The Body Re-Written

Freshly back from a relapse, well almost; readers will have to forgive my intermittent silences while I go and have a word with my immune system from time to time. It’s been a horrible month for symptoms old and new but my head thinks she can handle the screen again. So if nobody minds I’ll just pick up from my last post and carry on; as you were…


Three years ago, with no MS diagnosis under my belt, I would not have published a blog which discusses my clitoris (nice start right?). I would no way have engaged freely in conversations about my experiences of sexual dysfunction in spaces open to strangers. I always preferred to keep my weaknesses and ailments to myself, and I also used to keep ‘intimate’ details about my body strictly between my partner, my doctor, and I. So what’s changed? A diagnosis? A need to be heard, and to hear the stories of others who share my conditions, to not feel so peculiar and alone? Yes, all of the above, but there is so much more to it than this. A transition has taken place while I’ve been immersed in anxiety and panic attacks, a shift towards a surreal place where we talk about our bodies as though they are machines. Dehumanized, detached, medicalized; our bodies are now a series of parts which we locate and assess; sacred becomes mundane. The language I use does suggest loss, or damage to sense of self, and yes I have experienced a certain distancing from my ‘self’ (embodied self?/in bodied self?). Beyond the personal estrangement however, an entirely different sense of self has arisen by which boundaries are constantly being renegotiated and barriers to discourse dissolved. It feels like finding a new voice/person, and she is less concerned with social conventions than with the immediate testimony that the body can make. Materiality in all its harsh discordant splendour has moved me to speak and share, and scream and roar. I find myself exposing to delicate ears the more embarrassing moments my MS has brought me, and waiting to see the response. At times I do scream and cry, refusing to comply with acceptable procedure. Shock, pity, disgust, awkwardness; these reactions take on new meaning around our very validity, for those of us with conditions that cause distress by default. Then there are the ones who know exactly what I’m talking about and they offer warm smiles, nodding heads, sighs of relief that we are in a safe space, and sometimes laughter in the understanding of how bloody ridiculous the whole matter is.

Disease and chronic illness will inevitably change relationships to self and other, and beyond the likely pain and distress many of us face, there are unexpected transformations that take place in these new states of difference. I’m not talking here about silver linings or any other bullshit feel good cliches. I’m trying to say that there are real benefits that come through having to reconsider yourself anew so frequently, benefits that I personally do not believe I would gain from the comfort of a normative able body/mind life. Maybe it’s a capacity that comes with truly grasping ones own mortality, maybe it’s an indifference that responds in kind to abundant social indifference; maybe, even, and not without irony, the demanding and unpredictable nature of our bodies somehow creates something altogether transcendent, and invites entirely different perspectives; so intensely in the self that we somehow move beyond the self. I’m not claiming to have had a religious experience through chronic illness, but I can claim that this illness has enabled me to move beyond the boundaries I used to adhere to, and to comfortably assume a position of multiplicity. Life and self no longer feel linear; the body/mind is marked and most certainly re-written.


About differal

Fledgling academic negotiating systems at every turn: living off-grid, living with MS, playing with critical theory for transformative social praxis.
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