As a fully-fledged woman, with over 30 years’ experience of womanhood and of doing woman things, and thinking woman thoughts, I feel I can speak with some experience on how women ‘tick’. Of course, don’t just take my word for it; if you need confirmation of my womanliness before I continue, let me just say that my qualifications include historic knowledge of Barbie and Ken dating back as far as 1986. I'm also the proud owner of a fairly serviceable vagina.
I've lately felt a strange shift in the way we, as females of the species, treat one another. This is an issue for all of us of course, but I refer more to our treatment of one another within the health community. Forums, social media and blogs centred on chronic illness should in theory be the most sacred of places, where we feel safe in the knowledge that we can say anything about our conditions without fear of judgement or being silenced and/or shamed for what ‘society’ perceives to be inappropriate levels of discussion around bowels and the contents of our toilets. We should be able to speak freely and without the added worry of upsetting those we love. Our own, personal, sickly safety net.
But often the holes that can appear in that net cause more issues than they are designed to resolve. I've found that competitiveness, bitterness, and resentment often practiced by women (and humans in general: I'm no sexist, we are all idiots from time to time), in day-to-day life has started to bleed into our ‘safe places’. We argue amongst ourselves over what we should and shouldn't say and do. We make other women feel weak because our symptoms are worse and we can do this that or the next thing, so why can’t you? We shame one another when we struggle to hold everything together. We badmouth those who try to better themselves.
Well, firstly I will say that I’m no saint. I’ve served my time in the hallowed high school halls where bitching about your fellow teens is completely expected, if not insisted upon. Especially if you don’t want your head to be flushed down the toilet, which let’s face it, even Christian Grey would probably squirm at the thought of. I was absolutely never a bully, I find these people abhorrent; but I did get drawn into the badmouthing of others. It’s very hard not too, especially as an impressionable teenager. But we are now adults, and that excuse no longer fits the crime. As with any form of bullying, it usually stems from something missing in the bully’s life. They look to distract themselves and the wider world from what they lack by pushing someone allegedly weaker or more vulnerable further down.
Chronic illness and all that goes with it can already be an incredibly isolating and lonely world to find yourself in. Over the course of my illness, from my initial (and lengthy) diagnosis to today, I've gradually found the people in my life who have been unable to ‘deal with’ my illness, have fallen by the wayside. I've slowly but determinedly dropped them off at ‘Acquaintance Street’ where they are more comfortable in perhaps just seeing me once a year, or texting me randomly to talk about anything other than the state of my bowels. Don’t get me wrong, losing some of these women from my close circle of trust was an incredibly painful experience in most cases. It made me feel weak and useless and that my personality had somehow changed beyond all recognition. What had I done wrong? I’m not in control of this illness of course, but maybe I wasn't trying hard enough, I just need to woman up or I’ll end up losing everyone! I'm upsetting people and I shouldn't be; it’s my fault! Maybe I should be making more of an effort… Do you see how easy it is to fall into that trap?
On the whole my experiences of other women within the health community have been very positive. They’ve helped me in immeasurable ways to feel less alone, less ashamed of my condition (and my new body) and educated me in ways a doctor doesn't have the time or perhaps inclination to. I want us to learn to pull one another up.
Help us help ourselves.
The more we start to berate one another for not trying hard enough is when we begin to doubt our own abilities. Be proud of one another when you achieve, and when you try but don’t. You of all people know how hard life is with an incurable illness, so why on earth would you want to make it even harder for someone else? You have the unique ability to share your knowledge with someone perhaps less fortunate, so grasp it, instead of reminding them how much harder you have it. Maybe if you changed that outlook things might be that little bit easier for you too.