Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Thoughts of Chairman Mik

This weekend I paid another visit to the wonderful city of Derby. I had been invited to come up and speak at the launch of the new Speaker's Corner in the city square. It's a great idea. If you live in the area, get yourself down there and get your voice heard.

I took the opportunity to give the following speech about Embracing My Imperfections, a new social enterprise that plans to campaign to champion the idea that we are all beautiful. Here's the script of what I said, although I did wonder off a bit. The joys of speaking live huh?

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls my name is Mik Scarlet. I'm a broadcaster and journalist as well as a disability rights campaigner. I would like to thank the organisers of today for allowing me to talk to you at this the launch of Derby's Speaker's Corner. When I started thinking of what to talk to you all about many things came to mind. I firstly I felt that congratulating Derby on being amazingly accessible for disabled people might be a great topic. It really is a great place for those of us who have mobility issues, and demonstrates that if a place is made accessible then the lives of disabled people can be improved beyond imagination. Then I wondered if I could talk about the representation of disabled people in the media, or should I say that lack of it. Sure we've seen disabled people everywhere in the media during the Paralympics, but we were pretty invisible before and we seem to have disappeared again since.

But all of this may only be of interest to those of you who are listening that may have a disability or know someone who does. So instead I felt that this was a great opportunity to bring to your attention a fantastic social enterprise that is starting up here in your fair city.

I first met the very talented local photographer Rei Bennett last year, when I was writing an article for a magazine on her project Beauty Through Damage. The driving force behind this project is to show that beauty exists in everyone, and that illness, disability or difference can actually make someone more beautiful. The strength and drive that allows a person to get through an illness or have a happy and successful life with a disability or physical difference leads those people to actually be more beautiful on the inside, and this can shine out. Rei uses her photography to capture this beauty, and she does so very successfully.

Now not only is Rei a great artist, but she's a great person and I now count her as one of my closest friends. During another visit to your wonderful city, which I have fallen in love with I must tell you, Rei myself and group of other local talented people decided to take Rei's project further. We want everyone to appreciate that they are truly beautiful.

Everywhere we look there are images of perfection. On TV, in magazines, advertising, even in shop windows we see images of perfect people. But now we even find Photoshop computer software is being used to make already perfect people impossibly perfect, unachievably perfect.

Of course there is much discussion about how this effects us all and about what should be done about the growing issue of unachievable images of perfection. But surely perfection is a construct decided by the wider society, so shouldn't it be something that mirrors that society? Why are we so ready to accept the images we see around us? Well I would say it is a lack of confidence in ourselves. We don't feel that we are perfect so we put up with these images.

This is what Rei, myself and the rest of our group are trying to correct with our social enterprise. We want to everyone to feel that they are beautiful, that they are perfect. We believe that those elements that make us different, that make us stand out are exactly what makes us beautiful, makes us perfect. Whether it's the signs of age, our size or our imperfections, which can be small... or big - like my wheelchair, they show our journey through life and our experiences. This why we have called our group Embracing My Imperfections. That's what we want everyone to do, feel happy with the things about them different, special. In the true meaning of the word. To see their imperfections as the very things that make them special and beautiful, and to be at one with the way they look. Which will lead to everyone being much happier, and so be even more beautiful as that happiness will shine out of them. 
Now all of this may sound great, but how are we planning do anything? Well we plan to campaign for better representation in the media, so that all areas of the media but especially the advertising and fashion industries mirror the wider world, to work with school and colleges to give our young people the tools to know that they are all special, important and beautiful, and to take our message of learning to love ourselves our to the country and then the world. We hope to get all of you here today to join us by adding your voices to our campaign. Together we can create a world that sees the validity in all of us, that allows us all to feel happy in our own skin and ensures that our children grow up to feel that they are all beautiful.

It's time for all of us to stop putting up with the Tyranny of Perfection, to know that there is Beauty Through Damage and to allow everyone to begin Embracing My Imperfections."

So there you go. I'll keep you all posted on the progress of EMI (which means beauty in Japanese apparently). We are still getting everything together, but are hoping to get the ball rolling early 2013.

I love this photo by the way. Very "power to the people". Appeals to the rebel in me. Watch out politicians... next step Mik for MP... and then PM!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Old "Makes You Stronger" Line?

Sorry for not finding the time to put my thoughts out there into the internet recently. I have been so stupidly busy that time was something I didn't have. Of course I will not complain as busy means financially viable, and in today's world that is amazing. But yesterday I took an afternoon out of my hectic schedule to attend a meditation class for people who suffer from chronic pain.

I have made no secret of the fact that pain is part of my world, whether it's the back ground pain of my spinal injury and the nerves trapped in the surrounding scar tissue, the various bone issues I have thanks to the decrease in density that goes with not using your legs, the ageing process that is hitting home in my shoulders or the neuralgia that strikes every now and again. It is the neuralgia that made me want to find a different coping mechanism, other than the usual pain medication. When it hits, the pain makes me a little crazy and can get too much to cope with. Pain killers won't touch it so I thought I would search for another method of coping, and found a system called Mindfullness. I won't explain it to you, mainly as I have only one session and am still trying to learn the method.

Instead, I wanted to explore my feelings on pain. I can't mention any of the other people on my course but hearing their stories made me realise that pain is all relative. Some had obviously serious health issues that caused pain, other had conditions that led to pain that was unbearable for them but less than others. But everyone there was trying the class as they had reached a point where their pain had got too much. So whatever that cause or level of pain each member was going through, we were all in a similar place. Pain is like that. All relative. There is no level at which you can't cope, as everyone has a different ability to handle pain. And there is no right way of coping either.

While we were discussing our stories one person stated that they hated the Nietzschean idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as chronic pain is something that doesn't kill you and doesn't make you stronger. That funny thing is that I have always felt my pain does exactly that, makes you stronger. But maybe that is just the effect of my method of learning to cope with it. Treating it as an external force that needs to be beaten. I am the boss of my body, so it cannot be allowed to dictate to me how I live. It might be a typical masculine way of coping, but it does mean I have learned to beat a high level of day to day pain.

During our session we did a "mental body scan", which involved meditating on our bodies and exploring them with our minds. This was a very unpleasant experience for me, as I had forgotten how many places on my body hurt. A great deal of my pain had become part of my background day to day life and I had stopped noticing it. So this exploration of body opened me up to a pain I had learned to cope with, and led me to spend the rest of the day in great discomfort... and I still am today. But it proved that you can learn to cope with pain and that ability does make you stronger. It also showed me that the reason why some of my pain still gets to me is that this that it is the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak.

The thing that stuck me is that pain is something that is invisible but that can eat away at your day to day life. With the current obsession with getting people off sickness and incapacity benefits, those people who suffer chronic pain are among those most effected. Yet they really are entitled to support and assistance. While I may be able to cope with most of my pain, I have had it since birth. Even I have days where it effects me so much I can't work, especially the "going off to work in an office or factory" type of work, so those who develop pain during their life cannot be expected to be able to carry on with a "normal" life. They need help to cope with the pain and support while they do.

So if you have pain in your life, don't worry. You can learn to cope, and you can rebuild your life. For the rest of you, when you next hear all the rubbish the government is spouting about getting people off benefit remember that some people need and deserve those benefits. But more than that, remember that illness or disability could strike you tomorrow, or even later today, and that's why the system exists. Make sure that if you ever need it, it still exists for you to call on.

Right, I'm off to relax and rebuild my coping strategies ready for another full day tomorrow. No rest for the self employed eh?