They say to write what you know and I don’t know what I know right now.
But I do know that I have to write.
So here we go.
Why is it that we always wait until everything is okay before we talk about it?
When I was 19, I got pretty sick. I was tossed around between doctors and nobody could really figure out what was wrong. At my best, I was an almost fully-functioning teenager. At my worst, I could barely get out of bed in the morning.
To say I was frustrated is an understatement. I had gone to bed one night feeling perfectly healthy. I had woken up the next morning with severe pain in my head that wouldn’t subside. And it didn’t subside. For days. Then weeks. Then months.
I couldn’t be that over-excited, spunky teenager any more. I had to save my energy for walking up the stairs.
The entire time this was going on, I continued my work with The Smile Project and – outside my circle of close friends – I tried not to talk about it. If I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t have to think about it. If I didn’t have to think about it that meant it wasn’t happening.
But like clockwork, I’d feel a spasm of pain and be reminded that it was, indeed, happening.
I didn’t openly talk about much of this. I think it was a mixture of not wanting to complain and just being too frustrated to open up about the betrayal of my own body. Eventually, I was able to settle into medication and routines that minimized and managed my pain. Only at that point, did I feel comfortable posting about the struggle on my social outlets and on The Smile Project accounts.
Why had I waited so long?
Well, I had rationalized, nobody wants to hear the bad stuff. Plus, it makes a much better story to talk about something after the fact – to share the triumph. We don’t need the full journey.
Well I don’t like that logic anymore. I texted my best friend the other day and asked him why we don’t talk about struggles when we’re in the midst of them. Why do we wait until things are okay to talk about them? Why can nobody just be like: this is where I am right now and I am not okay?
We discussed this for a bit and came to the same conclusions. People don’t want to seem like they’re putting out a cry for help. People don’t want to seem like they’re complaining. People don’t like to look weak or vulnerable. People would rather tell the story of success.
We started talking about something else and I quickly realized that – though I agreed – I wasn’t fully satisfied with that answer. I had to object.
But that just adds to the stigma around things like mental health. And like, what’s wrong with being weak and vulnerable? Are we really too proud to admit that we need help? Think about how great it would feel to be struck with that kind of raw honesty. I mean really think about it. Can you imagine just being able to say: here’s where I am. I’m not okay right now. I’m really hurting and I need help. I’m not okay. Not at all. But I will be.
We agreed that that would be refreshing.
Then I thought about The Smile Project. My goal with this organization was to be as authentic as possible as often as possible – aka always.
In theory: my objective was never to sugar coat the bad stuff under the glitter of the word Happiness.
I’ve tried to be honest and real. I’ve written some raw and reflective pieces and I’ve tried to be open about various struggles I’ve faced in my life. But not always. There are some things I’ve said I will never write.
But now I’m starting to wonder why. What good does it do for anyone to stay silent on things that matter? Why do we shy away from things just because they’re difficult?
Healing isn’t a linear line. Being “okay” looks different for everyone. And vulnerability isn’t a crime.
Happiness is everywhere, sure, but we’d be lying to ourselves if we pretended it didn’t hold hands with sadness…that it didn’t flirt with grief…that it never had an affair with anger.
When I started The Smile Project, I wasn’t happy. I was the least qualified person to be running an organization based on Happiness. And perhaps that is why I was the most qualified. I understood deep sorrow and that gave me the tools I needed to mold my own joy.
This post is not a cry for help. It is not meant to complain. It is simply an unedited reflection of how I have been feeling for the past month. There’s something refreshing about breaking down the walls that we hide behind and opening up to our truest selves.
I think it’s high time I do a lot more of that.