what i had mistaken for resilience

Thursday, September 12, 2019


Here in Australia, there's this thing called R U OK? Day. It's where we all raise awareness about stress, suicide prevention, and mental health, and encourage one another to show support by asking the genuine question, Are you okay? 

This September also marks a year since I started attending counseling. Nearly every month, for the past year, I have somehow conquered that barrier of breaking my ego down to sit and talk vulnerably about my struggles to a trusted professional.

I didn't expect it to, but it truly changed my life.


I was never much of a mental health advocate prior to my time in counselling. I was always a go-getter, a busy little perfectionist, and I would always pride myself on being unbothered by inward feelings. But little did I know that during my time of trying to stay strong, and stand on my own feet, I was also adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms. I had complicated issues within a lot of different aspects of my emotions, and I thought ignoring them – for years – was just a sign of being strong.

It turned out I was still somehow affected by the past trauma I thought I'd brushed off. It turned out I had strenuous, bitter feelings towards people I thought I had good relationships with. It turned out that I was brought up on the idea that suppressing my emotions is a proper survival tactic. I'd rather die pretending I'm okay than let someone see me shed a tear.

On the times I did shed a tear, though, my mother's voice quickly intercedes.

"Stop crying! Why are you crying? There is nothing to cry about."

In various circumstances, in many times throughout my childhood, this was her way of comforting me when I was in tears and distraught. Many times where I cried, her response was essentially, just get it over with.

I looked up to my mother in many ways – this shining beacon with a heart of steel. The unbroken woman. One who didn't let life knock her down more than three seconds before getting back up again.

My mother was – is – one of the strongest people I know. And her repeated words of "don't cry, there's no reason to" was something I had, for the longest time, mistaken for resilience.

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It is possible to love someone and still acknowledge how their actions have affected you. So I know, also, that my mother has always acted in my best interests.

But my mind travels back to the high school girl in the hallway, staring at her locker, feeling tears well up inside her but doing everything in her power to stop the dam from breaking. My mind goes further to the 12-year-old girl crying in her bedroom because her world was falling apart, and then her mother, gently coming in and saying, "Maybe don't cry too loud. It's not good for the others to hear it."

My mother's narratives, as helpful as they sounded, and as well as she intended them for, would be embedded into my thought pattern like an automated response. When I felt sadness, I'd think, Why am I sad? There's no reason for me to be. When I felt like crying, I'd think, I'm just overthinking things. There's nothing wrong. What am I crying for?

Again and again, a logical, "strong", "resilience"-focused mind counteracting a breaking heart's dire need to breathe. It was self-punishment – repeated acts of it. And the worst part of it was, I took it as sign I was growing up.

But growing up doesn't mean you outgrow the feelings you once sustained. It doesn't mean you've outlived grief, outwitted sadness, and outsmarted pain.

I wish I'd known that sooner. Maybe then I'd have spent less years having an inner battle every time I felt remotely shaken by my circumstances. I'd have spent less time being ashamed for feeling not okay, desperately convincing myself that I was.

In one of those Instagram posts from this R U OK movement, one of the things they mentioned was Positive Language Alternatives. And scrolling through it, I realised all the sentences labeled as harmful were the sentences I basically grew up hearing my whole life.

"Calm down."

"You're okay."

"Stop crying."

"Don't get upset."

Here's one of the wild concepts I learned through a year in counseling: Being sad or not okay about something, is really not your fault. I'd grown up with a misguided notion that if I felt off, if I weren't okay, then there was no one but me to blame.

I'm just overthinking.

I'm being silly.

This happens all the time to people, I shouldn't let it affect me.

But if it affects you, it matters. And whatever people tell you, your feelings are valid. Friend, please hear this, your feelings are valid.

You don't have to ever feel apologetic for having any type of emotion towards something. Be it positive, or negative, give yourself the allowance to just feel whatever it is you need to.

I don't have much left to say today. I guess that's it for now, and truth be told, it's still some hard stuff to talk about.

But I hope you, friend, can take something from it.

And for today, and onwards, I sincerely hope you'll be okay.

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My messages and comments sections are open everywhere for anyone who'd like to chat. You can reach me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, wherever you wish to find me, and I'm all ears and available to offer any kind of advice or support you need.

If you're not feeling okay and would rather speak to someone else, I encourage you to also seek professional help who can assist you with your struggles.
Find all numbers for all helplines here.

If someone you know might be struggling, and you're unsure of how to ask, visit this page to find advice and instructions to help in your approach.

This short piece I dedicate to Mrs. S, my counsellor and guiding light.

Sending love and warm support to you, whatever that may look like,
I hope to see you around.



















2 comments

  1. So glad that you're doing better and better each day Joanne, thank you for writing this one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Crying is not a weakness.
    But rather a sign that you have been too strong for too long.
    J. Depp

    Stay safe and be well.

    ReplyDelete

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