Okay I have never in recent years felt as comfortable in my own skin as I did today. I have a garden plot provided by the developmental disability agency. I’m growing food plants there, to make soups out of for my J-tube, everything goes well. Today I went there with a staff person – the only one not allowed to do medical stuff, with the express purpose of getting me involved in activities that aren’t medical in nature, since so much of my life is taken up by medical issues. So we can do anything from organizing the apartment to gardening. I don’t get a lot of time with this guy but the time I do get is amazing. So anyway…
We weeded about a quarter of the plot (which is one of the smallest plots in the whole garden yet is actually quite huge, and was covered in weeds the whole way over). Then we planted hot peppers (jalapeño and hot portugal), squash (zucchini and yellow), and eggplant, and left some seed potatoes out to sit for awhile before they get planted. We also discovered, and weeded around, what we think is delicata squash left there by a staff person who had too many of them.
All of the vegetables were looking kind of sad and droopy, so we watered them and we’re hoping the water and sun will both perk them up again. At least some of them. We’re not expecting everything to survive or turn out great, but you can’t grow any food without risking that.
What does survive, will be far less expensive than the grocery store, that’s for sure. Even the farmer’s markets around here don’t have good prices. In fact they’re more expensive than usual.
(Are farmer’s markets a thing that can gentrify? Because in California, I went to farmer’s markets that were basically roadside stands filled with great vegetables and fruits, and sometimes a few other foods, at an extremely low cost. Many people who worked on the farms – meaning poor and working-class people – shopped there. Not a lot of middle-class or rich people did, even though I think the food was great by anyone’s taste. I swear the local farmer’s market around here is basically an upscale food fair. And the food selection and quantity isn’t even all that wonderful.)
Anyway, this seriously felt amazing to do this. Understand that I’m very prone, from a combination of physiology, circumstance, and medication side-effects, to heat exhaustion, sunburn, dehydration, and other problems related to being out there in that place. There was also grass everywhere – we weren’t on it, but that didn’t matter to my allergies, where grass and cats are the most severe airborne allergies I have – so my nose was constantly running despite loading up on Benadryl. And I had to crawl around on the ground because I’m too weak to get up off the ground on my own.(1) I also had balance problems so had to sit in some weird positions. So none of this was physically easy, and I basically worked to the limits of what is safe for me, and possibly a little beyond those limits.
But the main point is that despite all of those things put together, I felt amazing. I felt at home. I felt like I was connecting to something I hadn’t even realized I’d lost connection with. I felt like I was interacting on a very deep way with the dirt and the plants and all the things living in the dirt. I ended up, of course, covered in dirt. That’s what happens when you have to crawl around on your hands and knees or scoot around on your butt to weed a large area as efficiently as possible. But that really didn’t matte to me. This was like when I used to sit around in the redwoods outside my apartment stacking rocks on myself and feeling like the rocks told me I had a place in the world. Everything around me as we did this, told me I had a very precise place in the world and right now that place was right here doing exactly what I was doing – weeding and digging holes for new plants, and watering the plants.
I also got watered myself. Something not always understood by people who get their water by drinking it by mouth: It doesn’t matter how water gets into your body, as long as your body absorbs the water properly. I hydrate by putting water straight into my intestines through a J-tube with a big syringe. I have in the past hydrated by having water (or rather, a rehydrating mixture of things designed for use in veins) put into an IV line or a chest port, straight into my bloodstream. Regardless of how you put it in, the sensation of getting a nice large drink of cool water feels exactly the same kind of satisfying. Just like putting blenderized vegetables into my J-tube and digesting them feels pleasant and satisfying even without tasting them. Anyway, right then, water completely hit the spot.
Someone who saw the pictures was amazed – he said I looked completely natural in this setting, in a way I don’t in most. I probably looked very similar to I look in the redwoods. And I don’t know how that is, but it’s a very similar feeling of being exactly where I’m supposed to be, and exactly where home is. And being comfortable in my own skin in a way that isn’t usually achievable. I felt like I could have grown straight out of the ground like the plants, and sat there and photosynthesized my food or something. Except I have skin, not leave, so 70 SPF sunblock was a necessity. I hope maybe these very brief exposures to the sun will result in my skin going back to a normal level of tan – not tanned, just not “I’ve been indoors for over 10 years to the point I can’t handle sunlight even though I used to have practically burn-proof skin” pasty.
But he said one thing that bothered me on a certain level. He said “Wow, you look totally natural,” and then, after pausing to think, he said, “Well except for that feeding tube hanging off you all the time.”
