Ableism, Mental Health and The World We Live In with Jessica Ping-Wild
Today's episode is all about Ableism, Disability in North America, and beyond. We'll take a look at Jessica's story who's a content creator, a woman with a visible disability, and how she's using her voice educate people of disability rights.
Jessica's story of perseverance and kind heartedness, demonstrates to the world how you can find inner strength to lead you towards their goals, take a listen to this episode and then message me on Instagram with your best takeaway!
TODAY'S GUEST: JESSICA PING-WILD
> Introduction to Jessica's story (03:28)
> How college looks like from a mental health perspective when you have "Child Syndrome" and accessibility problems (09:01)
> What it looks like to be different as a child (17:18)
> How therapy helps with Childhood trauma (23:10)
> Even if a therapist isn't a good fit you still can get something of it (28:46)
E013: Ableism, Mental Health and The World We Live In with Jessica Ping-Wild
Today is all about ableism and disability in North America and beyond. I sit down with Jessica Ping-Wild, AKA The Rolling Explorer, who is a content creator and overall a very cool, kind, and amazing woman. We talk about her experience in the United States, especially Illinois, as a woman with a visible disability. She also talks about her experience fighting her university during her college years and how, most of the time, all her concerns were very quickly swept under the rug.
This episode sheds light on an issue that we have been ignoring for so long. I hope you enjoy it.
Amy: [00:01:27] Welcome back to this episode of What We're Not Talking About. Today, I have with me the fantastic and inspirational Jessica Ping-Wild, AKA The Rolling Explorer. Welcome.
Jessica: [00:01:43] Thank you. I'm so excited to be here.
Amy: [00:01:46] I am really excited to chat with you and get into all the fun stuff that we will be talking about. I always, I always like to allude to what I don't talk about what we're going to talk about. But I just wanted to say welcome. I'm really excited to chat. I started following you on TikTok, then I moved over to Instagram. I just love your content.
It's so much fun. And I really enjoyed your, I forget what you called it, but it was the Halloween week.
Jessica: [00:02:18] Oh, thank you.
I called it my Halloweek spooktacular.
Amy: [00:02:21] Yes. I love that. And also, like, did you just, did you buy those costumes or did you have them all ready for you to execute that?
Jessica: [00:02:33] Kind of both. So, I did dance for 13 years growing up. So, I had some of those costumes lying around my house. Some of them, like the witch's costume, the dress underneath is just a dress that I've owned for a couple of years. And same with the angel costume I did. That was the dress that I own.
Sometimes I had to buy the headband or like a little accessory, but most of it was already in my possession.
Amy: [00:02:56] Okay. Awesome. I was like, “That's going to be quite the bill,” but it was worth it. I like it. Since I have you on here right now, I wanted to tell you that the dress in the witch's costume is beautiful. And I actually thought that I would wear that normally. So I'm very happy to hear it's just a normal dress.
Jessica: [00:03:14] Thank you! It's from Express, if you're ever interested in getting something like it.
Amy: [00:03:54] I’m just gonna finish this podcast, then I'm literally going to go to Express immediately. But enough about Halloween; that's in the past. So let's talk about what you're doing online and why you have, in my opinion, an added advantage to the content that you're creating and all that super fun stuff.
So, before we really get into the meat of this interview, why don't you introduce yourself a little bit.
Tell the audience what you do and what your motivation is behind doing what you do.
Jessica: [00:03:52] Sure. So, last year, so may of 2019, I actually graduated from the university of Notre Dame with a degree in English literature and business economics. And I loved my time at school. I loved writing and I knew that post-grad, I really wanted to find a career that allowed me to write for the benefit of others, to fight ableism.
And I actually started working for my Alma Mater right away, in their stewardship department. That was great, but I was supposed to move to London in February of this year, but due to COVID that did not happen. And so I have been kind of just floating around my hometown, looking for things to do.
And I technically started this blog right away after I graduated, but it kind of slipped away from me with all of the things that were going on in my life. Now that I've had eight months, like everyone else, to have a lot more free time on my hands, I picked it back up and really transformed it into something that is educational, but entertaining at the same time.
