Thursday, November 04, 2010

I am invisible.

Since the cuts were announced, I've been trying to think of something cogent to say, and failing miserably. I manage sensible for about thirty seconds, and then just get so bloody angry I end up waving my hands in the air and swearing even more than I usually do. It got talked over at uni last night, whether we're planning to go on the demo on the tenth (conclusion: yes) and which of us is the most pissed-off.

So I'm not going to talk about the cuts right now; others have said what I want to say, in better ways. Instead, I've been inspired by the most excellent Broken of Britain, and I'm going to talk about being disabled. Being broken.

A little background - I have fibromyalgia. I don't have enough spoons.

Yesterday there was a tube strike. I go in to uni one day a week; that day, I had a meeting with my tutor, books to return to the library, a lecture, a seminar, and a friend's birthday. I needed to go into central London.

I did some work that morning - nothing dramatic, a couple of hours at the computer emailing and phoning people, and I walked the dogs. I left the house just after four, having tried to get ready in half an hour and failed miserably. I got the train to Victoria. I got on the tube at Victoria, squashed in like a sardine. I got a seat after a couple of stops, and decided it was going to be ok. I went to Euston. I stood in the drizzle for twenty minutes for a bus, knowing that a twenty minute walk was a bit much right then, especially as I had to be coherent and functional for the next three hours at least.

I got on the bus. I was half an hour late for my meeting, and my tutor was ok with that. Incidentally, my tutor's office is on the second floor, up several flights of very steep stairs, where there is no lift. I didn't know this; my first reaction was to sit down and try to explain that I needed a couple of seconds. The problem with not being able to do much exercise beyond half an hour strolling with the dogs every day is that you don't get to be particularly fit.

Dr M, said tutor, is very nice. He put up with the fact that I relied utterly on notes to tell him what my essay was about, and that I made more notes as we spoke. He was happy to talk about my dissertation, even though I was forgetting words for things and couldn't actually remember one of the topics I want to write about, and said "thingy" a lot.


It's strange, when I read how I write about my day. There is no "I went to see Dr M in his office" for me. It doesn't work like that. It is important to me whether that meeting takes place on the ground floor or the second, whether I walked there or took the bus - because each tiny detail has a direct impact on the number of spoons I've got left after completing a task. I don't simply get up, I wake up, stretch, see what hurts where, I sit up slowly, put my feet on the floor, I take my meds with a drink of water, opening blister packs and pill bottles, I may or may not take paracetamol, depending on how much I hurt and whether or not I've already got a headache. Then I stand up, pushing myself off the bed with my arms and using the wardrobe to stop me from falling over too far. Getting up doesn't really encompass the energy required.


Back to yesterday. After walking back down those stairs, clinging to the bannister because my balance is a bit shit and I don't want to fall over, I walk around the block to the library. There's a lift, thank goodness. I take the lift, renew my library card, and then return my books. Just enough time to do this, I have a lecture now. Lift, out, across the road. Up the stairs, in. Down more steep stairs, holding on to the wall. I'd take the lift, but I'm late and it is slow to come down from the fourth floor.

My lecture is good. Lynne Segal is awesome, and interesting, even if she does speak quickly and ramble a little. I make notes furiously, trying to keep up. I am also recording the lecture, knowing that if I don't manage to write it down, I'll forget it. But I enjoy it. The seminar is good, I get a little break to wind down a little in between. I have run out of painkillers, not thinking to check that the box of ibruprofen I put in my bag actually holds anything more than an empty blister pack. My back hurts, partly from carrying books, and partly because it just does. I talk to M about Stephen Fry's comments, and about the BIGS seminar on friday. I don't make notes in the seminar, but I do get to interject a comment about Christine de Pizan.

After the seminar, a group of us walk around the block to Birkbeck itself, where we take the lift up to the bar. I get a pint of cider, and a seat. We talk about glasses, tattoos, acrobatics, parents, dating, the cuts, theatre. We discuss the waves of feminism and Segal's lecture, at least a little. I get another pint and some crisps. T wants to go out dancing. I'm tired; the seat is more of a stool and my back really does hurt. I get my stick out, and announce I'm going home. Goodbyes are said. Nobody raises an eye at the stick, they know I need one sometimes.

I run into a knitter sort-of-friend outside the library, and stand and chat a bit. Shouldn't have stood. Did I mention my back hurts?

I walk to the bus stop, slowly. I wait for the bus. I wait a bit more. Eventually, a bus comes along. I want to go to Oxford Circus, but I've been waiting fifteen minutes and this one goes to Tottenham Court Road and it's already after eleven and I hurt. I'm also bone tired, as opposed to the merely a bit tired I felt when I was sitting in the union bar talking about the demo.

At Tottenham Court Road, I discover that the Central Line is no longer running, so I have to either take the northern line or walk to Oxford Circus. I decide on the northern line. Thankfully there is an escalator - but only part of the way, then there are stairs. Then I have to get through the crowds of people, saying "excuse me" every time I need to get past. I thank the teenager who moves before I get to him. The northbound platform is less crowded, so I wait on that - there's nothing to lean against on the other platform, and I know I won't get on the first train. So I get the train north, away from where I want to go.

