Struggling to remain independent - How Finnish women told about early retirement in their illness narratives
Swedish School of Social Sciences University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
This paper tells the story of what and how Finnish women diagnosed with chronic back pain told about early retirement in their illness narratives. Early retirement was experienced as a biographical disruption, because their identity and life-course expectations were strongly embedded in wage work. They belong to an efter war generation of Finns who have internalized ideas of wage work as central to their identity and citizenship.
Narratives are defined as identity performances. The performance approach asserts that narrative identity is a continuous but fragmented process. Narrative identity means that the identity of the self is discovered and created through storytelling. Narrators tell themselves and others about who they are - and who they would like to be, in the stories they tell and how they tell them (Andrews 2007).
The data were collected through an autobiographic writing competition, organized in 1999 by the Department of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki, Finland. From the entire data, consisting of 165 individually written narratives, 26 female narratives telling about early retirement were selected. These protagonists are between 28-56 years of age. By emphatic reading as an analytic strategy, my aim was to try to understand the protagonists' illness related experiences. Three different ways of performing narrative identity were discerned; "The disability paradox", "Struggling to survive", and "Ambivalence in relation to self, and society", higlligting how chronic back pain and early retirement were processed.
The protagonists jointly struggled to remain as individually independent as possible and exphasized their ability to control their painful bodies. The Finnish cultural norm tends to emphasize mental independence and ignore the fact that individuals cannot be truly independent from their bodies. On the contrary, chronic illness means losing one's bodily independency. In the health care practices the norm of individual independency are stronger than a bodily impairment. The protagonists jointly acknowledged this cultural split betweeen mental independency and bodily dependency. Also this made explicit that the Finnish culture and the health are system lack practice to discuss bodily dependency with dignity.