‘You are so strong’

I’m going to be really honest here, whenever someone has said this sentence to me my first thought has been ‘well what the hell was I supposed to be?’

It’s a sentence that has been said to me over and over again, and still don’t quite know how I am meant to reply? Should I say Thank You as if it’s a compliment? Or should I throw the person into an emotionally awkward situation, where I begin to tell them just how hard it was?

Yes I am aware that I have been ‘strong’, But honestly, I really didn’t feel like much choice was given? What are you supposed to do when life throws something at you? You have no choice but to deal with it. I couldn’t possibly have crumbled and given up, I had a tiny baby to care for and I had a responsibility to make his life the happiest possible – that is our duty as mothers.

I think the words ‘you are so strong’ are often said as people can’t quite imagine how they would react if they were to face something so cruel. I am absolutely certain I have said it to others when I haven’t quite known what to say to make things better. But I have always felt a little awkwardness when it’s been said to me, perhaps it is because I don’t really believe I have been strong, I have reacted in the only way I knew how.

This photograph was taken on the 12th September 2016. It was the day after my Mum had passed away and my third day of being a new Mummy – I remember standing in her garden and thinking, what now…

Outside perception.

I have always been a little weary of coming across too ok after my Mum died and Carter was born. I still smile, I get up and get dressed each day, I work hard, I laugh with my children and I enjoy life. I am aware that from an outside point of view that maybe I am a little too happy? Maybe I shouldn’t be coping so well. Perhaps I shouldn’t post happy photo’s of my life on social media?…

But I do really feel like I am lucky and I don’t have a bad life. Yes certain aspects have been awful. My Mum dieing the day after my first child was born is something that I will haunt me for the rest of my life – but do I let that define the rest of my life?.

I have worried at times if people may think I haven’t been that upset?…

Just because I chose not to shut down and hide dosen’t mean I don’t have my bad moments. Behind closed doors I have been the weakest person in the world. I have spent days sobbing in front of my children, to then feel like the worst mother ever. I have felt anger and found myself in rages where I emotionally can’t cope. I have been uncaring, nasty and cold towards others because I didn’t feel I had the mental capacity to take anyone else’s problems on. I have had moments where I have felt like giving up and been the furthest thing from ‘strong’.

It’s not even that I hide this side of me from people on purpose, I just naturally find it hard to show any vulnerability. I remember as a child wiping tears away quickly so my parent couldn’t see that I had been upset. I rarely show anyone the side of me that doesn’t cope. In fact I only think its my husband and Dad that ever see it – sorry boys! Even my best friend once turned around and said to me that she hadn’t ever seen me cry… I have know her since I was 18 years old!

However the happiness I show to the outside world isn’t fake and I don’t feel like it is a mask. I don’t think we should be made to feel like we should grieve in any certain way. Just because I choose to be positive doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. For my sanity I find it healthier for me to smile and pick out the good bits, rather than to express my sadness – I find I begin to drown in it once I start to let it out.

I’ll more than likely always have a smile on in front of others. This dosen’t make me particularly strong, its just my way of getting through each day.

Reason to be strong.

I clearly remember turning to my Nanny and auntie after we had the news that my mum was going into a coma. I sobbed and told them I didn’t want to do this without her, in fact my words were ‘I couldn’t do this without her’. In their efforts to comfort me I realised that nobody could actually make this better, nor could it be changed.

It was on me to keep it together…

For my Children. Now I don’t think there is any greater reason to wake up in the mornings than your children. To see their little faces light up when I kiss them good morning is something that gives me the motivation to make the day a positive one. I keep myself together for them, I had the best childhood which is full of happy memories of my Mum laughing and playing with us – why should my children miss out on that? It would have been selfish of me to let my grief completely take over my life at the point my son was born, I knew I was going to have to be brave and carry on, for his sake. Quite often I catch myself on the verge of a bit of a meltdown, the one thing I can guarantee that will stop it before it starts is switching off from the world, taking a simple walk to the park and watching Carter run around. There is something about stepping back and appreciating the fact that I am a mother myself that helps balance me.

