Nervous Systems: Part 8 and Afterword

Read the seven previous installments of Nervous Systems by clicking this tag.

Image descriptions can be found below the Afterword, under the “read more” tag; click the images for larger versions.


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A picture may be worth a thousand words because no one word is ever adequate to the excessive expressivity of images.

–Tobin Seibers, from “Words Stare Like a Glass Eye: From Literary to Visual Disability Studies and Back Again” (2004)

One aspect of academic writing, and theory, that has confused me for a long time is the expectation that both will be—and should be—written in a style that is inaccessible to all but a comparatively select few. Part of my reason for choosing a format—the graphic novel—that is not looked at as “serious” was to make some very important theoretical concepts accessible to a non-academic audience. Additionally, my own theoretical project of examining women’s chronic physical pain in contemporary culture relates a lot to my own life experiences, and I have had trouble writing about these experiences “academically enough.”

The potential (and very likely, if we want to be honest) status of my project as “not academic enough” concerns me, to be sure. However, I have tried to write and theorize about my experiences with disability in a more “traditional” format for years, and I have had a nagging suspicion that only writing about these experiences at length leaves something out. With one exception, the often overly formal style of academic writing has, by and large, not worked in my favor. I have written many short-form pieces about disability intended for a general audience; however, my other entrees into theorizing disability in a more academic-type setting proved to be fraught with problems. In 2009, while still at the University of California, Davis, I completed my B.A. thesis on the Heaven’s Gate cult’s mass suicide, masculinity, and media constructions of the normal/abnormal body, and wrote the following as part of my postscript:

…The human body can be—perhaps by necessity—variously embarrassing, bewildering, and beyond control in many ways. Although I have made progress in accepting my various health conditions and dealing with them in the best ways that I know how, the havoc wreaked by these conditions is, at times, incredibly frustrating. The leg that “spazzes” and shakes at inconvenient intervals as a result of mild cerebral palsy, and that I am powerless to stop; the joints, muscles and bones that ache constantly and in different degrees of severity; the fingers that twitch and splay and sometimes press the wrong letters on my laptop keyboard, try as I might to control them; the fibromyalgia’s propensity to make me nearly bedridden at times; my personal feelings of uselessness when–for reasons having to do with extreme pain–I am sometimes unable to complete my academic work on a schedule that resembles a “normal” one for the average college student; my frustration when walking a long distance or climbing up a flight of stairs just seems like too much work; the fact that I am always tired, or hurting, or that I always have fear that my depression will return and do even greater psychic damage than it already has—all of these are things that I deal with on a daily basis, and so of course they affect the work that I do. (63)

Though this is a descriptive passage, looking back, I believe that there is something missing. I can describe the symptoms that I live with daily in the most exacting language possible, but my writing process is such that I usually try to be overly “objective” and “academic” when writing about personal experiences in an academic setting. With cartoons and graphic work, however–a medium in which I tend to feel no such constraints and make no claims to “objectivity” in utilizing it (quite the opposite, in fact)–I have found that I do not feel nearly as much separation from the words that I have written, or from the art that I create. There are ways to represent certain things in art that is exponentially more difficult to do in “straight” writing, and especially academic writing.

The emphasis on an either/or model of theory and practice is of concern to me as well. As Tobin Seibers points out, the current theoretical conception of pain tends to deny, or at least sidestep, the very real and lived physicality of some types of pain: “…pain in current body theory is rarely physical. It is more likely to be based on the pain of guilt or social repression. Society creates pain, but this creation backfires, producing a resource to struggle against society—this is the dominant theoretical conception of pain” (744).

