On Facebook today, I was touched to say something like this.
If someone comes to you and shares something difficult, deep or painful, honor that moment. They chose you, they felt safe enough to be vulnerable and share something with you. I don’t take that for granted, I honor them, I honor the moment. Because it takes courage to share something that may be difficult or painful. You don’t know how people will react to it, so it does take a certain level of courage to put yourself out there like that. So whether or not they are my closest friends, a new friend or a complete stranger, I do not take those moments of disclosure lightly.
I don’t know if there’s something about me as a person, or being a journalist that prompts people to sometimes have these really deep moments of disclosure.
I know a big piece of it comes from me giving up a little something too. And usually the floodgates open, when I discuss my mother. My whole body language changes. You can read on my face I’m trying to figure out how to explain it, depending on the person I’m talking to.
I was asked about my mother last night and made reference to the fact that she stopped working, “when she got sick.”
Some people leave it alone. And I allow them to assume whatever illness.
The person last night pressed me, and I hesitated. He told me it was perfectly fine if I didn’t want to discuss it, and then I did. So the first layer is to give the simple, canned answer. “My mother had a mental breakdown when I was 16, and has never been the same. She suffers from extreme paranoia and is a recluse. My father takes care of her.”
Once that is said, folks tend to look lost, like they have no possible words to comfort me, which isn’t what I was looking for, or they open up.
They come forward and they share a story about a sister, an old girlfriend or boyfriend, or cousin or uncle or even their own mother too and every time, I am floored. Because it reminds me that so many people live in silence and shame and they are waiting for someone to tell them they are not alone and this isn’t abnormal by any means.
But when my dinner companion spoke last night, I wasn’t prepared for his family’s story. There was pain, there was honesty, there was bravado and the sense that he had no choice but to get through it all. As he told a vivid story of a close relative who committed suicide, I could hardly breathe. I fought back tears. I thought of other friends that I gave support to who lost loved ones to suicide, or struggling with mental illness.
As I get older, as we all get older and really connect with other people, you realize you are surrounded by survivors.
We all have different battles and scars and wounds, but when you really look into someone’s story, if they didn’t decide to take their life, if they woke up today they survived.
My dinner companion said something that will stick with me.
“There’s no such thing as a completely sane person. It’s impossible. We don’t live in a sane world. There are things happening all the time that make no sense and that are horrible and unfair and we have to react to those things. These things can’t happen to you and you be completely sane. You have to have a part of you that is a little bit crazy, just to survive in this world.”
I totally agree. I’ve often said that I think when mental illness fully takes people over, it’s because the sane part of that person did get tired and weak and sometimes it’s almost easier to check out completely than to face the harsh realities of this life. Sometimes you don’t have the strength being sane requires. It takes a lot, because the world is unfair and filled with ugliness. Finding the goodness in it all takes a lot of work and energy. It’s something you have to do day in and day out and it is exhausting.
There are times I can tell when people don’t talk about their pain very often or at all, because when they tell me, it comes like a flood and they don’t leave out any details. It’s very honest. Knowing how I feel about my story, my mother’s story, my family’s story, I can sense it in other people once they start talking.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been floored if someone discloses to me that they have been abused, or they saw abuse in their own home, or taking the long ride from the abortion clinic alone, or going to bed hungry or having to steal food, or spend a few nights in jail after being racially profiled. But I remained stoic. Sometimes I wanted to reach out and hug these people as they told their stories. But I’d listen with sad eyes, disgusted at whomever caused the pain offering my support non-verbally.
One thing that also amazes me about the people who eventually share.
They are not asking for my pity. I will not give them that, because I can’t. Instead, I’m honored they chose me and I’m proud of how they’ve managed to maintain that little piece of sanity that we all attempt to hold on to everyday.
The human experience is difficult. It really is.
The most beautiful parts of the human experience is when we reach outside ourselves, genuinely, to hold the hands of others, to support them and to lift them up. People have supported me and lifted me up.
I asked my dinner companion what made him happy.
He said he had never really thought about it. And he laughed about never really thinking about it.
So I asked him was there ever a moment where you were right in the moment and you knew then in there you were just happy and you knew you wanted to hold on to it?
And he said sure.
I said that was enough. You don’t need a specific list as long as you can identify it as it is happening.