Reading these words hit me like a sucker punch.
Like they proppa took my breath away – in the bad way, mind, not the loved up, ‘oooh baby, you took my breath away’ style. The kind of bad way where you’ve been running hell for leather down the rugby field, zigging this way, zagging that way, egg shaped ball in the crook of your arm, steely focused on the try line. Then out of left field this big motherfucker comes at you. He rams his body into you with full force. His hip and shoulder ploughs into your side and you’re down for the count – winded and out. That’s the kind of breathless I’m talking about.
I was sitting on the couch at the time I read Dr Devon Price’s words, idly scrolling through Instagram on my phone, feeling guilty for taking a brain break from the world while the mountains of unattended work and never completed to-do lists piled up.
One of many breaks lately. All I do is take breaks. It’s all I can do right now. Sit and rest. Rest and sit. Sit. Sit. And more sitting. Because sometimes the rest doesn’t even come.
I’m in the throes of PTSD fog right now, you see. I suffer with it bad. I have complex trauma. It hits me sometimes, too often lately.
Actually, when I say sometimes, it’s a lot. I downplay my trauma. It’s a thing we do, yeah? It’s internalised ableism. I’m always thinking, I’m not that disabled – I mean am I even disabled? It’s not that bad. Others have it a lot worse than me. My brain is ok. But it’s not. It’s different. It’s forever altered by the trauma. I’m not even sure it will ever be the same again.
Right now, PTSD has its grip on me. Like it has a fucking stranglehold on my brain.
It’s like when you were a little kid and your older brother got you in a headlock and your legs were kicking out from under you trying to get free, and your body was flailing about, and you were squirming and telling him to get off you, and he was giving you a noogie and all the while he’s laughing so loud because he thought your struggle was funny. That’s the kind of grip I’m talking about.
I can’t think straight. My brain can’t form sequential thoughts. Hell, sometimes, I can’t even construct whole sentences. This piece of writing will take days to craft because I will need regular breaks just to rest my eyes, my neck, my hands, my legs, my brain. I have sensory issues, too. My mouth holds the taste of my attacker. I can taste him on my lips and on my tongue. I can’t stop eating because I need to alter the flavour of my mouth. Anything to not taste him. I am ravenous for food, and nothing can satiate the appetite because the need to eat never goes away. Then the subsequent weight gain leads to self-loathing which leads to depression which leads to self-harm. Then the self-harm leads to shame, which leads to…well you get the cyclical picture.
My fingers claw at my nose because my nostrils are filled with his scent. His aftershave and the spicy smell of his skin is wedged so deep up there that I rub at my nose furiously all day, but nothing will dislodge it. My sleep is disturbed. The midnight hours are filled with late night wanderings back to the devil’s playground where I am tortured by his demons, and I weep in my sleep begging for the morning sun to rise and the daylight to begin again. I’m so tired. Tired of heaving my body through this quicksand that my life has become.
But we’ve got no choice other than to heft one foot in front of the other, right? If we don’t, we give in. If we don’t, we lay down and die. And is that really a choice? I guess it is. Sink or swim? I figure choosing death or delirium over pain and suffering is always choice. I mean I’ve chosen it before. I guess I’m just not there right now. Thank God.
So, I read the words my friend posted and immediately messaged her and said ‘ooft I feel this’. She replied, ‘me too’. I smiled, because I wasn’t alone and then immediately frowned because she’s a sista and she’s suffering too; and because I hate that this is a hallmark of the disabled. I hate that who and what I am right now, might be all that I ever am, or all that I can ever be. And because I am in a state of mourning for the Tabitha I used to be.
Every now and then I think back to who I was before all the trauma changed me. Some nights I like to tell my husband stories about the me of my past, the me he never knew, as if I am trying to convince him that I am a good human – a better human – a human he could have loved more.
As if he could even love me any more than he already does, as if he would think I wasn’t such a useless waste of a human being (he doesn’t actually think this by the way, but trauma – well, that nasty little pest makes you doubt your worth), as if he might stay longer, think of me more highly. He tells me it’s not possible, that he loves me completely and entirely, that he’s here for the long haul. And I know that in my dank, dark heart, but PTSD makes you crazy. PTSD brain tells you fantastical tales about yourself and what those around you think of you, feel about you, about how they see you – but really, it’s how you see you. It’s the mirror you are holding up to yourself. It’s a cracked, fucked up mirror that can’t reflect properly, but you insist on looking at yourself in it anyway. So, in spite of all of that, I go through these cycles of petitioning my case of ‘Tabitha’ to him, and all the while, he endures.