When the pain comes from inside of your body, however, it no longer has a wholly “social” cause that can be easily traced; it is inside you. It is from your body. And, as I hope I have made clear in the graphic novel portion of Nervous Systems, it is— particularly on bad pain days—not a fabulous, transgressive resource that you can then use to fight patriarchy, or capitalism, or Big Pharma, or whatever part of the system happens to be pissing off progressives this week. Sometimes, it confines you to bed, or (horrors) has you relying on medications produced by Big Pharma just to get through the day. Getting up and out into the streets to fight injustice is difficult—sometimes impossible—to do when you are in burning, unending pain that is not caused exclusively by, say, capitalism, but by a nefarious combination of physical issues that are not always within your control, and by the ableism that demands that you should disregard your own pain and fatigue for the good of the progressive “cause,” or because otherwise people will think you are lazy, or that you just aren’t working hard enough to “get better.” Personally, ableism isn’t the only cause of my physical pain and fatigue, but it does not help. One drawback of the pure-theory model, too, is that it tends to remove agency from the people most affected—as Paula Kamen pithily summarizes in her discussion of many feminists’ attitudes toward women’s pain:

In their efforts to counter enemies portraying women as essentially ‘hysterical,’ feminist thinkers have gone too far to the opposite extreme in denying chronic pain’s reality, portraying it as mainly a tool of propaganda against us, a social construct…instead of addressing women’s pain as biologically based, many feminist intellectuals continue to support a seemingly more ‘enlightened’ view: Chronic pain and fatigue are the result of patriarchy (and maybe American capitalism and globalism, too) (168-169).

A pure-theory model also tends to privilege “objectivity” over lived experience without also considering that some of us theorize in order to figure things out, and that theory has to spring from somewhere. When one is writing about personal experience and how it relates to larger social forces, however, objectivity is simply not possible. bell hooks (1994) importantly argues that theory can indeed (and should) come from lived experience: “When our lived experience of theorizing is fundamentally linked to processes of self-recovery, of collective liberation, no gap exists between theory and practice” (61); she cautions, however, that theory “is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary” (ibid). It can, and has been, used to keep certain people out—people with the “right” qualifications, degrees, and time to study certain theories do, in some sense, have the privilege to be able to pick apart ideas that are, very often, written in a way that makes sense only to people who have these qualifications (hooks 62-63).

Sometimes the opposite happens: questioning theory becomes an exercise in anti-intellectualism, and, as hooks contends, this too contributes to the “false dichotomy between theory and practice” (65). I believe that a lot of theory is useful, interesting, and helpful, but even as a “gender studies nerd” who does have some of the “right” qualifications, I have also found much of it to be frustrating, confusing, and weirdly obscuring at times. I often wonder how those who may not have the “correct” qualifications may feel when they come across large walls-of-text which seem specifically designed to speak to people who are not them. I am no supporter of anti-intellectualism or theory-bashing for the sake of it, but on some level, I can (perhaps slightly) imagine how angering it must feel to come across “intelligent” discourse that is meant only for a few, and makes no attempt to reach out to those who might be able to use that theory in their daily lives.

It is for this reason, in part, that I made Nervous Systems a graphic novel. Not only do I excavate and examine portions of my own life and larger cultural/social patterns in order to create theory, but I attempt to make this theory—and some of the theory that came before it, particularly in my use of Wendell, Seibers, and others–accessible by utilizing a format that, while not in wide pedagogical use (yet), has a history as a mass medium. Ironically, in recent years comics and graphic novels have become a new, “hot” form to study in a scholarly way; additionally, “serious” news outlets such as The New York Times have taken notice of the form, and graphic works now regularly appear on many year-end best-of lists. It is, in many ways, beginning to earn the respect of the old- guard literary establishment, despite its background as a “cheap” (and, somewhat hilariously, apparently dangerous, at least during the 1930s) form of entertainment.

Of course, graphic work’s brave new world, so to speak, does not come without caveats. Many successful graphic novels have been created by people who have very similar demographics to those who have traditionally held power in the media—white, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle class or higher men. I think this is changing—albeit slowly—but the still comparative novelty of, for example, women in comics, often gives me pause. People with disabilities working in comics is still a relatively new, and rare, trend. Disabled characters in comics, particularly those produced by mainstream presses, are also a rarity–and even when they are portrayed, they are subject to having important aspects of their stories erased in “reboots.”

