If you had to define inner-strength, what would you say? Standing your ground when your back is up against the wall. Life is coming at you fast and ruthless, but you don’t blink. Is it a strong sense of self and not giving a crap what anyone thinks about you? Is it all the above, or do they sound too good to be true?
In my small world of chronic illness, I hear it defined by the tired, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Yeah, things got bad for a while but, I’m not dead so, I keep marching on. I grit my teeth, flex a muscle, and growl. Oo, I’m a badass grr. I went through hell but, I’m still here so, hear me roar. I’ve got scars but, they’re my trophies. If that didn’t end me, then nothing will. I’m an iron fortress.
Ain’t nothing gonna hurt me now.
Double negative aside, and yes, that’s annoying the stuffing out of me. How do you define inner-strength? I’m curious because I’m not entirely sure what my answer is. I don’t buy into the idea that I’m not dead so, I’m stronger for it. There are worse things than death, and that iron fortress is prone to corrosion and rot.
Do you think it will hold up forever? Nope, environmental factors will cause erosion. It will start flaking and cracking eventually. When it does, the sensitive bits will be exposed. Oh, and sometimes the scars I’m so proud of still hurt. They’re a prickly reminder that, no matter how much I pretend to be okay, somethings take a long time to heal.
Perhaps, some wounds will never heal? I sincerely hope that’s not true.
If you saw me in person, badass would not be the first descriptor sitting on the tip of your tongue. My growl sounds like a puppy who just found its voice. It’s more of a yip than a grr, and I get startled every time it comes out. Oh, that double negative? Ain’t nothing— I can’t bring myself to write two doubles in one post— That’s actually correct because there are a lot of things that can hurt me. After all, I’m a little too sensitive for my own liking.
Gah, stop being so sensitive! Eye roll, huff, shake my head. That’s my internal monologue verbatim.
Well, that just knocked the air out of the sails or popped the shiny red balloon. We were off to such a positive start. It was full of personal empowerment and self-flagellation. Hear me roar? Yes! Roar your heart out. Empowerment, yay! Woot. Woot. Fizzle, crack, pop, and the balloon zooms around the room.
So, what is inner-strength? I have a silly feeling that there are going to be a lot of different answers. Our experiences are vastly different so, it stands to reason that our viewpoints will vary as well. More than that, our levels of resilience will be varied, and that’s okay. It might not have killed you or destroyed me, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t devastate someone else.
The definition of inner-strength, personal or otherwise, will vary so, how do you define it for yourself? If it’s hear me roar then, take a deep breath in and let it rip. If you find comfort in knowing it didn’t kill you and that gives you strength? Brilliant, you’ve found something that keeps you going, and you should own it. Is it something else?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Mostly, it’s been in the context of personal failures and the list of things I should be able to overcome. I find myself saying something like, “Come on, you’re better than this. You’ve survived worse. What’s wrong with you?”
And it’s true, I have survived worse, but I’m struggling with things that should be easy to overcome. Before you say it, I know I need to stop using the word should. I’m should-ing all over myself. But come on! I’m better than this. Stronger. Braver. I don’t mean to sound egotistical, and I’ve tooted my own horn loud enough.
It feels weird, calling myself all those superlatives. It makes me shiver and cringe. If someone else describes me using those terms, it’s even worse. I melt away, or I’d like to disappear. It doesn’t feel accurate. Strong? Brave? I’m sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong person. I’m none of those things, but I have been all of them at some point.
For most of us, the hardest concept to grasp is the idea the two things, no matter how contradictory, can be true or complimentary. The idea, for example, that good people can do horrible things. Or, the opposite! Bad people can do good things. A murderer can save a life; A healer can end a life. I can be strong and weak. Brave and terrified. We can break and still be certified badasses.
This might be why I’m struggling to define my own inner-strengths. It’s a concept that seems so contradictory. In my head, I picture a warrior in full armour. She’s stands alone on a hill, raises her sword high above her head, and the sun glints off the blade. Her jaw sets in determination, and her eyes narrow in a steely glare. With a deep, resolute, breath she lets out a mighty whimper and runs away to find her mommy.
She’s not the hero the world needs but, perhaps, she’s the hero the world deserves.
It’s hard for me to sit here and write about inner-strength without feeling like a fraud. I’m trying to find the words that would best encapsulate the power of this concept, but I’m coming up empty. It is vitally important to our mental health and overall wellbeing, but conceptually, it feels annoyingly obscure.
Words like resilience, tenacity and perseverance are thrown around, but when was the last time someone told you how to develop these tools? I know that I could use some more resilience right now. I’m feeling out of balance or out of sync with so many things. If it will help equalize all of that? Great. Cool. Brilliant.
How do I do it?
