Browsing "Physical Ed"
Mar 11, 2016 - Physical Ed    5 Comments

This Belly

 

A white, fat, woman's belly

This belly is fat, and it’s mine. I own it. I earned it.

And I hate it.

I feel it around me like sandbags as I walk and sit and lie down. It oozes over my waistband. It forms doughy rolls inside my shirt. It pushes clumps of flesh into folds on my back. It rubs my skin against itself until constellations of tiny skintags form in protest. I look at tintype photos of the distortion of bone and organ caused by Victorian corseting, and I calculate how breathless I could stand to be to force that belly out of sight.

 

L0038404 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 2 Illustrations to denounce the crimes of the corset and how it cripples and restricts the bodily organs in women. Engraving 1908 Published: - Printed: 10th October 1908 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

This belly comes from my ancestors. I was never cuddled by skinny, bony mothers or grandmothers. All my people are soft and jolly and restful to exhausted children at the end of a day’s play. That gentle flesh came from Ireland’s oatmeal and Poland’s potatoes. It weathered diet candy chews and scales and low-fat, no-fat endurance tests—this softness is stronger than them all.

My mother never said a kind word about her body in my entire life. When I admired her beauty-queen crown, she told me how her thick ankles almost cost her the prize. When I asked her how she danced to the music she taught me to love, she whispered how a ‘60s shimmy with her young, large, innocent breasts got her kicked out of the YMCA dance. When I told her I thought she was the best secretary in the world, she bemoaned her broad hips and butt, shaped by years of day-in day-out office chairs and Diet Coke.

I was barely five when people started exclaiming how much I looked like my mother. Now when I look in the mirror, I see her body, the one she taught me to despise. And I do.

This belly comes from my survival. I wasn’t small as I grew into adulthood—5’10” by the time I graduated from high school, size 12 in my wedding dress at 21—but I wasn’t terribly big either. The first semester of grad school gave me crushing tension headaches; doctors prescribed an antidepressant that was supposed to help. It helped more than I knew, masking symptoms of oncoming fibromyalgia until the day the medication suddenly, mysteriously stopped working. By that time, I was 75 pounds heavier. The male doctor who prescribed it didn’t think to mention that severe weight gain was common.

Fibro triggered depression; physical and mental anguish became hopelessly tangled. The medication that kept me afloat, active, alive layered fat over my bones. The harder I have tried to be well and happy, the heavier I have grown. I’m told that exercise and getting outdoors more would help my mood, but this belly keeps me from venturing out as much as my pain does. The irony is not lost on me that the medication I take to be happier in my mind makes me unhappier about my body.

This belly comes from my children. One of my midwives told me that babies are very efficient parasites, in and ex utero. She meant to comfort me when I was in month 4 of throwing my guts up 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. I remembered it when my second pregnancy had me sick 24 hours a day for seven and a half months, when I was in the ER for fluids when I couldn’t even keep down water. I only had six weeks to balance a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on the top of my belly, between my breasts, and feel like a proper mother-to-be. I don’t have any of those sideways pregnancy pictures–they didn’t look different enough from my non-pregnancy pictures to be worth taking.

Because I was always tall and heavy, I never had a baby belly that could stop traffic as I crossed the street. Nobody inappropriately rubbed my stomach and asked questions, because none of them could be sure it was pregnancy that stretched my shirts tight. I felt like I needed to be working off my baby weight while I was still pregnant because obesity was on every list of risk factors I was given. And if I couldn’t lose weight when I was throwing up non-stop, losing that baby weight after the boys arrived seemed beyond hopeless.

And my belly comes from food, of course. Bread and tortilla and baguette and pita and bagels. Soup and stew and stroganoff, shawarma and spanakopita. Cheeses: Comté, Cheddar, Delice d’Affinois, Chèvre, Port Salut, Gouda, Midnight Moon, curds so fresh they squeak in my teeth. Pasta, pesto, palak paneer, pho. Dumplings of every gods-given nation on this planet. I adore the craft and kindness of food, its intimate introduction to every kind of culture, the warmest embrace of caretakers everywhere. If I could trade my belly for the world of delicious flavors and spices and surprises, I doubt I’d take the deal.

