Hands up if you’ve ever answered “I’m fine” or even “I’m good thanks” to the question “how are you?” and not meant it? I’m visualising lots of you raising your hands right now. It’s human nature.
Small talk is just that – small. It can feel very difficult to take a deep breath and admit, actually, you’re not fine. Saying that feels big, like trying to fit an elephant through a doorway. Of course, there are times when we simply don’t want to get into it, but there are other times when we worry we’re just going to bore someone or be seen as a downer.
We fix ourselves with a mask. A mask of smiles, a mask of “I’m fine”.
When I was struggling mentally when I was younger, this mask was my best friend. I put on an act every day. It was exhausting and damaging. These days I’m not so great with the mask – if I’m upset of having a rough time, I don’t hide it. When people ask how I am – I tell the truth.
Maybe not in explicit detail and certainly not to everyone who asks, but to my friends, family and even colleagues, I’m pretty honest these days. And you know what? It’s only ever lead to good things – conversations, support, change.
But I get it, when you’ve been feeling low for a while or if you have mental health difficulties for example, it’s difficult to feel as if you’re not bringing other people down. There’s so much guilt that sits along conditions like depression for example, “what do I have to be sad about?” etc… it’s an ongoing battle.
When I wrote about showing up as our whole selves recently, I mentioned that being dishonest and lying about how you feel actually causes your body to become stressed. Honesty in this case is an act of kindness and supports mental health.
This lead me to ask… how can we accept the way we feel, drop the mask and be a little kinder to ourselves?
Remind yourself that you’re so much more than how you’re feeling right now. It’s easy to believe the way you’re feeling is how you’ve always felt or how you’ll always feel – but this is very unlikely true.
Think back to the times you’ve been there for your loved ones, think about the great times you’ve had together. If you’re going through a hard time, trust that they’ll be able to handle it.
You have every right to feel negative emotions
We’re human. We’re dark and twisty sometimes (gold star to whoever gets that reference). You have every right to feel upset, overwhelmed, stressed and sad. And you have every right to express these emotions however helps you.
If you have depression or anxiety, remind yourself of this fact. Remind yourself that these thoughts and feelings aren’t coming from you, they’re coming from an illness. If you think it’ll help, reiterate this to those around you. It’s not your fault.
Your friends want to help
If you continue going through life with this mask on, no one will see that you need support and I guarantee if your friends are true friends – they’ll want to help in any way they can. But if you don’t say you’re struggling, they’ll never know.
Of course, there are extremes of this and limits, if you find you’re relying on your friends too much and they express that they’re finding it hard to cope – consider visiting a professional. Friends can listen and offer support, but there comes a point when you need to drop the mask to someone trained to help you.
Don’t forget about boundaries
Being open to those around you is one thing, but I want to remind you to honour your boundaries here. There may be something you’re going through that you’re simply not ready to talk about yet and that’s fine. Maybe *this* is not the time and place.
Your gut will tell you if you’re holding back out of fear or if it’s a boundary you need to honour. Know that it’s healthy to have these boundaries, but it’s not healthy to hide your feelings. And yes, you can express how you’re feeling and keep those. You can explain that you’re going through something, but you’re not ready to talk about it just yet.
This means your friends know something’s going on and they can provide support when the time feels right for you. You get to choose all of this.
I know that being honest and inviting vulnerability can feel terrifying, but I hope what we’ve talked about here helps you see the benefits. To be clear, I’m not talking about doing this online here.
While of course if that feels right for you (it often does for me, especially over on Instagram) then by all means go ahead. But I’m fully aware that we all have our own lines we don’t want to cross and you don’t owe your followers anything.
In this post I’m talking more about real life situations, interacting with friends, family and colleagues. Personally, since being more open about my feelings both on and offline I’ve been more connected. Both with myself and my emotions, and to those around me.
As always, would love to get your take on this – do you find it difficult to drop the mask? What do you find helps?
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