“You’re so strong.”

I hear this so often from people, and I think the same thing every time, “If they only knew…”

If they only knew, I cried myself to sleep last night.

If they only knew, I sobbed into a bowl of cereal for dinner.

If they only knew, I woke up at the bottom of a deep, dark hole and have been desperately trying to claw my way out all day.

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The truth is I don’t feel strong at all.

On most days, I’m just trying to get through. I’m just trying to make it to dinnertime because then I know the day is almost done, and I can sleep again.

Sleep is just about the only thing I look forward to these days. Sleep is the only thing that quiets my mind. But even when I’m sleeping, I dream so vividly. It’s as if my mind never shuts off. It’s constantly running while I’m awake, and it continues to run long after I’ve fallen asleep.

I have no escape.

Grief is heavy.

It’s even heavier when you can’t put it down. When you can’t walk away from it.

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My grief mirrors depression so frequently that it’s hard for me to tell the difference anymore. How do I know if it’s one and not the other?

Maybe it’s both. Maybe my grief has morphed into depression. Maybe my grief coincides with it. Maybe I’m struggling to carry the weight of two boulders at the same time.

All I know is I haven’t felt like myself in a really long time.

I haven’t felt truly happy in a really long time.

And I definitely haven’t felt strong.

I just continue to plug along, day in and day out, knowing that someday it’ll get better. Someday it’ll get easier. Someday the weight of my grief won’t be so great.

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Then again, maybe that’s what makes me strong.

Maybe our strength lies in the number of times we don’t give up. Maybe our strength is determined by our ability to keep going, even when it’s hard.

Maybe our strength is most evident in the moments after we’ve had a good cry. The moments when we dry our tears, pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts, and resolve to try again.

Maybe strength doesn’t come from never breaking down. Maybe it comes from making yourself whole again.

Maybe strength isn’t found in the clear, bright, sunny days.

Maybe it’s found when we drag ourselves out of the muck and find a way to see the light again.

Maybe strength is found in the dark.

Previously published on the author’s blog

Lauren Dykovitz

Lauren Dykovitz is a writer and author. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two black labs. Her mom, Jerie, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010 at age 62. Lauren was only 25 years old at the time. Jerie is still living with end-stage Alzheimer's. Lauren writes about her experience on her blog, Life, Love, and Alzheimer’s. She has also been a contributing writer for several other Alzheimer’s blogs and websites. Lauren self-published her first book, Learning to Weather the Storm: A Story of Life, Love, and Alzheimer's. She is also a member of AlzAuthors, a group of authors who have written books about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Please visit lifeloveandalzheimers.com to read more about Lauren’s journey.