 

A fat woman in teeshirt and skirt lounging on a couch

So this is my belly, and all the things that made it. It’s where I feel things first–anxiety, relief, fear, welling joy. It presses against snuggling children and beloved friends when they accept my preferred forms of greeting and delight. It catches splashes from the pots and pans where I stir up nourishment and comfort for anyone I feed. It hikes up the back of my shirts when I bend down to garden, giving me unexpected sunburns. It rules out pretty dresses and fashionable clothing. It makes me keep the lights off if I want to feel sexy, even alone.

It’s not going anywhere, if I’m going to be honest. I want to believe people who say I’m beautiful like I am. But I don’t know that I’ll ever make peace with this belly. Like so many things about myself, I can’t love it. But it’s undeniably me.

A fat woman in a life vest, teal hair, and sunglasses, rowing a canoe

Oct 5, 2015 - Physical Ed, Psychology    3 Comments

Telling Time

This is the third in a series of posts about my recent struggles with mental illness. You can find the first post here, and the second one here

TW: self-harm, suicide

Doctor Who Spinning Tardis watch

This is not my actual wrist, or my actual sonic screwdriver, but it IS the watch I wear. I wear mine with the face on my inner wrist.

I started wearing my wristwatch last Thursday. I had to go out and do things, and part of my leaving-the-house routine involves putting on my watch and the two rings I keep looped through the band when they’re not on my fingers. It felt good to slide the heavy cool rings in on my right hand again, to run my thumb over the runes and ocean-grey gemstone.

But I winced as I buckled the watch, because it sits right over the wound on my wrist where I tried to kill myself. I put it on anyway.

It’s not much of a wound, to be honest. I heal very quickly; it’s at the itchy stage now, worse than any of my tattoos were. The only reason there’ll be a scar there is because I was so quiet about it when I got to the hospital that nobody remembered to do anything until I reminded folks hours later, up on the ward. They told me it was too late for butterfly stitches or super glue, and had me wash it well.

Let’s be clear: when I wear my watch over it, it’s because I am ashamed. I am ashamed because it’s a weak wound, messy and shallow, with many individual cuts barely deep enough to break the skin’s surface. It’s humiliating because it looks like I didn’t mean it, like I was only willing to commit enough to draw some blood and get some help. I want to tell people, no, the knife was much duller than I thought, and once I was sitting down with it, with the pictures of my sons in my lap, I was crying too hard and too weak to stand up and find a better blade.

I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t even do that right. I feel like an imposter so much of the time, which is part of what makes it difficult to internalize any of the nice things people say to and about me. The day I tried, I was crushed beneath a thousand failures, things that I see every time I look at myself in the mirror. Those failures are like other cuts, disfiguring me so thoroughly that I can’t understand how anyone could see me and mistake me for a good person. To fail to cut like I meant it just puts more hesitation marks on me, signals that I can’t perform under pressure—a pictograph for despair and incompleteness.

I’m ashamed that I feel confident enough to write about these 2014-09-19-1062seafeelings so openly here, but I’m mostly unwilling to have a conversation about this in person. Even with good friends, I’d rather the mark was out of sight so we can talk more abstractly about my problems. The wound is the very opposite of abstract; it is hopelessness in a concrete, raised mark. When I don’t want to have those conversations in real life, I feel like as much a fraud as some sea lion (see adjacent comic) flopping around online, splattering his abusive comments all over everyone’s internet when he barely has the guts to say hi to his neighbor if they collide on the street. I’m just another fake getting virtual courage behind a computer screen.

I’m even ashamed that I didn’t want my parents to find out about any of this. My mom’s not on Facebook, and my siblings unfriended me five years ago, so it’s ironically safe for me to use social media as an outlet and expect it not to get back to any of them. One of the only things I insisted on that numb night I checked into the hospital was, “Don’t tell my mom. Nobody needs that.” The first and last previous time I’d been suicidal enough to go into the hospital, the first words out of my mom’s mouth when she called me there were, “How could you? How could you even think of putting us all through this?” I knew what she meant—I remember the hollow devastation in the days after my grandpa took his life, the questions and no answers. And to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t have it in me this time to sit through that tirade. Guilt was already twisted into every muscle in my body—I couldn’t take any more. But it’s hard to forget that I can’t even do family right when it’s needed most.

