Tag Archives: chronic pain

Where There is No Pain

I am staring up at the sky, and I can see the clouds rolling by. I am going the other way. We are giving a nod to one another as we go our way.

The sounds above me are all muffled, of people going on with their lives. I put them out of my mind. They don’t mind me, and I certainly, at this moment, don’t care about them. The sounds around me are different. They are bubbled and thunderous but deadened. They don’t hurt like the stark sounds of being above.

I glide. Above, I ache, I hurt, I am slow. I can barely move forward. But here, I am a Titan. Gods wish they could move like me. This is where I want to be. My muscles move the way I want them to. They ache and scream with the movement, but there is support under every part of my body holding my limbs as I reach.

I turn face down now, tuck my head, and open my eyes. The world is clear, and the sun beams across the floor in ripples, because it isn’t even as strong as I am here. I expel my lungs as I stretch my legs, moving them like scissors, gently. Every gentle motion has so much power. The movements that bring me glances of pity above make me feel like Poseidon’s child here. I was made to use my body here.

I reach, grab, and pull, gently, and glide again. I turn my head (it doesn’t hurt!) and take in a desperate measure of air greedily. My torso turns as if it can just swivel freely. I look down below me, straightening my spine, and see the blue tiled “T” marking my distance. One. Two. Three, and a tuck, and my legs push me back the other way.

I want to stay here. I want to remain where there is no gravity to pull me against myself and bring the pain back. I dread later. I dread even ten minutes from now, because we all have to pay the piper…

The second lap is slower. I always start off too fast. It is always too long between these trips, or too long between seasons (it is never the same indoors). My body can move, but my lungs burn faster. I have to come up more.

Halfway through I have to stop.

My feet (they are tingling now…again) find the ground and my hands reach for the wall.

No. Please.

I fight on. Because I want to stay here.

Where it doesn’t hurt.

The sun beats down on me.

Reach. Grab. Pull.

And it isn’t just the water I grab for. It is time.

Tuck, push, kick.


Under here I am alone with my thoughts, with how good it feels.

But my lungs ache for that air, and my body is tired, and my neck strains now when I turn for that air.

As I grasp that wall I am crying.

I need help out.

I am too tired to stand.

I have to rest.

And all I can think about is the next time I can get back in.

Originally Published at random babble… on 10 June 2010

Recommended Reading for June 15, 2010

dhobikikutti (DW): This is also needed: A Space In Which To Be Angry

And what I have realised is that there is a sixth component to [personal profile] zvi‘s rules, and that is that complaining about and calling out what you do not like does help, slowly, painfully, get rid of it.

Every time I see friends who make locked posts about fic that Others them, that writes appropriatively and ignorantly and dismissively and condescendingly and fetishistically about their identities, I think — there needs to be a space where this can be said.

damned_colonial (DW): Hurt/comfort and the real world [warning: derailing in comments]

Writing a short ficlet in which someone who has been abused/injured/disabled/etc is “comforted” and feels better seldom bears much relation to the reality of abuse/injury/disability/etc. Which, OK, we write a lot of unrealistic things. The problem with this one is that the idea of hurts being easily cured/comforted is one that also exists in the real world and harms real people. Almost anyone with a real-world, serious “hurt” has had people dismiss and belittle their experience on the assumption that they “should be over it by now” or that “if you just did X” the problem would go away. People are often treated badly or denied care on these grounds.

Pauline W. Chen, M.D. (New York Times): Why Patients Aren’t Getting the Shingles Vaccine

“Shingles vaccination has become a disparity issue,” Dr. Hurley added. “It’s great that this vaccine was developed and could potentially prevent a very severe disease. But we have to have a reimbursement process that coincides with these interventions. Just making these vaccines doesn’t mean that they will have a public health impact.”

Trine Tsouderos (Chicago Tribune/L.A. Times): The push and pull over a chronic fatigue syndrome study

Nine months later, the joyous mood has soured. Five research teams trying to confirm the finding have reported in journals or at conferences that they could not find the retrovirus, known as XMRV, in patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, casting grave doubts on the connection.

