Chronically Ill Bitch, Baby!

I am a Bitch. I got called that during one of those long weekends that should have been going swimmingly — the beautiful blue sky, warm weather, fun events, and large party of people — but oddly, almost incomprehensibly, it wasn’t going well. I made it 30 hours before I was repeatedly dubbed a bitch in a restaurant by a member of my party. My crime? Well, succinctly, being a strong but chronically ill young woman.

The possible provocations, when broken down, were those aspects of living life publicly with a chronic illness: I am a Bitch because I didn’t want to discuss my food allergies with my fellow diners, loudly and publicly, in a restaurant, and I apparently had a Bitchy tone when I tried to shut the conversation down.

I am a Bitch because I didn’t want to try something, and so I just said I didn’t want it. I was also allergic to it, which might account for the “not wanting to try it.” Unfortunately I had to go into that in order to defend not ordering and paying for, as an adult, a food I couldn’t eat.

I am a Bitch because I needed to quickly eat a home-prepared snack in order to take medications about an hour before eating at the restaurant. The restaurant where I’d called ahead and discussed options with the chef before pre-ordering the only safe thing on the menu for me … oatmeal. I don’t think spoiling my meal was an issue, although I’ll say this: the restaurant really pulled out the stops on their oatmeal for me.

I am a Bitch because I needed to stop and take some medication. It’s something that I always try to do discretely but, thanks to the curiosity and control-seeking tendencies of my fellow event-goers, had to be explained in excruciating detail. (Where are you going? Why? Why do you need to take meds? What for? What meds in particular? Have you taken them yet? No, I don’t think you should take meds now!) I am a Bitch because I finally told them to go ahead so I could go to the bathroom (and deal with my medications in relative peace); I would catch up at the cars. I am a Bitch because I have to take medications about 8 times a day. My life-preserving measures are, of course, a huge inconvenience to everyone else, and earn me some well-deserved ire.

I am a Bitch because I had to take a lunch box and small bag of gear with me through an entire event (event staff did not have any problems with this). I am a Bitch because I walk slowly through the rushing crowds, and sometimes I need to stop and sit. I am a Bitch because it is safer for me to take the elevator instead of the stairs, even if this means I have to first find and then wait for the elevator to take me only one or two stories.

I am a Bitch because exuberant driving, like roaring through suburbs and pulling Gs at corners and lights, makes me motion-sick. Informing someone of my growing queasiness is spoilsport, complaining behavior. I am a Bitch because I need to sleep instead of party the entire night.

I am a Bitch because, while everyone else gets up, puts on clothes, and leaves, I get up, stretch, eat, shower, dress, and pack my lunch. And no, we were not late, and I did not wake anyone up.

For some reason, this particular instance of name-calling hurt far more than the odd cat-call on the sidewalk or elevator eye on the train. Coming from someone I knew, it was more personal at the same time that it is dismissively derogatory and shamefully sexist. On the other hand, the situation itself is rather painfully familiar both to me as a woman and someone with a chronic illness. As a woman, my desire to walk to the car by myself was interpreted as dismissive and arrogant, not assertive and capable. As someone with a chronic illness, I was flouting their concern for my well-being; no one had heard of the term “ableism” and it wasn’t quite the time to bring it up… or the presence of ramps, elevators, and shuttles scattered liberally through the event grounds that would enable me to make my way safely back to our cars. Throughout the weekend, my chronic illness meant that I had to behave in ways other than expected for a woman of my age. This might mean anything from going to bed early to being pro-active and firm about my diet. This meant I was defying social norms, and because of this willful defiance, I was a Bitch. As for tone, well, a person’s tone of voice is always subject to interpretation and is a messy no man’s land of interpersonal communication. Whether I was whiny or just trying to pitch my voice to be heard over the restaurant babble without simply shouting, even I couldn’t tell you. This doesn’t even take into account perceptions of the timbre of women’s voices over men’s. On an individual level, of course, thanks to the acoustical wonders of my human head, my voice always sounds different to me than it does to others.

Leaving that aside, however…

I am a Bitch, everyone!! It’s time for some deserved reappropriation. I earned my new title of defiance by being a chronically ill and assertive young woman. Even without the leg up in the bitchiness standings that my illnesses and sex have given me, it is entirely possible for you too to become a Bitch. Stand up for yourself. Trust your instincts. Take care of yourself. Do your own research. Think for yourself. Come to a reasoned decision, and then stand behind it. Don’t compromise your health for someone else’s comfort. Speak up. Don’t let others shame you for your race, sex, health, or any other little metric. Respect yourself.

To all my fellow Bitches, whatever your gender, hello! And welcome to the party. Fly high and strong.



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