A Long Overdue Update

Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.
Image description: A blond white woman with cerebral palsy stands in a patch of tall grass in a garden outside the Humber River Hospital. She is smiling from her brief reprieve from the Psych ward.

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a while and I’ll admit up front I might not be getting actively back into blogging for a while, though it is on my to do list (which is too long).

I’m just writing this to get you updated on why I disappeared and letting you know that going forward I need to focus on some issues in my life and really getting into the work of my PhD.

Last year, as a member of CUPE Local 3903 I participated in the longest post-secondary strike in Canadian history, something previously considered impossible for an English language university to accomplish. Quebec just has a better culture for getting angry when their educations are threatened.

The strike was long gruelling and full of emotional labour. The emotional labour of constant threats of vehicular death. The constant rhetoric from the university that cast me as an outsider despite my still being a student.

During this time I became estranged from my mother. This was an ultimately healthy decision but because of how long she had kept me isolated and emotionally dependent on her despite her abuse, it was hard. It is still hard but only in that not talking to mum tends to strain all the other family relationships.

The aftermath of the strike did not really calm things down, though I wasn’t threatened with bodily harm quite so much but I had difficulty getting myself regrounded in the academic environment.

I began dissociating and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to pull myself out of this funk alone. So I went to the doctor and got diagnosed with anxiety, and PTSD (both conditions I am sure were not new just newly officially diagnosed).

I immediately began going to therapy but in my vulnerable emotional state, I chose my therapist very badly. She did help get me onto anti-anxiety meds and helped get me feeling slightly more grounded. Then she spent months isolating me from the few friends I see in person and isolating me more from my online presence, So isolating me from perhaps my strongest support network.

I had during the strike independently pulled back from blogging and some of my more inflammatory online activism. With a few exceptions. I stayed involved in the straw debate, though to a lesser degree than before and I admit I went unintentionally viral with #DoctorsAreDickheads

The stress of the attention was more than I could handle and I pulled away from Twitter even more. It took months for me to realize that my therapist was actually keeping me from moving forward with my life. The realization was uncomfortable and I spent some time trying to unpack it on Twitter

I had a lot of trouble processing that betrayal. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely what happened next because I began dissociating, this was quickly joined by a fugue state.

This means I didn’t even know who I was, what I was doing, or who I was communicating with. In my few lucid moments many online friends reached out in concern but because fugues cause amnesia, I assumed that I must have been hacked.

You see for the entire period of time I basically never left my bed. I knew I was unwell, I just didn’t realize that I was posting delirious and often hurtful things online. I’ve seen some of it and chosen to delete much of it.

I doubt I’ll ever get a full picture of what I was thinking or everything I said. I apparently called my brother about 20 times, I only remember two or three of the calls and I’m already mortified.

I understand completely, why people were concerned for my welfare. What I am still trying to come to grips with is that my sister decided to channel her concern over online posts that to my knowledge never threatened violence (there was a ton of sexual harassment and I could not be more sorry). The harm I caused during that fugue was emotional. Yet my sister decided that it was better to call the police than come check on me.

I was placed under what is known as a Form 2 which means the police are going to assume you are violent and you have no option for deescalation.

I made the mistake of trying to deescalate. I was lucid enough to know what cops and paramedics at my door meant but I was still unaware of my delirium induced online posts.

The fact that I was still unwell and prone to delusions, I remained I think surprisingly calm (by which I mean I only fought the police with rhetoric, I got loud) but I was still in a fugue state, I’m pretty sure at one point I thought I was my sister, at another I was convinced I was going to marry the star of the show I’d been watching in my more lucid moments.

I probably had at least 4 separate narratives going but I wasn’t violent.

Yet, I was still grabbed and shackled in the ambulance.

Dark bruise on pale skin from being grabbed while being involuntarily committed

That bruise is gone now but as it faded it revealed the thumb print of whoever it was who grabbed me to shackle me to the gurney.

I was shackled to that gurney for I don’t know how long. I lay there shackled long after I was removed from the ambulance. I was horribly uncomfortable and begged to be let out.

I did eventually convince security to let my left arm free because the shackle was forcing my shoulder into a painful and unnatural position because of my cerebral palsy.

This was my first clue that the psych ward is not prepared for physically disabled people.