So, as Amy so wonderfully introduced me at the beginning, I call myself “The Rolling Explorer.” I originally set out to do accessible and bring awareness to ableism travel, but obviously again with COVID that's not totally possible. So, now I'm just kind of making content that has a bigger purpose for self-love, self-acceptance, and, most importantly, disability representation in a world that celebrates ableism.
Amy: [00:05:24] That's amazing.
I was going to ask you the origin of “The Rolling Explorer.”
So, that makes perfect sense. It was going to be about ableism and accessibility during travel. But because your trip to London is - what's the word I'm looking for? - on hold for the current moment, you started to create content at home and then you'll eventually take that to a much bigger world into London. And to be an advocate for/against ableism.
Jessica: [00:05:52] Yes. I actually have some I'm hopefully planning on moving very soon here. Immigration is finally coming through, so then I can really start to get into some really exciting stuff. Not that what I'm doing right now is not fun, but you know what I mean?
Amy: [00:06:07] Yeah, absolutely. So why don't we take this opportunity to share with the audience why you were so passionate about accessibility and ableism, not just in traveling, but around the world.
Jessica: [00:06:20] Sure. So I have a very rare condition called Child Syndrome. It affects one side of the body with skin and limb deficiencies. So I actually have a shortened leg and a shortened arm on the left side of my body. So, I was born with this, like I said, so I've always kind of had these differences. I've never known a life without it, but I have seen a lot of issues with accessibility and ableism throughout my life.
And that's why I kind of really got, I don't know, inspired to write about disability advocacy and start talking about the accessibility and ableism problems that still exist in the world. Because I think a lot of people look at the ADA think it's “Oh, well there's a law. So anything that technically is wrong is legal.”
And I'm like, “Okay, that's, that's not how we should look at it. Let's reframe our mindset a little bit.”
Amy: [00:07:13] Absolutely. What are, cause I'm in Canada, is it state regulated? Is it national? How do they make sure that the states are adhering to the policies that are written?
Jessica: [00:07:29] If I'm totally honest, I don't even know. And I think that's a problem in and of itself.
Amy: [00:07:32] Yeah.
Jessica: [00:07:33] I also really don't think that it's very well - hmm... what's the word? - they're not checking on it very often. So unless it's reported, they're not going to go do these regular checks to make sure places are following the ADA. It’s much in favor of ableism.
And there's a lot of loopholes as well. There's like reasonable accommodations. Or there's, at least in Indiana, again, so I do think it varies a little bit state-to-state in Indiana. If an apartment building, for example, has three floors or less, they don't need an elevator. And just things like that. Where it's, they, there's little ways around kind of the general national system that's in place.
Amy: [00:08:15] Yeah, I find that interesting and something I like, I am an able-bodied person, so I do hold an advantage. I recognize that. And so what I'm about to say is obviously my ignorance. I wasn't even thinking about buildings, the walk-up buildings, and how impactful and also limiting that is for anyone that needs that elevator or can't access rooms and houses from stairs.
I can see the ableism there.
Jessica: [00:08:43] It was very frustrating in college, especially my senior year, because I had quite a few friends living off campus and most campus apartments aren't 18 floors tall. They're three stories. They meet that like maximum that you can have.
And that always just made me so annoyed and especially since it’s not a very safe situation all the time. They don’t even think about the ableism there.
Amy: [00:09:11] Yeah, absolutely. I can't, it's crazy to me. It's insane that we don't accommodate for so much, not just in the disability realm. Instead we do ableism. Everywhere. I mean, there’s a lot of ableism. But, how did that affect your mental health when you were in college? I know you said that you've lived with it, so you haven't known anything else, but having those added barriers where I could see you're just a normal person wanting to do normal things like... And then you have to crawl up the stairs to go to a party.
Jessica: [00:09:44] Yeah. My mental health kind of fluctuated a lot in college for reasons of accessibility, ableism, and just other things. I mean, college is a stressful time and you're finding yourself, you're involved in all these things, you're trying to get a job, you're trying to get good grades. You know how it is. But I do think especially my freshman year and my senior year, which is weird because those are the two bookends, of course.
And it was first semester, freshman year and second semester, senior year.
So truly like the beginning of the end, I did struggle a lot coming to terms with the accessibility and ableism on campus. I think my freshman year, it was about, because I had a really bad situation happen with the university and I was fighting with the administration to improve something.
