So I am curious... Who are these women anyway? I was having a conversation a few days ago with a friend of mine about mental health, in the light of the fact that she has known a number of persons who have committed suicide over the past year. Now let me make it clear – I write this post about women because I am one, and I don’t feel that I can represent a male perspective, but I think this is just as important for men, and I hope that they too will speak out in response. Now that is out of the way – strong women... who are they anyway?
I will start by saying that some time ago, a friend of mine said to me that of many of her friends, I was one who seemed to have it all together and leading a normal life. Apparently I “have everything” and this is a phrase I hear people use to describe those persons who are traditionally successful ie have a house (I don’t), a nice husband (I don’t have one, nice or otherwise) a family (I don’t… and you can see where this is going right? What exactly is this “everything” that people speak of?) or who are otherwise doing well in life. Can I just say – I found that hilarious!! On any given day there are a million worries and insecurities running around inside my head, along with the blog ideas, recipe ideas and vacation ideas. As it happens however, I have a number of friends who fall into this category, and these were the words I heard spoken of a young lady who recently took her own life. I often hear the words “she had everything” followed up with the words “what would she have to be depressed about” and to me I think this is one of the big beliefs out there, and one of the reasons that the so-called “strong women” do not feel inclined to reach out and get the help that they might need if they feel depressed, overwhelmed, or have other issues which may or may not include a diagnosable mental illness, although I am sure there are a million other reasons why. I can only speak for myself, and so for the purposes of this post, I will self describe as a “strong woman” and speak to my personal experiences on this.
In my experience, I can think of a number of reasons why I was reluctant to reach out for help when I felt overwhelmed and/or depressed. I didn’t want to reach out to my friends – I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, and I provide support for a number of persons in professional and personal capacity, so I always felt as if I needed to be strong in order to support other people. In addition, I always had this concern that it would be a bad idea if I broke down, because once I opened up the flood gates and stuff came pouring out, I would have no idea how to stop it and would wander around in a puddle, which wouldn’t be good for anyone including me. So I would always “pull myself together” before it happened. I have also heard other women speak to things that concerned me – who would I speak to? Who would understand? Would I be blamed? Would I seem weak? As I was reflecting on writing this post, there are a number of women who mentioned to me the stigma associated with depression or mental health issues, which carries with it a lot of guilt, and so persons may be reluctant to speak out or seek help because of this. And there are some persons (including myself) who worry about the fact that feeling this way is a sign of weakness. Because as much as I ask this question about who the strong people are, I can tell you that I remember being at the funeral of one of my parents and being told to “be strong” and I believed that showing any sign of weakness would contradict that. How could I be strong if I was going around moaning about my struggles or issues? Those two words – be strong……. Sometimes I think they can cause a serious amount of damage, as people feel that in order to be strong they cannot show any sign of weakness or vulnerability whatsoever.
And as far as having everything goes… A lot of the people I know who may be seen as “having everything” may very well have a house, business, nice car and nice family, but more than anything else – they have debt… they have fears… they worry about their children and providing for them, they worry about their jobs and/or businesses in this economy, and in addition, they spend a lot of energy upholding this image that some of them don’t even believe in any more (although some of them do). We all have doubts, fears, insecurities, no matter who we are or what people think we have. We are all human. We all need support. So instead of putting our energy into being strong and not appearing weak, let us put it into ensuring that we have found a safe place that we can find support when we feel overwhelmed. It might be a good friend or family member that can provide good, safe support, or it could be a professional counselor or therapist, or medical doctor. And next time you see or hear of someone who has everything, instead of asking what they have to be depressed or overwhelmed about, remember how hard it must be to hold everything. It is heavy. And it is ok to put it down every once in a while, or to get someone to help you and support you.
As for me, I did many things. I have a supportive community of fantastic, no-nonsense, kick-ass women near and far (2 of whom are related to me very closely!). And on this note – women are awesome. I am always saddened to hear females saying to me that they don’t have any close female friends, for whatever reason, or worse yet making generalized statements about women, which I refuse to repeat or give life to. If you don’t know any, don’t give up. They are out there, and I personally would like to think that I found mine by trying to be the type of person I would want as a friend, but I don’t rule out luck and good fortune in this process. I also spoke to a therapist (actually spoke to a few). And every once in a while I drop the ball. I say no. I accept an imperfect result (even if I sulk about it). Sometimes I focus more on being flexible than being strong. Sometimes I focus on being vulnerable. And sometimes I write long blog posts, and then I get my friends to read them – like this one.
So now – I want to hear from you – women who identify with being strong – are you afraid to drop the ball or seem weak? Are you reluctant to reach out? Are you willing to tell me why? You can do so as a comment here or contact me personally. Do you have a supportive community? And any men who made it to the end of this post – how is it different for men? Is it different? I look forward to your responses. And more will come on this topic over the next month.
In the meantime, I send you big love from a small island.
PS this month of October, I am feeling a little nostalgic for the Big Island that I spent several years on, and so I will be posting some of my UK pics, especially Autumn Colours.