With luck, the scar won’t be visible much longer. For months now, I’ve been planning to get a tattoo to remind me to stay alive on the inside of my left arm. It’s the smoothest, palest skin I have, the perfect parchment for a reminder like that. And it shouldn’t be hard for a talented artist like my friend to weave the design around the scar. I like the thought of burying it under something beautiful.

Even then, though, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be ashamed of that mark. It’s so second-nature to find features and flaws in myself that demand to be concealed so I don’t risk rejection for them. I know some will tell me it’s just the receipt for the price of this precious life. I’m not ready for that yet—I see my belly’s stretch marks that way, but I can’t find what’s redeeming in this piece of evidence yet.

Stigma is related to the word stigmata, the marks on Jesus’ body from his crucifixion. To see and touch them was proof of his identity. This scar translates the stigma of mental illness into that physical evidence, and even covering it with a tattoo or a watch will not erase the judgments it will provoke when others and I will see it. Time will have to tell whether it becomes a symbol of failure or redemption.

Dec 15, 2014 - Physical Ed    No Comments

No One Left Behind

A lot of the social justice work I do is about making spaces–everything from housing to the whole of Minnesota–more welcoming to people whom society often forces out. Sometimes, that’s practical stuff, like urging schools or cities or events to offer gender-neutral bathrooms where trans*/gender non-conforming folks can feel safe. And sometimes, it’s more abstract, like working against police profiling and brutality toward people of color in their own homes and neighborhoods.

The basis of that work is education and empathy. I read, I listen, I ask questions, so when I walk into a new space, I see the ways that place values and welcomes all different kinds of people and their needs. And I also see the ways those spaces exclude and isolate people, which makes a good starting place for effecting change.

So I’ve attended community meetings, planning sessions, trainings, and seminars. I regularly participate in protests, which might include rallies, marches, and sit-, stand-, or die-ins. And the saying in the groups where I organize is that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth debriefing,” so I’m learning how to observe what does and doesn’t work well, and share constructive feedback.

But it’s possible for a space that’s been engineered with great intention to include a typically excluded group to unintentionally exclude a different group. Some feminists say they don’t feel safe from patriarchy and misogyny if trans* women are included in the space (I happen to think they’re wrong, for the record). Often, queer people of color feel uncomfortable in the largely white LGBTQ activist movement. Class barriers manifest often in community meetings, where those with more income and education assert themselves as more worth listening to than their less privileged neighbors. We all need to do better, even if we think we’re doing the right thing just by showing up.

As I see intersectionality championed in the powerful, new spaces we’re constructing, though, we’re missing the mark on disability. I’m physically and neurologically disabled, thanks to the Wonder Twins, fibromyalgia and autism. I’m not the most restricted person at a gathering, but I do face barriers that others don’t. I’m also used to being in the company of someone with more intense disabilities, though, so I’m attuned to obstacles so I can help them negotiate our environment.

And the new movements need to do more. I’ve had to choose which breakout session to attend based on which didn’t require me to climb a flight of stairs. I’ve had to leave valuable trainings early because the bright lights and unchecked noise level wore me out. I’ve also sat through meetings which taught me nothing because I couldn’t hear or see the speakers. And I’ve both hurt myself trying to keep up, or just fallen out completely, with marches that followed a route and went at a pace that left all but the able-bodied behind.

And I’m full-sighted. I’m not in a chair. My lungs and heart are strong. I have 40 years of coping skills to manage sensory input. I hear exceptionally well. If I can’t keep up, who else is bejng left behind? And what knowledge and wisdom are we losing when they’re abandoned?

I have a lot of thoughts about accommodations and modifications to make the spaces where real, radical, revolutionary change is happening accessible to all disabled people. I’ll probably break them into separate posts.

But I’m asking each of you who reads this to spend a bit of time thinking and examining your surroundings with renewed curiosity. Think of the physical gestures that literally embody the movement: raised fist, raised hands, bodies marching and lying down. Imagine that you can’t make those gestures in solidarity. Think of the speaker whose voice and insights you most want to hear in the world. Imagine the flight of stairs that keeps you from getting to see them. Imagine seeing that person but not knowing what they’re saying.