Kjerstin Johnson at Bitch Magazine’s Sm{art} blog: Riva Lehrer’s body of art

To Lehrer, who has spina bifida, “Disability and art are natural partners. In order to have a good life with a disability, you have to learn to re-invent your world almost hour by hour. You discover ways to re-imagine everything, and how not to take the average answers to everyday questions…”

Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

Recently, I read this odd article, penned by Judith Warner, in the New York Times–one in a stream of many that detail how excessively awful the current generation of young people (read: young workers) is at putting its collective nose to the grindstone, sucking it up, and generally not acting like a bunch of brats, or something.

Many of us have heard about, or come into contact with, some of these bright young things. They are heralded — or, more commonly, blasted — as naive, entitled, too optimistic, and over-confident. In many of these articles, their numerous faults are listed: They don’t know how to dress professionally! They expect to march into the workplace of their choice and immediately start making a six figure-salary! They think they are perfect! They want praise all of the time! (Does no one who writes these sorts of articles stop to consider that many human beings want praise when they complete a task to the best of their abilities?) They have tattoos, dyed hair, and iPods! EVERYBODY PANIC, because the American workplace is apparently going to be dragged down by Generation Y’s entitlement, narcissism and laziness! This narrative, however, seems to apply mostly to a very specific subset of the population (and even the picture that accompanies the NYT article reinforces this): young, able-bodied, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated white people.

This erases, or conveniently ignores, a hell of a lot of folks who are not young, abled, middle/upper-middle class, and white. It erases young workers who may not have had the “expected” educational opportunities (such as college), or who had to take more than the expected four years to finish their degree, or who did not finish school. It erases people whose parents or family members may not have been quite so “involved” in their education, or in their lives at all. Of course, it also erases young people with disabilities — both those who cannot work, and those who want to work but who may be bumping up against various narratives such as that of the “entitled” Generation Y kid. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation — because we cannot stop worrying despite the fact that we are supposed to be totally optimistic and confident all of the time, always thinking that the roads leading to our perfect job will be lined with rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and gold.

Some of us have physical disabilities, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses that prevent us from working 40-hour weeks (or more); asking for accommodations or disclosing our condition(s), we fear, may make us look “entitled,” or like we do not want to put in the time necessary to work our way up — even if this is not the case. The fact is that many people, and many young people, with disabilities are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and making a living. Not only are many people with disabilities, at least in the U.S., more likely to face lengthy stretches of unemployment and/or live in poverty regardless of age, but many face additional hostility, discrimination, and unreasonable demands, both in the workplace and from society at large because of their disabilities.

While I am not saying that these over-entitled Generation Y-ers don’t exist (I’ve had run-ins with quite a few of them, myself), I am struck by the fact that the narrative surrounding them is so dependent upon erasing or ignoring certain people whose bodies and experiences do not fit the “expected” attitudes about labor that have been traditionally upheld by American culture. Many of these attitudes, furthermore, rely heavily on binaries that reinforce who “counts” and who does not: You either work full-time, or you’re lazy. You’re willing to be mistreated in the workplace and do whatever it takes “for the job,” or you’re a wimp. Suck it up, or go home. If you’re not making enough money to live on or are poor, you just aren’t working hard enough. If you ask for “accommodations,” you’re asking for too much — just do your job! You have to work hard to “make it,” and if you don’t work hard enough, it’s your fault. If you don’t like your job or face daily mistreatment, you can always quit and find another one, right? But if you can’t, it’s your fault, and why did you quit that job, anyway? These attitudes surrounding work affect people with disabilities in a wide variety of age groups and generational cohorts, and this is a crucial part of why they are so important to critically question and examine.

The message for Generation Y, in general, may be “Get over yourself,” but the message for those who do not fit the characteristics of the “average” Generation Y worker is more severe — and ultimately more dire.

[Cross-posted at ham blog]

Recommended Reading for June 1, 2010

fiction_theory (LJ): The internet IS real life

The problem with impeaching someone’s anti-racism based on attendance at a specific march or even public rallies and protests in general is that it assumes that a) attending such events is a more real, valid, and important means of expressing anti-racism than any other means, specifically online and b) that attendance is a feasible option for everyone.

Marching at a rally or attending a protest is all well and good, but it’s not something that is an option for everyone. It’s quite ablist to ask such a question as though the privilege of being able to attend excludes the antiracist work of those who use other venues.

