The Other Stuff

Strength – A Decision Not a Trait

For what seems like forever, people have been telling me how strong I am. From family members to friends, strangers, counselors, co-workers, and even therapists. It seems like anyone who gets a look into the chaos that is my life, at one point or another, will tell me, “you are so strong!” “I wish I had your strength.” or something else along those lines.

Despite how many times I have heard that I am here to confess, I am not strong. I have simply decided to be strong in the face of all the things life has thrown at me. Time and time again I have decided to swallow my fear, push down all my doubts and face whatever obstacle, tragedy or problem that has been thrown my way. And it has sucked each and every time.

This strength of mine that everyone seems to be so proud of has come at a price. The same strength that has gotten me through so much has also resulted in a handful of other issues. Thanks to this strength I have panic attacks on a regular basis and the smallest things cause me great anxiety. I have nightmares that make me talk and sometimes even scream in my sleep. I grind my teeth so hard at night it wakes my husband. I constantly obsess over the things that I say and I second guess nearly every decision I make.

And these issues don’t just disappear when I’m mid-crisis, I just don’t let the world see them. Even if I look calm and under control on the outside I can guarantee all is not as it appears. When I’m in the middle of a problem, I can almost guarantee that I’m not sleeping at night and struggling to stay awake during the day. My eating habits are all screwed up, meaning I’ll go days without much to eat and then end up eating a tub of KFC mashed potatoes or some other comfort food of choice. If I can, I let the pressure and the stress out behind closed doors. Sometimes I’ll cry on cool bathroom floors until all the tears are gone or build myself a giant pillow fort and sleep for way too long. If I don’t get the chance to let it all out, which is a more common circumstance, it manifests in different ways. In high school and college, I would be really cold all the time and lose all appetite. Now it is more common for me to walk around feeling like I have a boulder on my chest with shaky hands that I have to hide with busy work.

In a way, I guess this strength has become a survival tactic. When I’m faced with a tragedy or major problem I chose to be strong and face it head on because I know I have no other choice. I know that this problem or situation isn’t going away and I understand that it has to be worked through in order for me to continue on.

While everyone around me says I am strong, my husband sees the truth and is the only one who tells me I’m not. He doesn’t say this in a mean way, he says it because he sees it. He admits that I have incredible strength in the face of hard times, but he also sees that I turn off that strength the minute I don’t need it. When there is chaos or tragedy I armor up with my strength and step up to face whatever may happen, but I have had to do that so many times that the second I no longer have to be strong I turn it off. I turn it off and when that happens the smallest things can send me into a crying anxious mess and that is the version of me he has to live with. He also sees the aftermath of my strength. He sees how exhausted and burnt out I am after all the phone calls have stopped and everyone has gone home. He sees the lack of sleep and loss of appetite. He has had to hold me while I sob uncontrollably.

This is how I have lived and am currently living for the most part, but I am starting to work on me and take the right steps to find a healthier balance when it comes to facing life’s challenges. It’s hard for even me to see the progress, but over the past year, I have become more aware of my “fake” strength, my true feelings, and the long-term effects this way of living has had on me. I want my strength to someday not just be a choice, but a full-blown trait. I believe that can happen, it will just take time.

One of the biggest things I am currently working on when it comes to this strength tug-of-war is staying aware of how I feel when I am in the midst of chaos. I used to just shut down all feelings and bottle them up for later as I worked through whatever I happened to be facing and I’ve realized that is what leaves me so “weak” and drained post problem. I am now working on staying aware and in touch with how I am feeling as I work through tough situations, without letting them interfere with what is happening. I try to take time throughout the chaos to check in with myself, make sure I’m still ok and when I need to, find a way to release a little of the frustration and emotion before it becomes overwhelming.

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