I have, I admit, opened myself up to criticism by making myself, certain family members, friends, and other people “characters” in my graphic memoir. The point of this “theoretical memoir” is not to make things up on the fly in order to theorize. The
theory here, in which I utilize a form that has not been taken “seriously” in order to explore something—namely, women’s chronic physical pain—that has often not been taken seriously, either: not by society, not by the medical establishment, not by abled people, not by most feminists.

My theory in Nervous Systems comes from a place, or places, of lived experience. As a person in near-constant physical pain, I cannot, as Felly Nkweto Simmonds summarizes, “remain disembodied” when it comes to creating theory (53). The lines of life experience have traced through me, have left their (invisible) marks on my body. The lines of pain have settled into my bones and muscles; those of fatigue shape my sleep and my waking hours. And so I leave lines on the page, first in pencil, then outlined in black ink: words, images, multiple drawings of my scowling face. The reader sees these lines, reads them, interprets them. I hope that these lines, as they exist on the page, make an impression.



Panel 1: A young white woman with her hair in a ponytail talks to someone out of frame.

Text, with asterisk: Similar attitudes have been leveled at other minorities, regardless of the question of passing.

Asterisk: And sometimes even because of someone’s ability to pass…

Speech bubble, young woman: You’re seeing racism/sexism/bigotry when it isn’t there. I don’t see it, so it must not be a problem.

Panel 2: Various sayings that people use to minimize bigotry and inequality, including: Well, that’s life! How dare you call someone –ist! Just the way things are! OTHER people don’t see it that way. That’s a personal problem.

Text: The circumstances vary, but the message seems eerily similar at times: Don’t make “normal” people uncomfortable. And certainly don’t question “the way things are…” even though it’s socially constructed.

Panel 3: Feminist philosopher Susan Wendell stands next to a copy of her book The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability. A caption clarifies that Wendell “also has CFS.”

Text: Substantial discussion of physical pain also seems to be missing in much disability theory, although this has been shifting in recent years.

Panel 4: Three stick-figure PWDs: one kneels on the floor in pain, one sits in a wheelchair, and one stands in abject pain.

Text: Many PWDs do not want to add more ammo to the tropes that our bodies are bad, in need of fixing, or are beyond help – and with good reason. However, the opposite tendency – the denial of pain caused by the body — is also dangerous and limiting.


Panel 5: Four feminists of various ethnicities.

Text: Most feminists would probably agree that certain issues once labeled as “women’s issues” were not taken seriously for that reason.

Panel 6: Image of a raised fist within the classic “woman” symbol.

Text: Even the second-wave slogan “the personal is political” was a snappy response to cultural, social, and political reluctance in taking problems faced by women seriously as problems.

Panel 7: Listing of various feminist issues that were brought to light during the second and third waves of feminism: discrimination, equal pay, reproductive health and justice, household division(s) of labor, violence, sexual harassment, abuse, sexuality, paid work, beauty standards, body image.

Text: A lot of issues thought of today as “core” feminist concerns were conceptualized as purely personal problems, about which women were encouraged to keep quiet.


Panel 1: A second-wave consciousness-raising group meets.

Text: The explosive popularity of techniques such as consciousness-raising groups during the 1970s was (and is) a testament to how effective some feminist thinking became in changing major cultural patterns.

Panel 2: A “checklist” of some issues with second-wave feminism’s approach to women’s liberation: Focus on issues affecting mostly middle-class white women; Narrow definition of “woman”/”women” as a category; Strict definitions of who is/who is not “dedicated” to the cause based on seemingly arbitrary things.

Text: There were also major problems with some of these approaches, and with second-wave feminism as a whole.

