A Disabled Person Reviews: Sickness & Lies (BBC)

Screenshot of BBC's title, Sickness and Lies, but above it I added text so it now reads "A Disabled Person Reviews: Sickness & Lies"

Note: this documentary is not good, and if you’re disabled you might find it very upsetting. You might also find this review upsetting as a result, so feel free to skip it if you need to.


It has taken me a week to watch a 25-minute video.
Obviously, some of the reason for that is the cognitive fog that comes of holding an alphabet soup of mental health diagnoses, and that I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation. But most of the reason it took me a while is because, friends, this one hurt.
The disabled community is not unfamiliar with being mocked and/or dissected in mainstream media, having their diagnoses doubted and generally being treated like shit, within documentaries and outside of them. I was expecting this to be bad, so it’s not that I was disappointed. It was an extremely angry kind of hurt.
The first thing I saw about this documentary was Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s Tweet about it, stating that she firmly declined to take part in the project because she disagreed with the premise. I’ve followed Jessica’s career for a number of years now and I respect and trust her as a content creator, meaning that I also trust that what she has said is true. So yes, I started from an angry place in watching this doc, but only because I knew that footage of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard had been used without her permission. I hoped, though, that this little sprinkle of unethical journalism would be an exception, not the rule.
The premise of this documentary, apparently, is to investigate the recent phenomenon of “Munchausen’s by Internet” (which, I would like to note, was invented by a white man). Essentially, Munchausen’s by Internet is a factitious disorder linked to and driven by online interactions with other people, and I personally (as someone with, admittedly, zero qualifications on the matter) don’t think it’s a real thing. It’s my opinion that yes, some factitious disorders are probably made worse by unregulated internet access, but the vast, vast majority of these people are legitimately disabled, enjoying community and acceptance for possibly the first time and eager to share in a space where that’s welcomed. Regardless, the documentary also looks at people trying to diagnose others with MBI or otherwise trying to prove that they are not, in fact, disabled.
Sounds like fun, right?
Infuriatingly, the documentary provides no numbers about most of these things. We’re informed that “many of the accusers are people with chronic illnesses themselves,” but there’s no clarification as to an exact number or proportion. They have no stats on how often people are malingering (which, I should note, then also makes them ill as someone suffering from a factitious disorder or similar), nor on how often disabled people are harassed about it. They don’t present any data about disabled people’s internet usage or about their wellbeing as it relates to internet usage; it’s all interviews and broad statements. One statement that was absent of numbers but caught my attention was when the online chronic illness community was described as having “spiralled” in recent years. Not “grown”, not “exploded”, but “spiralled”, because obviously the expansion of our community is a negative. They also draw attention to the fact that the number of chronically ill people is growing, especially among young women, to which I say two things: 1. Your data only shows you the growing number of diagnoses, which could be due to a huge range of factors including more comprehensive healthcare access, changes in the diagnostic criteria of certain disorders, etc., etc., and 2. Young women are one of the most thoroughly silenced groups out there. If the number of diagnosed-disabled young women is growing, could it be possible that it’s because cultural shifts have allowed them to be diagnosed? And could it also be possible that a supportive and informative online community is helping with that? Of course, they don’t dwell on any of this, because they’re too busy panicking about how many disabled Instagram users there are nowadays.
I tried to draw hope from the fact that the presenter of the program is also disabled, but a cynical voice kept asking me whether, perhaps, the BBC had chosen a disabled presenter to mitigate the obvious yuckiness of the program’s premise. She expressed that she began making the program as a result of falling down an online “rabbit hole” about chronically ill people, and the people who accuse them of faking.
Allow me to stop everything right there. I’m doing a Linguistics MA. I spend a lot of time investigating the way people frame things, what they bring to the foreground and what they do not. I noticed almost immediately that, wherever possible, the term “chronically ill” was being used instead of “disabled”. I’m not sure why, but I have two theories: the optimistic one is that this is because the BBC knew that not everyone identifies with or wants to use the label “disabled”; the cynical one is that they didn’t want to emphasise disability, because disabled people are, in the UK, a minority group protected by law (specifically, the 2010 Equality Act) and even if this documentary doesn’t constitute a hate crime, acknowledging that you’re closely dissecting the disabled community might make you sound like more of a prick than if you say “chronically ill”. (This documentary does a lot of work to avoid seeming prickish. None of it is successful.)
