As I write this, I am fasting for a celebration called Karva Chauth - I'm really practicing what I preach in the title here... for once.
I read this phrase, 'we can do hard things', for the first time in Glennon Doyle's fantastic book Untamed. I cannot urge people to read this book enough - it is brilliant. I think the overwhelming thing I took from this book was a) that phrase and b) learning to appreciate yourself more. Reading that phrase was a bit like looking in a mirror after having spinach in your teeth all day - the realisation was both satisfying and
embarrassing. Embarrassing in the sense that it took me so long to realise something so simple and how powerful that can be. We can do hard things.
After reading the book, I have started to reflect much more deeply about myself, my year, my actions etc. And it occurred to me that I have done some hard things this year. Things that I didn't prepare for, I didn't feel ready for, things I didn't think I would ever have to do, let alone at the age of 19. Things like not seeing my family for 4 months, speaking at my Dad's funeral or even cutting ties with people I thought would be in my life forever. All of those things were really, really, hard, but I did them. I also didn't recognise and champion myself for them though.
I think we are all so conditioned to play ourselves down. Think about how much you hear self-deprecating humour in a day or people feeling embarrassed at their achievements. And it's kinda sad, the fact that we don't celebrate our achievements out of the fear that we will seem arrogant or geeky. But I think it goes further, to the extent that people generally shy away from even the acknowledgement of experiences, whether they were bad or good. It's a very sweep-it-under-the-rug type culture. As someone who is going through a MAJOR period of healing, adjustment and learning at the moment, I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is. To not eventually bring to the surface and inspect your experiences prevents development, detrimentally.
But this isn't a surprise. Generations have grown up with the culture of emotional censorship, because god-forbid you talk about something in order to process it. I am glad to be part of a generation that prioritises mental health (or is continuing to) and is more open than most to talk about their experiences - good, bad or anywhere in between. I think it's particularly interesting in the case of women and their successes. We have been conditioned to downplay our emotions for the attraction of modesty, calmness and sensibility and here we have our good ol' friend, patriarchy striking again! However, I think these are the last 3 words anyone would ever use to describe me. I very much see that as a testament to my upbringing, my parents and my family.
Growing up with examples like these to follow from my parents, has allowed me and my sisters to flourish in an culture that was built to keep us down.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I am taking part in something called Karva Chauth which is an Indian festival where women fast for a day for the safety and prosperity of their partners - single women (like
myself) can also take part for their future partner. At this point it is completely fair to be wondering why I take part in this whilst you're on a platform called Matriarch - the irony is not lost on me. But seeing my Mum do it for my Dad as I grew up almost as a love letter to him I feel is a beautiful thing. And Dad's commitment to fasting for Mum when she was pregnant or ill was a lovely modernisation of the occasion. Nowadays, couples even do it together. We can have the culture without the patriarchy. It can be seperated. Growing up with examples like these to follow from my parents, has allowed me and my sisters to flourish in an culture that was built to keep us down. We were able to be expressive, emotional and explicit in our choices and behaviours and were defended from our culture by them to grow that way. Growing up in an environment that allowed me to engage and express freely makes me feel lucky.
And sure, we still all have our moments where we downplay ourselves, but they are fewer and far between as we grow. It's hard, because as women, my sisters, Mum and I are always going to be threatened by the judgement of patriarchy. Threatened to celebrate our success with the downfall of seeming smug or arrogant. It is all the more conflicting then, to throw in the guilt of grief on top of that. Personally, that's one of my hardest inner conflicts. As someone who has always championed the success of myself or others, shamelessly, whether that's because someone managed to get out of bed that day or get a promotion, I am always the one singing and shouting about it. Adjusting to grief whilst also trying to maintain that shameless spirit is difficult and complex, it's the learning and unlearning of behaviours that have been built historically and socially. However what I have found is that, particularly in the last month or so, I am striving to champion me, my sisters and my Mum a bit more. Trying to push ourselves to recognise our progress and gains as well as working through our huge loss. I think you can do both. I know you can do both. Shamelessly.
And back to the mantra - we can do hard things. This has been imperative in my ability to champion in a period of grief and otherwise. It's so simple but such an effective way of acknowledging struggle and appreciating progress. Give it a try.