Author: nickyashwell

What does body identity mean today?

When I was at university I wrote this feature article about Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), described by me as “a medical condition whereby sufferers believe that their anatomical identity is not representative of the way they think they should look”. Although Wikipedia will give you this more direct definition.

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I  came to this conclusion: elective amputation is not socially or medically accepted because disabled and non-disabled people are not considered equal.

Consider these two points:

  1. BIID is comparable to Gender Identity Disorder (GID). In both cases a person may want a different body that they consider more representative of who they are. Gender identity, fluidity and neutrality are becoming increasingly mainstream
  2. As a society we have no problem letting doctors tamper with our bodies if it means bigger breasts or a smoother face. We’ve also at times normalised drinking, smoking, obesity and lethargy – all of which are proven to be bad for your health

So why is changing your body or risking your health with an amputation such a shocker?

This is just one of the questions I’ll be exploring when I talk at How The Light Gets In Festival. Find me on stage at the Ring at 2pm on Thursday 2nd June.

 

*A note on this post: I’m not arguing for or against elective amputation. I’m a neutral observer who finds this a fascinating topic worthy of exploration.

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Why I run #3: For the adventure

On Sunday I had a lot of time to think about running. Four hours, two minutes and forty-two seconds to be precise. I’ve decided that one of the reasons I’ve run seven marathons is because I have a tendency to say “yes” to things and worry about the details later. When I was given the chance to run the London Marathon for Leonard Cheshire Disability I barely thought about it before I said “yes”. What followed was an adventure where I made new friends, discovered new places, learnt about important causes, went on live TV, and finally completed 26.2 miles surrounded by non-stop, deafening support.

Thank you London.

 

Why I run #2: To promote awareness of (dis)ability

It’s three days until the London Marathon, and I’ve spent the last week learning about Leonard Cheshire Disability so that I truly understand why they are a great charity to support.

As a person who was born with what could be considered an apparent disability, but one I have never felt constrained by or even conscious of really, I’ve found that my ability is at times underestimated or misunderstood. Here’s an example: when I’m on an underground train, someone will often offer me their seat. I’m fairly sure I don’t look pregnant. Or even uncomfortable in my shoes. What I do look is different because of my Bebionic hand (or stump if I’m not wearing it). And therefore strangers make the thoughtful, but misplaced assumption, that my need for a seat is greater than their own. This suggests two things to me:

  1. They are uncomfortable, and don’t know how to react
  2. They don’t understand my ability

I understand my own ability, but I don’t know anything about what people with other types of (dis)ability need, don’t need, or care about. So to find out, I went to the #londonforall mayoral hustings event organised by Leonard Cheshire Disability, Scope, the RNIB, and Mencap. Through listening to Sadiq Khan, Zac Goldsmith, Caroline Pidgeon, and Caroline Russell (standing in for Siân Berry) come under fire with questions from London’s disabled population, I gained some understanding of the key issues to this group of voters.

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Transport. As Leonard Cheshire Disability have previously pointed-out, every day is like a tube strike for wheelchair users. It’s not just inconvenient, the tube is often an impossibility, meaning wheelchair users will instead pay an expensive cab journey instead of a £2.80 Oyster fare. And sometimes minicab drivers refuse their service.

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Housing. We’re all familiar with the shortage of affordable housing in London, but there’s even less of it around that’s adapted for specific needs.

Disability hate crime. Some questions expressed concern about going out at night alone – a fear justified by statistics that show disability hate crime is on the rise, and disabled people are at greater risk of violent crime than they were ten years ago.

I don’t think the mayoral candidates understand the varied needs of disabled Londoners, just like strangers don’t understand if I need a seat on the train, but the intention is equally good. Improvements will only come by increased awareness and inclusiveness. All candidates talked of bringing in representatives to consult on how new policies will affect and can be adapted to suit those with disabilities and hidden disabilities.

The marathon shows London at its best, with bustling streets, non-stop support and a community spirit. It’s a great time to remember #Londonforall, and so I’m running to raise awareness, and to promote understanding and inclusiveness.

Image by Julian Newman Turner

Image by Julian Newman Turner

See the Twitter feed from #Londonforall

Learn more about Leonard Cheshire Disability

Why I run #1: The path ahead

As part of my mental training for the marathon, I’ve been looking for reasons why I run. It’s no shock that one of these reasons is to be outdoors enjoying the scenery around me, but I’ve realised  the scene I get most captivated by is the path ahead of me. Whether it’s a beautiful country lane or a derelict urban street, something about the way a path leads into the distance is enchanting.

I’ve found evidence of this in my photo album, so I’m sharing a few reminders of the amazing places I’ve run in aid of invoking that great optimism felt by running into a beautiful scene.