How welcome would you feel? How valued? How powerful?

If the answer is “not very,” well, the revolution’s got to change.

Jun 22, 2014 - Physical Ed, Sex Ed    1 Comment

Au revoir, Aunt Flo

I have not had a menstrual period in 52 days. That’s almost a month late. No, I’m not pregnant. And this isn’t the first time in the last few months I’ve been late, though it’s certainly the longest delay.

I know what this means: I am beginning “The Change”.

But Jess, you’re thinking, you’re so young! And I am, though the pink hair is part of an illusion that obscures my real age to some extent. I can also, at long last, thank oily skin for something—I have very few wrinkles, despite a whole lot of worrying and laughing.

But early menopause is in my family. In fact, when the first irregularity appeared right before my 39th birthday, I called my mom and said, “Didn’t you start pre-menopause when you were 38?” She confirmed that fact, and I replied, “Well, like mother, like daughter,” much to her horror. My aunts began that phase of their life early as well.

I’m rapidly discovering that I know far less about what to expect than I did before I got my first period. There’s no health class with this information, however awkwardly delivered. To be sure, the inexplicable movie we were forced to watch in fifth grade, featuring the Broadway cast of “Annie” explaining menstruation, wasn’t what I’d call helpful. In fact, there are Internet discussions among people who left gym class the day they saw it, more confused and weirded-out by the random choice of message-bearers than the message delivered.

And even though I was well-informed in advance, you’re never really ready for that first period. I discovered mine when I took a bathroom break in the middle of a theater screening of the legendarily horrible movie Ishtar. It lasted a few days, then failed to return for an entire year. In fact, I’ve never been quite sure whether it really was my first period, or that the movie was so bad it caused me to spontaneously hemorrhage.

I took the absence of menstruation as one of the small graces during my pregnancies. Sure, I was puking my guts up all day, every day, for 5 and 7.5 months respectively, but at least I didn’t have to put in a tampon for almost a year.

So I definitely won’t miss having my periods. Nor will I miss my fertility, in all honesty. Even though I occasionally have baby urges that seem to come from a completely alien source outside my brain, I’ve resolved that I simply can’t do the pain and sickness again, let alone the sleep deprivation and potty training. Pregnancy was quite simply hell for me; labor and delivery were a breeze by comparison.

I’ll admit some concern about the physical discomfort, sleep loss, and mental changes that are common to menopause. None of those are things I’m going to deal well with more of—they would surely aggravate my already existing challenges with fibromyalgia and mental illness. And I’m already slightly annoyed at the unpredictability thing. Wearing panty liners and avoiding light-colored pants for the next ten years is going to be a pain.

But otherwise, I’m curious about the new club I’m joining. It doesn’t feel as momentous as the “now you are a woman” club, but I’m betting this one, with all its life experience and perspective, has a whole lot more fun.

Mar 25, 2014 - Physical Ed    No Comments

This Dissenting Body

Every body I inhabit is a dissenting body.

Anxiety, anger, and disorientation emanate from my autistic sensory body. I can’t stop listening to other people’s noise through the walls, and each heavy footfall above me bruises my eardrums. A puff of my husband’s breath on my face is enough to wake me from a sound sleep. I adjust the blinds, the lights, the brightness of my screen in constant rotation. I seek refuge under the comforting weight of white noise and thick blankets, even when my heart longs for other people and open air.

My physical body protests in a language of chronic pain and sleeplessness. These disruptions occur arbitrarily; actions which give me joy now may trigger furious flares an hour, a day, a week later. And if physical penalties for disobeying my body’s limitations weren’t enough, it also inflicts its dissent on my psychological self by failing to administer the correct neurological chemicals to avoid the fogged-in abyss of depression. Sadness begets sleeplessness begets pain begets sadness, and so forth.

I often find my body unacceptable, and so does society. Every narrow seat, every cutting waistband, every judgmental voice tells me I don’t fit expectations. I brush, I tweeze, I shave, I wax, I drape, I shift, I cut, I hide. My shape is segregated into shrinking fabrics and diminishing retail spaces. It is targeted with advertisements and poisons. On the days when my body prevents me from doing meaningful work or feeling lovable, I am crushed under relentless waves of warfare.

