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This is the fifth part in a series in which I open up about living with chronic illness. Here are part one, part two, part three and part four.

I am painfully polite. I am the sort who opens doors and picks up lost objects and tracks down that short story you read and lets everyone through ahead of me. That’s not the sort of person I want to be, partially because, well, I don’t want to be a pushover and partly because it is not the best idea when one is disabled.

Maybe you’re thinking, that’s stupid. It’s okay to push and shove a bit, make your voice heard when you’re in need. Do whatever you have to do to get through the day. This deference, this is what I’ve thought I had to do. That has been a survival strategy, and it hasn’t always served me well, but it’s always been a resort. I spend so much of my time being spent. I’m still trying to negotiate the trade-off between having a better day and living a bit more conventionally. ‘Yes, sure I’ll have a coffee with you’ at the times where I really can’t, because I don’t want to alienate people. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. It’s stupid, but sometimes it perversely makes me feel better.

I’ve done it because I figured I’m more likely to get help that way. I’ve had enough of being prim and begging for whatever minor favour I can get (which isn’t always worth it considering the additional burden of this painstaking work). I’m starting to come into a mode where I can say, fuck this, I’m not demeaning myself and prolonging my pain. You are responsible to me whether I’m polite or not.

I’ve done it because I didn’t want the condition to take over, make me harder, not nice.

It’s even harder because I’m a woman. From our behaviour to our surnames, we’re expected to be deferential when we’re not invisible. I know the image of me as a hypochondriac is there because I’m a woman (silly women, fussing and complaining to get attention because of hormones you should just ignore them they aren’t rational you know). So I should keep my legs together and a smile on my face, answer to ‘Miss’ and agree with everything they say. It makes me boil.

But all the while, apart from these various dehumanising activities, this deference has such a hold on my behaviour it heightens my health condition. I’ll let you go first even though I need that bottle of water. I’ll finish this conversation even though I need to get to bed. And even after directly thinking I shouldn’t be doing this, I’ll let someone on the bus in front of me even though I really need to get in there and sit down. And then admonish myself.

Yes, I am something of a doormat. I need to expel the urge to be nice and be nice to myself. I don’t think that’ll make me any less a good person. I doubt a heap of people will notice. But at least it’ll be a step towards something better for me. In building this habit, I will restore this piece of my integrity.

I will speak up, even to myself. I will not be silenced.