This is stupid! I know the intentions behind this quote is supposed to motivate women, to let them know that in spite of all their daily struggles they are still strong, to let them know that their strength outshines their pain, to let them know that their ability to cover the reason behind their tears makes them a strong woman. However, this quote does the exact opposite. What it says, to women, is to cover the reason behind your tears by smiling and pretending that everything is okay. It tells women that it’s okay to tell others you’re okay, even when you’re not. For years, women have been force fed this idea that to be strong they have to hide behind their struggles and their pain. But here’s the gotcha. There is no strength in pretending that you are okay. The strength is being strong enough to say, “I’m not okay.”
For many years, I watched my god-sister put her life on hold to care for her daughter, who has autism, while also raising two other daughters. She fought the public school system, in court, to ensure her daughter would receive the education and services she deserved. She put her pursuit of an advanced degree and a career on hold, as she became an advocate for autism. Yes, she had support from her children’s father (now her husband), her parents and siblings, me and other people in her community, but the majority of the time she did this alone. There were times when it all became more than she could bear and it was these time that she shouted, “I’m not okay and I need to express that.” My god-sister is one of the strongest women I know. It was during this time that I watched her do it all, many times wondering, ‘how does she manage to do it all.’ I often wondered how she managed to get through each day. What I admired most about her then (and now) was her power to keep going and doing what she needed to do for her family. What inspired me about her was her strength to say, “Right now, at this moment, I’m not okay.” She would do what she needed to do to get back to being okay and then keep moving towards what she wanted. Today, she has her Masters degree, a career, 2 daughters in college and with her husband, still takes care of her daughter, with autism. When I first told her I’d been diagnosed with clinical depression, her response was, “Good, now you know what’s been wrong with you all this time so let’s do what needs to be done to beat this m****f****.” She’s the person I call on when I’m having a bad day and she let’s me know that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to not have it all together.
The false idea that to prove that they are strong, women need to have it together, all the time is one of the reasons that mental health is such a taboo topic. Often times, through tears, frustration, anger or pain a woman will say, “I’m okay,” or “I’m fine,” even though she’s not. In her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) wrote, “Fear is the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.” It is these fears that sometimes make women afraid to admit their true feelings.
I don’t want women to wallow in self pity for days or weeks at a time (if you’re feeling the need to do so past a few days, outside of a few professional or personal incidents, or you’re feeling down all the time, you may want to consider seeking professional help). I want women to know that it’s okay cry at night and when you get up in the morning, smile and ADMIT that you were crying last night, and the reason behind those cries. It’s okay to tell your husband, significant other, children, parents, boss, neighbor, co-worker, the sales associate in Whole Foods (okay, maybe I’m the only person who does that) or whomever you come in contact with that you’re not okay and that you need a moment. Communicate your truth. It’s a part of your existence. Take care of yourself because what good are you to others, if you aren’t good to yourself.