Feeding tubes are natural in the exact same way that agriculture is natural. Both are examples of things that don’t just happen on their own, but humans have created them in order to improve our ability to interact with our environments and survive despite the limitations of a human body. Tube feeding has been around in one form or another since at least Ancient Egypt (that’s what’s documented, anyway), but the kind of tube feeding I do only has existed since the twentieth century with surgery becoming safer through anesthesia and antibiotics. But all of these things are humans adapting to our environment using the skills nature has given us. Tube feeding is as natural as beaver dams.
All of which gets me into a problem I encounter a lot: I really like to talk to and read things by people who greatly value a lot of things I value. Including growing your own food, and stuff that’s traditionally considered “nature” and “outdoorsy” stuff. But such people are more likely than average to have extreme biases against feeding tubes, to the point of describing people like me (who depend on medical implants of many kinds in order to survive) as unnatural and creepy, the product of medical science gone too far, in a world that doesn’t want to deal with or acknowledge the natural world, where people like me would die and that would be okay. There’s little more natural about humans than our instinct to survive, and to use our best skills as a species to do just that. Our best skills include communication, collaboration, technology, inventing and designing and making new things, passing on our knowledge and skills to future generations, and a strong desire to survive even in extreme circumstances. These skills are not unique to humans, but the precise way they play out in humans is. And they are very, very natural. And they result in things like feeding tubes.
Because it is our nature as humans to help each other survive, to want to survive, and we have been helping severely disabled people(2) survive since prehistoric times, the times when many modern-day “nature people” assume we’d all have just died. But it has always been in our nature to help each other, and if that meant carrying people around and pre-chewing their food all the way into what at that time would have been not only adulthood but old age, that’s what it meant. It’s some of our current societies’ trends towards total selfishness that has caused some of us to assume that every prehistoric society would always leave such people to fend for themselves and die.
I wouldn’t be alive in such prehistoric societies. I would have died a long time ago. They simply did not have the technology to keep someone with my medical issues alive. But – depending upon the society of course, they weren’t all the same – it wouldn’t necessarily be through lack of trying. There’s quite a chance that I would have been valued in life and mourned in death in a way that I might not be in modern-day America (or not likely for the same reasons, even if I am).
I’m also reminded that the only job I ever had in my life was on a ranch, doing work of a different sort but similarly physical and outdoors and dealing with the raw materials of life. I got paid minimum wage to do things ranging from animal care to shoveling manure and moving it in wheelbarrows to painting fences and barns to cleaning up the property. This was in a residential facility and the job was a work training program that taught us how to fill out time cards and the like. I was very proud of my work. I wish that I was able to do this kind of work now. It’s one thing to spend a short amount of time doing something like this, but my body would crap out in five different ways long before I spent enough time doing something like this to get paid anything for it.(3)
But even though today I pushed myself to my limits and slightly beyond them, what I’m trying to get at is, this type of thing is what has always come the most easily to me, severe physical limitations(4) notwithstanding. And although I had a huge amount of help with every part of the process, including just standing up again off the ground, it was still an amazing experience and brought back a lot of very primal, early memories of things I used to do all the time and felt actually competent at.
So overall this is a wonderful experience. Pardon the fact that I had to stop and talk about ableism, but that’s part of my life’s reality as well.
(1) Yes, too weak, not too fat. I could get off the ground while fatter than this, before congenital myasthenia and complications thereof got worse and made it impossible for me to stand up from the ground without bracing on something, and sometimes even then.
(2) By any time’s measure of such things – theirs or ours.
(3) Please don’t respond by telling me ways I could work. I have so many disabilities piled on top of each other, that options that were just barely open to me as a teen became firmly closed by adulthood and have only gotten worse since there. I don’t think less of myself because I can’t work, so please don’t assume that I’m just putting myself down or selling myself short. I just know better than to put myself in a situation where I would end up in the emergency room long before I worked long or hard enough to get a paycheck that wouldn’t even support me.
(4) Congenital myasthenic syndrome, hypermobility syndrome, gastroparesis, osteoporosis, and secondary (pituitary) adrenal insufficiency make quite a potent cocktail of “I can’t handle hard physical labor for more than a ridiculously short period of time without turning into a quivering puddle”, without even getting into the specifics of autonomic problems and heat regulation and all kinds of other things. Today I cam very close to turning into a puddle, I stopped myself just in time to barely get back to the car – with help – and get water into my tube andrlst for awhile. I’m still feeling the effects hours later. I got lucky.