Finding inspiration in authenticity

By Ellen Grace 

I find it hard to genuinely relax. This has only gotten worse along with the worsening of my disability—it takes me so much longer to do things than it did before, yet I feel like I must provide the same output, sacrificing both my physical and mental health to reach an impossible standard. If I’m lying in bed taking a break from school, I’ll use that time to read a book required for class, or I’d watch videos on study tips or on how to be more organized. 

I used to think that I’d found the “good” side of YouTube, or to put it more clearly, I used to think that the media I was consuming was increasing my self-confidence and self worth. It’s hard to describe the genre of content I was consuming, but it all stemmed from an array of vloggers with white bedrooms in Manhattan apartments, Glossier skincare routines, and somehow the perfect mix of videos on the importance of self care and on how to optimize your life for prime productivity. It’s pretty easy to boast about the wonders of the law of attraction when you don’t actually need to worry about whether or not it works. Every now and then, when I listen to guided meditations, I’ll come across a video titled something like “affirmations and binaural beats for personal wealth instantly” and remember how much capitalism uses the guise of “self-help” to profit off of those who are vulnerable. 

Image: Ellen Grace wearing a shirt designed by disabled activist @thechroniciconic  

There was a moment during quarantine when I realized that YouTube wasn’t helpful for me, but was instead making me stressed, scared, and upset about all the things that prevent me from living like the people in these videos. For example, there was a video on tips for working from home; one tip in the video advises that you have one space for doing work or school and another for relaxing (ie. don’t do work from your bed). I’ve spent most of quarantine working and studying in my bed because my disability makes it hard for me to sit up for long periods of time. My disability has also taken from me many of the habits and practices I learned about from YouTube videos. I can’t bullet journal, I can’t do yoga, and most importantly, I can’t follow a strict schedule. I can’t predict or control the level of mobility I have on any given day. 

Like most people did during quarantine, I downloaded TikTok, and I’ve come to realize it’s the only social media platform that I have a “good” relationship with.

There’s a productivity strategy on Youtube (which I tried and gave up) where you log every individual thing you do during a day, and give it a “+” if it replenished your energy, or a “-” if it drained your energy. TikTok is the only social media I would give a “+” to. I don’t think this has anything to do with the concept of the platform itself but instead how it chooses which content to display to you. The TikTok algorithm, noted for its quick ability to curate content based on how and which videos you interact with, has led me to some great creators. These creators inspire me to be gentle with myself, to try my best to be authentically vulnerable, and most of all, give me something I can actually relate to. 

I first followed Lillia Skye, @lilliathings, because of her morning / night routine videos that I found calming. Recently, she’s been sharing videos tracking the progress of her singing since she started voice lessons. Lots of people have been mean to her in the comments of these videos, and even questioning why anyone else would leave a positive comment. Replying, she explains here

“I grew up poor and abused by my family, and bullied by my peers. I didn’t get to take singing lessons or even take choir, because these required fees that my parents weren’t willing to pay. I am just now taking singing lessons for the first time in my life because I am in the position to do so”. 

I loved watching her videos as she progresses on her journey and how she continues to advocate for herself and for authenticity, which she also does here

Another one of my favorite accounts is Mika, @biseggsualchameleon. I first found them through their TikToks teaching skills from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, a therapeutic method which was created by and for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. I moved to Toronto a couple months after I was first diagnosed with BPD and ended up in DBT group therapy at UofT. I recalled some of the skills, but in a group setting, everything was generalized and nothing really stuck with me; they even charged me $60 for missing a session I forgot about, which is a ridiculous way to help someone who has a mental illness. Coming across Mika’s page reminded me to start using the skills again. Inspired by Mika,I downloaded a DBT app and have been using it as much as I can. Here, Mika shows themselves before and after using skills, which gives you a good idea as to how these skills work. They’re honest and open, indicating that  keeping up these skills can be hard, but it can be very helpful in the long run. From them, I’ve learned a lot more about navigating my own disorder, from active passivity to navigating conflict to dealing with shame. I’d recommend their videos whether or not you have BPD as these skills can be useful for anyone. 

I’ll end with some content from two of my favourite disabled creators, @wheelierin and @notlewy.

Coming to terms with my own disability while in lockdown has felt pretty isolating. I feel the weight of all the small moments in which I realized another thing that my body can no longer do. These are some videos which have made me laugh but also have helped me feel like part of the disabled community.

#greenscreen anybody have a running tally of how many times ive made this joke #fyp #wheelchair #chronicillness

♬ original sound – yael

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