I was totally authentic about my life with my friends.
Today I went over to a dear friends house for a late lunch with she and her husband. This particular darling friend has been in my life since childhood, our parents had us in a playgroup together and it just so happened that we grew up and still got along great.
With the superficial world of social media, where people like to pump out pictures and status updates of all the marvelous things that are going on for them, it feels difficult to show up and be completely honest about how hard life has been. When you haven’t seen a couple friends for about six months, it’s difficult to figure out how to respond to the question, “So, how have things been?” Especially when the answer is something like, “Well, I’ve actually spent the last 2 months in bed. I’ve been extremely depressed and I’ve had a difficult time deciding whether life was worth living or not. But other than that, things have been great!”
So on my way over to their house, I was coaching myself for just being calm and asking them lots of questions about their lives and not getting all dramatic with my stories. I had decided that I wanted to enjoy a light saturday conversation and just keep it happy and fun. However, precisely the opposite happened, particularly because these friends are deep and worth confiding in.
We sat down to a marvelous version of homemade taco soup - they carefully checked all the ingredients because they know that I’m a gluten-free eater (Note: not to be called “a gluten”, as I was once named. Indeed, somebody who chooses to not eat gluten is rather gluten-free, not a gluten). That little gesture of accommodating my eating was such a loving action and I so appreciated it. We discussed their home and work, their dog and the high-level updates of their lives. I asked questions and was genuinely curious about what was going on for them. My friend in her gentle way prodded at me to tell my stories as well, because I think she could tell I was keeping it light on purpose. She gently directed the conversation towards topics that were not overly personal until I had warmed up a bit. Then she gave me the opportunity to share a bit more of what was going on with me, and it all came tumbling out.
I wasn’t sure how much detail to share about my family situation. So I said, “Well, I’m trying to figure out how to be diplomatic about this.” to which her husband retorted, “Don’t.”
So, with that little piece of permission, I decided to be completely vulnerable and authentic because I felt like I was in a safe space to share with them. And you know, that was the most deeply connected, loving conversation I have ever had with them. It was amazing to share my story of the deep grieving I have been going through and the feelings of depression that I have encountered, which led to the Joy Experiment. They opened up and shared some of their own experiences with depression, stress and anxiety - the amazing thing is that the more that I talk about this, the more people I discover who have battled this. These issues of emotional survival are so incredibly important to share because you start to realize that you are not alone. So many people struggle with living in such a harsh world, even those of us in developed nations. Although we have food on the table, the most developed nations seem to have the highest rates of mental illness. It seems the more advanced we become, the more detached we become from nature and the forces that keeps one connected to the joyous nature of being in the world.
Our conversation explored the process of seeking out help and addressing the shame associated with saying, “I think I’m depressed.” Going and seeing a therapist and getting some medical help is so incredibly important, whether it be medication or adjusting life habits, there is support out there. We talked about how the working world is so incredibly draining and we all face so much pressure, it is a real curiosity to me that more people don’t completely lose their minds on a daily basis! We are so overly busy and expected to achieve so much - how can you ever accomplish it all?! Not only this, most work environments just expect that you have all the skills that you need to maintain your sanity every day amidst the stress. The particular corporation that my friend endures subjects their new employees to about 100-150 hours of work per week and expects with certainty that these people will burnout within 2 years. Can you imagine being a corporation and announcing to your shareholders that you actually intend to destroy human lives in order to increase their quarterly dividends? If those shareholders really knew what the real cost of business was, I wonder if they would want to support that company?
I suspect that the only reason that this pattern is even tolerated is because it is perceived as the cost of success, this is just the way the world works, or so it seems. But I simply will not accept that businesses must be vampiric in order to produce good work. It seems to me that the organizations that are doing the most soulful, impactful, successful work are paying more attention to being humane. I will be putting a big focus on this topic going forward because I truly believe that lives can be saved by not only adjusting the workplace structure, but also by arming people like you and me with better survival skills for the workplace. Those of us who are particularly sensitive know how hard it is to get through the workweek with all the stresses and demands of simply being in an office environment. Doing work that requires your mind to be in good working order means that your mind must be given the upmost care and support. Tools like Headspace address this beautifully, providing meditation training to help people not get overwhelmed by thoughts and to become the master of their own minds. While I’m on this life-saving journey of my own, I will share everything I can to help people like you and me who are really engaging in the fight for their own life.
And truly, I wish you all to know that sensitivity is such a gift. For all of you out there who have ever been ashamed of the fact that you are affected by the harshness of life, I implore you, never crush that sensitivity. Do not judge it, do not criticize yourself for your ability to feel - it is what sets you apart. The world needs more people who have the ability to care enough to actually feel something! We need less numbness and more sensitivity to the harsh realities of life, and we especially require courage and leadership from those who are sensitive to stand up to the injustices or nothing will ever change and we will perpetuate suffering. Please nurture and protect your sensitivity. Surround yourself with trustworthy friends and people who understand you. Be appreciative of who you are. For the moment when you start to see your own sensitivity as a gift rather than a weakness, it will most certainly change your life and shift your experience from a struggle to survive into journey that can be joyful.