Writer Fredelle Maynard (mother of the more famous Joyce Maynard) once wrote a parenting book in which she stated that children should hold the belief that “never since the beginning of time has there been anybody just like you.”
There are plenty of arguments to be made for the idea that this notion has upended the practicality of plenty of children, resulting in a generation of what the right-wing likes to call “snowflakes” –– children who have grown into adults who internalized the belief that they are special and that their stories are unique. But here’s the thing –– I think that for better or for worse, that notion is true. Tomi Lahren can call me a snowflake all she wants, but I believe my stories (and yours, and the woman next to you’s) are worth telling.
No two people have the same set of experiences. Even the most seemingly unremarkable life has been interspersed with interesting stories (or stories that could be interesting, if presented in the right way.) The magic of some stories is in the grandiosity of adventure and mystery, while the magic in others is finding a meaningful way to capture the average drudge of an ordinary life. I believe in personal narratives the way some people believe in religion. The old adage “everybody’s got a story” resonates in my core, and it’s driven most of my life.
The feeling that I had a story to tell is what drove me to start my blog, Sicker Than Your Average, where I share everything from the fantastical to the mundane about living with a chronic illness. That’s my story –– I have a (sometimes debilitating) autoimmune disease, and there are a million tiny stories wrapped up in that big one. I have found sharing my experiences to be liberating, and validating, and sometimes downright spiritual.
But it doesn’t come without discomfort. As women, we’re painted into a corner. We’re told to be quieter and more mysterious, and to “keep it to yourself.” That if you’re too much or too loud or too open, you lose some of your appeal. Bottling it up has been a feminine art form in my family, so it’s occasionally difficult to be the squeaky wheel. Women who share their stories are often characterized as dramatic, or oversharers, or attention-seeking, or about a million other categories of undesirable.
You don’t have to look far from the daily news to see this act of suppression in practice. Over the past several weeks I’ve been inundated with tweets and news stories and opinions from acquaintances that all fit along the lines of: “Hillary Clinton wrote a book. Isn’t that annoying?” A woman can rise to the never-before-achieved level of being the first female nominee for president from a major political party, and we still as a society seem to want her to keep quiet lest we become uncomfortable.
In the face of all this anger directed at women who share their stories, it becomes that much more important that we do. People criticize in the hopes of silencing you –– making it paramount that you, in turn, yell a little bit louder. If you’re a woman who relates a personal experience into the public dialogue, I guarantee that there will be people who disagree with you. There will be people who criticize you. Those people do not change the fact that you have a right to tell your story and say your piece. Whether your story is about a relationship with a partner, or your relationship with your malfunctioning body, or your relationship with an entire nation, these stories matter. It may be overly idealistic in 2017, but I live with the irrevocable belief that stories can and do change minds and build a more understanding world.
Motivations differ –– some women write to achieve the catharsis of articulating grief. Others, like myself, want to advocate for themselves and others in similar situations. You only have to look as far as #HowObamacareSavedMyLife on Twitter to see how individual stories can be a catalyst for political change. Sharing stories of adversity builds empathy, which I firmly believe is the most important foundation piece of a functioning world.
The capacity for change is what keeps me writing and talking and sharing even when my self-conscious inner-critic wishes I would give in and be quieter. When the messaging that tells women that we’re better seen and not heard weasels its way into my brain, I think of all of the people who have come to me after reading about my experiences and said a simple “Me too. Thanks for putting it into words.” Those kind of human connections are worth making yourself vulnerable for, and they’re why we have to keep putting ourselves out there. Owning your stories is far more critical to the human experience than abiding by old school norms could ever be.
Sam Reid is writer and social media professional from Chicago. When she's not working at her day job in marketing communications, you can find her blogging about my experience with chronic illness at Sicker Than Your Average or raising funds for some very important patient programs. Her goal is to bring patient issues to light and hopefully provide a bit of humor and humanity along the way. She uses her platform to put a face on invisible illnesses and educate others on the realities of the American healthcare system. Outside of writing as a form of advocacy, she spends her time dabbling in the comedy writing sphere, hanging out with her two cats, or eating overpriced cheese plates.