guest post by Rachel D.L.
When I was thirteen years old, I fell suddenly ill. An unsafe home environment, doctors who dismissed my symptoms, and the resultant changes with my eating, became the only tool at my disposal to help me cope with my symptoms and trauma. This led to my hospitalization at Comer’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago. I was then transferred with little warning to a psychiatric hospital. As a result of those traumatic experiences, I’d learned the danger of listening to my body and myself.
Unfortunately, the summer before my sophomore year of college when I was nineteen, the situation with my health became dire once again. I was repeatedly blacking out and spending many nights too weak and fatigued to get up off my apartment floor. I eventually called a cardiology clinic in desperation, which led to my diagnosis of POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and later Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
In my comic Independence, I tell the story of how these two experiences became entangled with one another as I began to navigate the healthcare system on my own as nineteen-year old runaway. At eighteen, I had fled my home into homelessness and I had no access to a primary care provider, little knowledge of how the healthcare system worked, and no reliable transportation. The same semester, in the midst of being diagnosed, and going through multiple trials of medications, I was taking a gender and women’s studies class at my university that addressed disability through studying Foucault. The class gave me the language to understand my experiences and allowed me to reflect on how my minimizing interactions with healthcare providers were not unique given my past experiences and identities.
This comic juggles many themes such as institutionalization, dismissal and disbelief, mental and physical illness, and how trauma is reproduced through minimizing interactions. Ultimately, I want people to take away from this comic that “anxiety” is a natural response to experiencing disabling illness. Being ill in a world where little to no support networks for runaway youth exist, and even fewer resources to support runaway youth’s health exist, is tremendously difficult.
to read the rest of the comic, go to The Florida Review at UCF.