What is your story of strength?
My story of strength, as of recently, was when my sister passed away. I didn’t realize I had so much strength or the ability to hold it all together while everyone else was breaking apart. It was like growing up overnight. It came with major responsibilities, ensuring everyone was okay. I very rarely got a moment to express myself because I couldn’t. I had no private time to mourn and I just had to make sure everyone was okay and that her kids were taken care of…that life was normal for them, that nothing was breaking their routine…making sure my parents were okay… Following that, I lost my job. I thought my sister’s death was the bottom and then I was losing my job. I had been wanting a change for a long time but then I didn’t know what would happen to me… I felt helpless. It was a major turning point in my life. I didn’t realise I had so much strength.
I was really only able to mourn a year later when I had time to myself. In the beginning, you have to be as normal as possible. It was a strange feeling…there were moments when I felt as though life was not real. There were moments when I thought, “Why am I not feeling it? Why am I not crying?” I wasn’t letting myself feel it… A year later when everyone else was fine, when I had the time to myself, I had my own moment and the tears came and that’s when realisation struck. I had moments when I was just balling out because I missed her so much and moments when I had to stop myself from feeling it and thinking about it because it made it worse. The best part was I have alot of people in my life. I have a great family and great friends who will constantly listen to the same thing over and over again and that helps. You need people around you to support you. At points in life you have to express yourself and you need someone who will listen to you even you are venting out the same emotion over and over again. So apart from my family, my friends gave me strength.
Can you tell me about a woman who exemplifies strength to you?
It goes back to my sister. You should speak to the people who know her. Especially when she went through her first experience with cancer. Of course it was shocking at first but she got herself together and she decided she was going to fight this disease. No one even knew that she was going through treatment or had cancer until it started to become obvious physically. At first she decided to get wigs because of course she did want not to freak her kids out. But then it was very annoying to wear wigs on her bald head. So she introduced her bald head very slowly to the kids… Kids are very different from adults, they have a very different way of expressing themselves and they were like “yea..its cool..” So when she felt they had accepted it, she could go.
She would go out, sometimes she would wear a scarf, sometimes she wouldn’t. When people met her and knew what she was going through, they were always sad and apologetic but she would be say, ”I’m alive, I’m fine, you look more worried than I am!” She was doing everything. Life went on as usual as possible, except after her first day of treatment when she was in extreme pain but after that she was doing everything. There were no excuses. She was taking care of the kids, she was going to work…everything. Then 2-3 years later when the cancer came back again, she was very disappointed but she decided she wouldn’t go through the normal treatment. She decided to try something from a wellness perspective, something more natural. A year later it hadn’t worked. She had this tumor in her back that was slowly affecting her movements but still, she would conduct herself as usual until a time when it got so bad that she couldn’t even get up from bed. When we admitted her to hospital, she knew what was going on but she still decided to stay positive. There was never a moment when she put herself down. She was extremely strong. Before it all, I was more the baby… for me life was a bed of roses. I never really thought about responsibility. Now everyone expects me to be the one who takes over and make sure I am also running things as she would. For me, my sister is the strongest person I know.
Can you tell me about a time when you failed or felt disappointed in your self?
To be honest, I’m very hard on myself. I crave perfection in what I do, also in myself and from everyone else as well but I am the hardest on myself. Even with little mistakes, like for example, I recently expressed my real emotions openly at work and after some time, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought “Oh my goodness, did I embarrass myself? Did I embarrass my company? Did I embarrass the crowd?” I wouldn’t really call it disappointment but I am very hard on myself most of the time and I am learning to take it easy and forgive myself.
Similarly, after my engagement was broken off, I realised I also had a role to play in that and in why the relationship failed. For a few years, I was very hard on myself. I blamed myself. I expected myself to be perfect. It took me a long while, obviously with help, to realise that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect and everyone is different. Its okay not to be accepted for who you are but what is important is that you accept yourself and you love yourself more than you expect someone else to love you. Loving yourself was a new concept to me. I never went through that before because life was always great but the failed engagement really broke me. It was embarrassing, I felt I had embarrassed my family, I felt maybe I wouldn’t meet anyone else. You get these thoughts that come to you but with help I realized that the first thing is that you have to accept yourself. There is no set standard of behavior to say you have to behave in a certain way. You have to accept your character as it is, only then can you expect anyone else to accept you.
How can women better support each other?
I think women need to stick by each other more. I think as women we tend to criticize ourselves and criticize others. We need to accept others as we accept ourselves and support stems from that. We need to accept that life is not a bed of roses and everybody goes through their struggles. You may see someone in the finest suit or best branded outfit but that person also goes through some struggle. We all struggle with insecurity but we never express that. We should learn that its okay to be transparent, its okay to be expressive, its okay to tell someone if you can’t do something or if you need help and its okay to accept that someone else is struggling. Don’t expect people to have it all together. Supporting each other is also not about ourselves and just how we grow. For example, in the workplace, it’s not just about climbing up the ladder yourself. Women should see how they can support other women to grow simultaneously. Especially when you have people that report to you. Their growth is as equal to your growth as well, because they are also responsible in a lot of ways to your success. You’ve gone up the ladder because someone has helped you with something. In general just being open, ask people how they are doing because everyone needs support and needs someone to listen to them. Sometimes we try to stick with phrases like “be happy” and “keep a positive attitude!” but I think these phrases can be abused sometimes. Even sadness is a good expression, it teaches you something and its there for a purpose so it’s okay to allow ourselves and other women to go through those emotions too.