I grew up with boys. Two older brothers to be exact. But truthfully, it was a gaggle of boys. (A gang of boys sounds a bit too extreme if you know what I mean). If you have any understanding of what it’s like to be a girl growing up with older brothers, you’d know that it’s nothing like growing up with sisters–younger or older. The majority of my girlfriends grew up with sisters and they have entirely different sensibilities than me. With brothers, you automatically get a pack of boys, like you do with wolves.

I was already outnumbered with two brothers. As soon as they invited just one friend over to “play” I had a Star Wars battle scene in progress and I was tapped to play Princess Leia. Toy guns, Dungeons & Dragons and games of espionage out in the bushes were routine for me. I could keep up, shut up or cry. (I did a mixture of all of the above.) But in our family, you don’t cry, you get tough. Fighting Zombies and ArthritisOorah! This has likely influenced not only my hobbies and past times (San Diego Comic Con, football, TV/movies that favor action/comics and other “guy” stuff) but also my methods of coping with my diseases. Don’t get me wrong–I am a girly girl through and through. I love my mani/pedis, I am a total fashionista and I love magazines and Pilates, but my hero is Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica (the 2000’s version). Get my point? As my mom put it when I was little, “she had a Barbie in one hand and a G.I. Joe in the other.” There is probably no better, apt description for who I am. I may like to be pretty, but I am strong and I am tough because I was bruised and battered by older brothers (and their friends) who needed a “Scarlett” to their “Snake Eyes” and “General Hawk.”

There’s a reason I share this background information with you. Whenever I watch some of my favorite shows, such as The Walking Dead, or a sporting event, such as a football game, I fist pump, scream and yell with the best of them. It’s like some brute reaction takes over my body at the critical points. Take one of the most recent episodes of The Walking Dead. (No spoilers here, so don’t worry.) In the episode “Home” there was a great, pivotal action scene. It was so great that I jumped out of my seat, fist pumped the air, screamed, yelled “yeah!” and shouted some character’s names. I did this several times. Then I caught my breath, rewound the scene, and re-watched. Rinse and repeat.

Three viewings later, with all the fist pumping included, I felt good! While the scene played I exuberantly shouted and talked about the scene to my boyfriend–“can you believe that…did you hear the awesome music…those instruments…the percussion…did you see that?… Oh. My. God!…” My boyfriend was talking at the same time and I’m not even sure we were listening to each other. Pure adrenaline was taking over my body, like I was in the fight scene myself. I’m not entirely convinced my boyfriend gets quite what I feel at these moments. I want him to get it. I try to get him to understand it. I don’t know that he would rewind the scene three times like I do.

There is something intangible that I get out of these moments. I get something back that I desperately need–a release of energy that is not entirely feminine, or sweet, or girly. It’s different from the “runner’s high” when I work out. It is not until later that I realize that my body, which was contorted and stiff, relying on a heating pad set to the highest setting, has suddenly relaxed a bit; any pain I had up until those moments has relapsed temporarily; any frustration I was feeling about my pain has receded for a few delicious moments. My excitement, dare I say euphoria, comes not just from the triumph of great television but from feeling a battle scene in such a visceral manner. A great fight scene in The Walking Dead is clearly a form of therapy for me.

All jokes aside about how I feel like “the walking dead” all of the time, it is well documented that those of us with chronic illness are living in a sustained state of “fight or flight” which basically means our body’s stress response system has gone haywire. Similar to Rick, Daryl and the gang on The Walking Dead, and unlike my boyfriend, friends and family who are healthy, our bodies and minds are in a constant state of high alert. Although I’m fighting inflammation, pain, fatigue and the like and not zombies, when I make the fight against my diseases not just one based on pharmaceuticals but also physical and vocal (with an awesome soundtrack) I start to feel like a warrior. There are days when I would like to be a gladiator, with thousands of fans and sponsors cheering me on in the stadium as I rally all my strength to defeat the greatest foes of my life: my chronic illnesses. For now, my living room serves as my stadium and it’s nice to feel, for a moment, like I’m kicking some chronic illness and zombie ass.

Back in my G.I. Joe days in the backyard with my brothers, I obviously had no idea that I was being built up into a scrappy little fighter for a reason. I’d like to think I’d fare pretty well in a zombie apocalypse (here’s hoping), but until then I’m glad I’ve got some toughness to get me through these illnesses and a lot of TV shows, action movies, and football to help me release my frustration. (Have I mentioned how excited I am about the new Vikings show celebrating my Nordic heritage on the History Channel? Arrrrrrrr!)