On Being Strong

Ok, so, last weekend I had an AMAZING 57th birthday party (photographic evidence), and the party was for a birthday that I was pretty certain I’d not live to see.

In brief, it was a beautiful, friend-and-family-filled, loving, musical, joyful, deeply moving, delicious, fun, if exhausting day, it was worth every ounce of energy it required of me, but I could never have endured the 8+ hours of celebration on my own.

Interestingly, one of the birthday cards I received featured this quote, oft-attributed to Bob Marley, a quote that Laurel just happened to reference three years ago in her first email breaking the news of my ALS diagnosis to our family and friends:

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

I’ve encountered the concept of strength in the face of adversity quite a lot in the 3+ years since I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, usually in the form of always-well-intended comments from others, either encouraging me to stay strong or applauding my efforts to do so. And you know, me being me, the irrepressible English Degree Geek, I’m well aware of the literal and figurative definitions of the word strong.

Nevertheless, stricken as I am specifically with ALS, whenever I hear/read remarks on how strong I’ve been on this dreadful journey, rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment, my first thought is always the irony:

First dictionary definition of “strong”:

— having, or marked by, great physical power

First result when searching Google Images for the word “strong”:


Graphic provided by Google when searching for “ALS”:

als (2)

A few weeks ago, I advised caution when exploring the rabbit hole that is the concept of fairness, and while the rabbit hole for strength isn’t nearly as fraught with philosophical perils, there is this glaring contradiction I experience whenever I consider how strong I seem to others while concurrently struggling to stand up after sitting on the toilet, to push the covers off of my body while getting out of bed, or to lift a spoonful of food to my mouth.

Virtues of Staying Strong?

As I’ve thought about this, once I’m able to get beyond the confusion caused by my many daily challenges with literal physical strength, and can instead consider psychological strength, just about the first things that come to mind are questions as to whether or not and why staying strong is nearly universally thought of as an important thing.

After all, according to some new research just out, strength notwithstanding, the bar’s been set rather low:



But seriously, I googled away, as I’m wont to do, and I very quickly discovered, in the writing of others on the topic, some validation for my questioning the virtues of staying strong, with one article in particular refreshingly making the point with its title alone: 18 More Supportive Ways to Say ‘Stay Strong’

This article states (emphasis in bold/underline added by me):

Humans cope with loss of all kinds in a variety of ways. While your heart might be in the right place with “stay strong,” this isn’t always the best way to be there for someone. It implies that strength is the only appropriate response to a hard situation, and it invalidates other feelings.

See, the last thing we folks who are facing injury, illness, loss, dying, death, etc., need is to be made to feel like we’re failing at facing our hardships in some kind of proper/preferred way, and we live in a culture that oppressively considers tears and trembling fear to be shameful signs of weakness. Given these conditions, even if you exude strength, once you are admired for it it’s possible you’ll feel unintended pressure to maintain that state, and then self-disappointment whenever your resilience falters and lapses.

Additionally, I’ve even wondered how many people extol strength around me because they are relieved, because, they’d be very uncomfortable if I was in a more obvious state of distress. I’m not saying there’s anything at all malicious going on here. We’re empathic beings, but not everyone gets an opportunity to learn how to navigate the emotions stirred up by witnessing the pain of others.

The Source of Strength

Changing tack, so to speak, maybe it would help to think about where our strength resides.

Again, since physical strength so readily comes to mind first when we consider the term strong, and since this type of strength originates from our bodies, it’s somewhat understandable if we conceive of psychological strength as primarily, if not solely, an internally generated product of one’s own, individual heart and mind.

But, let’s go back to my birthday party…

In brief, it was a beautiful, friend-and-family-filled, loving, musical, joyful, deeply moving, delicious, fun, if exhausting day, it was worth every ounce of energy it required of me, but I could never have endured the 8+ hours of celebration on my own.

When folks come to my house for a visit, a gift I’m grateful to receive several times each week, I’m usually able to manage a fairly comfortable couple of hours before breathing becomes difficult and time on my ventilator is necessary. 1-2 times per week, I’m able to go on outings with larger groupings of friends, usually to places like parks or restaurants or breweries, where we’re surrounded by even more people, and these outings, with the help of some low-dose opioids for shortness of breath, can last 3-4 hours.

But 8+ hours?!

Honestly, there’s really only one way to explain how this could have been possible.

As most who know me have observed, I lean MUCH closer towards extroversion than introversion, and so I’m able feed off of the energy of a big party rather than being drained by social demands. And yet, I have it on good authority, directly from the beloved introverts in my life, that in smaller groups and in 1:1 settings, they too draw energy/strength from the people they are with.

Anyway, I know that to many people this idea of tapping into strength from external sources, as if we’re utilizing some kind of invisible wireless power charging system, is just a lot of New Age Woo-Woo nonsense.

Well then, call me New Age Woo-Woo!

We may not always need each other, but we are indeed stronger together.

big-panda-tiny-dragon (2)

jamesnorbury.com  @bigpandaandtinydragon  facebook.com/BigPandaAndTinyDragon

1 thought on “On Being Strong

  1. Hi Howard, nice b-day party and you chose good topic to think about. With certain dely I am sending you my gift – a YT song, hope you will like it …

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close