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Why I Embrace My Strength That Was Created by Chronic Illness and Loss

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In the middle of June, I found myself part of a conversation about strong women. This, in and of itself, isn’t terribly unusual. It was the bent of the conversation that took me by surprise. One of the men involved was of the opinion that, if you are a strong woman, you don’t need to say so. In fact, that by saying so, you undermine your credibility as strong.

“Strong women don’t have to say they’re strong.”

Taken aback, I started and stopped several replies. Even women were agreeing with this guy. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Plenty of times, this line of thinking is reasonable. If you have to say you’re cool, you probably aren’t. If you have to declare the size of certain anatomical features, I’m going to suspect you’re exaggerating. But if you’re saying you’re strong? Does that fall into the same category?

I am a strong woman. I have endured the death of an infant daughter, lost everything I had to my name and been through a divorce so ugly that even the lawyers involved were impressed. I have rheumatoid arthritis, which has taken my body over and severely restricted my physical abilities. I also suffer from anxiety and depression, both preceding and secondary to all the above. When I tell you I have endured a sh*tload of pain, believe it. Mental, physical, emotional, you name it.

I’m still here. I am blessed with two amazing kids and a husband who sticks with me and loves me, broken bits and all. We have a home and friends. A life.

One of the things that helped me the most, as I struggled through each of my losses, was the stories other people shared with me. We live in a society which places incredible pressure on people of all genders to minimize our pain, to suppress it, swallow it, hide it away. I believe people invalidate pain in each other so much that some end up turning to drugs, alcohol, overeating, and countless other forms of release just to survive.

Let that sink in. I believe people do those things to alleviate the pain we are told we should not share. It’s more OK to do that than to simply talk about our struggles and strength. Because strong people “don’t have to say it.”

Yes, I’m saying people, because this doesn’t just affect women. The smothering of pain affects everyone. It affects those who have it, those who live near it, those who love those of us who struggle. Yet in this Calvinistic society, we are expected to suck it up and drive on.

So I say to you: tell me about your strength. Tell everyone.

Every time we deprive ourselves of the chance to share our story of struggle and strength, we deny others the opportunity to learn from us. To learn that the challenges before us are conquerable, universal, endurable. I did not know until I started talking about my chronic pain how many of my friends endure their own, in small or large ways. I can’t imagine what it would be like to never have heard those stories, or to have been uplifted by them, simply because some judgmental loser said, “Strong people don’t need to say they’re strong.”

Quite the opposite. Strong people should shout it. Scream it. Be like Mandy Harvey and sing it. Above all, please, please share it. Because it is the weak who ask you to be silent. The weak who can’t bear to hear about it. And they don’t get to win anymore.

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Thinkstock Image By: Santiaga

Originally published: July 6, 2017
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