What If We Stayed Angry?

They designed the plague so women would be too exhausted for rage. Staying angry enough to act takes enormous reserves of both energy and desperation. 

Those are the first two sentences of a flash fiction piece I was too tired to finish. Fatigue and pain steal my motivation, and writing about fatigue and pain steals my very breath. I want just occasional days when I wake up and my traitor body is not the first thing I think about. 

Eighty percent of people with diagnosed autoimmune diseases are women.  And most sources don’t count fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome as autoimmune diseases. 

Daydreaming in my car, I played with the idea that these insidious, hard to diagnose diseases (the average time to diagnose an autoimmune disease is 4.5 years) were part of a deliberate sabotage orchestrated by a cabal of men with too much power. What if?

What if you weaken women enough to keep them easily controlled, because they literally don’t have the energy to march or make phone calls or point out the ways sexism and misogyny hurt everyone over and over and over again? 

What if you make the complex autoimmune plague invisible, so doctors undermine women by saying the symptoms are merely psychosomatic or the women are just too sensitive or it’s just a part of changing hormones, which begins a cascade of self-doubt that permeates the woman’s career and relationships with other people and ultimately her relationship to her own mind?

What if you give her so much else to worry about that she lets bad women driver jokes and fat women jokes and ugly women jokes and terms like “bitch” and “woman doctor” and “frigid” and “slut” go unchallenged? 

What if you then manipulate her so she comes to believe that her own compassion for babies means every woman should be denied the right to abortion, while simultaneously causing her to forget that the anti-choice politicians are also anti-parental leave, anti-paid school lunch, anti-state funded education, anti-sex education, and anti-support services like food stamps and healthcare?

Yes, I admit that I’m an inveterate leftist, a feminist, an educator, and a poet. I’m also someone who was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at age 21, who ultimately became accustomed to the symptoms and rode the ups and downs with relative equanimity until three years ago when new symptoms arrived and old ones intensified. I think I may be getting close to a possible explanation for some of the new fun, but that’s only after three years of doctors and specialists and online research and reading posts in support groups and asking for the expensive tests despite my female Midwestern instinct to not cause trouble or spend too much money or generally make a bother of myself. 

I don’t really think a secret cabal of powerful men are responsible for the autoimmune diseases and related syndromes that affect primarily women. Or at least, such a cabal probably doesn’t exist. I’m writing this on election day 2022, and I’m worried. Just like with my own fatigue and pain, I want to be hopeful that the next procedure—and the next vote—will bring good change. 

p.s. As fate would have it, I’m also in St. Augustine, Florida, with other Sirens, for a long-planned writers’ retreat, and Tropical Storm Nicole is bearing down on us. Uncertainty reigns in that realm, too, as we decide when to leave. My husband and I planned to drive home to Memphis, with our two dogs, leaving Saturday. The wind has already picked up. So we have to decide soon; if we’re leaving early, it has to be first thing tomorrow morning. 

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