I live tweeted much of my stay in the psych ward so you can check out my Twitter for more details on that.

I actually came out of the fugue pretty quickly upon getting to the hospital but I was on a 48 involuntary hold (known as a Form 1). I stayed for 8 days because my resting heart rate and blood pressure were disturbingly high.

I got very little in the way of psychiatric care. The attending physician seemed to be looking for the sort of person who is irrationally violent.

I was extremely compliant on the psych ward.

Well I was extremely compliant until something was inaccessible and then they had to deal with the full force of having me stay on as a voluntary patient just to figure out if something was wrong with my heart. I got cardiology tests on the psych ward that I don’t think the attending psychiatrist knew about in advance.

He seemed surprised that I was on a 24 hour holter heart monitor and was waiting for an echocardiogram. I think he was trying to discharge me.

I was ultimately discharged shortly after I received the echocardiogram. I have yet to hear back if any of those tests had any interesting results.

So I still don’t know if the dissociative fugue was caused by the mother of all panic attacks or if it was exacerbated by illness. Just like the exact details of everything I thought and did during the fugue, I will probably never know. I however, suspect that this latter ignorance is more likely to be blamed on how I was hospitalized and how my symptoms were initially interpreted. I didn’t get a blood test until I’d been there nearly 48 hours and was lucid all of the time.

Skipping ahead a bit (again see Twitter for more Psych ward details), I am now back home recuperating from my ordeals.

In the immediate I need to do two things complete my complaint against the therapist who tried and failed to derail my life (this is going to be very stressfull)

In order that my life not get further derailed, I need to get more actively focused on my PhD studies again. To that end my therapist from hell followed by my stint in the Psych Ward gave me a great idea for a dissertation topic and that is what I will be focusing my energy on.

Hopefully, if my life calms down (like after I’m done with the complaint against my former therapist) I will blog a little more regularly again.

Until then I hope you will support me in my goal of completing my dissertation in any way that you are able. Whether it be through emotional support or by financially investing in my academic success.

My dissertation is tentatively titled “We Still Hide Madwomen in the Attic”

It will be an autoethnographic (meaning I will be using myself as a research subject) study of how mad/disabled women have been and still are silenced and isolated both directly through things like abuse and involuntary committal to the cultural idea that mad women in attics are just a literary device for gothic novels.

In the immediate, I need to complete my comprehensive exams which necessitates a lot of reading. Some of the books are out of print and hard to find. I have created am amazon wishlist (it’s not exhaustive and will likely be added to). If you could support my work by purchasing one of the books on that list that cannot be had in kindle format, I would really appreciate it.

Kindle books read on an iPad are really the most accessible format for me but Amazon does not allow for the purchase of ebooks through wishlists. So I have set up an email solely for people who want to financially support my work. I would greatly appreciate gifts of amazon gift cards (I’ll even tell you which books you bought me)

The email is kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

buy me a ko-fi

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites)

I also have a generic disability wish list of things that would just improve my quality of life

Thank you for your ongoing support. and just an FYI I’m changing my name socially to Kimberley Jane Erin. You can call me Kim or Jane but I prefer Jane. I am however, not the least uncomfortable with Kim so don’t worry about messing up.

It’s time I really leaned into my identity as a scholar. I hope you’ll support me.

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Undesirable: Toxic Romantic Dreams, Disability, Sexuality and Relationships

sexy ISA

Image Description: A stenciled modified image of the International Symbol of Accessibility, A presumably male stick figure in a wheelchair being straddled by another stick figure who is presumably female because of the addition of a ponytail hairstyle.

CW: This post contains discussion and descriptions of sexual harassment, violence and bullying

Considering the Kathy Lette article in the Daily Mail (which I wrote about here and Carly Findlay wrote about here). I want to offer my own narrative of disability and sexuality, a narrative that isn’t driven by a parent or other third party.

It is often said that disabled people are perceived as nonsexual and this is certainly the experience of some people. I previously wrote a response to this New York Times piece Longing for the Male Gaze. As problematic as I found the author, Jennifer Bartlett’s romantization of sexual harassment, I do understand it. While I do not and never shared that particular longing. I do understand the creation of problematic desires and fantasies created around cultural expectations of romance and relationships. My personal experience, however, was not so much marked by being viewed as nonsexual but rather simply undesirable.

