In a way, this is a continuation of my train of thought from the stigma post. Maybe you want to click there before you continue. 🙂
For the most part, this post focusses on someone who suffers in silence, but the general message can be applied to anyone who is hurting – even when they freely talk about it. With that said, let’s get to it.
We all know her. She laughs – abundantly. When we’re around her, our abdominal muscles ache like we’ve done 100 sit-ups. She’s the life of the party. She babbles, unable to filter her excitement, and we can’t help but get swept up in it. We want to be more like her, because she’s obviously got her shit together. She’s living the life and she’s an inspiration.
Only, she doesn’t have her shit together at all. She’s dealing with a lot and she struggles to wrap her head around it. She experiences it so fully, so heavily, that it crushes her into the earth. And, like her excitement, she can’t filter it. She’s alone. She’s anxious. She’s losing her mind. But, because she doesn’t know how to deal with it, she hides it.
She can’t handle that expression when someone finds out what she’s going through, the one of shock. How can she possibly feel this way? We don’t understand and she doesn’t want to explain. The stigma scares her. The judgement. So, she becomes an expert at covering it up. Until one day, when her angst starts to seep through the cracks.
She still laughs, just like she did before, but sometimes, she’s quiet. She sits alone. She snaps now and then, and her overreactions hurt us both. The moments of bitchiness increase. Or they don’t, but her silence does. She shines less brightly.
In moments of reflection, we start judging her. What’s up with her anyway? She used to be so much more fun. When we’re with other friends, we discuss her. Gossip flies. She hears some of it and it adds to the weight she’s already carrying. But, as always, she smiles and bears it.
Looking back, we can remember the exact moment when we noticed her change, but while we’re living that moment, the revelation slips by. When the truth is finally exposed, we feel guilty. We should have been there for her. We believed she couldn’t break and we missed all the warning signs. Now she’s barely human anymore.
As I said, we all know her (or him). We’ve all probably been there too.
Personally, I deal best with angst or heartache on my own. So, throughout my life, moments of intense joy were often used to hide moments of intense sorrow. It also means that I understand the weight of the judgement associated with people not understanding what’s happening in my life – I’ve got the t-shirt. I’ve seen the ridicule cross people’s faces when I admitted I’m not doing great, so I said nothing more. Other times, I smile and laugh, just because I don’t want people to worry. ◄ This is more often than not the reason I don’t share.
Sometimes, freaking out alone and maintaining the facade is just easier than admitting you need help. Even if keeping up pretences is exhausting.
Most kinds of debilitating emotions don’t seem to make sense if you’re not feeling it – sometimes even when you’re feeling it, you don’t understand why you’re being so irrational. Usually, this fact adds to the angst, because you’re obviously going insane if you don’t even have control of your emotions, right?
The last thing someone in that position needs is gossip or judgement from the sidelines, but sadly, this is often what they get.
The thing is, we’re not here to understand why people feel sad, angsty or depressed. We’ve no right to discuss them behind their backs and dissect their every move to make sense of them, or to assume reasons for their change in behaviour. If this post brings only that message across, I’ll take it as a win.
As friends or loved ones, we’re supposed to offer support and sympathy. Even when the way the other person acts doesn’t make sense. Even when they’re usually the brightest light in the room, but have dimmed now. Even when their laughter is replaced with long silences or tears.
Being sympathetic doesn’t require us to offer answers. Sometimes, all someone needs is a person who will listen, who will hug, or who will sit with them in silence.
Sympathy means trading to understand for kindness. It means accepting everything can’t be explained away and holding someone’s hand. It means respecting someone’s wish not to talk about it, and not trying to force answers out of them. If you’ve gone through all that trouble to hide what you’re feeling, talking about it is extremely difficult, after all. Sympathy means standing by someone, not engaging in gossip and shutting down the people who spread stories too.
Ellen always ends her show with ‘Be kind to one another.’ Since sympathy is kindness, I want to leave you with that thought too.