ISSUE ELEVEN | FALL 2018
When I am sick my body is a doorway. Through the quiet at the center of fatigue, when I stop moving, stop functioning over and pushing past, I swing right open.
Sometimes fatigue crumbles all the roads I planned to take, turns my limbs to boulders and throws wool blankets over my brain. My brain is physically irritated, the fibres of the wool blankets scratching and pulling right into the grey matter. I start tripping over language: my tongue thickens, forgets how to move. Then the sadness comes; feelings I’ve skipped over come crashing in, and with me, it’s always sadness.
My ritual is protest. I force every part of my body to do everything it does not want to do: go to work, carry bags, hang coats, make dinner, do dishes, lift cast iron pans, set my alarm over and over too early. I do this every time fatigue comes for me, until I cannot, until my arms are too heavy and there are too many blankets on my brain. Then I lie myself down. Listen for the quiet that opens the center of me.
My body becomes a transition space between worlds. I know things I do not otherwise know. In the days and weeks leading up to a fatigue crash, I grasp and claw on to the world of the healthy; and when I finally go down, each time I remember it’s really not so bad here. Here, crashed out, my body is pleased with rest. With the light through the south-facing window. With the jade plant that keeps me company, leaning towards the sun and growing three new shoots. I hear my ancestors. My great grandmother was a herbalist, and so was her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. I am from a lineage of healers, which means people who listen: to plants, to the pulses of a body.
I lay out my losses for them, a tarot spread of devastation. My great-grandmother and her grandmothers survey my ruins, saying, “Oh sweetie, I know.” I show them lost friends and jobs, lovers who didn’t stay. How embarrassed I feel when my tongue thickens and words come out slowly, with unfamiliar and flat intonation; how I avoid speaking for fear everyone will notice and think me strange, wonder why my face is hard to read. I show how isolation from years of fatigue reshaped me, so that I’m ready for rejection at all times, one hand on the doorknob of every room I enter. Feeling belonging or trusting love seem to be Magical States for Other People. I show them how I hide parts of myself, almost continuously, curating version upon version. I ask them why this spread of losses, why this body? “Sweetie, being one who hears is your work. You came here to do this. How do you think any of us learned how to listen?” Sometimes they say “sweetie” and I know I am theirs.
When I am crashed out and the center of me swings open and I hear my ancestors, I watch a lot of Netflix. I am grateful for shows with 7 seasons and fantasize about which of my friends would be the best somatic therapist for Olivia Pope. Would Allyship practice help her to let love in? I revel in the earnestness of Jane Villanueva’s love; I let myself want everything for her. When I am sick, I keep my computer plugged in.
My foremothers are with me, kajal around the eyes, all of us our noses pierced. They’re wearing saris: pomegranate, cobalt, moss: a lineage of colour. I ask them about autoimmune. I trust almost no one with this question: why has every significant illness I’ve ever had been some version of my own immune system taking my body out?
My great grandmother nods, pulls me in closer. She lays out the tarot spread this time, turns over one card at a time. Shows me my ambivalence about my life, how I am both a yes and a no to every good thing I have, including this body. She shows me how I keep rejection of everything I’ve longed for right in my back pocket; how ‘I didn’t even want it anyways’ helped me live with the incessant losses of illness, including fatigue through all my twenties when everyone else’s life seemed so much more full. She shows me how self-destruction is a line of resistance in all of our spines, especially those of us whose people have been displaced or targeted. No one but me will take this body out. My great grandmother shows me how speaking ‘no’ to every living thing, even my own cells, even my own bone marrow, is a prayer for my survival.
My foremothers, all cheekbones and flashes of gold, place their hands over my thyroid, the place my immune system is currently tearing down. “Sweetie, practice listening here. What does this body need to hear?” “Thank you,” I say to my thyroid and my immune system, “for keeping me safe.”
When I am sick, my body is a doorway. Through the quiet at the center of fatigue, I swing right open. I know things I do not otherwise know. I hear my ancestors. When I am well, I fight so hard to remain among the healthy, protest every signal my body gives telling me I need rest. When I finally go down, I remember, each time, there is magic here.
Fayza B. is a femme South Asian writer, often writing at the intersections of body, intergenerational trauma and resilience, and spirit. Fayza was an artist-in-residence with Sins Invalid, and is a somatic therapist, learning from and teaching with Generative Somatics. She lives and writes on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land in Vancouver, BC.
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