Please Stop Telling Me To "Be Strong"
I was having my hair brushed when they were brought to my attention.
Two of them.
Two bald spots.
Sure, they were well-concealed by the rest of my hair (thanks, Latin genes), but they existed all the same.
To some, it may sound trivial.
To me, it was near-enough the end of my world. At least for the night.
I proceeded to go to bed, have a good cry and torture myself with thoughts of bad wigs and alo-fucking-pecia.
“My hair is my best feature! I’ll never feel confident again! What if my head is secretly a weird shape? Why did this have to happen at Christmas? Why? Why? WHY?”
You get the idea.
It was only when someone told me to “snap out of it and be strong” that I started seeing sense.
I didn’t need to be “strong” in that moment, thank you very much. What I needed was to despair, allow myself to feel positively terrible and, in my own time, move on.
It’s the recovery recipe that has always worked for me.
Throw me adversity, and I’ll respond by going to bed. There may be junk food and bad movies. There will undoubtedly be tears.
I swear by allowing myself to feel sad. Experts have even created a term for it: “constructive wallowing”. Who knew?!
Embracing your sadness, at least initially, speeds up the healing process.
Pretending to “be strong” and “brave”, on the other hand, is counter-productive.
My hair woes got me thinking about how often we romanticise the idea of “being strong” in the face of adversity.
So many people use “be strong” or “stay strong” as their go-to advice. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just men who are being told to, essentially, “man up”.
As women, we too have a tendency to idolise those who are brave and strong no matter what life throws at them. Boudica. Rosa Parks. Beyonce. Dr. Maya Angelou. Diane von Furstenberg. Hell, Samantha Jones.
These women are fantastic. But their public personas aren’t our reality (or even their reality!). I have no doubt they've turned their vulnerability into real strength, time and time again. Thinking that it’s natural to have terrible things happen to you and happily carry on is, quite frankly, bullshit.
Fuck having a stiff upper lip. Fuck not feeling able to cry. Fuck repressing your emotions. Fuck repressing your emotions to make other people feel comfortable. Fuck faking happiness. Fuck being “strong”.
If you feel sad about something, no matter what it is, you have every right to feel sad about it. Fact. And if you want to get over something? You need to go through your sadness, not around it. Double fact.
I woke up the next morning puffy-eyed, but feeling lighter. I’d cried a lot. For the situation, for myself and for my fears. My fears were real, you see, and no amount of denial could have overcome that. Having faced and embraced them, I was already moving closer to acceptance.
As for my hair, I took my teary self to the doctors and they’re confident it’s going to grow back. Slowly but surely. Like anything worth waiting for in this life.