For anyone offended by foul language, there are a few swear words in this post.
So Pirate Party Guy (PPG) sorta got an earful — or, rather, an eyeful — last week.
I was telling him that I was concerned about whether the ultrasound for my IUD would trigger a similar reaction to my meltdown after the insertion procedure. His response was well-intentioned, but not well-received:
“You’re strong ❤️ “
I guess this is the pitfall of just seeing someone casually: They don’t know you well enough to know they’re about to step in deep shit.
(In his defense, he did clarify later what he meant and it mollified me. I got his permission to publish his reply, which is at the end of this post.)
I knew he meant well, but that was not what I needed to hear.
I thought I might be staring down another day of intermittent weeping and renewed pain and sorrow.
So when I expressed trepidation about old pain being triggered, I wanted sympathy or concern — not to be told I was strong.
I’m sick of being told that, and I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment. I think most people who have faced one too many of life’s perfidies are sick of that phrase too.
Because telling us that we’re strong as we face (or potentially face) hardship… It’s not comforting. In fact, it boxes us in.
What it means
The wording tells us implicitly that the person expects us to be fine. They’re not worried about us getting through it, so it must not be a big deal.
First of all, if we’re expressing concern (after all we’ve been through), it’s clearly at least a moderate-sized deal for us.
Second, what if that’s not true this time? What if this is the thing that finally breaks us? Are we letting down our own support network?
People seem to believe that reminding us of everything we’ve survived will bolster us. But really it just reminds us how very, very punch-drunk we are from life’s jabs.
Just because we’ve cleared all the previous hurdles in our life, doesn’t mean we can keep soaring over new ones indefinitely. Even metaphorical legs give out.
And so PPG got… not quite a tirade, but certainly a rant:
“Well, I appreciate that you’re trying to support me, but whether I’m strong isn’t in question.
“The real issue is that I’m well and truly over finding myself in so many situations where I have to be strong.
“Because I’ve been there, done that. Myriad times. It’s draining, sometimes traumatic and just generally sucks.
“Besides, being ‘strong’ always evokes an image of someone stoically handling things on their own.
“Whereas ‘weak’ always sorta seems to connote someone emotional and needing help.
“So if those are my options, screw being strong. Strength can fuck right off. I don’t want it anymore.
“If I have to make a choice between being strong or being weak, I choose the latter.
“My new life goal is to be someone so weak that it doesn’t even occur to her to try to deal with hard times all by herself, that instead her first instinct to reach out for help/support.
“I want to be someone so drastically wimpy that she doesn’t even think she has to keep her shit together if something is really tough emotionally.
“And if it’s a choice of weakness vs strength, I will gladly be someone so brazenly puny that she actually finds a way to be comfortable letting herself fall apart — or at least be fallen apart — around a few people she trusts.
“Strength and I have had a lifelong toxic relationship, and I’m ending things for good. And considering a restraining order.”
Being weak sounds glorious
I stand by everything I said.
The idea of going on and on, facing life’s nasty surprises without breaking down sounds exhausting.
I need help. And I should be able to ask for it, without apologizing (even in my head). I shouldn’t try to go it alone, I shouldn’t view seeking help or just plain old support as being a burden or inconvenience.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I told someone on Twitter that they weren’t a burden just because they keep talking with friends and family about their long COVID. I reminded them that the people in their life want to help them. And if someone in their life does view them as a burden, then that person doesn’t deserve to be in their life.
Not taking my own advice
It’s not the first time I’ve said something that, and it won’t be the last. Because it’s true… for other people. When I tell it to myself, it just doesn’t resonate.
Which I guess is why, after the IUD incident, it took me six hours of experiencing waves of abject sorrow then “I’m fine now, phew” then sorrow again, over and over, before I messaged anyone about it. Even then, it was to PPG and another friend — both of whom were travelling.
And honestly, if either one had been in town, I don’t know if I’d have texted sooner (for hugs/in-person support) or if I’d have waited longer.
Because my first instinct is still to only show people the version of myself that’s fine and functional. My knee-jerk is to hide from people when I feel… if not weak, then at least messy.
In fact, when I imagine being around people when I’m having a depressive day, I always immediately think that I shouldn’t — and here’s a sad word — “inflict” myself on them in that state.
