The way we see sickness and wellness, and how we care for ourselves and each other
This past year I’ve been navigating more health issues. There are moments where it’s discouraging. I look at myself when I was well. I know not everyone has to figure out these things. What’s happening. And why. And then there’s moments of hope. I’m thankful for the support I have and finding doctors who can help.
It’s likely due to the pandemic stress and adjusting to new ways of living. In general, ongoing stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including autoimmune issues, and chronic stress caused by the pandemic itself can be especially harmful. And yet, we’re at a time where it feels like ongoing stress is a natural response to what’s happening around us.
I first learned of “Sick Woman Theory” by Johanna Hedva a few years ago at a conference (it could have been FACETS or Processing Community Day, both incredible events). It felt especially relevant now to revisit it when it feels like there’s more sickness than ever, and when the need for care, for ourselves and for each other, is so crucial. As I navigate my own wellness, this essay has helped me change how I relate to these new habits, and how I think about sickness.
Ann Cvetkovich writes: “What if depression, in the Americas, at least, could be traced to histories of colonialism, genocide, slavery, legal exclusion, and everyday segregation and isolation that haunt all of our lives, rather than to be biochemical imbalances?” I’d like to change the word “depression” here to be all mental illnesses.
“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.
Care, in this configuration, is only required sometimes. When sickness is temporary, care is not normal.
Here’s an exercise: go to the mirror, look yourself in the face, and say out loud: “To take care of you is not normal. I can only do it temporarily.”
Saying this to yourself will merely be an echo of what the world repeats all the time.
The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.
Read the full essay: “Sick Woman Theory.”