“If there’s ever a tomorrow when we’re not together, there’s something you should remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” ~A.A. Milne
Two years ago, I was anticipating a monumental shift. I couldn’t tell you what had changed around that time, but my mindset was moving away from the brasher side of my natural, projected extroversion and seeking solace in the comforts of solitude.
It felt like the waves drawing back before a tsunami, and over the following two years, I certainly felt I was drowning more than once.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer; I went through breakups, work challenges, struggles with family and friendships; I was diagnosed with depression and had my first real experience of debilitating stress and panic attacks; then, last month, my dad (now, thankfully, cancer-free) had a heart attack, weeks after a very brave friend lost her own father to one.
I felt I had made peace with my version of bravery, understanding that sometimes the mere act of survival is itself a brave middle finger up to life’s relentlessness.
But alongside “brave,” another adjective I’ve struggled with over the past two years has been “strong.” I certainly feel like my strength has been tested.
When you are often described as “strong,” it can become a millstone around your neck. How do you live up to your duty of being strong for others when you’re struggling to be strong yourself?
In my darker moments, I perceive myself as very weak. When I sat down to journal about my dad’s heart attack, I was surprised that I wrote down how I felt too weak to withstand what could have happened to my dad, how I felt too weak to support my family at this time, how I felt too weak for life in general.
There have been many similar moments over the past two years where I have felt anything but strong. And yet, many beloved friends and mentors have described me as such. Sometimes I want to tell them I’m a fraud, projecting cheery strength, when some days, inside I’m just mustering up all I can to get by.
And then, as I was journaling, it hit me. This is strength. If we are still here, we are strong. We are Darwin’s fittest. If we are living through personal struggle, if we are coping with this anxiety-inducing pandemic, if we are still capable of doling out however small a portion of love to ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbors, our community, our strangers, then surely we must be strong?
Strength is not always an action. Strength is daily bravery; strength is allowing yourself to feel; strength is choosing to love.
Strength is my mum carrying on and stroking my hair as I slept in her bed; strength is my dad allowing me the space to cry when he has his own pain. To be strong is to be “able to withstand force, pressure, or wear.” What are we doing as a species right now if not choosing to withstand?
So in the midst of my much-needed mope, I realized I had two choices: to buckle under the force of my fears of this pandemic and what it could do to the more vulnerable members of my family, the pressure of all that has occurred over the past two years, the wear of my reserves, or, inevitably, to choose to withstand.
And, as the word implies, that requires standing with others. Letting my loved ones see my tears, sharing my sadness with them, giving them the space and the safety to share their own, allowing moments for hope and positivity to emerge from our shared anxiety. Choosing, in other words, to stand as the lighthouse in the storm.
The world is going to present you with a lot of fear and reason for panic at the moment. Withstand the depressing onslaught of the media; withstand the urge to clear the shelves of penne; withstand the mental self-isolation that these times could bring.
Stand with your community (even if you’re two meters apart): if you are well, reach out to people who may need your assistance; if you’re not, share messages letting people know they’re not alone. There’s strength in numbers.
Notwithstanding, there will always be moments when we feel our strength and our capacity to withstand is just not enough. In those moments, I turn to the immortal words of A.A. Milne. If even Winnie the Pooh needed reminding of this sometimes, then it’s more than okay that we do too:
“If there’s ever a tomorrow when we’re not together, there’s something you should remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”