Don’t Fake Being Strong!

I was recently again given the opportunity to hear the story of someone’s life and to again discover that we humans have amazing strength in overcoming what seem like insurmountable traumas dealt to us by this thing we call life. Had I not had the opportunity to hear that story, I would never have guessed that this person had been through so much and managed to come out okay from the long, dark tunnel ride that happened. I’ve heard several similar stories over the past few months, and realized that, in each instance, I felt a more intense bond with the person sharing the story.

When we see someone who appears strong and pulled together, we take that appearance is gospel. Often, we envy those people who appear so strong and wish we felt as together as they appear. People at large would see me as strong, independent and determined (or stubborn, depending on your point of view!). I would agree with those opinions.

But when someone appears to be strong, do we tend to think that person has everything under control, can adapt quickly to whatever happens or doesn’t feel pain when something bad happens? Or do we understand from human nature that some people are better equipped at bearing their crosses silently, not, perhaps, wanting to be seen as weak and/or needy? After all, we tend to reach out to the strong people in our lives at times when our strength is suffering. What would happen if they weren’t strong enough to help us through when we reached?

This reminds me of a life lesson I learned long ago. I may have briefly mentioned it in a previous blog, but this is a good time to tell it in better detail. I got married a week before my 21st birthday. I got married primarily because I had returned home with my parents after quitting college, and didn’t agree with the strictness they were still imparting upon me at the ages of 19 and 20 as they had when I was a younger teenager. My husband was someone I had started dating, although much of our ‘dating’ time was hanging out at his parents’ house. I was sitting with his mom at the kitchen table (the gathering place if nothing was on TV. Rick came in from the living room to get a drink and while he was doing so, I was venting about life in my parents’ house and swore that it was so frustrating that I would marry the first man who asked me. Rick dropped then and there to his knee and proposed. Honestly, I liked him enough that I was certain it would grow into love, and I’d sworn to marry the first man who asked me, so I said yes. We were married within 6 months.

Fast forward to 9 months later – no, no baby! – and I was bored. He did contract work with electricians, and was only working when a job was available. I was working a full-time administrative job with the American Red Cross. I learned pretty quickly not to drive home after work, but to go to his parents’ house, because that is where Rick would be.

Upon returning home to our apartment late one night (we were usually there until close to midnight because his dad worked until 11PM and we had to wait and say hello), we got into a discussion that led to a fight that led to me telling him that he had to make a choice between me and his mother where he wanted to spend his time. He called his parents and told them he was coming home.

The next day, I called off work because I hadn’t slept. I went over to my neighbor’s apartment after I knew she was awake, and when she opened the door, she asked me what the H was wrong with me. It was then and there that I fell completely apart. I spilled it all – how and why things soured, how I was feeling like a failure, etc., etc., etc. When I’d finally gathered myself together a bit, Barb put her arms around me and softly said, “I feel so much closer to you now. Through all of the saga of dramas (and lawdie, there wasn’t a day she didn’t have some kind of drama!), you’ve always been so strong. But now, I finally get to see that you’re human, too.”

Although I still struggle with not appearing strong and independent, and will most likely be a work in progress for the rest of my life, I have begun opening up more about times when I’m not feeling strong. Blogging has been my greatest asset in doing this, as most of my followers and readers are unknowns to me, and I don’t have to worry what they think about me. Of the few followers and readers I do know, a large majority of them have shown that they, too, not only like, but approve me showing my humanness! I’m being more open to asking – sometimes begging – for people to take me down off the pedestal they sometimes try to put me on. It becomes so tiring to try and constantly balance being what people want/need you to be with being authentically genuine – good or bad. Dr. Perry, Ph.D (he has a blog as well) wrote recently that we all have an evil side, and that’s a part of the complexity of humanness to have it. Much like how we all have a good side as well, it’s not the existence of either but how we choose to use them. That has helped me so much recently! I admit that I have some thoughts of ways to seek revenge for what’s recently happened to me, but I know I won’t act upon those thoughts.

So, it is with my own experience that I encourage others to not fake being strong. Allow yourself to be human, remembering that there are others who you CAN reach out to. Sometimes you can work through things simply by putting them “out into the universe” – like blogging – and release much of their weight in doing so. As for mistakes – we’re all going to make them! But we need mistakes in order to learn! Now, I’m not suggesting that you go out in search of ways you can make mistakes, merely that you recognize your mistake, learn from it, grow from it, and be okay with having made it. In fact, don’t call them mistakes – they are, after all, life lessons!


Is loneliness a choice?

The best way to define loneliness is “the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relations is deficient in some important way”. Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even when surrounded by other people and one who feels lonely, is lonely. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and physical factors.

In today’s world, when technology means were are just a few short keystrokes to finding other people, it isn’t very difficult to find a way to connect to others to ease the loneliness. I suspect there are very few people who don’t have a lifeline to and/or support from other people who care about them. Therefore, do we somehow choose to be lonely?

For me, and probably for others, when I’m in a swirl of negative energy – for whatever reason – I become timid about reaching out to my support system. Somewhere in my brain are thoughts that prevent me from doing so, ranging from “They are too busy with their own lives to have to add me to their plate” to “I don’t want how I feel to put them in the same mood” to “What if I reach out and they reject me?”

Irrational? Most likely. Those who have proven their love for me would never reject me in that way. Perhaps, because I largely live my life as a strong and capable person, I don’t want to expose a weakness. (Oddly enough, when those same people show their ‘humanness’ to me, it allows me to feel even closer to them.)

With the rush of the holidays upon us, it’s almost impossible to feel lonely, because the excitement and preparation keep us buoyed emotionally. However, once those holidays are over, and (for me) the cold, dark weariness of winter settles in, it’s a different story. Isolation sets in because the weather makes it easier to just stay indoors. Early darkness at night also makes it easier to isolate yourself.

Having suffered alone through a major depressive episode for two months after the holidays last year, I’ve been determined to look for some ways to combat that, should it happen again this year. I’ve strengthened my bonds with my family and loved ones, told them about that experience after the fact, and this will make it easier to reach out to them if I need to. I’ve also joined some online communities of caring people with positive attitudes, where I can go when I need to be supported and surrounded by that kind of energy.

The biggest change though, is that I’ve stopped expecting them to read my mind. That’s a habit learned in childhood (fodder for another blog post perhaps). I can’t expect people to know what I’m feeling without being told.

And, I’ve admitted to myself that, in some fashion, I sometimes choose loneliness. I’m learning to replace that with escaping to choices of solitude. I’m definitely someone who needs my “me” space and time, and that’s okay. I’ve got people I can be around when I choose to be, and the fact that I have choices means, I hope, that I’m a step up on defeating depressive bouts.

My bestie, to whom I’ve tried to explain what depression feels like, says she’s never experienced that emotion herself (lucky her!). But for those of you who have, I hope you will take pre-emptive steps towards combating the feeling of loneliness that accompanies it with a support system you can rely on and a place – or places – you can CHOOSE to go to keep from drowning in those feelings.

Do not choose to be lonely! Learn the distinction between loneliness and solitude; dwell in solitude as needed but don’t EVER choose loneliness!

Someone WILL reach back!