Then there’s the online bit. Yes, these are predominantly online communities that are being examined, both of ill people and of their doubters, but there was no discussion of disabled people forming community IRL, and, more annoyingly still, the discussion about backlash and suspicion was almost entirely focused on Reddit. A lot of people who watch this documentary might be inclined to think, “Ah, yeah, but Reddit is full of know-it-alls, argumentative bastards and people who are just generally cunts, so I don’t imagine this happens anywhere else online, and ill people can just click away from Reddit if they’re upset,” which wouldn’t be unreasonable. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens on every platform I’ve ever used – Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… they all have some lurkers who are hoping you’ll “disprove” your own disability. This behaviour is oppressive and inescapable, it is directed at members of our community within our own online community spaces, and, as even the documentary highlights, it can lead to real-life harm.
The trouble is that the documentary suggests that the harm that comes to ill people most often is self-inflicted as a result of trying to “prove” the existence of one’s disabilities; it shows interviewees recounting their experiences with coordinated harassment and doxxing, but then immediately returns to the topic of people intentionally making their symptoms worse or inventing new ones. One influencer makes reference to people who “list off every single diagnosis, or sometimes even their medications” (emphasis mine), her tone suggesting that this is a psychologically unhealthy behaviour that is driven by a need to disprove Redditors and their ableist friends. It’s my experience that when people list their conditions and/or medications, at least part of their reasoning is that someone else with that same condition, or using that same medication, can spot that someone is willing to talk about those things and can ask questions, compare experiences and receive encouragement. Again, yes, I do imagine that there are some people with actual factitious disorders who should maybe avoid that kind of content for their own sake, but I also imagine that they’re a very, very small minority.
This was another bit of framing that frustrated me. Consistently, throughout this doc, behaviours like posting symptom lists, lists of diagnoses, photos related to medical care, etc., have all been treated as though they are done solely for the purposes of proving yourself to be ill. They did mention, sort of, that the disabled community can be quite supportive and caring, but they didn’t consider for a moment that the things disabled people post are for the sake of other disabled people, rather than for the abled audience trying to expose them as liars. There was no use of the word “destigmatise” even though that seems like a pretty high priority for many disabled people, especially people with more “gross” disabilities like those related to digestion, or diagnoses which make you behave differently from your neurotypical peers. Wanting to destigmatise the specifics of disability, one’s healthcare journey, bodies that look different from what’s typical and the difficulties associated with being disabled is certainly the reason I post about mine, and it seems to me to be the main reason people share this information, for a disabled audience, an abled audience or both.
Lots of things, actually, that could look like signs of Munchausen’s By Internet to an outsider are actually very typical parts of being disabled. Someone mentioned illnesses “piling up” as though that ought to raise suspicion, when in reality, 1. Lots of conditions are comorbid with one another, so plenty of people have multiple and/or changing diagnoses and 2. Once you’re under the care of a certain healthcare team or similar and you’ve been diagnosed with one thing, it’s way more likely you’ll be tested for or could raise concerns about other things. Dr. Dickhead, who coined the term Munchausen’s By Internet, also lists “miraculous recoveries” as a sign of MBI, which frustrates me since “miraculous” can be so subjective, and sometimes bodies really do just glitch badly and then figure themselves out. Moreover, it highlights “clones” who apparently imitate disabled people so closely that “they get the same chair, the same colour service dog”, but listen. Wheelchairs are very expensive, and I personally wouldn’t want to choose one without checking out the opinions of people who already own one. Service dogs, whilst being very very good boys and girls, do not come in a huge range of colours to begin with, so statistically you’re pretty likely to see two people with a service dog of the same colour (you tit). The whole documentary feels like, regardless of its host, it has been put through a very particular lens that just cannot capture the nuances of being disabled, let alone being disabled online, because that diverts from the bit where disabled people are naughty lazy fakers. (It also feels like this should have been an hour long, partly for this reason and partly just based on the choppiness and the half-arsed interviews that answered like two questions.)
