It can be difficult to be open about the very things that have hurt us most. We are social beings – we worry about what other people think and spend more time than we should paying attention to the opinions of others. It’s easier to hide ourselves from the world and pretend to be people we aren’t. The internal need we have to form a tight friend group and be accepted within our various social circles can often lead to secrecy and a lack of self-acceptance. So, how do we grow to be so comfortable with ourselves that we no longer hide any part of who we are to please others? How do we increase confidence and build a community around us that accepts every part of who we are?
It starts with our stories
& sharing them.
When I say stories, I don’t mean where we grew up, why we work where we do, or what hobbies we have. When I say stories, I mean the deep, meaningful things – what really makes us tick? What inner passions drive us to wake up in the morning and live another day? What makes us cry? What makes us smile? How do we feel when someone ignores us? What parts of our families do we love and what parts have driven us to create different lives for our children than the ones we had in childhood? What has happened to us and what has shaped the person we’ve become?
Part of developing a real sense of self worth and embracing our beautifully flawed personalities starts with removing toxic people from our lives and surrounding ourselves with people who accept the real us. It comes with our ability to share every part of who we are with the world, unapologetically, and we can't do that if we are worried about what others may think. We all know the saying: if they're real friends, they won't care & if they care, then they aren't real friends. Well, it's true.
There is something incredibly cathartic about opening up. It’s scary because there’s always the chance that someone will be turned off by our honesty. Yet, once we start to surround ourselves with good people - kind people - people who want us to be ourselves, it becomes increasingly difficult not to be just that.
So, if you’re hiding something because you’re afraid – don’t be. The people who love you will accept that truth. Those who don’t will fall slowly out of your life and it will be to your own benefit. You'll find that those who leave you will also leave room in your heart for a new community of people who truly love you, for you.
Remember ya'll. There's always an upside.
Thinking back on my life, I realize now that I’ve always struggled with anxiety, even as a child. I didn’t really know how to label it back then because as a kid, you have no idea what’s going on in your head or why you’re feeling the way you do. Anxiety is not a term people just throw around in daily conversations either. Even if people recognize it, they don’t usually talk about it. As far as I was concerned, I was an over thinker. I was easily stressed - detail-oriented – high maintenance. These overwhelming qualities I had were personality traits that were a part of me. I was that kid who couldn’t go to sleep unless my bed was made in exactly the right way. I experienced actual, breath-taking frustration when things weren’t the way I wanted them. People reminded me on a daily basis that I was difficult and dramatic…and I was choosing to be that way. As I understood it, this was something I was doing to myself.
It’s interesting to look back on these moments as I grow to be more in touch with my emotions. I never really knew all of my sleepless nights and insecurities were a result of my anxiety until I got to college and had to figure out a way to take care of myself. Years passed and I grew more and more aware of the fact that it wasn’t necessarily normal for me to be overwhelmed to the point where it got in the way of my daily functioning. I've cried and laid awake at night simply because of one small thing someone said or a bad grade, and I recognize now that it's because I’ve been dealing with anxiety my whole life. It’s only been within the last few years that I’ve been able to acknowledge this part of me and learn to live with it.
It’s crazy to think that the simple act of admitting to myself that I have an anxiety problem has helped me more than any coping mechanism or self-care technique I’ve ever tried. I have anxiety. And it’s okay for you, the one reading this, to know about that part of me. Having anxiety doesn’t make me less important and it surely, doesn’t make me weak. I get worried about things that are small, sometimes I’m unable to complete daily tasks because my fear of failure is so intoxicating, often I panic about nothing or spend hours fixated on one issue, and other times, I isolate myself because it’s easier than facing the uncertainties that life brings. In my head, I paint every situation to be more serious than it actually is and I don’t always have control over that.
It’s anxiety and it’s real. There’s been no bigger step forward for me than acknowledging how anxiety plays a role in my daily life. As I’ve grown to accept it and embrace how life works for me, I’m better than I’ve ever been before. Now, when I feel anxious, I am able to recognize those feelings early on. I accept their presence but don’t let them take over. I fight anxiety with exercise and writing because that’s what works for me. Unapologetically acknowledging this part of myself that I’ve always been afraid to reveal to others has helped me become stronger and better at coping. My anxiety is no longer something that defines me. It is there and it will always walk with me, but now, when it wakes me up in the middle of the night screaming loudly in my ear, I shout right back. My anxiety is part of me, but it will not break me, it will not control me, and most importantly - I will not apologize for it. It is who I am and I'm okay with that.