Mattilda at Nobody Passes: Closer

Somewhere between sleep and awake, a new day and last night and tomorrow, like they’re all in a circle around me but I’m somewhere in bed where I can almost read the sentences except they blur away from me, and I keep thinking maybe sleep, maybe this is more sleep except I don’t know if I want more sleep.

thefourthvine (DW): [Meta]: The Audience

I will not bring up my disability, because I don’t talk about it here, except to say that if that part of me appears in a story, it will be as either a clever gimmick (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person) or a sob story (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person). (No, there will never be a main character just like me. Most of the time I think that’s normal, and then I look at, say, SF and think standard-issue straight white guys must have a whole different experience on this issue. How weird would it be, to have basically all mainstream media written for you like that?)

Ian Sample (at The Guardian online): Bone marrow transplants cure mental illness — in mice

The team, led by a Nobel prizewinning geneticist, found that experimental transplants in mice cured them of a disorder in which they groom themselves so excessively they develop bare patches of skin. The condition is similar to a disorder in which people pull their hair out, called trichotillomania.

lustwithwings at sexgenderbody: Do I Owe Everything I am to The Internet?

Despite their lack of a body, my friends are still quite active in the world of Social Networking which acts on the physical world in much the same way things on our mind do. The contents of the Internet affect the physical world through many of the same processes as the contents of a mind, yet the contents of the Internet as a public mind can affect many more minds, and many more bodies than a private mind.

I can’t count on anybody to understand. (Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010)

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog. See more BADD 2010 at Goldfish’s blog.)

I’m pretty open about my health issues. To be honest, I don’t know any other way to be. I know how to strategically hide my disabilities from strangers in passing interactions, but from the people with whom I interact on a daily basis? Given my appearance — tall, slim, young white girl, pretty enough, clean and conventionally dressed, perfectly middle-class — you’d think it would be easy to keep from communicating variant health, while in reality it is highly tasking. It takes energy to mask my medication-taking, body-resting, trigger-avoiding, activity-budgeting ways from the people around me, and I’m already running an energy deficit just to be around them in the first place.

So fuck it. I don’t hide it when I have to down a pill. If pain, fatigue, or cognitive issues are preventing me from doing something — a task requiring me to stand up or walk somewhere when my back pain is flaring up; speaking with anyone by telephone when my head is throbbing and my brain is not processing full sentences — I say so. I’ve stopped bothering to tuck in my TENS wires to make them completely invisible. When people ask me about the Penguins game last night, the response they hear begins with a mention of my 8:30 bedtime.

There are drawbacks to this. Sharing or not sharing information about one’s health is an extremely fraught decision; some people consider this information rude and gross (even when the actual content is totally innocuous), it can invite unwanted questions and speculation, and there are people who will use your undisguised behavior or the information you have volunteered against you in the future. It amounts to a choice between a life of concealment, which can quickly drain a person’s spirit and often aggravate their actual condition — and a life of vulnerability, never knowing what will be held against you, or by whom. Continue reading I can’t count on anybody to understand. (Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010)

A Saturday sketch

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

I noticed something was wrong in the earliest hours of the morning, when my husband had disappeared from bed but I did not hear anything going on in the bathroom and could not see him anywhere.

Around 8, he got up to go to the bathroom and I lifted myself out of bed to use it after him. When he emerged, he was very clearly not well and said, in a seriously distressed tone, “I just had the most awful night” and stumbled around me back to bed.

It’s not emotional, he clarified as he curled up awkwardly on his side of the mattress, it’s just physical. He had problems feeling seriously sick to his stomach, which never culminated in anything, just churned on and on without relief, and had serious sharp pains in several places — shoulder, lower back, knees — and a generalized all-over ache that left him feeling miserable, unable to find a single comfortable (nay, just non-miserable) position no matter where he stood, sat or lay.

“This is how I imagine you feel every day,” he moaned, as he tossed his body into a different awkward position in an attempt to find some relief.

He needed the still, quiet, restful sleep so badly, but hurt too much to stay lying in place in bed for more than a few moments, and the pain was too distracting to be able to actually fall asleep — and precisely because of this, he was in no condition to be anywhere else but in bed sleeping. A familiar situation for me.

A few minutes later, already in his thirtieth position attempting to achieve some state of rest in bed, he pushed over to where I sat on my side of the bed and asked, “How do you do this every single day?”

Staring at my nightstand drawer, I smiled a bit and replied, “A lot of medicine. And you to help me.”