In fact, my sexuality was not only acknowledged it was used as a weapon against me.

For as long as I can remember I have been excluded. It was the first form of bullying that I experienced as a child. Starting in kindergarten and continuing through to the end of high school. While that exclusion in those very early years was certainly not tinged with romantic rejection—we were all too young for that—it set a precedent for my being denied even friendly personal relationships. It created a deep desire within me for inclusion and acceptance.

As I got older the bullying became more direct and aggressive. From about grade six onward, harassment from girls in my class often contained aspects of sexual humiliation. From being cornered at my desk and being told that if I wasn’t already a lesbian I would be within a year to mocking me when they realized that I didn’t wear a bra.

As a physically disabled autistic person, bras have been a source of stress since I started wearing them. They are often inaccessible and more often uncomfortable. Yet, within days of the first comment about my lack of bra (I really didn’t need one), I started wearing sports bras (the only bras I could stand to wear at the time) just to stop the comments.

Eventually, the bullying turned to my relationship status (or more accurately my lack of one). The girls first dropped a note off at my desk which said: “Maybe if you got a boyfriend, you’d have more friends”. They later cornered me to deliver this message in person. I clearly learned that being in a romantic relationship might lead to broader social acceptance. I was, however, unable to acquire the boyfriend necessary for this entrer into social acceptance.

In elementary school, I was told I needed a boyfriend to be socially valuable. In high school, that message continued but it was also clearly accompanied with the message that no one would ever want me.

The very idea that someone might be interested in me was unthinkable and the source of much amusement for my classmates. In grade 9 one of the girls’ favourite torments would be to try and determine who I had a crush on. They used whether I blushed as evidence—I am very pale and blush easily—they got a lot of amusement out of embarrassing me in front of whatever boys happened to be present.

In high school, the boys joined in this abuse. It started with my being mock proposed to repeatedly to the uproarious laughter of the audience.

It culminated into an incident in grade twelve where four boys cornered me alone in an empty classroom and explicitly described pornography in detail and mocked my embarrassment, telling me that if I couldn’t handle such information that no one would ever want me.

When I reported the incident to the school, I was told that I probably misunderstood what had happened and that the boys probably didn’t realize that they were bothering me. Because disabled women can not only experience sexual harassment, they can also have it minimized and ignored when it happens.

The idea of dating me was so much a joke and a repugnant idea to my male peers that having it suggested that they were dating me was an insult. A rumour started that I was dating my science partner (because if you so much as speak to a member of the opposite sex in high school, regardless of context something sexy must be going on). He blamed me for the rumours. He got so sick of denying them that he eventually found me alone in a hallway one day and screamed every insult that he could think of at me. There was a small justice in this instance because he didn’t see the health teacher come up behind him and witness the entire tirade. He was swiftly and loudly told off.

Through all of this, I was hyper aware of what made me different from the other girls who were not treated with the disgust and scorn that I was. Namely, the fact that I had cerebral palsy. I became hyper aware of anytime someone might have to come into contact with my left hand (the most visible aspect of my CP).

As a kid, I participated in a lot of group activities whether it was church youth group, brownies or that time I participated in French Youth Parliament (my French really wasn’t up to the challenge). As a consequence, I frequently found myself having to play ice breaker games. One that always seemed to be played was where everyone stood in a circle and grabbed the hands of random people across from you. You then had to twist and wind between people’s hands to try and return to an untangled circle.

Every time this activity was announced, I had a moment of panic because I always feared that when I reached my left hand out, that no one would take it. Though someone always did.

It wasn’t until I was 22 and in a cultural exchange program that some failed to take my left hand when circumstances dictated they should. We were dancing to Malian music in a line holding hands and when the Canadian group leader joined the line he grabbed wrist instead of my hand. I was startled and just blurted out “you can take my hand”.

“Are you sure?” he asked, he clearly didn’t seem to want to.

“Yes”, He did it reluctantly and soon decided to leave the dance.

These fears of being rejected in social settings and the continued messages that I was undesirable did not culminate in my wanting to be perceived as a sexual object like Jennifer Bartlett but they still left me with toxic dreams about relationships.