The path ahead reveals unexpected beauty in the heart of a city

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Ruskin Park, London

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The High Line, Manhattan

The path ahead makes you want to run like a carefree child

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Somewhere in North Hertfordshire

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Somewhere in North Hertfordshire

The path ahead is iconic, like you’re running into history or a movie scene

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Brooklyn Bridge, New York

The path ahead smacks you with urban vibrancy

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Nr. Michaelkirchplatz, Berlin

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Williamsburg Bridge, New York

The path ahead is rarely bad when it is basked in sunshine

Dubai Marina

Dubai Marina

The path ahead isn’t always obvious 😉

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Wimbledon Common, London

Marathon training for the mind

As we close in on April, like other marathon runners I’ve been increasing the distance of my long runs and spending three or more hours consistently running. Physically my muscles are coping with the distance but my mental muscles need a bit of work. Despite the experience of six marathons under my belt, my confidence and sense of calm for endurance running seems weakened. Self-doubt and impatience have been following my every step. I need to add some mental strategies to my training plan.

free your mind

For advice I first looked to my running guru, Running Coach G, an elite ultramarathon runner who knows the solitude and stamina of a 100 mile race. He gave me these great tips:

1) FOCUS ON YOUR GOAL
“Keeping focus on the task at hand is key. Getting to the end of your run is the most important thing you need to do at that time so spend it in the happy place in your mind.”

2) FOCUS ON YOUR FORM
“The trick is to pick one or two things to focus on (like breathing pattern, body position, cadence)  for that specific run but to remember to enjoy the experience too. Keep a check on your focus points every now and then during the session and let yourself take in all the sights and sounds the rest of the time. Yes the aim is to perform better but if you force yourself to stay focused it may be detrimental to the later part of your run.”

3) FIND YOUR HAPPY P(L)ACE
“Over the years of coaching I have found that the body will give you signals to help you become a better athlete (and person in general). Self-doubt along with a few other mental downers are signs that you may be pushing yourself a bit too hard. This over exertion is most likely mental/psychological rather than physical so the best way to deal with it during a run is to slow down a bit, re-adjust your mindset, and when you are feeling that you are back in your happy place slowly start to build back up. This is the essence of mindful performance, endurance sport is about understanding both your body and mind.”

These points got me thinking and with some more research I’ve compiled a few extra strategies I’d like to implement:

4) MAKE A MENTAL PLAN FOR RACE DAY
As runners, we plan what to wear, how to get to the race, what we’ll eat, how we’ll pace, but what about planning a mental strategy? I’m going to anticipate how I’ll feel during the race, how I’ll react to any problems faced, and what thoughts might come to mind. I’ll write this down and read it back several times.

5) GET A MANTRA
From now on I’ll be giving myself positive affirmations like “I am strong. I can do this” and seeking out sayings that evoke optimism to memorise for race day. This might be lines from songs that put me in a happy place (and there’s no place for snobbery here, cheesy pop is definitely allowed).

6) GET A MOTIVE
Ok, there must be a reason I’ve been running for ten years, but I’ve never pinpointed what it is. This year I’m running for Leonard Cheshire Disability and knowing I’m supporting a good cause is a real boost. But I’d support them any way I could, so why run? It’s time to do some soul searching to identify my motive so I have a reason to remind myself to keep going.

If you have mental strategies for running, let’s discuss them in the comments 🙂

Disability Now: Cybernetics Special

Can and should cybernetics obviate the effects of disability?

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Another week, another discussion on transhumanism, this time courtesy of Disability Now and their podcast team of Paul Carter, Mik Scarlet and Sophie Partridge. These are outspoken people with a strong sense of identity anchored in part, around their disabilities. For these folks, cybernetics poses both opportunity and threat – it’s impact something not yet tangible but up for debate from both sides. As wearer of a bionic hand, I was the most pro-cybernetics party at the table and spoke my piece on the unexpected improvements it has made to my life.

Here’s my top 5 takeaways from our discussion:

1. Cybernetics and bionics are different things

Kind of. According to Mik, “the dictionary says that bionics is replacing bits that you’ve lost; like any use of physical ability or a loss of a limb etc. with technology. And cybernetics is augmenting ability.”

2. Enthusiastic engineers at the forefront of cybernetics hear a one-sided view of disability

There’s a resounding assumption that everyone with a disability wants to be “fixed” and that’s really not the case. What does the future look like for a disabled person in a world where it’s increasingly uncommon to be so?

3. But we’re all already benefiting in some way from technology that we consider part of us

Sophie conceded that her power-assisted chair is a piece of technology that she wouldn’t want to be without and considers an extension of her body. Most people I know feel this way about their mobile phone.

4. At some point, cybernetic-assisted ability will be greater than that of an unaltered human

Mik referenced his recent feature for Disability Now in which he asks, in a world where the disabled are given super-human enhancements, “Who’s disabled now?“. A topic likely to be discussed further as long jumper Markus Rehm continues his fight to participate in the Rio Olympics.

5. Cybernetics might be a whimsical diversion superseded by genetic enhancement

If developments in genetics mean a baby with one hand could have a new one grown, or that no babies are born with physical disabilities at all, prosthetics like my bionic hand come become as much a relic of technology as minidisc player.

Download the podcast to hear more on these topics and for further insight read Mik’s three-part series for Disability Now.

The London Marathon

On April 24th, I’ll be running the London Marathon in support of Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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This isn’t my first marathon but to have a place in London is a dream come true. I’m extremely proud to be running in support of Leonard Cheshire and the incredible work they do to support people with disabilities in living lives full of freedom and opportunity.

Find out more at leonardcheshire.org/nicky