So, the Tabitha before all of this was smart. Like really smart. I could write and reason and think and juggle a zillion jobs at once. I had a massive work capacity and worked every hour under the sun. I managed responsibility, balanced work and home like a breeze. I held good jobs and climbed the ‘ladder’, stayed there, and fucking owned it. I was somebody, at least I thought I was. But I’m not anymore. There are days where it’s enough just to make my porridge in the morning.
Which, by the way, is the same breakfast I have every morning, because routine is important to me. It’s important because I can’t make decisions, so I do the same thing every single morning. I get up, I shower, I eat breakfast and if I still have brain space, I do something. But these days, that something is getting less and less.
I took that Tabitha for granted. I thought she was me, and I was her and we would always be. But that’s not the way life works.
The thought that who I am right now, and the level of productivity that I am currently capable of, might be all that I am ever capable of scares the shit out of me. I’ve tried to understand why it scares me so much. I mean it scares me as much as being buried alive scares me.
And you need to understand that being buried alive scares me so much that I have this ‘double dead’ plan. I have told my kids that when I die, they have to ‘double dead’ me. Yep, they have to stab me or something to make absolutely sure I am dead before I am buried or cremated. The ol’ ‘double dead’: it’s my brand of insurance against one of my greatest fears.
I think I fear being unproductive because I grew up in a working-class family where the measure of your worth was in your productivity. My Dad was a working man, a strong blue-collar unionist. He put his body and livelihood on the line to fight for the rights and awards we have now. And of course, capitalism, right? Capitalism measures our worth by our capacity to contribute to the machine. By nature of my disability, I cannot contribute. By nature of my mother’s blood and my mental disease, the colony renders me disposable. Because, this economy treats not just us, but all of our lands, seas and waters, as components of profit, and those who cannot be adequately commodified become anti-capitalist by nature of having non-conforming bodies and minds. The system renders us surplus to requirements, and we are disposed of.
Yeah, I am a disposable human. I have been for a long time. I guess mostly I am ok with that.
C’est la vie, right?
But sometimes I’m not ok. Sometimes it scares me. Mostly I fear being disappeared. When you are nothing, you can be disappeared. And sure, people will say ‘you aren’t nothing, you have a family, a husband and kids who love you’, but that doesn’t matter in this construct of a world. Because in this current iteration of the capitalist state, you have to be something to the system in order to matter. Think about Ms Bernard. She had family who loved her. But the system didn’t care. She was disappeared. Think about every Blak body that is taken from their home into the carceral system. They had family that loved them. Think of all the Blak children taken from their homes into the foster ‘care’ system. Do you think they didn’t have communities or families that loved them? We are disappeared all the time and nobody cares. That’s what happens when you are disposable. And these bastards don’t even do it under the cover of darkness, they are doing it in broad daylight, and we hear barely a whisper, let alone a roar from anyone about it.
So, Dr Devon –
great name, by the way –
what if my current productivity level represents the maximum I’ll ever be capable of? What if my motivation, focus and energy levels never increase beyond what they are right now? What if I never get better? What if this is, in fact, Tabitha 2.0? What if all I can do is rest and heal? What if my power and strength rests solely in the promise of another tomorrow? What if the only joy I ever have from here on in is the feeling of the warm earth between my toes? What if the only ambition left rattling around my old bones is to answer the call of my mother’s country beckoning me home? What if breaking free of the colonial bonds that bind me is the only way to keep on drawing breath? What if…?
It’s these what ifs that scare me.
What if I don’t really like the old Tabitha anyway? What if this new, broken down and pretty much fucked up version of me is the real deal? Because real is rare these days doc, and I think, in a world where I don’t know where I’m going or where I’ll be, that I’ll just sit in this space for a while, and just be me. Just be real, as raw as that is. Just me. Drifting off into this space for a while. Because fuck productivity, because survival is as productive as I get these days.
Tabitha Lean, or as her ancestors know her, Budhin Mingaan, is a Gunditjmara woman, an activist and story teller. She is also a lived experience abolitionist having spent almost two years in prison, and two years on home detention and remains tethered to the system on parole, or as she calls it, open air prison. Tabitha also suffers from and lives daily with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic anxiety. Tabitha is committed to elevating the voices of those with lived prison experience in order to expose state sanctioned carceral violence in an effort to stop the brutalising and killing of her own people in the colonial frontier that is the criminal injustice system.
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