Too good at hiding

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This is what I believe to be the biggest disease of our time: hiding. Especially feelings. More specifically, the bad ones. We hide feelings of stress, anxiety, insecurity, being uncomfortable etc. Why? Because in our society having these feelings is associated with being weak, or at least with being weaker than everyone else. This is a very important cause of our hiding: we all think we are weaker, more stressed and less confident than everybody else. The only way to keep up with the rest is by hiding how we truly feel. And we’re damn good at it too. Often better than we think.

But the thing we do to protect ourselves is exactly what results in more of those bad feelings.

As we all hide, we raise the bar. The better we get at hiding, the more we have to do it (after all, we’re all feeling just peachy all of the time, aren’t we?).

But every now and then, something human seeps through, although sometimes too late. We hear reports about the entire nation popping pills, about suicides (out of the blue, no one saw it coming) and depression. Suddenly a friend admits she’s been unhappy for a very long time. You realize your brother drinks a lot more than he should. Your uncle, “the successful one”, has a burnout.

Where does this come from? In some small way it’s comforting, because we realize we’re not the only ones who struggle. But it’s mainly extremely sad, because it makes us realize how many of us struggle alone, because we think we are not normal and no one else would understand.

It is such a lonely feeling: feeling different, weak, less than everybody else.

But there is a solution, beautiful in its simplicity. Let’s all try to be kind to one another. Let’s not judge each other because let’s face it: we all struggle. But the struggle is less hard if we struggle together. Talk about it. Support one another and – o miracle – even share a laugh about it. Because this is one of the great things of communicating about our black parts: turns out they are a lot less terrible when you share them. They instantly become lighter.

But it is true: sharing your unhappiness or troubles takes courage. By sharing we take a chance, we make ourselves vulnerable. But it is always worth it and who knows, it might inspire others to do the same. It fills me with a huge sense of relief when I hear a celebrity in a talk show admitting that she has clammy hands (she’s nervous, she’s human, halleluiah!). It was so nice when a friend admitted that she feels very uncomfortable when she’s surrounded by a lot of people that come in her “bubble” (me too! Yay I can relate!). And you know what? I love my friend even more for it.

We have become a society of hiding. We hide everything that is slightly uncomfortable. We hide disease and old age. Death. We put them away in hospitals and nursing homes. We like to think we are immortal, happy-all-the-time, eternally young beings. The irony being that none of this makes us any happier. On the contrary. We worry all the time, often about small, meaningless things. We have to have these things keep us busy because, God forbid, we have a moment to think about the important stuff. Am I living a meaningful life? Am I doing things that bring me joy and fulfilment? Am I trying hard enough to be a good person? Most of us freak out completely when confronted with silence. With ourselves. We complain all the time about being too busy, but don’t have the first clue about what to do with time and thoughts. Even though it is precisely time for our thoughts that is vital to help us grow.

Recently I saw a television program in which a famous chef visited New Orleans. The people who live there are confronted with hurricanes and flooding on a very regular basis. And yet they are a happy lot. They don’t move to another, safer city. They celebrate life. They eat good food and play nice music, despite the constant risks. Maybe they celebrate life because of the constant risks; they are so present that there’s no denying them, so they accept them and live life to the fullest.

Hey, they might be on to something. Fearing and hiding the bad takes away our joy and makes our fear for pain even bigger. Life is the good and the bad. We can’t run away from it. We can, however, try to accept and share both the good and the bad. And by doing so we look fear in the face, grab it by the balls and celebrate the good with every dancing fibre in our being.

(2013)

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