And even if my body could fit into the definitions of worth, its very identity—as a woman, as a bisexual, as a disabled person—is constantly erased for others’ convenience. The conditions of my existence are subject to legitimized dismissal by the medical establishment, the justice system, the corporate structure that wants to suppress and exterminate that which cannot turn a profit. Reproductive control and healthcare are privileges I can check out with my skin color, only to be recalled by my economic status. If I wear my gender too openly, I’m asking for sexual assault. If I conceal my gender too well, I risk violent words and acts by those threatened by challenges to an artificial binary.

So because all my bodies are cause for dissent, I use my body as an instrument of dissent. I’m learning to seek pleasure, and to wear my rolls and creases, flagrantly and without apology. I’m walking into the halls of power to demand care for my body and others like it, through access to healthcare, economic security, an end to rape culture, and equal rights for LGBT and disabled people. I’m raising my voice in rhetorical flourishes and strident shouts to demand an end to systems of racist, sexist, and classist oppression, fueled by corporate and military powers seeking to buy or win what I am entitled to as a citizen and human being.

As long as I have a dissenting body to my name, I will use it to obstruct that which oppresses it.

Oct 11, 2013 - Physical Ed, Psychology    No Comments

Written In My Bones

Last March, I stopped sleeping. I’m no stranger to insomnia, so at first I just thought I was launching into another warped cycle. I stocked up the Netflix queue and resolved to wait it out.

But it didn’t resolve. No matter how tired I got–well past the point in any normal round of sleeplessness where sheer exhaustion would keep me down all night–I woke up between 1:30 and 3:00am, and couldn’t fall asleep again until the alarm was about to go off to wake the kids for school. I couldn’t figure it out. I cut caffeine after 6pm, I stopped napping (no matter how much I needed the extra spoons that helped me steal back), I adjusted my night-time meds up a notch.

Nothing. 3am and wide awake.

And then I remembered: Exactly that time, one year earlier, I lay awake to listen for Connor’s footsteps on the kitchen floor, going for a knife to kill himself. I never heard those footsteps last March, thank the gods, and there was no such fear this March. But my body knew that anniversary better than I did, and it sent a clear message–“It’s March, and you need to keep your boy safe. You can sleep when the sun is up.”

We all have smells, sounds, textures, even lighting that bring us directly back to very specific times and places. The silky binding on a baby blanket. The smell of the cleaning fluid from that time in the hospital. The unreasonably comforting taste of Kraft Singles melted on Wonder bread. The suffocating weight of a body, even though it’s not the body, pressing down on yours. When I asked about how their bodies store memories, friends mentioned more of these than I could keep up with. There’s no doubt that sensory triggers own the key to our memory, whether we like it or not.

Those experiences don’t surprise me anymore, except sometimes in the strength and speed that they fold time neatly in half, delivering us back to a precise moment in the past. What does surprise me is how well my body remembers past events that my conscious memory has long packed away in mothballs.

This March wasn’t the first time I’ve felt the gravity of memory. For almost a decade, I’d get depressed and irritable in May, around the time of year I was sexually assaulted. And a year after my deepest dive into suicidal depression, I was so anxious and high-strung, I was absolutely intolerable with trying to make everything better than the previous August. Neither of these is surprising–many people who go through trauma of some kind experience difficulty with anniversaries of those occurrences, well beyond just realizing that significant time has passed even as it felt like the hours and days were barely creeping along since incomprehensible loss.

There are other things that can trigger buried experiences. I worked with a physical therapist who practiced myofascial release. Fascia is the connective tissue that links our musculoskeletal system; it covers every single muscle, fiber, and organ in our bodies. When our bodies sustain stress and trauma, it stretches and tightens this connective web, causing pain. And therapists practicing this technique help people unwind and loosen the places where the fascia is bunched up and causing problems.

My therapist warned me when we started that unwinding damage sometimes causes memories to rewind in equally powerful ways. He said my body remembered things I hadn’t thought about in years, maybe even things that precede what I consciously knew. He advised me to have some time free after each appointment, in case I needed time to recover emotionally. And he was so right. We unwound injuries and threats as old as I was: fear and bracing against an unpredictable alcoholic father, a rib-breaking high-speed run-in with a vaulting horse, and the car accident that most likely triggered whatever latent potential for fibromyalgia rested in my body. I cried at almost every session, and only once was it from physical pain.