And they kinda just slapped me in the face when they were like, “No, we're not going to do that.” I don’t understand their ableism. Then my senior year, I think it was me realizing I had let so much go because of that early situation that I didn't feel like I did a lot on campus to improve it for future generations. And I think that really got to me. I struggled all four years and instead of fighting it, I just kinda let it happen.
Amy: [00:010:52] Yeah. And that's hard because why should it be your responsibility to make that be better for future generations? It shouldn't be up to just you, it should be up to everyone involved in the process and the people at the university wanting to be a good human being. Or the people running the administration.
It's wild to me. I'm the type of person that I hear these stories and I'm like, “What is absolutely wrong with it?”
Jessica: [00:11:20] Yeah, completely agree.
And it's so interesting what the university chose to care about and what they did, when they chose ableism..
For example, I went and studied abroad in London. And they were so accommodating, they were willing to give me an accessible housing situation. They not only helped me find an electric wheelchair provider over in the city, but they also purchased it for me and did all of the maintenance fees when it broke down once. It was so odd because they weren’t in their ableism when it came to this.
So they were very accommodating in that sense, but when it came to clearing sidewalks of snow during the winter, they were back in their ableism.
Amy: [00:12:00] Which is also crazy and definitely entrenched in ableism because it's not only for a wheelchair or some form of accessibility. I don't know the right political term; Walker? No, that's not it. I know that's not it, but I think, you know what I'm saying? It's not just wheels that need clear sidewalks. It's also just like people that are able-bodied that are walking could also use that snow cleared.
Jessica: [00:12:24] Exactly, it benefits everyone. I just never understood why it was always like pulling teeth.
Amy: [00:12:29] Yeah, that's so weird. I've heard so many horror stories in a variety of different realms about university. I know my university has had a lot, or my old university has had a lot of, a lot of issues.
They can’t see their ableism.
It is getting slightly better. They're in the news, they're being berated, then they do one small thing and then they think everything's good.
Then next year someone else comes with a different problem and they're all upset and it's just sad really that it needs to be this huge fight for something that is so simple and also would help so many people.
Jessica: [00:13:04] I completely agree. Right. And universities are just one part of it, of course. Then you have like businesses and then you have like, even the Illinois State Capitol building isn't like the most accessible building on the planet either. And then you look at that, you're like, “Oh, that's a government space. Shouldn't that be better?” And it's just not. It’s ableism even there.
Amy: [00:13:27] Yeah.
It's an interesting world we live in. 2020, isn't it?
Jessica: [00:13:31] Oh, 2020 has been. It's shown us our true colors, I think.
Amy: [00:13:36] Yeah. And I have to ask, because this is Monday, November 2nd, and tomorrow's a big day for you guys. How are you feeling?
Jessica: [00:13:46] Um, I feel like something bad is going to happen. And I know, I just feel like-
Amy: [00:13:53] Oh, no, that's not good.
Jessica: [00:13:54] - I've had this very ominous, dreadful feeling. It's been in the back of my mind for like the last couple of weeks leading up to this election. I don't really think that the country wins either way this goes. It feels like there's going to be some sort of issue no matter who wins. If that makes sense.
Amy: [00:14:18] Absolutely. It does. And I've been talking to them. Some friends that are American and their one lives in North Carolina, which is not great. The other one lives in Denver. So, arguably a little bit better, but both of them are just very terrified. And I want to, I just want to clarify this.
They are both white females. So in theory, they might not necessarily be the population that I'm going to say should be nervous, if you will. But I think that's the sentiment of everyone right now. I mean, I'm not feeling good and I'm safe in Canada, you know. I'm nervous for everyone in the world, really.
Jessica: [00:14:59] Yeah.
It just makes me think like back when the American civil war was going on. Was there this much animosity?
Was there this much tension and hate going on? Because I don't know. I don't want to fully say that we're going to have warfare here in a month/ But honestly, nothing would surprise me this year.
Amy: [00:15:22] Oh, no. Do you identify as an empath or anything like that?
Jessica: [00:15:27] I do not. No.
Amy: [00:15:28] Okay. Okay. That makes me feel a little bit better, but yeah, that I bring. Oh my goodness. I could talk for absolute years on this, but I'm not going to get into it because it gives me a little... I'm getting a little anxious.
