On Being Tough. Or Not.

fearless

“You’re the toughest person I know.”

It’s a sentiment I hear often. People commend me on this, and their intentions are sincere. I believe that. They leverage these words as grandiose reminders of the crossroads I’ve traversed. Barricades I’ve thrust aside. Mountains I’ve trekked to an unfamiliar precipice.

They applaud my supposed strength as though I’ve earned some bragging right—“Look what I overcame. No coup de grâce will finish me off.”

Except for one caveat. I don’t feel strong. Not even remotely. Under that impenetrable bravado I’ve fought to maintain, I sometimes feel damaged beyond recourse. Wary of exposing those chinks in my armor but desperate for someone to glimpse the truth…

It’s no bragging right to possess insider knowledge of how a psychiatric ward operates. To detect the muffled yet deafening click of a deadbolt for which you have no key. To forfeit both dignity and independence upon stepping inside.

To hear medical professionals issue warning after warning that your actions have fatal consequences, while not caring one iota. To curse a body that you’ll never escape. To pine after an identity which doesn’t compute as your own. To just keep existing—but without purpose or vitality. Or…to flirt with the temptation of not existing altogether.

Those are the memories swarming my consciousness when I’m labeled “tough.” Because the fact is, I’m not.

Today’s cultural climate demands I revoke this confession before it can materialize further. Don’t admit your frailties or vulnerabilities. That’s the accepted mantra. Disguise your battle scars. Force a confident smirk to repress the emotion. And never concede that you can’t survive this alone. That maybe—just maybe—you need another lifeline.

But I won’t conform to those standards anymore. This arbitrary rulebook on how to feel—how to live—I reject its merciless constraints. I’m no hero archetype whose staunch self-reliance is more than enough for whatever crises loom ahead. Nor should I feign this performance. I’m a fragile, breakable human being. That’s my truth.

Flawed but redeemed.

Wounded but healing.

Uncertain but learning.

Weakened but sustaining.

Fragmented but still breathing.

Emotionally stunted but growing.

I’ll take those attributes over “tough” every time because they manifest something emphatically more worthwhile—courage. And even if nobody declares me “the bravest person they know,” choosing to view myself through that lens is enough. More than enough, in fact.

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