A Woman Who Worries More Than She Warriors
Womxn Worrior #1: Nora Kehoe-Clair
Yes, it is cocky to feature myself as the first in a series of spotlight articles on strong, complex, unconventional womxn. Please know that I do it with a degree of discomfort. In fact it goes against every particle of my conventional nature as a camera shy wallflower. But this year I’m breaking conventions, mostly my own. And of course those I have been shackled to by the patriarchy and my lifetime of “hysteria”.
In a series on womxn who worry and warrior (my shorthand for what I think is commonly referred to these days as “slaying”) I am more worrier than warrior. But like any humble footsoldier in a clunky military metaphor, I dream of one day making it to the frontlines.
The first offensive: Recovery
If you get to know me, you will soon hear me talking about mental health and how important self-care is for your wellbeing. If you get to know me a little better, you will soon know that this is because I face challenges with mental illness and self-love myself. If you hang around and listen carefully, you will discover how deeply those challenges color my past, present, and future. And if you really grind away at it, like work at it for years maybe, you might one day fully understand the full picture of my mental health. I am still working on that last one myself.
Each day my mental illness changes - it grows or it shrinks. I try to make a choice each day to recover in whatever way I can and I have faith that, in the long term, it is shrinking and I am the one growing. On the days I don’t have faith, I try to conjure hope, and when I can’t muster one ounce of that, I stay in bed. I play music, and I wait it out. In 2020 I hemorrhaged hope until my stores were so low that my first question to myself in the morning became do you want to live today? I am blessed that I have a rigorous support net of one proximate partner and a geographically but emotionally close family, so I was never a risk to myself. But I admit that I scared myself learning how low I could go.
Wow, I feel like I just accelerated our acquaintance by several years, and yet you really only know one more thing about me - I am sick.
Second Offensive: Feminism
If you read my business’ tagline you’ll know one more thing. I am a feminist, a quetly raging feminist. As I like to say, hear me meow as I learn to roar! You can take the above section and substitute mental illness with feminism. You will often hear me intermix the two causes when speaking about my priorities for changing the world. My feminism is as constant as my chronic illness, but I hope it burns more brightly as the other flickers.
When I made the decision to quit my customer service job in December 2020, I knew that although I was ultimately doing it because I was too sick to work that job, or any job for that matter, I needed to build a career. So much of my depression is tied up with my desire for a career. Despite choosing law, I left within a year due to mental illness, and have struggled to find a position that can work around my mental health care. Choosing and fostering a career was going to be part of healing, and any career had to also make room for recovery. Each decision I have made since then, every strange choice has been made with the intention of honoring recovery.
I have made some pretty dubious choices. I will give that to any loved one witnessing my ascent from the ashes of 2020. Exhibit A, I am starting a feminist-focused e-commerce store in an ever-growing more saturated market with no savings, no job, no experience and a serious disability. Don’t forget that a large chunk of prospective buyers just lost their jobs, and how do you find these unicorns buying $25.00 feminist t-shirts anyway when you have crippling social anxiety? I get it, it’s a steep climb to the top of this mountain.
Am I sure I want a feminist pipe dream to be the first mountain I climb in recovery?
Everybody fights for their Utopia, and mine is equal
The answer is of course yes, otherwise, I would be telling a different story. The reason why is a thesis in itself, and no one has time to write or read that. But the cornerstone reason is my Utopia is equal. We are all building to our perfect world, internally and externally. Some days it feels like that line from The Princess Bride, “have fun storming the castle”. Who am I to change the world? But my shorthand for my personal brand of feminism is “storm the castle” because it does seem hopeless and daunting some days (most days), but you try in your own way whatever strength you can muster.
I want to storm the castle with my words, whatever words I can muster.
Of course, the muster part gets harder with mental illness, particularly my old friends writing and social anxiety.
