I don’t pack what I cannot carry alone / Big Strong Girl

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

When I move in, it takes a couple of days before I can get my bearings. Before I can survey my domain and think ‘fuck yeah. I am queen of this.’ When I move in, it takes a couple of days before my heart stops racing like it’s trying to escape from my chest. Before I stop thinking ‘shit. What the fuck have I done.’

The kindly, burly men from the storage place bring back my possessions, and are impressed when I ask them to leave the washing machine in the middle of the kitchen so I can plumb it in before I slide it under the counter. “By yourself?” Yeah, by myself. I help them unload boxes from the van, stacking two at a time to save on trips. When one of them tries not to hand me a big box, offering a smaller one instead and saying “ooh no, that’s heavy,” I tell him not to worry – I never pack what I cannot carry alone.

Two days later, I pick another layer of skin from the inside of my palm and curse concrete lintels and curtain poles. Someone I love texts to ask me “how’s it going?” and I tell them it’s great, I can do this. Then as soon as I add curtains, the poles come crashing to the floor, taking huge great chunks of plaster with them. This is one of the simplest tasks on my moving-in to-do list and I’ve utterly and completely fucked it. I sit on the floor and tell myself off for getting frustrated – I’m a big strong girl. I should be able to do this.

I’m a big strong girl, and I never pack what I cannot carry alone.

Confidence and paranoia

There are two versions of this blog post, because there are two versions of me. The one who makes bold choices and quick decisions and scoffs as men raise eyebrows and offer unnecessary help – the girl who never packs a box that she cannot carry alone.

Then there’s the version who pants and panics, who fails at the simplest of tasks. Who’d weep in a corner out of self-pity if she could, only she hasn’t managed to get the fucking curtains up yet and the neighbours might see her and laugh. She doesn’t want people to know she is struggling – she’s a big strong girl who can do this. She repeats that like a mantra – big strong girl, big strong girl, big strong fucking girl – because if you say these things often enough then one day they might become true.

For the first of these women, problems aren’t the end of the world, just the start of the next fun project: she hears the neighbours’ kids screaming and rolls her eyes before googling ‘DIY soundproofing’. The second woman, exhausted, googles ‘what are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning’ then sits on the sofa by the dodgy-looking gas fire, panicking herself into uneasy wakefulness.

Help and hindrance

The former woman is one I’d like to see more of – she’s taken a back seat over the last few years as she anxiously double-guesses her plans and tiptoes gently around the next panic attack. In my twenties, she helped me do some pretty incredible stuff – impulse-traveling to random beach parties where she got drunk and shagged people as dawn broke over the horizon, surviving two weeks in China with no money or passport, meeting strangers from the internet for threesomes, living alone for the first time in the wake of a powerful heartbreak. I like this woman, she’s fun. She gets shit done. But she’s also reckless and irritating. She won’t pack what she can’t carry alone, and as a result she’s terrible at asking others for help.

The latter woman is a pain in the arse, but her panic and uncertainty proves useful now and again – nudging me to buy a new carbon monoxide alarm, for instance, or reminding me to call someone who might be able to tell me where these random pipes lead. She’s here, reminding me that this shit can often be hard, so it feels all the sweeter if I manage to overcome it.

Two versions of me

Sometimes I write blogs where I lean in to being that first woman – the one who never packs what she can’t carry – because I want to inspire other people to be strong. And sometimes I let the latter woman creep to the surface, because honesty means admitting that you cannot be strong all the time.

But neither is really the full picture, because it takes both to make a proper person. Confidence is useful in getting you off the sofa. Self-doubt is useful too, because it reminds you that you’re not omnipotent, and sometimes you really do need help.

So I put up a new carbon monoxide alarm, called a plumber, bought a new kind of drill bit to try again with the concrete and curtains. I even swallowed my pride and identified a few things that I genuinely cannot carry alone. A mate helps me shift a wardrobe and set up my telly, and we hug and whoop and yell in all-caps WHO NEEDS MEN before sipping margaritas. Turns out I do need men too, though, because some of them come round to visit as well – with cleaning products and biscotti and cider and flowers and kind words and good cheer.

And as I hang blankets from the half-embedded screws around the windows, making do till I can properly solve the curtain issue, I realise that even though I haven’t truly nailed this, I’ve got this. We’ve got this.

Life isn’t a tennis match between confidence and paranoia: between the woman I aspire to be and the one I hope never to become. It’s not a battle between good and bad, happy and sad, competence and failure. Life is a fucking team sport. The inner voice which makes you think twice, as well as the one which nudges you forward. All the people you are and all the people you surround yourself with. The friends and lovers and family and people who cheer you on.

And especially the guy from the storage place, who waved a cheery goodbye and said: “Good luck, it sounds like you probably don’t need it.”


  • Valery North says:

    “Honesty means admitting that you cannot be strong all the time.” So true!

    This makes me think of some of my favourite TV shows. Obviously, Red Dwarf episode “Confidence and Paranoia” which starts from a very similar concept expressed by Dave Lister, and then gets sci-fi weird with it.

    But also, a episode of Community, because of that last line from the storage guy.

    – “Good luck!”
    – “Luck? Never had it, don’t need it!”

  • Valery North says:

    I think it was Pierce Hawthorne. It’s the episode in season 1 where they have the boat in the car park for a week.


    I’ve read a book once: “Just pack what you can carry” it was revealing for my feminist self. since then I just pack what I can carry.

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