‘It’s rarely a good day if I’m wearing my dressing gown’

Even with a mostly invisible disability there are some signs that it’s not a good day

Brigid O’Dea, Dublin. ‘Unexpected house visitors are often met at the door by a bedraggled woman in a dressing gown.’ Photograph: Dave Meehan

Brigid O’Dea, Dublin. ‘Unexpected house visitors are often met at the door by a bedraggled woman in a dressing gown.’ Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

I recently celebrated my birthday. I turned 28 on a sunny September day. I marked the blissful day by petting farm animals, wearing dungarees and a bright red cap. My friend even bought a balloon. It was a carefree day reminiscent of the simpler single-digit decade.

My dad, as ever, didn’t let the celebration pass without his contribution. He had a card for me. “Haw, haw, haw,” he laughed as I opened it, “It’s you!” It was a woman in a dressing gown.

I have a love/hate relationship with my dressing gown

“You should write about it,” he said.
“An ode to my dressing gown?”
“You owe it!”

I have written at length in this column about the invisibility of my disability. How so much of my pain goes unseen, and to a certain extent, remains hidden. Despite articulating the pain of chronic migraine: the upset, the emotional ache, I struggle still to allow this be seen. And yet I wish it was recognised. There is, however, one unmistakable symptom, distinct evidence of my chronic migraine detectable to those close enough to visit my home – my dear dressing gown.

I have a love/hate relationship with my dressing gown.

It’s rarely a good day if I’m wearing my dressing gown. Just as a porcupine fish puffs up to ward off predators, my dressing gown sends a visual message to those around me that this is a day for kindness only. It is accessorised with a weak smile, puffy eyes and limp chatter. Shoulders are hunched and movements are slow. It’s a symbol that right now, it’s all too much; I’m attempting to insulate myself from the cruelty outside (or, more often, within).

For some, the image of a dressing gown may invoke images of Monart luxury spa advertisements, best accompanied by cucumber slices and Prosecco flutes. I may favour a white gown, feigning at least some glamour, but this illusion is quickly punctuated by pockets stuffed with pill packets and used tissues. Perhaps a migraine cooling pad in lieu of a mud facemask. A white gown is exceptionally difficult to keep clean, particularly one as lived-in as mine. Stoking the fire, sipping turmeric tea, eating jammy toast, vomit, tears and hospitals – the gown keeps store of all activities like a patchwork quilt.

Unexpected house visitors are often met at the door by a bedraggled woman in a dressing gown and the six-month bump of a hot water bottle. Guests in my family home have become accustomed to finding me in the foetal position in my gown, clutching a fistful of rice-cakes attempting politely to follow the conversation as pain causes my focus to drift. In the moments I do rise – to the kettle, the loo, the leaba – movements, slowed by illness, are slowed only further by the drag of the gown.

Those of you who wear dressing gowns will know that they are not designed for fast or nifty movement. Rather they are designed for lounging and that often serves to reinforce the trapped feeling of illness; a day in a dressing gown is a day of inertia. A day that will drag, where passing time is an active chore and feels boundless. No, this is not luxuriate glamour.

But often when we are in extreme pain and discomfort, when the simple act of doing nothing hurts, we can seek little more than comfort. For even one part of your body to feel nice – or at least not dreadful – can bring tear-inducing relief. On better days too, it is nice to feel nice. And there lies my lovely dressing gown, ready to cuddle me in her familiar embrace, demanding nothing but a soft knot around the waist.

And so, it is only fair to thank it. Our relationship may be strained but my loyalty runs deep.

So, here is to you, my dear dressing gown;

An ode to my dressing gown

My second layer of skin
My companion, my comfort,
When life shuts me in
Who curtains my rear
On runs to the loo,
Hugs my sad shoulders,
Like a fleece feverfew,
Who protects and deflects,
And issues alert
A shield from the world
And a warning I’m hurt
With generous pockets
And a plentiful hood
My dear dressing gown
How can one be so good?

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