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  • Writer's picturePeta

Managing Hidden Disabilities and Building Mental Resilience With Flic Manning

Join host Peta as she speaks with broadcaster and advocate Flic Manning, who shares her journey of living with multiple hidden disabilities, including Crohn's disease and Lupus.

Flic discusses the importance of mental resilience, practical strategies for managing chronic illnesses, and her passion for supporting the next generation in navigating the medical system. 

Connect with Flic:

Living Human Flic's Book:

Connect with Peta:

Instagram: @petahooke


Episode Transcript:


Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions about what life is like when you have a disability. My name's Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have Flic Manning. Flic lives with multiple chronic illnesses and disabilities, particularly Crohn's disease and Lupus. She's a broadcaster and very passionate to make sure that the next generation dealing with disabilities and chronic illnesses are better supported and have more knowledge in and around how to advocate for themselves, particularly in medical environments. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Flick and I hope you enjoy listening. So without any further ado, let's get into it.


Flic [00:01:08] Well, hello. Hello everyone listening and of course. Hello, Peta. Thank you so much for having me. This was like, just oodles of fun to be talking to you because we've sort of we chatted before, but kind of in the reverse order, I guess. My name is Flic Manning and I have Crohn's disease, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Endo Adno, PTSD, OCD, depression, anxiety. Let's just put all the letters. Basically, like a lot of other people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, I got a lot of stuff going on. But I'm here. I'm a fully rounded human being and I am ready to answer your questions.


Peta [00:01:46] It's such a pleasure to have you here. Flick. For those who don't know, Flick is an amazing radio host, producer, content creator, and I've had the pleasure of speaking to her on the opposite end being on her show. So it's a pleasure to talk to you and to be asking you the questions for once. So first and foremost, I mean, obviously considering that very long list of, conditions that you live with every day, do you consider yourself to be disabled?


Flic [00:02:17] I do now, certainly, but that's probably been a revelation. I would say that's occurred for me certainly in the last decade, probably less than when I was younger. I didn't even know that it was possible for me to be considered disabled with the conditions that I had, and in fact, I would never have known that they were called chronic illnesses. It was just this mysterious bunch of things that I dealt with and largely kept to myself.


Peta [00:02:47] That's where I think it's really important to have these sort of conversations, because as somebody who has an obvious disability and yes, I have hidden ones too, I don't have to necessarily explain or justify the fact that I have a disability. And I think that's where your work is really important. And I know you're really passionate about educating people on on the impacts that your conditions do have on your daily life.


Flic [00:03:13] Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you. I think so much of the turmoil and struggle that I experienced quote has been at the very least lessened if not removed. Had I known that those terms could apply to me and that those terms were not negative terms, that there was a sense of community and inclusion and power and my gosh, if nothing else, information that I was not receiving from anywhere else that I was going to get from being part of those communities and having that sense of belonging. I think back to myself as a kid. All of the medical gaslighting that I was going through, all the issues I was facing at school, all the bullying that was occurring as a result of my behavior through my symptoms. There's somebody else going through that exact same situation right now, and they're just as lost. And so I think it's not necessarily for me in my lifetime. It's about looking at that next generation coming through and thinking, what can I leave behind? What can I change? What can I improve about the world? While I have the time to do it. And so yeah, I'm very passionate about trying to do that.


Peta [00:04:22] And I think that's where when we think back to our youngest selves, how we were told about our disability and informed about our disability or our conditions can really then go on to instruct ourselves in how we approach our disabilities later on in life. Like, I understand you were diagnosed at least with your Crohn's disease at age 13 and for a long period you won't believed by medical professionals. What did that look like in practice? And was Crohn's disease your first chronic condition that you were diagnosed with?


Flic [00:04:57] Yes. So it was definitely my first chronic disease that I was diagnosed with. I think so much of it was just put down to your hormones. You're being overly sensitive, you're being emotional and quite literally getting yelled at. You know, in that extremely vulnerable state, when you're sitting in a hospital bed and unable to keep food down and you're losing weight and all of these things are going on. It's just a deeply traumatic experience to have. And it it changes who you are as a person. So everything that I really thought that I was and everything that I thought that I was going to be absolutely changed in that period of time. It was like my whole world got flipped upside down. And to some extent never got turned back the right way. You know, it's something that that remains there because you need to constantly advocate in order to actually get care.


