Life is tough and I mean that. We’re not designed for the fast-paced, ever-changing world we live in. At least not mentally. And so we have to be strong or at least appear to be so because ‘only survivors win at life’.
But what happens when you exude such strength, nobody believes that you can be weak or need help? Quite honestly, you get ignored.
I am a strong person. In principle. Ask me if I am a strong woman, however, and I will categorically deny it but looking back at my life and listening to others, I suppose that I am. The problem comes when you are known, amongst those in your life, as being strong to the point that people neglect to realise that everyone needs help at some point in their life. That there is only so much pain one person can take in the darkness of night when their head hits the pillow and they are no longer distracted of their thoughts and fears.
When I faced the end of my work contract here in Sydney in January, I tried to reach out to people to tell them how worried I was that the stress of unemployment would send me back into the ocean and so many of them told me that I wouldn’t because I was ‘strong‘. They neglected to realise that they believed I was strong when I attempted to walk into the ocean the first time. And that’s when I realised that there is a curse attached to strength:
When you need help, it is not always believed that you do.
But you need to realise something. The strong ones do not ask for help often but when we do it’s because we are in desperate need for it.
When we reach out and ask for help, it means we have exhausted every possible option and avenue to help ourselves and that we need to lean on someone other than ourselves. We do not ask lightly but we ask with power.
I can take a lot of pain in life. More specifically, I can listen to a lot of peoples’ pain simultaneously; as long as I am not struggling myself. I very recently felt so overwhelmed in my own life but needed to help others who had asked for support which, at any other time, wouldn’t have affected me. The problem came because I was struggling so much with my own head and didn’t have the heart to turn them away as much as I needed to. One night I was on Facebook talking to two people who needed me and emailing someone back home in the UK all whilst, ironically, attempting to write an article about feeling overwhelmed. There is never a time when I am not considered, by most, to be a strong person. That I can take a lot. And whilst that means I am so very often there for my friends in their darkest hours, it means that it becomes incredibly difficult to announce that I am struggling in myself and that I need help.
People told me that I was strong to continue to live after attempting to walk into the surf but they were wrong. There was nothing strong about it because I didn’t decide to live on the beach that night; I was simply too exhausted, at the time, to fight my way through the surf and into the ocean. That is the only thing that kept me alive. In the days that followed that attempt, I did continue to exist; not because I wanted to but because I didn’t see that I had any other option to do so.
What invariably happens when you are strong is that you continue to try and push through tough times alone. That you are so used to hearing how strong you are that you feel embarrassed or weak to admit to anyone that you need help; that you can’t always go it alone. So you don’t say anything at all. You continue to struggle; allow life to get on top of you in the most minimal of ways and you tell no-one because most people don’t understand that ‘even you’ can find life hard at times.
But we do. We can find life immensely difficult; we simply don’t tell anyone about it.
When I recently discovered that my liver was failing again and I would face another round of awful symptoms followed by even worse side effects of the steroids I need, I wanted to cry and scream and shout about how unfair it all was and how lonely I felt in my suffering.
But I didn’t. I wrote a Facebook status to tell everyone simultaneously (so that I wouldn’t have to repeat it) and received a deluge of love and support but also platitudes.
Now, if you’ve been reading my site and Facebook page for a while, you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of platitudes because, whilst they are so very often filled with love and good intentions (and they’re usually said because the person doesn’t know what else to say), I feel that they take away the one thing that person craves at that time; validation of their feelings. So I sat there reading comments and messages telling me that I was strong and if anyone could get through this, it would be me.
And I got angry. Angry that I didn’t seem to be allowed to be upset and pissed that this was happening to me. That I was just supposed to ‘get on with it’. I spoke to my cousin about it and he said that the problem was that because I didn’t show my weak side online often, I came across as mentally strong. And he had a good point. Because whilst I may have published my ‘gratitude list’ on Sunday night, in which I sounded fairly positive, I didn’t tell you that at the time of scheduling that post I had cried so hard I passed out from hyperventilating.
If we have been strong before, it is assumed that we can be strong again even though that may not be the case.
Honestly, I am a lot weaker than my online persona suggests. Yes, I attempt to move forward regardless of what’s happening in my life and write my way through it and therefore I imagine that is where the ‘strong’ connotation comes across but I don’t move forward easily. There are tears, suicidal thoughts, panic and tsunamis of mental pain as I do so. The fact that I am still alive often amazes me when I realise how much I have struggled at points in my life.
It’s an incredibly difficult thing in life, especially as adults, to reach out and show someone our vulnerability and ask for help so when you reply that ‘you’re strong’, it feels dismissive. I know you mean well and you want to remind us that we can get through it, no matter what our minds are telling us, but it feels as though you don’t want to listen to our struggles; that you’re saying we can deal with it because we’ve ‘done it before’. And it hurts. Because we feel ignored, alone and unheard.
Whilst you may have strong people in your life, they need to feel weak at times and be reminded that it’s okay to do so.
It is not weak to admit you cannot always be strong. It is strength to admit you can sometimes be weak.