March is Women’s History Month. A time when we reflect on the monumental accomplishments made to society by women.While many choose to elevate public figures like politicians, movie stars or musicians to the highest levels of esteem and reverence, my choice lies in my heart. I am placing on a pedestal someone that society often says should be thrown away. Not because of her lack of contribution. But because of what plagues her mind – mental illness.
Ellevate Network has asked that we recognize and celebrate #FemaleRoleModels. I can’t think of anyone better suited to celebrate and pattern my life after than my sister and closest friend. Her start in this world was not ideal. As a child she not only suffered from physical bumps and bruises but, through ignorance, was exposed to traumatic situations that would later manifest themselves in the form of a serious, potentially debilitating mental illness.
When I came along, she went to great lengths to protect me from suffering the same trauma. Her over-protectiveness annoyed me. We barely got along as younger siblings because there were some things I just couldn’t understand. Things I just couldn’t appreciate about her or see in her. All of the “episodes” and illnesses…I thought she was faking. I viewed her presence as a total inconvenience in my life and at times our relationship was seemingly non-existent.
In spite of it all…in spite of all the daily noise, stupid comments, ignorant remarks about the mentally ill, and me…my sister persevered. She always knew something wasn’t quite right and she persistently sought help. Early on, there were days when I could see the struggle in her eyes and could tell that the will to go on was fading. All of the medications, misdiagnosis, physiological symptoms without explanation…yet she never gave up. Even when family refused to believe that what troubled her was real and denied her access to care, she insisted on being the best possible “she.”
Forced to live in a closet most of her life, everyday she would try to shut the door on her issues and would go to work to appear “normal.” All the while, the noises getting louder and louder inside her head making it hard to concentrate. Making it hard to breathe. How can anyone exist in a world like this? How can anyone navigate through life never hearing silence? Never hearing peace? But always wearing a smile. And always giving from the heart in spite of the unwillingness of her mind.
She fearlessly fought for help. It took her 30 years to find the right answers to a test she never asked to take.
If I knew how she did it, I would tell you. But I don’t need to know the how to know that watching her navigate through this life is truly amazing and inspiring. As my understanding of her and of her diagnosis increased, I was able to take a place by her side as a supporter, a shoulder, a friend and finally…a sister. A sister who would understand and not see her presence as a total inconvenience. A sister who would come to appreciate the many lessons she taught me then and continues to teach me every day. As a toddler she taught me how to tie my shoes and to read and write. As a woman, she taught me it’s not enough to see an issue, the value lies in doing something about it.
In reality, the polish and shine of public figures, movie stars or musicians don’t appeal to me. Those lives come with silver spoons, privilege and only a fraction of the difficulty people like my sister face on a daily basis. I don’t discount the contributions of great women that came before me, but none will ever contribute to my heart and soul as my sister has. She is my #FemaleRoleModel.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/87222948@N08/8009107494″>Up on the attic</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>