By: JD Author, Reporter-Journalist

The same boiling water that softens a potato, hardens the egg.

It’s about what you’re made of, not the circumstance.

There are not enough fingers and toes in my neighborhood to count the number of times I have heard someone tell me “you’re strong, you will get through this”.

For the most part, I like to think that I am a strong person.  I may not always have everything in my life looking “peachy”, but I try my best to look like I have my crap together.  I strive to have the appearance of emotional stability and well being both physically and mentally. Many of my friends and acquaintances consider me to be the rock that they can lean on when they need help.  If only they could see how many times this “rock” starts to crumble, and has to be plastered back together repeatedly.

 

Life happens.  When things do not go as we planned or hoped, your shortcomings can hit you pretty hard. It can knock the wind clean out of you and you’re left with the feeling of being in a vacuum tunnel and someone is sucking all the oxygen out.  You feel like you can barely breathe or move. You’re left sitting or laying there and the feeling of helplessness sets in.

When that happens, it’s a horrible feeling.  Even “strong” people need help getting back up. Unfortunately, instead of help, we’re often met with a series of skeptics, only to be followed with the platitudes:

“Give it some time”

“You know you’ll get through this.”

“You look okay, so suck it up.”

“You’re so strong.”

I truly think that a few of my friends who say these things really believe they are helping me in some way (good thing I do have some friends that know better and keep their mouths shut because they are in the same situations).  Maybe they see it as a compliment. They offer their few words of encouragement, that almost feel as painful as a throat-punch and call it good. In reality, what they are really doing is absolving themselves of actually helping.  Sure I may seem a bit unappreciative, but I am not.  I do cherish the occasional words of understanding, caring and concern that come my way.  But to repeatedly and shallowly “admire” me for the “strength”, they think I have, they could replace it with a more meaningful phrase.

Replace the “You’ll be fine”(because I will NEVER be “fine”) with; “I will keep you in my thoughts” because that actually sounds a bit more caring. Don’t ask me if I want to talk about it, because usually when the conversation starts, I will get to hear all your comparisons to my plight, and you are clueless.

Instead of telling me “You know you’ll get through this” try “I can see your pain is really raw right now. I’m sorry you’re going through this. What can I do to help you hurt a little less today?” And then do it, without coaxing with a crowbar.

Please don’t remind me EVER day that you see me as a strong person.  It’s true that you may see me that way, but what they can’t see is that in all reality, I am not. I’m “strong” because I have to be. No one is there to pick me up when I shatter, and I have learned this the hard way. I have to do it myself, but I don’t want to.

The many idle hours when my body does not cooperate but my mind still works has made me a great problem solver. Because of this, I’ve spent my entire life helping others and picking up the pieces for other people. It would be absolutely amazing to have someone do that for me more often. Someone who can anticipate what I need and meet that need without having to be asked.

Being a strong woman, or appearing to be, is hard enough. Being a strong MS/ACM/EDS/Aspie woman is even harder. I already live in a neurotypical world that is pretty judgmental and mean to anyone who appears different. In order to be successful in this world, I have to emulate neurotypical people with life-altering medical conditions and follow their social rules. Sometimes, it is just exhausting. The small talk. The constant fake smiling because everyone is ohh so happy and expect you to be as you grit your teeth and spew the lie “I am fine”, when asked. It can be overwhelming at times.  But it must be done.  It beats listening to comparisons, contrasts and likenesses to Aunt Bertha’s issues or cousin Ralph’s medical history, which is similar.

So please try real hard to remember when your friends tell you they are hurting or if they share something they are truly struggling with, try not to dismiss their pain with a cliché – even if they are “strong.”

 

 

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