I was a single mom for a spell 19 years ago. Despite (or because of? I’m never sure) the trauma from losing my marriage, my house and even my car, I became fierce. On principle, I never referred to myself as a single mom. I took my kids to live in Norway. I secured a paid contract after being at home with children for six years. I discovered a new persona and crawled into the safe protection of the armour of the brave and strong.
When I moved back to Canada from Norway, I rented a crappy little house with my two young kids. As is the way with houses, it required a lot of upkeep. There were walks to shovel in the winter and lawns to mow in the summer. I did all this myself.
One day I met this nice guy named Mike in the photocopy room at my work. After dating for a few weeks, he offered to mow my unruly lawn. “NO!” I said angrily. “I can mow my own lawn.” Later I was talking on the phone with a friend, telling her about his ridiculous offer.
“Oh Sue,” she said wearily. “Just let him mow your damn lawn.”
The rest is history. I allowed Mike to begin patiently and steadfastly chip away at my armour of the brave and strong. He’s been doing so for the past 17 years.
But when our son Aaron was born, I acquired a whole other set of armour. Having a baby with Down syndrome made me feel really vulnerable and I didn’t like feeling that way one little bit. After finally letting go of my single mom armour, I tried on the ‘special needs mom’ armour for size. It fit pretty well.
This new supersuit served me for 14 years. I started a mom’s group, co-founded a peer support program and lobbied hard for a Down Syndrome Medical Clinic at our local children’s hospital. I even began paid work in pediatric health care in the area of family engagement.
This over-achieving was really a way for me to stay warm and dry in my brave and strong armour and fill myself up with the busy life. I was desperately trying to make sense of my new identity as the mother of a disabled child. In this I did do some good, built some legacy projects, but I also totally lost myself along the way.
Four years ago, we moved 1,200 kilometres away from the prairies to the west coast. My strong armour began to fall apart again. I had no friends. I had started a brand new job. I had to figure out new supports for Aaron and help build him a community from scratch. I was often hopelessly lost in the big city.
Then I had to leave my job to care for my son. And three months after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After my diagnosis, I lost friends and family. My remaining armour fell off in big heavy chunks.
When I got cancer, many people told me I had to be brave and strong. But I was tired of being brave and strong. That armour is really heavy. I said no, no I can’t do that anymore. Plus, during my cancer diagnostics and treatment, I became exceedingly fragile. I was more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life. I was often literally stripped bare on examining room tables. I had nowhere left to hide.
This brings me to today. I have now lost my armour and I don’t want it back. I think pretending to be brave and strong all the time does us women a disservice. We never allow ourselves to take a rest. We are always soldiering on.
Through many hours of therapy, I have discovered these simple facts: It is ok not to be brave. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to be weak. These are all qualities of simply being a human being.
If you are getting tired of being brave and strong all the time, I want you to know that it is okay to take off your armour. Find your safe spaces with the people who unconditionally love you. You can hand off saving the world to someone else. It is okay to take a little rest now. xo.