Written by Tiye Cort for YettiSays Self-Love Month | “To The Girl” post series
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To the Girl Who Used To Be The Strong Friend,
I used to be strong. The walls I built were made of bulletproof glass that shined and sparkled because I kept my fortress immaculate… or at least it seemed so. But like a lazy maid, I swept the dust under rugs instead of out of the front door. I spot-cleaned the glass instead of wiping down entire panes and sometimes I left clean folded laundry piled on a chair in the corner instead of simply putting it away. And while many people only saw that shiny reflective glass of a two-way mirror, the organized mess that lied behind was only visible to the eyes that bothered to be pressed up almost flush against the surface to reveal its depth.
My strength ran deep and my drive to continue as if everything was okay was unrelenting. In the face of sadness and not really wanting to do anything, I masked my emotions with Netflix in my dimly-lit bedroom, staying in with too much takeout. I was too “strong” to be depressed. I signed contracts that required me to visit college campuses twice a week to teach- a masochistic practice that only reminded me of the space that rejected me. I graded writing that ranged from mediocre to impressive. I assessed students’ abilities to perform and articulate- skills of mine that I had recently been told, after four years of doctoral-level practice, were not up to par. While I never doubted myself, the doubts of scholars and professors took precedence over my own esteem for what felt like a lifetime. I sat down to write and, for the first time- as I’m sure many authors whom I admire and look to for inspiration have undoubtedly experienced at some point- nothing came.
For years, the two things that I was known for were being in school and writing. After one conversation and an exhausting ugly cry, both were no longer parts of my identity and I have never felt so lost before. Writing used to be my therapy. Going to a therapist would have been the most amazing thing that I could have done for myself, but I swept the idea from my mind because my health insurance came through school. No longer a student, no longer insured. My parents would have paid for me to see someone, but the “strong” me preferred not to worry them with my temporary irrational insecurity about my talents and abilities. I may have missed out on earning a Ph.D., but I was still smart enough for a self-diagnosis of “this too shall pass.”
And it did. It passed after I realized that, in anticipation of my dissertation research, I had turned down a full-time teaching position at a school that I dreamed of teaching at for years. It passed after I received an official letter from the dean confirming my dismissal from the program. It passed after a couple of weeks of crying myself to sleep every night because I felt like all of my hard work added up to nothing. It passed along with my anger that my student loans reflected doctoral-level coursework that actually added up to a two-year master’s degree. It passed because I had to decide between sitting in my misery and using my education to move forward with new intention.
I was the strong friend who didn’t want or need anyone to feel sorry for me, to think that I was not okay, or to sense that I felt alone. I kept a straight face on the surface. I learned to hold back my tears as I spoke. I took deep breaths to keep my chin from quivering and controlled my voice from shaking. I shrugged my shoulders at the end of my statements to show that I was “okay.” And how unfortunate it is that I took on the characteristics of a trope that I’ve found to be problematic since its assignment as a societal role of the Black woman. I don’t have to be strong in ways that shut people out, keep injury in, and prevent any hint of healing to make a home in my heart. I don’t have to be “composed” or calm. I thought that being the strong friend was an honorable position, but it was nothing more than a burden when I needed a moment of weakness to feel, be vulnerable, heal, and to allow those same eyes that bothered to be pressed up almost flush against the surface to reveal my depth to do so.