My biggest fear in ever sharing anything deeply personal is that it will be universally unreciprocated. That I will express my darkest thoughts or my biggest insecurities, and then I’ll look to the person sitting across from me for a nod of understanding as they instead gaze back with a bewildered expression. That I’ll lay it all out on a phone call and hear radio silence on the other end. That I’ll dig to the root of what keeps me up at night or disclose what holds me back from going after what I want in life and that I’ll be offered a sort of pitiful sympathy and the number of a good expert to see, rather than empathetic understanding and affirmation. Essentially, that I’ll come to discover my most isolating and unnerving feelings really are as weird, unnatural, and individual as I feared them to be.
I’ve forever felt like the greater the magnitude of the emotion or experience I have, the less likely it is to be shared. Like of course my friends can understand my everyday frustrations of feeling like laundry is never-ending, traffic is annoying, and weekends aren’t ever long enough. But will they ever really get or identify with the feeling that I haven’t quite found my niche, that I wonder how long it takes to feel settled and confident in a role, that I struggle to feel good enough, and that it seems hard to make connections as an adult? How can someone else ever really know the same anxiety, grief, confusion that I’ve experienced?
Somehow the deeper and rawer the feeling appears, the higher the seeming likelihood that it can’t possibly be understood or appreciated by anyone else. Like there’s some correlation that the more vulnerability and sensitivity surrounding the experience, the more unique and personal my feelings must be.
So, stuffing, hiding, ignoring, and distracting become tempting.
They feel safe, comfortable, protective, almost good enough.
And yet, they’re not. Because superficial connection is no less isolating than feeling alone. Being seen for what’s only on the surface is no more meaningful than not being seen at all. And expressing only the good, shiny, and desirable parts of life doesn’t mean that hard, unsettling, and disturbing parts no longer exist. Life – real life – is both.
In sharing the things I typically try to avoid and would rather hide, both in person and in my writing, I’ve found that I’m not nearly alone as I believe I am. That my feelings aren’t ever as idiosyncratic or seemingly crazy as I’ve convinced myself they are. That I’m not the first 30-year-old woman to feel insecure, afraid, self-conscious, or lacking in some way. That often times, the things that made me feel the most messed up, misunderstood, and isolated, are actually the biggest drivers to connection and understanding.
It’s just that to discover the togetherness, I first have to admit the stuff that’s hard to say. I have to share my feelings of inadequacy and imperfection. I have to acknowledge that I’m not in control of every area of my life. I have to take down my guard, which more or less, creates the nightmarish feeling of standing naked in front of a room full of strangers. I have to hear my voice shake, and feel my hands sweat, and notice my heartbeat quickening. I have to strip away the layers of cheap protection I’ve built within and around myself to make it seem like I’m always fine, I’m never uncertain, and I’ve got it all together. I have to own, accept, and even love, the very human parts of myself.
First the risk, the laying it all out there, the wondering if anyone will identify, the fear of really being seen. Then the reward, the learning that we’re never alone. The darkness becoming light. The discovery that the harshest voices often exist within the confines of our own mind and that many times, it’s the ways in which we feel most different that we’re actually the most connected. The knowing that even in our uniqueness, so much of what we come to feel is universal.
You’re not alone and neither am I. Let’s keep reminding ourselves of that.
[featured image via unsplash]