Breaking down two words in my head for a couple of weeks. Two simple words — I’m okay. Dismantling them, mangling them, turning and twisting them around in my head. Observing how often I use them, when the reality is so far from that truth. How many times I feign strength in saying them, just so I don’t have to show what I am truly feeling. How many different variants of these two simple words I have in my vocabulary, that help me sidestep the full strength of my emotions, settling for a comfortable white lie. How often telling myself that I’m Okay, is only so I can feel a temporary regaining of strength to get on. and, my God, I’m flabbergasted at the many, many, many ways in which they’re inadequate. Inaccurate. Insufficient.
I’m not okay. I haven’t been so many, many times that I have effortlessly let these two words roll off my tongue.
Realising slowly, with soul-crushing clarity that I’ve spent so long aspiring to be a strong woman. Strong like the women I was surrounded by all through my growing up. Strong like the women who choose the partners they will spend their lives (or not) with. Strong like the women who earn their own living, live on their own terms. Strong like the women who don’t take bullshit when they’re groped on buses. Strong like the women who lift weights and scream strong is the new skinny. Strong like the women who look down on Zumba and turn to kickboxing. Strong like the women who don’t cry as much as they might feel like. Strong like the women who suck it up and deal with their emotions themselves. Strong like the women whose mantra is Bring It On. Strong like the women who respond with I’m okay, no matter what happens and what adversity they’ve faced and overcome.
These are women in my life. Women in my world. Faceless women in my mind. Pretty made-up faces of women on TV, in the movies, online. These are women all around. Women I know. Women you probably know too.
And I’ve spent my whole entire life trying to be one of them. Fighting some labels, clinging to others. Redefining some. Creating new meanings of my own for some others. And the bargain, I’ve become pretty damn hard. Frozen. Cold.
So can you imagine my horror when the very definition, the foundation, of what I have been trying to be for only like just my entire life came slowly crashing down? Falling apart brick by brick, with a slow and painful realisation that this chase for power and strength, when pitted against The Other — men, bosses, mother in laws, mothers, friends — is but a clever and unmistakeable glorification of strength as an aspiration. This hungering for power, no matter how small or subtle, that every woman knows only too intimately is in itself the biggest tenet of patriarchy.
Every single day, for the last maybe 10-12 days, I’ve felt like another layer of this patriarchal hangup has been stripped away form my brain. And I am nowhere near done. As I peel back the layers, the my jelly-like throbbing heart beats faster and faster, awaiting its inevitable expose. This is a frightening as hell process. And everyday I have thoughts of backtracking and abandoning this unravelling that I have begun. Because to be exposed, raw, open, soft — a beating heart that’s alive for all to see as it is — is the most frightening thing I have ever known or done.
And I wonder if it is frightening because it calls for a strength I don’t know if I have? It’s the sort of power that no gym has ever prepared me for. I have absolutely no capacity for this kind of softness, handling my own heart with tenderness and love that this calls for. The job description is already intimidating.
It’s taken me only 34 years, and we’re only nine days into the new year, but I already know that this will always be the year I will spend rediscovering strength.
Finding vulnerability. Being soft. Faltering, fumbling, falling apart. Learning.
Making space to feel with my heart (and not my head) again. Giving space for the warm, fuzzy heart that’s buried under layers of strong to feel pink and fragile again.
To love. To cry. To be real. To unpack my backlog of unprocessed emotions. Discovering the gallons of grief that flow out when I drop the I’m Okay. Touching the tears that flow when I stop saying I Can Do This Too. Gently picking up the flowers of guilt and pain that fall when I say Enough.
Now I know that all of this requires strength. And it is going to bring more pain, fear, loneliness and grief to begin again. To start learning to be soft now.
But I also know that guilt, pain, fear, loneliness is as good a point to start, as any.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
One year ago: Day 9: The hardest part