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*.