Introducing Michelle Roger, a creative fashionista who is also a proud disabled woman and style activist. We asked some questions about living with a complex chronic illness and disability.
She's reminded us to see the brighter side of life! And to look good at the same time :)
1. We discovered you on facebook through your page “Up and Dressed”, can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this page?
About two years ago I found myself in a horrible health patch. My mood matched my health and everything was simply hard. I read a friend’s article about enjoying a pyjama day and realised I couldn’t relate. Pyjamas weren’t a joy, they had become part of the overall chore of illness.
There was no single event that found me in that place. Just a gradual movement. It snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking and was concentrating on things like not face-planting on the way to the toilet. And suddenly there I was miserable everyday in pjs, not even good pjs, but sad threadbare flannelette that really should have been binned years before.
When my body was hurting and my heart along with it, doing became difficult. My clothes tended to reflect my mood and my mood my clothing.
So I made a decision.
I decided to get dressed. Not only get dressed, but take a photo to prove to myself in the dark times that I did indeed get dressed. I’m not sure how many days I’ve managed now, the numbers don’t really matter. Although I know it’s just over 2 years now.
When I look through my Instagram or my FB page I see photo after photo of me dressed. It reminds me that I achieved something. A small something but a something all the same. It’s surprising what that does. It tells me I can. It tells me that I am still here. It tells me that I am participating in life. A changed life but a life nonetheless.
Disability is a large part of my life now and I consider myself a proud disabled woman.
And my physical issues must be taken into account from when I wake up to when I go to bed, but it’s not my entire life. I am many things, including a woman who simply loves fashion and the creative aspects of styling. Including my continuing search and acquisition of fashionable medical compression stockings. These days it’s moved even beyond that role. It lets me make ripples in a limited societal perception of how chronic illness and disability look.
Every time I celebrate fashion, especially including my walking sick or wheelchair it pushes back on how wider society thinks chronically ill and disabled people should look and act. It also lets me choose how my life is presented rather than my story being told by others. It seems small but in many ways the constant repetition is a powerful tool for change especially when mainstream media rarely shows disabled people, and even when it does it is in either of two limited modes: tragedy or inspiration.
We are far more interesting and far more diverse than that limited narrative. And many of us love fashion. Up and Dressed has allowed me to indulge in my love of fashion and in turn find an outlet outside of illness, whilst also using it as a tool of activism. And I really love how it has evolved over time.
2. Please tell us more about Bob!
Bob is the name I gave the disorder I live with, Dysautonomia. It was too hard to say or spell back when I was first diagnosed in 2007 and I needed a shorthand as did my family. It’s also hard to be scared or intimidated by something named Bob.
Dysautonomia itself is an umbrella term for a collection of disorders that affect the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), the body’s auto pilot. It controls the unconscious processes in the body such as, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, digestion, sweating, even the way your pupils react to light. When it malfunctions you develop a form of Dysautonomia. It’s poorly understood and many patients have difficulty attaining a diagnosis, with the wait around 6 years after first symptoms.
There are no dedicated treatments and patients are managed through individual combinations of medications, exercise, extra water, extra salt, compression stockings and items like shower chairs and wheelchairs. I also had a pacemaker implanted in 2013. It can be mild or severe and many never find the cause of their symptoms and for many the condition is something they will live with for the rest of their lives. Many like myself are unable to work, attend school or university and have difficulty with every day tasks.
It’s a tough disorder to live with and I am thankful for the patient groups here in Australia and around the world who provide support and understanding about living with what is often an unpredictable and debilitating condition.
3. We love the way you make us smile with your blog and fb posts, what’s your optimism secret?
I don’t know if I have a secret per se, but I think I’m a fairly pragmatic person who can generally find a laugh in the most difficult of circumstances. Accepting that I was probably going to be ill for the rest of my life allowed me to put illness in a place where I manage it but once that’s done I put my energy into life.
Plus illness and the medical world is quite absurd at times and responding with irreverence helps immensely.
I do work at it though. It’s not always easy but I actively try to find joy, especially when things are tough. I also allow myself to experience the darker times and process rather than fight them. This is hard disorder to live with so being sad or scared is a very normal reaction to the stresses that come along. I definitely recommend therapy to anyone living with a complex chronic illness to learn tools to help manage.
Being ill let me realise that life’s too short to worry about other people’s perceptions and I have enough burdens without shrinking myself to make others comfortable.
And really that has been so liberating. So I pose with my chickens, dye my hair green, or purple, or red, dress up as a zombie and speak my mind. Living my life unapologetically is the greatest gift I have ever given myself and I highly recommend it to everyone.
4. Do you have an all time favourite Lazybones style or print? Why is it your fave?
How do I pick? I went through my wardrobe to see if I could pick a single item and I couldn’t. I love both the dresses and the Relax range.
Can I pick a category instead? If so it’s the vintage inspired dresses. My condition means my abdomen is perpetually painful and the vintage inspired dresses tend to have a waist that sits higher on my last few ribs. So at a practical level I can wear them without pain which is brilliant. I also love how they sit when I am in my wheelchair. The fuller skirts with the various pleats sit so well and my frequently distended stomach is well hidden.
Being cottons they breathe well, and given I have difficulty maintaining my body temperature that helps to stop me overheating. And on top of all that they are beautiful and feminine. They let me feel a bit special even when my body is playing up. They also go really well with my colourful compression stockings. And the dresses with pockets, well, they are just perfection!
5. Anything else you’d like to share with us and our Lazybones peeps?
I would say to anyone who is mostly stuck at home due to illness, disability or some other factor it doesn’t mean you have to necessarily forgo enjoying fashion. I spend 90% of my life at home as I no longer drive and am often unwell. I often get dressed, take a photo for the project, and then flop on the couch or bed.
Most of my photos are taken at the front of my house, our backyard or in my hallway. You do need to get creative though. When I’m really ill I wear pretty pyjamas I have collected progressively over the years, and I even purchased a couple of 1930s vintage bed jackets which feel very luxurious.
I use items like my ever growing collection of Lazybones’ Relax range as what I call my pj alternatives. I can pop on a scarf and shoes and go out for a coffee then remove the scarf and shoes and hop back into bed without changing. They feel more special than regular pjs even if all I’m doing is crawling from bed to couch.
Some tough days I even get up and simply throw on an easy pretty dress (I have two of the Isobel dresses which have been a bit of a favourite of late) without bothering with showering or brushing my hair.
In the end I dress for myself and it is mostly my Great Dane, Freyja, and my chickens who get to enjoy my attempts at styling. But I enjoy myself and I am glad that I’ve found ways to tweak my hobby to make it achievable once more.
Facebook - facebook.com/upanddressed.michelleroger/
Instagram - instagram.com/michelle_roger/