Sometimes, the way we feel is just below the surface.
After a good workout, I offered a friend of mine a ride home. I located my orange car in the parking lot, something that’s never hard to do, and it started without hesitation. Off we went into the night, driving the short distance to the neighborhood where we both live, with some rush hour traffic still lingering. I tried to talk and drive at the same time, but I don’t multitask well, and sometimes the anxiety I get from driving in the city supersedes my ability to form a coherent thought.
I was determined not to let that familiar feeling get the best of me, but the quick flashes of anxiety wouldn’t stop. I’ve noticed that when I’m driving and I’m stressed, I talk through the moments that give me the most anxiety. As I make my way past other cars and through congested intersections, I’m voicing my train of thought out loud, as if I’m asking if the person next to me agrees with what I’m seeing and how I’m handling it. I’m asking my copilot for validation, validation I don’t need but still want because it puts my mind at ease.
“I don’t drive to work too often, but I do every Thursday because I go to therapy afterwards,” I said.
I thought almost nothing of the statement, other than that I used to keep my therapy sessions hidden from public view. For so long, I’d been wonderfully vague about it, saying I had, “An appointment,” on a particular night, or I’d say nothing at all. I realized that keeping it quiet was part of the problem with how we as a society approach mental health, and that no over-sharing is needed. You can tell someone you go to therapy without delving into what you talk about. When we’re able to talk about it openly with no sense of shame, you help to diffuse the anxiety bomb, and you help others to understand.
I was afraid that people might think less of me when they found out I need outside help, or that I was getting too personal. Maybe I was thinking that personal problems should stay in-house, but I don’t feel that way anymore, and I’m grateful for the change of heart. The best thing we can do, when the setting is right, is to be honest about our problems, to not shade them from view, to let them go if that’s what needs to happen. We need to encourage others to speak openly and honestly, and we need to be courageous enough to do the same.
After my initial statement in the car, something happened that I didn’t expect. Rather than change the subject, my friend told me they’d also been looking for someone, a therapist, and then they told me more about their life. It was a moment I didn’t expect, as I’d put almost no emotional weight behind what I said. I didn’t think I was offering anything crazy or groundbreaking. I didn’t think I was being all that vulnerable, but here was a person who was willing to be open and honest with me about their world, a person I was just starting to get to know.
People have shared so many personal problems and stories with me, but I still find myself in awe each time it happens. I’m glad that people are comfortable enough with me to share something of themselves. Sometimes, these are people I’ve known for a long time, maybe even most of my life. What blows me away even more is that sometimes the people who tell me these stories, I’ve known them for considerably less time, and they’re still willing to talk about things that are weighing them down, the things that are holding them back, the things they’ve been holding onto for years.
Some people are truly reticent to talk about their past, their present, or their future. They reserve that kind of talk for specific people, people they’re close to, and maybe not even them. Some people are private, and that’s their prerogative. You should never feel obligated to tell something to someone unless you’re comfortable, or you truly want to say it. Maybe it’s neither of those two options, and the thing you’re saying is something that you just have to say to someone, just to let it out, just to let some air out of the ever inflating balloon that continues to grow in size the longer you keep that thing to yourself.
If I’ve learned anything in my time talking to friends and family, it’s that the truth can be a lot more accessible than you think. Maybe someone needs to have a glass of wine before they open up, but sometimes, minimal digging is involved. Sometimes, all it takes is to show a little vulnerability yourself, and once others see that you’ve been willing to put yourself out there, they realize that’s their cue, that the rails have been greased, and they come out with whatever it is that’s been on their mind, but that they haven’t said it until now. It’s also possible that they didn’t even know that the feeling or thought was residing in them, and that it just bubbled up to the surface before they even knew what was happening.
Don’t be afraid to offer up a part of yourself, to be the person to take the first step into a more serious conversation. It can be truly terrifying to be naked in front of someone, especially when you’re not sure how they’ll react, but you have to take chances in this life, and you have to trust that you’ve made the right friends, that the people in your life will love you no matter what, and that they’ll withhold judgment. When people withhold judgment, when they listen with no agenda and create an atmosphere of listening, that’s when people will let their guard down and share something truly special with you, information that’s most definitely privileged. We all want to be heard.
Offer a truth, and get one back. This type of sharing can strengthen a relationship. It can add new levels to one that you didn’t think were possible, and like so many things in life, you never know what it can lead to. I’m not saying you should walk outside at this very moment with a megaphone, only that when you recognize these opportunities for expression, that you don’t waste them. Make sure you’re aware of the people in your life, that notice a friend or family member who has a vacant look in their eyes, as if all their mental energy has been expended just trying to keep something from slipping out. Sometimes, you can just tell when someone isn’t right. Don’t be afraid to say the first thing, and be open to the possibilities. Thanks for reading.
One thought on “Truth for a Truth”
You strike me as a guy wise beyond your years. Or maybe… you are simply a sensitive being with gifts you may not even realize. I understand the (driving) situation you described and how the topic of therapy arose. I commend you for being comfortable with speaking about it, openly. What a cool conversation opener it ended up being. Then, within the same post, you speak to vulnerability. Gasp… a man acknowledging its importance in communication and human connection. Spot on, Adam. And then you invite (encourage?) us to be aware of people in our lives. What a novel concept! (said rhetorically). If only others took your advice to heart (and yes, some people do this consciously.) Awareness is so important when engaging with humankind. I believe it’s an essential part of relationship significance. I think I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating – you have a gift of communicating succinctly and genuinely. Ever considered a profession in the healing/counseling realm? Thanks for reading. 🙂
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