When we’re struggling, it can feel like we’re the only ones who can’t seem to get it right. Like everyone else is rowing their boat in the exact direction they want to go and we’re swimming in circles without any boats in sight. I’m here to tell you though, you are not alone in your struggles. All of us are struggling in one way or another, or have struggled in the past. It’s not always obvious because most people walk around like they have this life thing figured out. But in reality, we’re all just figuring it out as we go.
Part of the problem is that we see all of our own lives and not much of anyone else’s.
This has the unfortunate effect of making us feel like we’re the only ones having a hard time. Because if we don’t see it then it’s not happening. But think about it this way…how much of your life do other people actually see? And of that portion, how much of it is “behind-the-scenes” footage?
Ultimately, we see what other people want us to see. Some may give us a peek into their inner world, into the hardships they have had to endure to get to where they are now, but it’s never every single moment of their lives. Even those people who seemingly post everything on social media still have aspects of their lives that you never know anything about.
By contrast, we’re there for everything that happens in our own lives. Those times when we say something that changes a relationship forever. The times when we lose someone and don’t feel like we can go on without them. We’re present each and every time someone excludes us. And we see every moment that we question our worth, our sanity, and our very existence. We have a front row seat for all of it.
The thing we have to remember too, is that most people that are going through something put on a mask when they are out in public.
We as a society have been conditioned over the years to “put on a happy face” whether we’re actually happy or not. Admitting to anyone, even those closest to us, that we are struggling with something is often seen as one of the worst things we can do. The phrase “fake it til you make it” has been twisted and taken to mean that we have to constantly be fake, and never let on that we’re hurt or angry or sad.
What we see is a snapshot, or a short movie, of other people’s lives. One that is perfectly crafted to only show what they want us to see in that moment. What we hear are phrases like “I’m fine” or “I’m great, how are you”.
When the truth is…we’re all dealing with something, or have dealt with something in the recent past.
None of us go through life without encountering some form of hurt, anger, or overwhelm. I’ve personally dealt with anxiety, depression, feeling left out, and feelings of being completely useless as a productive member of society. I go through periods of self-doubt quite often. I rarely feel like I fit in and most times I feel like I’m either too much, not enough, or somehow simultaneously both. I’ve experienced loss, betrayal, heartache, and disappointments more times than I can count on one hand.
I’m not telling you any of this to try to make you feel sorry for me, or to say “look at me, I struggle too”. Rather, I want you to know that at least one other person in this world is dealing with, or has dealt with, what you are dealing with now. Each of our unique circumstances are different, but the feelings are much the same. So even if no one in your immediate time and space are struggling right now, know that there are others out there who are, and who have.
A few other things I want you to know:
1) Know that just because you don’t have it as hard as someone else, doesn’t mean that your experience, and your feelings, aren’t valid.
I’m sure you’ve met those people that say, “it could be worse”. You may be one of those people that use that phrase a lot. If you really think about it though, things could always be worse, no matter what situation you’re in. While that is comforting to some people, others use it as a way to say, “get over yourself, you don’t have it that bad”.
And yes, it could always be worse, but just because it could be worse doesn’t mean it’s not bad. It doesn’t mean that what you’re going through doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean that your feelings are any less valid that someone else’s.
2) Know that you are stronger than you think you are.
I can’t tell you when things will get better. But I can tell you from experience that you are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for being. Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes it feels downright impossible to go on. But go on you must because we need you in this world. There are people who are looking forward to meeting you, people’s whose lives you will change, that you haven’t even met yet. There are others out there who feel just as alone as you do. And you, with your unique mixture of life experience and personality, are exactly what those people will need.
3) Know that you can still make a difference in the lives of others, even when you aren’t feeling your best.
Helping others is the quickest way to see that we aren’t alone in our struggles or in general. We each have a unique light within us, even if it feels dim at the moment. Seeking ways to shine that light, even in the smallest of ways, can make our lives and the lives of others better. It can also help us to process what we’re feeling and move through it.
Maybe you create art and can do so as a form of therapy, but also give it to people to make them smile. Perhaps you’re a stress baker and you can share what you make with people who could use it. Write letters to someone who can’t get out and about. Cook a meal for someone who needs a helping hand. Or simply smile at those around you. You don’t have to be fake in anything you do, but reaching out to other people, even in the smallest of ways, will help them.
4) Know that, even if you are physically alone, you are not alone in this world as a whole. There are people out there who care about you and who want to help you.
When you’re having a good day, reach out to other people.
I say, “when you’re having a good day”, because on days when we’re overwhelmed with our struggles, the thought of talking to another person can be too much for us. But on those days when we’re feeling better about things, it doesn’t sound quite so scary.
Telling other people what you’re going through can be a tremendous help. Not only does it allow you to process things and get some of it out of your own head, it also gives other people the chance to support you. Then, on those days when you aren’t feeling your best, they can do what helps you the most. They can send messages of encouragement and love, bring you food, or simply come and sit quietly by your side.
If you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel comfortable (or safe) talking to, reach out to a counselor, a mentor, or a therapist. And keep reaching out until you find the perfect person to help you in whatever situation you are dealing with. Don’t give up on yourself.
I’ll leave you with this, from “The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig – because it really was a comfort to me when I read it, and maybe it will be for you as well:
“A therapist once told me that the most common complaint he heard from his patients was the feeling that they didn’t belong. The feeling of being an imposter, or of being outside of things, of not fitting in. Of failing to connect easily with people. I found this as assuring as it was paradoxical. That one of the most common feelings among people was the feeling of not fitting in among people. The comfort, then, is the weird truth that in one sense we have most in common with others when we feel awkward and alone. Isolation is as universal as it gets.”