Resilience & Adaptability: On Kelly Davio’s ‘It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability’

Melissa Grunow
Jun 30, 2018 · 3 min read

Davio’s essays handle with honesty and humor the complexities, misgivings, and misunderstandings of debilitating disease.


Kelly Davio
Essays | 144 Pages | 5.25” x 8.5” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–1941960066 | First Edition | $18.00
Squares & Rebels | Minneapolis | BUY HERE


When life and survival are literally at the hands of others — doctors, physical therapists, caregivers — it may seem natural to regress into self-pity and tragic loathing.

But in It’s Just Nerves, Kelly Davio doesn’t do that. Instead, she ruminates on the complexities, misgivings, and misunderstandings of living with myasthenia gravis, a debilitating disease resulting from a rapid breakdown of communication between nerves and muscles. All abled body functions are compromised, from swallowing to balancing to walking to otherwise navigating one’s home and daily life.

This collection of 25 essays goes beyond Davio’s personal experiences, though they are the center of each piece. Additionally, with unflinching honesty and unexpected humor, she critiques healthcare in America and abroad, perceptions and attitudes toward (in)visible disabilities, and the aftermath of physical and familial loss.

In “The Smell of Tempered Glass,” Davio offers a fair definition of ableism:

“the notion that the abled body is the right body, and that the disabled body is an aberration. It’s the view that life in a disabled body isn’t simply a different kind of life, but that it’s a lesser one.”

No stranger to the intolerant attitudes of abled-bodied others, in “Sick Girl Walking,” Davio recounts a frequent encounter with women at the gym who stand in a Lycra-clad circle gabbing amongst themselves on the landing of the stairs, blocking access to the handrail. No matter how many times she politely requests that they let her pass, no matter how often she reminds them, “I need to use the handrail,” they barely acknowledge her presence, let alone her request.

“I hope that one day these women will have some kind of breakthrough of the imagination — that they’ll hear me say, ‘I need to use the handrail,’ and think, really think, about what I mean. I’m waiting for it to occur to them that, just because someone like me looks like she should be able to hoof it up and down a few flights doesn’t mean she is able. I’m waiting for the day that people think about sharing public space […] with different kinds of bodies.”

Unfortunately and expectedly, the able-bodied antagonists in Davio’s essay never come to this realization; if they do, she isn’t present for it. Instead, she demonstrates her resilience and adaptability aptitude, and keeps moving forward.

Davio’s essays will compel any reader to reflect on his relationship to his body — whether abled or disabled — and how we’re all seeking a world that will have us as we are.

MELISSA GRUNOW is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) and I Don’t Belong Here, forthcoming from New Meridian Arts Press in fall 2018. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, and elsewhere. Find her at her website.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Melissa Grunow

Written by

Author of REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (2016) and I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (2018), book reviewer, word nerd. www.melissagrunow.com #amwriting

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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