What does it mean to be strong in the face of your own weaknesses?

I thought this whilst on the phone to a friend, called once again in the midst of crisis. I oscillated between reading my own thought in two different ways.

On the one hand, there is no other strength we can self-possess. The world from without acts as it is wont to do. Steadying oneself before it takes nothing more than a strong pair of legs. We can brush off those things that happen to us on the outside. They shake the ground but we can steady ourselves. We can even admit to the weakness that results, the feeling of being run down and run over by the world. But like a cold or an injury, we wait to heal.

On the other hand, it feels like the most potent of contradictions, wherein our weaknesses are embedded, not coming from without so much as rising up from within. To steady yourself against yourself feels like a particular kind of seasickness. I remember my aunt was once bedridden for months following the onset of a particular vicious case of labyrinthitis, an infection of the inner ear that makes balancing on one’s own feet impossible, despite the stillness of the world around you. What a wonderful name for a horrible affliction.

Already, the distinction between inside and outside feels far from clear cut. “The inside is a folding of the outside”, Mark Fisher said. Nothing ever emerges wholly from within. But small things from without can sometimes exacerbate that which is felt internally in abundance. Strength and weakness bleed into one another. You almost hope they’d curdle, making something semi-solid.

On the day I took myself to A&E, I felt like I’d survived something. I’d been fine, more or less. I felt something in my chest three days prior and it started to grow. Ever since, it has ebbed and flowed. I feel fine, I feel awful, with no real in between. Nothing from without feels like it cannot be withstood. I have been through so much and, in the grand scheme of things, nothing of any real note has happened. Things have changed but gradually. Then life itself overwhelms. Like a cold, it emerged only when I stopped.

What feels so cruel is none of this has been out of my control. Boundaries have been set, limitations have been met — all consciously, in an attempt to be sensible and to take time. But it is precisely taking the time to sit within these boundaries that I have begun to feel them. To understand what I’m capable of, and incapable of, comes as a shock. I pull back, for my own sake, exercising my inner strength. And that is precisely what makes me feel worse. I feel weaken by strength. I cling on for dear life. Strength is inverted into the strength to do what is unspeakable, and then weakness takes over. But then weakness itself becomes a strength, as I feel unable to pursue self-destructive desires. I feel saved by weakness.

I rehearse, plot, plan, and get as close as possible before my knees give way. But every exercise of strength makes the weakness grow stronger, and vice versa. I feel torn in two. Every stable reprieve is more stable than the last, just as every collapse is more world-ending than the one that came before it. Aftershocks in an already decimated town. I’m waiting for the right moment to start rebuilding. It hasn’t come yet.

Leave a Reply