Hi, I’m Bhavani Esapathi and I am addicted to stories. I tell stories, I hear stories and sometimes even make up voices for them. I do things for these stories, treat them with respect and build a relationship. I believe stories are going to change the world, and that they are changing the world already – like the man who sent me an email sharing his story on giving up smoking, or the girl who thought she couldn’t have a social life due to her illness. So this is a story about me wanting to create change, and what I did at Global FUTR Lab to see the possible futures this narrative could have.
I’ve always held a certain fascination with stories, it doesn’t have to be good or bad as long as the unfolding narrative is one of intrigue. I came to the Global FUTR Lab with my story, and those around the world who trusted me with theirs. It only seems right to tell it from the Lab. Let’s back up for a moment, let’s pretend like we don’t know what stories are or what they are meant to do. So what are they? Stories are fragments of perception displayed and redistributed to merge with other fragments or narratives. That’s not what Webster will tell you, however it’s just something I’ve made peace with because in all honesty, there is no definition for a story, not one that I’m comfortable with anyway. The Internet tells me that they can either be real or imaginary, but not both at the same time. Somehow that seems humanly contradictory to me!
Growing up I wanted to be a historian, you should know that’s only because I was convinced historians were time travellers who travelled back and forth, and wrote accounts of what they saw. As that dream quickly faded under the realities of perception, I still carry those stories, and mine are what has always set me apart. One day I began to tell of how I never fully understood adversity, and that my mind refused to convince me that adversities are to be overcome so I simply ignored them and went about my own life. From losing an entire lobe of my lung when I was sixteen to carrying active Crohns for over two years, and still do, somehow negotiating with life seemed like hard work, so I took the easy route and pretended that everything was okay.
As easy as it came to me to do this, to those around me I looked like the odd one out and questions came pouring in. How do you work? How do you live? Are you not scared to do the things you do because of your disabilities? And there it was, the word I had evaded for over two decades of my life – disability. My arms and legs work, kind of, and I can hear and see, so I’m not disabled or am I? This is when I came to the stark realisation that everything I did came with a caveat of ‘in spite of…’ rather than being seen as a success on its own merit. It’s unsettling to say the least. So I began writing my story to the world, a story of how I don’t relate to the categories put upon me, therefore lies my struggles in communicating with the larger public who are speaking within the discourses I do not affiliate with at all.
For all of you who can’t relate to the dominant dialogues around living, working and dying, Chronically Driven hopes to provide an alternative. The concept is fairly simple – it is a collaborative writing project where you’ll find real stories told by real people who are living beyond the extraordinary because of, as opposed to in spite of, their chronic conditions. I am on a mission to restructure the way the general population understands, and more importantly, responds to those living with chronic conditions. Its not about what your situation doesn’t allow you to do but the competitively advantageous position you find yourself in simply because of a diagnosis. Don’t believe me? Go over to the site and have a read, you’ll not find motivational stories in there about how you can fly if you set your mind to it (although do forward those stories to me because I really want to fly) but real life hacks and experiential knowledge relating to each specific condition on how to live a better life. At Chronically Driven, our tagline is ‘to live life beyond the extraordinary’ and trust me, I’ve thought a lot about it. There’s an uneasiness when it comes to aspiring to be extraordinary, you’re still framed within the crux of the ordinary but what would it mean to supersede the extraordinary? Now we’re in unchartered territories and the experiments can begin. And it was precisely these experiments that followed at the Global FUTR Lab.
My project, Chronically Driven, along with other equally interesting participants explored how our projects would be different if they were born in another time. For example, to what degree are they affected by our immediate surroundings and what are some of the trade-offs we make in order to achieve our goals? All of these possible futures might seem like obstacles but as someone who has evaded adversity all her life, they simply appeared as challenges. What gives Chronically Driven the right to exist today and believe to design change for the better? As I stared across the room and realised I was in the company of brilliant minds handpicked by FutureEverything and The British Council, all of whom had been chosen because they saw something spark in our individual projects, this all came together. The Global FUTR Lab is an attempt at revisioning the future, appropriately done so by FutureEverything, one where people across borders and sectors join to create a difference. A difference; not another category, not another organisation, but a difference from which new things can emerge. This was probably my lightbulb moment, as I grasped that Chronically Driven wasn’t going to change the world be it for better or for worse, but that it is transforming the ways we think about change. How do you view and respond to something that’s constantly evolving? You evolve with it. The outrightly vulnerable stories from people all over the world doesn’t mean that we have become more fragile, but is evident of a calling to rise beyond the dichotomy of either being vulnerable or strong and discover strength. What if you could use the very same things that hold you back to propel yourself forwards? Those are the principles of Aikido and the very same principles that guide every story which makes it to Chronically Driven.
I was told by Tobias Revell from Strange Telemetry during the workshop that mine is a “big ask” out of humanity in order to shift mindsets, and encourage the ability to logically comprehend what logic does not permit and this strangely comforted me. Its a big ask, yes. Thankfully I know what rules society, consequently it’s humanity. Therefore, I happen to have lots of inspiring people behind the stories as a testament against what logic dictates. For those of you who made it to my talk at FutureEverything, it was aptly titled ‘Superhumans with Amnesia’ and yes, that includes you. Chronically Driven isn’t just for those with chronic conditions, its for the dreamers who’ve given up on pursuing what they’re passionate about and are living in a world where dichotomies still rule their lives. It’s time to make your own rules by sharing your story and snap out of the amnesia to embrace your superpower.
Bhavani Esapathi is a Writer & Speaker on digital innovation, future of museums & galleries and all things tech. She likes curating experiences for cultural audiences by creating unique digital experiments while building on the larger social narrative. You can follow her blog at Bhaesa and get a sense of her experiments by subscribing to The Bhaesa Times . Her most recent social innovation project Chronically Driven brings about real change to real people by telling real stories of those living extraordinary lives with a chronic condition. Drop her a hello on Twitter.