As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across this post from QuotesGate. “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order,” it said. “Even with tears in her eyes, she still manages to say ‘I’m Ok’ with a smile”.
And I’ll admit, maybe I was in the wrong place in 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 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 hard on me. Completing my B.A. in English sent me into an existential spiral, wondering what the hell I was supposed to fill forty hours of my week with now – what would fulfill me in the same way that reading and learning new things did? To try and ease my pain, I got myself a job, which turned out to be thoroughly unenjoyable, and I was let go from it as soon as the busy period ended, which just threw me right back into that very same existential crisis, but with the added depression of wondering what I had fucked 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 very hard time getting in contact with old friends, I’m not very good at making new friends, and I am very, very, very, very single. And I’m not saying all of this to complain – everything that I’ve gone through is very 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.
My life has not been kept in order. I’ve been trying to keep it in order, but I’m twenty two years old, which means that I have a whole lot to balance right now. My arms are filled with creative pursuits, my job, my ambitions, my friends, my family, my health, my love life, my passions, my financial situation, and because of my history with depression and anxiety, I’m holding all of them while balancing on one leg. And 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 them.
And here’s the thing – 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 aren’t in order, and yet we don’t know how to put our lives back in order, but why should that make us any less strong? Having an orderly life is not the thing that indicates strength – what indicates strength is your ability to persevere, your ability to keep trying even when things aren’t in order. A strong 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 a person, because nobody has all the answers, not even the strongest of us. The strongest of us just 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 that they are okay, even when they aren’t. And, yes, sometimes it is incredibly admirable of a person when they put aside their own feelings to fix or otherwise manage a situation. But that is not something that we can expect from someone constantly. As someone with a background in 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 that 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 this, how to talk about it, how to learn and grow with our emotions. Suppressing our emotions does not get rid of them – it only makes them manifest 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 was only able to become okay when I was able to admit that I wasn’t okay. Because being not okay is perfectly natural. Sometimes it happens – there’s nothing shameful about it. And sometimes, admitting that you aren’t okay is the strongest thing that you can do.