Movement (etymology):

Medieval Latin movimentum, from Latin movere, “to move”, from PIE root *meue- “to push away.”

Doublet of moment and momentum.

Late 14c., mevement, “change of position; passage from place to place.”

In the political/artistic/social sense of “course of acts and endeavours by a body of persons toward some specific end.”[i]

Mermaid purses (thornback ray egg cases), cuttlefish bones, fishing float, skull of a bird (pending identification), a green crab (dead).

I am beachcombing along one of the most at risk coastlines of the UK, from Pett in East Sussex to Hythe in Kent. It marks the shoreline perimeter of what currently forms the Romney Marshes in the southeast of England. This area of land has been formed and reformed with the tides and storms for centuries, and it will again become ocean as the coastline withdraws and the seas rise.

“I’ve come to think of the ocean as an archive of sorts. Every now and then, it offers up an object that makes me see something that I might have otherwise ignored.” (Huband, 2023).

In her book Sea Bean, Sally Huband writes about her beachcombed finds as she walks the coastlines of Shetland and beyond, after developing chronic illness. She tells stories of sexism, witchcraft, and folklore alongside global stories of green-washing and racial injustice, all through her practice of beachcombing. Through the objects she finds, Huband opens the world up from a series of single moments.

‘nature cure’, ‘wellness’, exploitation, extractivism, isolation, austerity.

Collections of debris thrown ashore by the incoming tide, the strandline is formed of everything left behind as the sea retreats. Drawing a new boundary every twelve and a half hours, it is an entangled line, of human and the more-than-human. Each time it moves and shifts, new connections and objects are thrown up, a process of revealing and eroding, offering new answers to questions, new questions to answer, new treasure. A microcosm that holds clues about wider ecosystems, bigger stories.

A critical and creative writing project, my PhD is examining the themes connecting the environment and disability through objects found on the beach. I am looking to illustrate the ableist structures that uphold the ideals celebrating the normative body over the disabled one in parallel with the celebration and disregard of the environment. Ableism is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people. Disability is defined as any ‘physical or mental impairment’ that lasts for more than a year and causes significant impact on day-to-day activities. It is a protected characteristic in The Equality Act (2010).

green plastic rope, common crab shell, bladderwrack, parsnip, lesser spotted cat shark (dead), a pair of fingerless gloves (black).

As I collect objects from the beach I am unravelling the stigma, shame and blame so often experienced with chronic illness and disability – understanding what is mine to be managed, and what is society’s to be rejected. Through mapping the societal structures, to lay them all out and unpick them in turn, I hope to unhook myself from each in my own internalised ableism. These are the stories that portray disabled and chronically ill people as ‘lesser than’, with tales of pity and charity. This is the ableist language that provides the foundations to the world I have grown up in: striving, competing, achieving. A world that conversely adds to the burden of those living with illness and disability, of feeling unworthy, undeserving. A burden that enables society to continue in its disregard for disabled people.

The COVID-19 enquiry has shown evidence of how disabled people and the clinically vulnerable were identified as lesser than. Despite initial hope for something different, of community and access, a mentality of ‘survival of the fittest’ took root, with talk of ‘herd immunity’ ongoing. Those marginalised in multiple ways are discriminated against multiple times. Ableism was (and is) implicit in government decision-making, and sixty percent of those who died were disabled. This is beyond a disregard for disabled people; it was a series of wilful intentional acts.

ableism, barriers, emotional labour, power dynamics, capitalism, systemic injustice.

These wilful acts continue, while the pandemic is ongoing there are no longer any public health policies, nor protections for those of us who remain at risk from viral infection. Online access and accommodations have been reduced or removed, and a demand and expectation to ‘get back to normal’ is the dominant message of recent years that has prevailed.

stack of slipper limpets, pinecone, humerus of a grey seal, clear plastic water bottle (empty), blunt gaper shell.

It is complicated to consider mental health for people with chronic illness because for many it has been used to explain away their illness or pathologise a reasonable response to life-altering conditions. It can be perceived as the trigger to, the explanation, rather than the consequence. A large and influential research trial in the UK set out to prove their hypotheses, that patients with ME/CFS were seriously ill simply because they believed themselves to be ill, championing psychological treatments to change patients ‘faulty illness beliefs’[i]. I am wary of naming mental health in chronic illness because it has been wilfully misunderstood, blocking access to research, treatments, and assessments. I have had to carefully construct my stories in these tricky places of healthcare. The tide can come in quickly, solid ground becomes flooded, and I can get unmoored from my footing. One GP tried to reassure me, saying that he found mindfulness helpful when I went with a chest infection that refused to budge; I was offered anti-depressants when I had persistent symptoms of breathlessness and tightness in my chest climbing the stairs.

systemic sexism, medical misogyny, over-diagnosis, under-diagnosis, mis-diagnosis, hysteria.

My experience of my bodymind is complex, interwoven with societal and medical judgements and mis-judgements. Living with a complex poorly understood (poorly diagnosed) condition that does not have effective treatment is stressful. Getting diagnosed is a slow and complex process of hurdles and rabbit holes. The connective tissue disorder I live with has been associated also with neurodivergence, anxiety, autonomic dysfunction, and prolonged post-viral illness[i] – if you have one you are more likely to have more. This is in addition to the wild and rapid losses that can come with acquiring chronic illness, whether arriving like a land slide or more gradual slippage, it can create an even greater sense of dislocation and uncertainty from your sense of self and the world around you. Everything now exists on constantly shifting shingle.

blue plastic rope, dog whelk egg cases, a washing up liquid bottle, the top of a pineapple, a single black sock.

A woman with energy-limiting illness, I am more likely to have my symptoms mis-diagnosed, under-diagnosed, and dismissed entirely. Women’s stories of their own bodies are undermined and disputed. Black and brown skinned women, people of the global majority, even more so. Being doubted by the person you have gone to for help can accumulate over time, years of subtle but persistent gaslighting can ignite medical trauma. This destabilises foundations further, from shingle to quicksand.

Spaces of both land and sea, I’ve drawn from the intertidal zone as a metaphor for living with chronic illness – incoming and outgoing tides revealing and obscuring this space of neither and both. One of the things I have learned from the sea is how this place holds space, for pausing and reflecting, a moment of stillness in the face of turbulent waters. It reminds me how sometimes hurling things out and abandoning expectations is the best thing I can do, letting go of my own flotsam and jetsam.

community, intersectionality, access, collaboration, reciprocity.

Living with an energy limiting illness I have my own internal tidal system of pain and fatigue, grief and loss, fear and rage, each rising and falling. With each cycle, I find myself more or less able to weather the storms and face the crashing waves against the stones. No repetition or flare of symptoms is the same as the last. Shapes of spirals and fractal patterns feel more fitting than any sense of linear progression, forms reflected on the beach and in the waves, movement and transformation – from land to sea and back again. I cannot return to the exact same place more than once, neither can I return to what was ‘before’. I weave and unpick my own versions of the stories of my body, new ones made and remade over again with each new find and piece of information.

“I want us to tend the unrestorable places and ecosystems that are ugly, stripped down, full of toxins, rather than considering them unnatural and abandoning them. I want us to respect and embrace the bodies disabled through environmental destruction, age, war, genocide, abysmal working conditions, hunger, poverty, and twists of fate, rather than deeming them abnormal bodies to isolate, fear, hate, and dispose of.” (Clare, 2022).

The Romney Marshes are currently expected to flood by the end of the century with rising sea levels. Work is ongoing in building and maintaining flood defences, beaches are regularly moved from one place to another by fleets of JCBs as the shoreline is endlessly travelling eastwards. There is constant movement, constant change, constant need for adaptation.

an uprooted tree, blue plastic comb, hagstone, shipworm bored driftwood, common oyster shell, a fossilised sponge.

Eli Clare’s work has unpicked the terms ‘nature’ and ‘cure’, finding them both problematic when you live in a non-normative bodymind[i]. Drawing on Crip Theory[ii], through an inter-disciplinary practice of arts and writing, I am constructing stories through beachcombed finds. The objects along the beach are “out of place”[iii], washed up, cast adrift, discarded; but in the hands of a beachcomber, this is treasure. These are precious objects with rich stories to tell. Entanglements of human and more-than-human, the sea and the strandline offer spaces on which to ponder vast themes, while focussing on the small and specific, the things that can fit in the palm of my hand.

“Beachcombing isn’t necessarily a form of escapism. Paying close attention to jetsam and flotsam means confronting much that is wrong with the world.” (Huband, 2024).

I have learned to embrace the element of chance. I know how illness (as life) is a chance event that I find connection with in the landscape too. Chance and randomness are embodied in the practice of beachcombing, but there is also a science to what is washed up on the shore, patterns can be found. The ocean currents have been mapped through beachcombed finds and container ship spillages, citizen science projects draw on beachcombing to learn about the water quality and monitor the abundance and biodiversity of species.

There is a constant shifting of attending and attuning, adjusting and accommodating, to the erosions of body and landscape. I am learning to notice the additional burden I carry of ableism, of societal pressure to be productive, to fit within capitalist structures and societal norms, to resist my bodymind’s need for rest and gentle care. My bodymind cannot be sustained within such harsh places. I have had to go elsewhere to find space for my sick body, and the strandline and intertidal zone offer me this.

crip time, rest, solidarity, social justice, disability justice, climate justice, play, dance, hope.

The strandline shows me everything is entwined and interconnected. I think there is much to be learned from each other when we consider and value mental health in physical health (and vice versa, for both have vast unmet needs), what we can learn from (and as) disabled people, and how we live well in integrated bodyminds. Through walking alongside, sitting by, dancing with, swimming in, and watching over the sea, there is scope to understand and disentangle some of these larger complexities of the environment.

Chronic illness leaves its own strandline, of losses and grief, of what was before and what is newly arrived, but also of new possibilities of understanding and knowledge, of new connections. I will chart the vanishing coastline through the climate crisis, alongside the erosion of my bodymind, living through a pandemic within an ableist society. These societal constraints will bring material to reflect on as I build new places to inhabit, resting and creating, noticing and naming, finding the answers in things that wash up on the beach.


With thanks to Dr David Cooper and Dr Sally Huband for their early reading and thoughtful feedback on this piece of writing.”


Clare, E. (2022) ‘Notes on Natural Worlds.’ In Ray, J. & Sibara, R. (eds) Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: toward an eco-crip theory. London: Nebraska (p257).

Huband, S. (2024) ‘Beachcombing in Shetland: I’ve travelled the world without leaving home’. Guardian. 1 April.

Huband, S. (2023) Sea Bean: A Beachcomber’s Search for a Magical Charm. London: Penguin. (p197)

Ray, S. & Sibara, J. (eds) Disability Studies and the Environmental Humanities: Toward an Eco-Crip Theory. London: Nebraska.

[i] Clare, E. (2017) Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

[ii] McRuer, R. (2006) Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: New York University Press.

[iii] Farrier, D. Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. (page 51)

[i] Eccles, JA, Cadar D, Quadt L, et al. (2024) ‘Is joint hypermobility linked to self-reported non-recovery from COVID-19? Case control evidence from the British COVID Symptom Study Biobank’. BMJ Public Health 19th March. Online. [accessed 15/4/24]

[i] Rehmeyer, J. (2016) ‘Bad science misled millions with chronic fatigue syndrome. Here’s how we fought back’. Stat News, 16th September.


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