Sunday, November 4, 2012

Courageous Spinelessness

Friday I left UNC's Spine Center rubbing my chapped mitts with the kind of joy one gets from a new medical diagnosis (surely the Germans have a word for that). "Brachial Neuritis or Radiculitis Nos" said my important papers--I couldn't wait to google.

As it turns out, Brachial Neuritis typically follows injury "such as gunshot or stab wounds" or follows a viral infection or surgery (double mastectomy, anyone?). It does have a genetic marker, is fairly rare, but basically no-one really knows what it is or how it functions, but it might be an auto-immune response.

It struck me that the language around this syndrome was very much like fibromyalgia, which I had been diagnosed with nearly a decade ago, with some strong differences. Brachial Neuritis is a "man's disease." Fibromyalgia, at least when I got it, was a "woman's disease." Doctors treated me as if I was a Victorian lady, hysteric, suffering from the symptoms induced by my own lively imaginings, as if I had indulged in too much busy manly brainy work and was now suffering the consequences. "Women who have been sexually abused get it" said one doctor, fairly rolling his eyes. Had I gotten fibromyalgia from stab wounds or gunshot I'm sure we all would have been much happier.

I'd like to suggest something, something dangerous. I'm going to (for one, for once) ignore the ridiculously preferential and gendered medical language and suggest this: what if this uptick, this surge, in auto-immune responses, in disease where our bodies seem to "feel too much" or "feel the wrong thing," is an evolutionary move towards the kind of all-bodied sensorium of octopuses?

My spine is crumbling, encrusted with the barnacles we call spurs--but I believe like a fossil, my original spine is nearly gone; it has been replaced by the minerals and shell bits and heavy metals of my past. I believe we are moving towards the kind of embodiment that "thinks" with its arms--like an octopus--that our bones are attempting to shore us up against what we have sunk into this earth, poisons and pesticides, and that our central nervous system, being overtaxed by impact, the crashings of sensations from constant electric immersion (tvs, cell phones, electricity) is both attempting to protect and to extend itself because it needs more room.

Enter then, this new being, still bilateral, still sentient, but sensing and thinking from its softened arms and legs. The fad for muscularity will presently be replaced by a delight in bodies that can move in even more spectacular ways, requiring...drum roll please...a surgically implanted (at first) flexible spine, allowing our new being to squeeze under doorways and through cracks like mice. Later, this being will have no spine at all.

The pain I feel, radiating from the various injuries to my spine, my chest, my self, might actually be evolution. The delicious, damnable, brutal heavy electric stabbings of evolution. You with me? If you, like me, have experienced interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, fibromyalgia, and now some kind of hyperalgesia induced by multiple incidences of violence not limited to but including (as they say) car wrecks, assaults, concussions, mosh pits, then you might feel a reluctance, anger even, by the suggestion that your pain, your trauma, is some kind of motherfucking evolution.

Sisterbrother, I feel your pain. Let's look to the octopus for a sec. The octopus brain isn't centrally located like ours, or rather, it has dense neurons everywhere--it does something like "thinking" with its arms. (I do something like "thinking" with my....oh never mind.) This makes it a supreme test subject. The octopus is often used as a lab animal because of its incredible intelligence, its unique capacity to experience life through not just its enlarged head, but through its eight motile arms. As a test subject, it is an uncommonly able subject--its sensorium is geared for sensation, for pain, all over. Not like we are. More, I imagine, how those of us with amped up sensations are, those of us for whom a whisper of wind relays stark horripilation, whose bones require battening against the everyday, whose fascia begins to set after a second, rendering ordinary movements like getting out of ones chair an excruciating exercise in what feels like breakage. The octopus, particular as test subject, is my kin.

How then, to relinquish what many of us feel is our only raft in a terrifying ocean, that is, our identities as disabled? Too many transfolk I know have one or more of these diagnoses, and I'm confident this isn't merely because I gravitate to people of similar experience. Transbodies in particular (like octo-bodies) are subject to the kind of abuse that leaves a neural stamp, the imprimatur of pain...Transbodies in particular are forced to be complicit with the medical industry, to get our hormones, our surgeries, our care.

I am, just for today, relinquishing this identity, except for bureaucratic necessity. I am willing to explore this idea, this embodiment, this, these pains, as yes the result of myriad abuses but parlaying themselves into exploration, into a riot of sensation yearning to be without armature, longing for and making exodus to a free body, a body that moves any way, goes anywhere, is free, not of pain necessarily because pain is important--a body that is always, already oceanic and celestial. I can bear some of this pain with the knowledge that my sisterbrothers after me might endure less, that bodies might move to...dare I say it aloud? Invertebrate. Sister Sea Slug, wrap me in your tongue-like body; naughty nautilus, invite me to tea. I will slip underneath the heavily guarded and locked laboratory doorway and free all my kin, all my octo family. Are you in?