Today I sat down to write this blog, but I didn’t search for the perfect inspirational quote or spend hours planning it. In the spirit of being as open, honest and transparent as I can- I tried to write this without overthinking or overanalyzing the perfect topic or presentation. I feel like if anything has gotten me this far-it’s been the result of being open, no matter how vulnerable that has made me in numerous situations.
It’s been over a month now since I’ve been home from my two month rowing journey that I spent the last three years of my life planning, training, preparing for and completing. Since returning home-I’ve had so many opportunities to share my journey and to share the mission of ROW. Some of these opportunities I took, some I passed on. Some are still on going as I travel the country to speak in the coming months.
I’m feeling more like myself. Normal is relative, especially after a life changing experience. I don’t think I’m the same person that left Chicago on June 15, but I’m feeling more at home than I did when I stepped off Liv (my “other” home).
I’ve taken time to be alone and I’ve taken time to be surrounded by people I love. In both environments- I’ve battled moments of extreme joy and bouts of depression. I went from one lifestyle to another-a drastic change in surroundings- it was bound to happen. Change is always a little bit scary-even when you’re moving into conditions that are seemingly “better”. There are a lot of ups and downs-days where I’ve felt a million things. I’m so thankful to have so many people still cheering me on and supporting me as I heal and figure out what’s next.
I get this question a lot: “How are you doing? No, Jenn, how are you really doing?” I know what people are asking-and I still have a hard time knowing how to answer. I feel fine-I mean, I’m okay. That’s all that honestly comes to mind when I go to answer that question.
I wanted to write about how I feel because it’s not as easy to talk about-so here’s my best stab.
When I decided to row around Lake Michigan I knew it was daring-it was adventurous and if completed, it would be inspiring. But on the boat and even for weeks after I got home, I was just trying to survive. I was just being myself from June 15 to August 14. That’s all it was. I wasn’t drinking magic inspiration juice everyday and what I had to share on those white boards were not calculated, scripted, planned out or even filtered. What I was going through was just that-and what I shared and what you saw was an honest interpretation. It was so honest that I don’t look at my old facebook posts or pictures because every time I’ve tried I get overwhelmed with emotion.
At the time I didn’t understand the significance of all that I was doing. I didn’t understand fully what $125,000 could do to change so many lives. I didn’t understand the importance of talking about my sexual assault publicly. I just thought-I’m moving, I’m working towards my goal, I’m sharing, like I always have. This wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong-why does everyone think it’s such a big deal that I’m talking about it or continuing on my journey? It felt right, and admittedly, I was a bit numb because I was still in shock-but it felt right. When I look back now, I still believe that continuing on was what was right for me.
And then the outpour of support came. The flood of emails that are still in a giant folder of my inbox. I read them slowly, I read them and reply to them delicately and with care. I never wrote anyone back on my trip because I was afraid of what I might say. I was afraid of what I would discover about myself and my own recovery if I could identify and relate with the victims that shared their stories with me. What if I knew just what they were talking about? The pain, the nightmares, the need to take a million showers a day-why would I want to see myself as a victim or relate when I could just go on denying what happened to me and reject it as a part of my identity? The ladder seemed much easier. And it was for weeks after my sexual assault. I still feel like I’m battling to understand what happened to me and accept it as part of who I am. Sometimes I feel like talking about it (on a random bike ride with a girlfriend), and other times I just want to forget it happened-hoping that the reporter won’t ask me about it in an interview.
So how am I really?
I have good days, and I have bad days. Some days I have meetings planned and I just can’t get out of bed because I’m so depressed. Other days I feel amazing and I want to share everything with everyone because I feel so happy I’m sure I’m going to explode. It still makes me blush when little girls ask me for my autograph or I book speaking engagements. I have every kind of resource available to me-I have amazing friends and family. I have the ROW team every Monday night-a constant source of inspiration. I have leaders from sexual assault organizations offering counseling, anything under the sun.
I know that I’m lucky-I know that this is not easy no matter who you are-and that’s why it’s important to share how I am, really.
Because when I’m having a “bad” day, I remember that so many victims of sexual assault don’t have the resources I have. Maybe they can’t use their friends or family as support because even if they found a way to talk to them about it-they might do more harm than good. Maybe their friends or family assaulted them. Maybe (and I know this is not a “maybe”) there are people out there that haven’t told anyone about their assault.
So, really, I’m okay. This is normal. It’s “normal”. And whenever I find myself on a peak or in a lull I remind myself that I have to share. That’s why I felt compelled to write today. I am able and I’ve had the opportunity to begin to heal because I have talked about what happened to me. And maybe because I’ve talked about it, someone else will.
“Fear of an uncertain future can stop us from doing great things, and it can keep us holding onto things that are hurting us.” I am not fearless and no one is. Fear-in my mind, is healthy. It pushes and pulls us in the best and worst ways. Talking about my sexual assault was just as scary as the six foot waves, seasickness, broken anchors and 30 mph winds.
Please know that I am so thankful for your support as I move forward in all kinds of directions. Thank you for sharing with me-I’ll keep doing my best to return the favor.
Thank you for coming to welcome me back to Chicago.
When I left on my journey nearly two months ago, I knew I would be pushed to my physical and emotional limits. And while the trip didn’t always go as I expected, I know I accomplished all I set out to–and more. When I rowed out of this harbor on June 15, my goal was to raise money and awareness for a cause very close to my heart. Over the course of two months more than $100k has been pledged to Recovery on water, a rowing team for breast cancer survivors that empowers women to take an active role in their health in the face of a devastating disease. The money we have raised and continue to raise will allow even more women to experience the healing power of exercise. Donations can still be made at row4row.org
On this journey, I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I set out from this dock a different person that I return. But I am not broken by what happened to me. I still believe that there are more good people in the world than bad. I still believe that life is a gift, even when it’s scary and unfair. I still believe that life offers us the privilege, the opportunity, and the responsibility, to give something back, even when people try to take things away from us.
I undertook this trip on behalf of the women who inspire me everyday–members of the row team who have chemo in the morning and come to practice that night. Women who look cancer in the face and take its power back. They continue to be my strength and inspiration as I heal. I know that I am not alone.
I’d like to thank all of you for your interest in me and my story. There are many people who selflessly volunteered their time for me, and I especially want to thank Brenda Janish and Mark Carroll. It’s amazing to be home. Thank you all for your support.