Panel 3: A cheerful white woman tells a black woman, “We are all WOMEN first! Sisterhood!” The black woman responds with “Um…”

Text: The second wave’s ongoing issues with white privilege and racism have been well-covered…

Footnote: See hooks 1988.

Panel 4: A banner hanging over a closed door announces a Women’s Meeting TONIGHT, with “women-born-women ONLY” specified in parentheses.

Text: As have its problems with gender essentialism and transphobia…and, lest we forget, the assumption of an ahistorical, cross-cultural “sisterhood.”

Footnotes: See Stryker 2008 for an overview; see Mohanty 2003.

Panel 5: Anna stands next to a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Text: Even with the influence of the ‘70s-era women’s health movement, chronic pain and disability as experienced by women has not exactly been taken up by mainstream feminists as a feminist issue.

Speech bubble, Anna: Someone should write Our Pain, Ourselves!

Panel 6: A cheerful feminist able-splains disability.

Text: This seems to mirror wider cultural assumptions that figure pain, illness, and disability as personal problems that don’t have much to do with larger structural issues.

Speech bubble, cheerful feminist: If disabled people like Christopher Reeve can overcome their hardships, so can ALL people with disabilities!

Panel 7: Anna thinks about the feminist response to chronic pain. The “woman” symbol, the word OUCH, and a large pill circle above her head.

Text: So if the personal is still political, why has pain been left out of the list of modern “women’s issues?”

Panel 8: The “ghost of disability future” appears, saying “Woooo.”

Text: Besides the woman-as-powerful rhetoric, I think there’s a more base emotion at work in the exclusion of women with pain and disabilities: fear.

Footnote: See Wendell 1989 for a more general discussion of fear of PWDs.


Panel 1: The ghost of disability future says “You have limits” and “WOOOOOO”

Text: Illness and disability are feared by many abled people, so it’s perhaps no surprise that such a trend is also evident in many abled feminists’ treatment of disabled women.

Panel 2: A man is faced with the ghost of disability future.

Text: Those of us with disabilities, chronic pain and illness tend to remind those without of their own limitations…or their potential future.

Thought bubble, man: It could happen to me!

Speech bubble, ghost: Hello

Footnote: See Wendell 1998.

Panel 3: The ghost removes its sheet to reveal Anna standing there. The man is still ill-at-ease.

Text: Chronic pain also seems to put many abled people face-to-face with the reality that some pain does not go away…

Speech bubble, Anna: Oh, hey!

Speech bubble, man: AHH!

Panel 4: The man holds a large placard promoting new-age book The Secret as the ghost looks on.

Text: …And that there are limits to concepts like the mind’s “control” over the body, the effectiveness of a “positive attitude” in dealing with physical problems, et cetera.

Speech bubble, man: I use positive thinking for my problems…I’m different.

Thought bubble, ghost: Right…

Panel 5: The man turns angrily toward the ghost.

Text: The more that abled people can convince themselves that pain, illness, and disability “can’t” or “won’t” happen to them because of their attitudes or habits…

Speech bubble, man: I’m NOT like you! So…

Panel 6: The man continues angrily addressing the ghost.

Text: …the easier it then becomes to do the mental gymnastics required to disavow disabled people, ill people, and those in pain.

Speech bubble, man (continued from panel 5): It WON’T happen to me!

Panel 7: The ghost, left alone, looks into the distance.

Text: Hearing about the experiences of those in pain, too, makes these realities hard to ignore.

Thought bubble, ghost: I was gonna tell him that it’s NOT a death sentence…oh well.

Panel 8: A feminist puts her hands up to her ears as the ghost approaches her.

Text: Might some abled feminists just not want to hear about fellow women—women who are in pain—in a move similar to the mainstream’s unwillingness to hear about feminist issues?

Speech bubble, ghost: Hey

Speech bubble, feminist: I CAN’T HEAR YOU, LA LA LA LA LA



Panel 1: Image of a raised fist reflected in a wheelchair’s wheel.