Life is tough, especially in your twenties. We’ve all been there. Let’s see - you’re in that sucky bottom-feeder job where your pay stinks and hours are long, you’ve moved some place new and don’t have time to meet people your age because of that crap job I just talked about, or maybe you’re just eating cookies out of the box every night because life is stressful and chocolate chips are a good solution to most shitty situations. Whatever it is, we’re hard on ourselves. Life can get busy and it’s easy to forget to focus on yourself. So, here’s a few, quick changes you can make to your daily routine that will help you pick yourself up and keep those happy juices flowing.
Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it before and I’ll say it again - get up and get moving! Set your alarm for that god-awful hour of the morning before the sun is up if that’s what you have to do to fit this in. I promise that if you keep it this up consistently, you’ll feel happier and more energized despite that hour of sleep you may be losing as a result.
TWO: Take vitamins.
You’d be surprised how helpful vitamins can be for our mental health – especially B-Complex. This stuff is gold. B-complex vitamins help your body convert food into energy. Taking these is not only good for you, but it will give you that extra kick-in-your-step you’ve been searching for and provide you with the energy you need to live a happy, fulfilling life.
THREE: Take more bubble baths.
We’ve got to get clean right? Showering is a normal part of our days already. Why not add a few bubbles and scented candles to the mix and really soak up that YOU time? Baths are not only amazing, but they help with deep muscle relaxation. Hot water can ease muscle cramps and prevent those tension headaches work is probably giving you. In fact, if you really spike up the temperature, a bath can serve as a natural detox - activating your lymphatic system and helping your body to sweat out toxins.
FOUR: Eat healthier.
Research actually shows that eating healthy is a protective factor when it comes to anxiety and depression. Meaning – if you eat unhealthy you’re actually more likely to be anxious or depressed and making this particular lifestyle change can prevent that. This one can be tough – veggies are expensive and sometimes stress makes you want to snack on something a little more satisfying than let’s say, a bag of kale chips. Luckily, if you can resist the urge, this change requires very little added time to your day, as it’s important to eat and you simply just need to swap out that junk food for something more nutritious. This change will up your energy and make you feel better about yourself. Pair it with that exercise and vitamin B-complex and you’ve got yourself a confidence cocktail!
FIVE: Leave work at work or set some boundaries.
Pick a time, anytime, and never allow yourself to work past it. This can be difficult, especially if you’re in a taxing job and it requires a lot of hours outside the office. However, if you’ve ever been in a job that consumes your entire life, you’ll know that nothing good comes from working all hours of the day. You’ll find that if you cut yourself off at a certain point, you’ll actually be more productive when you are working – as you’ll be less exhausted, less frustrated, and more effective at your job. This change also has the potential to make you more successful in the workplace, as you’ll be fully invested when you are working and less likely to burn-out.
For some reason, we live in a world where people spend more time breaking others down than they do building them up. Going to a therapist and talking about mental illness are particularly taboo subjects. People, myself included, often filter their therapy experiences out of social conversations. Here’s why we should stop.
Reason #1: Needing someone to talk to is normal
We all have challenges. Whether you are living with mental illness or it’s just one of those days where nothing is lining up in the way you feel it should, we could all use a little support in our lives from an unbiased and judgment-free third party. People are social beings. We crave love and support from others, often repetitively searching to have our feelings validated while life continually falls short of that expectation. A therapist provides a relationship that we cannot get elsewhere – as speaking freely about our problems to friends and family is sometimes paired with another challenging emotion – whether that is fear of judgment, feeling that you have become a burden, or disappointment when a loved one doesn’t have time to listen to you at all. Social relationships are complex, often making deep, emotional conversations difficult for you or for the person you love. Having a therapist as a sounding board, with no strings attached, offers a repetitive, consistent security blanket that is not easily replicated in other areas of life.
Now, don’t get me wrong – talking with friends and family is important and has perks that you won’t get from a therapist either. The love a human receives from social relationships is incredibly valuable and cannot be replaced. However, it is often helpful to have someone to talk to whose sole purpose is to focus on you, your problems, and your goals. Even more importantly, it’s okay to need that and it’s okay to want it. A lot of people do. You should be proud that you have found an effective way to satisfy your emotional needs. Most people search their whole lives for a way to do that. Mental health is no joke and you have chosen to commit time to building your self worth. There is strength and power in that.