The investigation into the actual twats doxxing people for being disabled wrong was, in my view, less prominent than the discussion on faking/MBI itself, but it was also very “both-sidesy”, interviewing a moderator for one of the subs where doubters cluster together to try and find signs of faking, and finding that she considered it “a failed experiment” rather than something that could cause actual harm. Quite tellingly, she also said, “Sometimes we forgot we were dealing with human beings,” and acknowledged that “there is a line” but neglected to define where it might be. It seems like parts of the documentary are defending others’ right to scepticism, which, y’know, whatever, but that also means they’re implicitly defending behaviours that make others’ scepticism the problem of disabled people. Public internet forums debating whether or not you’re actually ill will always be hurtful, and sometimes dangerous (I convince myself I’m not disabled on a near-daily basis anyway; I don’t need any encouragement to stop taking my antipsychotics).
The thing is, this documentary does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world where we know that chronic conditions are underdiagnosed, especially among minority groups like women, POC, LGBT+ people etc., and it will be viewed by the people who have the power to provide or withhold these diagnoses and the treatment one could subsequently receive. It will be viewed by nosy and ableist next-door neighbours who will make you feel unsafe claiming benefits in your own home in case they glimpsed you in the garden last week. It exists in a world where the disbelieving of disabled people is already causing suffering and deaths, so maybe it’s clear why I’m angry about this documentary, which suggests that disabled people should be disbelieved.
I’m angry that they used Jessica’s image without her permission. I’m angry that they then said that “big-name influencers” like her had declined to be part of the documentary “because they’re afraid of being targets”, when Jessica states clearly on her Twitter that her motivation for declining was the ethical implications of the premise, and I suspect that was the case for many of these “big-name influencers”. Mostly, though, I’m angry that this exists. I’m angry that this was made and aired, and that whoever made those decisions either didn’t care, or didn’t care to learn, how it might affect IRL disabled people. I feel betrayed that the host was disabled but didn’t seem to bring any nuance to the table regarding disability, and was clearly there to portray “both sides”, not to advocate for other disabled people. I’m angry that it was weirdly short, so it gave only a very brief overview of campaigns of organised harassment, which are both fascinating to me as a linguist and terrifying to me as a disabled queer. I’m angry that most of the people featured in this doc were white, and that the focus was so heavily on physical disability, and a whole bunch of other things. And I’m hurt, because I feel like actual humans chose views and ratings over my actual wellbeing.
The documentary did a couple of things I didn’t hate, though! The host used they/them pronouns for a nonbinary interviewee, instead of misgendering them or carefully avoiding using any pronouns at all. She also did acknowledge that disabilities and medical interventions affect everyone differently, and what might hold true for her is not necessarily true for others. I liked some of the cool projection effects they used.
…that’s about it.
So, should you watch this wildly irresponsible and/or directly malicious documentary? Honestly, if you’re disabled, I wouldn’t recommend it – you won’t learn anything new, you’ll just be reminded how many people think you’re a liar and just how unsafe disabled people are in the world. If you’re not disabled, it might be worth watching just to know what discourse is floating around about disabled people, so that you’re positioned to be a better ally and advocate… but really, it’s not even terribly interesting, so maybe you’re better off reading reviews of it (like this one! But read multiple! I don’t represent every single disabled person!) and not giving the BBC the views. I can only really recommend it to people who, like me, sometimes want or need to get recreationally angry at the TV and who can’t find anything more infuriating on iPlayer.
I’m not here to tell you what to do, but if you want to complain about any aspect of this documentary, you can get in touch with the BBC by clicking here. If you want to support your local angry disabled person, you can buy me a coffee through Ko-Fi here. If you’d like to see some calming pictures of kittens, click here.

