I’d like to push back on a compliment I often get. This isn’t a sort of self deprecating type of post, but a post for clarity. Whenever I share my experience living with a mental illness, I’m routinely told that I am strong. I’m absolutely not. I routinely crumble into a self loathing ball of tears and battle with keeping the desire to be dead out of the forefront of my mind. I’m not strong at all, but I am resilient.
My resiliency isn’t a sign of strength either. My resiliency is purely out of necessity. I have no other choice but to bounce back. I don’t really have the option to give up, no matter how much I want to.
The world mistakes resiliency with strength, especially in the case of Black women, as a way to forgo actually caring or helping. We so often hear how strong we are in lieu of offers of help, condolences, or empathy. Think of all the times a woman, especially a Black woman, has been in the news as a survivor of some sort of tragedy and the general consensus is “She’s so strong.” Now think about whether or not that “compliment” is followed up with an offer to help, to reduce the load off of her shoulders, to help her heal. The story ends with her “strength” and we leave her to her own devices.
I reject the descriptor of “strong” because it gives others the excuse to ignore my cries for help and dismiss my very real pain. I’d like other women to reject it as well. We’ve gone too long having to accept the bare minimum of compassion. We are human, we are fallible, we have weaknesses, and sometimes we break. Our perceived “strength” is used to silence us. It’s an attempt to ignore the fragility of the human experience and gloss over how awful life can be.
I’d much rather be resilient than strong anyway. A 2×4 plank of wood is strong until it’s been broken in half. That 2×4, while still useful, will never be whole again. Clay is resilient. It can be ripped into a million pieces, but you can always put those pieces back together, and mold that clay into itself again. I’d much rather be clay.