On Chronic Illness, Thriving, & Taking Breaks

Many of my consistent readers will notice that it’s been almost a full month since I’ve done a full post on this site. But I’m back so heeey ya’ll! ūüôā

Now, my hiatus doesn’t mean I wasn’t up to anything – in fact, I was over at the Mudroom & YoungBlackFeminist.com telling my entire business and writing / talking about authenticity, womanhood, self care, academic success, and more. However, I was also in the process of slowing down due to something I have only briefly¬†named on a public forum…

This month has been a month of intentional rest and healing for my body. During this time, I’ve gotten REALLY acquainted with both the hilarity and reality of¬†Chronic Illness Cat¬†and have also been highly reflective¬†on chronic illness, thriving, and the importance of taking breaks.

As you know, the overall mission here is to “offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion…”.¬†And that hasn’t changed. In the past few months, I’ve written about style & style politics, current events & media representation, mental health, and more. But I realized that I can’t fully¬†embody that mission if I don’t touch a bit more on the subject of Chronic Illness, in a broader sense, as it is directly tied to issues of a) thriving and b) inclusion.

Living with chronic illness/es can be intense, especially when it’s something people¬†feel compelled to hide away or pray away. In my experience of living with chronic illness (which will not be named ’cause I do have SOME business I can’t splash on the interwebs ;), I have found that the pressure to hide comes from within AND without – as people admonish you not to share any health struggle at ALL, in order to avoid stigmas. Yet I have also found that when we hide, we sweep the responsibility away¬†from folk to actually practice empathy.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

We sweep away the expectation that inclusion an empathy IS a very real possibility in human interactions, in work places, in sacred spaces, etc. We deprive ourselves of acknowledging and affirming that battling chronic illness (of any kind and to any degree) while fulfilling any other responsibilities you have takes some true kicka**ness. Also, in my personal experience, hiding has showed up in overworking and stretching myself beyond reasonable lengths.

So, for the past eight years I’ve navigated the very tricky space of what to share & what not to share. Because my chronic illness is invisible, I’ve had to craft appropriate responses for when people say things like, “But you LOOK so healthy… but you are so YOUNG… but you DO so many things”.

From the genius that is Chronic Illness Cat *Full link below

Yet, I also acknowledge that because of the invisibility of it, there exists a “passing” privilege (meaning: undue benefits, rewards, and / or centering of experiences due to the fact that at any time, though I have a chronic illness, the invisibility allows a choice to “pass” and benefit from¬†a¬†construct of perceived ableism. This gets sticky especially because ableism is the very construct that assumes that every disability is visible). So, with that said, this month has been dedicated to two things. The first has been using opportunities within my personal life to speak to / about chronic illness using creative means, as I find that it challenges stigmas and creates deeper understanding.

For example, my partner and I ran a quick series of posts that talked about Dating w/ a Chronic Illness & other experiences. A few favorites from that include a quick rant:

… If I have to explain one more time that chronic illness doesn’t NECESSARILY mean that a) it will go away, or that b) you haven’t seen various doctors, specialists, gurus, reiki masters, acupuncturists, yogis, meditation specialists, masseurs, and your Gramma’s deliverance & healing service… I SWEAR TO BOB!

And the dating checklist:

Dating w/ a Chronic Illness, Pt 8: The Date Decision Checklist

a) Is there seating at or around this venue?
b) How much walking / standing is required? Are there wheelchairs to rent? Should I rent one if people are gonna act weird about it?
c) Will u push me if I rent the wheelchair?
d) Is it weird to bring my own lawn chair? Is there space to do that?
e) Would you be willing to carry the lawn chair, if needed?
f) Do you have the medicine or did I put the medicine in my bag already?
g) Should I take my medicine before we go or when we get there?
h) What does parking look like? How far is parking from the venue?
i) Is there a menu? Are there any dairy free options?
j) Is there immediate access to a restroom in case of accidental ingestion of a triggering food?
‪#‎Nosurprisedatevenuesplease‬!

This may sound like an incredibly complex checklist of things, but¬†what’s underlying this relatively funny list are concerns about ACCESS – spaces where my body & being is welcomed, and spaces where I will have to make physical sacrifices to be a part of. Also, chronic illness does not function or exist in a different world, ¬†from my other sociological identities. It is a very distinct thing to be a woman of color with chronic illness and / or disability. Navigating the ways that these identities intertwine with each other requires us to remember that when we challenge stigmas, we are rarely challenging just one. For example, in Carolyn Tyjewski’s¬†brilliant essay on advocacy, disability, and intersectionality she writes:

Yes, the ‚ÄúStrong Black Woman‚ÄĚ is a dangerous and limited trope. However, it is also used within the Black community to revere Black women, problematically or not. And if one looks at the historical figures that are most often called forth as the quintessential ‚ÄúStrong Black Woman,‚ÄĚ most are Disabled Black Women.

Harriet Tubman had severe epilepsy. Sojourner Truth had a disfigured arm and hand. Audre Lorde was not only legally blind and a cancer survivor, she was a lesbian. And being a lesbian during her lifetime was unfortunately seen as a¬†medically diagnosed psychological disability.¬†I highlight the latter not because I agree with it.¬†Disability is a social construct that shifts and changes over time, space and place. And one‚Äôs disability quite often disappears when one is a significant figure within history. ¬†So, while I dislike reminding people of a recent medically created nightmare (re: Sandra Bland’s treatment), I wish to draw attention to the complicated nuances of and between Disabled people and the reading/naming of disabilities.

This is an appropriate reminder that when we talk about these things it behooves us to take a nuanced and sophisticated approach.

The second thing this month entailed for me was claiming the right to rest, heal, thrive, and to take care of myself in those areas where I needed to. This really wasn’t anything that I set out to do intentionally. Yet between working full time, blogging, and contributing, there is a great deal required from my body and from my mind. So, this month was a time to simply focus on the full time gig as we ramp up for a new season,¬†and to let my blogging muscles take a short break before refocusing on new content. My ability to thrive depended on this. So, with that said, I’m happy to continue the dialogue and work that happens in this space and encourage you to check out the following works, in the mean-time:

To see what I’ve been up to during the break, check out my interview in the Meet a Young Black Feminist series.

All memes above are from Chronic Illness Cat, Featured image is by Createherstock.com.

One comment

  1. You mention your illness was invisible. I was off with stress and found that my work never accepted this because it was invisible. It was funny because colleagues understood. Writing helped relieve the stress but again people didn’t see this a form of valid treatment. Thankfully I am recovered but just to say I identified with some if this post.

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