Peta [00:05:54] I think it's quite common regardless of what sort of disabilities we live with, that we do have trauma connected with that disability, and a lot of the time it is, in response to how we would it in the medical system. With that in mind, how do you approach professionals today? How do you go about even having to engage in a process that is so unfriendly and inaccessible, like just from my perspective? I really struggle to go into hospitals. So I'd love to hear about how you approach that today, because I know you have to engage with the medical system very frequently.


Flic [00:06:38] There's a lot of mental resilience that you have to develop over the years. But even with all that, of course your trauma is going to be re triggered because you are finding yourself in all of those same sort of scenarios again. So for me, it's a lot of doing a lot of poly vagal breathing. It's doing a lot of meditation, it's doing a lot of mental health, sort of supports. It's writing things down. It's listening to, you know, specific types of music. It's stretching my body, and it's doing all sorts of things that sometimes might even seem counterintuitive, like if you dropped a whole bunch of weight, you've dropped 10 or 15 kilos in the space of a week, which can happen with my condition. It doesn't really seem like super advisable to, you know, get out and go running. But sometimes there's certain things that you you just have to do because you require your mental well-being to be in a state of good resolve and in check for you to then deal with what is going to come forward for you. Be able to recognize that you have been triggered, that your trauma is at the forefront, and it's doing some of the talking and the behaving for you in order to try and protect you. And there's kind of that, I won't say battle, but there's a conversation going on between the two parts of yourself, the traumatized version of yourself and the the sort of mature, experience, resilient self that are having a conversation at all times about like which one needs to be at the forefront right now. And like, is this the appropriate time to be showing your anger, to be showing your frustration, to be showing your fear, and it's making calculated decisions about when and where to operate in that emotional space.


Peta [00:08:22] Thank you for sharing that. I think particularly hearing about the practical things that you employ when things get really difficult can be really helpful for people to hear. And I'm going to ask you more questions about that. But you said a term that I don't know. So I always like to ask. So there was and because I'm dyslexic, it didn't stay in my brain very well. But it was something about your breathing. A technique with breathing


Flic [00:08:47] Poly Vagal breathing. Yes. Okay. So that's essentially activating your vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in your body running from the cranium all the way through your system. And it's particularly important when you've got anything gut based going on. Because obviously when we're stressed and we're traumatized, I think most of us probably have some awareness now that we go into fight or flight mode. And effectively, what that does is it activates your sympathetic nervous system, and it actually takes all the blood supply and everything away from your digestive system. So it actually, in a way, almost aggravates and makes anything that's going on inside your digestive system worse. And when you have Crohn's disease, it's also autoimmune. And a lot of your immune system lives inside your gut. So anything affecting that area can accelerate the problems that you've got quite significantly. So when you do poly vagal breathing, it essentially means you're doing breathing techniques that activate your vagus nerve, because that's the nerve that operates and controls your parasympathetic nervous system, which is what's known as rest and digest. It's where it kind of keeps the digestive system active and functional, but also tells the rest of your body that things aren't too bad. You can remain calm. All your organs should operate at full function. So I do a lot of work to try and keep my body in that space. When I'm going through those really highly acute, stressful situations.


Peta [00:10:10] I can't imagine how difficult it would be to be diagnosed with Crohn's disease when you did, particularly when like body image is such an issue for teenage girls and Crohn's disease requires you to monitor your food. And, you know, it's very you're very connected to your body.