Reason #2: Secrecy breeds pain
Nothing good comes with a loaded secret. Think back to those times in grade school when you lied about where you were and got in trouble for it or said something negative about someone else only to have it circulate around and bite you right back. Secrets hurt. People keep them because they’re worried about what will happen if they get out. The anxiety, sadness, concern, and guilt that is often paired with a secret eats away at the human consciousness and puts a barrier between you and your sanity. Hiding the fact that you’re in therapy is no less excruciating than that.
People hide what embarrasses them. They box up what makes them vulnerable because building a wall is much easier than explaining the ins and outs of your emotional self. But what if we stopped being embarrassed about it? What if we decided right here and right now, that it’s okay to talk freely about the things that bring us deep, sometimes unbearable pain? Emotions aren’t anything to be embarrassed about. Everyone feels emotions; some people just express them less often. And those deep, dark emotions – the ones that no one talks about: depression, anxiety, misery - those rock-bottom emotions – are the ones we need to express the most. The pain that you feel is real. It’s okay to embrace it. Being scared of it and feeling guilty for being miserable will only add right on to the feelings of loneliness and isolation that you’ve come to therapy to battle in the first place.
Reason #3: People won’t ever understand what they’ve never been exposed to
More often than not, people don’t know how to respond to dark, deep-rooted emotions. In fact, some people feel those emotions and don’t even know how to understand them in their own lives. Part of this comes from this world’s sucky track record for oppressing those with mental health challenges and exiling others whose lives don’t live up to “societal expectations.” More often than not, the people who seem closed to hearing about your therapy experience are the people who’ve never met someone who’s been open about therapy before.
It’s vital to break down this barrier so that people can learn to accept those around them, regardless of whatever shitty situation someone is walking through or not-so-sparkly story they are telling. Part of breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness and therapy is being open about the real parts of it – the good, the bad, and ugly. Trust me, there’s so much relief in speaking freely and uncensored. We also can’t expect those who have never experienced therapy to be immediately open to or understanding of the concept. The first step in evoking empathy in others is to share the real truth you’ve been hiding. In order to get to a place in the world where people who are hurting can shout for help from the rooftops and find the support they need, we need to be truthful. Our openness about therapy will help others feel okay asking for help.
Reason #4: It’s not as uncommon as you think
I promise you, if you start talking about therapy you will find people who are right there in your shoes – people who’ve cried about what you’ve cried about, people who’ve laughed at the things that make you smile, people who’ve found frustration in the same things that turn your stomach inside out. There are more people in therapy than you probably realize. The thing is - they are hiding their experiences too. It’s easy to feel alone in your therapy journey because no one’s talking about theirs. Start mentioning it in your daily conversation. People might do a double take at first, but I promise friends will fall into your lap that you never thought you’d have and people will find comfort in the real you. You will grow to be confident in yourself because you will be embracing all that you are and not hiding a huge part of yourself from the world anymore.
Reason #5: Your bravery will inspire others
You’re scared. I’m scared. Honestly, most people on this earth are scared about something in their life. Committing time to therapy is a brave thing. Sitting in a room with someone and consistently verbalizing the very things that shake you to your core is the definition of strength. There are few things more difficult than exposing your heart to the world, for that is the deepest, most emotional part of our inner selves.
Being open about therapy will not only give you a sense of relief, knowing that you no longer have to hide a huge part of yourself to satisfy some messed up social norm, but it will also give relief to others. As you change the way you speak, the people around you will grow to be open to their own emotions too. As you embrace your truth and share that with the world, the world will open around you and people will start to find strength in you. People will start to be comfortable in their own skin and the world will continue to grow as a more accepting and kinder place full of people who are not afraid to show their true colors. There is beauty and joy in helping others find strength in their lives as you continue to find strength in your own.
Featured quote: "What is stronger than the human heart, which shatters over and over and still lives." -Rupi Kaur
Trigger Warning: This blog may discuss topics related to mental illness and trauma that could be potentially triggering. If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please click the link below for 24/7 support. Dial 911 if you or anyone you know is at immediate risk to yourself, themselves, or another.