We were driving, and it must have been in Germany because I was looking out of the right-side window. Most likely we were on our way to an airport, where my dad likes to drop me off, and I let him because we have our best conversations on drives to and from airports. And our best silences.
I was worried about something, and I bet I had just finished a long monologue about all the things I wasn't coping with. Exhausted, I watched fields and trees pass by outside in a dark green blur. 'Does it ever get easier?' I asked. 'Being a grown-up?'
A burst of laughter escaped my dad. And that was that.
Some years later, I decided to read up on a diagnosis a few mental health professionals had offered me. I'd rejected it back then, but things hadn't gotten better, so I ordered a book with the term "Survival Guide" in the title, because that sounded non-judgmental and hands-on. About halfway through, I came across the paragraph that changed things:
The important thing, it said, was this: the thoughts will always be there. I would always experience feelings of worthlessness, emptiness and hopelessness. What I would be able to change was my reaction to these thoughts. I could continue to act on them, or I could learn to treat them as background noise. But I was not to consider myself a failure if I continued to experience negative emotions, because those are a part of life.
These two stories have nothing to do with each other. What they have in common is my immediate reaction in those moments: that feeling of being released. That intense feeling of being released from the pressure to be something impossible.
Because we're not meant to have our shit together 100% of the time.
We live in a time of constant self-improvement and self-optimisation. We create highlight reels of our lives on social media, and there is a danger of wanting to do that in daily life as well. After all, we're grown-ups, right? We should have it figured out! Everybody else seems okay all the time, so I should be okay all the time!
But being a grown-up doesn't mean that life's struggles don't touch you. Being emotionally healthy doesn't mean never having a single negative thought. We're all human, we're all fallible, and we make mistakes and we stumble, and sometimes we fall.
Today is Time To Talk Day, an initiative created by Time to Change, a movement that aims to end mental health discrimination. The goal is to remove the taboo from the topic of mental health and turn it into an everyday conversation topic.
On days like today, Facebook and Twitter are full of posts like 'If you're struggling, let me know! You can always talk to me!'
These posts annoy me to no end, because they put the responsibility on someone who likely already has enough to deal with and doesn't have the energy left to seek you out for an uncomfortable conversation. Secondly, how can we talk about some hard-hitting stuff like mental health issues when we can barely talk about the day-to-day struggles, because replying anything other than 'I'm good!' to someone's 'How are you?' feels like a social faux pas?
Struggle is a part of being human. Why don't we talk about it?
I'm not talking about dumping our problems on others – I'm talking about sharing. About acknowledging that we are just people and that we can't always be happy. I do my best to be positive as often as I can, but the fact is that my brain is wired in a way that causes me to believe that I'm a flaming pile of trash with glasses. On days when that belief is loud and heavy and takes all my energy to carry it through the day, I just want to be able to say 'Not so great today. How are you?'
We don't need to turn everything into an Issue that requires tea and A Conversation. I simply want to stop using my spoons on little white lies just to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable with my humanity.
You are allowed to be not 'fine'. Negative emotions are a part of life, and not acknowledging them in ourselves and others is to deny a large part of our shared human experience.
Please let's all be kind to each other. Be open to really hearing about what's going on in other people's lives. You don't have to carry it for them. You have to acknowledge it, and see it, like you want others to see you.
It'll make us all feel less alone.
And if you don't believe me, listen to Susan David: