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How a Friend Redefined Mental Strength in Just 3 Sentences

“I’m amazed how strong you have been.”

I have vivid memories of sitting on an exam table in a psychiatric hospital the day I was admitted. I ashamedly thought of those words, believing I was proving people wrong. After all, how strong could I be if I was struggling so much I’d ended up in the hospital?

Though that moment was somewhat of a unique situation, it was far from the first or last time that I, someone who has extensive experience with mental health problems, have questioned my strength.

A few months ago, I was completely overwhelmed, experiencing new health problems and having some of the worst anxiety symptoms of my life. With everything going on, I was having a lot of trouble making it through each day. I voiced my worries to a friend I trust, saying I felt I truly couldn’t handle everything that was going on. And I worried it made me weak.

This was her response:

“Being in pain does not negate the strength you have. Being strong doesn’t mean not being in pain, or not talking about the pain you’re in. Being strong means being a good person despite the pain that you’re in.”

It was, and continues to be, a very powerful three sentences.

Words can’t make everything better, but these words pushed me to be more gentle with myself, helping to break the cycle of anxiety and shame that I and so many others with mental illnesses experience. In a world where it often doesn’t feel OK to express pain or distress, hearing this and attempting to apply it to the way I think of my own strength helps me feel far safer in expressing myself.

To others questioning their strength while dealing with mental health issues, please consider how you define “strength,” and try to remember strength can take many different forms. I know it is far easier said than done, particularly with the stigma we have taken in throughout our lives and the things we may have heard from others. I still struggle frequently with questioning my strength. But I also know the shame I often feel about expressing my distress has been an impediment to my recovery. I hope these words can help you the way they have helped me.

To this friend and all the others who have made me feel like I can express pain, thank you. I appreciate you more than I can say.

Unsplash image by Chad Madden