Just so we’re clear, I’m not tired of helping people through my activism and writing. I’m not tired of being that dependable friend who always holds my people down. I’m tired of the notion and myth of the “strong friend” who has almost become a savior-type caricature in our relationships. We all know who the strong friend is in our respective groups. In many of the groups we are the strong friend. And although it is OK to be that person, it can’t come at the expense of losing yourself, nor at the expense of others who care for you not checking in.
I’ve only recently become comfortable with the idea of crying in front of my friends. I never thought that it was a sign of my weakness, so much as a sign of being too vulnerable. Too forthcoming with that which is so personal to me, that I feared would be used against me in the future. Interestingly enough, I am that shoulder to cry on for many. That person who holds all my own burdens on one arm while carrying those of others on my back daily.
I talked about this recently on Twitter, and was met with much support, but one tweet bothered me to the point that I knew I had to write this piece. In essence, this person said that “people who are strong friends seek out weak people as friends so that they will always have to support them.” I found this odd, because I’ve never looked at a friend who needs me, or my community that may need me as ever being “weak.” Just the sheer thought that strength can only be matched with weakness is almost dehumanizing in a sense—because where would “strong” people go when they need be poured into like a vessel? Who helps the warrior when they need a break or to be healed from being broken?
I often think about people who are vessels in this world. I was once told by an uncle that being a vessel is my purpose. That I am meant to fill other people up. To be the words when they are silent or don’t know what to say. To be the fighter for folks when they don’t even know we are in a battle. Many of us do this for people, and we do this honestly. However, we give so much of ourselves that there isn’t much left when we get home.
Many of us are that strong friend who no one ever checks in on. The friend that many will say they are inspired by, or aspire to be, but they don’t know that we need check-ins too. Did you eat today? How are you honestly feeling? And no, I am not on some friends-need-to-be-your-therapist type shit (I think everyone should try therapy btw), but just encourage folks to recognize that the “strong” friend may be hurting too. The strong friend who does everything for everyone often does nothing for themselves, and that is the pouring in that they may need.
As I write this from a conference in Florida, I found out what it’s like when you meet other strong friends who share in your blackness and queerness and whatever “other” you deal with. As we all sat in a group with cocktails in hand, we shared how we don’t have space as strong people in our families and with our friends. How when something happens, we take on the burdens only to wake up the next day and act as if the day had not happened. It was refreshing to know it wasn’t just me in the world—although I realistically knew that—but what was more important was knowing how I need to seek folk who pour into me the way I do others.
But this message is also to the strong friend, and more importantly to myself. As I’ve dealt with several major changes happening in my family and in life, I’ve learned that I can’t thin myself out anymore for people. That it’s okay to be selfless, in the sense that you protect your mind, spirit, and your body. That it’s okay to say no to people, and not feel like you are disappointing them. And that it’s okay to receive love and affirmation (I have a friend that affirms me daily now) and take it in.
I now wake up every morning and do 10 minutes of prayer in silence. I do this as a way to recharge myself and center my mind for the battles ahead. A time, even if small, is dedicated to the healing of my wounds and preparation for the strong person that I need to be. Being the strong friend doesn’t always have to be detrimental to one’s health. It’s about balance, boundaries, and the ability to know when you’re the person who needs someone strong.