So, let's talk a little bit about what you're currently exploring in your content creation. How do you incorporate your disability advocacy into what you do?
Jessica: [00:15:56] I think one of the biggest ways that I have been really pushing disability advocacy and fighting against ableism lately is through self-love and self-acceptance. I think for me personally, even though I was born with my condition, it took me a really long time to get to any level of acceptance that, “Hey, this is your life and you need to be happy in it and you need to love yourself because you're uniquely you.”
And I think putting that out there, I think when people love themselves, they're more apt to love others. I think that they're more open to being kind to others. And so I think that pushing for self acceptance on kind of a widespread front is the best way to really show people, “Hey, if you can accept your own differences, that's great.”
Let's work on now accepting everyone's differences and really making this like a universal kind of loving idea.
Amy: [00:16:55] Yeah. I like how you talked about accepting differences, because that's something that I find in society today. It's really hard for a lot of people. Granted certain differences, like if you're racist or not, like I get that, but certain differences, like eye color, ability, or just like sex, you know, it shouldn't matter.
It's not one is better than the other. This is what it is. Why aren't we celebrating what it is instead of making people feel bad for how they are?
Jessica: [00:17:28] Exactly
Amy: [00:17:30] I feel like I keep saying it's crazy. I'm very baffled today having this conversation with you because it's hard. It’s hard to fight ableism and advocate for accommodation and disability rights.
And I think that what you're doing with the promotion of self-love, self-acceptance is something that everybody really needs help with. Me too. I have been on this self-development mental health journey for obviously my whole life. It's something I'm still needing to run myself over and over again, like you are just how you are.
I'm neurodiverse. I have undiagnosed learning disabilities and all this stuff. It was really difficult for me as a child to fit in and feel like I was “normal.” So, I can imagine what it’s like living with ableism. What was your experience as a child in Illinois?
Jessica: [00:18:22] Childhood was interesting. I think I realized pretty quickly that I was different, but I don't think I fully understood what that meant either. I was very lucky that my parents really fought for me to be in, for lack of a better term, the non-special ed classrooms.
So I was with my non-disabled peers, the entire 12-years of schooling I went through in the public school system.
Which for me was very good because I had high academic goals, even from a young age. Like my parents started to teach me how to read when I was like three and four years old. I loved reading, and I loved math. I feel like I was one of the only like seven year olds that loved math.
And I don't know, childhood was kind of... I loved my family life. School was a little difficult. I struggled to make friends. But I think that was again, partially my own doing, because I was aware that I was different and I let that get in. I let that get in my head. I was shy, and I was anxious. I've had anxiety my whole life. Truly my whole life. I can think back to my first panic attack.
And I think I really let that get to me when I was young.
Amy: [00:19:47] Yeah. I also have suffered from anxiety my entire life as well, and that is a special kind of hell in itself. Especially at a young age when you don't know what is going on. Were you diagnosed at a young age? Were you diagnosed at all? Is it something that you came to understand as an adult?
What was that explanation? What did that exploration look like?
Jessica: [00:20:17] I wasn't diagnosed until middle of college with it.
And I didn't even seek help for my mental health until the middle of college.
So, it was kind of that realization that, “Hey, this has been going on for a long time.” I had an eating disorder growing up, in elementary school and I believe that part of that was related to my anxiety as well. Not that it caused it, but it definitely didn't help the situation. Add in my disability and the ableism I experienced, and it didn’t help the situation even more.
And so I don't know, looking back and understanding now, why certain things happen the way they did. Why was having certain feelings, why that wasn't necessarily like normal behavior, that type of thing.
Amy: [00:21:05] Yeah. And that's, I think that's the worst part is that there're so many of us realizing ourselves. Like, whoa, we lived for like 20 years in a prism of absolute shit and nobody saw that. Again, this to me, I just don't understand my mother. She had expectations, but she understood that something was, I wouldn't say just different in me in relation to my friends that she saw. But, she was never able to advocate for me enough to the doctors to really push to show like, “Hey, like it's not just this. It's something else that's not her fault.”
