It happens to the best of us. You can’t predict it and you can’t evade it. It may be hard to believe at times, but we're not alone in this. What in the world am I talking about, you ask. But that really is my point here. You see, I can't know what it is in your case, what it's like for you. But I can see you're going through the same as me. I see that slight shadow in your eyes when I turn to look at you suddenly. I hear the slight falter in your voice when you've been thinking on your own and the smile that starts just a second too late. You try to hide it and from the surface I couldn't even notice. Maybe I don’t notice, years pass and still no one knows. I know; I've been trying to work it out too. Life keeps going and you hide everything away. No one will know. Maybe you don't want anyone to know. It's easier to keep it inside, keep it as your own information. And you have no need for talking, you’re doing just fine without anyone, thank you very much. I mean today you’re feeling good. You don’t have any problems, at least not today, right now. Some days are a fight to get through, but you get by. But let me tell you a secret. Most of us are hiding away some problem we don't want to deal with. It’s not just you and me.
This year I took a huge risk. I decided to be open. I told all my friends how my life has been. The first time was incredibly hard. How in the world do you suddenly open up about things you've been hiding for years? How do you switch the conversation from mundane facts of everyday life to your own personal pain? And what if they don’t believe you, or even worse ridicule you. What then if no one takes you seriously. But the reactions I got were not what I expected.
I sit in the little corner table of a café on a rainy October evening catching up with a childhood friend, who I have not seen much in a few years. Hours have passed chatting in comfort and it seems we have already discussed much everything that we have done in the past few years, except for… Should I? I nonchalantly switch the topic of conversation. “So did I tell you about how I moved to a new apartment last summer?”. I continue talking, going backwards in time and watch as my friend’s reaction goes from just interested to worried to relieved, and the questions keep coming.
The café owner comes clear the table and we move on to the pub next door. The conversation pauses for a while and I turn to look at my friend much closer. She looks at me long and begins “I really haven’t shared this with almost anyone yet”. Hours later I know I have one more friend who will always be by my side. The rain pouring when we leave the bar at three in the morning doesn’t bother me. I feel relieved like the dust of years has been cleaned.
Trying my luck by sharing my personal life has left me no bad experiences. I found out things from my friends I would never have expected: being bullied for years, family problems, cheating, loss of loved ones, children's homes, criminalities, issues with money, substance abuse, mental problems, family members who abandon, game addiction, depression, sexual abuse. You must think I'm exaggerating by now, and you don’t have to take my word, but you can only know where telling your own hurt will lead if you open up, little by little. People I thought I had known well for years became almost family.
Giving a piece of yourself and your hurt opens up the way for someone else to share their own. Whether small or big, realizing that we all have our problems and doubts proves that we’re all only human. But the problem is that this takes courage. Maybe you're embarrassed to admit that your life isn't picture perfect. Maybe you're embarrassed to say that maybe I can't handle this alone. Maybe you don’t even believe that anyone would care to listen or understand what you’ve been through.
Not every pain can be dealt with in the open. Sometimes the cut is too deep to be shared with many others, but there should always be someone to tell. And the end result may be two people who are closer to each other than before. The more I open up, the easier it gets to say everything out loud. Part of getting over is accepting and going over what you've experienced. Sharing is like giving away a small portion of the hurt that you’ve been holding and giving it away for someone else to take care of for you.
But what responsibilities does this place on us as the receivers of someone else’s trust? Many of us have obviously read about the hardships that people go through without anyone’s help. Social media is bursting with stories of those bullied at school or struggling with finances alone. But how many of us have really stopped, looked a minute at our closest and dearest and seen just a slight shadow in their eyes or heard a slight falter in their voice. Have we stopped and looked that person in the eyes, and asked them “How are you really doing?”
Many of us shy away from other people’s problems thinking we don’t want to intrude, we don’t want to make a fuss, what if we hurt their feelings by prying etc etc etc. Maybe you even honestly just feel too uncomfortable. But maybe it’s not all that hard, just maybe, all that person needs is that small question, “are you okay?”.
In the midst of problems – big or small – it is incredibly hard to take even a small step towards reaching out to others. In a difficult situation, the human instinct is simply to hold on and try to survive. We fear opening up will make us vulnerable. We share some of our deepest feelings and lay ourselves bare for others to judge. Expressing our fears exposes what we hold most important and it is then up to our listener to decide how they handle our inner self, our self-confidence and thoughts. Do they meet us with contempt, ridicule and a pat on the back to “cheer up” or with sincere concern, the ability to just listen and then perhaps understand even just a little bit of what we have been going through?
Many of us may not even have realized how much we’ve been going through, how much we’ve been fighting just to hold on until someone stops us to ask “how are you holding up?”. In the midst of a wonderful summer vacation, on a girl’s night with good friends, a friend’s simple question wakens feelings I have been holding in the back of my mind and bit by bit I cry my soul clean.
I'm not afraid to admit: I'm not perfect, and never will be, my problems will only make me stronger in the end. One cold shoulder won’t keep me from taking a risk and sharing with others how I have felt, no matter how much every indifferent gaze sears my pride.