Meet a Contributor: Annaham

So everyone can get to know our contributors a bit better, we’ve decided to run a series called “Meet a Contributor”. Each Contributor will be interviewed by the others in turn.


[Description: Black-and-white, low-angle photograph of a smiling white woman with shoulder-length, light brown hair. She wears a tank top with a long-sleeved print shirt over it, and a necklace that depicts Kali. Her arms are crossed.]

Greetings, FWD readers and commenters! I am Annaham; I am a feminist in my 20s with several disabilities, most notably fibromyalgia (it seems to be the one I write the most about, anyway). I have a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of California, Davis; currently, I am getting my Masters’ in the same discipline at another fairly large public university in California. My focus is feminist disability theory, and I have a particular interest in disability narratives — particularly autobiography and representations/narratives in nontraditional formats — and how they intersect with feminist theory, as well as gender, race, class and sexuality. My other interests, academic and not, include cults and New Religious Movements, the body, visual art, cinema, popular music and performance art. In my spare time, I like to listen to music, read entirely too much, draw cartoons, occasionally blog, and watch ridiculous reality television.

Meloukhia: You are frequently in San Francisco! Where is your favourite place to eat there, and why? (Further to that: Do you have a favourite overall vs, say, a favourite cheap eatery, favourite fancypants restaurant, etc.?) Since I am both a vegetarian and pretty frugal, I highly recommend Ananda Fuara, a vegetarian and vegan eatery which is near the Civic Center in the city. I don’t go there for the ambiance, of course, but the food is incredible and many of their menu items are under $10. The waitstaff will also go out of their way to check ingredients if you, like me, have severe food allergy concerns. As far as fancier places go, I quite enjoy E & O Trading Company for a full meal, and Cako Bakery for the greatest cupcakes in Northern California.

Lauredhel: Annaham, you like shiny things. Would you dress head to toe in sequins, or glitter? Please show your work. Glitter would probably flake everywhere and make a huge mess, so I’m going to have to go with sequins. Were this sequined Rodarte for Target dress offered in full-length form, I would absolutely rock it (although I might have to get one if I can find it anywhere, just on principle, because it’s SEQUINED and features a ribcage).

Chally: What’s your favourite quote or saying? This changes frequently, but right now, my favorite quote is from extremely hippie-ish author SARK: “You are enough. You have enough. You do enough.” This statement is something of which I need to remind myself regularly–even if it is rather simplistic and definitely does not apply to everything (or everyone!) at all times.

Anna: If you had to go far far away from civilization and the internets for a hundred years, what five books would you bring with you, and why? Afterwards you get to come back and find out what you missed! Holy hell on toast, what a difficult choice! I have a huge list of books that I would consider “favorites,” so I’m just going to pick five from the list: Outlaw Culture by bell hooks (because reading it makes me happy to be alive, quite frankly); Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault (mostly so I could read it again and again…and again until I could understand all or most of it) ; Verses by Ani DiFranco (this collection of some of her lyrics is nothing short of exhilarating–and beautifully designed); Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (I know, it’s such a hipster/NPR liberal-cliche book to pick, but the guy really has major talent); and, finally, The Rejected Body by Susan Wendell (I cannot recommend this book highly enough — it helped me tremendously in claiming a disbled identity, and is kind of like philosophy, feminist theory and a disability manifesto all wrapped into one, with amazing results).

Thank Cthulhu that I’d get to come back from this hypothetical deserted island, because I have a feeling that after a while, I would get so bored and/or lonely that I’d start acting out meticulously-planned, one-woman versions of each episode of Lost to stave off said boredom and loneliness.

Amandaw: I want to hear more about Winston. How old is he? How did you get him? What is his favorite treat? What sort of silly doggy things does he do? Winston is 10, though he looks (and acts) like a puppy and is quite regularly mistaken for one. He was originally my family’s dog (along with our other Yorkie, Frank, who died in 2007), but after I moved into a place that allowed pets, he pretty much became my responsibility (not that I mind)! He loves cheddar cheese most of all, but will eat almost whatever you put in front of him, so long as it’s people-food. He also does many silly doggy things, but my personal favorites have to be his extremely loud snoring, and his propensity to squeeze himself next to my butt or under my feet as I sleep, or climb onto my shoulder and perch there while I’m sitting on the couch. Many of these things can be annoying if they don’t come at the right time, but I can’t stay mad at this face for long:

[Description: The photograph is of a small, large-eared Yorkshire Terrier’s face and upper body in front of a couch; the dog has the traditional Yorkie coloration of varying shades of blond and light silver/grey.]

