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Navigating the Pressure to Succeed When You Have a Disability With Chloe Tear

Peta interviews Chloe Tear, a disabled writer from the UK, about her experiences with mild cerebral palsy and vision loss. They discuss disability stereotypes, education challenges, the impact of guide dogs on independence, resilience and the never ending pressure to succeed.



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Instagram: @petahooke

 



 

Episode transcript:


Chloe Tear.mp3

 

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 the amazing Chloe Tear. The irony of this conversation is certainly not lost on me. I'm sitting here on a Sunday afternoon. The sun is out on a Melbourne winter's day, and I'm still in my pyjamas. And my eye bags are dark and very pronounced. I'm an overachiever and I'm a perfectionist. And talking to Chloe about those very subjects subjects I did not intend to speak about walking into this conversation, but we certainly did. And boy oh boy did she have words that fit around. A lot of thoughts in my head and I hope it resonates with you too. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

 

Chloe [00:01:15] Hi, my name's Chloe Tear. I live in the UK. I'm a disabled writer and senior content designer. I have mild cerebral palsy. I'm registered blind and I live with my partner George and my guide dog, Dezzy.

 

Peta [00:01:35] Thank you so much for being here, Chloe. I'm so excited to talk to you today. When I was researching you, and I've obviously done my fair amount of research and I was reading your website and I've read interviews and news articles and all sorts of things, but I think the first question I wanted to ask you is, what disability stereotypes frustrate you the most? Because I know you're pretty passionate about that.

 

Chloe [00:02:00] People assume that being registered blind means having no sight at all. And I suppose that's because I do have some remaining sight, and I'm often met with like, disbelief when I kind of say that I'm registered blind because it goes against kind of what the stereotype is. Yeah. I think if I'm being truly honest, I can't be that annoyed because prior to losing my own sight, that's kind of the assumption I had, even though I was a disabled person. You know, I started to lose my sight later in life. But was born with cerebral palsy. People don't expect me to have a guide dog, but then I also use a walking stick. So it's just kind of like the like, so what's wrong with you is what I get asked a lot. Like they they try and put me in the box of being visually impaired or having a physical disability. You know, even like filling out forms, whether it's for like the doctors or anything really, you know, often you can select one type of disability and it's like, no, I'm very clearly, you know, me, at least two of these. Cerebral palsy is often quite a visible disability. How how I walk is. You know, not the norm. And have used a wheelchair throughout my life and things like that. Yet now I have my guide dog. People don't really see the walking stick or the splints or how I walk. They just see the dog and all that. That's kind of nice in a way. It then is kind of led to, I suppose, not meeting my needs because they don't see the full picture. A lot of disabled people have more than one condition, even if there are elements that are hidden. Like, I think people don't necessarily realise that when you have cerebral palsy you're often in pain, you know, like really struggle with energy. And they like just say, well, you use a wheelchair or you use a stick or. Well, actually I think the most for me anyway, one of the most debilitating is the fatigue and the pain that kind of comes with that.

 

Peta [00:04:22] I'm nodding. For those who can't see the video of this podcast, I'm nodding vigorously because for me, the pain, the stiffness of my muscles as well, and the fatigue is definitely, really, really challenging day to day. You have been online for a long time sharing your life. Thank you so much for doing what you've done for so long. I think you've been blogging now for 11 years, which is a really great effort. But you started sharing, your life when you were a student. Why did you want to share those experiences? What inspired you at that time, and what was it like going through education for you with cerebral palsy? I think.

