We were sitting at the kitchen table talking about the men, the babies, the jobs – she shared, I shared, she laughed, I laughed. I made light of things that kept me up at night. I envied her ease – she seemed so light-hearted. I wondered if she was for real or just pretending (like me). Finally, I tried to come clean. “Do you ever feel super anxious, you know, like you can’t relax because you’re always worried about something? Or like you’re just going through the motions day to day and not really connected to what you’re doing?”
She stared at me for a moment, adjusting to the change in my tone and the look on my face. She let out one of those awkward laughs that people do when they’re not really amused, but uncomfortable. “No, not really! I’m too busy to worry. You just gotta let go and let God, you know?”
I stared back, looking into her eyes for something. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I knew I did not see it. I matched her awkward laugh and changed the subject back to the men, the babies and the jobs.
I needed help and I didn’t know where to get it. Everyone around me seemed so content and I felt like a ticking time bomb. I covered it well, though. No one would have guessed that I was losing it. I started thinking that maybe everyone was just pretending like me.
We were all taught to do it. Wear the mask. Go through the motions. Keep up appearances. Don’t talk about the problems. Don’t be overly sensitive or emotional. Don’t rock the boat. Suppress your feelings. But I felt a pull toward something different. I carried around this sense of other-ness and I didn’t know what to do but be ashamed of it. I pushed it down. It rose up. I ignored it. It got louder. The feeling was gentle but persistent. I couldn’t continue to ignore it.
That time in my life was a major turning point. I was emotionally exhausted from trying to find value in things that didn’t matter to me, all the while ignoring the things that did inspire me. Without an outlet for the conversations I craved and the feelings I needed to express, I felt swallowed up, like my life didn’t matter.
I had to take off the superwoman cape I’d been wearing and face my fear of being seen and being vulnerable. I lost some friends, almost ended my relationship with my long-term partner and along the way I found a soul mate in myself. Some aspects of my life fell apart and in time came back together, better and stronger. It started with a willingness to face myself and take responsibility for my mental, emotional and physical well-being.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope this article finds the hearts that need it. The ones who have attempted to reach out and still feel alone. The ones who keep their pain bottled up inside. Let’s change the generational silence and speak openly and creatively about emotional health and wellness. Let’s do whatever it takes to feel shameless and free.