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Disability, and becoming a Housewife By Default

April 8, 2009

Not too surprisingly, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately. Since the depression has lifted somewhat, I have been trying desperately to play catch-up around the house–and it’s even more bleedingly obvious that I’m just not suited to the task.

To sum up the situation: I am not doing paid work because of multiple disabilities–some of which directly make housekeeping very difficult indeed–so am a Housewife By Default. Not having enough work credits in the U.K., I am not eligible for disability benefits, so am down on paper as a housewife rather than as a disabled person.

To some extent, I’m glad for this bit of gender role madness. Though it does seem to be rather class-dependent, being a housewife (“homemaker” is an inappropriately neutered euphemism, the vast majority of the time) or SAHM is still a much more viable option here than it is back home. Making it on one income is just about possible, and we’ve been squeaking by OK. Dealing with higher income people, I have gotten the distinct impression that the assumption that I must be lazy and unmotivated–and possibly not very bright–is alive and well, but we live in a more working class area where I’m hardly an anomaly.

Mostly, though, that’s a slightly comfortable social ghetto in which nobody should have to live. The really scary part is, I’m hardly an anomaly. Every time I go out, I run into women who seem to be in similar situations–and those are mainly the ones with not-so-invisible physical disabilities. The woman next door is a SAHM largely because her (recognized as an adult) dyslexia got in the way of her education, and how many more are in similar boats?

Unfortunately, with the value placed on certain kinds of work, housekeeping is usually considered the soft option. Unless you’ve got some pretty serious physical impairments (or, possibly, a Y chromosome), you should be able to keep a house in order. After all, it doesn’t require much in the way of skills, intelligence, motivation, or Real Work.

I hope we all know how conveniently skewed that prevailing attitude is, I really do.

Having concluded that my best option otherwise is to get my own pet care business up and running again, I’m still having too many physical difficulties to do this kind of paid work yet, nor do I have enough energy left over to do the required organizing. So, I remain a HBD, officially “economically inactive”, and close to going mad from working myself into the ground. Some of these physical problems (e.g. the creeping vitamin deficiencies which got to the point of messing with my vision) are a direct result of not being able to take care of myself while overworked at tasks which suck most of the skills and energy required for basic health maintenance.

Why are things so difficult? Besides some pretty serious chronic pain (strenuously repetitive tasks around the house really help with this), I’ve got executive function problems to the point that, growing up, people assumed I had ADHD From Hell. (No mean feat, considering that “hyperactivity” was rarely recognized in girls back then. I was diagnosed about ’77. I wasn’t rocking in the corner–at least not while the doctor was looking–so I wasn’t autistic then.) A lot of the tedious tasks which abound around the house honestly do take me at least four times as long as most people to complete, when I manage to keep track of what I’m doing. It’s mentally and physically exhausting, just to try. In order to keep track of what I’m doing, I have to turn down offered help in the middle of a job, or I lose where I am in the steps necessary to get that job–and the ones depending on it–done. This has hurt Nigel’s feelings–also making him less keen on volunteering assistance–and I was way too frazzled to put together a decent explanation of why help doesn’t always help. Just switching tracks to listen to the offer can leave me blinking like an owl, with no idea what I was doing or what I need to do next. When caught up in something, it doesn’t occur to me to ask for help doing something else, besides having been thoroughly conditioned not to ask for help with things.

Given the dyscalculia, keeping track of finances is very difficult. Being very good with theoretical maths does not help with running herd over a checking account nor trying to keep a running tally of the shopping. Also, my large motor skills leave a lot to be desired, so I have to keep most movements under conscious control to avoid falling over and breaking things a lot (yeah, it still happens, and we need a lot of replacement dishes). That’s mentally exhausting, especially given the number of other things I have to juggle in conscious thought. The slowly-improving thiamine deficiency, in particular, has given me nerve damage which has made me even clumsier and left my eyes not tracking properly, requiring more conscious control. Throwing all this together, a trip out to do shopping or similar–especially by bus–wears me completely out, and I can’t make more than one such trip out per day.

