Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Strength in fragility

Coming face to face with one’s own fragility is certainly not easy, but maybe there are ways to go beyond this tough reality.

As my health has deteriorated further over the past two years, I have to yet again come to terms with actions I can no longer do. Previously manageable activities, such as going out on my mobility scooter, have not been possible since autumn 2017. Also actions like having a shower independently, getting dressed, preparing meals, and even doing my art, are no longer within my reach.

In the early years of life with M.E. 20 years ago, these were not possible either, but over the years I had seen a slow recovery to the point I could, kind of, look after most of my basic needs. This all changed again from 2012 onwards as a result of another severe viral infection from which I never recovered. To be honest fulfilling a very, very long held dream to attend college one night a week in 2013, and traveling to the UK in 2018 to give talks about puppetry and disability most likely did not do my physical health much favours. Both made me quite ill.

I feel the need to keep living, to not totally succumb to being ill.
I am more than M.E.
I am more than my disability.
I am still me, and find strength in my fragility.


The Disability Studies course at UCC (2013) was a logical progression in my intellectual as well as creative development. I loved the studies. I loved being at UCC. I loved the world it opened up for me. My assignments, where remotely possible, were focused on disability arts. I read so many books, then and since by others who found themselves (suddenly) living life as a disabled person. I was very interested in those writers who explored invisible chronic illnesses, like M.E.

Many quotes from the books I read then and subsequently made it into my Artist Book ‘Into the Light’. (See  HERE for author/book list of references used in my book)

The studies also indirectly lead to facilitating the Life Outside the Box Disability Arts Puppet Project with my fellow members at the IWA. This project brought the invite to give talks at the first ever Broken Puppet Symposium on puppetry, disability and health in 2017 in Cork. This in turn led to invites to give talks in the UK the following year. Over a month I met some amazing puppet makers and puppeteers, and others involved or interested in puppetry and disability. Although I had constant support from friends, this journey was physically too much. Way too much. But it was a journey of a lifetime, and I am glad I did it! My creative thought process has evolved as a result of this adventure.

 Budget management

I often make the analogy of having the equivalent of €100 in the (energy) bank per day. Staying within this budget is safe. Spending a bit less, will be a saving, a storing up of a tiny bit of energy. But going over the limit one ends up in overdraft. Overdraft is expensive.
Using only half the allowed budget the following day can pay the overdraft back.
Adding more and more to this overdraft by keeping going, the ‘bill’ becomes so big that it would take months and even years to pay it all back.  Being in a constant overdraft can lead to bankruptcy. Those two big decisions of college and travel lead to my partial bankruptcy.

There is a Big But.

These were conscious, carefully evaluated choices I’ve made. Yes I was aware of the risks, but also looked at the benefits. Taking strength over fragility. Physically it was not beneficial. However, I most definitely benefited from both in terms of my mental wellbeing and my creative development and for assuring contact with the world outside my four walls. 
Unfortunately there are other elements which lead to the most recent decline in health: a stroke like illness a year ago, which affected my speech and swallowing, and further lowered my mobility, and increased the need for care. But the two-year long fight with the HSE (our health system) to obtain support to remain living independently at home, and having the right to leave my home with support had possibly a much bigger impact.

I finally got results, but I am convinced that this senseless battle with the HSE caused further decline, mostly on an emotionally and mental level, but as all our health goes hand in hand, it probably also impacted on my physical health and ability. Every activity takes energy, including mental activity.


This senseless battle showed the absolute fragility of my existence. The fact that the care system is set up in such a way that I, as ‘client’ have no real say over my care: who comes into my home, when and for how long, and what tasks can be performed.
I lost the autonomy over my life.
My health at this point in time makes me pretty much housebound. The reality is that I cannot safely leave my home on my own, or have the ability to do so. I also had to adapt to the fact that I require help with very personal care needs.

After two years fighting the HSE I now have a seven-day a week Home Care package consisting of good hours. A few weeks ago I was finally ‘awarded’ the right to also have support to leave my home with support. 
This story can be read on the ME Advocates Ireland Blog and in short in Irish Examiner  newspaper.

Along the way I have indicated to the care agency (who provides the carers, but is not in charge of the amount of hours) which carers I am comfortable with, and those I would not like to have enter my house ever again. Taking back a little bit of control.

All this fighting for basic care and basic living takes huge resilience to keep speaking up, and standing up for my rights. It took all my writing energy to highlight the ridiculous situation I found myself in.

There is a But again.


Going public with the HSE struggles lead to some amazing comments received from total strangers about my writing ability, for example: 

I find your writing on disability/illness give a really good insight into living with a condition, even relatable for someone who doesn't. Other writers rarely achieve this. They lack compassion for the reader.”

Now the main HSE issues are resolved (few minor things to sort out) I hope to start writing again for fun, and to share the other stories of (my) life with you. I hope I can live up to the kind quote above. 
Today I meant to write about an achievement of a different kind… to sit on a beach… but that will now have to wait till another day.

Thank you for your continued support and friendship



c said...

Undoubtedly, the cruel nature of assessment for support, care and finance has a huge impact on our health -- physical, emotional and spiritual. It takes all we have to rally and assert ourselves in the wake of such prejudice. And that impact corrodes and continues because we know that we face possible (likely ?) RE-assessment and RE- assessment: we never feel quite safe again in terms of support or our fragile health. I know my own fight has had lasting effects. Unless someone has been in that situation, they can never understand the effects.

Still and though, your resilience humbles me and gives me strength.

Keep shining x

Therese Doherty said...

Corina, I am still astonished at the amount you have achieved despite the severity of your CFS. I understand how frustrated you must be not being able to do the things you want to do right now (especially creatively), yet your advocacy for your own needs is surely going to help others too. Things will change for people with disabilities in Ireland (and perhaps elsewhere too) because of your work. That said, I know you need more in your life, so I do hope you can start writing again for fun very soon, and maybe sit on the beach, and have all sorts of adventures once more. Sending love. <3

Corina Duyn said...

Thank you both C, and Therese for your comments.
It is always to lovely to know that my thoughts reach beyond the constraint of my brain. Thank you

C. Yes, I agree, the naure of assessment for support is cruel. Especially when one is not believed to be in need of care, and nobody in authority bothers to listen. And yes. we are never truly out of the woods. Being the recipient of care is a fragile state as one does not have the autonomy over ons's life.
Be well.

Therese. Thank you for your kind words. And as a fellow creative I know you totally understand the not being able to do creative works as we wish. But there is often a way though. Right now it will be writing and playing around with shadow puppetry as for both I don't need much support.
Thank you, Yes, I truly hope that my advocasy work will be of benefit to others. That thought remained the driving force to keep going with the fight.

As I now have a few hours of PA in which I have a bit more say over how I spend my time, I can leave my home and do some other 'jobs' in my garden. I am looking forward to that! And a friend brought me a for a few nights to the seaside. See next post in coming days.

Best wishes to you both.