It seems like I’m running into more and more people who are working hard to destroy themselves, from the inside out. I used to be one of these individuals; still am, in some respects. But I’m fighting hard against it and wish others would too. But it’s not so easy to do in our ‘self-made’ society.
Recently I was walking across a wind-chilled parking lot with a business associate after a meeting. As we shivered and made small talk, I noticed my colleague’s face held a distinctly troubled expression, and it wasn’t from the cold. Me being me, I asked how things were going. What I got in response was shocking - not because I had never heard a story before such as hers. Rather, because of the way it came pouring out. It began as a trickle but steadily grew until what came at me surged with all the force of a tsunami.
As her conversation washed over me, I became stupefied. Not minutes earlier we were sitting in a group meeting discussing issues related to community change. Now I was neck deep in a personal drama so painful that it made my head spin. I thought, how could a person who was holding so much inside be so visibly calm in a meeting. The answer was obvious: because she had to.
Like so many people, she was overburdened with responsibilities of the family. Trouble is, no one person should have to carry so much alone. Yet as she talked, I could tell that was the case. So much was happening in her life that she felt solely responsible for, and I could feel the pressure of it all crushing down on her spirit. The things she was dealing with at home regarding her family seemed impossible to cope with alone because they involved too many other adults.
Although it bugged me she was carrying this load all by herself, what bothered me more was that she wasn’t allowing herself to feel what she was going through. She was holding it all in and shared with me a refrain common to all people who move this way in the world. She told me she had to keep things inside in order to ‘hold it together’ and deal with her problems. Trouble was, I sensed she was nearing a breaking point.
Now, I know more than a little bit about holding stuff in. Until the last few years or so that was my preferred method of operating in this world. I never shared my problems. Nor would I express how I felt. Mr. Spock was my role model and he would’ve been proud. I held in my emotions. I was being strong. Hogwash. I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be that way and that it’s okay, even healthy to share with others you trust.
I barely knew my colleague in the parking lot but took a chance and gave her a big hug. She readily accepted, and the frigid wind was replaced by a soul-warming understanding between human beings – if only for a moment. Hopefully it was enough.
A lot of us are grinding ourselves into the ground, because we’ve bought into the myth that successful people ‘do-it themselves.’ They don’t. Everyone has help. Everyone. For some reason, most don’t like to admit it. I guess when they do, the entire mystique about being ‘self-made’ evaporates and all you’re left with is a hard working person, instead of a super man. Or woman. And in the end, is that really so awful a thing?