Don’t get stuck upon your elbow
I’m starting small - very small. Very very small. While I learn how to use my own mouth and hands, I’m using others' messages and illustrations to tell my story that help convey my feelgood feminist outlook. I want to tell powerful stories, and I don’t want to find myself in another 10 years, stuck upon my elbow, scared to speak. So I’m improvising, and I just wish and hope that you don’t hold my beginner patchwork against me.
Upon Your Elbow is my chosen business name for my new entrepreneurial venture for the reason above and many others. You might have a phrase like this in your toolbox that comes to be a slogan of sorts. The collection of these three words has become carved into my psyche over the yeards. Up-on your el-bow trips off the tip of my tongue on the regular. At first, it held the hollow attraction of a pretty word like Lo-lee-ta or the french word for butterfly (pronounced pa-pee-aan). It stuck out from a favorite song by a favorite band (The First Five Times by Star). In the song it is a fragile moment of burgeoning love and emotional vulnerability, but over the years it has become a call to action. It warns of the siren’s call of rumination. Important stuff happens upon your elbow, but beware of getting stuck there!
The powerful story of equality
Equality is the heavy word I carry around with me everywhere. It is the word that weighs on me when I doubt myself, or rather inflates like a safety raft under me. Equality is powerful. It tells a Utopian story of a world where you and I are equal worth by virtue of our humanity. I can unabashedly say that I love you, because and despite every choice you have ever made. I love you as any human would another human. As any human would, I value your life in my decision-making and I try to consider my actions as they affect you.
I do act partly selfishly. I tell this story to protect myself from a story that my illness tells me - you are less, so much less than others. Equality says otherwise.
I tell every story with a selfish goal to moving closer to myself. But I also want to move closer to you, to let you understand me better, and hopefully let me understand you better. And although this is also a selfish wish for connection, it is also driven by a belief that through our connection we can embolden each other and progress. In understanding each other better, we can grow, and move closer to our respective Utopias.
Feminism is equality (to me)
The way I express my story of equality is with feminism and I feel uncomfortable that this word that brings me so much optimism is connected to so much negativity for others. It is not only a word that is to everyone’s tastes or ideologies. It has its own set of problematic history and present and, likely, future. It will not mean the same for everyone. In fact, for some, it seems to mean the complete opposite to my own definition - the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes (all the sexes). For me feminism is a one-question quiz. And I wrap the feminist flag around me because I answer yes to that one question - do you believe in advocacy for equality? But I get it, a word is not free from context, and I’m learning more about the wounds this word has caused each day, presently by reading about “white feminism”.
So I wield my new warrior tool with some weariness, knowing my chosen weapon might cut some in the fray. I feel badly for that, but I assure you I wield it bearing this in mind on each new battlefield. Back to the clunky military metaphor! I am new to this, and to almost everything I am attempting this year. I worry, I worry that I am not warrior enough to win against the demons, my own, and those that loom in the world when you choose to raise your voice, even if ever so slightly.
Being a worthy “worrior”
I am still learning how to tell the story that I want to tell and how to tell it well. I am trying to shield myself from harm and overwhelm by looking to patience and persistence. What I am learning very quickly is that while trauma begets trauma, hope begets hope. Power is not a finite resource that we need to greedily grab, as the Trump-style rhetoric implies. My experience is that, like hope, power can be created when we use it to empower others. Womxn everywhere are creating both power and hope by empowering other womxn. They are bravely building their businesses, telling their stories, sharing their strength, and living their lives.
I’m just beginning in every way possible, and I admit, it’s harder than I even imagined. But I’m naming myself the first “Womxn Worrior” to hold myself to account. Each day I’ll be striving to emulate the womxn that inspire me and, if I am really lucky, I’ll get to write about them. I haven’t earned the title yet maybe, but I’m putting on the crown. Please bear with me while I work on my “slay”.
I'm busy preparing my first feminist t-shirts for launch on February 13, 2020. As a Parks and Recreation fan, I couldn't help but launch my wares on Galentine's! If you want to stay up to date with launch announcements, sneak product releases, as well as get the odd tale from this scrappy beginning feminist entrepreneur, subscribe at www.uponyourelbow.com.