Strong women need hugs too

woman in bed

TW: mental health, suicide

I am a strong, capable, organised woman. Nothing really fazes me. I keep my family organised, I handle all the finances, I plan the holidays and calm hubby down when he stresses out about things. I work fulltime, but also find time to blog regularly and write short stories and novels. I help my kids with their homework and organise their birthday parties. I remember my extended family’s birthdays and I send cards to friends when they need a pick-me-up. I am the last person you need to worry about regarding mental health.

Am I though? If you ask my friends or coworkers, they will tell you: “Isabelle may have a whinge every now and then, but she gets things done and doesn’t give up.” This is definitely the image I have of myself, an image I cling to with bizarre determination. After all, everyone depends on me. My husband would be a wreck without me to put things into perspective for him and we would slide into financial ruin without me looking after the bills and everything else.

In the wake of two famous deaths by suicides of people we least expected it from, tweets have sprouted all over my timeline with well-meaning people saying “reach out if you need help” and posting suicide helplines. But the tweet that grabbed me the most was this one:

What a lot of people fail to realise – and what this tweet succinctly highlights, is that some people won’t ask for help. They don’t think they need it, or they don’t think they can. They feel that they don’t deserve help, or maybe they are so entrenched in their role of strong person that they feel they will let everyone down if they admit they can no longer shoulder the burden of life.

Mental health is still such a taboo. Some bloggers write openly about their mental health struggles, like Megan Ashley, which is absolutely great. We need to talk about mental health, as it is just as much part of us as physical health. But the brain is a funny thing. Your brain lies to you. Not only does your brain lie to you in your depression, making you feel worthless, but it also lies to keep you from getting help.

In my case, my brain lies to me by telling me I am a strong, capable woman. It tells me that I don’t have any mental health issues. That I am “just tired” or that am being weak. Stop whining, just get on with it, it yells at me when I can’t get out of bed. Everyone depends on you, you can’t quit now. And I believe it. Of course I do. While I write my encouraging cards to my friends, cook a meal for someone who feels overwhelmed with life or reach out to someone on Twitter, I push my own dark thoughts and feelings aside. I block out the voice that screams for a break, a rest, for someone to take care of me, and I plaster a smile on my face and get on with it.

Even now, as I write this blog post, I lie to myself. Not only that, but I feel like an imposter. I feel like I have no right talking about my “issues”. I feel like they can hardly be described as issues. Sure, I am more tired and irritable than usual, but that’s because of the stress of buying a house and moving soon. And I conveniently forget that I have felt like this for the past few years. Tired. Irritable. Like life has become a burden too heavy to bear.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to show my vulnerability. Maybe it’s because I am so entrenched in the role of strong woman, that my brain refuses to accept that it is just an illusion. That I am like everyone else and I need a break too, sometimes. That there is only so much you can give before you have to refill your well of energy and compassion. And even the idea that my whole family would be left to flounder without me is a lie. My husband is quite capable, and shares the responsibilities of keeping our lives on track.

I am tired of being strong. I am tired of being the capable, organised one. Sometimes I dream about just walking away from my life. Not suicide, but just getting on a train, booking into a hotel and leave my responsibilities behind for a while. I love my husband and kids too much to leave them for too long, but a weekend away to a resort where everything is taken care of for me would be so amazing. No need to plan, organise, or even think. Just show up and let someone take care of me without me feeling guilty about it.

Anyhow, I know I won’t do any of that. I can barely admit to myself that I am struggling, let alone go and get some actual help. As soon as I publish this blog post my brain is going to berate me for overreacting. It will tell me I have no right to complain about my life and taking the spotlight away from people who have real mental health issues. It will force me to push my doubts, fears and anxieties to the furthest recesses of my mind. I will go take a shower, laugh embarrassedly about my own whining and get on with my day.

I am a strong, capable, organised woman. Nothing really fazes me. I don’t need help. I don’t know how to ask for help.

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2 thoughts on “Strong women need hugs too”

  1. After reading thst Isabelle I have sat quietly for five or so minutes before writing a response. You words are very thought provoking and though I know something of the complexity of the mind it is very sobering to read of your experiences. Thank you so much for writing this and helping me and others to be more knowledgeable about mental health.

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