did.
For the most part, my disability isn’t visible, indeed people in their ignorance have even said to me “you don’t look disabled.” The disgusting idea that in order to be a valid ‘invalid’, one must simply appear abnormal, is not only disrespectful to people with a disability (visible or not), it’s a pervasive line of thinking which propagates mediocrity.
My disability is less visible than it could be, in part because I’ve worked hard to maintain drug free pain management strategies and I’m determined to not rely on aids as much as possible. It’s not a point of ableist pride; it’s a matter of empowerment. There are times when a walking stick might have a short term benefit, but in the long term would lead to a deterioration of my fitness, which is one of the few things I can control in the management of my illness and something which I’m not prepared to completely surrender to pain. Without going into the intricacies of my conditions, the limitations I experience have been a source of great frustration and despair, and so it was really powerful to be engaged creatively, pushing beyond those restrictions, to be involved with such a significant project. It has afforded me an insight into myself which I believe may prove pivotal to achieving my aspirations for a social enterprise of my own and inspired me to continue to step further outside of my comfort zone to accomplish something beyond survival.
Participating in the Blind Grit photo-shoot brought an incredibly difficult truth into sharp focus- that in order to be where I am right now, to have gotten this far in my life, I have developed some exceptional characteristics; that I do embody extraordinariness without hubris. This, I believe is one of Nikki’s many noble intents, not just for me personally, but for everyone who was involved on the day and who will be involved in the future- for us to see ourselves for who we really are and showcase to others our assets, strengths, talents, skills, abilities that reach far beyond the normal range of normal people and into the spectacular realms of what it is to be a real hero. Invisibility, one of my oldest superpowers has gradually become my Kryptonite, and I’m pleased to report, is in the process of being superseded by presence, perseverance, and compassion. For me, being a part of the Blind Grit uprising is one of many recent experiences of emerging from a wilful obscurity, of stepping out from hiding like one of Stan Lee’s undiscovered mutants, to be really seen.
Please support Nikki’s vision for an inclusive fashion label and the launch of our first range here- https://startsomegood.com/blind-grit-1st-collection