 

Chloe [00:05:08] Like, if I'm being honest, it's. I didn't I felt like I didn't fit in. I didn't fit in with my peers who were gaining more independence and going out and about because I was starting to use a wheelchair and I felt I didn't fit in with the other disabled people I saw online because I, quote unquote, wasn't disabled enough in my own opinion. There wasn't really anyone with a mild form of disability or like specifically cerebral palsy, who was kind of almost stuck between those two worlds of functioning enough to get by as a student, but still being disabled enough to kind of really struggle being a student. And I think that was kind of the driving force of surely there are more people out there like me and Shirley. If I kind of share that, other people won't feel like they're kind of the only one. It was focussed on being a disabled student, so I had extra times, extra time during exams. Like a note taker and kind of using a laptop. But aside from that, it was for me the biggest struggle was the extra. I was behind closed doors to kind of keep up. It was like the unseen, like really struggling with fatigue, like to just get through the day. You know, school was almost the easy bit. It was kind of my body. Not like going against that, I suppose. And also like part of my cerebral palsy kind of meant the taking in and retaining information took a lot longer. You know, I got I got grades, but it took a lot like, you know, like we're talking like months and months of revision. Anyone that can revise, like, in one evening for an exam. Like. I'm so jealous. I think a lot of disabled students find themselves wondering, why am I not smart? You know, could I do this? Well, actually, if I had the time and worked really hard, I wasn't far off my peers at the end of the day. Not only did I want to achieve well, I felt I needed to achieve more to prove people wrong. Now, I don't know which people I was proving wrong because no one around me ever made me feel like that. But it was. It was like society as a whole. Like, yes, I might be disabled, but I've got a first class honours degree. Like it is silly. Like we don't need to go above and beyond to prove ourselves. But I think a lot of people can kind of relate to needing to do that. Whether it's you don't just write a blog, you've got to do it for 11 years. You know, you've it's almost like you have to do more to be seen as equal. And all we want to do is be seen as equal. So if that means kind of working harder, I think it's not only in education but in employment. Again. I've never been told. You've got to do more than everybody else. But I'm going to do more than everybody else, and I'm going to try and get those promotions and kind of get up there for me, like as my self-worth to be seen as equal. We go into the world having done our education, having this overachiever mindset of needing to prove ourselves. And that just continues, you know. Well, for me especially, I suppose. And it's like I remember growing up and it was like, you know, my parents would be like, don't put so much pressure on yourself. Like, it's fine. Like, just try your best and. Why did not listen? You know, this is so silly, but I think it's. As a disabled person, you want to kind of be good at something. And if you can't do that in terms of like physical attributes, you kind of put that to intelligence, kind of your only outlet, I suppose.

 

Peta [00:09:50] Yeah. For sure. I, I think I still get told by that by my parents, but even today, you're fine. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. It will happen. But you know, I'm an impatient person. It's just who I am and what I'm trying to work with, what I have. But I really relate to your experience, Chloe.

 

Chloe [00:10:10] A lot of the achievements I have in life are down to starting this little online diary, like 11 years ago. Like I have won quite a few awards, which again is very bizarre to think about. But I think for me, one of the main things was talking at a teachers conference a few years ago, and I was the keynote speaker in a massive auditorium on a big stage, and. I was actually talking in front of teachers that taught me back then. Though it was very full circle in terms of like, this is who I am now. Like I can go and stand on the stage and talk for half an hour about my experiences within education and kind of highlight what goes on behind closed doors and actually what I've done since with my life. I absolutely just adore going into schools and talking to students and kind of. Talking to them about disability and kind of giving them that open space to ask all the questions they want to, or all the things they laugh about with their friends. Because actually, it's only by educating the next generation that, you know, educating them about disability, that we can create societal change for disabled people.

 

Peta [00:11:40] One of the main questions that you get asked by the students, what are the most common questions?

