All my life I’ve gone back and forth between jumping all in and tiptoeing around any given thing. At this time in my life I’ve decided that it’s time for me to be all in. All in, in a big way. Timidity doesn’t really suit me.
Charlie presented “Go Big or Go Home…or Go Deep,” in San Francisco a couple of years ago. In this spirit, we’re going to go big and go deep during this series. You’re going to be hearing from many amazing women and men. I am honored to start this series.
I believe empowerment is something that comes from within, and it is strongly influenced by many sociological factors. Empowerment must come from within; you will only be empowered if you believe you are.
And it is important to recognize that there are many ways that each and every one of us can facilitate and support the empowerment of others. None of us can ignore our environment and the impact outside factors have on our lives and development. They don’t have to define us though.
Just Another Southern Girl
I grew up in the South; in fact, Charlie and I grew up in the same town. As a girl and young woman growing up in this environment I didn’t see many examples of empowered women. At least, not that I recognized at the time.
There were many examples of sexism, classism, racism, heterosexism, religious discrimination, and many other “isms” surrounding me on a daily basis. This was reality for me, and to be honest I always felt pretty uncomfortable with this.
What I do remember about women that were “different” is the label Bitch. I know now that there were empowered women around me. Unfortunately, that empowerment was seen as an affront to the “natural” order of things.
I was fortunate that I had family that wanted better things for me; I was pushed early on to be successful. This is another aspect of empowerment that I’ll come back to. The ramifications for this push may have been just as deleterious, as I was going to learn in my 30s.
The Price of a PhD
Now that I think back on this many years later I realize that the first big instance of me stepping out from what I was “supposed to be” and into what felt right for me was when I changed my major from Pre-Med to Sociology.
Looking at that journey now it’s not surprising at all that Sociology had so much appeal to me. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a Sociologist that felt like they fit. What a shock, huh?
I had finally set my own course. At least that’s what I thought at the time. I chose the subject area; however, I still “needed” to be the best in this subject. I “had” to get my PhD. I “had” to have a great academic appointment. I “had” to get the best grant monies and publications. And, the list goes on.
I certainly don’t regret spending so much time in academia and completing my PhD. I’m just coming to terms with this a few years out of academia. What I did is something I should be proud of, and it is something that will help me throughout my life. I use Sociology every day; I have to in the work I do here at PF. I work within the community and with our clients. I love that. That makes me happy. That makes me feel empowered.
The Beginning of an End
Thirty-one years of doing what I thought I should do and being who I thought I should be led to nearly deadly results. This is why empowerment is such an important topic to me. Charlie wrote about the journey that I was on last year and what we went through together as a couple, and each of us independently. I don’t want to repeat everything that Charlie shared before, but I will touch on some of the more important points, so that you are able to follow this lead up to empowerment for me.
Having spent most of my life doing what I thought I should do and doing what others expected of me led to a near death experience last July, and thus the beginnings of a long road to recovery that I am still on today.
While still in academia, and knowing that it was past time for me to get out, I developed my second autoimmune disease. I had already struggled with debilitating endometriosis through my teens and twenties. I had surgery for this when I was only 22 years old; with doctors removing lots of scarring and cysts and inducing menopause. It was very overwhelming going though that at such a young age.
As I was ending my PhD program I noticed that I was starting to feel pretty miserable physically in many different ways. Just months after completing my PhD, and starting in my first faculty position, I learned that I had developed ulcerative colitis. There’s a lot that is not known about many autoimmune diseases, but what my doctor and I both knew was that stress was not going to help me get well. “Type A” Angela had been on perfection overdrive for far too long. My body was letting me know it was time to shift gears.
I decided a few months later that my first year in a faculty position was going to be my last. I knew it was the right thing to do, and I was also so disappointed in myself and my body. In reality, my body did me a favor. What I did was finally listen. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, despite that it hurt so much.
The Downward Spiral
Fast forward about a year, with many other family and personal tragedies happening. This is where things really started to unravel. I lost two grandparents in a short time, took on much of the “blame” for what happened, tried to help everyone else get through it, and to be completely honest, did a dreadful job of taking care of myself.
Despite my well thought-through reasoning for leaving academia I still was not taking care of myself. Old habits are indeed hard to break.
