I hate when people misuse the word strong. Which is a shame because it happens a lot. I wish it didn’t eat away at me. I wish it didn’t churn my stomach and make my body fill with panic and anxiety. But it does.
Everyone means well when they tell you you’re strong. They admire you or are inspired by you or simply don’t have the right words for the moment. They want you to know that they look up to you.
Here’s my thing. If you look up to me, I’d rather you do it for my talent or some admirable quality I hold. If you want to call me strong physically, or because I stood up for someone who was being put down, or because I bit my tongue instead of lashing out, feel free to. But please stop calling me strong because my dad died.
I know death well. Five people that I loved very much died early in my life. Three of those deaths were sudden. And with each death, more people tell me how strong I am.
I’m not strong because I survive. Honestly, I don’t have any other choice but to go on.
When someone calls me strong because I have a dead dad, it feels patronizing. It feels like they’re really saying “I could never be/would never want to be/am terrified of being you.” It makes me feel empty and misunderstood. I am not strong. Call me a survivor, call me resilient. Before you go telling me how those words all essentially mean the same thing, let me tell you why they don’t.
They convey more of an idea of being knocked down suddenly, spat upon, thrown into a situation unwillingly and unexpectantly. They cover the nights I still spend sobbing from the pit of my stomach because it’s hard as fuck to love dead people. They account for the days I can’t eat or get out of bed or that time in high school where I spent an entire summer staying up until the sun rose because I was too scared and ridden with PTSD to sleep when it was dark. They show the times I had to run out of work because I couldn’t choke back the tears or stop the panic attack from happening or wasn’t expecting to have something set off a memory so vivid I had to throw up.
Strength is controlled and calculated. It is taking a situation and plowing through it. It’s stepping up and being brave and choosing to put on armor.
Resilience is standing there as shards of glass come flying towards you at a million miles an hour, bending your spine and getting cut and bleeding but still having to face the storm. Survival is dragging your body through tar because you don’t have the choice. It’s having to live when you feel like an alien in your own body.
Strength is a badge of honor. Resilience and survival are lifetime sentences.