Smut Saturdays # 19: In This Fantasy…

Stock image of a white-painted brick wall with a title overlaid on it which reads "Smut Saturdays #19: In This Fantasy..."

It’s often very nice to perform a meticulously planned scene, with a neatly defined start point and a script for me to follow, having collaborated on a fantasy for days, if not cock-teasing weeks, with you as my devious co-conspirator. I enjoy being led to the bedroom, knowing that you’re about to play your part and I am about to play mine, line by line, blow by blow, perfectly executed and immensely satisfying…

But this fantasy is not that.

This fantasy rarely takes place in a bedroom – instead it’ll be set in a stairwell, a nightclub toilet, an alleyway, an office… anywhere, because in this fantasy, it is all but impossible to make it to the bedroom. 

In this fantasy, you or I or both of us snap. There’s tension in the air, a look or a touch or a too-long hug drawing out every painful second until snap, and then our mouths are together. 

We don’t stop to exchange Yes/No/Maybe lists. We barely stop to breathe. It becomes less like kissing and more like grinding our faces together, biting each other’s lips and all but fucking each other’s mouths with our tongues. Your spit, or mine, or both is somehow all over my chin.

Meanwhile, we have either found a wall or a horizontal surface to support us. At the moment, I’m favouring the version of this fantasy where you press me into a wall, your knee between my legs, pinning me as though I’m not still clinging to you, pulling you in closer by your hips or your asscheeks or the belt loops on your jeans with absolutely no intention of running away. Still, your body sandwiches me against the wall as your hands find my hair, my neck, my tits, my waist, and we still have our faces entangled. 

It doesn’t take long, in this fantasy, for us to start yanking off clothes – our own or each other’s, it doesn’t really matter – and for me to feel your skin against mine. I drink it in and apparently so do you, running your hands over every inch you can reach while your torso is still flush against mine. Your mouth soon follows suit, and you finally pull away from me enough to kiss my collarbones, my neck, my tits. While my hands try out their fingernails on your back, your hands find my nipples and pinch. Everything is rough grabbing and grinding and biting and desperately, so desperately trying to envelop each other, to sate the burning hunger we both feel all over our bodies.

Obviously in this fantasy your cock is already achingly hard. It brushes against my stomach while we’re groping each other, leaving a light smear of precum behind. I run my nails across your lower back, around across one hip, and then I finally give in and grab it, hearing your breathing shift as I squeeze it lightly. Impulse leads me to start stroking it, at least as hungry for you to feel good as I am to feel good myself, and your hips follow my hand, fucking my half-closed fist. 

Your fingers aren’t gentle when they replace the knee between my legs and I don’t mind at all, widening my stance to give you access to the aching, soaked slit of my cunt. You find my hardened clit with your thumb  in seconds as you hook one rough finger, or even two, into the entrance of my vagina. Wherever my mouth is, against your neck or biting your shoulder or fused back onto yours, I make a small but heartfelt moaning noise. You make one back, and one or both of us escalates the matter.

Usually, this is the part in the fantasy where you manhandle me into turning 180°, grab my hair or the back of my neck and bend me, supported by the wall or over a table, a sofa, anything. Your hands are on both my hips and I can feel the wetness from my pussy on the fingers of one of them, smearing haphazardly across my skin as you line me up. You don’t savour the moment your cock enters me, instead shoving it in with such force that if it weren’t for your grip on me I’d probably fall, and you press yourself flush to me so that I feel every millimeter of your dick, from the thick shift holding the entrance of my cunt open to the reddened, taut head pressing against my cervix. 

The moans and grunts and “Oh, fuck”s start in earnest from both of us as you rock back and forth, slamming into me and into me and into me as deep as you possibly can, your balls hitting my clit and your nails digging viciously into my hips. Your sweat drips onto me. You spit onto your dick without slowing down.

Maybe we switch positions, maybe we carry on like this, but you don’t stop when I announce I’m going to cum. Instead, you growl something like, “Then fucking cum for me, you dirty bitch,” knowing that hearing that will help tip me over the edge and make my cunt tighten around your dick, raising the volume of my moans as everything white-hot and intense in my pussy and abdomen amplifies into a thrumming supernova for long, long, long seconds, my legs shaking underneath me. It feels a little like that swooping sensation you feel in your stomach as you come over the peak of a rollercoaster and down again, amplified and hot and a little further down. I don’t usually squirt or drip when I cum, but sometimes in this fantasy I’m lightly embarrassed by the sound of a droplet of my cum hitting the floor.

You pause and ask, sincerely, “Are you okay?”

I nod shakily, feeling my cunt contract around your cock again. I know you feel it too, because as soon as you have my reassurance that I’m fine, the very second my head bobs affirmatively, you return immediately to pounding me with the ferocity of someone whose arousal has dismissed their coherent thoughts and is driving their hips into the source of their overwhelming pleasure: my trembling, hot cunt, attached to my trembling body, situated between my trembling legs that are streaked bright red by your fingernails.

