“Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” ~George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
So would most women.
This is the way we have encountered life so far. Better to show the world just the socially acceptable and shove the rest under the rug. That’s where the hard truths go.
But we all know the trouble with the rug. Stuff builds up under the rug and eventually you land on your face. Hard truths don’t go away.
Social media is exacerbating the historical tendency to present only the pretty, so we’re justifiably, and understandably, really scared about putting the hard truth out there.
Naturally, we don’t post that our relationship is in trouble, or that we’re going to lose our business, or that we have a physical illness, or some deep emotional stuff that we’re working through, or that we’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, or depression, or have an addiction.
If we did, it might bring a whole slew of support, but it’s also a high-risk maneuver.
I saw a meme the other day that read, “May your life be as amazing as you pretend it is on Facebook.”
It made me laugh out loud. And I’m as guilty as anyone.
I’m a big advocate of transparency and vulnerability. I’ve written publicly about my eating disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. Those were big.
But you are unlikely to see me online yelling at my kids, crying after I’ve argued with my husband, or first thing in the morning, pre-caffeine and make-up.
Recently, on Facebook, I posted a playhouse that I’d sanded it down and re-painted for my kids. I felt pretty damn pleased with myself.
Here’s what I didn’t post.
I actively encouraged my four-year-old to watch TV for a lot of the day while I painted.
The next day my husband yelled at my six-year-old for turning on the electric sander without supervision. She cried. I was annoyed with him for watching rugby and not helping me, even though I didn’t really even want his help. I wanted to take credit for doing it all myself, and I did.
This is hardly egregious behavior. It’s not super high on the shame scale. But still, I just posted the happy ending. My two girls standing by the white picket fence smiling.
Actually, it’s a grey picket fence, and I think that’s a great metaphor. Because our lives are never black and white. A lot of life is grey.
Having a crappy day (or week or month or year), getting the odd bit of road rage, feeling bitter and twisted toward our co-workers, worrying about our appearance, feeling overwhelmed and rushed, disliking the behavior of our children, getting sick—that’s grey.
We’re ashamed of the grey because we think it is unacceptable.
But the more unacceptable thing is to choose not to acknowledge it, and to pretend we’re not human. Because clearly we are.
Part of being human is smiling kids, cute playhouses, and happy families. A big part. A beautiful part.
But it’s not all of it.
By ignoring what we perceive as not so beautiful, we do ourselves a disservice. We do our fellow humans a disservice. Because we are not telling the hard truth.
But the reason we are not telling the hard truth is because it is hard. It feels way too vulnerable.
We’ve all felt the pain of judgment, whether from ourselves, or from others. It’s a hard thing to recover from.
It brings up shame, and nothing keeps you quiet like shame. Shame ensures we take the safe option. Picnics with our kids, holidays, sunshine, and happy faces.
And you know what? This is okay. In the meantime.
I don’t believe in feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Fear, like any other emotion, has something to tell us. Fear believes it is trying to protect us. So I believe in feeling my fear, acknowledging my fear, honoring my fear for what it’s trying to protect me from, and then letting it know that I’m doing it anyway.
I wonder, can we honor our fear and allow it to help us be more vulnerable, and more real? To help us show up more? Little by little?
Can we recognize our shame and our denial, too, and thank them for their role? Can we listen and learn so we can move on?
Shame, denial, and fear are like misunderstood bad boys. They’ve put up a wall. They are trying to protect you from judgment, because they know how much it hurts.
Shame will tell you that you can never let anyone know, because whatever it is doesn’t measure up.
Denial will tell you that if you don’t engage with the hard truth, it can’t hurt you.
Fear will tell you that courage is a lofty goal you probably can’t reach.
Like with bad boys, you know in your heart that it’s not healthy to stay in the relationship. You’ve got to learn from the relationship and find a way to leave as gracefully as possible.
When I experienced depression and anxiety, I had a close relationship with all of them.
I wanted to believe there was no problem. If there was a problem I could explain it away with something else.
I wanted to believe that if I just tried harder, these symptoms would go away. And try I did.
I wanted to be courageous, but I couldn’t.
I wasn’t ready to leave denial, and this resulted in a very difficult few years—for me, for my husband, and for my babies.
When I did leave, I found a way to sort through the grey. Shame and fear were still frequent visitors. They needed time to let go.
We all needed time to integrate. And this was okay. Not at the time so much, but in hindsight.
Here is some of what I’ve learned about shame, denial, fear, and courage that I hope will help you:
1. There was actually nothing wrong with me.
Shame, fear, and denial stepped in because I thought there was. But there wasn’t.
2. What was wrong was that I was basing my perception of myself on society’s perception of me.
I was caught up in people-pleasing and perfectionism and trying to be someone I wasn’t. I had no idea how to handle my emotions, and no idea how my thoughts about myself and my emotions corresponded. This resulted in a long trip down to the bottom of the barrel, and a steady climb back up.
3. There is something wrong with society’s perception of mental health issues.
We change that one by one, by individuals understanding that society’s perception is the problem, and allowing ourselves to be honest about that. That is the truth, but it’s still a vulnerable statement, and becoming vulnerable is a journey.
4. There is something wrong with continuing to seek the white picket fence and ignoring the grey in life.
It’s not serving us well. We change that too by working toward transparency. Transparency is also vulnerable, and for me has been a work in progress.
5. When we recognize that everyone has some kind of issue (it’s not just you), we gain courage.
And trust me on this. Everyone has issues. Kind of like everyone has a belly button. When you come into this world, you get both.
Opening up and being transparent, whether to family or friends or online, is risking engaging with shame, denial, and fear. It’s risking deafening silence or unhelpful comments.
It’s not always going to feel safe. It’s not always going to be safe. You should feel no pressure to do it if you haven’t had a chance to work through the stuff that you need to work through.
But it is something to work toward, little by little. Because grey is a very pretty color, really. And the truth, although hard, is still the truth.
And only the truth will bring us closer to love.