the problem with being strong
I’ve discovered both of these facts quite recently, thanks to my heart. As I’m dealing with the uncertainty of everything tied up with my heart, combined with Bipolar Disorder Depression flare up, I’ve had a lot of well-meaning friends tell me that I “just” need to stay strong. The problem being that right now, I feel anything but strong. Most of the time, if not all the time, when someone tells me to my face to “just be strong,” I smile and nod. Anything else would be rather inappropriate. Here’s the problem: very few of my friends know what it is like to have a chronic illness and only one of my friends, who lives 1,000 miles away, knows what it’s like to live with a chronic, degenerative heart disease for which there is no cure or treatment.
Here’s what I learned, literally, yesterday: it’s okay not to be strong. Yes, when you are fighting any illness, there is a degree of strength involved. But there are moments when being strong is just not feasible. These are the times when it’s okay to admit, “I’m having a shitty time and could really use some help.” ”I’m not sure I can keep fighting all the damn time and could use a rest.” ”I could really use a listening ear right now and I don’t expect you to solve anything or fix anything, just listen.” It’s okay to have days when the social world seems to much to bear because it means faking happy and you just don’t have the energy.
What did I do yesterday? I vacuumed and dusted my living room, took a nap with my cats, knit, wrote, and read. I did a couple of errands so I’d have something to eat and drink and gas in my car, but none of those required heavy social interaction. I took a break from the world.
Today, I plan on interacting with that very world I isolated myself from yesterday. I know enough about managing depression that complete isolation rarely, if ever, helps the situation. Nor does it help me deal with my heart condition. I may have ARVD, an untreatable, progressive, and degenerative heart condition, but that does not preclude me from having a life. It may be a different life than I had planned, but it’s still a life. A life which I get to define.
For those of you struggling with any form of chronic illness: it is okay to not be strong 100% of the time. It is okay to ask for help, to admit that you’re not feeling all that strong at the moment. We do not do this on our own. No one can bear my heart condition for me, but other people can help me bear it.
It took me a long time to ask for help for the eating disorder, to admit that I even needed help. But letting go of that control and facade that gave everyone the idea that I was in control and “fine just fine” was the first step to my recovery. Letting people in allowed me to heal. I am not sure why I didn’t make that connection with my heart condition.
So go ahead, let go of the control and let someone in, as scary as that may sound. None of us have to do this alone.