As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across a post that stated: “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order. Even with tears in her eyes, she still manages to say ‘I’m okay’ with a smile.”
Maybe I was in the wrong place in my life to come across this post. Or maybe I’m just not the right audience for this post. I mean, yeah, sure, I’d identify myself as a strong woman, and that’s the only audience that this post specifically calls out, but I’m also a strong woman who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety three years ago.
Ever since then, I’ve been working hard every single day of my life—every last second that I’m forced to spend within my diseased mind—to achieve peace and happiness. But as hard as I’ve been working, the last month or so has been particularly tough. Completing my B.A. in English sent me into an existential spiral, wondering what the hell I was supposed to fill 40 hours of my week with now. What would fulfill me in the same way that reading and learning new things had?
To try and ease my pain, I got a job, which turned out to be thoroughly unenjoyable. I was let go from it as soon as the busy season ended, which just threw me right back into that same existential crisis, but with the added depression of wondering what I had f*cked up, if I was actually employable in the real world, and what it was about this job that I had hated so much.
And on top of all of that, I’ve had a hard time getting in contact with old friends, I’m not good at making new friends, and I am very, very single. I’m not saying all of this to complain—everything that I’ve gone through is simply a part of mundane, everyday life, and I know that I will get through it eventually. The only reason I am saying this is to explain why I have not been emotionally okay for the last month.
I’ve been trying to keep my life in order, but I’m 22 years old, which means there’s a whole lot to balance right now. My arms are filled with creative pursuits, work ambitions, friends, family, health, love, passion, and finances, and because of my history with depression and anxiety, I’m holding all of them while balancing on one leg.
For the most part, I don’t think I’m doing a particularly terrible job at holding them. Some things slip from time to time, sure, but I’m confident in my ability to pick them back up again. Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a long time. And maybe life will suck a little bit until then, but I know that I’ll figure it out eventually—or at least learn how to live without some of these things.
Many of us have lives that aren’t in order right now. I am not alone in this. And more than that, many of us have lives that we don’t yet know how to put back in order, but why should that make us any less strong?
Having an orderly life is not what defines strength. What makes us strong is our ability to persevere, our ability to keep trying even when things aren’t in order. A strong person, woman or man, may not know how to keep their life in order, but they shouldn’t be expected to. That is a hell of a thing to expect from someone, especially since no one has all the answers—not even the strongest of us. Being strong means we don’t give up, even when we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
But more than that, let’s talk about the second part of this post, because it might be the part that irks me the most: the part that claims that a strong woman (or man) can tell the world they are okay, even when they aren’t. And yes, sometimes it is incredibly admirable when a person can put aside their own feelings to fix or otherwise manage a situation. But that is not something we can constantly expect from others or ourselves.
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I know this firsthand.
Sometimes emotions get to be too much.
Sometimes I need someone to talk to.
Sometimes I need to let those tears in my eyes actually spill out onto my cheeks.
And sometimes, when I’m not okay, I need to admit that I’m not okay, because that is the only way that I can figure out the best way to deal with the situation.
Emotions do not make us weak. Talking about our problems and admitting that we are not okay does not make us weak. For generations now, young boys have been told that strength means swallowing their emotions to become men, and as a result, there are many men who are emotionally immature and unavailable. This is not a message we should be extending to women and girls now.
Because here’s the thing: Emotions are simply a part of us. We should be allowed to learn how to deal with them, how to talk about them, how to learn and grow with them. Suppressing our emotions does not get rid of them—it only makes them appear in different, more harmful ways.
And from my own personal experience, I was only able to confront my feelings around depression and anxiety when I was finally able to talk about them. I became okay when I was able to admit that I wasn’t okay. Once I did that, I could identify what was wrong with me, and that helped me realize what I could do to change my life. What worked for me was paying attention to my thought patterns, as well as beginning to eat healthy and exercise regularly.
But that is only what worked best for me, and what works best for me might not work best for everyone. Perhaps you might find that going to therapy regularly can help. Perhaps you’ll find solace in medication or meditation or making healthy changes to your daily habits.
There are many paths to finding help, but the first step in finding what works best for you is admitting when you are not okay—and accepting that that in itself is okay. Sometimes, it’s the strongest thing any of us can do.
Author: Ciara Hall
Image: Verena Yunita Yapi/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron