Altered Bodies: Disability, Illness and Aging

Candace, 28 July 2005, Comments Off on Altered Bodies: Disability, Illness and Aging
Categories: Aging, Bodies, Feminism, Women's Studies

The concept of control greatly affects my body thoughts and practices. I have had experience with illness and aging and being unable to control my body. These experiences continue to shape the way I behave.

Because I overbook myself and get involved in too many activities and take on too many responsibilities I place great expectations on my body to perform consistently and at peak capacity. Mostly I can sense when I am weakening and can attempt to adjust my schedule so that there is less pressure but this has not always been the case. In the past I have chosen to ignore my body’s warning signs. This has led to personal injury and illness.

As a dancer I have depended on my body for a significant piece of my livelihood. Too many rehearsals and not enough rest caused my initial ankle and hip injury. Since the first one I have been prone to re-injury. At one point I was advised by my health care provider to quit dancing because of the repeated injuries. It was agonizing to consider leaving the work I loved. Not only was dancing a job, it was also part of my self-identity. Without it I would be forced to create a new identity. This period was a very difficult for me. Returning to dance after I had healed was very important for the same reason. I was able to show that I was in control over my body and that my body was merely a tool. I have since learned to watch for warning signs that I may be risking an injury and adapted my activity in order to stay safe.

Several years ago I had a suspected case of necrotizing fasciitis. I could not walk. I could barely move. The pain was excruciating. My leg was swollen and discoloured. I was unable to teach my dance classes. I was newly pregnant and my husband had just days before left the family. I remember getting to the emergency room with a friend and looking at the long line of people needing care. I was truly terrified when I was seen immediately. My situation must have been very grave to be seen without even being asked to take a seat or fill in any paper work. My body’s needs at this point took over any desires I may have had. At this point, my body took control over my entire existence. I was nothing more than the series of concentric circles on my leg chronicling the spread and eventual decline of the infection.

I was a long time healing from this illness. I required someone to live in to help take care of my children and me. I had to give up the privacy of my home, and depended on other people to feed me and wash me. I was extremely vulnerable. Without these people’s care I could not have managed daily necessities. The recovery was slow and I again had to contemplate whether dance would remain part of my life or not. This condition was temporary and I was able to fully recover but it served as a temporary window into the helplessness experienced by those without a full range of motion because of disability, illness, or pain.

There was a period in my life where I allowed my body to dominate my self. During a period of reactive depression, when feeling hopelessly lost in the world, there is nothing more appealing than surrendering control. Just letting my body move me through the actions of living, without thinking or feeling was an escape that cannot be had while trying to maintain order within and understanding of the world around oneself. Giving it all up to the physical needs alone are another form of escape from a world threatening to collapse.

Because I have such a particular relationship with my body, because I use it so closely for work and expression, I think this makes me especially sensitive to what life would be without the abilities I have as a ‘temporarily able bodied person’ (TAB). My mother has a degenerative joint disease and suffers from chronic pain and has only an intermittent ability to walk. I refuse to consider that I may inherit this condition, as although there are hereditary characteristics of the disease I choose instead to work to prevent any possibility of its occurrence.

All of these experiences have taught me gratitude for my TAB status. I realize that statistically my privileged position is only temporary and it is only a matter of which type of disability I will acquire. It is hard to remember that although I think I control my body, really, especially as I age, this control is impermanent.


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