Between the autism and CAPD–and the PTSD partly resulting from shoddy treatment because of these–I have trouble dealing with other people in ways that are expected if you’re home during the day. I have serious trouble using the phone, some with speaking to people face to face, and have become wary of answering the door at all. (Letting in one creepy pervy meter reader, who struck me as only not assaulting me because I was obviously stronger than he was, did not help with this.) It’s hard to understand what people are saying and formulate responses, and this interferes with a lot of expected tasks. I’ve also been conditioned to be ashamed to let people in when the house is such a mess.

Those are just some illustrations. There are plenty more.

The upshot? I spend all day flapping, with little forward motion. It’s grueling. The only real free time I’ve been getting is after Nigel goes to bed, with the built-in excuse that crashing around the house will disturb him and the sleeping neighbors. This leads to staying up later than intended, trying to wind down enough to sleep, so I can get up and buzz like a hummingbird again, with a cluttered house full of allergens to show for it. One of the reasons I’ve been so keen on giving Max a long afternoon run in one park or another is also that it gives me a “good” excuse for a little leisure time. It’s also a little break in the social isolation, since people talk to us with enough context that I am not as stressed out trying to carry on a conversation about dogs.

At the moment, I’m fighting feeling guilty about taking enough of a break to write this. I have not been able to spend much time on doing things I actually enjoy, and which help me decompress some. That’s why I haven’t been in front of the computer much; I’ve also been too worn out to string words together when I do sit down. I have neither energy nor aesthetic sense left by the time I sit down and try to do beadwork or make jewelry, so haven’t been turning out and selling any crafty stuff.

Yeah, I realize intellectually that this is not sustainable nor healthy. I need more downtime to stay even marginally functional. I try to tell myself that I can’t keep doing this, and mean it at the time. I dread getting depressed again, and having the situation become worse.

The social programming is strong enough that I have a hard time seeing alternatives, however, and feel guilty for not getting more visibly accomplished. Falling into the HBD role has hurt me, and I’m sure it hurts a lot of other women.

At least I am aware now that I do have some disabilities, helping keep me where I am. Turning into an HBD no doubt keeps a lot of other women feeling like vaguely dippy, unstable, not-so-bright people who don’t even have Real Problems as an excuse. I’ve seen it happen, and have been put on the psych meds myself, ostensibly to cope better with being “just not right”. I’ve seen obvious physical problems get put off this way (my mom’s among others), and suspect that large numbers of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent women–mostly undiagnosed–are circling this particular black hole. Where are the female adult auties? Look around the supermarket.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kayla permalink
    April 30, 2009 7:55 pm

    I can relate to becoming a Housewife by Default. Oh gods, can I ever relate. Much of my life at the moment is a list of things I hate. I hate that not a single penny that I spend is “mine”. I hate that I am not contributing in any meaningful way to this family. I hate that my kids look at me when I nag them to do chores and I know they are thinking “why aren’t you doing them?” (I know they are thinking this because they have both actually asked this at one time or another). I hate that walking around the supermarket can leave me so wiped out that I can’t even put the shopping away when I get home. I hate that even something as simple as vacuuming one room can leave me in enough pain that the rest of the house just isn’t going to get done. I hate that going away on “holiday” for a weekend often leaves me lying in a hotel room in agony and unable to actually do anything unless I am so doped up with painkillers that I’m floating. And more than anything else I hate that I feel so fucking useless and worthless all the bloody time.

    • urocyon permalink
      May 5, 2009 4:40 pm

      Sorry your comment was stuck as suspected spam for so long! I haven’t been in front of the keyboard much.

      Oh yeah, all those things sound familiar. I think I’m getting through the ‘I hate that not a single penny that I spend is “mine”’ factor–with a lot of rationalization–but it’s not easy. Feeling useless, getting wiped out trying to do much of anything, is anything but helpful but nigh impossible to get around!

      Sorry you’ve been having such a rough time. I hope the situation improves. Still, it’s good to hear from someone else who understand this. 🙂

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