Flic [00:10:30] Yeah, my body image absolutely got hammered. Without a doubt. And number one, you start to feel very much like a medical experiment because you're being poked and prodded. And obviously diseases like Crohn's disease, it's very invasive. There's nothing subtle or gentle about the condition, nor the treatment. That's very confronting as well when you're a teenager, because you don't have the concept of consent in that format. You're just in there as a child, and people are just touching you everywhere and doing things that are causing you discomfort and you, their authorities, and you don't really know how you're supposed to respond to that. The other part of that too, is, you know, you've suddenly got a huge weight loss going through, and there's a lot of people now that still kind of go, oh, you're so skinny, you know, like, oh, I wish I had your condition. And you think, my gosh, if only you knew what that was actually like. You know, sudden weight loss causes massive, huge, terrifying problems for your body. You know, it can be deadly. You know, your organs can fail. All sorts of stuff happens. So and at that time, you know, it was affecting my menstrual cycle. It was switching off because I was losing weight and then having to try and restart it. So I did spend a lot of time wearing. Baggy black clothing. Black thick eyeliner. I went kind of the full goth route because I didn't know how to work with my body the way that it presented, you know? So I was kind of covered in just baggy clothing and just putting up that almost defensive sort of front. Like, I didn't want people to get too close to me because I didn't understand what really was happening with me. You gain a level of respect for your body's adaptability. And that's I think that's definitely what I have forged over the years. Just looking at it and going, we've been through tough stuff. We can do this again. This is it may feel a little bit different because you're a little bit older or the circumstances are different, but we have navigated this before. You were not entirely lost at sea. You will get back to shore one foot at a time, and it's having compassion and respect and love for your body.


Peta [00:12:51] Of course your crimes. Would you say that's your day to day condition that you have to manage the most, that you think about the most? Or are they competing for your attention constantly? Are there ones that sort of turn on and off? Like, what is that like to live with multiple conditions?


Flic [00:13:12] There's definitely times when they're competing for attention, and it's like having a million small children screaming at you at once, as loud as they possibly can and chucking a big old tantrum, and you having to just go, can everyone just kind of calm the farm? I need to work out which of you requires the most priority. That's definitely an aspect of it, for sure. I would say when I'm not fully flared up, the two that I probably spend the most time, having to manage would be the Crohn's and lupus. Those are probably the two that require my most attention on a day to day basis. But yeah, there's definitely times where it feels like everything is on file and, there's just more fear joining in to make a bigger file.


Peta [00:14:03] I want to talk to you about your amazing radio show called brainwaves. And obviously mental health is very important to you. And, I can see with the challenges that you face every day, it's really important that you manage that and you're very cognizant of that. That's very clear. Talk to me about what you've. Well, first of all, talk to me about what brain waves is for people who don't know, but talk to me about what sort of skills you've gained and the self-reflection that you've had since starting this show.


Flic [00:14:37] So Brain Waves is a mental health focused show with a lived experience lens. Just about everybody that's involved in our show has got some lived experience of mental health, if not also chronic illness and disability. And I think every one of us, the thread that runs through that is that we know what it's like to not be heard. We know what it's like to not be represented or to be misrepresented. And so we're very clear about making sure that our show makes room for voices that would not normally be heard on the radio. You know, something that I wrote about in my book, but I really, really do believe that we have for human drivers, which is to feel safe, to feel seen, to feel valued and to feel heard. And I don't think it matters your background. I don't think it matters your experience, your age, your socio economic status, your religion, your gender, your sexuality. Nothing. Every single person desires those four things to be met, and they need those four things to be met in order to actually have a quality of life, to have the opportunity to live as themselves. And I've definitely found that within the show.


Peta [00:15:43] You obviously said at the top of the episode that you didn't know that you could identify somebody who had hidden disabilities. So talk to me about your process of quote unquote coming out as having hidden disabilities. Did it happen in stages? How did you approach that, and how do you go about educating people in your life about your hidden disabilities and conditions?


Flic [00:16:08] You know? Look, I spent a long time hiding it. A long time, decades. Effectively hiding it initially because I didn't know that there was any other option. Truthfully, there was so much shame and stigma around just having any condition at all, frankly, but certainly having a condition that involved, you know, diarrhea and these kinds of things. It was like we said, we're not going to we're not talking about that. We're definitely not advertising that. So even outside of my actual immediate family, that was not really something that we were readily discussing. Certainly not something that was, you know, comfortably discussed at school. I definitely did try and bring it up with my teachers, but I was immediately shut down. They didn't understand what those kinds of conditions were either. They just sort of thought I had very weird behavior. Because I would have to get up and I would have to run out of the classroom. Then kind of I made my way into the dance world and the performance world. And again, that was another scenario, which was we do not tell somebody that we've got a physical quote unquote limitation or restriction. They're not going to hire you. Even trying to navigate it in the fitness industry was the same thing again. It was like, no, no, you can't look, you cannot be the face of something to do with fitness and also be chronically you. That very well trained fighter. Part of me just kind of kicked up and went, no, no, no, no, I think this is this is the point where we don't we don't hide this sort of stuff anymore and we can change the perception of what it actually maybe looks like to be disabled. You know, like not everybody looks the same when they're disabled. And I think, again, it was like those misconceptions were sort of bubbling away. And so I started sort of using that terminology a little bit more. And it felt like coming home. For me. You know, when I finally was able to say those terms, to own them and to actually have conversations with people that had the same lived experience as me, and it was like, oh, these are my people.


