What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
This is one of the world’s biggest falsehoods, right up there with “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
But it’s a platitude we hear all the time, particularly those of us with mental illnesses.
Suffering hurts. It grinds you down. It makes you less able to function. It keeps you from being the person you want to be.
Except in literature. There, suffering ennobles one – makes one a finer person, a more worthy person, and, yes, stronger.
Once in a graduate-level literature class, I objected to this. I said the thing about suffering hurting and grinding you down.
I got called a sociologist, which apparently is a terrible insult in literary circles. But they were talking about literature and I was talking about real life, so maybe we both had a point.
But back to the saying. There are lots of things that don’t kill you, but also don’t make you stronger. Train wrecks, for example. If they don’t kill you, they can leave you on the brink of death or physically maimed or with PTSD. You may recover some, with help, but your back will still hurt and your leg won’t regrow and you can suffer from memories and dreams.
I’ve compared some relationships with train wrecks – probably most of us have. They simply cause you to suffer and the memories of them may always pain you like a damaged joint in bad weather. One can come through ordinary bad relationships and be stronger for it. But train wreck relationships, the toxic ones that erode your soul, do not ennoble or strengthen you.
Mental disorders can be like that. Yes, you may improve. Yes, you may become stronger in some ways. You may become more compassionate, more aware of others’ pain, better able to avoid situations that will cause you harm, capable of rebuilding a different life with the parts you want to keep. But it’s just as likely that when your brain breaks, it will never be good as new again. There will be cracks in your emotions or reasoning or moods that will be weaker, not stronger, and more likely to rupture again in the future.
We sufferers need strength, but it won’t come from platitudes and bumperstickers.
And you can’t explain this to people who haven’t been there.
Also, don’t get me started on that thing about God not giving you more than you can handle. We’ll be here all week.
As always, these are my experiences only. Your mileage may vary.