On a sunny and chilly Saturday following Thanksgiving, my heart began to race and I found my brain racing to worrisome conclusions that I fought to push down, all due to a delayed reply from my daughter. I was texting my ex-husband’s wife and told her I was worried, and she asked why. I bit the bullet and decided to tell the truth, “Sometimes I suffer from anxiety.” She said, ‘that must be hard.’ I relaxed. I felt real, the comfort of not being judged filling my dark corners with light. I wondered why my modus operandi is an instinctual desire to hide my dark feelings. Why do I hide or not reach out for a friend, but instead choose floundering alone inside a churning sea just waiting to be spit out?
I’m thinking of this because recently my husband received word of an acquaintance who had just committed suicide. That makes five suicides that have affected people in our circle within the last few years. All men. Quiet and in pain. I cannot begin to fathom such despair despite my own periodic wrangling with darkness. And maybe the incident that caused me to write this post has little relationship, or perhaps, as I suspect, it has a tightly bound connection.
When I was a little girl, I remember that when I was sad or worried, the message given was that what I was worried about was really silly, that I was being too sensitive. I was, and am, incredibly sensitive. This sensitivity leads to a depth of feeling experiences that is both a curse and a gift. The curse causes me to sense painful nuances in interactions that can derail me. That hurt can cause me to pull away.
The gift leads me to my art expression. I write to understand and articulate my experiences, to find my way to peace. I take pictures and create art to see, to find and explore the things that bind us all together. These expressions are integral to who I am.
Over time I have become less ashamed of my sad moments, my worries, but I still prefer to hide. I am adept at hiding my darkness by excusing myself from phone calls, social gatherings or avoiding conversations. I prefer to be alone. When hiding is not an option, I either become loudly silent or put on a false facade, endure gatherings and then, exhausted, crawl back into the safety of my hole. I’d like to hide less. I am blessed to have a handful of real human beings in my life, those that can sit with me.
I don’t wake every day in a terrifying tizzy, downward spiral or frightened to death. Not at all. Anxiety has a long nail and she just scratches my back from time to time, startling me from a lazy happiness back into the ‘what if’ crazy-making thoughts. My husband is most privy to such moments, and loving regardless, but sometimes I hide from him as well.
Anxiety about the safety of my family, my business, my finances, about the current state of the world, anxiety about loss and anxiety about the consequences of being true and real in a society that welcomes expressions of joy and happiness and prefers sadness remain hidden so as to not disrupt another’s state of mind.
This darkness has the power to overcome us if we don’t talk about it.
The darkness presents itself in dreams, acting out our deepest fears, causing us to wake up in a sweat convinced danger is awaiting. I have dreams of being hunted regularly and I know it is my own emotions begging me to sit still and listen.
While working at a client’s retail business a few months ago, we were evacuated because the business next door had an armed man threatening a woman inside. The swat team came, armed men ran through our building and snipers were positioned outside. I stayed calm, but after the incident found myself blubbering like a baby. All had ended without anyone being harmed, but the ‘what if’ thought overcame me on my way home. I had no idea how stressful the incident had been until I called my daughter and left a message saying “I’m fine, but….” before sobbing hysterically.
My client offered a free session with a trauma specialist, and I took advantage.
The trauma specialist told me what I knew to be the most helpful, but don’t do enough to comfort myself, “talk about it until I don’t need to talk about it to trusted friends.”
Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it left me wondering why this is often so hard.
I think I know one of the reasons.
The first time we tell someone about our trauma, or our sadness and anxiety, they are usually thoughtful, caring and wanting to know how they can help. But over time, well-meaning friends push the conversation to a more comfortable direction or happier place, or worse become frustrated when we are stuck and continue to need to sort our trauma out. Worse are those we see regularly that never even acknowledge something significant that has happened in our life. We lose a pet, we suffer an injury, we witness a horrible accident, we are evacuated from our place of work, and yet nothing is said.
So we stop talking. Because who wants to hear?
And talking, for many of us, is the balm that soothes the soul. Not receiving advice, not stories from the listener, not a sharing of hopelessness and despair, and not judgment. Just someone who listens. Who can remind us of who we are, reflect trust in us returning to that person, who holds our hand who listens to the same story again and again. Someone who says, “I see you. I might not know what to say or how to help, but I see you.”
Everyone suffers at one time or another. My heart aches to think about these men who took their lives, to think of how alone they must have felt, how lost.
When a friend or family member talks to me about their worries and dark spaces, I consider it an honor. I feel honored that I am the trusted recipient of another’s pain and know that I have just found someone real I can talk to in turn.
Talk to me. I promise to see you. And I’ll talk to you.