“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself… that is the moment you might be starting to get it right.” ~Neil Gaiman
The road seemed to go on forever.
Although it was only about 8:30 am, the summer sun was already blazing in the sky, shining down with such intensity I felt like an ant under a merciless magnifying glass.
Seven miles into an eight-mile run and growing more and more tired with each step, I faced the final stretch, along a tarmac path bustling with fellow runners, dog walkers, cyclists, and the occasional rollerblader.
“Not… far… to… go,” I repeated to myself, as I trudged along with all the grace of a baby elephant. As faster and leaner runners passed me, I noticed my mind was slipping into self-comparison-mode, but then I pulled myself back to the present moment.
As I became more present, I observed.
I observed the slight twinge in my left shin and the sound of birdsong from nearby bushes. To my surprise, I observed another more interesting phenomenon, an old pattern I thought I had beaten.
As I passed other people walking, running, cycling, and blading in the opposite direction, I noticed my demeanor changed. I went from running like a baby elephant to galloping like a gazelle, from looking like the newbie runner I am to pretending to be a seasoned professional athlete.
In the brief moments my path crossed with strangers, I hid my struggle.
My posture improved and the grimace on my face turned into a confident smile.
Why did I feel the need to hide my struggle and present a more I-have-it-all-together version of myself?
I pondered this question for a few days after this intriguing observation. Why do any of us feel the need to appear more together than we are?
The answer I came up with is this…
We hide our struggles because we’ve learned that showing signs of struggle or weakness is a bad thing.
I believe, however, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In early life, we were more than willing to show signs of struggle. When we were tired, upset, or frustrated, we communicated exactly how we felt (through cries and tantrums). A little bit older, when confused in the classroom, we were more likely to put our hands up and ask for help.
We knew at a young age that struggling was a part of life, and a sign we were soon going to learn something new.
Sadly, as we became older, it became more and more unacceptable to struggle and fail. Teachers and parents became less sympathetic and patient as their expectations increased. We began striving for perfection, which, of course, is unattainable.
To wash away the false idea that showing signs of struggle is a bad thing, we need to remember these three important truths.
1. Struggling is normal.
It seems so darn obvious, but when I’m hiding my struggles, I’m denying the truth that struggling is normal. I’m buying into stories like “I should know better,” “I shouldn’t feel like this,” and “I should look like I have it all together.”
The bottom line is, we’re human, meaning we’re all imperfect and we all struggle. No one has it all together. No one has a perfect life. And no one feels happy, confident, and positive all the time.
Rather than feel ashamed and hide our struggles, we need to recognize that struggles are human and appreciate ourselves for doing our best in any given moment.
2. Unless we show we’re struggling, we’re unable to receive help.
Whenever I pretend I’m not struggling, the door to receive help is closed.
In my early twenties, I went through a hard time. Facing financial struggles, daily anxiety, and dwindling confidence, I felt like I’d fallen down a deep, dark hole. I’d wake each day feeling helpless. But for almost two years, I lived a lie, in complete denial about my life situation. To the outside world, all was well.
Eventually, it got too much and I had to get real. It started with a simple phone conversation with a lady from a debt-agency. In two minutes, I felt like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This was the start of admitting I was struggling and getting some help.
No matter what our struggles are, right now there are people who can (and want to) help. No one could help me unless I helped myself first, and it started with getting real.
3. Showing we’re struggling gives others permission to show they’re struggling too.
The moment we take off the masks and make ourselves vulnerable, we give others permission to do the same.
After tackling my financial struggles, I began to open up about my anxiety. I remember being sat in a pub with a close friend of mine when I decided to share with him how I’d been struggling with an anxious mind.
His response shocked me: “That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling.” For years, we’d both been struggling with the same thing but had never once spoken about how we’d felt. How sad.
When we share our struggles with those around us, we give them permission to voice theirs, if they wish to share. We may never know just how life-changing that permission may be to someone. They may feel alone, overwhelmed, or even at the end of their rope, and we could change it all by giving them an opportunity to receive our understanding and support.
Now when I lace up my running shoes, I leave the mask at home. And if I’m struggling at work, in my relationships, or in any other area of my life, I let other people in.
I no longer pretend to be fine when I’m not because when I’ve been honest in the past, only good has happened.