I’ve had an awful couple of years. Feel free to judge me for this, but I previously wondered about people who seemed to be dealing with one tragedy after another. I harshly wondered if they were bringing this onto themselves. If they subconsciously enjoyed the chaos, or if they were somehow magnets for sadness. Then I faced tragedy of my own with the unexpected loss of my mother. She was young, it was Christmas morning, and the grief was enormous.
Almost exactly a year later, just as I felt like I was starting to heal, I lost a pregnancy. A year after that, I found myself with a newborn baby in the NICU, and my marriage falling apart. Unsurprisingly, shortly after the newborn came home, my marriage ended.
I look back on the past two years and feel the weight of all of the losses I’ve dealt with, and I know this weight isn’t lost on those around me. “You’re so strong,” I’ve heard with each tragedy, and every time I heard it I felt like a fraud. I knew exactly what they meant. When I’m struggling in life I become impenetrable. Despite years of therapy, I shove the bad feelings down and become entirely focused on the day to day minutiae. I put all of my attention into distractions: diet, exercise, crafts, and organizational tactics. I don’t break down in public, or even in intimate conversation. I don’t wear my sadness on my sleeve. None of this feels like strength to me, it feels like survival.
When my marriage ended, I started questioning the idea of strength. I came across a Ted Talk from Brene Brown called The Power of Vulnerability. Brene has spent years researching shame and vulnerability, and in her Ted Talk, as well as her books on the subject, she discusses the idea that being vulnerable is courageous and leads to deeper personal satisfaction. Her way of speaking is intimate and engaging, and I highly recommend starting with her Ted Talk for those who want to hear more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o.
With vulnerability in mind, I started to mentally redefine strength. Strength, to me, is not holding yourself together when you want to fall apart. It’s not proving to everyone that you’re fine, when you don’t really believe it to be true. It’s definitely not keeping your mind busy and distracted from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep.
True strength, in my opinion, is having the courage to deal with a wide range of emotions head on, and choosing not to numb difficult feelings with food, rebound relationships, and social media. It’s letting other people love and care for you when times are tough, and letting them know when you’re struggling. It’s being willing to love others with a deep vulnerability. It’s being willing to do the work to love yourself.
These days, I’m working on being a different kind of strong. I’m trying to face all of the uncomfortable feelings that come with the end of a nuclear family, and I’m trying to let those around me comfort me as I work through these feelings. There are days where I still want to retreat into my old habits, but I’m actively working against those urges. I hope one day to hear someone say “you’re so strong,” and to see it as a reminder that the past two years have made me a more loving, vulnerable person.