I am grateful to be in the company of so many strong women like my granny, my mother, my aunts, my cousins, my friends, and former colleagues. I choose to see them as mirrors for my own strength. When I was in the thick of job loss, abuse, depression, these women supported me in the best ways that they knew how. Primarily, their presence and a good shoulder to cry on.
When I found out about a setback with my mom’s cancer treatment, I texted my friend who invited me to come over. I'm certain I was numb; I was on autopilot driving to her house, I don’t remember thinking. I just remember the doctor’s prognosis. Then I arrived. I vividly remember that without a word, she lovingly snatched me up and just let me breathe into her embrace. I sobbed for what felt like forever, my false eyelashes drifting down the stream of tears on my cheeks. She wouldn't let go and at times held me tighter. I felt like each of the doctor's words landed harder on my chest with each inhale. Still, my bestie silently held me up until I exhaled deep enough for the numbness to go away. And just like that, I knew she understood my need for emotional support and (lash glue).
She knew I would go home and talk through treatment plans and support a caregiver in the fight of her life. I would never shed a tear in front of my mom because I had to be strong enough to absorb hers. I had to be strong for her as she had been for me. For her mother.
I pulled myself together and went home later to talk to my mom. Lashes gone, but chin up and ready to talk about her care plans. All the while, my friend was dealing with her own pain. She had consoled me without cracking under the pressure of finances, marriage, and her own health. Her selflessness gave me the strength I needed to have for my mom but I could only hope that I would pour into her. This cycle of strength means we have to start out strong to strengthen others to be strong.
Strong is our default.
In the face of adversity, I’ve seen so many women be pillars of strength. I’ve seen friends negate their loss to handle family affairs, work full-time jobs through chronic and debilitating diseases, make sacrifices to make ends meet, and put on a smile when they are hurting. All of these things are expected as part of their duty.
Is there any other way for a woman to be other than strong? Adversity makes us agile by giving us the ability to make lemonade with the sourest of life’s lemons. With grace, I’ve seen so many women be strong for the people who depended on them but wondered if they were strong for themselves?
Remember my oxygen mask
Do you ever pay attention to those flight instructions before takeoff? Some life-saving information in there! Particularly the steps to take in the event of a change in cabin pressure. They tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your neighbor or companion. That’s because you can become disoriented and unable to take care of yourself. In the same manner, you do yourself a disservice by putting others needs before your own wellness.
Put another way, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Strong women will pour into others without question, neglecting their own needs and desires. It is not selfish to care of yourself first. You cannot fully take care of someone else by denying yourself that care and love.
I have to remind myself to do this on a daily basis. I stuck a post-it that reads "Oxygen Mask" on my mirror as a reminder to make this a daily practice.
It’s time to put on your oxygen mask.
Healing out loud
When I began to acknowledge my depression and open up about the challenges of caregiving, I gained a level of pride in myself that was absent for years. People were watching me come out my shell.
I also had friends tell me that they decided to seek therapy after I shared my experience. People were watching me heal to hold me accountable but also as an example of what healing can look like. I hope that I provide a different picture of strength. One that is a transparent journey.
Make the time for yourself
We are not always in control of the circumstances we find ourselves in. When strong women find themselves in the midst of chaos, they Olivia Pope the hell out of that situation until its handled, or under control. Take that same control and point it towards time for yourself. Time to breathe, meditate, grieve, laugh, pray, or sleep. I set boundaries around my emotional wellness.
I had to find that space, I had to be intentional.
Strong women need that space. If I am to be one of them, I need to strengthen my boundaries, prioritize myself, and be transparent about my growth.
Talk about it: Who are some of the strong women in your life? How does that strength inspire you?