This is me!

Hugh Jackman and Keala Settle promoting The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman has been the hit of the year, with both the film and the soundtrack defying all expectations and soaring to the top of the charts. It has broken box office records, there are singalong screenings and outdoor screenings planned throughout the summer.

But why has this film touched so many hearts?

Well, it is, in my opinion, for several reasons. The rags to riches tale of PT Barnum, the fact he is fighting for the underdog and caring for people who have been neglected and excluded, the old fashioned love story and of course the wonderful score.

The key for me is the story of the circus entertainers.

These beautiful souls, many of whom would have been in physical as well as emotional pain from the treatment they were receiving from people, come together, protect each other, and form a family. In Barnum’s day community was a more important factor and these people had been excluded their whole lives not because they were unkind or had broken the law, just because of the way they were born.

In modern society community is a thing of the past in many parts of the world. There is a “look after yourself” mentality and to an extent we all feel as though we are alone and cast out. We have all been made to feel as though we aren’t good enough thanks to the media. We never reach the unattainable goals we are taught we need to; the right car, income, home, shoes, clothes, holiday, gadget… We are told we need to fit in, not to shine our own special light in the world. Children in schools are made to feel as though they have failed simply because they haven’t achieved what their classmates have achieved. They may have incredible talents which aren’t taught at school, but they are made to feel that they don’t count, they aren’t as valid.

We all want to stand up and shout “THIS IS ME”.

We want to be seen for who we really are. To be valued for who we are and just be loved for being ourselves.

When I watched the film, I watched it appreciating all the things I have already mentioned, particularly the music, but I also came away from the cinema with a slightly different view too.

You see I was diagnosed with a condition called Acromegaly 11 years ago. If you aren’t familiar with the condition it is the condition which gave Andre the Giant and the actor who played Jaws in the Bond films, Richard Kiel, their distinct features.

Acromegaly is caused by a tumour on your pituitary gland which then causes your body to produce too much growth hormone. This is why people grow in very distinctive ways. What many people don’t realise is that it hurts. It really hurts. Your joints give you pain, you constantly feel fatigued, you have unbearable headaches, excess hair, mood swings and your life expectancy is dramatically reduced.

It is a cruel and debilitating illlness.

I was very very fortunate. I was diagnosed early and in November 2007 I had successful surgery to remove the tumour. At that point most of my physical changes were reversed. What the doctors had believed to be bone growth had in fact, for the most part, been flesh thanks to my early diagnosis.

Kate Beddow aged 19yrs, 31yrs and 36yrs

I am now able to lead what most would consider to be a “normal’ life. I still get pain in my joints some days, there are some things I struggle to do and I get tired more easily than I should, but I have learned to manage my time so that I am not affected by it as much as I might have been. One injection every 6 weeks and I can be the mum, wife and business woman I want to be.

Had I been born in the 1800’s though my life would have been very different. I would have looked like the men I mentioned earlier by now. I would still have the headaches, the constant pain and the mood swings. In short I would probably have been eligible to join Barnum’s circus.

It is a sobering thought.

Had I been born 150 years earlier would I have been the “side show freak”? I don’t like to dwell on it too much because I prefer to focus on the positives and there are so many of those. I feel blessed every single day that I am able to live the life I live. Not everyone with this condition is so fortunate though. Many are still in constant pain. Many have weekly injections (which are painful in themselves) rather than my 6 weekly ones. Many have got lasting physical changes. Not often as dramatic as those of the men we mentioned, but life changing and often for the sufferer upsetting.

I am not writing this for sympathy. I don’t need sympathy. I am lucky. My diagnosis was one of the best things to happen in my life. It made me re-evaluate my priorities and make changes I would never have been brave enough to make otherwise.

I am writing this to hopefully make you think. When you see someone who is struggling. When you see someone who looks or acts differently to you. When you make judgements about someone’s circumstances, and let’s be honest we all do sometimes. Just stop. Stop and appreciate your life. Stop and consider what might be causing that person to be living the life they are. Stop and help if you are able. Let’s rebuild our communities, but with inclusivity and compassion. Let’s teach our children to believe in their own spark of individuality and stand up and shout “This is me!”. That’s a world we could really be proud of.

Kate Beddow is the creator of Calmer Classrooms with Mojo a whole school mindfulness and relaxation programme which is delivered in schools around the world. She works closely with teachers and provides them with resources to help them create a calm and focused environment for their students to learn.

Kate is also the mindfulness trainer for Become the Force, a real life Jedi training school, and was a contributing author to “Women of Spirit” a book featuring amazing stories of real life women overcoming adversity.