Text: Both Tobin Seibers (2001) and Susan Wendell (2001) have written about the limitations of the “can-do” model of physical disability.

Footnotes: Seibers, “Disability in Theory…” (2001); Wendell, “Unhealthy Disabled…” (2001).

Panel 2: Anna stands beneath a wire, on which she has hung the names of several illnesses/disabilities: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, HIV. Two small birds sit on the wire.

Text: As Wendell argues, contrary to the disability movement’s turn away from the depiction of disabled people as sick or ill, “some people with disabilities are sick, diseased and ill” (18).

Footnote: Wendell, 2001; emphasis in original.

Panel 3: Anna addresses the reader, referring to the text that reads disability =/= pain (automatically).

Text: I believe that confronting this denial of physical pain among disability activists is just as crucial as disentangling the term “disabled” from “sick” or “always ill.”

Disability =/= pain (automatically)

Speech bubble, Anna: But sometimes, it does!

Panel 4: Under a blanket, Anna grits her teeth through a pain spike.

Text: Thus, while not all PWDs are sick or in pain, some are. The resounding silence on issues of chronic pain and illness is something that the feminist and disability movements—oddly—share. Both also rely upon “can-do…”

Speech bubble, Anna: And HOW!

Panel 5: A “super” woman and a “super” PWD stand side-by-side. A text burst labels them as “ABLE TO DO ANYTHING!”

Text, continued from panel 4: …models of the “healthy” PWD and “strong” woman. Both have, for the most part, left these constructions unquestioned.

Panel 6: Curled into fetal position, Anna continues to struggle with her pain.

Text: Discussing pain theory, postmodernity, and their “real life” implications, Seibers writes, “Pain is not a friend to humanity. It is not a secret resource for political change. It is not a well of delight for the individual.”

Speech bubble, Anna: I concur!

Footnote: Seibers 746.

Panel 7: Image of a woman’s dress form.

Text: In many academic circles (mostly in the Humanities), as of late there has arisen a very postmodern romanticization of the supposed malleability of identity.

Footnote: Seibers 744-746.

Panel 8: Image of accessories—a necklace, a boot, and a hat.

Text: A few examples follow: Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Butler’s conception of “performativity” (and its misuses!). Almost without exception, disability is ignored.

Footnote: As are the actual, lived experiences of disabled people.


Panel 1: A group of people are having fun in a room; one dances in a feather boa and yells the word “PERFORMATIVITY!” for seemingly no reason. Anna looks in on the festivities from outside.

Text: While theorists such as Judith Butler have contributed much to the Humanities, there are some problems with figuring the body as endlessly malleable and/or always awesome.

Speech bubble, Anna: FUCK THAT

Panel 2: A black screen.

Text: Certain facets of identity, of course, can be used for transgression or performance work, but pain—and chronic physical pain in particular—is often not one of them. Sometimes, it just kind of sucks, and it’s just kind of there.

Panel 3: Anna is bedridden due to pain, in an uncomfortable pose that recalls Francis Bacon’s 1966 painting Lying Figure.

Text: Bodily experiences (including negative ones) are not always things that can be put on or cast off at will; people who experience chronic pain are a reminder of this reality.

Speech bubble, Anna: Performativity? Oh, HELL NO.

Panel 4: Anna, accompanied by her dog, Winston, draws a self-portrait.

Text: Pain is not always a cool, transgressive thing that can be “performed” by the person who has it. For many of us who live with it on a daily basis, it just is.

Speech bubble, Anna: I can draw it some days…but not “perform” it!

Panel 5: Line drawing of a lump of clay.

Text: While I’m not as unconvinced as Seibers is of pain’s political—and artistic—potential, I am still wary of a postmodern mode of thinking that casts pain as just another “performative” bit of identity that can be shaped at will.

Parenthetical text: It’s not a lump of clay!