For my marriage. Anyone that knows me, will probably know of my husband too, we basically come as one. He has been my absolute pillar of strength, if anything I think has been the strong one out of the two of us. He is the one constantly picking up all of the pieces and putting me togethor. In the early days after my Mum passed and Carter was a newborn, he done everything and I even feel a little bit ashamed that I didn’t do more – he changed the nappies, winded the baby, cleaned the house, sterilised the bottles and made sure we were both ok. Looking back I don’t know how he didn’t crack. I let this go on for a little while whilst I drowned in self pity, until one day a close family member turned around and told me, that at some point Denholm would want his wife back, the happy girl he married. That hit me hard, I hadn’t even considered that he might feel like he was loosing the person he fell in love with. This was a moment where I had to zoom out of the place I was in and look at the bigger picture, we were newly married and had just started our own family – I had to make sure we experienced this together, these are meant to be some of the happiest moments of our married life.

For my Mum. In my mind there would have been nothing more disappointing to my Mum than to know I was moping around and miserable. She didn’t do self pity, you got up and got on with things in her eyes. Therefor I didn’t find it hard to get my head around smiling and laughing again, if anything the days I spent crying I would end feeling guilty because I know that would not have been what she wanted. My mum was the queen of strong, If I wanted to make her proud I knew I was going to have to put ‘my big girl pants’ on and smile again. (thats exactly the phrase she used to say to me when I was being a whimp in life).

For my Dad. You spend your life looking at your parents as if they are invincible, they have the answers to everything and they are the ones that can make it all ok again. But what happens when their worlds are shattered and they haven’t got the power to fix anything. Quite honestly, I had to hold myself together for my Dads sake. My Dad had lost his own Mum when he was just 33, and now he had lost his wife at just 48. I was the only female left in his life. I had to be the one to make all the import decisions with him, I couldn’t watch him go through this on his own.

For my Career. I had spent years and years working SO hard to build my business and reputation. I had got it to a point where it was my full time career and I felt I was doing well. I had planned a short maternity leave as I didn’t want to lose clients or momentum. My initial reaction when Mum passed was that I couldn’t face going back, I wanted to take a year out to heal and look after myself and my baby, then decide if I wanted to go back at all. This was until I told my Dad my plans, to which he gave me a typical businessmans response – he asked me why do I work? My answer was because I love what I do, I earn my living and it keeps me motivated. In that moment I knew it would have been extremely unhealthy for me to chuck the towel in. My job is a massive part of my identity, its social and it makes me happy doing it. Yes it was really hard going back so soon, but in some way it also saved me from some really hard moments – I’d never directly tell clients, because I am just the girl who makes their hair pretty, but some of them brightened the darkest of days for me.

For Myself. It would have been easier for me to lock myself away and never talk about what happened, and believe me there have been moments where I have considered packing my stuff up and disappearing – to no longer to be the girl who’s Mum died. But that isn’t me. I have always faced things head on and dealt with what life has thrown at me, I wasn’t about to stop being that person. For me, being ‘strong’ meant continuing to be the person I always was, from the outside it may have looked like I had been really brave, but I literally just done what my gut told me to. I haven’t ever wanted what happened to change me as a person, of course in some ways it has, but there are certain aspects of life that I have consciously held onto. I still wanted to be social, I wanted to travel and see the world, I wanted to take care of myself and have fun – I was only 23 years old, I didn’t want to let my life fall apart at such a young age, it was only just getting started.

Strength

I really don’t think we can define that word.

One persons idea of being strong is different to another. I look at people who decide to take a break from life when they are faced with tough times, and admire the strength that must take to put your hands up and say its too much. There has been times when I have wished I was strong enough to admit I can’t cope.

Just because I move through life at a hundred miles per hour and do it with a smile on my face, dosen’t mean I am stronger than anyone else. We just all have our own coping mechanisms. I can assure you that behind close doors the smile fades and I crumble from time to time.

I personally think true strength is just doing what feels right to you, not trying to meet anyone else’s expectation on how you should handle a situation.

So to conclude, Yes I guess looking at it as a whole I have been ‘strong’. But it wasn’t a choice I made, it was my natural instinct. Don’t compare your journey to others, we all handle the things that are thrown at us in our own way. At the end of the day we have to do whatever feels right to us, to protect our own happiness and sanity.

I searched through my phone to see if there was any photo’s where I had let my guard down, there is only this one – still attempting a smile but my eye’s say it all. This was after we had spent Christmas Day in a French hospital.

Thank you for reading,

Amberlie x

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