Welcome to the second of our House of Horrors episodes—Awful Seating. You’re visiting a friend’s house and seating options abound, all of them terrible for people in good health–nightmarish for people with invisible disabilities that involve pain.
There’s the too-deep couch, comfortable only for someone with a 3-foot-long femur, and the piles of throw pillows you’re supposed to arrange around your body so you can sit. Unless you’re under 40 and can comfortably draw your knees up, or you can lie down, you’re going to suffer on that couch. Extra horror points for slippery naugahyde.
There’s the easy chair designed for no body ever. Generally cubelike, you must also arrange throw pillows in order to sit in it. You can’t lean back against the pillows or your spine will strain in a concave column of raw nerves. But don’t stand up—after 15 minutes in that chair, your lower back will twinge so hard, you’ll fall to your knees.
If you don’t want the cubist uneasy chair, you can have the fussy antique hardback chair with the puffy needlepoint seat that requires you to shift constantly to keep at least one “sit bone” at the crest of the puff. Once again, your lower back is going to twinge for days .
At mealtime, do you go to the hardback dining room chairs? You might survive those for an hour; they usually have good seats and sort-of adequate backs, unless the backs flare and curve toward the front at the top, as is the current fashion. I happen to have a rod and 8 screws in my upper left arm, and those curves press the screws into my flesh and rake against the rod. My undamaged right side isn’t that much more enthusiastic about the curve. (Patio chairs are even worse—the curve is wrought in metal!)
No, you go right past the table to the high chairs at the breakfast bar, where your feet clutch anxiously at the rail a foot above the floor, keeping your lower back muscles engaged in holding your legs up for the entire meal. If you’re lucky, there’s at least a short back to the chair.
These are standard pieces of furniture that typical people have in their homes. Why? Is this where they really sit? Usually there’s a more casual room where they hang out when they don’t have company. That’s where the good chairs are. Never trust a “decorated” room.
I visited a friend in another town two years ago, and I encountered 4 of the 5 furniture demons listed above. I had planned to stay 3 nights; I left after 2 because I was doubled up on my pain meds and could not get comfortable, no matter what I did. I made a pretext of needing to arrive early for a thing in Portland, my next stop. (The Marriott business suite I stayed in was a godsend—every piece of furniture designed for comfort, right down to the faux-Aeron desk chair in the room.)
Last Sunday I went to my neighbors’ house for coffee. Their home décor isn’t going to show up in any magazines, but it’s a real living space, with artifacts from their adventures displayed, and art made by their talented adult son. Every chair showed years of use. I chose a scuffed leather reading chair with an ottoman and sank into blissful comfort. It was all I could do to stay awake! All the seating in their living room fit their bodies (and mine). Even the couch is one you can actually sit on without needing to bolster yourself with 3 pillows, and your feet comfortably reach the floor. That’s a real home.
A few years ago, my chiropractor asked me about the seating in my home. I had a big couch in my condo living room, one my then-husband picked out. It’s handy to have a sleeper couch, but not if it’s the only place to sit in your living room. I admitted that I generally spent most of my couch time lying down, and it wasn’t comfortable. The doctor urged me to buy a recliner that fit my body. I balked at the price, and she said, “You can pay me or the furniture store, it’s up to you.” I bought two matching small recliners and never looked back.
I know my new home is a nightmare for visitors; they can choose from a folding chair, sitting on the stairs, or in good weather, sitting outside. For me, though, I have one small recliner in the great room and my real Aeron chair in my office. My home is a tiny house on wheels, so I can’t add any indoor seating without taking away something I need. My friends know this going in—we repair to a nearby coffee shop or bar after a few minutes of catching up.
I’ve already panned restaurant seating in a past post (https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2018/08/excluded-from-the-table-ableism-in-restaurant-seating/), so we won’t go there today. What is the seating like in your home? Does this make you want to change anything? Hythee, to the furniture store go! Or Craigslist, or the Buy Nothing Network, or whatever your go-to is for freebies. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Make your home seating work for you.