 

Chloe [00:11:46] For me, it's not only about the student. It's about the disabled students. I've had a few times where I've gone into a classroom and there is a visibly disabled student in there. There's been a few occasions where actually, by the end of my session, they've been the one talking about their despair due to their class. You know, like I've had teachers come up and be like, I've never even heard them, like, speak to their colleagues that, you know, speak to their peers, never mind talk about their disability. So I think that is that's like the goal. In terms of the questions that students might ask, I think it's normally a snowball effect. It's normally dead silent to begin with at the open Q&A. And then you might get like. I don't know. It's normally a lad who thinks that's funny to kind of ask a silly question like, can you have sex? Just really silly. But if that's the questions they genuinely have, then I'm going to answer that question. Within society, it is not publicly acceptable. Rightly so. To go to a disabled person and ask them what you're thinking. Like that's not acceptable. Yeah. To kind of create an environment where it is for that half an hour. You can ask me anything and you're not going to get told off. And I'm going to give you an answer. This is the one time in your life where you've got a disabled person right now that you can ask, or the things you find funny with your mate. So all the things you're wondering, because it's those things that you're wondering that mean that you then. Have discrimination against them, whether that's on purpose or not. It's kind of if we don't have those questions answered as a teenager, you then grow up with assumptions that you take into adulthood. So it's kind of just being brutally honest with them, really, I think is the most important thing. One of the. Most surprising questions I got was like halfway through and they were like, so were you scared to leave the house? And I was like, this is like a 14 year old like, you know, and yes, I am most of the time.

 

Peta [00:14:16] Thank you for that public service like it is of public service, because a lot of us get those questions every day. Some of us are happy to answer them, but some of us, you know, we we have trauma connected to our disability, particularly people who, you know, might have an acquired disability later on in life. I really value your work in that respect. I'm very conscious that we've spoken a lot about cerebral palsy, of course, to two people with cerebral palsy, we're probably bound to do that. But I do want to talk about your vision loss. You started losing your sight in your 20s. That must have been. Really do. I mean, there's no good time to ever get another disability, I would argue. But how did you go about that process? How did you feel and how did you manage your mental health?

 

Chloe [00:15:08] Well, not great, to be honest. But, yeah, I think it started when I was 18. But it kind of wasn't a thing until I was around the age of 20. So it was my first year of university. My physical health, because of my cerebral palsy, had taken a nosedive from like hormonal changes and growth spurts, but probably the stress of school as well. And kind of my mental health wasn't great to begin with. And then this started, I think it certainly did not help at all. Like I came back in my second year of university using a long cane, and that was the first time that my visual impairment was visible. So I spent most of my first year in a wheelchair and then started to walk a bit more towards the end. And then start my second year using a loan came to then almost. It was almost just felt like one thing after another. Which was tough. You know, I think it's I end up taking antidepressants and kind of. Trying to manage it that way. And, you know, fortunately they really did help at that time. And it was almost. Like, I think again, because I already had the online community from blogging to begin with. I think I'm really fortunate that it was a case of, okay, well, let's just go find some blind friends. Which sounds so bizarre, but it was just like, okay, well, I already follow quite a lot visually impaired people online. So like connected with them more and kind of that support network was already there ready and waiting, which I think is a privilege because you don't get that normally when you just start to lose your sight. Because of my mindset towards my soup. It was almost like, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen and you're going to work, you know, find adjustments, find ways around it and then just carry on. It was very solution focussed because I almost didn't have the time for it not to be. I, you know, like we've said before, the D.A. for a chief, I kicked in. I was in the middle of a degree that that was what I was doing. I had experience of being disabled and the fluctuating health within that. So in a way it was just another challenge on top of that. Like I personally cannot imagine how hard it is. To be non-disabled and then start to lose your sight like. I think that would be so much worse and so much harder because you don't have those inbuilt, I suppose, coping mechanisms of adapting, whereas thought came very readily to me, even if it was swapping mobility aids for magnification, it was almost like a night thing that I did without even thinking.

 

Peta [00:18:27] Yeah. I think when you have a disability and you're born with your disability, you realise that anything can happen to you because it already has by default. So you're just like, oh, okay. Right. This is the next challenge. Fine. But I also think having a disability makes you so resilient. And that's just really amplified with what you just said. Chloe, I think, you know, it must been really difficult, but it's full credit to you for living life and completing your degree. You know, I wouldn't expect anything less from you, that's for sure. I have to ask, though. Did you did it affect your relationship with your ability to walk? Because as somebody sitting here in electric wheelchair, I worry about losing my sight because I'm so reliant on my site about getting around independently. Was that something that you had to really think about?

