“Never let them see you cry.”
Over the last few years, I have felt ashamed – like I have gone “soft”, and that’s a weakness I did not want. “Soft” is vulnerable, sheds tears and shows emotion. “Soft” is not something to be proud of. Stoicism is.
Too many times I have heard – oh, motherhood does that to you. It turns you soft. You are just SO much more emotional.
This is never intended as a compliment.
As I reflect back over the last 10 years as this transformation of “going soft” has happened, I think of all of the changes in my life.
I was navigating a new marriage that had its very rocky moments. Rocky as in “it’s own range of Himalayas”. I was transitioning from wife to mother, and that was a stress I never expected. The physical, emotional, mental and spiritual tolls were foreign territory with no map. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t expect the “Mommy wars” idea to infiltrate my life so deeply and force me to question my worth as a mother and doctor. Nor did I expect Pinterest to make me feel like my best was never enough because I buy store-bought cupcakes. I moved more times that I can even count. I have to find the file of addresses each time I fill out paperwork, because no, I cannot recall all my addresses over the last 10 years.
Amidst all of this, I was on the journey to becoming a subspecialized physician, and at this, one who also works in the intensive care unit and talks about life and death frequently. One who also works within Infectious Diseases and spends time explaining why antibiotics are sometimes still not enough and how vaccines actually do save lives.
I started to cry more with families, despite trying so hard not to because it is not “professional.” I felt the pain and agony of losing a loved one in the ICU, because I have lost loved ones there. I felt the pain of the parents saying goodbye to a child as I imagined the extraordinary sense of loss if I were in their shoes. Yet, those moments were also the times when I felt most fulfilled, and yet, I could not quite grasp why.
My children are obsessed with Disney movies, but there are a few clear favorites. One of these is Moana. As silly as it seems, my going “soft” really hit home when I found myself teary-eyed during Moana. More than once.
Why? Why do I now find myself emotional with these issues? I am losing control? Am I really weaker despite all of my experiences, trials and tribulations in life thus far?
It wasn’t until recently reading Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, that the truth hit home. It isn’t weakness it is both a wild heart and wilderness.
It is the recognition of our human experience and connectedness. The collective pain and joy, grief and gratitude, successes and failures. The similarities between all of us regardless of our differences. Life forces similar experiences on us all. Love, grief, pain, joy, anger, peace.
In watching Moana, I did not see a simple cartoon with colorful characters and great music. I saw a girl who didn’t quite feel she fit in until she stepped out onto her own path. She took the leap of faith in herself, was forced to learn hard lessons, be lonely, make mistakes and face failure. She entered the wilderness and found that sense of true self and true belonging.
I saw the pain of a losing a loved one yet the great joy in their memories, the paradox of courage and vulnerability, the difference between wanting to fit in and belonging. I saw my daughter watch a story where there is a heroine without a prince to save her. I saw inspiration and recognition of the strength in women that I pray my daughter and son have engrained in their hearts from these stories.
I cry NOT because I am weak or soft. I feel the emotions because I am a mother, a woman, a doctor, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a person. I have grown more than I imagined and experienced SO much more in the last 10 years. I am grateful that I see these stories as shared connectedness. Opportunities to connect with my children and try and impart what wisdom I can based on these stories, because the truth is, until you have the experience, stories are as close as we can get to understanding.
“Never let them see you cry.”
Oh, I will let my tears fall, my laughs be heard and sing my out-of-tune song.
I am not afraid to say I have lived, lost, loved, failed, succeeded and felt both great joy and pain because if I suppress those, I suppress who I am. My story.
I will walk into the wilderness. I will be brave, but I will not be silent and stoic. That is the role of a statue, not a human.