I don't blame her or anything like that. But it's very interesting how everything is being. Brought to the surface now. And I do understand that there's a much less stigma and this conversation is helping us deconstruct it. But it's also a little scary because... I really don't understand how that type of anxiety can go unchecked for so long from healthcare professionals, especially if you're going to see them regularly.
Jessica: [00:22:11] That's a good point.
It's something I don't think we talk about even now with mental health being kind of left, stigmatized, and talked about much more often in the media and all that.
The same as ableism. I don't think we talk about childhood mental health at all. You hear about childhood trauma and how that can impact you later on. But you don't necessarily hear about depressed children and anxious children and children with OCD and all of these other like mental health problems. You don't hear about it.
And there's really, as far as I know, not much being done to kind of stimulate that conversation either. So, I'd be really interested to see if now that people are becoming more tolerant of it in young adults and adulthood, when are we going to start looking at what that looks like in childhood?
Amy: [00:23:07] Absolutely. And I agree. I love that. And you've just given me an extra podcast topic to look into, to record. So, that's great. But it is right, you're right. From my experience of what I have seen. And just for your knowledge, I am in my masters in counseling psychology, so I can't di-.I won't be able to diagnose.
I'll be able to help people, rebuild, I guess, is the best way to explain it. But we also haven't really touched on a lot of the childhood symptoms. There's the idea that we're going through all these growth spurts and development and maybe some type of brain is like developed and the other part isn't and that's going to result in like some weird stuff going on.
But when you look at the population and the massive increase of mental health problems and illnesses that have happened in the last just 10 years, it's astonishing that we haven't really looked more into that.
Or that we haven't gone to the base of it and the foundation to see, “Okay, like what is going on that is resulting in this?”
And as you said, Jessica, it's all about the childhood trauma. But what about the children that have anxiety and depression? And the ones that necessarily didn't have? The trauma that at least so many people believe is trauma. Does that make sense?
Sorry. That was a really long worded thing from my end. So I apologize. So, what are your thoughts about how we can even bring that to the conversation? I know I'm asking you like a big question right now. So, but what do you think could be done?
Jessica: [00:24:57] Huh? I don't know. I mean, obviously, my world would be like the ideal world where every child kind of has their mental health screened just as frequently as they go to see their pediatrician or as frequently as they need to get shots. They go to a therapy appointment like once every month or something like that.
I think normalizing childhood therapy, even from an early age, because regardless of, like you said, the traumas that people really come to think about, like losing a parent or, being in some sort of accident... There's so many other things that could lead a child to feel abandoned, to lead them, to feel any number of emotions, such as even just getting bullied on the playground at recess.
Truly there are so many different things that could be traumatic and like lead to these mental health problems.
Even if they don't necessarily develop early and they develop down the line, that's something to even be aware of. And it may be something that if therapy was more kind of normalized on a wide, general scale, that could be helpful in diagnosing earlier.
Amy: [00:26:13] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, then we come to the problem of affordable therapy because that's a whole other conversation, but... Now I have a question. Do you go to therapy? Have you gone to therapy? And if not, are you interested in ever going to therapy?
Jessica: [00:26:29] I have. Currently, I do not for a couple of reasons, but I would like to go back at some point just because I think it's good to go. I pushed it before. I'll push it again. It's good for everyone to go every once in a while, even if you're not experiencing terrible symptoms all the time. It's a good preventative thing as well in a lot of ways.
Amy: [00:26:53] Yeah, absolutely. I've been in therapy a lot. For me, it really helped create a - I don't want to say a story - narrative around what had and what was happening in my life. It allowed me to also have that non - my brain's not working today - that person that didn't really have that much of an investment in what decision or how I made the decisions.
Obviously my therapist wanted me to do well and feel good and all that stuff.
But if it wasn't like at the end of all, she wasn't that invested in it. If that makes sense. I'm the word that I'm going for? It is escaping me right now. But the one thing that I think is really interesting, especially for the children, when it comes to therapy, is that it allows you to create a relationship with someone in power that you might have not been able to have.
And in what I mean is that when you're a child and you have a parent, there is a power dynamic, they are in charge of you. They have the end word. And we view that power dynamic with police officers, mental health and other healthcare practitioners, teachers, babysitters, daycare providers, and the list really goes on. It doesn't just happen in childhood.