Peta [00:18:14] You know when your body doesn't do what you want it to. And I'm the person that knows that better than anyone? I'm really fascinated in the fact that you gravitated towards industries I think, that are about control and and moving your body through dance in a particular way, in a beautiful way, and then going into the fitness industry that is about, in some ways control and and perfection and feeling good, and having that control in your body and feeling like you're more centered in yourself. Do you really feel like looking back now that your conditions and disabilities inform those decisions, or am I overreaching?


Flic [00:18:59] No, I think you're bang on. I don't think there's any coincidence in in those realities that I was drawn to industries where I would need to work with my body, where I would need to work with my mind and my emotional self, where I would need to channel all of that. I think it's also no surprise that I have gravitated towards situations in industries where that's going to be challenged directly and indirectly. It was, I think, a very important and powerful part of my journey that I needed to navigate for me to be able to actually say, well, yes, I am disabled, I am chronically ill, but I can use my body in these ways. And that's that's me not trying to show anyone that I can do what an able bodied person can do. That's not what the aspect is, but more that I don't have to fit this cookie cutter mold of what that is supposed to look like and how I'm supposed to behave, and instead sort of go, well, actually, there's people like me everywhere, in every industry, navigating all sorts of stuff on a daily basis. I could move my body and I could be free. And my day to day life. That's not how I felt. And so I think both in dance and in fitness, I was able to kind of tap into that. And it's like having just this little neurotransmitter, top of that, that helps me to get through everything else that I have to kind of manage. But also, more importantly, I guess, the aspect of also showing other people that you can be who you are inside, regardless of what anybody else's view is or what any other limitation may be, whether it be from society or based from your body, you can make space for that yourself.


Peta [00:20:51] For those of us who want more flick, then maybe on this conversation that allows for time. Today you have an amazing book, your memoir, Living Human Way. You in part a lot of your knowledge and wisdom. And it just a pleasure to be with you and read your words. Talk to me about why you wanted to write a memoir at such an early age.


Flic [00:21:14] That's a great question. You know, it's something that came up earlier. I had two different books effectively that I wanted to write, and I was prepared to write. And I knew to some extent it may have been smarter than to write the memoir a bit further down the track. Maybe wait till like 50 or 60 to write the memoir. But I was like a tap that turned on and it just poured out of me. It was so ready to be, I think, exercise for my body. All of these experiences and some of the knowledge that I picked up along the way, and I was finding more and more and more people around me that had these conditions that they were too scared to talk about or that they had been shamed into not talking about, you know, people that had gone through just the absolute worst situations with family abandoning them and employers firing them and doctors not believing them. And I mean just coming in from every angle. And I just thought, enough is enough. Enough is enough. Like, we've just got to make sure that there's more of these stories and more of this representation out there, because, gosh, if you're not going to get help from all of these other places, then you know you're going to be looking to get it from somewhere. And I think lived experience is so important. It sort of trumps all else, really, when it comes to a lot of these conditions. It's where we find our safety net, and it's often where we find the tools to help us to cope. Day to day is through the lived experience of other people. And so I wanted to kind of throw my hat in the ring and. Maybe part of it too, was also just a little gift to 13 year old me. Just to say we've done it. You know, we we are still here. I got that hard and it got that close. But we stayed in the game.


Peta [00:23:07] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Can I encourage you to share the show on social media, or write the show on Apple or Spotify? It always helps more people find the podcast. As always, you can suggest a guest or ask me a question of what it's like for me to live with a disability. You can get in contact with me either by my Instagram at Peta Hooke  spelt Peta Hooke or you can send me an email . Thanks again for listening. Until next week. Have a good one guys. Bye. I would like to respectfully acknowledge Wurundjeri people and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation of which I record the podcast today. And I pay my respects to both elders, past and present, along with and especially to those in the First Nations communities who are disabled themselves.



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