Recently, I read this article by Jodie Hardwick. To be honest, I got a tad emotional as I read, because I really related to it. I'm not the mother of a frustratingly feisty and constantly questioning daughter (though let's face it, that may well happen one day, knowing my genetics). I related because I was (and probably still am) that daughter. I immediately shared it with my mother online, and could hear the exhausted sigh of recognition from across the country. She's still in recovery, 28 years later (Jodie Hardwick, if you're reading this, I promise it is survivable, for both of you, eventually).
I grew up as the eldest of three (which much later became four - check out this blogpost for story), and I was the only girl. This may explain many things - my discomfort around groups of other women, my inability to do anything remotely attractive with my own hair, my ludicrously competitive streak - but it has meant that from a very early age, I learnt to hold my own, even around a table of 5 people shouting 7 different conversations at each other at any time (friends who visited my family home, I apologise. We really are ALL bred to be this loud.).
It also meant I had to deal with the fact that despite the efforts of my incredibly determined parents, my brothers were able to do things I wasn't. I spent many Sunday mornings in a cathedral watching my brothers sing in the choir. They didn't take girls. So I sat and watched, got cross, and went and found a choir that sang in cathedrals all around the country and didn't care that I sounded like a girl, because I WAS A GIRL, AND THAT SOUND WAS FINE. (Guess which of the four of us went on to run choirs? It wasn't any of the three that sounded like boys...). The only sport I enjoyed at school was rugby. That became 'Touch Rugby' for the girls. DULL. Eventually, my brothers were bigger than me and winning fights. So I thought laterally, and decided to prove myself with my brain. That was decidedly more reliable than my girly body, which seemed to make life more difficult than fun.
Even now, as a student in a medical school that (like most others) is 52% female, I'm being told that me and my lady parts are bringing down the NHS (see this round up for more details). This isn't a post about feminism. Many amazing writers of both genders have written on that, and I'm not going to fail in attempting to steal their thunder. But fighting is something I have had to do my entire life, and it's not ending anytime soon.
One fight I wasn't exactly expecting was with my own body. Yes, it's girly, and it gets me into occasional scrapes with catcallers (I WILL call back. It WILL NOT be complimentary. Then I WILL phone any company your van/t-shirt/scaffolding may be advertising and tell them ALL about it.). Girly-ness aside, I was always happy with it. Until it started fighting back. I'm wonky now, and that brings its own challenges. The key issue for me has been remaining as independent as I ever was, and accepting that it's actually not always going to be possible.
Imagine if you will, a brisk New Year's Day, and a group of friends walking off their hangovers in a Wiltshire village, a route that includes a spectacularly muddy field. Now imagine a member of that party, newly ensconced in her wheelchair with cross-country attachment, determined to cross that field with everyone else, refusing help by yelling from her seated position "I AM A STRONG AND INDEPENDENT WOMAN!!". Now imagine her getting stuck. Pushing hard on wheels that succeed in little more than spraying mud on her friends, covering herself in sludge, and getting deeper entrenched. Eventually, her long-suffering boyfriend pulls her out, and gets her back across the field and into a pub. Frustrating yes, but actually pretty hilarious. And that's how I am learning to see it. I could get cross at every little thing I struggle with, or I could fight on with my physio, try to improve my physical state as best I can, get cross when things are easily surmountable if companies/councils only think, but try to let myself occasionally be helped.
Post-knee surgery, I was physically pretty useless. I had a wheelchair for outside, but it was very easy to slip into a 'Dependent' role at home, and very easy for me to stay in it. So I have tried to make some changes. I am trying to get up and do more. I am cooking at least once a week, without any help (it's painful, but necessary, and I haven't given anyone food poisoning yet). I am finding ways around problems. Can't stand to iron? Lower the board right down, sit on the sofa, watch TV while you go. Sorted.
My body is a balancing act, in a number of ways. I want to be independent, but I need to accept help when I can't be. I want to stay upright, but can allow myself to sit down when I'm at risk of hurting myself. I want to keep mobile, but can use Ruby the Chair for this sometimes. And I'll probably keep throwing myself on the floor randomly. You'd all get bored otherwise.