My whole cunt is still inflamed, and I all but wail at the acuteness of the stimulation as you pump your dick in and out of me, satisfied enough with how hard I just came to start fucking me selfishly, hungrily, like you’re using my body to jerk off with. You ignore the increasing volume of the incoherent sounds coming out of my mouth and I know that you don’t care that it hurts. You like that it hurts, and so do I.

You call me a dirty bitch again. I can tell you’re close, so I beg you to fuck me harder (“please, it doesn’t matter if it hurts, I want you to ruin my cunt”). If we’re still against a wall, you reach forward to clutch my hair, still bruising the inside of my vagina nonstop as you do so. I tell you more than once how good your dick feels inside me, how much I love getting fucked by you. You slap my ass and thighs while you call me a desperate little slut with a tight, slick pussy that you’re going to cum in – and then you do. Hard, pulling me flush to you again and jerking slightly as your twitching cock fills me with your cum, and all that keeps it from dripping back out is the aforementioned hard cock.

After savouring the feeling of my cum-drenched vagina for a few moments, breathing raggedly, you slowly withdraw your dick and cum drips onto the floor, trickling over my still-hypersensitive clit in the process. The warm feeling of it gushing out of me and down my thighs is delicious, and it makes me feel like the little slut you said I was.

This fantasy can branch off in many directions from here. Maybe you ask me to lick up your cum, whether that’s the cum coating your dick, the cum dribbling out of my cunt or the cum that dripped onto the floor. Maybe I play with your ass, or you play with mine, or both. Maybe you drag me by the hair to the shower to rinse me off, or to piss on me. Whichever direction it takes, the theme is always the same: raw, rough and desperate, messy and hungry as we’re drawn together like magnets, irresistibly.

And uh, there’s usually a lot of cum.


If you liked this, you might like other Smut Saturdays posts of mine, and it might be worth following me on Twitter to be the first to know when I post something new! Which I’m finally doing a little more often! Yay!

Loving A Paramedic During A Pandemic

Stock image of surgical face masks with a title overlaid on it which reads "Loving A Paramedic During A Pandemic"

Note: This post refers to the hypothetical death of a loved one, bulimia and suicidal ideation, as well as of course the Covid pandemic – I’ve got something a lot sexier coming soon, so if any of those topics are hard for you, please give this one a miss! You look after you 💙

I wrote this post mostly across Spring 2021 when I was very angry, and it shows. Enjoy!


March 2020

We’re on our way to Tesco for whatever bread and toilet paper they might have left. My fiancée doesn’t want to use her NHS ID to jump the queue; she feels it would be cheeky when she won’t be working in the coming 24 hours, and there’s nothing we’ll starve without.

The car is stopped at the crest of the hill before Tesco, waiting for the lights to change, and we’re talking about what happens if she dies.

At this point, we don’t know what Covid can and cannot do, nor what the NHS can and cannot do. The news is saturated with death and illness, and I fiddle with the shopping list as we discuss what happens if she becomes another tragedy. What happens with the house? The car? The PS4? She’s a registered organ donor. She doesn’t want a big, miserable funeral. I drag items from the shopping list around so that all the veg is together and so are all the soft drinks and snacks. 

What happens to me?

I try not to be selfish, but in the process I have to swallow my fear. It makes me think of my bulimia days, when everything I swallowed was fear, and I just had to hope I got somewhere private before I needed to puke it all back up. If not, I spent the day feeling tainted, terror casting unflattering shadows over my face.

I finally look her in the eye because I have to, because I have to tell her I love her. I have to tell her I’m proud of her, and that I bear no resentment towards her for running onto the front line, the house and the car and the me be damned. I would do the same thing, I tell her, and I knew she was a run-onto-the-front-line person when I proposed. Whatever happens over the next few months, with Covid or with anything else, we’re in it together.

The traffic moves and we inch towards Tesco with my now-immaculate shopping list.

