The Full Catastrophe

Over the weekend, Lena Dunham announced that Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony triggered her fibromyalgia. This illness, which Lady Gaga also carries, along with millions of others, is barely understood. It is a kind of rheumatism, a disease of the nervous system, muscles, tendons and sinew that bears some resemblance to depression, and is often treated by anti-depressants. It is perhaps a somatization of depression, along with a maladjustment to massive structural change. Equally, as Dr. Sarah Myhill, one of the leading physicians of Chronic Fatigue and its attendant illnesses, globalization has brought home a whole bunch of new viruses which have overwhelmed our immune systems.

Women are 90% more likely to contract fibro, as my dear cousin calls it, as one would nickname her perpetual friend, her companion in life. It becomes that. As Dunham describes it, it is pain, pain in all its wondrous variations, a symphony of pain, an extraordinary mirroring of the shadow relationship between the body and the world.

I feel that this has a simple enough explanation. Has anything changed more than women’s lives in the last 50 years? Dunham and Lady Gaga have been lifestyle pioneers of their generation, and without moving to judgment on the value of their contributions, they have been impressively public in moving the goalposts of acceptable behavior for women, pushing the limits of expression of identity with a single-minded will.

Do I show my age or weariness when I wish for a consolidation of our gains? Two generations ago, women knew what to expect from life. Almost all of us spent at least part of our lives in secure marriages, in one or two cities or towns, knowing people in those towns birth to death. One hundred years ago, says Dr. Myhill, she would have spent her entire life in one valley in Wessex, eating the same food, encountering the same viruses, her life for the most part predictable, if not completely safe. Despite extreme boredom, her immune system, she states, would have loved her.

We need to catch up with ourselves on the most fundamental of levels, which is to say our bodies. I’ve moved seven cities and three continents in my lifetime, mostly on my own, mostly with very little in the way of support. I am confident that I can hack a living out of almost any wilderness now, and in my wake, and in that of millions of others, more or less accomplished, is a veritable symphony of achievement, independence, and freedom.

Blasey-Ford’s testimony last week, genuine or not, was a cry from that aching corner of women’s psyches that resonated all around the world. It felt real, it felt deep, almost every woman on the planet could see herself in that girlish woman, deeply credentialed, busted back to herself at a powerless fifteen. But that is not who we have become in actuality. Not at all. Aching we may be, but as a sex, in the last fifty years, singly and together we have hung the moon.

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