I was never good at hiding pain. I would hold everything in and do the best I could to keep it together. The most I would reveal is a little desperation behind my eyes. Or a weariness in my walk. Or a slight air of hopelessness.
Random strangers would make comments like “chin up kid.” Or, “Hey, it’s not that bad.” Those aren’t the worst things to be told. But sometimes, when people picked up on what I was feeling, it would set them off.
Even close friends would say things like, “Look around, it’s fine. You’re fine. You have NOTHING to worry about.” They had a point. I was relatively safe and healthy. I had opportunities and resources. Me feeling bad about something must have meant one of three things:
- A: I was ungrateful
- B: I was weak
- C: I was unaware
“Your problems can’t possibly be real.” It’s horrible getting messages like this from people you care about. And when you’re in a weak state of mind, you believe them.
You must be weak and ungrateful and unaware of how good you have it. But then, a deeper, rejected part of you cries out that you are in pain, and that there is something seriously wrong.
You love them, but they don’t know the half. They are only judging what they can see.
People Are Icebergs
I don’t believe that anyone you meet lacks depth. I’m not saying everyone is deep and introspective, but unless they get a lobotomy, no one is without mind or feeling. Everyone has an inner world.
It’s always a shock when the people you think have it all end up doing something terrible. Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and Chester Bennington were ultra-successful and beloved by millions, and they all ended their own lives. Even Micheal Phelps admitted to having thoughts like this.
Were they all just entitled brats who didn’t appreciate what they had?
You would never expect people you look up to succumb to pain. And yet they do. People project their desires and insecurities onto others, and when they don’t meet expectations, it makes no sense to them. They think, “You have everything that I want, so how can you be so unhappy?”
Life isn’t anywhere near that simple. You don’t know the internal mountains that people have to climb. You can’t know their memories or interpretations or hang-ups. Or how they find meaning. Or what they need most. Or the quality of their relationships. Or the traumas they’ve endured.
You need to count your blessings. There’s no doubt about that. But you can’t pretend like everything is ok either.
Shame is as harmful as cancer.
If you hate yourself on a fundamental level, it doesn’t matter what you have. It doesn’t matter how fortunate you are. You can’t appreciate anything if you don’t feel like you deserve anything.
It’s a pain you can’t release until you become vulnerable enough to express it. You need to find someone who will hear you out without judgment. And then you can remember that you’re human and that hurting is human.
And that we all fuck up, and have fucked up thoughts, and that we’re really just making it up as we go along.
I was terrified to share my pain with people because I thought they wouldn’t believe me. That’s what I wanted more than anything, to be believed. Here is something I feel disgusting admitting:
There were times when I wished my life was more overtly bad, so that people would believe me when I told them I was in pain. There could be moments I pointed to and people could say, “oh! The horror!” I didn’t want to be weak. I envied people with tougher lives, because I wanted the strength and independence that they seemed to have.
I absolutely hate this. It fucks with me even to write it. I would never want to get rid of the things I have or the people I know. I was being just as ignorant as the people who said I didn’t have problems. The truth is, life was tough, but not in a way that anyone could see.
I know who I am. I know what I’ve been through. Even if other people can’t see it, it’s just as real. Internal mountains are as tall as external mountains. Maybe taller if we spend our whole lives climbing them.
Comparing the Suffering You Can See
There will be experiences you have and trials you face that other people, with the exception of those with deep empathy, will not understand. You can’t understand the weight of someone’s burdens until you’ve felt them yourself.
The thing is, that goes for you too. Your problems are real, and if they make you want to die, then they truly are that bad.
We’ve all been asked to imagine what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but you have to consider how other people would feel walking a mile in yours.
No one has experienced everything. There are problems and pains that we’ll never understand. People will say, “You ain’t been through what I’ve been through.”
That’s true. But you haven’t been through what I’ve been through either. Overcoming personal demons is just that. Personal. People can share suffering for sure, but we all deal with it as individuals. Your pain is your own. It’s part of what makes you who you are.
If you reject that, then you reject a part of yourself. When you honor your suffering and acknowledge how much pain you’ve been in, you can start seeing who you are.
You can see how you’ve spent your whole life dealing with something, and that you’ve gotten as far as you have even with all the burdens on your back.
You Get the Last Word, No Matter What People See
People can only see what you reveal to them. But if you tell someone how much pain you’re in, they might not believe you. To deal with this, remember that you’re the one who knows the whole story. You know the reality of your pain. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.