Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Strong. Scoff.

I find the following oft repeated declaration difficult to tolerate:

“You are/were so strong to deal with all this! I know you, of all people, will pull through. Because you are so strong.”

... Uh... Being told you are strong when you are just dealing with life as it comes. Unhappy face. This  praise is a completely well intentioned copout.

Maybe the following statements can illustrate why I find this irritating:

“You woke up in the morning, when the car alarm started just outside your bedroom window! Boy are you ever strong.”

“You are breathing, in spite of the fact that there is pollution in the air, and breathing requires muscles, and oxygen contributes to cell fatigue. That takes serious strength.”

“You fed your kids breakfast, and it wasn't even sugary cereal! You are so strong. I don't know if I could do that.”

“You did not stay up until 3 in the morning watching My Mad Fat Diary. Wow. You are strong.” (Oh. Wait. I really mean that one...)

You gave birth, rather than keeping the fetus in your body after nearly ten long months. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. You are so strong.”

Do you catch my drift? These are realities, and necessities.

Having chemo (while being very similar to surviving severe trauma, for some of us), going through radiation treatment, having a double mastectomy and oopherectomy, this does not require any more strength than eating an apple instead of going hungry.

You just do it.

Hate it, suffer, cry and whine, and do it. And then whine some more, and feel sorry for yourself, and stay up all night watching My Mad Fat Diary (Ah! That's the theme of this post!)

Okay, so why does this bother me? Why not just say, “Yes! We are all gloriously strong!”

Well. I could do that. Or I could rant. Naturally, I choose the latter.

I defend my right not to feel, or be called, or be seen as, strong. I need just as much love and care as the next goof up, and I am just as scared and confused. I am not some super hero, and you are not weaker than I am.

What I have dealt with, you may deal with, and you won't be any stronger or weaker than I am/was.


  1. First, I just want to say that I let my 5 year old have sour cream & onion chips for breakfast today. There were extenuating circs, but still...
    I have 4 friends who were diagnosed with cancer and I work with a cancer charity (cancerandcareers.org) doing events for them where I meet a lot of people going through treatment. I completely get your point. When you don't have a choice, how can going through your life seem like strength? And there is something talismanic about saying "I couldn't do what you do." As if saying that will somehow keep you from being chosen for cancer. (As if THAT has anything to do with it. But humans are weird.)
    I've met people who object to the term 'survivor' and the term 'patient'. I think, if I can be so bold, that the objection is to being categorized. Somehow pigeonholed and sorted and put away. Even when it's a positive tag like 'strong' it can seem like being put off., separated. I don't know what it feels like because I haven't had cancer. But I've been around it quite a bit and I know that there is no one kind of strength, one kind of survival, one kind of living or dying.
    But, having said all that, there is also grace and dignity, which every person has access to.

    1. Alex, that is beautifully put.

      Yes about the talismanic quality of these statements.

      Yes about the pigeonholing and being put away.

      Yes about sour cream and onion chips...

      Thank you for saying all that. And not having been the one who is ill doesn't seem to matter - my husband feels the same way I do. A friend of mine whose daughter died of cancer feels the same way.

      It's the whole experience of illness, death, or disability that people put away with those talismanic words of praise.