Have you ever shared your story and watched people, grimace, or pull away or worse pick up their phone half way through you sharing the toughest parts of your life? Yeah, I swear these people don’t think you see their reactions on their faces, or sense their defensiveness, judgment or complete shock. Somehow they believe they have a giant mask hiding their emotions, and facial expressions. No matter how many times I tell my story, my heart still beats a little faster, and my palms sweat and my anxiety creeps in not because of my story, but because of what the person listening to my story might think.
Starting a new school, developing new friendships and sharing your story with others is intimidating and part of new social situations. Most of you don’t dream of sharing your story during lunchtime at Chick-fil-a with screaming toddlers surrounding you, but that’s the latest place that I shared my story. This time the response was much different, but it reminded me of a time when I shared my story and the response was one of judgment and fear. I’ve come to realize it’s OK to be uncomfortable or awkward when it comes to talking about your struggles with mental illness. It’s never going to be an easy conversation to have and honestly the awkwardness is usually coming from the person listening to the story, not the one telling it.
I’ve grown comfortable with my story making others uncomfortable. Between years of therapy, struggles with anxiety, and depression, loss of friends, loss of a parent, suicide and postpartum, my story is a hard one. This isn’t to say that others haven’t experienced much worse and I should be applauded, just to say it’s not like everybody else’s. It’s true that I have experienced far more than the majority of the people my age, but there are plenty that have endured more hardships and experienced things I will never understand.
For a long time what I’d been through made me uncomfortable and I found it hard to relate to my peers. Their problems either seemed completely trivial or annoyingly immature. Unfortunately, my response to my peers wasn’t always the best. Instead of just owning who I was I either judged them for being so sheltered or was aloof and looked down on them. Neither of these responses is something to be proud of, but so goes the journey of growing up and figuring things out on your own. Life skills 101.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to embrace what I have gone through, and now as time has passed I have come to enjoy lite conversation and talking about the day to happenings and “struggles.” It feels good to be able to engage in this type of conversation and that my life is currently defined by hardships. I can navigate my way through social norms much easier than I used to BUT I have definitely come to realize the value of being in relationships with people that are raw and a little “colorful.”
My life has been colorful, full of so many left turns, more like hairpins if I’m honest, but you get the gist. We need to learn to embrace not just our journey, but how that has shaped our view of life. You can’t judge people by the hand they have been dealt. If we don’t want the judgment for who we are as a result of what we have been through, we can’t judge others for their lack of understanding about what they haven’t been through. Part of embracing who we are is being OK with not everyone understanding. We all are guilty of ignorance about certain things, and while it isn’t OK to stay there there’s no need to be angry with someone who can’t relate.
Part of taking away the stigma, is being comfortable with having tough conversations. We need to learn how to sit at the table and just listen to someone’s story. Their worldview has obviously been shaped by what they have endured or experienced. Be open to hearing their story just as you have shared yours. Part of God’s creation is that we are all different, we are unique and we are God’s masterpiece. If we are each a masterpiece than no two masterpiece’s are alike. Enjoy the creativity of God, and know that everything we’ve been through will be used for the benefit His kingdom and the comfort of those we walk through life with.
Have you had similar responses to sharing your story or am I the only one?
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Eph. 2:10 NLT