“The problem with being strong is that no one asks if you’re O.K.”
— Social Media Inspirational Gurus
Most of us have scrolled past this quote on Facebook or Instagram. You may have liked it or re-posted it. If you are the strong one then you know how painstakingly true this is. Like, ugh. Why is there so much truth in this statement? Somehow the people around you have created the idea that you have traveled through a magical parallel universe that rendered you emotionally void. No feelings, no heart, just empty.
Grandma died? She lived a long life, you'll be O.K. Man acting crazy? Giiiiiirl, dump him. Then you'll be O.K. Work stressing you out? It's just a part of the job. You will be O.K. Lots of deadlines at school? Nah, don't trip boo. It's going to be O.K. You and your home girl at odds right now? Like, is she even your friend? You'll be O.K, she was a hater anyway. And while we know that most things do work out eventually, it doesn't eradicate that need to vent. It doesn't take away the feeling of defeat or the overwhelming spirit of disorder. It doesn't remove the stress, pain or heartbreak you're experiencing.
The end of 2013-beginning of 2014 life literally took the breath out of my soul. At least that's how it felt. I grew fearful of answering my phone, because every time I did it was more bad news. At a routine check up appointment, we found out my nephew had relapsed again with leukemia and chemotherapy alone wasn't an option due to how aggressive it was. Our only choice was a bone marrow transplant and we kept being rejected for matches over the next several months. My mom had a heart attack the day before her birthday. My boyfriend's (at the time) ex-fiancé decided to inform me that they had been hooking up during our relationship. My job of three years, though being fully aware of all that was happening with my family, put me on probation because I was no longer meeting goals and my callouts were quickly adding up. In fact, the stress of it all landed me in the hospital at the same time as my mother and nephew with a severe anxiety attack. I thought I was dying that night, honestly.
I found myself crying at 3 a.m. over an ASPCA commercial – and I'm not even an animal person. (It hadto be that damn sappy ass background music). And with all that I had going on, I don't recall anyone asking me simply: "Are you O.K?" And if they did, they accepted the artificial answer that I was forced to give because I'm a strong Black woman and strong Black women don't break down, and we certainly don't have anxiety. We keep our business to ourselves and my God, we don't have pity parties.
Yeeeeeah, not true. In fact, I took it upon myself to call caterers and musicians to be sure I had the best pity party ever! While I had a support system, I really didn't want to be a burden to anyone else. Or better yet – when I began to vent to someone they one upped me by telling me their sob story instead of being a listening ear. (Seriously, how rude? Spotlight is on me right now.)
How could the people closest to me not know that something was wrong? Why weren't they aware that I wasn't being honest? How could they not know that I wasn't being me? There was increasing pressure to be strong – even when I didn't want to be. I lived in zombie mode—just going through the motions of a seemingly collapsing life. Fake it, till you make it. Conceal your puffy tear filled eyes. Face the world with a smile. Slay the day. Cry the night away. Repeat.
The problem with being strong is that no one asks if you're okay. They assume you are, because you're emotionally dead, remember? Even down to relationships and interactions with people. I am the person that initiates the amends. Always. By the way, does anyone know how many branches are on an olive tree? I have to be out by now. No one ever says, "Aaah, damn that might have hurt her feelings" or voluntarily own up to their wrongdoing. No one approaches me to say, "I noticed tension between us, let's fix that." It's always on me.
I decided to take control of the parts of my life that I could change. For starters, as painful as it was to come to terms with a failed relationship when you loved someone, I let him go. Thank you, Sam Smith for your Lonely Hour album that got me through that breakup! I took my aggression with life out in healthy ways such as exercising and yoga. and taught myself how to bake. Ironic, isnt it? I forced myself to find the good in everyday, no matter how shitty it seemed.
There is something oddly unique about having a strong personality and unlocking resilience to life's turbulence. In fact being a strong person, is a little bit dangerous. A lighthouse always survives the storm. The things that crash against a lighthouse may be damaged, broken or lost but the lighthouse survives. There may be some chips and dents but it always remain standing.
More than anything, understand that you can't pour from an empty cup so always take care of yourself first. Whatever you need to do in order to keep your sanity and happiness, then do it. People may neglect to ask if you're O.K because they have already seen you survive worse and have faith in your tenacity. A lighthouse is meant to be a safety zone, a shining light and a refuge in the middle of a storm. That's how people see you, I encourage you to make a habit of asking your friends, spouses, family members: "Are you okay?" If they are going through a rough time, invite them to a coffee date, send them flowers, drop dinner off to their house. BE THERE WHOLEHEARTEDLY. Pray for them. You never know what pain lies behind their smile.
Basking in the sunshine and white sands of the Gulf Coast, Ronny has contributed to several online publications and magazines in addition to authoring a collection of poems published on WattPad. Her passions are traveling, bringing awareness to childhood cancer and volunteerism. In her spare time, you can find her browsing the heavenly aisles of a local Target and on the hunt for extraordinary local cuisine.