I understand why people react to others’ accounts of living with (or overcoming) mental, emotional, or physical hardships with words like ‘brave’ or ‘strong’, but it’s important to keep in mind that each person’s unique history helped shape their ability and approach to getting through a personal challenge.
No one is weaker or stronger, braver or less brave, than any other. No single person can or should be used as a standard or ideal for how (or, barring self-destructive behaviours, how not to) manage.
That said, because many had asked, here are the guidelines I set out for myself years ago, copied word-for-word from a journal, which I continue to hold tight to.
I have my reasons – my own history / experiences, upbringing, inherent attitude – so anyone reading who does things quite differently, know this is not commentary about you or your way of dealing.
There isn’t a right or wrong way — there is only the right-for-you way.
That’s something you have to craft and discover for yourself through trial and so much error. But there is a way for everyone. It just takes time and an honest effort to settle on it.
Here’s my personal guide to living as best I can despite all else.
You are not special.
What you’re going through is unique to you, but everyone deals with hardship – physical, mental, emotional – at various points in life. Don’t allow anyone to feel they should be particularly gentle with you.
You are strong, and resilient, and should seek to be treated as such. Embrace being challenged, welcome confrontation. You’re a capable woman, you don’t need your hand held.
Welcome empathy, appreciate compassion, but reject pity.
Don’t make excuses.
Be honest with yourself and those around you with what you can and cannot handle at a given time. It’s OK to request leeway when absolutely warranted, but the use of hardship as a crutch will, over time, atrophy the resolve.
Resilience, like muscle, must be exercised regularly to maintain its power. And like a muscle, it too requires periods of rest for optimal performance.
Request space or time when mental or emotional fatigue sets in, but do so out of necessity, never habit.
Own your shortcomings.
If you’ve allowed personal frustration to slip over to your interactions, if you unfairly attack, criticize, or demean someone or something simply because, at that moment, venting felt OK — apologize.
That is your failure and no one else’s.
Accept that, despite your best efforts, this will happen from time to time, but don’t let it pass without owning it and making amends if you can.
Learn from each time you fall short here. It weighs on you afterward for a reason.
On the hardest days, when the biggest achievement may well be having made it through the brutal 24 hours, don’t succumb to paralysis.
Find or create some purpose, no matter how trivial, to help get through to tomorrow.
The trauma and panic/anxiety will command the day regardless — do what you can in spite of it.
If you need to cry through every moment of doing whatever it is you settle on, that’s fine.
But never do nothing. Do not dwell.
There will be moments when you’re overwhelmed. That’s not weakness or failure — that’s human. It’s OK to lean, even if just for a moment, on the shoulder of someone you trust.
The times you cannot be alone, don’t be. You don’t need to be.
Be frank. Be honest. Be gentle.
Those seeking to better understand your experience may hold back for fear of over-stepping, imposing, or offending. They don’t know what or how to ask.
This is a two-way street. Make it easier by being available and open to discussion. When questions are asked in an awkward or clumsy manner, remember there’s no ill intent, but a genuine effort to learn.
Dedicate time and patience to these conversations. They matter.
And always be grateful that anyone bothers to care. They don’t have to.
“Tomorrow will be better.”
If today is particularly trying, remember – it’s just a day.
Tomorrow will be better.
And if it’s not, there will be a tomorrow which is. No matter how many days it takes to get there, you will reach that tomorrow.