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For Anyone Who Feels Like a Fraud When People Say 'You're So Strong'

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“You’re so strong,” people have said to me over the last several years. And you know what? For so much of that time, I didn’t believe them (and frankly, even today, on the really difficult days, it’s the greatest challenge to work past that feeling). I felt like a fraud. I felt like this two-faced liar. How can I be strong, I’d ask myself, when I cry myself to sleep some nights? How can I be strong when my heart aches day in and day out? How can I be strong when I feel like I’m crumbling into a million tiny pieces, being chipped away at bit by bit each day?

It’s taken me many years to learn this fact: Strength manifests itself in a multitude of ways. Each person displays their strength differently. And beyond that, strength evolves… I mean, it has to! We are human, constantly experiencing new journeys in life (the good, the bad and the ugly), so it’s only natural that our strength lives on some sort of spectrum — never a spectrum of less to more, but simply a spectrum of here to there, neither that “here” nor that “there” being either better or worse. It’s highly personal. There is no one way to define “strength,” just as there is no one way to define “normal.” Sure, of course, we all have a general idea of what those terms mean and of what the dictionary tells us they should mean. However, it’s more complex than that…

My chronic Lyme disease has been the greatest internal challenge I will face in life. My father’s Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia has been the greatest external challenge I will face in life (please don’t misunderstand, both are “emotionally internal,” if you will, but I’m talking solely physicality here). And to be honest, each of these incredible challenges has pulled at so many strengths I didn’t even know I had.

With my chronic Lyme, I’m learning (I say this in the present tense because there is never enough knowledge in the world, and each day I try to learn) that vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. Sharing my story, my symptoms, my struggles has allowed more people into my life, in the grand sense, the sense that we have a deeper understanding of one another. This openness and vulnerability works hand-in-hand with my personal feelings governing my dad’s condition as well. That vulnerability, in both situations, has helped strengthen relationships and also form bonds with people in my life. There is no greater feeling than the meaningful connection between two souls.

I’m also learning to know my body — in the spiritual sense. Though I have a long way to go, learning to connect my mind with my body has been the single most powerful transformation in my healing process over these past several years. It’s powerful knowing that, with my personal condition, my mind and my spirit have the ability to let a calm wash over my body, to help ease the tremendous anxiety I feel on a day when my symptoms are in full force. This calm doesn’t necessarily diminish the symptoms, but it strengthens my intentions and my will to put a smile on my face and make it a good day. By the same token, this spirituality has allowed me to discover more happiness, contentment, and love in coping with the overwhelming feelings surrounding Daddy’s disease.

Not only with my condition, but also with my father’s, I have found that tremendous strength lies in my choices. No, I did not choose to be sick. No, I did not choose for my father to fall terminally ill. So, what choices do I have? The choice to say, “These are my cards. How are we gonna play them today, my friend?” That takes strength. That takes courage. That girl who felt like she was crumbling, who was aching, and who was crying so often, taught this girl today that strength comes in the power to choose… to make it a good day, despite the bad…

That girl then, by the way, wasn’t weak. She was learning. And growing. And that in itself takes strength — giving yourself over to feel takes strength. And let’s be real, even today, a good, honest cry can be the most cathartic feeling in the world.

But after that cry, I can choose to wallow (wrong choice for me) or I can choose to say, “OK, that sucked, but I feel better. Let’s do this thing!”

I am never weak. I am strong. It just took a little self-exploration and discovery to realize that strength is not traditional or one-dimensional. And that feeling, whatever you feel right now, is preparing you for a great lesson — a great revelation. It all takes strength. From here to there.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you thought on the day of your or a loved one’s diagnosis that you later completely changed your mind about? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 15, 2016
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