Let People See You Struggle

Why do we try to hide our humanity?

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

I remember working out at a large local gym a few years ago when I started to feel slightly ill. I tried to push through it and kept going. But the harder I pushed, the worse I felt. Finally, at the point where it felt like vomiting was inevitable, I decided to make my way back to the locker room.

Before I could get there my nausea was accompanied by dizziness and my vision started to get a little blurry. Next thing I knew I was down on my knees, opening my eyes. I must have passed out for a second. My first thought was, “oh God, I hope no one saw me.” I then pretended to be tying my shoe before rising to my feet and continuing my trek.

In telling the story to a friend later, she pointed out a marked difference between the two of us and our natural responses. While I wondered if anyone saw me with embarrassment, she would have wondered with hope. Her reaction upon waking to find herself kneeling on the floor would have been, “oh God, someone please see me!” She would have wanted help. I, on the other hand, felt mortified to be in a position of potentially needing it.

This is just one instance of what I’ve done my entire life. Suck it up, dust myself off and get it done. Whatever “it” is. Accepting, let alone asking for help has never felt comfortable because it was not a circumstance to which I’d been accustomed. I’ve learned and done a lot on my own, and navigated my way through life mostly by trial and error. So, to feel helpless — To have people looking at me as though I were helpless felt like weakness.

The older, wiser, more enlightened and self-aware version of myself now knows that this ultimately stemmed from a hesitance to feel vulnerable. What if I ask for help and they say no? What if people see that I need help, yet no one comes? I couldn’t put myself out there and give anyone the power to disappoint me when I needed them. I didn’t know what it would do to me.

But to struggle is human. Everyone struggles, and many of us do our best to keep it hidden. We put on a show for people we barely know, because for some reason it is of the utmost import that everyone believes we’re doing great. We’re so busy putting on a brave face that we forget to be honest. We confuse silence with strength, and suffering with virtue.

It is admirable to stand on your own, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and not go in search of handouts. Developing our independence and discipline is important. Learning to work things out and build ourselves up when our best laid plans are ruined is essential. Because sometimes, despite the intentions of others, all we’ll have is us.

However, too often, we refuse help at our own detriment. There is nothing wrong with asking people to assist you, and then letting them. The assistance doesn’t even have to necessarily be needed, only useful. Why compound our troubles by voluntarily facing them alone? A little support goes a long way.

Everyone is fighting his or her own battles. So, there is no logical reason to be ashamed of our own. Also, because people are engaged in personal trials, they may actually be unable to come to our aid on occasion. That doesn’t mean we say, “see, this is why I don’t ask anyone for help” and proceed to shun future attempts. We should try our best to offer understanding and grace, because we’ve been there.

Superheroes don’t exist. No one can deal with everything, every day, 100 percent on their own. Remove the stigma from letting people see you struggle. I’m certain that it will look very familiar to us all.

Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness. It also gives those around us permission to do the same. We all need a place where we can lay our burdens down, sometimes — A moment to rest when weary. Don’t sacrifice your peace on the altar of pride.

Author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687069786

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