From animal rights to combatting ableism

How a change in lifestyle directed her empathy from one injustice to another

By Allie Gregory

While I helped Caleigh Perrett move into her new apartment, I sat down with her to talk about life. Nestled between scattered boxes packed with clothes, kitchenware and books, I asked her about the changes that brought her to her new outlook on social justice issues.

You’ve been involved with many animal rights organizations over the years. Can you speak to that a little bit?

I was lucky to work for Lush [a vegetarian beauty company], where they empower their employees to speakup for what they believe in. I had opportunities to meet incredible people, like Rob Stewart [of Fin Free], who I was lucky enough to host in Toronto; organizations like Fur Bearer Defenders in British Columbia, specifically talking about Canada Goose… Not many people realize the torture that those animals go through and how relaxed our laws are when it comes to animal cruelty.

You were always into animal rights, but your position with Lush amplified that. You were the manager for Queen Street West, and then that changed. What happened?

I was 24 years old. On the side of operations I could do it, but when it came to working with a team and building and organizing, it became a lot. There’s only so long you can do 60-hour workweeks. I kind of lost myself in the hustle.

So then you moved on to manufacturing. But you injured yourself while you were working and had to go to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB).

Yes, I injured my shoulder and my lower back quite badly. I couldn’t sit, stand or lie down. The WSIB is supposed to be there to help protect employees. But they’ve had a history of people taking advantage of them to the point where they basically don’t believe you. They told me that I was fine and I should get back to work. That’s the hardest thing. When you’re being honest and they’re treating you like you’re just out for money. Looking at me, you can’t tell. I’m not using a mobility device. You can’t see the pain but it’s there. When I was diagnosed, it was very humbling for me, looking at my behaviour and how I previously contributed to ableist ideas.

So you did eventually get a diagnosis…

My initial injury was in November. It wasn’t until end of August that I found my current doctor. He finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. Some doctors believe that it’s the memory of pain; that it’s connected to a fight or flight reaction within your body. It’s generally believed to be triggered by accidents.

I really had to start pushing for myself because there is no test for it. Blood tests, MRIs, cat scans. You have to rule out everything else first. It causes fatigue, widespread pain, and difficulty concentrating. When I finally got the diagnosis it was bittersweet.

What you would suggest people do when a friend is diagnosed with a chronic illness?

Saying, “I’m here for you if you ever need help.”

Being patient. [These days] I only have so much energy. I could make plans with someone and then the day comes and I’ve got nothing. I’m just an empty tank. Understanding that when someone is having to bail on plans, it’s not a reflection of your friendship or of them as a friend. 

Could you describe what like an average day for you would look like now?

I live a very routine life. I’m asleep by 11, up by eight (you need more sleep; the condition affects your REM cycle). I have my morning medication, breakfast, and then relax. I do stretching, exercising and weights. Then try to work. I got a position [at Shopify] because it was remote. It gave me that ability to be in my pyjamas at work if it was too painful to put on a bra that day.

What do you see going forward with this new life of yours?

I can’t expect 100 percent of myself 100 per cent of the time. Persistence is the most important thing to me. I will get up every single day and I will try again. I was able to work three hours today. That’s it. Can I go out tonight? No I can’t. But tomorrow I’m going to get up again. You could be sad and stay down or you could get mad and get back up again. I think that is the most important thing.

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