To all the wondrous, powerful, inspiring and loving women in my life,
It’s because of you all that I am here now, being who I am, being what I want to be, with all the happiness, strength and pride you taught me to have, as we all continue discovering ourselves.
On International Women’s Day 2019, I wanted to shout out to all those who have embedded concrete examples of inspiration and wealth into each milestone of every girl around you. To the one teacher, whom, amongst all the boys, reminded me that it was totally okay to fall in love with science, and that woodwork, sports courts and labs weren’t just for men. Whilst everyone else told me I would never make it to medical school to pursue my dreams of becoming a Doctor, you instead encouraged me, to at least try and then fail, rather than fail to even try – perhaps because you too knew of the gender inequalities, and the added inequalities disability puts on us – that as a young woman, taking the easy, less emotional way through and out was otherwise far better perceived. But we are not weak, and we are not overly-fantasising. That’s only for people with small balls.
Then, when struck down in hospital for a year, it was you who taught me what being a kind-hearted, logical, yet independent young female doctor was all about. Whilst the other senior surgeons came by on the ward-rounds, head muffled down at their clipboards, muttering deep-voiced jargon under their breaths whilst rubbing their chins of stubble, before turning away without even acknowledging me, the patient, or what my treatment plan entailed, you’d always come back. You’d sit down and explain everything down in plain English – plain patient. But you’d also pause and listen. Compassion, understanding, acknowledgement. Whilst I was scared, a teenager bedbound for a year, my abdomen a pin cushion with foreign tubes and pumps, I thought I could no longer feel beautiful, human, feminine again. But you just smiled. You drew the curtains across softly and lifted up your uniform. You showed me the big, shiny purple scar that glazed all the way across your axilla. You reminded me that that hadn’t defined you and that you were stronger than ever, achieving your career and life dreams. And that I could also do the same.
Before then, I was a full-time athlete, on the British Team, with sponsorship for the 2012 Paralympics. Sport then, was my career. My life. During this milestone, I ventured out and networked. I taught young disabled children the opportunity of sport participation. I collaborated, and I shook many hands of those handing over awards, sponsorship, opportunities of strength and belief that I could be that sportsperson. And they were all women. Dames. You were the exact examples of stamina and fiery determination to always be the best. You were the ambassadors I looked up to whilst trying to be one myself, to perform but also to commit, and that having the muscle and the drive, the sweat and the blood, was empowering in a female sportsperson, not frowned upon. So whilst others girls my age were spending their evenings dusting through make-up palettes and flicking contour brushes, I was drenched in the stench of sweat and chlorine, roaring through the swimming lanes through grit and hue. You taught me to be fierce.
And then, back to school to restart education, back on track towards my career goal. To the other teacher, who, whilst Medicine was always the goal, encouraged me to continue writing, and to never lose touch of my love and passion for words. You’d collect my scraps of poetry over black tea and porridge before the morning register. I wanted to be the next addition to the world of flamboyant female poets and you cherished that with smile and eager fist. All whilst others told me that I was wasting my time. I’ve since published a piece and kept all my other works in carefully filed folders, pleading I don’t scrap my metaphors of thought at a whim. Perhaps it’s thanks to you that I now blog, no longer fearing that my words and writing will pass by meaningless, the definitions of my literary motives dissolving long before they reached their eyes and ears.
They may never have reached your eyes and ears, but I can only promise that you are always thought about, remembered and loved. To those women who are no longer with us, though there is always that dull heartache in your absence, your impact remains considerably. My Grandma – the absolute inspiration to everything that I am now, and want to become still. Your infectious laugh lives and breathes within us all, your warble of song rippling through the old black and white video-tapes. You were so lively and care-free. You never cared what people thought of you, and shone out with all your colours and talents. You taught me, perhaps unknowingly to you, what being a woman was really all about. Your roles in the leading fashion industry worldwide, your youthful power through your athletics and musical theatre, and then your private home-life, where you made Mum, the woman who is every single part of me, and whom I’m every single part of her. And when chronic illness overshadowed you, and a medical error stunned you that one summer’s morning, you still didn’t give way – you breathed in the world around you so deeply and graciously, and you looked into our eyes carefully, with three generations of resilience and message. It’s because of you that I so passionately want to specialise in the medical field of holistic care – palliative medicine, always doing what’s right for all those people around you. Thank you.
In a matter of weeks after you left us, I experienced what no woman would ever dream on anyone. I was sexually assaulted by a man whom I put all trust into – a tutor, to teach me the rights and wrongs of Medicine and Science. I was left numb, without direction, confused and unquestioned. But I refused to stay quiet. And that was only thanks to all those women on the screen and in the papers over the years that have fought to speak out, spread the word and deliver justice in every form it deserved to be in. You have taught us all to use our voice, and to never feel small or violated. Tested by the pressures and reliving in Court, he got what he deserved, and my voice only grew louder. That, I am not ashamed of, but proud, relieved and reborn from.
Meanwhile, some things may forever stay private. Family. Love. To my sister – thank you for never judging me for what I am or for who I am, for never seeing me as anything but your sister, a member of your family, our family, and a friend. You have always been there for me, no matter how small the doses, whilst you too, study so tremendously hard towards your own career in Medicine on the opposite side of the country. Our exchange of comical insults and comfortable silences, your smile is more than enough, and your presence is my treasure.
And to all my other girlfriends – you are all my sisters, biological or not. And whilst you are all going through your own struggles, your insecurities and uncertainties, I wanted to remind you all that you are beautiful, and amazing. It’s okay to cry – your tears are not poison or streams of weakness, but in fact bullets, that strike courage, strong-will, story and fight. Stop trying to be the person they want you to be, or the person you think they want you to be. Take every opportunity with pride and cherish, not in shame or bewilderment. And if you can’t quite find those opportunities you seek, make them. We will always be beside one another.
Then lastly, you, Mum. Time and time, and time again, you drop everything before you, for me, without exception, excuse or circumstance. You’ve held my hand, through the doors to nursery, through to the haunting screams and moans of the hospital bed, as I lay delirious, scared and alone on my 25th birthday in Intensive Care. The force of my pressures, my own stressful life events, burdened upon you, may have made you crack, may have feathered your hair a wisp of paler shade, but not once have you broken. My nurse, my teacher, my driver, my friend. My Mum. I want to be like you. But, at the same time, that is simply unimaginable. Because what you are and what you do seems so impossible unless you possess the aura of a superwoman, which you undoubtedly are. Where you dig out your resilience, your calm and your strength, your invincibility and ability to multitask through love and loss, life, day and night, you’re just amazing. Never then, has ‘Thank You’ been such a meaningless, insignificant, miniscule word. For you, those words will never be enough.
To all the wondrous, powerful, inspiring and loving women in my life, here’s to you. Not on International Women’s Day, but for always.