Panel 6: An old-fashioned doctor with an elaborate mustache and a feminist stand side-by-side in a split panel; they are labeled “Essentialized” and “Romanticized,” respectively.

Text: We have also seen what happens when certain bodies are essentialized…or romanticized.

Speech bubble, doctor: Women’s bodies are WEAK.

Speech bubble, feminist: Women’s bodies are STRONG!

Panel 7: Anna looks through the same window as in panel 1.

Text: In both cases, people—and those in pain, in particular—get left out or trod over.

Speech bubble, Anna: Again?

Panel 8: Anna crawls on the “middle ground,” looking for a more nuanced understanding of women in chronic pain.

Text: My hope is that there’s a middle ground somewhere—and that PWDs play an essential part of bringing it to life.

Speech bubble, Anna: Is this it?



Asterisk: With apologies to Gillian Welch for using the title of one of her songs.

Panel 1: Anna sits at her desk drawing.

Text: I have always been terrible at writing conclusions.

Speech bubble, Anna: How am I going to illustrate THAT?

Panel 2: Anna, bewildered, is surrounded by huge phrases commonly used as part of concluding remarks: In the final analysis; in summary; finally; in the future; overall; in this essay, I have argued; this paper has examined; ultimately; and so.

Text: Conclusions have, in fact, been the bane of my writerly existence ever since I could pick up a pencil.

Speech bubble, Anna: I HATE all of these!

Panel 3: Young Anna tries to think of a punch line to a traditional four-panel comic.

Text: Back when I started making comics—at around age 10—I couldn’t stand having to end strips with a punch line!

Panel 4: Anna sits in her living room, reading a book.

Text: The appeal of creative work was—and still is—about the meaty parts of a story, not its end. (Very often, I find that I hate finishing books because the literary amazingness comes to an end!)

Thought bubble, Anna: Nooo…the last ten pages!

Panel 5: Anna sits on her living room chair, deep in thought. Various rough comic pages are tacked onto the wall behind her.

Text: Besides, having to tie up all of a story’s “ends” can feel forced at times.

Thought bubble, Anna: Hmmm.

Panel 6: Anna holds hands with her partner, Liam, a white man with brown hair who wears a pi symbol t-shirt; a small heart symbol is in the space between them. Winston the dog stands nearby, surrounded by flies.

Text: A lot of things have changed since my diagnosis in 2007. Later that year, I met my partner, Liam, on a dating website. (We are still together!)

Panel 7: Anna excitedly screams “HONORS!” while throwing her hands into the air.

Text: I also decided to write an honors thesis for my B.A. [Bachelor of Arts] degree in Women’s Studies.

Panel 8: Anna reads and takes notes for her thesis project in bed. Framed photos and a Tori Amos poster hang on the walls next to her. Winston relaxes next to her feet.

Text: It was a huge undertaking, but it did give me something to focus on other than pain…even if I did do most of it in bed!


Panel 1: Anna excitedly rushes into her thesis adviser’s office to show off a recently acquired research tool.

Text: It also helped that I was enthusiastic about my chosen subject—the Heaven’s Gate cult, masculinity, and media representation.

Speech bubble, Anna: I have a DVD of thirteen straight hours of HG’s recruitment videos! OH MY GOD.

Speech bubble, Luz (thesis adviser): I’m glad you’re so excited!

Asterisk: Comes with the documentary “Heaven’s Gate: The Day After” (Oneworld Films, 1999).

Panel 2: Anna stands next to a grouping of different “hats” meant to represent the various hats she wears as a student: college student (mortarboard), writing tutor (a trilby/pork pie hybrid with a pencil stuck in one end), feminist (a beanie with the “woman” symbol on it), writer (a plain cap with an exclamation point on it).

Text: Even though I couldn’t handle a full course load with fibro, knowing what I was dealing with made it easier to manage wearing various hats.

Panel 3: Anna lies in bed, in pain, as Liam and Winston comfort her.

