Although in our culture we perceive illness as an event happening to an individual, it is no secret that illnesses are indicative not only of an individual but a community out of balance.
For instance, we blame individuals for being overweight, chalking it up to a lack of willpower, even though we know that the culture around the production and eating of food in this country does not support human (or environmental) health. Easier to blame the individual for their lack of vitality, though, rather than take on the web of political, industrial, financial, and cultural forces that create the environment in which eating well takes an awful lot of swimming upstream.
And so it is with v health.
I am sitting here today having recently experienced another bout of v pain, and currently experiencing miserable menstrual cramps, among other things.
It has not escaped my notice that as a child I wanted so much to be a boy - the status of girls and women as second-class citizens was obvious to me at a very young age - and then grew up to experience a rather full gamut of health problems directly affecting my female parts (menstrual pain, v pain, etc) as well as illnesses that in our society affect women at higher rates (depression, anorexia, and chronic pain of all kinds.)
There is an awareness, however nascent, that to take on the nation's diabetes and obesity problems we will need to change our food and exercise culture; Michelle Obama and the White House vegetable garden being a well-known example.
But where is the awareness that the epidemic of health problems affecting female parts and female bodies also indicate a disturbing imbalance that needs to be addressed as a group? Breast cancer, PCOS, dysmenorrhea, fertility challenges, v pain, painful sex, endometriosis, post-partum incontinence, eating disorders, anxiety, burnout, depression...our female bodies are suffering so intensely and yet there is no movement or consciousness that these are anything but individual problems.
(Hell, in some cases there isn't even an idea that these symptoms are actually problems - post-partum incontinence and menstrual cramps are often assumed to be "just part of being a woman." Bulls**t. They may be common, but they aren't normal or healthy.)
My health problems are mine and I am the one in charge of addressing them, but they are also potent signs of cultural disease. I do not think that I would have half the health problems I have suffered from had I been born on a planet that values women, girls, and the feminine in all of us. At the very least, had these health problems still manifested, I would have had a hell of a lot more support in overcoming them. In a world in which the female is valued, it is researched and nourished and cared for, not hidden away under layers of fear and shame.
I write this in solidarity with others who suffer as I do, and to remind my sisters that your v pain or menstrual pain or PCOS or fertility challenges or whatever isn't just YOUR problem, it's OUR problem. Our bodies are reflecting back to us the illness of our cultures and societies, a set of values improperly prioritized.
Is it fair that you get the brunt of this suffering? No.
I would not wish this suffering upon anyone, least of all myself. And yet I acknowledge that I have power in this situation too, a role to play in the larger ecosystem. I can sit back and suffer silently and nothing will change, for me or anyone else, OR I can recognize my role as cultural barometer and make my story public, so that my people and community can see what is happening and be given the opportunity to make change.
When studying ecology, amphibians are viewed as being excellent indicators of the health of their ecosystems. Why? They are sensitive. Watch them and they will alert you to all kinds of problems before said problems are big enough to harm others. The amphibians' vulnerability serves to protect.
Yes, vulnerability is a source of strength and power.
Toughen up the toads and you lose that early warning.
I think we ought to hold a special place in our society for amphibians, literal and metaphorical. Take care of them and you take care of everyone. Protect them and you protect everyone. Neglect them at your peril, as then all will suffer.
* * *
For so many years I have wrestled with the frustration of being chronically ill. Considering my experience from an individual standpoint, I battled the feelings of "less than" over and over again.
But when I step back and see the whole ecosystem, I realize that I am not "less than" at all. Holy crap, not in the slightest. My job is to embrace, care for, and cherish my sensitive, sweet, female body, and alert the rest of the tribe to the damage they are doing.
Ultimately, whether they heed my warnings or not is their choice; my job is to run my own life, not everyone else's. But my personal transformation from victim to messenger is healing in and of itself.
Re-casting my role from "hot mess" to sacred messenger has been liberating. It gives me a much stronger platform upon which to stand. It is a lot easier to push this work forward when I view my experience as a strength rather than a liability, and see sharing it as a service to my people.
So the next time you are sitting in your pity puddle, feeling sorry for yourself and (righteously) angry at the world, ask - is this really only about you? Or are you in Toad Mode, reflecting back society's ills?
Even if you are not ready to shout your v pain story from the rooftops, acknowledging your place in a wider context can help you not take your v pain so personally. It can help to derail the "I am broken" thought train. And derailing the "I am broken" thought train is half the battle.
So try on your new toad skin and see how it fits. Hop on in, the water's fine...
* * *
PS Did this post get your brain gears crankin'?
Feel free to start a conversation below (it's okay, you can be anonymous)!