There is that old phrase that is bandied about every so often – What Doesn’t Kill You Makes you Stronger.
I guess it means that if you survive the hard times, you’ll sometimes come out of it a bit better off. What a load of crap. What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger. It might also just not make you dead, but bloody and bleeding all the same.
I went diving once in the beautiful waters off Thailand. I swam around a coral column and came face to grin with a shark. Somehow I kept my head before he took it, and did what we were trained to do, sank lower than the shark and waited for it to go away before using up an hour’s worth of oxygen in 3 minutes getting to the surface and screaming to be pulled into the boat. This experience did not kill me and it did not make me stronger. It made me wet myself (we all do it in wet suits so don’t judge) and have a life long fear of swimming in the sea.
I’m entering the murky waters of mid-age, newly single and waiting to see what sharks might be lurking around the corner. I don’t think a disastrous marriage made me stronger. It just gave me a life-long fear of being married.
I’ve been on a few dates in this new shark infested waters. I’m learning to swim and to keep breathing and trying not to rush to get back on the boat the minute I get uncomfortable. I’m not the age I was when I last dated. I’m not even in the same century! My cleavage, which used to be my best feature, is still plunging, it just needs a little more scaffolding to not plunge to my knees during dinner. It might be harder to see the twinkle in my eye for the ‘life lines’ (wrinkles) around them. And I can’t read the menu without holding it out so far it’s in his lap, or I rummage for my glasses and let go of any attempts to show that all my bits are still in complete working order.
It’s still a shock to me when I realise that I’m sitting with a middle aged man. I still think of myself as, you know, not middle aged, somewhere just between young and not as young. I eye up beautiful young men in the street and then realise they’re not in my dating range. Like the shark, I just have to drop my eyes until they pass by.
So back to the stupid saying. Do you have to go through fear, and loss and grief to be stronger? I don’t think so. Can love, and success and happiness not make you stronger too?
When I look at the last 10 years or so – by most people’s standards, an embarrassingly lengthy litany of ‘character-building’ crapness – four miscarriages, post-natal depression, difficult marriage, mum’s stroke and consequent care, marriage break-up, mum’s death – to name just the head line acts, I realise that they are not the things that made me stronger. They’re the things that nearly fucking ate me whole like the shark might have done.
The things that have made me stronger during, and alongside some pretty death-of-the-spirit defying experiences are not the things that could have killed me. But the things that helped me survive.
It has been my three amazing girls, their births, their smells, their life and love, growing every day is like binge-watching a boxset that never ends. Sure, the domestic drudgery of picking up knickers or the lack of sleep because they are still NOT SLEEPING ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE NIGHT EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NO LONGER BABIES might kill me but it is their laughter, their humanity, their sheer aliveness that keeps me alive when all around me I duck and dive to avoid the boulders of hurt being hurtled at me.
It has been my writing career – the creativity that burns in me and drives me forward every day with hope and ambition is like being plugged in and recharged. Sure, the pressure of client deadlines, or above said domestic drudgery that prevents me writing when I want to might kill that spirit at times, but it is the thrill of the thoughts, the wonders of the words that I read and write that keeps my heart beating. Exciting news (will be revealed shortly) about a new writing project that makes me want to dance.
It has been the love and friendship of family and friends, not the hostility of selfish people that have made me stronger. It has been the random texts of support, not the ones of abuse that give me strength. It is the loving touch of a friend, the smile of support not the lonely evenings that give me strength.
It is being loved that makes you strong, not being unloved.
It is the memory of what you had with someone that makes you strong, not the loss of them. My mum’s love is all around me because it was so strong.
It is the days you get a helping hand that make you strong, not the days you feel alone.
As I venture forth into the murky mid-ages, there will no doubt be plenty of shark encounters and ‘character-building’ crapness. But I will only stay strong because of the good things that happen.