It happens as we evolve and the people in power and that dynamic changes. But what happens is for me, I had a very controlling father that just did not allow me to have my own opinions, my own beliefs. If I did, I was a massive inconvenience, so I didn't get that unconditional love.
I didn't get the listening that is, I think, required to grow that self-confidence that we were talking about earlier. And that's why I'm such a big, big supporter of therapy, because it's not just like they're going to fix you. It's more that they're going to give you something, potentially, not always, that you missed out either in adulthood or in childhood via relationship.
Jessica: [00:29:07] I completely agree.
I think that's a really good way to look at it.
And even if I have... I've had three different therapists, and one of them in particular was not the right fit, but what they did do is give me a space to open up and talk about some of the things that I was feeling in a safe space and unbiased space. And...
Amy: [00:29:31] That’s the word I was looking for. Yes.
Jessica: [00:29:33] I think that's just the most, in my eyes, that's what I've gotten out of the most is just being able to kind of... Even if it's just like I'm having a fight with my roommates today. I mean, in college, that was genuinely one of the sessions I had with one of my therapists. I'm like, “I'm angry at everyone that I'm living with right now. How do I fix it?”
Amy: [00:29:53] Yeah, no, I get that. I'm pretty sure like a year of therapy was about me and my old roommate. So, I understand. But yeah, it does the unbiased. This is like one of the best things, because it's one thing to go to a friend and be like, “Hey, I need your advice.” And then there, they have invested interest because either they want to keep the peace or they like you better or they like the other friend better or something. Right?
Whereas therapists are just like, “Wow. You know, I don't know anyone else in this life, like I only know about you.” So I think it's really wonderful to have that and to also be able to access that because there are obviously a lot of barriers to access when it comes to financial availability.
And to go with what you said.
You said one of your therapists wasn't a good fit.
And I wanted to ask you a question. Do you think it has anything to do with just not fully understanding a hundred percent like your lived experience? Were they entrenched in ableism?
Jessica: [00:30:50] Definitely. I think that that was missing. That was a hundred percent missing in each of my therapists. but two of them did a little bit better of a job trying to at least empathize with the specific situation that I was kind of bringing to the table, which was nice.
Amy: [00:31:10] Yeah, absolutely. It's always nice to have your therapist in your corner and not just taking the money. Yeah, it's hard. For me, because I will be a therapist, it's like, “Wow, this is such a way more complicated situation than I ever expected when I signed up for this.” But, I personally am open for the challenge, so I'm excited. But I feel like I'm going to be stretched.
I feel like a lot of people are going to be stressed. Stressed and also stretched, especially because we're really focusing on intersectionality in mental health these days. It's not just like you have anxiety and that's it, that you have anxiety. There's an election, you are black. You're also the woman. You have a disability and are living in a world of ableism. Or all these different things that make up your identity and thus your prognosis more or less. It's, it's an interesting time to be alive. That's the best way for me to really sum that up.
Jessica: [00:32:10] You can say that again.
Amy: [00:31:51] Awesome.
Well, Jessica, it's been so great talking with you about your experience, your content that you're making, and how you're showing up in the world.
I have really enjoyed talking to you and I hope I didn't say anything stupid. Because the one thing I do recognize is that I like to follow along because I find it really informative is your - I don't know if they're a weekly or monthly - ableism language fuck ups.
I find it really educational. That's the purpose, I know, but it's so, so, so educational. I really wanted to thank you for doing that and hopefully continuing to do that because I'm finding it insanely helpful. And I know thousands of others are as well.
Jessica: [00:33:00] Thank you. I was really excited to start that series because it truly is something that I know people just honestly don't know about. And they're unaware of. So I'm glad that you are getting something out of my ableism language series. It makes me feel very good to hear you say that. So thank you.
Amy: [00:33:19] You’re welcome. Well, thank you again for being on this episode. And I always ask the guests to leave the listeners with some words of wisdom or a joke, or just your last words. So I'll hand it over to you.
Jessica: [00:33:37] Sure. I suppose the thing that I'd want all the listeners to know is that... They don't have to do anything. They don't have to be anything in particular. They're awesome just the way they are. And to always try to remember that, I know it's not always easy. I struggle with it every day.
But just always wake up in the morning and tell yourself that you rock and you're going to have a fantastic day. And I promise you, it'll change your life.