How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
I am broken.
Inflammation attacks my joints and organs, and my vertebrae are slowly knitting themselves together.
Sometimes I have panic attacks that morph into seizures brought on by memories of things I can’t seem to erase from my mind no matter the number of therapists I see. There are days where fatigue overwhelms me like an ocean wave and I’m unexpectedly struck down.
When I first became sick — during those initial days of being stuck in bed with painful spasms that rippled through my body and with a mind so foggy I couldn’t remember basic words for everyday items — I resisted and fought against it.
I pretended, as best I could, that it wasn’t my reality.
I told myself this was temporary. I avoided using the word ‘disabled’ to describe myself. Despite the fact that due to illness I’d lost my job, taken leave from my grad program, and started using a walker, I couldn’t come to grips with the term.
Admitting I was disabled felt like admitting I was broken.
Now, five years later, I’m ashamed to even write that. I recognize it was my own internalized ableism mixed with thirty-some years of living in a society steeped in perfectionism. Now, I regularly use the word disabled to describe myself, and I’ll admit that I am broken, and there’s nothing wrong with either of those things.
But when I first got sick, I couldn’t accept that. I wanted the life I’d strived and planned for — a fulfilling career, super-mom status with homemade meals and an organized house, and a social calendar filled with fun activities.
With all of those things falling away from my life, I felt like a failure. I made it my goal to fight and to get better.
In the midst of doctor’s appointments, journals tracking my symptoms, and attempted remedies, a friend reached out to me. “What would you do if you weren’t constantly trying to fix yourself?” she asked.
Those words shook me. I’d been fighting against the things my body was doing, going to appointment after appointment, swallowing handfuls of medications and supplements every day, trying every far-fetched idea I could come up with.
I was doing all this, not to feel better or improve my quality of life, but in an attempt to ‘fix’ myself and return my life back to where it had been.
We live in a disposable society. If something gets old, we replace it. If something is broken, we try to glue it back together. If we can’t, we throw it away.
I realized that I was afraid. If I was broken, did that make me disposable, too?
Around this time I began taking a course on embodiment and pottery. In the course we explored the concept of wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that emphasizes the beauty in the imperfect. In this tradition, one cherishes the old chipped teacup over a new one, or the lopsided vase handmade by a loved one over a store-bought one.
These things are honored because of the stories they hold and the history in them, and because of their impermanence — just as all things in the world are impermanent.
Kintsukuroi (also known as Kintsugi) is a pottery tradition born from the ideology of wabi-sabi. Kintsukuroi is the practice of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with gold.
Unlike how many of us may have fixed things in the past, super-gluing pieces back together in hopes that nobody would notice, kintsukuroi highlights the breaks and draws attention to the imperfections. This results in pieces of pottery with exquisite gold veins running through them.
Every time a person sees or uses the piece of pottery, they’re reminded of its history. They know that not only has it broken, but in this imperfection, it’s all the more beautiful.
The more I explored these topics the more I realized how much I’d been avoiding the imperfection and brokenness of my body. I had spent so many hours, endless amounts of energy, and thousands of dollars in order to try to fix myself.
I’d been trying to patch myself up so there would be no evidence of my brokenness.
What if, though, I began looking at the brokenness not as something to hide, but as something to celebrate? What if instead of something I was trying to fix in order to move on with my life, it was a beautiful and integral part of my story?
This shift in thinking didn’t happen immediately, or even quickly for that matter. When one has decades of thinking about themselves ingrained into their body, it takes time (and a lot of work) to alter that. In truth, I’m still working on it.
Slowly, though, I began letting go of the need to try and return my body and health to the place it had once been.
I began to accept — and not just accept but also appreciate — my broken parts. Brokenness was no longer something I viewed with shame or fear, but rather a part of life to be honored as it showed my story.
As this shift happened, I felt a lightening in myself. Trying to ‘fix’ oneself, especially trying to fix a chronic illness that by its very nature isn’t really fixable, is both physically and emotionally exhausting.
My friend had asked me what I’d do when I was no longer trying to fix myself, and what I found is that when I stopped expending so much time and energy on fixing, I had all that time and energy to use on living.
In living, I found the beauty.
I found beauty in the way that I could dance with my cane or walker. I found beauty in the slow warmth of an Epsom salt bath.
I found beauty in the encouragement of the disability community, in the small joy of meeting a friend for tea, and in extra time with my children.
I found beauty in the honesty of admitting that some days are harder than others, and in the support my friends and loved ones provided me on those days.
I had been afraid of my tremors and spasms, my creaky joints and aching muscles, my trauma and anxiety. I had been afraid all those broken spots were taking away from my life. But really, they’re providing me spots to fill in with precious gold veins.
I am broken.
And, in that, I am so imperfectly beautiful.
Angie Ebba is a queer disabled artist who teaches writing workshops and performs nationwide. Angie believes in the power of art, writing, and performance to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, build community, and make change. You can find Angie on her website, her blog, or Facebook.