"You're strong for every reason and you matter to so many people. So how could you think you're weak when every time you fall you come back stronger than before? You're brave, my sweet friend, and that's what makes you so godd**n beautiful."
I recently had a friend remind me that "a big part of being an adult is caring about your image," and I found myself incredibly floored by such a thought. At first, I found myself arrogantly in denial, responding quickly that I didn't care what others thought of me because they didn't walk in my shoes every day. But the thought lingered in my mind for the rest of that afternoon.
What did others think of me? How is Mikaela York described to individuals that have never met her? I'm sure it starts off as something like, "you know, she's blonde, blue eyes, super talkative and a little loud..." But what do they say beyond that?
When I turned twenty-two last year, my best friend gave me a bracelet from the Little Words Project with the word "strength" inscribed on it. The purpose of the bracelet is for you or someone else to visually portray how you or they view you. So she chose strength, and I was speechless.
How could a simple, beaded bracelet proclaim such a profound viewpoint on an individual? How could a single bracelet tell my story in what she believed to be the most accurate light? But most importantly, how could I be strong if I felt like shattered china?
I still wear that bracelet every single day.
What surprised me; however, was that she was not alone in describing me with the word "strength".
A month ago I participated in an activity with my sorority sisters that entailed over 100 pieces of paper taped to the walls surrounding us. On each piece of paper, a different member's name was typed out in bold cursive, but nothing else. A clean slate. We were then challenged to go around and write words that we believed to best describe whatever person we chose to write about next.
When I finally reached for the paper that contained my name, two words stood out over and over again:
At first, I admit I was a little annoyed. Why did people think I was so "strong"?! Is that a cop-out because my dad died? Because I recently decided to proclaim every weakness I have to the universe and anyone that cared to listen?? Aren't I more than that?
And then it hit me. I was receiving one of the greatest compliments from people that interacted with me every day. I'm not just Mikaela York, a Biology major at the College of Charleston, or the blonde haired, blue eyed girl that talks too loud in the library. I was me.
The girl who watched her father die 6 days before his 45th birthday. The girl who had back surgery at 16. The girl who didn't ask for help when she ran out of money for food. Who didn't tell anyone she was suffering, and instead acted as if nothing was wrong when in reality her entire world was crashing.
But you see, my strength didn't come from hiding my weaknesses. Instead, it came the day I decided to speak out about them. To humble myself and use social media as an outlet to broadcast the negative lights in my life instead of simply the positive.
Strength by its very definition does not come from how much weight you can lift or carry. Nor does it come from your ability to stuff any and all emotion out of your own subconscious and remain steadfast, stone-faced, in the middle of a hurricane.
It comes from your perseverance to stand again. To hold your fists up to block your face as life reals back for another punch. To take another step even if all you can do is limp. To crawl when you can no longer walk.
Our strength comes from our decision to find joy in life even when we struggle to see it at first. To search only for the good in life. To remain positive regardless of what negativity drags us down. To become the light others reach for in life. To bear our scars with pride because they make us who we are.
In all honesty, I was shattered china, but I refused to believe that was the end for me. And so I filled my cracks with gold and slowly pieced myself back together into my new "normal".
I am strong because I know my weaknesses, fearless because I learned to recognize the illusion from the real and I am brave because I decided to take another step anyway. And if I can learn to be all of these attributes, I have full faith that you can too.
So here's to the moments that tear us down, for they are what lead us to who we are destined to be.