Appreciatively Well: 3 Fictitious Women and Their Wellness

I’m a big believer in wellness, and I find all elements of it interesting. From the power of belonging and acceptance to the impact of stress and oppression; from the ways in which movement and voice are healing, to the pain of repression and stigma — I’m here for all of it.

It’s probably why I also believe that our wellbeing is an intersectional pursuit. Wellbeing is entwined with, and enmeshed with, every single element of our being.

Who we are, the identities we hold, the role we play in our families and in the world, the privilege and the lack of privilege that presents in our lives — it all comes together and impacts our ability to experience wellness.

ID; Center circle says Intersectional Identities and the surrounding multi-colored circles list the following identity makers: trauma, class, disability, religion, race, sexual identity, gender, relational status.

I love a good case study — I love think through how and why, and what it could feel like to be in another person’s shoes. Below are 3 fictitious women, presented as mini-case studies. As you read them, you might be asking yourself:

  • What privilege is present within these held identities? (This may connect to gender, sexual preference, age, race, religion, education, economic, etc.)
  • What struggles are amplified by intersectional identities?
  • If I was in this scenario, how would I feel? What would I do?
  • How can I empathize with others, even if I do not share their identity markers or struggles?

A Story of Many Women

Imagine, if you will, a woman.

She is 31 years old. She lives in the state she grew up in. She feels depressed and struggles to connect with others, which has led to feeling isolated and alone. In addition, she doesn’t sleep well, feels uncomfortable with her body, and finds herself spending 12+ hours a day being extremely busy in order to distance herself from her emotional struggles. When she stops, she tends to feel incredibly anxious, and has even had panic attacks.

That’s going to be baseline truth for the 3 case studies below — the starting point, if you will, for thinking about how they experience their own wellbeing.

Woman #1: Sasha

Sasha is Black, and grew up as an only child in a middle-class family in the suburbs of Kenosha, WI. She joined the military at 18, despite her parent's wishes for her to attend college, and has since been deployed to active conflict areas in the Middle East twice. After exiting the army she moved back to Wisconsin to be close to her parents, who are dealing with age-related health issues. She thought being around family would be a good thing, but she often feels stifled and misunderstood.

It seems like no one from her “old life” really understands the impact her military service had on her, and she doesn’t seem to know how to fit in anymore. Her new job as a manager is moderately enjoyable, but it lacks the camaraderie of the military and she finds that most of the other women her age are already married / raising kids; although Sasha wants a family “one day”, she isn’t interested in dating seriously at the moment. She has enjoyed occasional dates, but often feels that the men she meets feel intimidated by her deployments and military background. She feels out of place as an independent, single woman, and also finds that the direct, no-nonsense way of communicating that had been valued in her military career isn’t always responded to well in the office or in 1:1 interactions.

She finds herself increasingly worried that others are seeing her as a stereotypical “angry Black woman”, and is also aware that she is the only Black member of the management at her job. Although unstated, there is a constant pressure to do things “right”, and Sasha often feels as if she is performing for the mostly white people she works with and around. There doesn’t seem to be anyone she can connect with at work or in the community that accepts and understands her as a veteran, a Black woman, and a caretaker for aging parents; she feels isolated and frustrated.

Sasha attended two counseling sessions with a white counselor who had suggested to her that she could “tone down” her directives and speak in gentler tones at work in order to seem more friendly and approachable; the counselor also liked to use phrases like “we find what we’re looking for” when Sasha has tried to talk about her frustrations at work. She had not returned and feels tired at the thought of trying to locate a therapist who would understand her needs.

She is 31 years old. She lives in the state she grew up in. She feels depressed and struggles to connect with others, which has led to feeling isolated and alone. In addition, she doesn’t sleep well and finds herself spending 12+ hours a day being extremely busy in order to distance herself from her emotional struggles. When she stops, she tends to feel incredibly anxious and has even had panic attacks.

Woman #2: Sandra

Sandra is white, and grew up in a middle/lower class family in Utah; she is one of four children, and her immediate and extended family are devout Mormons, as is most of the community she grew up in. She attended Brigham Young University in Salt Lake Springs for an undergraduate degree in teaching; while there, she met a young man that she married two weeks after graduation. Sandra now lives about 10 miles from where she grew up, and is a stay-at-home mom raising 4 children that are close in age. Her husband is a traveling sales rep and is often gone for 2–3 weeks at a time. She finds herself frequently comforting herself with the idea that these are the sacrifices that “good” wives and “good” mothers are required to make, and knows she should not complain.

