My Facebook, Flickr and Twitter followers would know that for the month of October I’ve been wearing dresses and skirts as part of “Frocktober”. The official Frocktober campaign was raising money for ovarian cancer. I was not actually involved with this official campaign (unlike my very good friend Naomi) but I was inspired by it.
We all recognise that women’s health is an important issue (as is men’s health). October usually sees the world painted pink. Pink ribbons abound and there is much talk about breast cancer in particular. Raising money and, indeed, awareness for other women’s cancers such as ovarian and cervical is a very worthy quest. However, I didn’t really want to stop there…
At the beginning of October I had a nasty virus. I coughed, sneezed, sniffled and spluttered my way through the last week of September and the first week of October. I felt utterly foul. I had no energy and lost all sense of pride in my appearance. My usual mantle of vanity was smashed.
In the midst of this, “Frocktober” began. It was at this point that I was reminded that the simplest of things such as getting dressed and making oneself look presentable can take such a massive effort for someone suffering a serious illness such as cancer. Then I began thinking beyond the “women’s cancers” to other conditions which affect us as women. Often we don’t speak of these illnesses because of the parts of the body they attack. Sometimes you may hear a middle aged woman complain of her symptoms at “the change of life” or you may notice the mood swings of a younger woman at “that time of the month” but mostly gynaecological matters are left unspoken. The fact that we shy away from saying the proper names for menopause and menstruation tells us that these things are still taboo.
Then there are conditions you wouldn’t know existed unless one of your close female friends was diagnosed with such a thing and she took time to confide in you about her struggles. Do you know what endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome or dysmenorrhoea are? Would you know how to support a woman with any of these or other gynaecological conditions?
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a condition which falls within this category. It is a condition which affects nearly 20% of women between the ages of 18 and 60 so, statistically speaking, I suspect a number of you reading this are also afflicted. It is misunderstood and misdiagnosed by the medical profession and virtually unknown in the general community. Since I was diagnosed with this I wanted to scream from the rooftops, take out full page ads and get on TV and tell the world of this insidious condition which seemed to be striking at the very heart of what it was for me to be a woman. …and yet, I cannot say its name to you here in this blog. If you ask me about this, I will still probably not tell you about it. …And please don’t pity me or offer me hugs – this is just a fact of life that I have learned to deal with…like HECS debts and credit card bills.
Perhaps one day the taboos will be as broken as my will was. Perhaps society will be as blasé about women’s (and men’s) health as it is about the common cold.
Until the dawning of Utopia, spare a thought for those of us who struggle in silence with conditions that hurt and debilitate and eat away at our very souls.
I may not have raised money for Frocktober but Frocktober has given me back my sense of femininity. I am a woman… I am vulnerable, broken and fragile… Hear me roar!
And without further ado, here are my “Frocks” (yes, some of them are not actually frocks but are tops and skirts)…
Frocktober 2011, a set on Flickr.