 

Chloe [00:19:27] I was fortunate in the way that my mobility improved as my eyesight decreased. Which sounds like a very like it's not a trade. I would, I would like, but it's the trade that seemed to happen. It was very odd to have to choose the disability that took precedent that day. Like if you were having a more wobbly day, it was the walking stick. If I was and it was a long cane, it wasn't. But I didn't need them both at the same time I did. It just meant that the person who was supporting me was either my eyes or my stick at that time. I wasn't independent either way until I got my guide dog, and I think that took its toll on my mental health because it was. I never had any of that until I was like 25. So it was. I couldn't win. You know, it was a case of I got more mobility. It's okay. I can go up on myself now. Oh no way. I can't now because I now can't say so. I think although we've kind of spoke about, like, resilience and adapting, I kind of don't want to downplay the impact that did have on my mental health because I think that's equally as important. And actually. You know, I don't want people listening to think, oh, well, she was fine about it because that certainly wasn't the case. I kind of just I have to be more practical at the time, both to kind of keep going. But I think also a coping mechanism for myself to focus on what I could do, and kind of the things within my control at that moment in time.

 

Peta [00:21:20] I'm looking on social media since you've had your beautiful dog, Daisy. Your independence has improved.

 

Chloe [00:21:28] Yeah, massively. Like, oh, my God, I love him so much. You know, the weekend just gone was the first trip with just the two of us staying overnight in a hotel, getting the train. Kind of. I met up with work colleagues at a conference. We kind of went out for drinks afterwards and socialised, and it was the first time I've ever been able to do that. Whilst the support network has always been there, I hated the reliance on other people and kind of I won't like to go for a walk. Are you free? And I think the fact that I could, I can now just go and do that is just amazing.

 

Peta [00:22:17] Before you when you were saying that one of the questions that you asked by the student was the fact that you feel unsafe when you leave home. Has that changed now that you have Daisy, or is that an ongoing thing as a female with a disability, which is very valid?

 

Chloe [00:22:34] To a certain extent. Yeah, it's still there, but I think it's there a lot lies because my trust is in him. You know, you need to put your trust in them, that every road you cross there's a Karbala, like, is the owner. Or tell him when to go when I can't hear any cars. But if there is a car, it's within his training to not go to kind of almost disobey me in that respect. So in a way, it's the trust in him to keep me safe. Over the last year, he's done a very good job of that.

 

Peta [00:23:15] Yeah. Dogs are so important in our lives. And, disease certainly is next level for you, that is for sure. I want to finish up by talking about another achievement you've just done in your life, and that's moving into your own home. Talk to me about that process, because I think a lot of people don't understand how complicated it is to find a home that suits your needs. So what was that process for you?

 

Chloe [00:23:41] It was always in my head that I could never live by myself, that it was going to be a case of I'd have to meet someone and then move in with them. I have never done such a big decision so quickly in my life. I saw the property. Viewed it the next day and within 40 hours had a mortgage offer and bought house. An old woman previously lived here. So when I moved in, all the chrome rails were in the bathroom. It was essentially a wet room. You know, it was like. You know, I find it quite amusing that I guess I've moved into an old woman's house, and it's perfect. I've been in my house two years now, and I'm now in a long term relationship and have a guide dog. So it just kind of all fit in together and kind of sort itself out.

 

Peta [00:24:41] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. It's no surprise that I certainly did. I loved talking to Chloe, and it just goes to show that you can live on the other side of the world, and yet still have so much in common with someone. If you have a suggestion for a future guest on the I Can't Stand podcast or would like to get in contact with me, you could always follow me over on Instagram. My handle is @petahooke or you can send me an email. My email address is Ican'tstandpodcast@gmail.com. Thanks again for listening. I really appreciate you. And 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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