Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bodily Anxieties and Gender

Last night I had this strange dream where I was headed to the hospital again. For surgery of some kind; it isn't clear what was being "fixed," but apparently there were several things needing attention. Subconsciously, of course, it was related to my heart surgery because in the dream one of the incisions that was to be made was a re-entry into my body through my scar. In addition I was going to be cut open in three more places: one a long incision along the torso. As anxiety dreams go, this one had the classic elements of such: I showed up late for my surgery only to find they had to reschedule me for the next week, but the next week meant my surgeries would be spread over two days, requiring anesthesia twice. I tried to explain that I don't do well when I am under general anesthesia, that the last time I almost didn't wake up (it took me about 18 hours to wake up after my heart surgery and for a while they were worried I wouldn't wake up at all). I was trying to explain that I didn't think I would survive if I was put under twice two days in a row, but they kept saying I didn't have any other options.

It's been a while since I have had a dream of this ilk. It was prompted no doubt by the paper last week that I gave at the conference (about the heart as stranger and what it means to experience ones own flesh as "strange") and the fact that I am reworking the paper now to get it out for publication. I am thinking lately about relationships between the self and body (not that I want to exacerbate any Cartesian dualism between body and mind), specifically how someone gets back to one's body, gets back "in tune" with her own flesh, after that flesh has been pulled out from under her feet.

Medical trauma puts one in a strange position in relation to the embodied self: in an instant one is betrayed and as a result, a distancing pull away from the body (thinking of it as other, not me, not who I really am) seems like an obvious reaction -- a way to gain some semblance of control. I am curious about the ways women who have had major surgeries or near-death medical events "deal" with their bodies, come back "home" to their bodies, make sense of themselves as embodied beings in the aftermath. The very language I have to talk about it re-enacts a split between body and mind that I do not intend literally, yet the language mirrors how one (how I) have felt often since surgery: that I am in one place and this unruly thing called "body" is somewhere else. A tension that plays itself out in complete contrast to my actual "understanding" of myself, my identity as an embodied, biological being that is en-fleshed and not elsewhere at all.

After surgery I remember feeling caught in this strange dichotomy: mired in my flesh and separated from that very flesh. Even now, my body sometimes feels strange to me. And yet it is no stranger. These days I am thinking a lot about women's experiences of events such as my heart attacks and surgery, about the ways such events may spark re-emergence of ambivalence and corporeal anxieties that women have, have known, experienced, etc., how all of this looks through a gendered lens. So women out there, especially, feel free to post back. I would love to hear. And do it anonymously if that feels safer. How did your relationship to your body or your bodily anxiety grow, shift, change, emerge after medical or other corporeal events that were disruptive physically?

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