Fast forward another few months and I start on experimental medication for my autoimmune disease. All known treatments had not worked for me; it seemed that my case was severe and progressed rapidly. All tests indicated that my body was handling the medication quite well.
My doctor gave me the all clear to go on vacation. While in the middle of nowhere in Alaska I had an almost deadly reaction to the experimental medication I was on. Charlie was able to get medical treatment for me in time and I did make it. I haven’t been the same since.
We went about life as normal not even a few weeks after this happened. I knew it would take a few months to recover physically. What this trained sociologist of mental health didn’t pay attention to though was that my mental health and spirit had suffered just as much, if not more, than my physical health. I had been saying for over a year that I should get in to see a counselor; that with all the change in my life I needed help processing and working through all the change. I didn’t do it though.
In September 2011 life as Charlie and I knew it came to a horrible, scary halt. I was suffering from PTSD, severe anxiety, and depression. It hit so hard and so strong that I could not function. I was unable to make any decisions. I was scared all the time. I wouldn’t talk to anyone; I couldn’t, the words just didn’t want to come out. Honestly, I felt that there was no use to talk anymore. That’s where it got very scary for me…suicidal thoughts took over my mind. I know me, the real me; this was not me. I am trained in mental health. I knew what was happening to me, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I can’t do justice to what four months feels like when you just want all the pain to end; when you know life will never be the same; when you feel that this may be your last year.
A New Beginning
In some ways I’ve been a shell of myself since. I’m leaving that shell behind though. Shedding the old; embracing the new.
I was fortunate to get in to see a psychologist that has been a huge part of my recovery. There was so much to work through, and the time to work through it couldn’t happen until I was actually stable enough to know what needed to be seen, what needed to be heard, and what I could no longer ignore.
After about four months I was finally starting to see positive improvement. The suicidal thoughts were very rare by that point, I was starting to engage with Charlie and family and a few friends, and I thought that there might actually be a future for me.
It was at this point that I was strong enough to slowly, very slowly, start working with Michelle (my psychologist) on the deeper issues that had led to my “re-set.”. Not surprisingly, now that you know a little about my background, I had lots of re-working of assumptions, changes in the stories I was telling myself, and redefining of relationships that were important to me.
Another way of saying this is “sister, I’ve got baggage” and I feel able to work through that now. I feel empowered. That power comes from within me. And, it is important that those who are close to me know that that empowerment will be around from now on. I’m not giving up my voice again.
I can’t be the person I want to be in this world without my voice. I have lots to say. I have lots to share. I have lots of empowerment I want to share with others.
Embracing Being Perfectly Imperfect
There is still much self work ahead for me. I am OK with that. Finally, for the first time in my life, I embrace that I am not perfect, I will never be perfect, and that I am “perfect” just the way I am. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep working towards a better me. That’s exactly what I am going to do!
I believe that each and every one of us is on a journey throughout our lives to be a “better and happier” version of ourselves. Embracing and loving who you are right now is the only way to get to that better you. We’re all on that journey together.
A message that I would like to shout out loud (yes, I’m an Amos Lee fan) to those who are dear to me and those of you I hope I can cultivate a dear relationship with: I’d like to be there to give a hand, lend an ear, help lift you up when you need it. I hope that you can do that for me, as well.
I am a woman; therefore, women’s empowerment is dear to me. I am a Sociologist, even if I am no longer in academia. I specialized in mental health, family, and gender while in my graduate program. My research focused on women’s and children’s mental health. I will always have an interest in women’s empowerment. I’m declaring now that I will also take action to empower myself and be a source of support in the empowerment of other women.
We Grow Stronger Together
I thought it was time I widened this circle and brought in voices and perspectives from many amazing women and men. That’s what this core conversation is all about. We have an amazing lineup of women and men that will be joining the conversation with us.
I hope that you feel empowered to join in this conversation with us here and with your communities. We would love to hear your perspective; hear about your journey with and to empowerment; be there with you through the wins and losses associated with this life long journey.
Thanks for joining in the conversation. Please bring your community here to join in this conversation with us or take the conversation to your community in your own way. Conversation is wonderful and we want positive growth and change for all. Here’s to the empowered in each and every one of us!
I’d like to leave you with two questions today:
- Do you feel empowered? Why or why not? How can you feel even more empowered in your life?
- What can you do to help empower women in your life?
Go do something to empower yourself or another woman today. Then let us know about it. We want to celebrate with you.