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Read This If ‘You’re So Strong’ Doesn’t Make Sense for Fighting Depression

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

“You’re so strong.”

I’ve found this is a relatively common phrase of support for someone struggling with a health condition. I know in my journey with mental illness, I’ve been on the receiving end of this statement often, and I’ve said it myself to many friends who share similar struggles. I’ve never been particularly averse to the statement, but its meaning has certainly changed for me over the years.

When I began struggling with depression some 10 or so years ago, I understood what people meant when they said I was “strong.” Even if I felt weak, the statement somewhat resonated, and I appreciated the encouragement. I was pushing, I was fighting, I was surviving — I see how that could come across as strong.

But somewhere along the way, that statement stopped resonating. It stopped making sense.

If I was strong, I would’ve gotten help sooner.

If I was strong, I wouldn’t still be battling suicidal thoughts.

If I was strong, I wouldn’t be engaging in self-harm anymore.

If I was strong, I would be past this.

When I started thinking about that, I realized the more time that passes, the more it feels like this is my fault. And if this is my fault, that’s not strength — right? In my head, if someone struggles with something for maybe a year or two and makes it out, I feel like people commend that greatly. I think of statements like:

“They had such a tough couple years, but they’re so strong.”

But as the years go on, I feel like people begin to minimize the pain and, in turn, place blame:

“There’s no way they could still be having these intense suicidal thoughts so many years later. They’re exaggerating, it probably isn’t ‘that bad.’ They just want attention.” 

“I understand struggling the first couple of years, but come on, they’re probably doing it to themselves at this point.”

I realize these are my own insecurities and projections. This is what I feel like goes on in the minds of everyone around me. I recognize I could be completely off base and this could just be my anxious brain looking for ways to convince me I’m at fault. That’s probably the more likely possibility. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, I feel like I’m losing all the time. I feel so weak for this still being a struggle 10 years later. I feel like this is my fault.

But, without sounding ridiculously cliché, there are no hard and fast rules around recovery; it’s not linear. There’s no rule book that says, “After x number of years, if you are still struggling with (insert mental illness), it is now your fault.”

So, while I know there are things I could be doing better to help myself, at the very root of it, I don’t think it’s my fault I have depression. And if that’s true, then surviving this for 10 years — maybe there is strength there. I can feel like I’m losing in every possible way, but the truth is, the scoreboard says I’m still here. I’ve survived every night I was absolutely convinced I wouldn’t (albeit barely, sometimes, and certainly not by myself). I’ve sat with feelings I was sure would kill me. I’ve endured countless days and nights in spaces that didn’t feel safe, where my only escape felt like suicide. And in the instances I did try to leave this world, for some reason, I survived.

I’m here. I might not always be too happy about it, but I’m here. And I think there’s strength in that, in showing up. In choosing to stay. In trusting the way things are right now isn’t the way they’ll always be. That’s not easy. So, whatever you’re going through, I know you may feel weak, but if you’re reading this, that means you’re still here. And that makes you strong.

Photo by Anton Maksimov Juvnsky on Unsplash

Originally published: October 26, 2021
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