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Pain Chronicles: Being Fat Isn’t a Disability, but Society’s Attitude to it Can be

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way. 

For her 50th birthday, I took my mum to see Matilda in the Palace Theatre in Manchester. We were all the way up in the heavens – having to pay £2 for the tiny binoculars fancy women have on sticks in films set in the early 20th Century. But we didn’t let that stop us having the time of our lives.

Before booking, I’d scoured the access information on their website (which was, and still is, limited). I knew the lift went to the rear circle and there would be almost no steps for our back row seats. I knew they had a disabled toilet.

What I didn’t have is much information on the seats themselves.

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Abortion is a Disability Rights Issue – and Not Just Because of Eugenics

TW: Abortion, eugenics, sexual assault/rape.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ll have heard about Texas’s bill banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy – before most people even know they’re pregnant. If you don’t live on Twitter, though, you may have missed eugenics creeping into the debate.

A tweet from Richard Hanania of the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology points out that you generally can’t screen for Down’s syndrome before about week 10 (the NHS says you can screen for it and Edwards’ and Patau’s syndrome between weeks 10 and 14), and that lots of those who find out their child may have Down’s choose not to continue with their pregnancies. 

His point appears to be that Texas (and potentially other red states) may see an increase in babies born with Downs, and he also asks if liberals will be happy about governmental spending if costs are increased for this.

He dubbed his thread “interesting things to think about”, but the heavily eugenic-based point wasn’t exactly the progressive ‘gotcha’ he was probably aiming for.

Abortion is very much a disability rights issue, but not for this reason.

Being pregnant can be very hard on the body. I’ve not done it myself, but you only need to ask a group of parents for their horror stories and then you’ll also probably never want to do it.

As someone living in a body which generally malfunctions while I’m not doing something as taxing as growing a human, I don’t want to give it another reason to break down.

This isn’t to say all disabled people think the same. My own mother was disabled when she had me and my brother – something that it was her choice to do.

But her choice was also important when it came to what happened next. She was told that if she carried another pregnancy to term, she’d end up having to use a wheelchair full time – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but she thought it would be a burden felt unfairly by her children.

So she went for sterilisation – which the doctors did try to talk her out of for generally sexist reasons – but she maintains a pro-choice stance for herself and others in relation to abortion too. She says: “The doctor that did my sterilisation did a bunch of others that failed and I was sh*tting myself. I would absolutely have had an abortion.”

We need to factor in treatments here as well. For arthritis, my mum now takes methotrexate – a drug so potentially harmful to a foetus that the pharmacy do everything to avoid cross-contamination and it’s advised “women of childbearing age do not handle it at all” (specific wording from my friend who works in a pharmacy). 

Since the thalidomide scandal, doctors have been very conscious with medication and pregnancy (my medications carry general advisories as obviously research into specific effects wouldn’t pass an ethics committee).

There are a lot of medications that are considered abortifacient (a substance used to induce an abortion or miscarriage) or to cause birth defects.

Disabled people who want to get pregnant face having to weigh up if they are able to stop their medication for a year or more – but imagine finding you’re forced to do so. 

Some among you will now be crying “you’ve got 6 weeks to sort it out”, but let me explain just how little time you actually have.

Pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last menstrual period, so – assuming a 28 day cycle – you’re already 2 weeks pregnant the day that sperm and egg meet.

12-14 days later is when your expected period doesn’t arrive, so you’ve hit 2/3rds of the limit before you even have an inkling you could be pregnant (although you may have had some symptoms sooner).

This also assumes a regular menstrual cycle. If you have PCOS, irregular periods, perimenopause or take a contraceptive pill that stops your periods (like I do) then you’re even less likely to find out so early.

A condition such as endometriosis or side effects of pretty much any medication could mask pregnancy symptoms.

If you’re one of those who thinks “well, close your legs then”, first of all: why are you here? We’re not for you.

But also be aware of the sexual assault epidemic in disabled women – the bill makes no allowances for rape, assault or incest; not that enduring a trauma should be a necessary condition for abortion anyway.

In those of us choosing to have sex (and why shouldn’t we?) pregnancy is not a punishment for this. I can’t believe I still have to say that.

The specific location of this bill is also a disability issue. It is, of course, possible to travel out of state for your abortion – the only option for many Texans now, it seems – the same as Liverpool is a hub for abortions off the ferry from Ireland (less so since repealing the 8th, but Northern Ireland still prohibits abortion). 

Not even allowing for the fact that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and have less money for travel and potential accommodation – have you tried travelling when disabled?

I generally have to plan rest days if I’m travelling from Liverpool to London – nowhere near the journeys some Texans are facing – and I don’t have the added stress of an abortion on top.

The cost, the strain, and the potential for damage to mobility aids (if someone has to fly) are all factors for disabled people.

