How do you know if a strong person is coping? Or I guess even more so, the question should be how do you know if a strong person is NOT coping?
What does it look like? Do you think you could recognise it?
Think of a strong person that you know who has experienced trauma. How did it look from the outside? Did you notice? Did you think they were so strong that they didn’t or don’t need your help?
Most people have, themselves, or know someone who has experienced trauma or grief of some kind. Never underestimate its significance in someone’s life, or your own for that matter.
Behind the smiles, and the positive attitudes and the “one day at a time”s, there is pain, fear and uncertainty. Never assume that someone doesn’t need your help. They just might. You can tell them how amazing you think they are and how well you think they are coping, but ask them if they actually are.
Ask their partners how they are doing, and ask their children. Life doesn’t actually ever return to normal. They are changed forever. Yes they more likely are able to move forward, but it will be in a way of their “new normal”.
After my Mum passed away, apart from my immediate inner circle, some people were awkward, didn’t know what to say and left me alone. On the other hand, I also experienced the extreme opposite with some people who had never spoken to me previously suddenly gushing at me offering their ear for whenever I needed to talk. They had the best of intentions I’m sure, but I never took them up on their offers. I was stoic, had a smile on my face every day and functioned adequately with the occasional breakdown as I processed my grief. I was brave, strong and invincible. People often commented that they were amazed at how well I was coping.
I didn’t seek any help, I had a good support system around me but I know now, on reflection, I was acting in such a way that I was avoiding my emotions.
I was trying to adult while still really being a broken child.
I made some good decisions and some not-so-good decisions in my life for a few years. I engaged in some self-destructive behaviour for part of that time before finally having a break down in my early 20’s. My beautiful Dad and Step-Mum wrapped their loving, caring arms around me and gently guided me through counselling.
I connected with an amazing doctor who specialised in grief counselling and got myself back on track. She taught me something that I have never forgotten.
Everything that occurs as a sequence of events in your life is preparing you for the next point of change.
And we have many. Embrace it, do what you need to do to get through it with self-care.
Seek help, it’s not a sign of weakness but rather evidence of your inner strength.
Someone I look up to reminded me recently that magic happens through experiencing the darkest of times.
Throughout my own Breast Cancer journey my support network has been amazing. Our families and close friends have been there every step of the way. Others have struggled. But we recognise that this is just a reflection of their own inability to know how to help. It can be overwhelming and scary for some and they can tend to avoid the issue altogether.
I have found, and was advised, that it is better to not have expectations of anyone and you won’t be disappointed.
I am forever grateful to have had a group of people around me who unselfishly gave of themselves to help me and my family. Some of my family and friends cooked food. Without that we could not have functioned adequately to feed our kids. Some checked on me constantly through phone calls, messages and visits. Some gave me incredibly generous gifts. I was amazed at all those who rallied around us. Not ever being one to ask for help, or being comfortable doing so, I have learned to say thank you without feeling guilty.
I can never pay those people back, but I can certainly pay it forward whenever possible in the future.
I know that I am strong.
I know that I have been strong throughout my journey and that people see that. You see me smile, be positive and cope with whatever has come my way. But there have been some dark times. Times in the last sixteen months that I wished it would all end.
I had times during treatment when I would say, out loud, “take me now”… Those days were just too hard.
In my pain and suffering, I wasn’t strong on the inside. I wasn’t the stoic girl that everyone sees. I couldn’t reach out to my family and friends, or my husband. But during those times I sought help from other avenues.
I would think of my family and my children. I couldn’t put them through what I had experienced. We are so fortunate to have access to incredible support organisations and programs in this country. I remained strong enough to be able to do that. I allowed myself to get through it. And in my experience, that is the key.
If you can remind yourself, or the person you care about, that there is a process to go through to get to the other side, it will pass. Nothing stays the same. Ever.
If you are a strong person but aren’t feeling that way, reach out. Contact a friend, family member, doctor or support agency. Don’t feel that you shouldn’t or can’t. Whatever your situation, there is always someone who can help you.
If you don’t think of yourself as a strong person, maybe you are and you just don’t know it yet.
If you know someone who is going through a difficult time. Reach out. Be kind to them. Be thoughtful, put yourself out for them and help them. They may not ask, but they will appreciate it.