Hello dear friends!
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably quite accustomed to putting on a smile and acting fine even when you’re not. Sometimes we can’t avoid work, school, or social situations no matter how we’re feeling and we don’t always feel comfortable dragging around our demons with us. So we lift up the corners of our mouths, cover up the pain, and spout out empty catchphrases in the guise of “staying positive”. We even do this to ourselves, sitting at home alone or staring into the mirror. We tack up little inspirational sayings and force our nagging little mental demons back into their dark corners. This is probably something that everyone can at least partially relate to, but is practically a cornerstone of the chronically ill community.
We are afraid of being a “Debbie Downer”, afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of being set apart from the rest of our friends and coworkers. And so the masks go on. We say everything’s okay, even if we’re exhausted or depressed or in a painful flare up. Even I find myself repeating the same phrase when asked the obligatory non-question question “how are you?” Oh, I’m doing well, and you? It’s almost like someone has pulled an invisible string in my back, prompting the exact response regardless of how I’m actually feeling that day. Maybe you find yourself doing the same.
And just so we’re clear, I’m not advocating for spilling your guts out whenever someone simply tries to make small talk. There is a time and place for sharing your truths and struggles. Plus, it’s honestly just as bad to respond to someone asking how you are with “I’m so stressed/tired/depressed/angry” each and every time. That’s not a helpful way to interact with the world either. Perhaps you know someone who takes these opportunities to launch into a pity-seeking diatribe about their latest symptoms or doctor’s appointments or career failures. And perhaps your reaction to this person only reinforces your smile and fake-it-till-you-make-it approach? Just something to ponder…
But this blog is really about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are right now instead of pretending or putting on a show. There is a pervasive oppression in the “positivity” and spiritual communities that tend to make us feel ostracized for experiencing a depth of painful and sometimes uncomfortable emotions. We experience pain or fear or despair, and we are told to simply get rid of those feelings and replace them with something shinier and prettier and happier. But the problem is, emotions just don’t work that way. When we stuff down our darkness, we only invite in more anxiety and shame, wrapping our already blue moods in a blanket of self-loathing and embarrassment.
For those of us on a healing adventure, it’s hard not to get sucked into the cult of positive thinking. Our brains absorb all the quippy Facebook posts and motivational quotes, and soon we begin to think that our ability to feel a wide range of emotions, both “good” and “bad”, might be an unhealthy thing. Maybe we should only be feeling warm fuzzy positive things? Then maybe we will finally heal ourselves? Ummm…no. Let’s just stop right there. Yes, being optimistic and choosing to focus on the lessons and opportunities in all of life’s challenges is a good thing, and can help you feel better. But you know what place real healing comes from? Self-acceptance.
When you allow yourself to feel everything fully, to sit with each thought and emotion until you’ve seen their every angle, that’s when you start to heal. When you accept yourself as a beautifully flawed human being, with both shadow and light aspects, that’s when you start to heal. When you allow yourself to be afraid and vulnerable, and let love and support into your life, that’s when you start to heal.
You don’t heal by denying your pain. You only heal when you walk through it.
When something is kept invisible, that thing tends to grow stronger, right? So stop fighting with your own truth and allow yourself to admit you’re not okay sometimes. You can scream it in your car during rush hour traffic. You can softly sigh it into your tear-soaked yoga mat. You can say it in therapy or over coffee with your best friend. It doesn’t matter so much the method, just that you’re allowing yourself to be where you are without judgment. Dark things live within all of us- it’s not just you. All of us can experience fear, pain, desperation, loneliness, malaise, and lots more things that maybe we think we “shouldn’t” be feeling. But by denying them or sugarcoating them, we are only letting them grow and fester until we’re sick with self-negation.
So ask yourself how am I really feeling right now? What is going well in my life and what are the things that I want to change? What is making me anxious or depressed or angry? And how can I allow those feelings to just be?
I’ve been to some very dark places in my own life, with 6 years of illness already past, a recent painful divorce and unexpected move out of my beloved home, and current career and financial pressures. Yes, I think I’ve tasted the unique flavor of every emotion on the spectrum at this point- a gustatory journey of doubt and fear, freedom and heartbreak, pain and awakening. And I’ve been lucky to have a beautiful few people who didn’t run away upon seeing my suffering- they simply held space for me to feel what I was feeling in the moment. No judgment, no shame, no frenzied attempts at “fixing” me.
I felt safe in that space to admit I wasn’t okay. Are you ready to hold that kind of space for yourself?
I hope you are. Or at least in the time being, I hope you have a beautiful few people of your own who can hold it for you.
Just remember, everything you’re feeling and experiencing is just perfect. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Let yourself explore the shadows as well as play in the light. And as always…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~