I didn’t dream of being seen as a sexualized ideal. I just wanted to be loved and included. Getting this attention from one person would have been enough. I was desperate for it.

The desire to be loved and wanted is not in and of itself dangerous or unhealthy but it can be when you’ve been told over and over again that you are undesirable and that this undesirability is also what makes you a social outcast. I was also clearly told that I was so undesirable that to be seen with me would have social consequences for anyone willing to be with me. This lead to expectations that any relationship I had would likely be isolated from the rest of the world. While I heavily romanticized this scenario as a teenager and young adult, I am well aware now that this kind of dream and the level of desperation that I had for it, left me at serious risk of abusive relationships.

This is evidenced by how I behaved around and responded to boys I had crushes on. I wanted so badly to feel loved, that I would pretty much develop a crush on any boy who would initially speak to me with any degree of kindness. When I was 16 this meant I was infatuated with a boy who was initially very charming but in reality, had a deeply misogynistic streak to him.

I can’t remember what precipitated the incident (I think I had said something sarcastic to him) but one day when we were rehearsing for the school musical he slapped me hard across the face. It was witnessed by the stage manager (another student) who came over ready to punch him for having hit me. I talked him out of it and while it was probably best that they didn’t get into a fight in the school gym, I wasn’t trying to de-escalate a fight. I was defending the person who had hit me. I still wanted him to like me.

I am not sure when exactly when I was able to start thinking critically about those toxic romantic dreams. I suspect it began after I actually found social spaces where I was accepted as a friend. This didn’t do anything to ameliorate my romantic prospects but I did finally have a space where my desirability as a sexual or romantic partner was not held up as necessary for social inclusion. A relationship was not a social status symbol and association with me was not cause for a person to be mocked.

The thing is that this didn’t really start to happen until I reached grad school. I was also in Disability Studies which attracts a disproportionate number of disabled scholars. In my master’s program, I was one of three people with cerebral palsy and there were many other disabilities represented.

This was huge in terms of creating a sense of self-worth and community but I shouldn’t have had to wait until I was in my late twenties and surrounded by people with common experiences to be accepted.

This is why first person narratives of disability are so important, particularly in relation to sexuality because we can talk about the social impact of being deemed undesirable. Third person narratives like those of Kathy Lette about her son really just buy into the social stigma and work with it rather than challenge it.

Her son asked her if he would ever get a girlfriend. A question to me suggests a desire not just for sex but for a relationship, a prolonged romantic experience. Lette’s response was to consider hiring a sex worker which really meets none of those desires even if sex is a desired part of a romantic relationship.

Considering hiring sex workers as a solution even in part to the issue of the widespread cultural disinterest and even disgust with the idea of sex and romantic relationships with disabled people is in some ways to accept and fail to challenge those ideas.

A sex worker is not going to offer a relationship beyond what is agreed and paid for. Disabled people know this. It is not a comparable substitute for actually being accepted and wanted.

I want and deserve meaningful human relationships both simply social and romantic. These are not things I can buy. In order for me to be able to have them. I need people to actually interrogate why disabled people aren’t seen as options for romantic partners. I need more than the platitudes I received from a male friend at 18 when in a moment of bravery I shared my insecurities and the sentiment that no one when I fantasize about an as yet unseen and unmet lover, thinks of someone like me. I even asked him outright if he had ever thought about dating a disabled person.

He deflected by magnanimously claiming that he was open to falling in love with someone who was disabled. He would however not answer my question directly because of course, he had never actually considered it. He, however, wouldn’t directly admit as much because to do so would be to admit to an internalized bias and discrimination.

I want people to be aware not only that disabled people are sexual beings but also be aware of the widespread messages that they tell each other and disabled people about how we are undesirable. I want them to understand the harm that causes and how it sets people up for potential abuse. It goes beyond them simply not considering having a disabled partner.

I want those ideas directly and actively challenged. I want to see disabled people culturally framed as beautiful and I want this to happen without a flurry of think pieces on how progressive it is. Those think pieces are evidence of how strange it still is how people still feel the need to applaud it. The change will come when disabled people can be portrayed as beautiful and sexual and the response is to agree and admire that beauty without qualification.

I don’t want any more disabled people growing up to be told that no one will want them just because they are disabled.

 

 

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