Ebony Ackland

Sick Girl Ambition

Sick Girl Ambition - An Essay by Ebony Ackland

Reader, please note the following:

I use the words women and girls with no limits on gender expression in mind. I have resisted using non-gendered language as male privilege is rife within the medical community and so must be distinguished here. I acknowledge that gender-diverse and BIPOC folks suffer disproportionately more due to healthcare access limitations, resourcing, and discrimination.


I’ve always been a passionate human. A natural bend towards justice and dreaming big has left me with a multitude of ideas and paths I want to take, oft left half-baked or lost in a pile of “to-do when I’m feeling better”. I, like many other chronically ill or disabled persons, get stuck in what pain psychologists call “the boom-and-bust cycle”. When I’m feeling good or have energy, I will zoom around getting everything I possibly can done to make up for the time I have spent sick in bed (and chase that checking off your to-do list dopamine hit). This somewhat manic episode often leads to a consequential crash and pain flare-up in the days following. It can be a never-ending loop if not managed carefully. It’s almost funny in a way when I find myself so incredibly self-conscious about speaking up about my own illness (like right now). I’m scared of being too complex or taking up too much space and time; another failure of the way we have bashed women into believing “easy” and “good” are synonymous.

The time of an able-bodied person feels precious and uninterrupted. In wondering what I might do with this one precious life (thanks Mary Oliver) without interruption, I’d say I would grab that bull by the horns and RUN. But here I am in bed again, living on ‘Crip Time’; my clock absorbed into the failing parts of my body and diminished capacity for activity, engrossed by a need for physical rest. A capitalistic failure of what it means to be human in a society that values ambition and achievement. But god, I do wish I could show people my internal drive for those exact things. There is a constant wrestle within me to achieve and work and drive for constant change and improvement of both self and our collective community. Yet, here I am… writing this from bed, where I spend the majority of my time. Trying here again to imagine a way of achieving satisfaction and purpose in some form that my body might manage to keep up with.

People don’t talk about how utterly boring it is to be sick all the time. As an intense introvert, still I am completely overspending time with myself. Not as a commentary on my sense of self-worth but purely out of it being a saturated market… far too much “me-time”. To some, it would likely seem idyllic to clock so much couch and trashy tv time, but I can promise you it’s far from enjoyable. Often left to dwell in our own complex minds, sick days can be a mental health war zone. Endless hours of battling what it might mean if our bodies don’t improve or accepting that other people are just simply too busy to notice us.

It can be easy to feel like we are failing completely when keeping a job or maintaining a passing grade at uni zaps our entire energy reserve. I live in a constant wrestle with all of the things I would like to do, experience, achieve whilst also needing to accept the rest I need. My inability to stick to plans or avoid sick days can easily become a bank of evidence that I am incapable, lazy even. I am trying to learn self-compassion here but fuck, it’s hard work.  The frustration of limitation from our physical bodies can affect us all in different ways and scales. It can feel pointless to dream when we live in a society not built for disabled folks.

My hope is for a future where our aspirations can be fulfilled through the support and flexibility of our communities, and where asking for help is a triumph, not a weakness. These days I am just thankful for the beautiful people who see my struggle and still encourage me to dream. I hope you find those people too.


  • Posted by Rachel on

    Fiercely eloquent and real. Love this ❤️

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