Pippa is a freelance writer and blogger. She was diagnosed with her condition, ME/CFS, as a young adult and shares her experiences online at Life Of Pippa. She also enjoys theatre, books and fundraising, and can always be found with a cup of tea in hand.
How did you first get into the world of disability blogging?
Thinking back to the early days of my own health declining, I turned to social media to try and find more information about my condition and how the heck other young people were managing it. I set up Twitter and Instagram accounts to interact with others and also began documenting my own experiences.
I never really expected to grow a following, but as my posts began reaching more people, and I rediscovered my love of writing, establishing a blog felt like a really natural next step: not only to create content around disability and chronic illness, but to establish a platform that incorporated many of my interests: theatre, books, lifestyle, fundraising and more.
Since starting my blog in 2017, I’ve been able to branch out into freelance writing and media opportunities, secure work in the charity sector, collaborate with brands and sponsors, campaign for change, raise funds for charity, and plenty more. And most importantly of all, I’ve met the most wonderful people along the way. The disability and chronic illness community, in my humble opinion, is made up of some of the most talented, insightful, and all-around fabulous people in the world.
You’ve written a book! Tell us about the journey that led to that.
I have! University And Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide is my debut non-fiction book, all about making the most of student life when you have a long-term condition. Being diagnosed with my condition during my undergraduate degree was an incredibly eye-opening experience. Adapting to life as a newly disabled student, I often felt lonely, isolated, and like nobody else in the world could possibly understand what I was going through… but despite it all, I still absolutely loved my time at university.
After I graduated, I wanted to make sure that anybody in a similar situation would be better informed on how to make the most of their student life whilst managing and, most importantly, without compromising, their own health. I wanted to put something out there that focussed not only on the academic aspects of university, but the student experience in its entirety. So, over the course of two years, I wrote the book I so badly needed myself: full of balanced, informative resources and a good dollop of self-deprecating humour.
The book was officially published in January 2020, and I’m thrilled to bits to know that it’s already been coming in helpful: not only for individuals, but also school and university staff who want to better support their chronically ill students. That really does mean everything.
What do you think some of the most common misconceptions that people have are when it comes to disability?
Sadly, there are plenty I could choose from, but one thing I’m always keen to highlight is that people’s lived experiences can vary so much. Even within the same condition, every person’s symptoms, day to day life and circumstances can vary dramatically, and with ME/CFS in particular, I firmly believe that no two people suffer in exactly the same way. Applying that same thought to disability more widely, I think it’s so important to challenge the general public’s stigma about what a disabled person looks like and what they think we’re capable of.
Because of this, I think there’s still a long way to go in normalising disability, rather than seeing disabled people as distinct and different. No two non-disabled individuals are exactly the same: everybody has unique beliefs and experiences that shape who they are. And the exact same hold true for disabled people, as well.
How do you think we can challenge these misconceptions?
Something that I’ve heard time and time again, and that has happened quite accidentally, is that people find it helpful to just see me going about my everyday life, dealing with my condition along the way. I work and I socialise; sometimes my disability has a dramatic impact on these elements of my life; other times, less so. Sometimes I use a wheelchair and mobility aids, other times I don’t. Again, I’m simply doing what I need to do to make the most of my own unique circumstances and live my best life. From experience, I know that seeing others dealing with the challenges of their condition but still doing their best to enjoy life to the fullest can feel incredibly comforting.
That said, something that’s hugely important to me is ensuring disabled and chronically ill people have access to the same opportunities as non-disabled people. Nobody should be disadvantaged by circumstances outside of their control. At the moment, much of my work is focussed around inclusive education and employment, in the hope that those who want and feel physically able to engage with these things will one day enjoy equal opportunities to pursue their goals, in a way that works for them and their health.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
Hmm. I’m ‘that’ person who names their mobility aids. My first transit wheelchair was named George, after the beloved historical figure of our time: George Ezra. My powerchair is named Janice, in the spirit of the popular trashy TV show Benidorm. The real challenge is in remembering that not all the people in my life know that these are the names of my mobility aids. There have been multiple occasions where people are somewhat taken aback when I casually mention that Janice has been squeaking and throwing a hissy fit that day…
23 year old Northerner on a mission to make the world more accessible to everyone! My Instagram account is Instagram.com/ableemily or type in ableemily to your Instagram search tool.