Now, so soon after helping my friend through the first steps away from sexual trauma, I find that my pain levels are sky-high. I’m not eating much. Honestly, I’m drinking more, though still never to drunkenness. I feel ill at ease in my body, and I find myself devoutly wishing to change its landscape, whether with wax (don’t ask) or tattoo ink, or cloak it in clothes that aren’t heavy with past wearings.

I can’t afford any of that, though. So I just sit here, with this body that remembers too much.

Jun 21, 2013 - Physical Ed    1 Comment

Perfect in this Skin

I felt it coming on yesterday: a strange, slightly alien feeling so unfamiliar, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt it.

I felt beautiful in my skin.

The sensation was so unusual that I found myself wanting to move around more, just to feel the shapes and textures that suddenly fit me. If you’ve ever rubbed your face on the silky strip of a blanket, or rolled around on really high-quality sheets, you know the feeling. And it wasn’t that I was wearing a good bra and new shoes that suit my funny narrow feet. And I wasn’t not in pain–the weather was changing, and we had a hell of a storm last night, both of which tend to bring out the odd twinges and aches.

No, I just felt beautiful in precisely this body. I still do today. I’m chalking it up to Midsummer magic. Today’s the solstice, and this is a holiday for many pagans that rejoices in the full embrace of the physical world and all its joys: strong, growing things; bright sun and warm winds; lust and passion and pleasure. I don’t know if this feeling will last after the power of the holiday has past, but I want to wallow in it now and share some uncommon thoughts.

I’m fatter now than I ever have been, though my 11-year-old son says it’s not fat, it’s Flubber, which is good. I’m 38 and I’m the mother of two. My unpredictable pain condition keeps me from exercising as much or as rigorously as I’d like to. I should stop drinking soda.

But I am a soft, voluptuous, powerful goddess. I am strong and graceful, and that strength doesn’t appear with ropey, flexing showiness; it’s hidden by smooth, rounded skin. I brace and balance, swing and glide, all without changing my outward shape. My body moves with me, not against me.

And sexy? Like you wouldn’t believe. Every curve nature ever intended graces my body: breast, hip, waist, thigh. I am made for comfort and love. I cushion soft bones. I envelop. I engulf. I protect like wings. I am full up.

I know, in the days to come, I’ll struggle again with feeling like the world wasn’t made to fit me. I’ll read the tightness and discomfort as a judgment on my size and beauty. Clothes and chairs, straps and seams will mark my skin, dent my flesh. But if I can hang onto just a bit of this Midsummer magic, I can remember that it’s not me who doesn’t fit the world; it’s what people have built onto the world that doesn’t fit beautiful, gracious, giving, comfortable me.

Mar 13, 2013 - Physical Ed, Psychology    1 Comment

Darkness, My Old Friend

The house is so quiet, the ticking clock sounds like drumbeats. Darling Husband is blessed with sleep when and where he wants it. The boys are sleeping again after a mumbled request for help getting the blankets resituated. Even the cat is asleep peacefully in the lining of my motorcycle jacket.

But I’m awake. This is the third night in a row I’ve failed to sleep past 3:00 a.m..

I wish it were unusual.

Sleep and I have a complicated relationship. I remember being insomniac as young as nine years old, so there’s something very deeply rooted in me that conflicts with sleep. In terms of basic biology, my fibromyalgia both requires more sleep to prevent pain and provides pain which prevents me from getting more sleep. The less sleep I get, the more I hurt–it’s as simple as that. I’ve also had a sleep study done, and was told I have the worst sleep architecture the tech had ever seen. At various points, I averaged only 20 minutes a night in REM sleep, which is where restoration takes place. It feels like a well that never refills.

I have a feeling my sleep architecture looks something like the top one.

