I’ve spent a very long time pretending I’m okay when I’m not. The reason for this is simple: A lot of people will encourage you to open up. They’ll tell you that it’s safe to show your struggles. But when you do, they quickly burn out on it.
It doesn’t help that I can be unpleasant to be around when I’m not doing well. By definition, my moods are negative when I get like this. It’s a state of affairs that’s a bummer for me to have to tolerate, let alone anyone else who is subjected to it.
And so many people take it as a personal offense when they attempt to cheer you up, and their efforts don’t instantly work. Lots of people say they’ll be there for you, but they seem to mean they’ll be there in short bursts and in certain ways — provided you have the kind of emotional response to their efforts that they’re looking for.
It’s quite rare to find a situation where there’s anywhere approaching unconditional support. In fact, the conditions seem rather narrow — and often hidden from the people on either side of them. No one agrees to them, not explicitly, and yet those conditions still apply.
Anyway, given all this, I’ve learned that the best thing for me to do is to underplay how badly I’m struggling. Because the reality is that I do better when I have social support — and the quickest way for me to drive away my social supports is to show the true extent of my suffering when I’m struggling.
As a result, I end up faking better, faking stronger, than I feel. I’ve reported distress to close friends, only to have them admit that they couldn’t tell, because I mask it so well.
“I want you to show me how you really feel,” you say. “How can I help you if you don’t?”
And I want to go there. I do. But I’m not entirely convinced I won’t drive you away if I do.
Yes, no matter what you say.