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Strength in weakness

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

As many of you know, I left my life back home last July to spend a little time getting lost in the world. I didn’t know what to expect other than that it would be one great big adventure and that it would inevitably change me. I whipped off my heels and hopped on a plane headed for London – business hub and fashion capital. But there was nothing glamorous or business-like about it. I traded my pretty clothes for worn sneakers and t-shirts. My eclectic apartment for a suitcase and a backpack. And my scheduled diary for messy plans and getting lost.

It wasn’t all adventure to begin with either. The first week I slept. The next week I spent with family. And the following one I finally set off across the channel headed for Europe. I expected to feel carefree and excited as my bus approached Dover. I didn’t. I felt alone. I felt crazy. I wondered why I’d made such an irresponsible decision. I wished I could take it back. I was a 33 year old woman behaving like a 20 year old. What the hell was I doing? But it was too late.

Then the tears started. Like a burst water pipe. I was in a bus filled with excited young people and I was an emotional wreck. I pulled on my darkest sunnies, pushed my head back and let the tears flow. I cried on the ferry to France. I cried through my trip to Paris. I cried in break taking Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. I bawled my eyes out in Avignon in a sweltering hostel bunk bed, coughing from bronchitis and sprinting to the shared bathroom every 10 minutes to spit out the empty contents of my stomach.

I’d hung onto those tears for too long. I’d changed my whole life, ended an engagement, left a partnership of nine years and carried on like I’d switched nothing more than my choice of perfume – when in fact everything had changed. I hadn’t cried. I hadn’t fallen apart. I was strong. Just like big boys don’t cry, tough women fight forwards and cover their emotions. Or so I thought.

This is a hard time to be a woman. We’re designed (or socialised depending on the argument you follow) to be gentle and soft. Yet in today’s world we’re encouraged to be hard, tough, resilient, unbreakable. Be tougher than the guys, work harder, push yourself more. Live your life the way you want to. Focus on your career. Have children. Or don’t. Balance your family life or social calendar like a skilled juggler. Don’t sleep. Don’t eat properly. Exercise a lot. Be thin. Don’t have enough time for yourself. Keep going. Don’t ladder your stockings. And for goodness sake. Never. Cry. Never. To be a woman is exhausting. It’s liberating. It’s an explosion of confusion, clarity and freedom.

Sometimes (just sometimes) I wish I’d been a woman in an age where your role was clearly defined. Grow up, find a husband, get married and raise children. You understand the expectations of each role you play so you’re able to manage them. And yet, I’m so glad I live in a time where I have so many choices. Overwhelming as they are. There are no rules. I can be whoever and whatever I want to be. I’m glad that though the young people around me looked at me quizzically throughout the journey pondering my state of singleness, childlessness and homelessness. “I mean seriously – she’s over 30 and that is old!”

In breaking the rules I’ve learnt that the new ‘tough rules’ and high standards we’ve set for ourselves are stupid. I’m a woman. I am gentle. I am soft. I am sensitive. When my heart breaks, I hurt. When I get bronchitis I’m exhausted. I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly me. When I need to cry I should. Without feeling weak. When I’m broken I should recognise it and give myself the space to feel whole again.

Until I bravely journeyed off I saw myself as a strong woman. Emotionally and physically. I’ve since learnt that being strong was holding me back from being whole. So I’m stepping down from my toughness. I’m picking up the pieces of my shattered dreams. Because it’s ok to feel hurt. It’s ok to feel angry. It’s ok to feel disappointed and let down. It’s ok to feel. I’ve found my greatest strength is allowing myself to be weak.

First published 30 January 2014, on Used with permission.

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