I should probably mention this. I have purple hair. I am a size 16-18. I was wearing doc martens. I'm of average height and while generally unremarkable, I am fairly visible. I am carrying, and leaning on, a purple walking stick.

I am pushed out of the way by a few people, fuck it, I'm slow. I get on the train anyway, and move to stand in the middle of the aisle. There are no seats. Several people stare at me - I get that a lot; I am young, wearing a skirt, I have large shoes and bright hair, and I am obviously physically disabled. Not one person offers me a seat.

I cling to the pole, the knuckles on the hand holding my stick are white as I lean first on that and then on the pole, trying to keep my balance. If I fall over, will anyone help me? Will I be able to get back up?

Euston. I get off, moving slowly. I get pushed about a lot by the crowd. I can cope with that, it is busy and everyone wants to get to places that are not deep underground. I walk to the Southbound Victoria Line platform - it takes me several minutes. I can feel myself getting slower with every step. More funny looks. There was a concert somewhere; emo kids on the platform look at me, a couple point and whisper. Yes, children - young people with access to hair dye and ipods can also be disabled. The platform is not particularly crowded, and when the train comes, it is half empty.

I move towards the doors. A man about my age, maybe older, carrying a small case with ease, pushes in front of me, as do a couple of other people. All of them are adults, none of them are elderly or pregnant. Everyone wants to get home; more than that, they want to sit down.

The man with the case sits, as does one of the older concert-goers; there are no more seats left. I move into the aisle; the old Victoria line trains don't have ledges to sit on or poles to hold at the end of the carriages, and there are people behind me. I am a young woman with bright purple hair, wearing a green cardigan, carrying a large white bag, wearing large doc martens, and leaning heavily on a purple walking stick.

I am invisible.

Not so invisible to prevent people staring, then looking away if they make eye contact. I cling to the pole and my stick. I want to sit down. I don't know if I can speak loud enough to be heard. I hope someone offers me a seat. I know not all disabilities are visible. But not all of the people in the carriage with me are disabled, surely. None of them are over fifty, with the possible exception of the lady at the end with the shopping bags.

I want to cry. I blink back tears. I cling to my pole like it's the only thing keeping me upright and I look at the people in front of me. I cannot stand without support. I have been on my feet for over an hour.

I want to shout. Shouting takes energy. I have more to do before I get home and it is all I can do not to fall over in the middle of the aisle on the Victoria line train between Warren Street and Oxford Circus. I cannot shout. I will not cry. I will make it home.

Nobody looks at me, I am crippled and weird and they are comfortable in their seats.

I am wearing bright colours, my hair is weird, I am not old and I am using a walking stick. I am invisible.

Nobody gave me a seat.

I sat down at 11:53, when I got on the train at Victoria. It took me ten minutes to walk from my station to my house - less than 200m away. I made it to my house, and let myself in.

Then I cried.

I cried because I was tired, because I did not have the energy to shout, because my limbs were stiff and sore and my head hurt and because when G reached to hug me it was like I was being punched. I wanted to be hugged, instead touching hurt.

I cannot walk properly today.


  1. Lorrie5:33 PM

    "I am pushed out of the way by a few people, fuck it, I'm slow. I get on the train anyway, and move to stand in the middle of the aisle. There are no seats. Several people stare at me - I get that a lot; I am young, wearing a skirt, I have large shoes and bright hair, and I am obviously physically disabled. Not one person offers me a seat."

    This breaks my heart. I have some issues, but nothing bordering on the difficulties you face every single day. I'm just sorry that people are such selfish sh!ts and that you are made to feel like a burden. Excellent blog post.


  2. There are no words. None to adequately describe how terrible human beings can be towards each other. None strong enough to say to the people you described above. None to describe the shame I feel when I had the opportunity to help someone and didn't do so.
    If this post could do at least one thing, it can teach people to offer their seats.

  3. Really horrible stuff, am truly saddened by your experiences.

    When people are transported like animals (cattle) they will behave like animals - boorishly and entirely selfishly. This is no justification, I know, but it's something to ponder: people become less helpful/kindhearted the more difficult their own situation is. When it costs nothing to give it, kindness is easy.

    When one is already in considerable personal discomfort (crammed standing into a hot tincan underground for long periods of time) which, I realise is nothing compared to your discomfort however, all they can think about is themselves, and how horrible it is for *them*.

    On a normal day on the tube, people will usually give their seats up to disabled, elderly, or pregnant people. During a strike, the already terrible service becomes absolutely godawful and any sense of society or fellow-feeling down there crumbles to nothing.

    The tube makes monsters of us. Sociopathic thoughts go through my mind every time I travel on it during rush-hour, retching mentally at the bestial mass of humanity oppressing me from all sides. I cannot imagine how much worse it would be if I were disabled.

  4. Jesus, love. I am so sorry that people are such fantastic assholes that you had to endure that :( So much love for you. <3