I’m a strong independent woman. I’m also a bit of a disaster when it comes to emotions.
I come from a lineage of stoic men and being raised by my dad after mom died, I’m terrible with the emotional stuff. As gran once said: “I fell and broke my arm and your grandpa started yelling at me because he was worried. He was yelling quite a bit, so he was quite worried!”
Luckily mom’s side of the family were a bit saner (for the most part), but mom died, I was bullied, my life resembled Cinderella’s...there were some issues. So I went with the “I’m a rock, I’m an island” thing as a child and clammed up like the clammiest of clams. I became shy.
The thing is, I had fire inside. Inside I was a passionate person filled with dreams and ideas and I had an intense desire to express those dreams and ideas. I came to love the strong independent women who I perceived to be completely liberated - the ones who never let their fears confine them; the ones who questioned societal rules (and broke them).
Looking at these women I decided I didn’t want to let the bullies (or my family) define me by allowing my fear of their reactions hamper my words and actions.
I started a rebellion against the confines I’d created in my mind - I was trying to break free mentally. It was uncomfortable as hell. It’s lucky I was raised by someone who made me thrive on challenges. I really worked hard to say and do all the things I was scared of saying and doing. After all, if your idea of a happy old age is being a woman riding down the Amazon River with a rifle in one hand and a hot man in the other, you better shed the gray mouse skin you’re currently wearing.
The thing with strong independent women is that their strength sometimes works against them. They’re rebellious. They’ve learned to break free from societal fears to say what they think and do what they want. That doesn’t mean they’re emotionally free. In fact, part of their rebellious nature is probably a bit of a “fuck you” to the society that messed with them and in creating their rebellion they’ve grown a thick skin. Even if they’ve let go of their angry edge with the years, maybe even gotten humble, that doesn’t mean they’re allowing people to get close. Running through the Amazon jungle with a rifle and a hot man is one thing. Being carried through the Amazon jungle by a man when you’re injured and need care is quite the other.
I’m not very good at being carried. When mom died I carried my sister. Then I set off to Africa and carried the kids in the township. They opened my heart - I gave a lot more and I received a lot more, but I was (and still am) the carer. The strong one. The independent one. Allowing others to see your need for love, your need for care (and allowing them to care for you) is altogether a different story. If you ask me it’s uncomfortable as hell.
Personally, I believe fighting crocodiles is a lot less scary than showing someone your emotions. Without cracking a joke at the same time. Or intellectualizing it whilst numbing the emotions. Or being sarcastic. Or telling them you’re fine, because you’re a tough cookie (and really you are). Or doing just about anything else to remove the emphasis away from the emotions you just displayed, in case they’ll start yelling at you, reject you, or, low and behold, go dying on you.
The problem, of course, is you’re not protecting yourself by doing any of this. If anything you’re carrying your fear and pain - your own wounds surrounding loss and rejection - inside all the time instead of setting them free. The more vulnerable you are, the more open you are, the more you let things go. Sure, bad things come if you’re open, but so do good things. Like the wind you have to allow them to move through you.
When I opened my calendar the other day I realized it would have been my mom’s birthday. I didn’t try to hide from the pain. I cried. And by doing so I let it go.
It’s not always comfortable, nor does it always come natural to you, to go for what you desire in life. Crying is something I normally avoid and receiving love and care makes me feel very small, or very suffocated. Sharing emotions of any kind makes me crack five jokes a minute. And whilst I am incredibly witty (if I may say so myself), it really does nothing for my emotional life. I feel secure around people who intellectualize things (preferably with a dose of wit) and keep it at that level. I’m drawn to them like a moth to a flame, but like a moth, I then burn. Being around people who make me feel uncomfortable, on the other hand, might just set my soul alight.
It’s International Women’s Day today and I’m sure if you’re a woman reading this, you’re strong in your own way. Maybe you’re strong in a different way from me. Maybe you need to learn to fight crocodiles, whilst I need to learn to say “I love you” without cringing. Celebrate your strengths and embrace your weaknesses - be vulnerable about them - because they aren’t that bad. Underneath it all you have a beautiful heart. So what if there are a few scars on top? You’re still fucking amazing. Be proud of it. And be vulnerable enough to let that heart of yours shine through.