 

Summer 2020

I couldn’t tell you what month it is. I’m being passed around the Midlands like a suicidal hot potato depending on who might be able to keep me alive this week. My fiancée is miles away, working long shifts and having wobbles in between them. It’s nearly the anniversary of the night I proposed, under the stars with a titanium ring (the most indestructible metal I could afford), promising her the rest of my life, or the rest of hers – whichever ends first.

I didn’t expect it to be a race, but Covid combined with the poverty of the NHS and the unremitting greed of the cunts in charge seem to have pushed us over the starting line. I do what little I can to slow her down – phone calls, gifts in Animal Crossing, every funny Internet picture I can find – but I’m busy tripping over my own feet, and the finish line keeps inching closer.

The graphs are curving upwards and I check them every 4p.m., then consult the news. My thumb hurts from switching between data and news and the social networks where my friends live and die. I click it back into place so I can send my fiancée another meme.

 

January 2021

To say I’m not a morning person is an understatement; it might be more accurate to say I’m barely a person in the mornings at all. Still, when my fiancée’s alarm goes off at 4 a.m., I stagger downstairs ahead of her. I get us both cans of Monster from the fridge and I pound mine like I’m a fresher again, only this time the fuzziness is exhaustion, not booze. I help her assemble her lunch, remind her to take her meds and tell her I love her at least a few times before she kisses me goodbye and heads off for another shift, all before the birds have started with their dawn chorus.

She tells me every time that I don’t have to get up with her, but truthfully I don’t know how many more of these bleary-eyed breakfasts we might have, and at least I get to nap during the day. Besides, I have to be the one to make her sandwiches, because I have to put love into them so they taste better.

 

When she brought Covid home, I wasn’t surprised. I knew it was only a matter of time, which is why I stopped visiting my mum (asthmatic, with a boyfriend in heart failure) when I started living with my fiancée. (I stopped visiting anyone, obviously, but I miss my mum the most, and she’s the person it would be the most dangerous for me to infect. Life is cruel like that.) I didn’t feel any fear that I hadn’t already faced and compartmentalised, even when it became evident I was Covid-positive too. I was irked by the facts of the situation, that this would mean two weeks of maddening self-isolation for us both and that I felt run down as all hell, but what I felt most was a hot, indignant anger – not at my fiancée, or even at whichever patient it might have been who gave her Covid, but at the people who didn’t care. 

I want to believe I’m a patient, compassionate person, but I was already infuriated by the people – on the news, on social media, that I see in town – who just didn’t care. I have some degree of sympathy for the people who believe that the coronavirus is a hoax or some kind of government/5G/Bill Gates plot, because I too am deeply untrusting, scared and confused. But the people who just didn’t give a shit, who are going to parties or baby showers or raves or their mate’s house just for a cheeky visit, were already pissing me off long before my fiancée tested positive. I’ve been spending long days alone with my thoughts while she worked, missing my mum and concerts and nights out with so much intensity that it sometimes physically hurt, and seeing story after story about people who flouted the rules simply because they wanted to, more than they wanted to keep other humans safe.

So I was already pissed off with people’s selfishness and recklessness, the government’s prioritisation of money over human lives and a thousand other things, when I found out that my missus now had an illness that we still know very little about (and what we do know isn’t reassuring), as a direct result of saving other people’s lives at work. Again, I want to believe that I’m patient and compassionate, but two weeks of monitoring our temperatures and oxygen sats in between aches and pains and a lot of coughing made me want to punch some people in the face. I want so badly to let go of this anger, which is white-hot enough to burn me, but I check the clock again, wondering if she’s been for her meal break yet (probably not), and I feel it sear my insides – but all I can do is wait, so I wait.

 

She arrives home safe and brings the cold in with her, the bite of January blowing through the hall and into the living room. I ask her about her shift and she tells what I already know: that it was exhausting, and miserable, and she missed me. We manage to scrape something or other together for dinner, we watch a YouTube video or five, and then she goes to bed. She apologises for being so tired, for not being talkative, for going so long without fucking me, and I wave all of it away. I don’t tell her how relieved I am, every time, that she got home in one piece. I don’t tell her that I can think of countless reasons she might not have – combative patients, cars that don’t stop for blue lights, a terror attack – but I do tell her that she doesn’t owe me an apology for anything.

The people who owe me a fucking apology are probably at a rave right now.