Throughout her life Sandra has experienced cycles of shame and guilt related to her body, modesty, and purity. In addition, pregnancy and birth have significantly changed her body, and she tends to wear oversized / large clothing to hide herself as much as possible. She had once dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, but church leadership and her parents had strongly encouraged her to get married and settle down quickly. Although she loves her children, she is frequently exhausted and worries that she is failing them. There is a constant sensation of failure that Sandra attributes to “not trying hard enough”, and she often finds herself worrying about the state of her soul. More and more frequently she finds herself in the kitchen, eating to stuff down the strong negative emotions that are swirling within. She pushes herself to fit in with her conservative community and serves on multiple committees. Much of her life feels like a performance to keep her religious community and family happy; she is shrinking and taking up less and less space with her voice and being. More recently, she has been watching the protests at the Keystone Pipeline; the marches for Black Lives Matter; the outrage about immigration at the border. She feels overwhelmed and confused; guilty about being white but unclear about what that means and how she can fix it. When she tries to talk about this in her study group the leader admonishes her and reminds the group that “all lives matter” — she recommends that Sandra “quit seeing color” and focus on souls. Feeling embarrassed and confused, Sandra drops the topics and decides not to mention it again.

Sandra had asked for a counseling recommendation and was referred to a Mormon counselor who attends her temple; she feels she can’t be open about her doubts and struggles with this woman but lacks the confidence to say she wants to find a different provider. Mostly, she talks to her about the stresses of raising children and gets feedback about spending more time in prayer and devoting herself to being a godly mother and wife.

She is 31 years old. She lives in the state she grew up in. She feels depressed and struggles to connect with others, which has led to feeling isolated and alone. In addition, she doesn’t sleep well and finds herself spending 12+ hours a day being extremely busy in order to distance herself from her emotional struggles. When she stops, she tends to feel incredibly anxious and has even had panic attacks.

Woman #3: Susan

Susan is Asian American. She grew up in a wealthy family in New York, and was very close with her only sibling, an older brother, who passed away from cancer a year ago. Her brother’s wife moved back to her California family with their two children, and Susan’s parents decided to move there as well to be close to their only grandchildren. Now, they are becoming increasingly insistent that Susan move to California in order to remain close to them.

As their only surviving child, Susan feels an immense amount of pressure to follow their request. She knows they will take it quite personally if she remains in New York; although she understands why they moved, she resents their expectations that she do the same, as she is very happy in her home and within her career. In addition, Susan has recently begun to attend therapy, which she finds beneficial. Initially she was there for grief, but she has increasingly shared more about her personal life. She has come out to her therapist and has a desire to explore her sexuality, although she fears her parents will not be able to cope with this news. She’s also shared that she has no desire to have children, or possibly ever to marry. With her parents out of state, she feels more freedom to explore her own interests, including the possibility of going on dates with another woman she recently met at an event she volunteered for. However, she is also processing what it might mean to both herself and her parents if she chooses to not have biological children — not to mention what it would mean to her family if she was to publically be in a same-sex relationship. There is a possibility that they would disown her, although as their only child Susan hopes that maybe they could find a way to move past it. Susan desperately misses her brother, who had frequently acted as a buffer between herself and her parents.

Over the past few months, however, those concerns have been overshadowed by increasing animosity and racial violence towards Asian-Americans; a few streets away from her parent's home, an elderly Chinese man had been severely beaten in the streets, and other violence has been reported. Susan feels increasingly fearful for her parent's safety and knows that if something happens to them she will feel responsible for not having been there, even though realistically she knows that she can’t prevent racial violence. She has started looking at real estate in California and understands that if she moves there she will likely never explore romantic relationships while her parents are alive. In between a rock and hard place, Susan is struggling with the need to honor herself and her independence by staying in New York, or to honor her parent's needs and wishes by moving to California. She can’t seem to find a path in which both are options, and the weight of pleasing her parents feels too heavy to carry alone.

She is 31 years old. She lives in the state she grew up in. She feels depressed and struggles to connect with others, which has led to feeling isolated and alone. In addition, she doesn’t sleep well and finds herself spending 12+ hours a day being extremely busy in order to distance herself from her emotional struggles. When she stops, she tends to feel incredibly anxious and has even had panic attacks.

Let’s Review

  • What privilege is present within these held identities? (This may connect to gender, sexual preference, age, race, religion, education, economic, etc.)
  • What struggles are amplified by intersectional identities?
  • If I was in this scenario, how would I feel? What would I do?
  • How can I empathize with others, even if I do not share their identity markers or struggles?

Interested in learning more and being part of a wellness community? Sign up to learn more about Appreciative Wellbeing here.

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Hannah Hassler

Hannah Hassler

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Hannah is a writer, scholar, creative, and course strategist.