I’ve always considered myself to be more advantaged than most. Being a white kid in a country infested with apartheid tends to amplify your privilege, and that was the only way I ever saw it.
Recently I did a privilege checklist only to find myself in the bottom 30%. I’d never seen chronic illness, rape, and anorexia as that pervasive to my present day circumstances before I read that list. It made me wonder why I was so determined to believe I wasn’t constantly affected by such things. I found the answer easily: acknowledging my handicaps is a privilege I usually don’t have.
When you have that much weight holding you under water, the only option is to get to the surface or you’ll drown. Measuring the chain pulling you under doesn’t get you precious air. It only obliterates your hope.
I rarely admit how badly chronic illness and trauma affects my life, even to myself. I used to when I was in my 20s, so I sank. I have to focus on what I can do to keep my life moving forward. I have to do my damnedest to avoid being victimised by my circumstances, and the only way I know how to do that is by creating my own privilege. That’s what gives me the strength to rise to the water’s surface and find a tropical island all of my own with white sands that go on forever.
Yesterday, I spent two hours cleaning beach sand out of my new home because I’d spent time by the sea. That is a privilege. I moved a few blocks from the ocean recently, and I’ve spent the week travelling all over the coastline taking in the estuaries and mountains on my doorstep. That is a privilege—one I hammered together myself.
I spent a long weekend enjoying my new neighbourhood because I freelance and can create my own schedule. That is a privilege. It took only a month of house hunting and a little courage to move out of my comfort zone and gain all this beauty.
Was I ill yesterday because being this active affects my health? Sure, but I spent the day thinking about the ocean because that lets me wake up the next day full of joy, which I need to create more joy.
The freedom to feel appropriate anger about my handicaps is a privilege, too, but that’s one I usually can’t afford. Everyone develops the relationship they need with their trauma and illness. This is mine. There is no right way, only a right way for me at this phase of my life. Creating a balance between acknowledging my frustration over my disadvantages and staying grateful is a constant challenge. I achieve it best by seeing the truth: I have a hellish history, but the ocean is exquisite enough to make it all worthwhile.