Opinion | You can take your coffee with cream

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

I have become dependent on a devilish, yet lifesaving concoction — coffee.

But as I indulge in my essential daily treat, I cannot help but notice that others’ drinks appear less diluted. My seasonal pumpkin spice latte seems childish in comparison with the dirt-colored, gritty potion of those around me, and it’s infuriating. Despite my inability to tolerate black coffee, I often find myself ordering one. I want to convince others that I, too, can take my coffee black. I want them to think that my intestinal strength is so great I can drink this battery acid-like concoction daily.

Beyond an obsession with upping my coffee tolerance, I tend to forgo the comfortable and opt to test my ability to withstand hardship in many aspects of my day. I neglect the cream of life that makes my black coffee days a bit easier — I decline offers for tutoring, put myself on diets, post smiling pictures on Instagram even when I’m feeling cripplingly anxious, the list goes on. I am fixated on proving just how “tough” I am, regardless of whether it is necessary to do so.

It’s not that being tough is immoral, but to be candid, the obsession with proving my grit has wreaked havoc on my life. And according to psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, I’m not the only one.

“A troubling theme that I come across in my work as a therapist — and in observation of people in general — is the belief that we should always act strong and hide our insecurities and fears,” Schwartz writes. “The harm that this ‘common wisdom’ perpetrates is incalculable. It decimates true self-esteem and damages our relationships.”

Black coffee can be a great way to get your caffeine, but we must also let ourselves opt for the mocha frappuccino and get the job done without sacrificing our taste buds, or personal stability.

Since the beginning of organized civilization, humans have been obsessed with demonstrating strength. Showing brute force protected an individual from predators and these survival instincts are the reason we are all here. Some of the earliest societies on record have subjected young adults to rituals to instill toughness in the next generation. Throughout the ages, numerous societies have viewed grit as an essential key to life. Showing vulnerability, in many cases, is seen as invalidating one’s mental and physical toughness.

While many of these rituals and lines of thinking are intertwined with the perception of masculinity and “manning up,” these sentiments are also present among women and other non-male individuals. We expect female politicians to be stoic, but not robots. We want female CEOs to dress in a “non-distracting” way, but not to look “manish.” We want women to endure hardship without pause if they want to be invited to the table.

Amy Malloy, author of “The World Is A Nice Place: How To Overcome Adversity, Joyfully,” believes overcoming this mindset is essential to our emotional and mental wellbeing.

“As modern women, our ‘I can do anything’ mindset can make us islands,” she writes. “It has taken me a long time to find a balance where I can be strong, without seeing every day as a battle.”

This mentality is more than hypothetical — it can be a matter of life and death. According to a study conducted by scientists at the National Cancer Institute, one of the leading causes of medical care avoidance is “low perceived need,” including the mindset that participants prefer to “try to take care of themselves” or are “afraid of being labeled a hypochondriac.” Mary Himmelstein, associate professor of psychology at Kent State University, and Diana Sanchez, professor of psychology at Rutgers University, echo this point further in a 2014 study.

“Regardless of gender, masculine contingencies of self-worth predicted barriers to help seeking, which predicted healthcare avoidance in both men and women,” they found in the study. “Thus, masculine contingencies of self-worth have downstream consequences.”

In the coffee shop, medical care facilities, workplace and even our homes, we are obsessed with “taking our coffee black,” fighting fearlessly through the bitter parts of life even if there is a way to alleviate some of the hardship. Finding ways to have a “frappuccino” day, moments where we let ourselves be vulnerable, honest and nurtured is essential.

Amy Malloy, again, has solutions for this.

“Over the course of my own healing process, rather than toughening up, I’ve learned to ‘soften down,’” she writes. “For me, this means accepting help, letting my tears flow and admitting I can’t just ‘snap back’ from difficult situations.”

Too often, it is our commitment to being “tough” that keeps us from being strong and resilient. Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” makes the distinction between “acting tough” and having mental strength.

“Mentally strong people are willing to admit when they’re afraid, and they aren’t shy about shedding a tear once in a while,” she said. “Rather than ignore their emotions, they monitor them. They’re acutely aware of the ways in which their feelings influence their thoughts and behavior.”

The world doesn’t stop spinning when we are stressed — assignments don’t stop being added to Canvas. Rehearsals don’t get cancelled. Our commitments never cease. But we can create space to find a happy medium between black coffee and a frappuccino — what one might call a “latte day.”

Cream is not the enemy, but rather it is our refusal to acknowledge its importance that thwarts our ability to thrive. We opt to take on the bitterness of the world around us to convince others — or maybe more importantly ourselves — simply that we’re capable of doing so. And, frankly, maybe some of us are. Maybe we can “suck it up,” but we certainly don’t have to.

So, I’ll forgo the black coffee this week. I’ll be ordering my coffees with cream. You can, too.

Julia is a junior studying political science, english writing and theatre arts. She writes primarily about social issues. Write to Julia at [email protected].