There are lots of memes that compare life to a storm. There are the ones that advise you to bend with the storm like some resilient kind of tree and grow back stronger. Ones that exhort you to withstand the storm. Even ones that tell you to talk to the storm, telling it “I am the storm.”
It’s a metaphor, of course, meant to symbolize the difficulties of life and your reactions to them. Generally, the point is that storms are survivable and can even make you stronger. And they refer to disasters of various kinds – physical, psychological, psychiatric, grief, or whatever.
The memes are meant to be encouraging, to tell people that they are strong enough to withstand anything. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Because the storm metaphor implies that you can get through the storm by yourself, just by being you. And that’s not the way it is in real life.
I have been through a real-life storm, a tornado that hit when I was on the second floor of the house in my bedroom. I was on the phone with my husband, who was at work. “Take cover,” he shouted. “There’s a tornado!” “It’s too late,” I replied. “The roof just came off!” Standing strong was not an option. I hid my head under a pillow and hoped for the best.
Once the tornado passed, my husband made his way to the house. It was nighttime. There were trees down all over the place. He had to abandon his car and continue on foot. He had to wade a creek and lost a shoe. A neighbor boy with a flashlight helped him get to the house. He shoved aside the toppled furniture that blocked the way to the bedroom, and he came for me. He helped me withstand the storm. I couldn’t have done it alone.
After that, the emergency services got us out and took us to the Red Cross shelter. Our vet boarded our cats. Two friends used their credit card to stake us to a week in a motel. Our insurance company moved us into a pet-friendly hotel, then rented a house for us. A contractor rebuilt our house from the ground up. The insurance company paid to replace our possessions.
It took a lot of people to help us withstand that storm.
It can take a lot of people to help you withstand the storms of life, too. Take my bipolar disorder, for example. It has taken at least two psychiatrists and I don’t remember how many therapists, or how many prescriptions for psychotropics. It has taken my husband’s total support. It has taken decades. There were many storms, not just one – depression, hypomania, gaslighting, loss, grief, dark nights of the soul, days without hope, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and more.
It took lots of people to help me through the physical and the metaphoric storms. Neither was something I could just tough out, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and conquer. I didn’t bend with the storm. I tried to withstand it as best I could, sometimes trying, sometimes failing. I didn’t defy the storm. I came close to being destroyed by it. I didn’t believe that I was the storm, though there surely was a storm inside me.
I heartily dislike those memes about withstanding the storm. Too many people are visited by too many storms, ones that they can’t handle alone. And though I had people and services that helped me through mine, some people just don’t. Psychiatric care is out of reach for many. Friends have disappeared. The social network has collapsed. Some don’t even have a home to be rebuilt or possessions to be replaced.
So, no, the storms of life are not always survivable – at least not without lots of help and resources. So don’t tell me to say “I am the storm.” Even when there’s a storm inside my head, I am not the storm itself. I am the leaves blown off the trees. I am the branches that break, the roof that comes off. I don’t withstand the storm. After it abates, I pick up the pieces – and not by myself. I need other people to help. Together, we beat back the storm and rebuild.