Abortion is a disability rights issue – but not for the eugenic reason being floated on Twitter. A judge has blocked suing of Planned Parenthood under the bill for now, but it’s not enough.

We must preserve abortion access for everyone who wants it (and reverse the Texas law if possible), and also specifically for disabled people who want it. 

Places to get information:

Amnesty International Abortion Information

NHS Abortion Information

Planned Parenthood Abortion Information

How to get help with transport and accommodation etc. (please donate if you can):

Fund Texas Choice – for those in Texas 

Abortion Support Network – for those in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Malta, Gibralta and Poland 

If you’ve been a victim of rape or sexual assault:

Rape Crisis (UK)


Rape Crisis Network Europe

International Rape Crisis Information

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Pain Chronicles: The Additional Cost of Being Disabled

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way. 

Caroline’s note: I’ve written this month’s column along with my mum, Shaz. You can find my bits in regular type, and hers in bold (because she always is). Hope you enjoy.

I’ll always remember the doctors’ note I got at university so that I could type in exams rather than handwrite. The doctor mentioned I’d been doing the same in ‘A’ Levels. Inverted commas and all. I can’t quite remember how much it was, I think around the £30 mark. £30 so I could access the same education as my classmates. And disabled students’ allowance may have covered that, but the forms were arduous and I really didn’t have it in me to do it.

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Pain Chronicles: Right Now, I Need the Sunflower

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way.

When mask wearing became mandatory in July last year, I was mostly still not leaving the house. We’re a high risk family, and I felt the government were too hasty in unlocking everything.

When I did have to pop to the shops, I’d don a reusable mask (trying to combat waste) and more often than not I’d only just finish my shopping before having to run outside to fresh air to stave off a panic attack. Face shields were slightly better, although they did elicit some funny looks, and there was still an issue with allodynia where the sponge rested on my forehead.

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How Lockdown Helped Me Reclaim Activism As a Disabled Person

Tw: prison, prison cruelty, corporal punishment, police brutality, murder, eating disorders and mention of the Sarah Everard case.

I love learning about the Suffragettes. About how the name was originally meant to be an insult to them and they took ownership of it. About how their actions lead to my right to vote. About their ownership of green, purple and white. And I can’t thank them enough.

I even try to educate myself about the not so nice bits. Death and destruction. Poor Emily Wilding Davison under the King’s horse. And Holloway prison. Awful conditions. Hunger strikes and force feeding. And I shudder.

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Pain Chronicles: Rosie Jones and Straddling the Intersection

Pain Chronicles is a new monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Delves about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way.

Rosie Jones and I have a few things in common. We’re both Northern. We’re both pricks. We both have gigantic tits. And we’re both disabled lesbians.

And when I saw her walk on to the set of The Russell Howard Show and said she couldn’t process those ideas, she could only fit one “different” thing in her life, and therefore she believed she wasn’t gay, I understood where she was coming from. Sort of.

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NICE’s Worrying New Chronic Pain Guidelines

It’s the summer of 2012. I am still at university, using the very last of the term-length pool membership I’d bought. I swim 2 miles. That’s 128 lengths of a 25m pool. The walk back up to the main campus is hard, steep and my bag is heavy with my wet costume. I collapse onto my bed. My hands hurt, but four or five doctors can’t tell me why that is. My knees hurt, but after three doctors, I saw one specialist who said it should clear up by the time I’m 20, which I turned last month. I swallow a dihydrocodeine and sleep for 8 hours.

The NICE guidelines released on 7th April recommend analgesics not be used for primary chronic pain. What they do recommend is exercise, antidepressants, acupuncture, and psychological therapies. Paracetamol and ibuprofen, possibly some of the most widely taken drugs outside of penicillin, that usually cost about 20p for a box of 16, they also can’t recommend. 

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Your Platitude Isn’t Helping my Mental Health

Trigger warnings: Suicide. Mental health disbelief. Mention of medication/addiction.

Talking about mental health is important. It’s the first step towards getting help. It helps reduce stigma. It can help you find people who can support your recovery.

But talking to the wrong people can be nothing short of disastrous. People who are dismissive. People who are laissez-faire in the extreme. People who – be they trained professionals, public figures, or strangers on the internet – give awful advice.

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My realisation that the opposite of self-care is self-harm

TW: Self-harm, mentions of being overweight. 

This summer it got really hot. It was about August and we had a proper heatwave. In our land of stiff upper lips and no air conditioning, I would sit on my bed in my birthday suit and try to be still, to not expend any energy. And I developed a rash.

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Why it’s Even More Important Than Ever That You Get Your Flu Jab

There’s been a lot of talk about the new vaccines popping up for covid, and rightly so. This disease is running our lives at the moment – those lives that it’s spared. But there’s something else you should be vaccinated against – the flu.

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