Wednesday, 8 March 2017

International Women’s Day: Everyday Heroines

This was originally posted on The Olive Fox before the online magazine closed.

This International Women’s Day, I wanted to talk about some of my heroines – not the big names we all know of, but the everyday women whose names you don’t know, who you wouldn’t recognise walking down the street. The women I know who have fought or are still fighting their own battles, or who have done some good in the world; the women who inspire me.

A black and white photo of three women walking, arms linked, taken from behind

My Nan was a foster carer for over twenty years, following some time as a childminder. Throughout my years as a child and into my early twenties, Nan opened her heart and home to child after child. Foster care tends to get a bit of a bad rap, but I have only ever seen the good it does – the difference Nan made to so many lives. There are a number of people who loved Nan and stayed in contact with her after they left the care system, one of whom is pretty much family now, who always thought of Nan as her mum. Nan looked after new born babies right through to teenagers, some she desperately wanted to adopt but wasn’t allowed due to her age, others who treated my Nan badly, inviting people into her home when she was out to steal from her. But no matter how hard things got – how betrayed she felt when she was robbed, how much her heart broke when she had to say goodbye to a child she had come to love – she carried on fostering, giving children a safe, loving, and stable environment, whether it be for a couple of days or a couple of years. Nan had such a huge capacity for love, and she gave that love freely, making sure children who weren’t before were now safe. The treatment some of these children had experienced would break your heart, but my Nan changed their lives, if just for a little while. It was normal as I was growing up, but looking back on all she did now I’m an adult, I am so full of admiration for this woman who gave these children a home.

My Mum has Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has had since I was 12-years- old. It’s a condition with many different symptoms, but not everyone with M.E. will have all or the same symptoms. For my Mum, there are a number of different symptoms but the main ones, the ones that I can see the affects of, are the extreme tiredness and lack of energy. Mum is unable to work due to her illness, and requires a lot of sleep – though the sleep she gets is disturbed and restless. There are certain things she can’t do, or can’t do very often, and it’s something she has come to accept, but the things she can do, she wants to do. Days out, like going to the cinema, she would have to have to prepare for in advance; rest up and do very little the day before to preserve her energy, but in the days following, she would be exhausted, her whole body would ache, and again, she’d be able to do very little. Her illness has severely affected her everyday life, and can no longer live like she used to – going for nights out with work colleagues or going to a dance class every week. Even so, she’s still a happy, joyful person. She doesn’t let her M.E. hold her back; she takes pride in the things she can do, and is prepared to deal with the bad days to still do some of the things she enjoys – things most of us take for granted. It’s been so hard to see my Mum struggle with her health over the years, the bad days when she was still coming to terms with her illness, before being able to accept what she couldn’t do any more. It did lead to Depression, but she’s not let it beat her. She stays positive, and is still very much herself – a loving and caring woman who loves to laugh. She inspires me every single day as she keeps on keeping on. She’s incredible.

There are three women in my life who have experienced domestic violence. One was threatened by her husband with a knife, the other two ended up in refuges with their children to escape the violence at home. But even then for one of the families the abuse didn’t end, as the woman’s husband would constantly send their daughter emails, emotionally blackmailing her, threatening to attempt suicide. Fear was a part of their every day, until they got themselves out of it. They sought help and got free from the hell that was their lives. I cannot even begin to fathom the immense courage it took to get out when they felt so much fear. To endure such torment, to then find the strength to say “No more.” To break out, and be able to live normal, happy, fulfilled lives free from terror. It breaks my heart to think of what they experienced, but I am so proud and so in awe of them for taking back their lives and the lives of their children. They’re amazing.

Amber is a fellow book blogger who runs The Mile Long Bookcase. She is also a woman who has chronic anxiety, and the last few years of her school education were attended at an online school. But once she finished secondary school, her school could no longer pay for her fees to continue her education. Amber wanted to study her A-Levels, she wanted to get a job, and have all the things everyone else would She didn’t want her anxiety or money to keep her from getting an education she wanted, so she asked for help. She created a Crowdfunder page to raise £4,500 in four weeks. She had the passion to learn, the determination not to give up, and the courage and the strength to not only ask for help, which in itself can be so, so difficult, but to do so openly and publicly on her blog. Her blog and Twitter followers – many of whom were fellow bloggers, readers, and even some authors – rallied together. We came to Amber’s aid, and she raised the money she desperately needed to continue her education. Amber is a complete inspiration, and I’m in awe of her.

My beautiful and wonderful friend Caoimhe had her life turned on its head last year when she split up from the guy she thought she would marry – the guy she had been looking for a home with. As well as splitting up with her ex, suddenly, the future was uncertain. She struggled for a while, until she decided to see the end of her relationship as an opportunity to do things she might not have otherwise. She decided to grab her newfound freedom with both hands, and decided to move to Spain to be an au pair for six months. Caoimhe also suffers anxiety, and her decision to move somewhere where she doesn’t know anyone was huge, and her mental illness did cause her to question and doubt her decision. But she is so unbelievably strong and courageous, and took that leap. She’s now out there, over two months in, and absolutely loving the experiences she’s having. I don’t know if I could have completely uprooted and taken such a risk, so I am bowled over that she has been so brave, and is out there living her life.

These women may not be world famous, but they’re still worthy of celebration today. We’re all going to know women who won’t break the internet or make the news (well, except for Amber, maybe), but women who still do incredible things every single day, whether in their own life, or for others. This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate those ladies, too. Which everyday heroines in your life will you be celebrating today?

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