"Giving up is easy" says the meme up above.
"Falling apart" is bad.
"True strength" is only when you don't give up or fall apart.
This is a clear and persistent belief in our society.
Having fallen apart on more than one occasion I am clearly weak. I have failed the true strength test.
And yet here I am still kicking on. Loser that I am.
I understand why people post memes like this. I understand that for some they are indeed inspirational. But the simplistic inspirational narrative in these kind of memes irritate the hell out of me.
What exactly is wrong with falling apart? And what exactly constitutes falling apart?
There are times in life that things reach crisis point and you fall apart. You can't cope. You cry and withdraw. Shake your fists at the sky and scream about the injustice of life. There are times when it feels like the tide of human existence is going to swamp you and all you can do is feel despair. You aren't falling apart you are experiencing real emotions and behavioural reactions to a stressful life.
When I see memes like the one above I think of the countless emails I receive from fellow patients who are overwhelmed not only by their physical symptoms and social and psychological stressors associated with that, but also the overwhelming sense that they are failing or doing illness wrong because they can't hold it together.
Illness is stress. Chronic illness often means that stress will never fully go away. People aren't falling apart when their stress levels reach critical levels. They aren't giving up when they voice that stress and can't hold it all together. They are human beings, experiencing real and valid emotions to a prolonged highly stressful situation. We should not be jumping on them with judgements about giving up and the evil of falling apart, but offering them support, a place to voice their fears and sadness, and direction to appropriate mental health groups to help them navigate the complex and stressful world of chronic illness.
Should we add yet another burden to the list, pretend it's all okay and hold it all together, at least in the public view?
As I've written many times on this blog, giving voice to the negative aspects of illness, not coping every second of every day, and admitting you are overwhelmed is not giving up. In a way it requires far more courage to admit the truth of falling apart in face of a society that values the perfect presentation of a person with illness who always "holds it together."
Inspirational sick person narratives are rife.
Flawed, complex sick person narratives are jumped on and wiped away with relentless regularity.
Admit a flaw and you are giving up.
Admit that it's hard and you are giving up.
Admit you can't hold it all together all the time and you are giving up.
Giving up by admitting it's hard and it falls apart, isn't the easy option. A false face is the easy option. No one questions the perpetually,perky smile, I've got it all under control, narrative, because that's what the world wants to hear. To salve their own fears. Sometimes to salve our own.
If we truly want to promote mental health we need to move away from judgemental narratives about giving up and that falling apart is the worst thing you can do. If we want people to seek help we must be open about the times it all comes crashing down, and that we don't actually have to be the popular version of strong ALL the time.
I've fallen apart many times in my life, not just in the last nine years of illness. Because I am human, not some super woman. I have strength. A strength which is true to me, even if others can't see it.
And for every single person who sends me emails, or is sitting at home right now reading this who feels like they are falling apart, or are afraid others will judge them if they voice their struggle, please know you aren't abnormal, you aren't doing illness wrong, you are stuck in a shitty and incredible hard and stressful situation right now and responding in a totally human way, but there is help available and there are others out here in the ether who get it and understand.
There is strength in giving voice to the struggle.
Screw the lie of giving up and falling apart.
You are not alone.
It's okay to ask for help.
Here are some starter services in Australia. Most countries will have similar programs.
Australian Psychological Society (has a find a psychologist function)
This may be one of my favourite First Aid Kit lines:
I always thought you'd be here
But shit gets fucked up and people just disappear
In the case of chronic illness shit gets fucked up and life is hard. We don't have to pretend it's all sunshine and lollipops.