Why Are We So Hard on Women When They Are Sick?
When I was 19, I was living the high life drinking buckets of gin and tonic and getting Pita Pit delivered to my residence dorm at 3 am. One innocent Saturday night, I headed out with my gaggle of instant best friends from university in search of more first-year merriment.
I remember waking up the next day with a predictable hangover, but as I looked at myself in the mirror, I knew something was very wrong. My skin looked… grey. And my lips were blue. I remember very little before I lost consciousness in the ER. Turns out that I had a bacterial lung infection that antibiotics weren’t able to clear up and my lungs both collapsed under the pressure.
Huh. Who knew?
When I returned to classes, I suddenly felt like a complete outcast. I heard my former best friends whispering together about what had happened. “I just think she wasn’t eating properly or taking care of herself”, said one. “I know”, said another, “she is just so…. skinny”.
I heard rumors that I’d been unable to recover from the loss of my high school relationship, so it was grief that took my lungs out. My stress levels were too high. I hadn’t been getting enough sleep. On and on it went: the rumors, the side looks, the insinuation that at 19, having both of my lungs collapse and me nearly dying was all my fault.
I left my first year of university with my tail between my legs. I had done something to bring this on myself, right?
WRONG. I am now a non-skinny, middle-aged woman. I have watched friends and family members wrestle with cancer, diabetes, mental illness, autoimmune conditions… you get the picture. I see the cycle of victim-blaming over and over again.
The internet is a wonderful and mystical place, full of Web MD symptom checkers. It has also allowed for many people to award themselves with degrees in women’s health, and namely, what women do to cause their own health problems. Got cancer? You’re resentful, sister. The flu? You’re emotionally off-kilter and should sprinkle some lavender essential oil over that shit. Oh, shucks- did you have to have a C-Section? Fear, babe, it was all fear.
Guys. Can we get real here for a minute? Look, I did my entire MSW project on the link between the physical and emotional health of women. So, I get it. I really, truly do. Yes, the mind and body are one. Yes, when we are stressed we are much more susceptible to illness. Yes, I have read and know the Adverse Childhood Events study inside and out. Obviously, if we are drinking buckets of G&T and smoking menthol skinnies (do they even make those anymore?) you’re not going to be living a life of vitality. It is irresponsible to deny the connection is there.
That said, what is more, irresponsible is to presume that women in your life, when in such a vulnerable state (illness) have somehow “energetically” brought this on themselves. Reality check: genetics and science are real. Traumas that are not our choosing happen. Health is a combination of lifestyle, luck, and choice.
To offer positive thoughts and apple cider vinegar as the cure to a serious medical problem is, among other things, dangerous. To suggest that someone in the throws of a health crisis has somehow brought this on themselves is humiliating and shameful for the person going through it. Who wants to be sitting at chemo trying to figure out where it all went wrong emotionally?
Plus, you do remember that the energy you put out will come back to you ten-fold right? By the light of the full moon, let’s drop the crap. If your friend is sick, just drop by with some chicken noodle soup and call it a day. And if you’re sick and reading this: honey, do what you can to get better, when you can, how you can. You are a miracle and I hope you feel better soon.
May you be happy,