Kaninchenzero: What-all are you studying and what about it interests you? As I mentioned in my introduction, I am currently pursuing my MA in Women’s and Gender Studies, with a focus on feminist disability theory. There are many, many things about the topic and the field at large that interest me, but most of all, I am interested in it because it has helped me make sense of a lot of things about my life, and I believe — like bell hooks — that social justice and theory, if made accessible and relevant to a wide variety of people, can be life-changing.

OuyangDan: You may answer in poem, prose, photo, interpretive dance or any other medium that you feel appropros: How did you get into cartooning? Is it a creative outlet for you? Just something you goofed around with one day and enjoyed? Hilariously enough, I was going to draw a cartoon in order to answer this question, but since I’ve already got multiple images in this post, I ultimately decided against it. It is a creative outlet for me; mostly, I use it to gather my thoughts and represent my everyday experiences in what is hopefully a funny and/or interesting manner. I’ve been cartooning on-and-off since around age 10, and it’s been an excellent medium to stick with, since one may not have to practice it every single day in order to say what one wants to say (unlike, say, life drawing, which is a type of drawing that I have always been spectacularly terrible at doing). This is not to say that I am against self-improvement or self-discipline when it comes to art — quite the opposite! — but since I have chronic pain that tends to flare up, it is nice to have a creative pursuit that is somewhat “forgiving” in terms of how much time and energy I can put into it without exhausting myself. Sometimes, I wish I could devote more time to drawing “realistically,” but life happens, and I already have so much that I want to put into my cartoons that I would never get any done, were I to devote untold hours to learning to draw “well” or “realistically.”

Why I don’t think it’s funny to use Limbaugh’s drug abuse as a punchline.

Short background: Rush Limbaugh (link goes to Wikipedia article) is a US conservative radio talk show host who has risen to prominence in the US by inciting “controversy” after “controversy” with hateful rhetoric. He also went through an ordeal some time back for addiction to prescription painkillers, an incident that the US left likes to use against him. Recently he was rushed to the hospital again, which has spurred a new round of derision from US liberals.

Rush Limbaugh isn’t exactly a sympathetic character. His politics are vile and he makes a career out of escalating white male resentment into white male supremacy. And that causes real harm to real people who don’t meet the requirements to be part of Limbaugh’s He-Man Woman-Haterz Club.

How did he end up abusing prescription painkillers? I don’t know. Was he taking them for legitimate pain due to injury, surgery or a medical condition, and the usage got out of hand? Was he consciously using it as a recreational drug? I have to say I am still somewhat bitter about people who use the stuff I need to be able to get on with my daily life as a quick and easy “high,” ultimately making it harder to access needed medication. (But that is argument from emotion, mostly; I would posit that the real problem is a medical field and larger culture which does not take seriously the needs and concerns of chronic pain patients and is eager to punish people who step outside accepted boundaries.)

But even if he was just out for a high, I still feel unease when I see people use that angle to criticize him.

Because, here’s the thing… the same narrative that you are using to condemn this despicable figure is the narrative that is used to condemn me.

You are feeding, growing, reinforcing the same narrative that codes me as an abuser, that makes me out to be a good-for-nothing low-life, that makes it difficult for me to access the medication I need to be able to live my normal daily life.

When you laugh, joke, or rant about Limbaugh’s abuse of narcotics, you are lifting a page from the book of people who would call me a malingerer and interpret my behavior (frustration at barriers to access, agitation and self-advocacy to try to gain access) as signs of addiction. People who would, in the same breath, chastise me for “making it harder for the real sufferers.” (See why my bitterness about recreational use isn’t actually serving the right purpose, in the end?)

Maybe you don’t really think this way. But maybe the people laughing at your joke do.

And maybe, you just made them feel a little bit safer in their scaremongering about “addiction” and deliberate attempts to make life harder for us.

Scoffing at Limbaugh’s hypocrisy is one thing — but when your scoffing takes the form of a very common, quite harmful cultural prejudice — even when you don’t mean it to — it has real effects on real people’s lives. Sort of like that casual incitement that we hate Limbaugh for.

