The Weight of Should and Could


The Weight of Should and CouldShould. Could. They seem like such harmless words. They don’t convey malice or even happiness, they’re just random clarifying words used in sentences. Except they aren’t. They’re right up there with the worst of them. Follow me for a minute. Chances are, if you’re reading this you are of the female persuasion. You’ve probably had people tell you you should lose weight. Heck, if you’re naturally a thinner person, you’ve likely heard the opposite, you should gain some weight. You shouldn’t dress like that, shouldn’t wear too much makeup, shouldn’t lead people on when you’re simply being friendly. You should get married and have kids, buy a house, and work a traditional job. You could be successful if you just tried harder, smiled more, been more friendly. You should breastfeed. You should cuddle that baby more, they don’t last forever.

On and on it goes, little snippets of life advice and commentary all meant to shape us into better versions of ourselves and to fit a mold. Normally, I bet you don’t lend too much thought to these little snippets. I know I didn’t until one day I did, and then it consumed me. That’s how it always happens though right? One day you’re just out there living life and the next some random thing happens that changes everything.

Should and could have weight.

For some, it might be invisible, but for me, it’s tangible. They have a heaviness and a pull. A dull colored millstone around my neck just slowly stretching toward the ground. When you carry around weight for years, it affects other parts of your body; your back aches, your knees feel the strain, your feet protest under the constant pressure. Your neck bows under the downward slide. Even your arms feel the pain. I didn’t understand the weight of those words until one day I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. My body simply couldn’t move one inch. My mind said, “you should get up, you’re lazy, you’re letting your family down, just suck it up.” I tried, I really did. That heaviness seeped into other parts of my life. Relationships have weight too; sometimes they can lift you up on their shoulders, and sometimes they can pull you under. They take effort to maintain and stamina to endure, and those can feel heavy. I couldn’t carry around a single additional pound, so I let them go. I cast them off and watched them slip under the waves, and for a while I felt lighter. I let go of a lot of what I once held dear in order to feel so unburdened. Hygiene, sleep, eating healthy, enforcing rules, friendships; it was like a fire sale where everything had to go. But, oh, it helped. It could be shameful for me to admit, but the truth is letting those things go helped a bit. I was able to move around and do all the things I should.

My therapist said I need to be more gentle with myself; that telling myself I should do something or I could be better if only I did X or Z is harmful.

I suppose it is. I suppose this is exactly why I take medication for my mental health and see a therapist. I suppose this is why I journal and do calming exercises and generally try to keep myself from moving backward. But I can’t lie and say that in the back of my mind, I’m not slightly pissed. I’m slightly mad that even after doing ALL this work for ALL these years I’m still here. Still needing these things and still feeling off kilter within myself. I should be fixed. I should…and there I go again. This is me and possibly always will be. My brain may not ever be able to effectively deal without medication and feedback from a therapist. Making peace with that is the ultimate SHOULD. Making peace with the fact that I can do hard things but I can’t do all hard things: sometimes I need help. That’s okay. If I’m honest, there have been years where I’ve been okay. It’s hard to remember that though when I’m in the middle of not being okay.

Maybe this is your ultimate should too? Making peace that sometimes strong badass women need some help, some medication, some therapy, a lifeline — whatever that looks like for you. It’s okay. You’re okay. Be kind to yourself.


  1. Hi!! I am a Dad of two adults Kate 29 ; Jonathan 26. Their Mother my dear wife went to be with the Lord March 15, 2017. Ginny and I were both educators in New York State. Ginny a Music Teacher for 45 years, (started at age 21) Me a Counselor for 30 years. So Ashley, your post is a significant LIFE question. I would council my students that they suffered from the “SHOULD AH ; COULD AH; WOULD AH, STALEMATE!!!! I suggested they consider the significant others in their problem, parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend. Consider the one individual they can TRUST; (that’s where the extended counseling / discussion would continue). Then make up your own mind, (of course that advice depends on Age; Sex and Disposition of the individual. The bible says that it’s better to be of HOT or COLD disposition for change to occur. Lukewarm people as with liquid, you spit out. Ashley if you need the specific Bible verse, hit me back.


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