No fewer than two dozen doctors have told me how important “sleep hygiene” is to beating insomnia. I’ve looked at them with flat eyes and nodded grimly. They don’t understand this at all. I have a bedtime routine, mostly built around a few minutes reading a trashy romance. The easy-to-understand story and comforting predictability help me downshift from my brain’s day speed to one where I can finally fall asleep. I need dark, the white noise of a fan, covers (no matter how hot it is, I can’t sleep without the pressure of at least a sheet or afghan), and luck. None of this is uncommon to autistics, as I understand.

I’m faced with the oceanic expanse of unfilled hours more frequently than I’d like. As many before me have joked, the one thing we really need are more hours of the day to consider all the choices we’ve made in our lives. But I’m fairly happy with the choices I’ve made, so it’s memories that play in my head when the world has put its many stimuli to sleep for the night. I fill that space with books and documentaries. Sometimes I write, or stitch, or crochet, or visit with friends who are also awake. I trying to teach myself not to fear I’ll wake up even more fully. Some theories even say a broken night’s sleep is historically A Thing.

At the root of my problem with sleep and the dark, still hours is this: I listen. Constantly. Hypervigilance is real, and very difficult to control. I listen for children’s cries–even those of babies long since grown. I listen for creaks and shudders, and the hollow sound of a door or window sliding open, even though I know they’re firmly locked. I listen for the crackle of fire, or the sudden crash of disaster, always ready to spring into action. I listen for the faint whine of the TV that tells me Connor’s awake in the night too, perpetuating the cycle of insomnia for another generation. I listen for the phone, and count the souls in peril–physical or mental–and ward against a fateful call.

Right now, I can’t sleep because it’s been exactly one year since Connor was actively suicidal. I lived the months of February and March last year constantly waiting, listening, and wondering this: “Could I get to him fast enough to save him?” This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of his entry into the partial hospitalization program that saved his life. He’s been at the highest behavior level at school for 21 straight school days. Things couldn’t be more different this March than they were last March.

But my body doesn’t know that. My body remembers that, when the last snows come and go, and the ground and air are saturated with moisture and possibility, I must remain alert. I can’t afford to sleep, the memories embedded in my bones say. This is the time you need to watch, listen, wait. Fear. Hope. Pray. I have other memories seated deeply in my body too, ones that make me tense in May more than 20 years after my sexual assault, or the tension that rides me on and off in the summer, when the heat triggers memories of my helpless, hopeless season a few years back. My mind can fold things away, but my bones and flesh remember.

So sleep and I are more sparring partners than friends, but I’m okay with that. I don’t get much solitude in my life, and insomnia certainly provides that in abundance. And maybe the lesson is that it’s not worth fighting with stubbornness and medication and “sleep hygiene.” This is me, and I don’t sleep like normal people. What do I get for it? Memories long buried, the surety that everyone I love is safe for tonight, and the intimate knowledge of the heart-deep chambers of night’s darkness.

Jan 23, 2013 - Physical Ed, Uncategorized    5 Comments

Freedom of Choice

My mom could have legally aborted me.

Not that she did, obviously. She didn’t even want to. I was her first child, conceived in wedlock at a perfectly reasonable childbearing age.

But I just turned 38 in December, which means that about a year and three months before I was conceived, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Roe v. Wade and declared that American women had a Constitutionally protected right to seek an abortion for whatever reason they saw fit. And when my mom discovered she was pregnant in the spring of 1974, she had more options than she had only fifteen months earlier.

The historian in me watches the observance of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary with a mixture of gratitude, dismay, and bemusement. I’m grateful to have lived my whole life in an America where the highest court of the land could write such a powerful statement of trust in women’s wisdom about their own reproductive rights. I’m dismayed that, in the intervening time, people who don’t trust women with such power have been so successful in circumventing this fundamental, adjudicated right.

And I’m utterly bemused by the multiple levels of collective amnesia surrounding the real history of abortion, fraught as it is. The surveys released this week that showed how few women under 30 actually know that Roe v. Wade was about abortion have conjured a great deal of justified facepalming. But I’d like to see a little acknowledgement that abortion is as old as civilization, and that for most of that time, women had control over those decisions. It wasn’t considered a conflict with one’s religious beliefs; every medieval woman knew how to make tea from rue, tansy, bayberry, or pennyroyal to “bring on late menses.” Only with the  pathologizing of reproduction, with male doctors in charge, did abortion become a battleground and women the most unreliable judges of their own best interests.