Text: Of course, I had—and still had—days where wearing any “hat” other than one befitting a person in pain was impossible.

Speech bubble, Anna: I should be doing more!

Speech bubble, Liam: But you are in pain. It’s okay not to do things when you hurt!

Panel 4: Anna stands under a smiling sun as an empty wheelchair flies across the sky, leaving a rainbow in its wake. Clouds at the other end of the rainbow are labeled with triumph of the human spirit, positive, heartwarming, beauty, inspirational.

Text: It’s an unfortunate result of the “inspirational PWD” figure that so many abled people expect disability narratives to have an “uplifting” ending of some kind.

Speech bubble, Anna: WTF!

Panel 5: Anna stands smiling as she holds a happy rain cloud on a string.

Text: I hate that shit.

Panel 6: Anna addresses the reader directly.

Text: Some might say that I am just jealous of those who can fit their stories into a stock narrative, with appropriately uplifting “beginning,” “middle,” and “end” parts. In some ways, they are (or would be) correct.

Speech bubble, Anna: This action of “fitting” also sometimes reduces nuance and complexity!

Panel 7: Anna looks up at the happy cloud as it passes by.

Text: Chronic pain, by definition, does not end. It just goes on!

Speech bubble, Anna: I guess it can be likened to a cloud that’s always there

Panel 8: Anna gets out her umbrella as the happy cloud begins to rain droplets.

Text: My fibro has no ending, no inspirational lesson with which I can neatly wrap things up (and perhaps provide the reader with a warm n’ fuzzy feeling, too!).

Speech bubble, cloud: HEY!

Speech bubble, Anna: If we’re going with the weather metaphor…sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn’t.


Panel 1: A divided panel shows Anna’s left leg and her swollen face and neck.

Text: The CP does not end. The allergic reactions do not, either.

Footnote: I still get them [allergic reactions] out of nowhere. Fun.

Panel 2: A divided panel shows Anna looking at a pill bottle, then, 30 minutes later (labeled in panel) sitting on the couch with a happy facial expression.

Text: I do get temporary respite from the pain on occasion, thanks to the wonders of prescription drugs…

Thought bubble, Anna: Should I?

Panel 3: Various angry faces and questioning accusations abound as Anna worries, “I am the worst person ever”; the judgment(s) of other people; just take Advil or something; drug-seeking behavior; media concern trolling; guilt; painkiller epidemic; addict; you shouldn’t take those pills…you might get ADDICTED!

Text: …But this often comes with another set of issues.

Footnote: See Parikh 2009.

Panel 4: Anna faces off with another person who is eager to extoll the benefits of positive thinking.

Text: I have commented to close friends that dealing with abled peoples’ responses to my pain is, on the whole, much more difficult than actually dealing with the physical symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Speech bubble, person: Blah blah blah POSITIVE THINKING blah blah blah

Thought bubble, Anna: Could you do me a favor and, like, SHUT UP?

Footnote: For a more thorough explanation of this, see Thernstrom’s The Pain Chronicles (2010).

Panel 5: Anna is tormented by thoughts about her medication use.

Text: Internalized ableism doesn’t help, of course.

Thought bubble, Anna: Does taking this for pain mean I am addicted? I shouldn’t rely on pills so much. Maybe I just need more willpower or something. What must people think of my use of pills?

Spiky speech bubble, Anna: AHHHHH

Panel 6: The words “fibromyalgia,” “anaphylaxis,” and “cerebral palsy” float in the frame, attached to Anna’s fingers by thin threads.

Text: How do you conclude something about a thing that has no conclusion itself?

Speech bubble, Anna: …or multiple things that have no conclusion?

Panel 7: Anna stands in a blank frame and considers the questions brought up by the previous panel.

Text: I suspect it’s a lot like dealing with pain, fatigue, illness, and/or disability. I get this question a lot: “How do you deal with it/go on/get up in the morning/et cetera?”

Text at bottom of frame: You just do.