‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Matthew 11: 28-3
As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges. I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.
As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.
In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.
It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.
Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ – do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.
From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.
Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically. No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.
There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.
Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance). The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.
At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.
Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes. My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.
As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.
Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.
Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.
Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep
I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.