I’ve said for a long time that I’m unequivocally pro-choice. I turned out for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C.. I march at Planned Parenthood on Good Friday, as a visible contradiction to the crowds of abortion opponents who clog the sidewalks to shame and condemn the workers inside, despite the lifesaving work (overwhelmingly above and beyond abortion) they do for our communities’ most vulnerable women.

But I’ve always said that, while I’ll gladly fight for every other woman’s choice, I couldn’t choose that for myself. I’m a living, breathing paradox: an anti-abortion, pro-child,  pro-choice American woman. And I am far from alone in this slippery category. In fact, I have a feeling that we’re the silent majority.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have chosen when and how many times I became pregnant, and that I was able to carry those pregnancies to term. That said, my pregnancies were absolute hell. I was nauseated and vomiting 20 hours a day for 5 1/2 months with the first one, 24 hours a day for 7 1/2 months with the second, which contributed to the most excruciating, interminable flares of fibromyalgia in my entire life with the disorder. And as much as I love and prize my amazing, energetic, hilarious, brilliant, gorgeous sons, they both have special needs that make parenting an exhausting challenge on the best of days. As my husband and I age, the chances of another child bearing those same conditions only rise.

So I need to be perfectly honest: if I became pregnant again, I don’t know that abortion would seem as impossible as it once did. My health would suffer immeasurably, leaving me unable to work, so our family’s finances would strain to the breaking point. The upheaval would have a massive impact on the equilibrium and routine that help our sons function, with unimaginable consequences. It’s said that all a child needs from its family is love, but diapers and an active mom help too.

And before someone suggests that I’m too educated and self-aware to face an unplanned pregnancy, let’s be honest: education doesn’t magically repel sperm anymore than a lack of consent. While our kids are a phenomenally effective form of birth control, like any other form, they are not 100 percent foolproof. By age 45, over half of American women will experience at least one accidental pregnancy. And 61 percent of women seeking abortions are already mothers; more than three-quarters of them cite the impact of another child on their precarious balance of responsibilities. (All statistics are from a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute.)

I don’t have a story to tell about how abortion has impacted my life. I don’t have an important point to make on this anniversary of a landmark declaration of rights that are in some ways more difficult and dangerous to exercise today than 40 years ago. I don’t even have a deeper analysis of the shift in my feelings on my own holistic, reproductive health.

What I do have, though, thanks to Roe v. Wade, is a choice.

The least of these, my children

So, you might’ve heard a little something about the Supreme Court today. In fact, you’re probably sick of it by now.

Me, I’ve been waiting on Monday and Thursday mornings for almost three weeks for this ruling. With the state of my health and my son’s, our total family income, and my husband’s job, it’s pretty clear why I would be in favor of the Affordable Care Act (the real name for Obamacare, in case you’ve forgotten). We’re already beneficiaries of state-funded healthcare, and I’ve elaborated at length on why it’s so critical for me and my family.

I’m not going to go into detail today about the other mothers, college students, workers, grandparents, and desperate people for whom this ruling is the first ray of hope in a long, bad time. Instead, I’m going to show you the one reason I’ll sleep better tonight.

This is Griffin. He turned six in April. You can see that he just lost his first tooth. I don’t write about him as much as his older brother, but that’s my failing, not his. He’s weird, he’s wonderful, he’s so adorable it makes me spit.

And he’s perfectly healthy.

But because his mother has a history of fibromyalgia, Asperger’s, and depression, his brother also has Asperger’s, and his father has genetically high cholesterol and needs hella-strong glasses, I’ve worried every day of his life that, when the time came for him to go out into the world on his own strong legs and his own mighty soul, he wouldn’t be able to get health insurance. Despite his own good health, despite his own boundless energy, my own limitations might deprive him of that security.

And today, I don’t have to worry anymore. That’s what this decision means to me. That’s why I danced and cried in my living room at 9:15 a.m. CDT as the tweets scrolled up my screen and reporters scrambled on the steps of that majestic building.

If you don’t like this decision, if you feel it lessens your freedom, I frankly don’t care. Because tonight I’ll sleep sounder knowing that both my boys will have access to the care and security that good, steady healthcare brings.

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