I was born into a family of extraordinary women. Many of them ahead of their time; they went to college, started companies, donated to Planned Parenthood, long before any of those things were acceptable for their gender. My grandmother loved telling a story about how my great-grandmother stormed into the house one day demanding a new horse for their carriage. Her husband asked, ‘What’s the matter dear, did somebody pass you on the street?’, that was exactly the problem, my great-grandmother needed a horse that would allow her to pass everyone. My grandmother was such a pillar of the community there is not a person in her town that doesn’t know her name. She raised three children, the majority of the time on her own, stepped in to be a mother when the wife of her best friend died, went out of her way to help people, and volunteered on the fire department so long that when she had to be forced to retire, the state named a day in her honor. My own mother has two children who have tried to end the lives she gave them. She is also newly retired as a Woman’s Health Nurse, where she educated on birth control and safe sex practices, saw the aftermath of Spring Break, worked on a college campus that had something called ‘The Rape Trail’, took on helping transgender students transition, volunteered on a suicide prevention task force, and stepped in as a motherly figure for many of her patients.
The more I learn about the women in my family, the prouder I am that some part of them flows in me. I also feel panic that I share DNA with extraordinary, brave, strong, movement shaking women. I talk about these women proudly and hide the dread I feel that I will never live up to the bar they set. I also wonder if they ever thought about what the next generations would be. Did they make waves to leave a better world? Were they focused on bettering themselves so the future could be improved? Or did they not think that far ahead and they were so strong willed they couldn’t help to do great things? On the days my mental illness buddies up with my traumatic brain injury to cause me extreme physical and mental pain, I feel like I am not doing my family name justice. On the days the eating disorder or PTSD are too loud to ignore, I feel like I am letting my family down. As if I am the ax cutting down the entire family tree with a forest’s worth of bad coping skills. I have had so many days stolen from me because I had to pick sitting in dark and quiet over leaving my house. I have had the validity of my invisible illnesses come into question because I look fine. I have sat in a psych ward and been told by doctors that the media put the word suicide in my head and it does not mean what I think it means because I act fine. I have been asked by medical professionals why I did not fight back while I was being raped.
If I really look, the things I am hardest on myself for, are a symptom of being a strong woman myself. I give as much of my time and energy to other people as I can: I am an ear, an extra set of hands, a cheerleader an advocate, and I absolutely support Planned Parenthood. I do what I can, where I can to help my community. I also cry an awful lot. I cry because I am tired, overwhelmed, in pain, have brain fog, or I feel really happy about something. I cry about because I now know that crying is a sign of strength too. Having whatever emotions are present and feeling them instead of sucking it up and shoving them down long enough to never feel any emotions, is strength. When I give myself the days that I need in order to recharge, I show strength. Even on the days that I am told how strong I am and how confident everyone is I will be fine. Even when it feels like the word fine is going to kill me. Even when I would rather scream and throw things than spend one more minute being anyone’s version of strong and fine. On those days, I try and remember that I don’t have to go the speed or direction as anyone else, and I can always ask for a new horse.