What doesn’t kill you…

And every one of us finished that idiom, right?  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
How true is it, though?

I know many people that hate the aforementioned phrase with a passion. And I know others who are firm believers in the concept of strength from adversity.  So which is it?

Personally, I think that anything that damages us, be it physically, mentally, or emotionally, has consequences that stay with us.  Anyone who has ever been physically hurt or has a physical illness knows that damage like that rarely allows the affected person to come back physically stronger than before.  Anyone that hes been emotionally abused in any shape of form knows well that those wounds take years of therapy to “fix” and are always tender.  As for mental illness, I think the same is true.  You may become more stable when on the right medication, but the wrong pressure and that stability switches back to the same old roller-coaster ride.

So how could these illnesses and injuries, which aren’t killing you, make you stronger?

If you look at the issue as a direct ratio, i.e. my leg was injured and it will never be as strong again, it is immediately apparent that the oft-quoted idiom (idiot?) is false.  So how could anyone ever believe this?  And how could anyone ever say this to a friend or family member suffering from illness or injury?

I’m going to use myself as an example here because there’s no one whose feelings and thought processes I can really pick through to show what I mean.

I have bipolar disorder; I have suffered abuse and neglect at the hand of others; I have a small amount of social anxiety; I have PTSD.  These are all  mental and emotional injuries or illnesses.  Do I have weaknesses because of all of these?  Yes.

The next question is, “Do I have strengths because of all of these?”


Because others hurt me, I am more aware of the possibility of doing the same myself.  Because my fears loom large, I have learned to work with them rather than fighting them.  I have learned that fear isn’t a dirty word.  Because so many people told me they didn’t/couldn’t understand me, I turned introspection and communication into an art.  Realizing how constricting labels could be, I took steps in new directions and re-found my artistic heart.

So all of these illnesses and injuries did make me stronger.  Just not in a direct way.  And in many cases, it took years for me to understand.  Since I’ve read far too many stories of cancer survivors, amputee athletes, and the like, I cannot believe that this truth is not also true for physical illnesses and injuries.

So maybe we should rephrase it.

Instead of, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

How about, “What doesn’t kill you now, makes you stronger in some new way–eventually–that may take you tears to understand.”

But that’s quite the mouthful, and doesn’t sound as hopeful.  So maybe the next time someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on with us says the first phrase, we should hear the second phrase.  Give them credit for at least attempting to be hopeful and reassuring.  Then try to figure out for ourselves where our new strength will be coming from and share that with them.


~ by theartistryofthebipolarbrain on May 13, 2012.

6 Responses to “What doesn’t kill you…”

  1. I like this post a lot! ~Rainey

  2. I totally agree. I have seen this in my own life. My emotions and my mind have been hurt beyond repair it seems but however, somehow those painful things have turned me into a better person, a more humble woman who knows that I am not invincible, I can get knocked down too.

  3. Part of this thought problem is more like: how do I make this to a way to learn?

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