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Recommended Reading for November 25

On Living with Pain and Taking Care of One’s Self

I have been managing my chronic pain and taking care of myself for years. But taking care of myself requires the cooperation of other people, and that can be the most difficult challenge to overcome. I cannot take care of myself or be well if others do not take my pain seriously. Just because I was able to do X yesterday does not mean I can do it today. The pain comes and goes. Once it starts I have to let it take its course. But society caters to people who are able-bodied and physically strong. Illness and pain are not compatible with the typical pace of life, and I admit I have anxiety about falling behind.

Living with an invisible disability can be exhausting – not only because chronic, searing pain is energy-draining (in my case), but because it leaves behind no evidence. Communicating with others about my pain often leaves me feeling misunderstood and isolated. Sometimes I want to wear tops that reveal my scar all the time, in order to silently “prove” there’s a *real* reason I just want to lie down, can’t carry that ten pound box, or don’t want to stay out all night partying. I cannot shake the feeling that other people doubt me or believe I use chronic pain as an excuse to get out of doing certain things.

Insurance Company Revokes Depressed Woman’s benefits over Facebook photos

Mental illness is no exception to this rule: people think they know what it looks like, that they can spot a person with a mental illness a mile away, and that if a person doesn’t live up to those expectations, they’re either seeking benefits they “don’t deserve,” or seeking attention. And with regards to depression specifically (as it’s the topic of the original article, and my greatest knowledge base), they tend to think that if someone isn’t spending all of their time crying, frowning, or refusing to get out of bed, they can’t possibly have it.

Your Scooter Means You’re Poor

I have learned that differently abled means poor to many. It means that you are not working. It means that you have no identity or interests. I understand for many being differently abled means poverty because we live in a world that does easily make the accommodations that are necessary to participate in paid work. Knowing that this is the case, why does the stigma attach itself so ferociously? If a person is unable to work because of a lack of accessibility, why do we feel the need to persecute them because of the way our society is designed?

When I tell people that I write, the answer is usually that it makes sense. It does not occur to anyone that I chose this because of a love of writing and sharing ideas. Writing is something that I was interested in from the time that I was a small child. Because I am doing it, it certainly is not real work. Such ideas do not attach themselves to a friend of mine, who makes his living freelancing in this area. Sitting together, people will invariably ask him a multitude of questions, ignoring me completely. It is understood that he chose his work out of love and not convenience.

A Different Kind of Test

More than two dozen seniors at Lincoln University, in Oxford, Pa., are in danger of not being able to graduate this spring — not because they’re under disciplinary probation or haven’t fulfilled the requirements of their majors, but because they were obese as freshmen.

It might sound like a joke, or a violation of individual rights, but James L. DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, physical education and recreation department, said he sees it as his “professional responsibility to be honest and tell students they’re not healthy.”

In the news:

Disability turns laughing matter in Channel 4 comedy show [Headline is really misleading past the first few paragraphs of the article] [Also, oh gosh! People with disabilities don’t all agree on everything! I love that they spelled that out in the article, but it always bothers me that this is considered news.]

Penned by writers from Skins and The Thick of It, the series features six disabled characters marooned on an island, including a blind man, a woman with cherubism and a paraplegic man. Each character is played by a disabled actor with the same disability, and one complains about the number of non-disabled actors portraying disabled people.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of the Royal Association of Disability Rights (Radar), says: “There is likely to be a storm of comment from disabled people and non-disabled people alike over Cast Offs. Some disabled people will find it funny and real – portraying disabled people as adults who swear, drink and have sex. A real break from covering disability with kid gloves, or not covering it at all. Others may well find it offensive.”

The Labor of…

Moderatrix Note: “The Labor of…” is a somewhat intermittent series to re-explore things in daily life taken for granted before living with chronic pain and/or disability.  This is a space to share experiences.


I was never, and am not now a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination or definition of the word.  I have had a wary and ever changing relationship with clothes throughout my life.  I have had phases of my life where I have loved them, like, in college, when various eating disorders whittled me down to a size where everything fit (in a manner of speaking) and I really didn’t have to think about it.  If I liked something I saw I bought it and that was that.  When I woke up I rolled out of bed and wore whatever I grabbed, whether it was going braless in a sweatshirt to my 0750 class, a work uniform I passed out in, something cute I had just picked up last week, or my favorite Guinness t-shirt, which has survived every phase and is hanging on my drying rack right now.  I didn’t have to think or care about any of it.  Hell, I didn’t even do laundry a lot of the time…I just bought new underwear and work shirts if I needed them.