What if I scare them away?
The truth is, on a not-nearly-low-enough-level, I still believe that people will be spooked by anything but the fully functional version of me. That anything less is undesirable and makes them not want me around at all.
My brain tells me that they’ll see the messy version of me — the one who needs help — and they’ll panic internally. It’ll feel like I need too much from them, that I’m a burden or at least a drain.
So they’ll run. Or at least back away slowly. And then I’ll be alone for real.
Because there’s a Mariana Trench-sized chasm between opting to struggle alone and having to struggle alone.
So yeah, there’s still a part of me that believes it’s better to have a support system that you never/rarely activate than to take a gamble on whether those people will stay when they see you fragile and fraying.
Tired of fighting my brain
Yes, logically I know they’ll be there for me — that they want to be there for me. PPG is big into support and, when I mention goals or struggles, he’ll ask, “What can I do to support you?”
But (says my stupid brain) that’s for minor stuff. For positive goals and proactive solutions. Not serious things. Not for depressing stuff. And definitely not if I’m falling apart.
I always feel like people who want to be there for me aren’t picturing the full force of Messy Me. That they’re offering surface-level support.Not for trying to catch and hold me as I melt.
I say “melt” not because of the word “meltdown” but because I often think about this picture:
Honestly, I’d love to be able to let go as much as the female (?) figure. To dissolve the boundaries that I use to hold myself in — and that conveniently keep others out.
I would love to feel free and secure enough around someone to become weak, emotional goo. To be have people in my life that I feel safe enough around to just… liquify if need be.
I wish I were able to let myself go without fretting about what’s an acceptable amount of messy.
But I fear I’ll never quite feel okay doing that. That hoping someone will even just sit by me when I’m a puddle of emotions, let alone try to hold me as I leave my solid state, would be asking too much. That I, in anything other than the best version of myself, will always be too much.
I do know better… eventually
And yes, at some point, I do get it through my thick skull that the people in my life want to be there if I’m hurting. But that fear of spooking people is still something I have to fight every. damn. time.
So a life where I can allow myself to need support — which in classic terms, would be… if not weak, than certainly not strong — a life where my first instinct isn’t to just get through it alone and tell people about it later… That is the life I want.
But American individualism says you pull yourself up by your bootstraps — and not just in the matters of money and career. You’re supposed to ruggedly, stoically get through the hard times.
And so to need help — especially with something as gooey and amorphous as emotional support — is, at the very least, implicitly considered weak.
To which I say: Good lord, but I’m ready to be that weak.
An alternative view
PPG had a slightly different outlook on weakness vs strength. Part of his reply read:
“From what you wrote it seems to me that your interpretation of ‘strength’ would match my interpretation of ‘responsibility’ or ‘obligation.’ You seem to describe an exhaustion from being ‘strong’ through hard times but I interpret the exhaustion as coming from your circumstance, not your ability to handle it… I
“… And I also interpret your use of the word ‘weak’ more as ‘vulnerability,’ and I do not believe anyone who nurtures and recognizes their own vulnerability to be a weak person… [R]ecognizing that you would prefer to be able to ask for help rather than shoulder an entire burden on your own… that recognition is what I consider real strength.”
That was actually the second part of his reply. His first message started by very wisely saying he didn’t want to invalidate anything I had just said — but wanted to explain what he meant by “strong.”
“…[T]he strength I see in you intellectually, emotionally and creatively are things that attract me to you.
“If you’d prefer I stop referring to you as strong, I can make the attempt, but if flies against my own personal interpretation of you and what draws me to you. The ‘Abby is not one to be fucked with’ affection I have for you.
“And you’re not likely to hear me referring to you as weak either. Not because I don’t believe you or your feelings, but because that’s not the energy I receive from you.
“… I know you’re expressing your vulnerability to me. Whatever your feelings may be toward yourself and your circumstance… just know I think you’re pretty dope.”
He’s not wrong
Obviously, that gave me the warm fuzzies. And — even with all of the work I still have to do in believing in myself/accepting praise — I can acknowledge that the man makes a valid point: I do rock.
It’s just that sometimes me rocking… i back and forth, huddled up, trying to self-soothe.
But, as I’m quite sure PPG would say, the second version doesn’t discredit the first one.
Who else wants the luxury of being weak?