Why can we only handle truth in small doses?

I have never been particularly interested in blogging about films I’ve seen, or interesting anecdotes about my day, or travel, or food, or anything marginally trendy. I’ve only ever been drawn to write about deeply personal things, feelings, and experiences. Which is why there are often long gaps between my posts, because sometimes it’s impossible to do that without sharing something intimate or private that also affects someone else who might not want to share so openly.

One of the things I have written about a few times is polyamory. Partly because it’s been a huge part of my life, but also because, for the most part, I’ve had an amazingly encouraging response to those posts. Not amazing because tons of people liked them or they went viral, but because a small handful of people quietly admitted they felt the same and didn’t know it was ok to say so. That me and my partner ‘normalized’ the lifestyle in their eyes. To me this was amazing. By being honest about our choice, we actually impacted other people’s lives and their perception of what is acceptable. We never set out to do this, but it meant a lot to realize we did for a few. For me it’s never been about advocating a particular cause, but more about saying it’s ok to just be who you are and to speak your truth. You should be able to do so without judgement or trying to fit a mould. Sadly, that’s not always the reality we live in, but that’s the dream.

Ironic then, that I don’t always speak my own truth. I’m very happy to stand up and challenge the norm on a political or social level, but find it harder to be open about my true feelings in everyday life. A few months ago, I went through a very painful separation from my fiancé. Actually he was my fiancé, best friend, and soul mate to be more accurate. Our relationship was always complicated for a number of reasons, but underneath all of that, I always felt our connection was so real and so deep for me that it partly defined me and gave me purpose. Any challenges we had behind closed doors profoundly affected me as a result. I was sure that people had some inkling of this, but was surprised to find out retrospectively that very few people had any idea of the challenges we faced or the toll it took on either of us. But why was I surprised? I spent a huge amount of time and effort hiding it. Because both of us feared judgement or embarrassment I suppose.

Since the split I have been through a rainbow spectrum of emotion. People regularly ask how I am, or how my weekend was, and nearly every time I reply with the default, factory response of ‘great, fine, wonderful,’ or some similar vagueness. The reality is often somewhat different, but it’s not ok to say ‘ it was shit actually, I cried my way through Saturday’. The honest truth right now is I am lonely, and grieving, and in more pain than I ever remember being in (save for one particular year that shall be sealed into Room 101 for eternity). I’ve spent many recent occasions hiding in my car or a toilet somewhere because I felt safe to cry there, heaven forbid another human should know I was having an emotion.

This kind of emotional self-censorship is something we all do regularly, almost without question. But why is it so unacceptable to admit when we are sad, frightened, lonely, or angry? Emotional truth seems to be more palatable in small doses or with a complete white-wash. It is tricky when someone offloads unexpectedly, and you aren’t armed with the ‘right’ thing to say to console them. Sometimes other people’s emotion makes us uncomfortable. But does that come from a misguided sense of responsibility to fix it? If someone is sad, should we console them so they cheer up, or should we try to be comfortable with just allowing their emotion to show? Often, emotion will run its own course if we let it, but we don’t always feel we should ‘let it’. Sometimes we even mock someone for offloading. How many times have you asked how someone’s day was and they replied with ‘terrible’ and followed with a string of ailments or grievances, and you’ve thought, ‘jeez, I was just being polite’. Guilty as charged, I’ve thought this myself, more than once. I wonder if I’d have still thought that way if it was seen as ‘normal’ to be emotionally honest.

The other day I was at a gathering with friends. I’ve been looking forward to this gathering all week, because (to reiterate the having of an emotion) right now I’m still quite lonely after the split, and time with close friends is precious to me. They often tease me for trying to arrange so much social activity, but I find too much time by myself difficult right now. True to form, I make a joke of it, but in reality it’s my band aid on a broken arm. Anyway, during the course of the gathering something caused me to wobble and I spent a solid half an hour trying desperately not to cry. That kind of ‘trying’ where there’s a lump in your throat and a stray tear escapes, and you try to style it out by pretending to scratch your face and secretly wipe it away, and you know there are a hundred of his mates raring to go behind your eyes. Eventually I left just so I could go to my car and let it out. Afterwards I was devastated that I missed the end of the evening. They are kind people and they would have understood, but I couldn’t help thinking I would ruin the fun if I got emotional. The trouble is, you can’t stick a cork in an emotion, and trying to contain it only magnifies it. I wish I had been brave enough to speak my truth in that moment. Sorry if you’re reading this guys.

So in the hopes it helps even one person struggling, or suffering, or feeling anything they are keeping to themselves, I’m going to be brave enough to speak my truth…albeit from the remote safety of my computer. This year has been the hardest time I have ever been through. And I’ve been through my share of crud. I feel like I lost part of myself, and I can’t imagine it ever growing back. I am painfully lonely and lost right now, and I do a really good job of dressing that up with a smile and a joke. But I’m not such a tower of strength as it might seem; I fall apart at least once a day behind closed doors. Some days I feel let down by people I used to feel close to, and other days I worry I am becoming a burden to those who have stood by me because I take up so much of their time. All any of us want is to feel loved and to belong, but you can’t manufacture that feeling unfortunately. I can’t stand the thought of my ex-partner feeling sad or lonely and some days I’m consumed with worry for his feelings. BUT, I know my sadness, worry, and grief are normal. I lost so much this year it would be insane NOT to feel this way. I am trying to learn to be comfortable with these feelings until they pass by themselves, as I heal and move on.

Having an astounding array of emotions is what makes us human and unique and we shouldn’t feel the need to hide them all the time. So, if you are hiding something or struggling quietly by yourself, please know you’re not the only one, and emotion is a normal human response. It will shift in its own time, and you should allow yourself to experience it without judgement. From yourself or anyone else. And when someone says their day was ‘fine’, maybe it actually wasn’t, but talking to you about it might just make their evening a whole lot brighter.

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