I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

I have been sick since March. It started with an infection that has lead to three surgeries, with at least one more on the way. I found out I would be needing those surgeries on the same day that I found out we would not be getting the house we’d been under contract on for five months. The house for which we had packed our belongings and listed our home.

It also happened to be the same day that I found out I was being summoned for jury duty.

It’s been that kind of year.

pain quote

I didn’t know what it was like to have chronic pain and discomfort until I had chronic pain and discomfort. I’m used to being sick until I’m not, taking time off of work or activities if necessary, stopping for a few days, and then resuming normality.

The problem with chronic pain is that there comes a time after which you have to resume normality without feeling normal.

It’s been that kind of year.

If I don’t think about it, then it’s easy to pretend that everything is alright. But then I catch myself sitting in front of the refrigerator, cutting off slices of cheese to eat, one after the other. Or sitting at my computer, clicking “buy” before the alarm in my head goes off to remind me that I don’t really have the money to spend. Because eating and spending are a really good distraction to feeling.

And the key to pain management is making it possible to stop feeling pain.

Two months ago I got a message in my inbox from a friend, telling me that she was sending me a t-shirt that said, “Strong Woman”. There have been a lot of moments in my life when those words would have resonated deeply within me. Like immediately after running my first ten-miler, or the moment my son’s perfect slippery body was laid on my chest after a day and a half of labor.

But it hasn’t been that kind of year.

Last week, on the same day, three of my friends reached out to me to check to see how I was doing. I didn’t know, until I knew, just how much I would crave this sort of help, while at the same time avoiding it because where do you start? If I think about what I need, it starts pulling the yarn until the whole sweater of need is unraveled, and I’m not prepared for that level of nakedness, and I’m not good at knitting.


But to avoid becoming a hermit, and to honor two of the friends I truly care about, I went to a going away party last weekend. Many of my dearest friends were there, and I found myself sitting at a table with a fellow mom, one I’m still getting to know, but whose honesty I’ve appreciated. Her daughter is enough older than my son that she has good insights, but not too much older that she can’t remember. We started talking about potty training, and the diapers that leak in the middle of the night all over the bed.

She offered an idea of solving the problem, but I think she could tell right away that I was not in the mood. Maybe she could see the holes forming in my sweater. So she said, “But you’ll know when it’s the right time for you to make a change.”

It was so little, but it was also grace. Permission to not have to solve the problem. Permission to have this be hard. Permission to be needy. Permission to know when to heal.

And a reminder that this is just a moment in time.

What my friend didn’t know when she sent me my Strong Woman t-shirt is that it would arrive two days before my third surgery. I woke up the morning of the surgery and pulled the shirt over my head. It’s the kind of shirt people notice, and several strangers read the words aloud as I walked past them in the hospital. I didn’t know why I wanted to wear the shirt that day, only that it was necessary.


Two months later, looking back, I think I wore it as a reminder. A reminder that it has been that kind of year. I have been sick, I have been in pain. I feel needy and I feel weak.

But none of those things tells me who I am. Who I am is a strong woman.

A strong woman with a beautiful, messy sweater of need.

A strong woman who, when it is the right time, will heal.


11 responses to “I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

  1. Pingback: Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend | Teacher. Reader. Mom.

  2. Dear Rachel, living with chronic pain is difficult for some people to understand. Dealing with one crisis after another, as well. But when we come to terms with our limitations and embrace our strengths and define who we are while reaching out for help… that’s when we can feel more at peace. We can also help others. Great writing like yours is helpful. I’m reaching back to you from Seattle with a big hug. I’m proud of you for so many reasons, little cousin!


    • Thank you so much dear Lara! I know that you know what it is like to have chronic pain, and I so appreciate you reaching out. I like what you said, “When we come to terms with our limitation and embrace our strengths…” Yes! I think that’s definitely what I’m working on. And it does help to know I’m not alone. 🙂


  3. You. Are. A. Hero. For your honesty in a world that hides. Hope you’re feeling a little less like a messy sweater on this beautiful fall day. And if not, I hope you’re able to embrace that too. 😉



  4. SUCH an excellent piece, Rachel. Thanks, as always, for your vulnerability. You have a unique way of being transparent and presenting the reality you’re living with, while making the reader smile. You ARE a strong woman.
    Love you.


  5. Wowza! I resonated SO MUCH with this!

    I’ve been battling anxiety for about four months now, and having had a six month bout with chronic pain in the past, I can confirm that the situations have many similarities.
    Like how people can’t see a reason for you not being ok, and it’s confusing to them.
    Like how you have to carry on even though the pain/anxiety is like an anchor you have to drag around with you 24/7.
    Like how there’s stigma attached to being weak or vulnerable in our society that’s humbling and excruciating to push back against.
    Just last week a friend who’s been walking through this with me wrote me an email. The whole thing was encouraging, but this part really struck deep into my soul: “Be patient and diligent. And when you feel you are not managing, don’t worry. God will take up the slack.”
    Just as you mentioned, that permission to not be ok and not be fully in charge of or responsible for being better was huge to me. HUGE.
    Being strong and being needy aren’t mutually exclusive. WHO KNEW!?!?


    • Thank you for this! It somehow helps to know that my experience isn’t unique, that others kow how this feels, too. And definitely good to know that it’s ok to be needy. Sigh.


  6. Strong hugs for a strong woman!


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