I often wonder how one measures strength – not the kind you can build through resistance training but the kind you have inside, in the inner depths of your mind.

I’ve been told I am a strong person because I’ve been through a lot, I suppose, and I’m still trying, despite the countless times I’ve given up. Mental illness can prevent you from succeeding in many aspects of your life, from the social scene to relationships to employment. Life has not been easy for me and some people have been downright mean at times, when talking to me about how they felt would have been so much healthier than stamping needles all over my back without me knowing the reason. But that is how people seem to prefer to deal with me, and in a sense it could be how I developed a thicker skin, as marked as it is. As a cancer survivor, I guess I can say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I wear my scar as a badge of courage.

Strength is a quality you develop over time and can take practice. The other night at work someone who was upset approached me. He began yelling and name calling, telling me I was incompetent and that he left his pants at the front desk to be sent to the laundry a week ago and that he hadn’t received them yet. He insisted we stole them and that he wanted them right now. He repeated this again and again, getting more aggravated with me each time. At first, my eyes started to water. Then I thought to myself, he’s out of line and how he’s reacting is a reflection of himself, not my work performance. I immediately stopped tearing up and dealt with the situation at hand to get it resolved.

If I think back to the past though, at another time when I also worked in customer service and a customer approached me and began yelling at me asking for my supervisor and telling her that I had ignored her, I wasn’t quite as strong. At this job we were trained to believe that the customer is always right and that we should respond with a ‘Yes, I can’ attitude to any request. I handled the situation as best as I could but once that customer left, I cried while continuing with the next customer, wiping my tears as I worked, trying not to make a scene, not wanting to appear weak or give her the satisfaction of letting her know she upset me when she wrongfully personally attacked me as she had.

Weakness comes in many forms and on some level in my mind crying is one of them. So instead of letting out what is a healthy form of self-expression, I hold it all in and then sometime later it builds up until I can’t stand it anymore and I let it all out in a flood of tears. For example, my grandfather died unexpectedly when I was in high school. I held in my tears during the viewing and the service but then when I got to give my last sentiment before they closed the coffin, I burst out crying over his body. I am not the hard stone that people tend to think I am and like everyone, I too have a breaking point. Over the years, based on my experiences, I have become stronger and it is this inner strength I have developed that I draw on to carry me through difficult times.



About Rosa Dawson

I'm a 40 year old female from Ontario, Canada. I have first-hand experience with mental health. Officially diagnosed with being in the early stages of schizoaffective disorder in 2004, I struggle with depression and schizophrenia. I've had suicidal thoughts for many years and on a few occasions I have tried to kill myself. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology, I have studied mental illness with the goal of making a positive difference in the lives of others. Looking back, although I would not know it at the time, I probably had issues at a young age. I believe society has yet to take a proactive approach to mental health. With my writing, I wish to reach as many people as possible with this message: You should not suffer in silence. You are not alone.

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