I regularly have people tell me I am the strongest person they’ve ever met.
I’ve had one of those lives, you see. The ones where drama is constantly hovering. I deal with one issue and the next one crops up immediately. Sometimes they all pile on top of each other and I question whether I might be the star of my own Truman Show, because I don’t believe in a God handing out Tests, so the only other option is that I’m the main character of a secret reality show.
When I tell stories of things which are very routine for me, people sometimes get a look on their face that makes me very uncomfortable. Sometimes I’ve accidentally revealed myself to have weirdly in-depth knowledge about how to live without electricity. Other times I’ve done something stupid that puts my personal safety at risk. In all cases the look is a mixture of pity, worry and awe, and I shift from foot to foot, wondering how I can get them to either forget it happened, or assume I’m a liar and move on.
Neither of those things ever works, and what I’m left with is all these people – good, kind, amazing people with immense capacity to do literally anything – telling me they wish they could be as strong as I am, as capable, as certain.
You know the Superwoman, the one who we’re all supposed to enviously admire, muttering “I don’t know how she does it!” under our breath?
I look a lot like her.
Superwomen, traditionally, are nursing addictions to Chardonnay and their kid’s Adderall. That’s how they do it. They hit their limit years ago and now they’re in a free-fall of socially acceptable drug abuse and dissatisfaction with their marriage – or so we’re told.
I’ve never found drugs either useful or interesting, and I’m not married, which limits my options somewhat when it comes to releasing the stress of adulthood. I’m pretty much stuck with two options: either a) internalising it all and developing mental health problems as a result, or b) what I have historically done, which is turn my constant misfortunes into hilarious anecdotes at parties.
It’s that approach which makes people praise my coping skills. They tell me, earnestly, that if they’d been through what I have, they’d be crying their eyes out, hiding in their bedroom from the world.
This is a wonderful, kind, supportive thing to hear. It’s also immensely isolating. Because suddenly, I’m not allowed to have hidden in my bedroom crying my eyes out. And they’re not allowed to have come out of their own misfortunes unscathed enough to tell hilarious anecdotes at parties.
They are denied strength, and I’m denied vulnerability. Of course, we are all always a mixture of both.
And so we come to this blog, which has made people come out of the woodwork from all over to check on me, make sure I’m okay. It’s more kindness than I have ever seen, and certainly more than I deserve. I am immensely grateful for every piece of it.
But the truth is, I am more okay than I ever have been before. I’m building something real, and a big part of that for me is shucking off the steel exterior of the Superwoman who doesn’t discuss the actual work that goes into being Super.
I’m telling you all stories of me failing because I’m done, frankly, being the one who makes strength seem unachievable. I’m done letting you all think, with a laugh and a joke about my “irritating positivity”, that I have some secret you don’t know about that helps me keep moving when everything is terrible.
There is no secret weapon, no skill or talent. There’s only furious determination.
Right now, I’m choosing to use that determination to be vulnerable, even when it’s against literally every instinct I have. I want to use it so that next time I’m at a party and I tell the anecdote about the times I’ve fainted in public, you’ll laugh, yes – after all, I am not a glamorous fainter – but you will also know with certainty that I handled those situations with exactly as much grace under pressure as anyone else would: none at all.
I woke up in a park with more vomit on my shirt than I generally enjoy and I broke my phone into the bargain. Anyone who knows me can guess that I was a lot more concerned about the phone than the fainting. In fact, I was borderline hysterical upon being denied access to Facebook and Whatsapp, showing all the grace of my two-year-old niece. Less, actually; she is often very graceful.
When I was done with all that, I got up, poured a bottle of water down my shirt, and limped home with gritted teeth, congratulating myself every step of the damn way for everything I was about to do to fix my world and show that stupid broken phone who was boss. And when I tell that story now, with pauses in the right places, a snarky grin and an emphasis on the Tragic Millenial who can’t go without Facebook, it is a hit.
In other words, we can all stop asking each other how we did it. My answer will always be “terribly”, because I am twenty-five with all the wisdom of Clive the Metal Peacock Statue. (This is false modesty. Obviously Clive is wisdom incarnate. I’m getting him a monocle!) And honestly, I really, really like having people laugh at my misfortune. The most fun thing in this world is telling really embarrassing stories about yourself to strangers.
I just don’t want to do that at the expense of acknowledging, for the sake of everyone who has ever dragged themselves up by the skin of their teeth, that the process of doing so fucking sucks. It does. I know it. I never want to diminish all of your struggles by laughing about mine. I do want to promise, though, that my lack of laughter over the past week doesn’t mean I’m not okay. In fact, it means I am.
Clive and I really, really hope you’re all okay too. If you’re not, well, I’m sorry there’s no secret. But limping home will only suck for the hour it takes to get there, and when you do, you can call me and put all the pauses in the right places, and put on either a snarky smile or a belaboured moan, and emphasise your exact gait as you hobbled down the street. I promise to either laugh or cry with you, whichever you need today.
As soon as we’re in charge of telling the story, we are all superheroes. Just as it should be.