Support is a Two-Way Street
I hate the thought of being known.
Sharing pieces of myself with others, even the smallest things, makes me more uncomfortable than I care to admit. When my favorite color switched from yellow to orange, I didn’t tell anyone for months. Even when I did begin to admit it, I started small by just telling my sister. It was another month before I started answering orange when someone random would ask me my favorite color.
I’m constantly on guard when talking about myself, running through every possible scenario before letting a single word slip through my lips. Chances are if I say something out loud, I’ve already said it a hundred times in my head. I never talk about something that I’m struggling with at the moment. I prefer to wait until I’ve figured out a solution or moved on from the issue before beginning to verbalize my feelings on the situation. In the end, I often don’t talk about it at all; I figure there’s no point since it’s no longer a relevant issue in my life.
Because of this acute discomfort I have towards sharing about myself, I tend to have conversations with the people I want to talk to in my head. I’ll talk through my issues over and over again with them, eventually coming to a solution from just mentally reciting the situation repeatedly. Sometimes, I’ll even forget that I haven’t actually told them about the problem. I’ve just talked to them so much in my head that I forget to say my thoughts out loud.
I’ve lived the majority of my life clinging to this state of severe censure, not even confiding in my closest friend about the thoughts going on in my head. After thirteen years of friendship, I’m only now beginning to tell her about things that went on five or ten years ago. It’s even harder to tell her about the things going on now, even if they’re small issues like being stressed about sending an email to a professor. I’ll debate in my head for hours before texting her for advice, trying to figure out if it would be better for me to just figure it out on my own.
I used to think building support with people was easy. I’d become their confidant and we would work through their issues together; I prided myself on being a safe space for all my friends. Eventually, I realized that all my connections were largely one-sided. Not through any fault of their own, my friends had very little knowledge about who I was or what I felt – just how I liked it.
I had learned to trade truths for secrets in all my relationships, revealing only as much as I needed to earn their trust and keep the focus on them without surrendering any truly personal information about myself.
I had built a wall around my heart so high, I couldn’t even begin to see the top.
By the time I realized how disconnected I was from every person in my life, I had no idea how to come back from it. I didn’t even know if I wanted to. After all, I know I can eventually overcome all of the arising issues in my life on my own; I have an extensive history to prove it. Bringing people in, asking for their advice and opinions, exposing my vulnerabilities and shortcomings – it can get complicated. I have to recognize and balance their personal feelings and biases, and, more importantly, I have to accept the fact that they will forever possess that piece of knowledge about me.
What if they think I’m too weak? What if they don’t ask me to do things in the future because they know I’m struggling with this now? What if they see me as incapable?
I can’t be seen as incapable.
My biggest fear was being seen as a static character by the people around me. I didn’t want their perception of my potential to be limited by my past struggles. I didn’t want to be discounted without the opportunity for growth.
It could even be for small things, like telling your family you like peace signs when you’re seven years old and, for the next five years, everything they get you has peace signs on it. At some point, you don’t even know how to tell them you don’t really like peace signs anymore because it’s become such a huge part of your identity with them. It almost feels like a betrayal to admit that you no longer hold that interest when your entire wardrobe looks like it was pulled straight from a 1960’s music festival. If things could get this intense about peace signs, what would sharing deeper, more impactful secrets become in the eyes of the people around me?
Being Alone Isn’t Enough
This aversion to sharing was unsustainable, of course. When I was 17 I got an IUD implant, which immediately threw my life into chaos. While my body struggled to adjust to the changing hormone levels, my emotions became out of control and I was forced to reach out for support.
My mom became my rock as I, a child who had trained herself out of crying around the age of eight, was now a daily puddle of tears. I cried nearly every day – over anything, anywhere. It was like an Olympic-sized swimming pool of teenage angst came pouring from my face all at once.
My mom sat with me through it all – from me