The Rebellious Act of Listening to My Body

Today I did the dishes sitting down, across the course of a few hours, taking breaks between sittings. I did this because I’ve been trying to listen to my body when it needs a break or to not stand. I also did it because yesterday I saw a post saying that refusing to sit down is internalized ableism. Internalized ableism is when a disabled person sees themselves how the rest of the world treats them. It often means thinking we don’t deserve accessibility.

I was supposed to get a new dishwasher a month ago. It seems like I can’t escape the problem of faulty dishwashers, this has happened a lot. I’ve been using the old leaky dishwasher as a dish rack for my hand-washed dishes. Might as well make use of the space for it.

Sitting down to do the dishes isn’t entirely new to me. I used to do it in our old space, too, but it was more awkward around the kitchen design. I would open the cupboard under the sink and pull my chair up close, putting my legs under the sink so I could kind of reach, but it wasn’t worth it. Today I pulled the rollator with a seat up to the sink and found it much easier to reach.

I struggle to stand for long, but my body fights with the conditioning I’ve dealt with all my life to push my limits. “Yes it hurts, but there’s not much left,” I say to myself as my lower back and hips begin to burn. Before I know it, I’m leaning against the sink for support. I don’t let myself quit until it’s absolutely necessary to sit down with an ice pack against my strained back.

I’m disabled from chronic pain and it is still hard for me to figure out where my limits really are. I’ve spent my life going-going-going too far. As a child, I didn’t have a choice but to remain busy all day and feel like I was still failing to keep up. Now as an adult I’m learning to listen to my body when it says I’m doing too much.

Forcing myself to do too much doesn’t look the same as it might for someone who is able-bodied. For me, it can be trying to stay up all day instead of napping. It can also look like trying to do all the dishes in one go. There aren’t that many, I used to be able to do so many more…but my limits aren’t the same as they once were. They even fluctuate from day to day. The only way I can really avoid doing too much – for which I pay the price in pain and fatigue – is to listen to my body.

Here in the United States, there’s a massive emphasis on standing while working, even if it’s not necessary to stand up for the task at hand. One common example is cashiers in stores. They could easily have chairs or even stools to sit on, but our society dictates that for long shifts stretching across at least several hours, standing is required. This makes the work more demanding and exhausting, and excludes disabled people who might be otherwise capable of doing the job.

Listening to my body doesn’t just mean giving myself breaks. It also means recognizing when I need to exercise, sleep, or eat. But more than that, it can mean when my body is telling me something is wrong. Sickness is part of that, but it also applies to being trans because my body didn’t seem to fit me for so long.  

When I started my gender transition, my provider asked me questions about my dysphoria. I explained that I didn’t feel at home in my own body, giving the example of a body scan in meditation. When I’m told to scan my body and check in with how I’m feeling, it can feel incredibly foreign. She noted that this was an interesting observation, because as a cisgender person she didn’t have this problem. Apparently most people take for granted that they feel like they’re inhabiting their bodies. I didn’t. Since starting Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), I’ve felt much more comfortable in my body. It’s still hard to check in because I deal with chronic pain, but I don’t feel as deeply disconnected with how I feel inside my vessel.

Listening to my body is an act of rebellion against this unjust world. When the world demands that I spend all my energy and more than I have to produce profit for corporate entities, my body will cry out in pain. Pain is a signal, often ignored in favor of the so-called “value” of hard work. But hard work doesn’t benefit the person suffering for it. When the world demands that I fit into a binary mold as a human being, but everything about that feels wrong, I can seek treatment for that, too. I am a non-binary person, not a woman or a man. This, too, is a rebellion against the wider culture thanks to paying attention to my body and what it was telling me. It is possible to listen and respond to our bodies, and that often means doing something other than what is being demanded of us.