I had phases where I hated clothes, for instance, when I was pregnant, and not one damned thing ever fit or was comfortable.  Maternity clothes are a cruel joke, and those jeans with the stretchy thing in the front are some deamon’s plaything, if you ask me, although no one did.  I did, however, find great amusement in maternity underwear, though I seldom actually used it (I preferred my non-maternity duds), but I digress…  The colors, the cuts, the materials, everything was wrong…and in the end I had one pair of pants and a pair of blue jean overalls that fit and I survived in those.  Somehow I escaped the whole experience with a great Kid and a few stretch marks that I would show you if you asked, but ask me about maternity pantyhose…and I will ramble on for about twenty minutes about how they are made of pure evil.  Did I mention that I hated being pregnant?

I had a phase for about four years where clothes mattered dearly, as in, the creases and cut and hems all had to be perfect, and I took immense pride in my appearance and great personal pains to maintain it.  I call that my Military phase, because it was, literally.  The difference between a Good Sailor and a Hot Shit Sailor who got noticed was hir uniform, and I had mine down, all six standard issue Navy uniforms (this was before the new roll out of NWUs).  I was too poor to afford the dry cleaning that all my peers used and it worked to my advantage.  I spent great swathes of time carefully creasing my shirts and trousers and steaming my skirts.  I hand sewed my own rank patches on the sleeves because I trusted my work, and soon my friends were asking me to do the same.  My gig-lines were perfect and my boots and dress shoes mirror shined every wear.  I kept my combination cover in the box to keep it clean and well shaped and kept a spare dome for it in my glove box wrapped in plastic just in case (along w/ a neckerchief, and a shoe shine kit).  I had nail clippers in my purse for stray threads and a sewing kit for loose buttons.  Since most of my male superiors didn’t know female uniform and hair standards I made it my pet project, and I had a reputation at my “A” school for knowing my shit come inspection time.  My massively thick hair was always secured well withing regulations so that at any time any female sailor could see my example, and the “kids” fresh from boot were sent my way for guidance.

That thing, I held dearly until my body turned on m, and my health made it impossible for me to maintain that.  As the pain grew I was unable to maintain my physical standards, and my uniform standards became more difficult to keep up with.

Now, dressing is a laborious effort, but for an entirely different reason.  Practicality demands that I think about each and every garment that touches my person.  Is this cut going to pull on my shoulders and give my neck a strain and trigger a migraine?  Is this sports bra going to do the same?  If I go without one will it hurt my back too much?  I have to examine the seams along the toes of my socks to determine if I should wear them inside out, or if it is OK to wear them the “right way”, so that the seam doesn’t hurt my toes (a trick I learned from my diabetic grandfather).  I have to consider the weight of pants on my shins for high pain days, and the tightness of undergarments around my joints.  Even my wedding bands sometimes have to be set aside when my fingers are hurting.  My feet have always been wide, but even the widest shoes will still rub my feet raw on longer walks which makes buying shoes difficult (and sometimes expensive), since my beloved Crocs and Birkenstocks aren’t always practical for all weather.

Fabric is a concern as well.  I tend to break out in rashes at odd times, and for no medical reason we can determine, so I have to make sure that the fabric isn’t harsh on my skin today, and sometimes I have to change my clothes two or three times before I figure out what I can tolerate.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention how many spoons it takes to get dressed just once?  Sometimes getting dressed for public consumption means that my only activity for the day was getting cleaned up and dressed for said occasion.  Sometimes that means that I might have to choose between the shower or getting dressed at all.

How I wash the clothes matters.  The detergent and fabric softer need to be gentle, and at any time my skin will decide it doesn’t like the one I am using, again, for no medical reason we can find.  I have circulated through as many “free and clear” as I can find, hitting all the “natual” ones in the way.

Getting dressed has moved beyond practical for me.  The formerly simple act of covering my body somehow became a great labor, one more thing to take my time and my spoons.  Not exactly a fun thing to admit for the fashionably inept, who would rather just pull on the first thing she grabs, and who never really understood why “you can’t wear those shoes to the bar” *shurgs*.