Today is International Women’s Day so I thought it was a good day to write about my chronically ill girls and ladies!
I have a theory that while we may not be physically stronger than men on average, women grow to be much stronger than men in other ways. By going through the experiences they go through in their day-to-day lives and how they just keep on living and blossoming and growing and giving despite all of that, it’s just amazing.
I also have a theory that chronically ill women are all the more stronger than their healthy friends from all of the extra hurdles they’ve learnt how to leap over (or roll under…) in their lives.
Because this is Women’s Day, and as I have the experience of being a chronically ill cis-woman dealing with many other sick ladies much stronger than myself, this is all I’m going to cover in this blog post.
In saying that, I want to note up front that if you also add in any other non-privileged intersections (in sexuality, gender identity, race, class etc) you’re seeing even more hurdles, and some of the strongest people you could imagine. Honestly, I couldn’t write a blog that would do that justice.
So this blog is all of the ways I think your local chronically ill woman is damn strong, based on talking to, receiving support from, and reading posts by many chronically ill women online and in the support groups I’m in. I have learnt a LOT about these women and I find it honestly incredible what they’re capable of.
So here we go – I think these are the top ways that your chronically ill friend is extra strong.
In general, girls are often raised to think of other’s feelings before their own and be caring and nurturing of others so, often, they grow up to be very empathetic.
Chronically ill women will go through many ups and downs in life. It’s a huge physical, mental and emotional rollercoaster. Like one you couldn’t imagine without going through some sort of trauma yourself.
Because of this, their empathy grows as their understanding of the human experience broadens. This will make anyone empathetic, but if that’s the way you’re socialised, it really strengthens that muscle.
They learn to see your issues from your perspective by being able to relate to different experiences that people can have. It’s quite a super power for a person to be able to say the right thing at the right time to help you deal with your problems.
This is one thing I’ve learnt – the most empathetic, loving people I’ve had responding to me and my pleas for support were women in MUCH worse situations than mine. But they would still treat me as if my problem is as serious as it feels to me and offering the most support than others who just don’t understand.
The ability to bounce back from a negative experience is called resilience. And when you’re chronically ill, that’s basically your life. It’s a series of ups and downs, physically, with whatever your ailments are, and mentally and emotionally, dealing with all of the fun that comes with it.
Being a woman, you also need to deal with an extra level of issues, like doctors not taking you seriously, or the possibility of being harassed or abused.
Women routinely have their pain dismissed. Research shows they take longer to get diagnoses and medicine, and are on average given less pain medication. Issues that directly affect women take an embarrassing amount of time to be taken seriously and diagnosed.
This all takes a toll on a person – it’s another down to which you need to find an up to continue with life. Every single time a sick woman gets back up from being ill or being dismissed, she is building her resilience.
Her bounce-back-ability is next level.
This is different to empathy, it’s caring. The amount of chronically ill women that I know who are mothers and partners who, despite their situation, will do all they possibly can to be there for their family is amazing to me.
They’re good friends and amazing support to others. They know what it feels like to feel uncared for or alone (emotionally, being ill can give these feelings whether they’re rational or not).
Illness is a convenient excuse to pull back from people and focus on themselves, and sometimes it’s very important to do that (you can’t pour from an empty cup). But in general, if a sick woman’s cup is full, they’ll know how to care for you.
I feel so cared for and supported by my chronically ill women and I know I can rely on them to be there for me. Sometimes not straight away, but when they’re well enough, they will be.
Navigating the medical world when you’re chronically ill, or have a rare or undiagnosed condition is so very complicated. Your world view shatters when you realise that doctors don’t know everything and the body is so complex that answers are not always clear.
One thing you have to learn when you’re chronically ill is how to be your own advocate to make sure you’re getting all of the help you need. And when you’re a woman, and there is subconscious bias in the air, you need to learn how to do it in a world that may dismiss you.
This teaches you independence and confidence. You need to go to appointments prepared, ask questions and stand up for yourself to get the answers you need.
You need to join support groups and see what others do. You need to educate yourself and ensure you’re doing the right thing for your body.
Getting diagnosed can be hard work, but over time, you will learn to stand up for yourself and be independent and strong.
I believe all of the above traits are strong.
Often when we talk about strength, we talk about physical strength. I picture a grunting Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a Liam Neeson. I might even think Serena Williams, but I’m picturing her incredible power.
But when we’re talking about strength, I think it’s important not to look past the people who may look weakest, because I would suggest they may be the truly strongest people out there.
A cane, a wheelchair, a physical, mental, invisible or visible condition is not a sign of weakness.
Being bedridden, or unable to work, or exercise, or go out is not a sign of weakness.
The empathy, resilience, independence, and caring these people have learnt through the emotional and physical rollercoaster that is life with constant illness makes them some of the strongest people in the whole world.
I commend all women on their strength, and I commend all chronically ill people on their strength too. But most of all, I commend all chronically ill women for their ability to take all the difficulties in life and learn such important lessons from them. Then to be able to channel them into the most amazing strengths that then other people can learn and benefit from.
And thank you to every chronically ill lady who has shown me empathy and caring, and taught me resilience and independence – those who are with us, and those who aren’t. I wouldn’t have grown to be a strong chronically ill woman myself without the time and energy you gave me ❤️