How I handled my nerves about travelling in a body that’s different to other people’s

How I handled my nerves about travelling in a body that’s different to other people’s
  • PublishedApril 12, 2024

Holidays are often met with a mix of fear and excitement for me.

While there’s nothing like enjoying the sun, holidays involving pool time often mean I must push through some big mental barriers. The ones that tell me that my body is broken and that I look too different to show my feet and legs.

I have a condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which I’ve had since I was five years old. It means I walk differently, have muscle loss, and can’t get upstairs without a railing.

It also means my feet look different. I have toes that claw instead of sitting straight, scars all over my feet, and my feet fall differently as I walk.

When my family was invited to Thailand for a wedding at the start of the year, I was torn. While it would be a chance to take an overseas holiday, I worried about the possibility of swimming.

Why swimming makes me nervous

Over the years I have proudly shared my story of being disabled and advocated for disabled people, but I still fear showing my feet.

Going for a swim in public makes my stomach queasy, partly because I can’t get out of the pool due to their inaccessibility and mainly because of the way people stare at my feet.

Often, I avoid swimming altogether. I am a mother of two who watches their kids during swimming lessons.

I generally don’t get in the water when my partner takes my kids for a swim, even when I’m boiling on the sidelines. I’ve found it especially hard if we’re with other people or visiting friends with a pool.

As the trip to Thailand got closer, I found out the hen’s party was going to involve a group swim. I automatically decided it would be too hard.

Eliza Hull sits on the edge of a pool at a holiday resort in Thailand.
The way in and out of the resort’s pool involved steps, but I still went swimming.

What if I slipped? What if the people I hadn’t met before looked at my legs and feet? Would they give me that look like they felt sorry for me?

Then I started to doubt my decision. How beautiful would it be to experience something like this overseas and with new people? I am a live-life-to-the-full kind of person! And we were going away with good, kind people — people who I know well and trust. I knew deep in my heart they wouldn’t judge me or want me to feel worried.

Two questions that helped

Feelings of dread were starting to ruin my excitement for the trip. So, I decided to try and calm my nerves by catching up with my good friend Jacob Darkin, who is a disability advocate and wheelchair user.

I told him my fears about going to Thailand and suggested that perhaps I just pretend I’d forgotten my bathing suit. He laughed.

“Ask yourself this, Eliza, ‘Will this matter in six weeks’ time? Or six years’ time?’ Everybody thinks about their own bodies; they won’t even notice! And the most beautiful outfit someone can wear is their confidence,” he said.

Maybe he was right. What if it was in my head how much people notice? And who cares what they think? It was ableist to believe that everybody needed to look a certain way to be seen as ‘beautiful.’

I packed my bathing suit and set off for Thailand. It was an extremely inaccessible country, with multiple stairs without railings. It meant I had to rely on my partner to get me around, who helped me tackle stairs by lifting and carrying me.

Taking the plunge

At the resort, the way in and out of the pool involved steps, but I still went swimming. In fact, I decided to celebrate who I was and walked around without shoes on. Yes, I got stares, but they didn’t hurt me.

During our stay, I decided to treat myself to a foot scrub, which is something I normally stay clear of for fear of stigma. It made me feel like I was finally celebrating and loving myself, scars, and all.

Am I completely wholeheartedly self-accepting now? No, not quite. Maybe I never will be. It’s going to take a lot more undoing of internalised ableism that I have been taught over the years through negative perceptions of disability than one trip away.

But I’m a work in progress, and I know going away was one step closer to me seeing my body as resilient, beautiful, and strong.


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