This article was originally published as part of a fortnightly column on Firstpost and can be accessed here.
In my early journal entries from 2016 when chronic pain first disrupted my life, I wrote a lot about loss: loss of functionality, loss of control. This was hard to let go of. Not knowing how I would or could spend my time each day really disrupted my idea of “normal”. Would full working days be possible? Would living alone be possible? What can I not do anymore?
Time as a concept is something I felt deeply conflicted about. Was it okay to spend hours everyday, maintaining the body-mind? Was I wasting time by staying in bed for so many hours? Discovering and reading more about ‘crip time’ has helped me navigate this grief a bit better.
Professor and author Alison Kafer says in her book, Feminist, Queer, Crip: “Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires re-imagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies. Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”
When I still worked a full-time job in 2016, navigating the hours of travel, working hours and hours my body-mind needed as down time was worse than juggling. I began to feel exhausted from the conflicting emotions of productivity and guilt, for not being productive “enough”. Over time, I took the decision to not work full time anymore. To travel/commute less. To restrict how many trips I make every month. To navigate the number of rest days I had between each work task, say trainings or workshops or conferences.
For the past week, I have slept terribly, which means I wake up every hour. The week before that was spent going to bed at 7.30 pm. I received quizzical looks on WhatsApp from friends, colleagues and acquaintances for “sleeping so early”. For as long as I can remember, staying up late was hard for me. I never made it to midnight parties or events because I could never stay up so late. But now, the effects of bad sleep on my aching body or staying up late into the night is too much to handle. So I sleep when my body says sleep — accepting its need for 10-12 hours of sleep.
Sometimes, that is at 7:30 pm. Sometimes at 3:30 pm, and at other times, only at 4 am. It was in many ways me accepting and embracing crip time. Ellen Samuels, professor and a founding member of the UW Disability Studies Initiative, explains this well: “For crip time is broken time. It requires us to break in our bodies and minds to new rhythms, new patterns of thinking and feeling and moving through the world. It forces us to take breaks, even when we don’t want to, even when we want to keep going, to move ahead. It insists that we listen to our body-minds so closely, so attentively, in a culture that tells us to divide the two and push the body away from us while also pushing it beyond its limits. Crip time means listening to the broken languages of our bodies, translating them, honoring their words.”
Listening. Honoring. Translating. Accepting.
So, so hard to do.
I began to write notes to myself about how healing is slow. How work can be slow too. How time is non-linear. How effort can be in bursts too. But I have found that when the world slows down along with me — for some reason — my anxiety disappears. My body melts into the slowness and feels respite.
Recently, I was on a work call when everyone (a group of disabled women) was only communicating through text. Text read out by screen readers. Time slowed down. We all typed one after the other. Waiting for the other to complete their thought. Waiting for others to read. Waiting for others to type. The entire process had patience embedded in it, but also a challenge to “normative” ideas of discussion time and pace. No one impatiently typed over others or wanted to “move things along”. The time was well spent in engaging with each other at our own pace.
As I hung up that call, I felt ease slip into my body. There was room for more as this work was paced. And I realised that since being surrounded by disabled women and working with them, there has been a pleasure I hadn’t named. A pleasure of living in crip time. A pleasure of them knowing that I might look 28 and healthy, but feel 68 and exhausted. That time functions differently around each other and it is fine.
Crip time as community time.
Srinidhi Raghavan is a writer, researcher and trainer. She works at the intersections of sexuality, gender, disability and technology. She works on programme development with Rising Flame and is the Co-Founder of The Curio-city Collective.