ON MENTAL TOUGHNESS
At Corn Hill Festival, the vendor in the space next to me is a Chinese man who spends most of his time sleeping and smoking. While I am packing up, he steps into my tent for the first time to look at my work.
Seeing my photograph on the cover of a copy of Rochester magazine that I have displayed, he scrunches up his face with confusion.
“What is this word? ‘Courage?’“ he asks in broken English.
I try to explain that courage is a kind of mental toughness. “It’s strength on the inside,” I say, pointing to my heart.
The man makes a guttural sound, a grunt of sorts. “You not look strong to me,” he says, pointing at my face in such a way that indicates he isn’t talking about my face so much as my personality. “You just look. . . tired.”
It’s an odd moment.
Because he’s not wrong.
Wearing crazy pants, space buns on my head, and a big smile, I’m sure I don’t look like the most courageous person in the world.
But the truth is I’ve survived some really difficult times: rape, a brain injury, the loss of my marriage, my home, my neighbors, my community, the people I thought were my friends.
For many years now, like an ant in a storm, I’ve worked to rebuild.
I know that people see me as creative and resilient. They see my house, my car. They see me pushing myself to meet new people and try new activities. They see I’m making money and running a business — and they assume I’m ‘fine.’
And most of the time, I am.
But the truth is I am exhausted.
Exhausted by a lifetime of trying too hard, of not letting go, and too much looking back. Exhausted by the stupid things I do — the accidents I cause, the poor choices I make. It weighs me down.
It’s tiring having to be strong all the dang time.
I know everyone is going through something, that I’m not special.
But I’d gladly trade all this mental toughness for a good long cry, followed by a nice long nap in the arms of a lover.
If you ask me, courage is overrated.
What’s got you feeling weighed down and what would make you feel better?