When you hear the word “strength” what images swirl around in your head? Is it an explosive display of brute force? A muscley moustached chap with an ungodly sized barbell raised high above his head? Or is it something much more subtle and enduring? The Strength card invites us to recognise the immense value in our ability to navigate life’s biggest obstacles with the gentle yet firm quality of endurance. The strength that isn’t immediately obvious, but is inside us all. The strength to put one foot in front of the other when all we want to do is crumble in a heap. You know what strength is? It’s simply deciding not to give up entirely.
I went through a pretty dark time in my early 20s. I had spent my teenage years struggling with severe and at that point undiagnosed depression, thinking my perpetual sadness was just how I was or how I deserved to be. It ebbed and flowed, but always hung heavily on my shoulders. Often getting in the way of many of my friendships and relationships. Some days it weighed so heavily on me I couldn’t even get out of bed. I would skip school and isolate myself, lying with that darkness as it whispered malicious lies inside my mind.
I spent a very long time and a great deal of energy hiding this from all of those around me. From the outside, I was a jokey jokerson. Positive and beaming. But it was a mask. A heavy mask. I didn’t want my suffering to intrude on anyone else’s life. I didn’t want to be a disturbance or an inconvenience. So I buried it, only letting it come up for air in the safety of solitude.
When I moved away to uni, three hours away from home, I numbed it for a while. With all those things unsupervised barely-adult uni students do. Parties, alcohol, drugs, random hook ups. These were my weapons of choice against the heavy sadness that pulled at me. As it turned out these weren’t so much defences, but rather gasoline on a secret fire. Embering underneath. Only occasionally catching enough for the outside to see.
It didn’t take long for it all to go up in flames. A torrid romantic affair, jealousy, loneliness, it all came to a head.
Strength crept in one night when I was dog sitting for a friend’s mother. My mental health at this point was the worst it had ever been. I felt completely hopeless and alone. Even though I had wonderful people around me and a lot to be grateful for, the darkness had blinded me. In that darkness I believed for a moment the only way to put a stop to these feelings, was a one way trip through the escape hatch.
It was a last moment whisper of strength that saved me that night. The strength to reach out for help. Something I had never dared do before.
I was incredibly lucky during that time because I had a close circle of friends who saw past my carefully crafted mask. They saw behind the cracks that had begun to tear through. They were there for me. I’d never let anyone be there for me before. I was too scared of the weight of my darkness crushing those I cared about most and causing them to leave. And look, I won’t sugarcoat it. Because of the bad shape I was in, soon I would eventually push most of the friends I had made away with the stern and rigid lie I told myself. That no one cared and that I was not worth loving. For a time this was validation for me that I had made a mistake letting people in. But only with time and healing I saw that wasn’t true at all. That everyone has their own journey and that this was mine. That everything that happened during that dark night of the soul was playing out exactly as it needed to. I wasn't deeply broken liked I believed I was.
I ended up staying inside different mental health hospitals for a total of 6 weeks. It was a lonely and painful time. My plans of returning to uni seemed to quickly be fleeting and my whole world was crumbling. I missed out on a scholarship for my last year of uni because I couldn't return. I lost most of my friends and the future that had seemed so concrete. Everything was up in the air. I had no footing. But I kept going. I moved slowly forward even though it felt like I had nothing left to give and nothing left to hold on to.
At the time I saw myself as weak but looking but on it now I see the immense strength from within that got me through. The strength that allowed me to refuse to give up. The strength it took to say yes to recovering. Saying yes to starting again. Saying yes to opening up. Saying yes to myself and saying yes to my worth. Saying yes to changing the way I thought about myself and my place here. These things all take strength.
It was one of the most difficult periods of my life but when I reflect I see how necessary it was. I will always be grateful for that time because it allowed me to discover how much strength that truly resides within me. It allowed me to realise I do have a family and beautiful friends around me that I can depend on. It allowed me the space to truly begin to heal and it realigned the trajectory of my life. You wouldn’t be reading these words if it were for those events that took place.
I look at where I am now and all I have done since that time and I am so proud of myself for pulling through. I am proud of the person I am and am still becoming. I am so thankful to myself during that time for being so strong.
When that darkness creeps in, when the heaviness weighs down on you and everything seems like it’s just too much to bare anymore, please remember how strong you truly are for even getting to this point in the first place. It takes strength to be kind to yourself, it takes strength to show yourself tenderness and compassion. In those moments when you feel weak, know you can rely on yourself because you are strong. There’s that deep and still reserve of strength inside you that is always available. In any given moment we can tap into our strength, into its safety.
But also know that being strong doesn’t always mean going at it alone, asking others for help is one of the biggest acts of strength. Letting your loved ones in and letting them carry you is an act of courage. It’s strength that allows you to momentarily silence those voices in your head that try to tell you no one cares. To ask for help anyways.
You are stronger than you have ever dared dream.
Til next time, Soul Fam,