I’ve written about the problem with self-help before, feel free to check it out, and it all circles back to the same issue. No one ever tells you how to help yourself in a meaningful way. The step-by-step guides amount to nothing more than a gentle reminder that you should be moving towards a more positive, healthy outlook. But they’re vague and resemble empty platitudes.
We can all agree that a healthier mindset is the optimal goal but getting there from wherever we are is undefinable. It’s incredibly frustrating for those of us who are actively and passionately trying to rebuild our shattered minds. A dummies guide to resilience would be helpful. A Youtube tutorial on how to cultivate tenacity and perseverance that resembles a make-up how-to? Yes please, and thank you.
But mental health recovery is not one-size-fits-all. In a lot of ways, we’re left to figure it out on our own. If you can afford professional help and it’s available to you? That would make things a lot better, but it’s not available to a lot of us. Oh, but I could go on a very long rant about the inaccessibility of mental health services.
Don’t worry, I won’t.
I will, however, circle back to back to my initial question and add one more. What the hell is inner-strength, and how do I get more of it?
I’ve had times in my life when I’ve dug deep and found a strength that I didn’t know I had. I was able to face situations that seemed insurmountable. Moments when, if I could’ve, I would have run away but I stayed and fought. There have been times when I’ve fully embraced my inner-coward and hid. But, I have found the courage to stand more often than I give myself credit for.
I’m trying to narrow it down to one example, but life with a chronic illness is full of these moments. This isn’t a pity statement, and I’m not fishing for sympathy. It’s a reality that a lot of us have to come to terms with. We have no other choice. We have to dig deep, find something worth fighting for, and then face our realities despite our fear, insecurities, or the mountain of uncertainties.
Is that inner-strength? Finding something worth fighting for so we can live the life we want. In my experience? That thing, my reason to keep going, is often small compared to what I’m facing. It’s a slice of birthday cake versus a body-altering, life-threatening operation. A movie night with friends versus a treatment that’s so vicious, I pray for the sweet release of oblivion.
Oh, the drama!
But those small things offer so much hope in those moments. They’re lifelines when I feel like I’m drowning and when I want to sink beneath the waves. These seemingly insignificant things keep me grounded in a future moment when this to shall pass. They have given me the strength to keep going, fighting, moving forward.
But they’re so small!
Inner-strength seems like it should be larger than life or too good to be true. It sounds so grand it’s almost aloof. It’s like a spiritual entity that’s only found by the most enlightened or evolved. Us mere mortals? Too weak or damaged by the cruelties of life? We can never attain inner-strength on any meaningful plain of existence because our weaknesses hold us back.
That’s my warped view on the matter, which is why I asked the question. Inner-strength can’t be something reserved for the pious few. It isn’t a jewel that belongs to some mysterious, bordering on a conspiratorial, elitist cult. It has to be an innately human quality. Otherwise, how would our species have survived so many centuries?
By my own reasoning, I have to assume inner-strength is attainable, but how?
I said I’ve had moments where I’ve found inner-strength so, what was so special about them, and can I apply them to my life right now? Breaking those experiences down, what did I do differently? How was I experiencing them? Why did I hold on to such trivial things to keep me grounded?
Looking back, I was intensely present in the moment. I was hyper-aware of every sound, sensation, thought, and emotion. I was mindful, such a buzzword, and centred in that space. The worries about the past and my concerns for the future disappeared. My mind was clear, and so were the things that are most precious to me.
I enjoy a slice of delicious birthday cake, but I love the person who just blew out the candles. You know, when that was still a thing. Celebrating their existence and thanking God (or whatever you believe in) that this person is in my life? That’s a special moment right there, and it’s a shared experience full of emotion. We hold each other close to our hearts, and when you have someone like that in your life? That’s worth fighting for.
These people are worth fighting for and holding on to. On my darkest days, when I don’t want to be here anymore, I hold on to the image of their beautiful faces. I can’t hurt them by letting go, and I don’t want to let go of them. So, I dig deep, find an ounce of strength and keep going until the darkness clears.
I find an inner-strength I didn’t know I had, and there it is. For me, inner-strength comes from a moment of mindfulness, and it’s in that moment when I realize what’s most important to me. In my case, it’s the people I love, but it could be different for you. A passion project that burns bright and keeps you warm on lonely nights. It could be…Anything!
If it gives you a reason to keep fighting, trying, moving forward? If taps into that last drop or uncovers a rich well of strength? Please, don’t let anyone tell you it’s silly, worthless, or not enough. It counts! Whatever it is, if it gives you a reason to live? Hold onto it.
I don’t think I actually defined inner-strength, but at least I know where to look for it. A moment of mindful reflection reminds me that I have plenty of reasons to dig deeper and keep fighting.