Have you ever asked someone “how are you?” and then been instantly annoyed when they don’t respond with a plain “good, thanks,” or “fine. You?” Instead they start giving you the rundown of their life drama. Their boyfriend is cheating on them, their ovaries won’t work, they can’t find a date, it’s too cold/hot/unforgiving outside. And you stare at them blankly wishing they would just shutup about their problems, wishing that they would just keep up their façade so that you can be on your way. Dude, I’m just here to get coffee –I’ve got my own problems to worry about.
Empirically speaking, we all realize that life is difficult sometimes –hard even: you can’t find someone to love, or your lover leaves you, or you can’t pay your bills, or you hate your job or you find a weird lump where there isn’t supposed to be any lumps and things are spiraling out of your control. This is as much a part of life as the good moments like first kisses and slow dances and seeing the Northern lights. Yet we manage to enforce on each other (and ourselves) the idea that pretense must be kept above all else. Whatever you do, don’t allow your mask to fall. Don’t mess up my day with your emotional ish.
A friend tells you about her Friday night date where a guy touched her in all the wrong places and you say “well, at least he didn’t rape you.” Or your co-worker tries to tell you about the awful joke her boss told in front of everyone and you reply “well, it’s not like he hit you.” When your sister struggles with finding a job, you tell her “Well, at least you’re not homeless.”
We even do this to ourselves. “Well, he only shoved me. At least he didn’t beat me up.” Or “it’s just a word, it doesn’t mean anything.” We keep a stiff upper lip and our mask on to disguise our real feelings. We tell ourselves: It could always be worse.
I understand putting things into perspective. You missing your cab isn’t exactly the end of the world, especially compared to contracting Ebola. But by playing the “at least” game, we minimize the bad things that happen to others and ourselves – often without meaning to. We force ourselves to contain our feelings in just-so-sized boxes that won’t spill over or interrupt any one else’s day with unwieldy emotions. We tell each other “this thing that you are worried about – this thing that hurt you – it really isn’t that bad.” The subtext is get over it, move on, maintain the pretense that everything is “perfectly normal.”
But sometimes things aren’t fine or good or even ok.
Sometimes you can’t breathe for all of the sobbing that you can’t seem to stop, and you can’t sleep for the all of the hurt that resides in your heart.
There was a point about a year and a half ago where my life was shipwrecked. Outwardly, I took pictures in pretty clothes and talked about glamour and shimmer and oh-so-pretty things!
But inside, I was dying. I had a gold-flecked veneer that was chipping badly. I kept trying to repaint it – trying to maintain that shiny façade, butI was drowning in all of my glitter pretense.
The Bestie was my biggest help during this time. She didn’t “at least” me. Not once. She didn’t try to compare what I was going through with the fact that kids in poor countries don’t have enough to eat or the fact that the lady down the street has three kids and is dying of brain cancer. What happened to me happened.
And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have. Good and bad. ~Stephen Chbosky
She didn’t try to justify it or make excuses or force my feelings into some place that wouldn’t inconvenience her.
Instead, she listened. She didn’t get annoyed with me for sobbing on her couch or telling her the same stories over and over again. She gave me room to grieve over what happened – to feel whatever feelings that I had over the events — and she gave me a safe space where I could drop my mask.
And sometimes that’s all you need to heal.