DiversifYA: C. D. Childers

CDChilders2 (2)C.D. Childers is a former YA and academic librarian who is currently working on her first novel. When she is not writing, you can find her reading fairy tales or planning her next sewing project. Find her on Twitter, Tumblr, or at her website.

Twitter: cd_childers

Tumblr: cdchilders.tumblr.com

Website: www.cdchilders.com

 

 

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify myself in many ways: as a woman of color, a writer, and as a disabled person. I have a number of annoying chronic health issues, but osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are the source of the functional limitations, fatigue, and chronic pain that I experience on a daily basis.

2. What did it feel like growing up with chronic illness?

I wasn’t considered disabled or chronically ill as a child, although asthma sometimes limited my activity, and I took daily medication for years. Even though I lived with mild limitations for most of my childhood, nothing prepared me for the radical lifestyle change that arthritis and fibromyalgia caused in adulthood. It has been a huge adjustment.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

Well, apart from dealing with fatigue and pain, I think that the hardest problem to deal with is the unpredictable nature of having fibromyalgia. My pain levels and stamina change from day to day. For example, I could have low pain and a decent amount of energy for several weeks, allowing me to pursue hobbies, get out of the house, and socialize with friends. And then–bam!

I’ll have a flare-up of fatigue that saps my energy for the next month, and I’ll have to curtail my activities, even cutting back on the basic tasks of living, like cooking. Being chronically ill can be very isolating, especially if you are unable to leave the house to go to work or to meet with friends.

Another challenge for me is to stop worrying about how long the current “good times” will last and to forget about the next flare-up that will inevitably occur. It may seem like a dreadful cliché, but I really do make an effort to live fully in the moment, one day at a time.

I don’t think that there are any perks related to being disabled or chronically ill. It’s just a way of being. However, no longer working outside of my home has an excellent perk in that I get to be creative. I used to write stories and songs as a child and (terribly sentimental) poetry as a young adult. By the time I finished graduate school and started pursuing a career I had completely buried the creative writer within myself. The only writing I did for years was for work. Now I have a lot of time to tell my stories.

4. What do you wish people knew about having arthritis and fibromyalgia?

First, not everyone with fibromyalgia or arthritis identifies as disabled.

Second, the severity of these diseases varies from person to person. That said, most of the time we’re having a lot more pain than we actually share, and we do our best to go about our everyday lives in spite of it because we know that complaining is useless. And we often look good on the outside—so good that it’s hard for observers to believe that we have a chronic condition. How we look on the outside does not always correspond with how we feel on the inside or how destructive the disease is to our bodies as the damage is mostly invisible.

Finally, I want people to know that the best way for me to manage my diseases is to pace myself. That means that I can’t and don’t do what most able-bodied people can do in a day. I pick and choose what activities I pursue each day, and most of my days are carefully scheduled so I don’t”crash.” I have to be mindful about seemingly harmless activities such as using my computer because my pain increases if I sit in one position for too long.

Major outings also have to be planned well in advance. For example, if I go to Disneyland for the day, I use a wheelchair in order to minimize pain and fatigue. And I will likely block out the day before and the day after my trip on my schedule as days in which I rest. A lot of chronically ill and disabled people that I know intentionally plan their days in a similar way.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Being chronically ill has a unique pitfall in that well-meaning people suggest that there is some sort of magical cure out there that we just haven’t discovered yet. Like a gluten-free diet. Or magnetic bracelets. Or whatever the current fad is. I’ve also run into a number of people over the years who seem to think that I can somehow overcome my medical problems with hard work and determination.

In my opinion, the worst, most damaging, and ridiculous stereotype about people with chronic illness is that we somehow want to remain ill, presumably because this elicits attention and sympathy from others. We are sometimes labeled as hypochondriacs or malingerers, viewed as lazy, and might even be accused of using our illness to get out of work. The truth is that most of us take an active stance in managing our diseases. We monitor cutting-edge research and share that knowledge with others in our respective communities. Many of us rely on modern medicine to help manage our diseases, but right now there is simply no cure for some of these problems.

We accept that. Everybody else should too.

 

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

There’s already a lot of great information out there about how to write diverse characters well. Obviously, a writer should do as much research as possible, and it’s especially important to talk to people with the actual disability or chronic disease.

I’ve heard that some writers are afraid of not “getting it right.” That’s a valid fear, but I’m willing to give writers the benefit of the doubt. Nobody sets out to intentionally misrepresent or offend the community he or she is writing about. So my advice is to do your research, but also recognize that there is absolutely no way that the character in your novel can represent the experience and viewpoint of every single person within a given community. Once you’ve written your piece it is likely that someone will say, “Well, that’s not how it is for me…,” and that’s okay! That’s diversity—different perspectives coexist within the same community.

One Response to DiversifYA: C. D. Childers

  1. Rachael Clemens

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful and very personal piece. I especially appreciate your comments on helpful/hurtful ways that people engage with folks living with chronic illness; I’d like to hear more. And I learned something new about you, dear friend – already knew you were a good writer (you edited an essay for me eons ago to improve it immensely) but didn’t know you had an interest in writing novels! Will this first one be a YA manuscript?

    Is there a particular character(s) that you would like to explore and give a voice to? I am always intrigued with contexts like you describe in that last sentence – “different perspectives coexist within the same community” – those sorts complexities can be quite challenging (for me, sometimes) but make life and people interesting too;->