By Melanie Sue
There is a question I get asked every day, and it’s a question I have answered with a lie more times than I can even count. More times than I’ve lied about seeing Inception. And I would bet my life that you’ve lied about this question as well.
“How are you?”
Personally, I almost always answer, “Good, how are you?” It’s actually more like one word with rises and falls of inflection: “Goodhowareyou.” It literally doesn’t matter how I’m feeling or what I’m doing—it’s “good” and then I flick the conversation back to you. Even if something horrible happened that I plan on telling you about shortly, I always preface it with “good.” I could be sobbing in a pool of my own vomit on the side of the road, and if you asked me how I was, I’d probably answer, “Good, and yourself?”
I don’t know why this is, but it seems like we humans are conditioned to always be in a state of ease. Happiness and satisfaction should be our default settings, and if we’re not there, then something must be terribly wrong with us and it must be corrected ASAP. But since it’s terribly unfashionable to show that you are a complete emotional wreck (unless you are a reality star), we never share our malaise and it never gets resolved. It just festers below the surface until it reaches a culmination point, and then you’re inexplicably crying in the middle of a bro bar and a friend graciously buys you drive-thru McDonald’s to alleviate the mysterious meltdown you just had in front of a hundred strangers.
Maybe that’s only happened to me. But I’ll never know unless I share it. And that’s a huge consequence of always being “good:” we become certain that we are the only ones who don’t have it all together.
I once read a quote that said if everyone dropped their biggest secrets on the floor, we’d all be scrambling to pick our own secrets back up before we traded lives with someone else. If we could truly see everyone else’s struggles, we might be more compassionate with others AND ourselves.
While I don’t think we should be ranking or comparing our suffering, I think there is something to that quote. If we could realize that everyone has secrets and insecurities and unresolved feelings, we wouldn’t feel so ashamed of our own. And we wouldn’t have to feel so isolated in our own lives.
And this is all pretty commonsense. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that no one has a perfect life. But why do we feel the need to put on a happy mask in public and hold it together when sometimes all we need is to unravel in front of someone else?
I’m not suggesting you unpack your emotional baggage to every unsuspecting soul who dares to politely ask how you are. But we need to stop thinking that admitting that we’re not okay is a huge burden on everyone else. You’re not a machine; you’re a human life, and human lives are messy.
I don’t know about you, but I know that for most of my life, I haven’t been able to open up to people. Even when people are begging me to let them in, I am still convinced that they don’t truly want to know how I feel. Sometimes when I begin telling someone about an upsetting or difficult experience, I start to feel like celebrities making speeches at the Oscars. There’s so much I want to say, but I can hear the symphony orchestra playing, telling me to wrap it up. We can’t be here all night listening to me ramble on. The other person might be listening intently, but I still feel like I need to give them the abridged version before they get bored or annoyed.
It’s amazing how much we can value other people’s feelings over our own. We’re so quick to discredit how we feel or say it’s not important. Spoiler: your thoughts ARE important, and it’s okay to not be okay. You have permission to feel feelings. You don’t have to stay sad forever, but don’t label yourself weak if sadness finds you.
The more I look around, the more I see that everyone is trying to process something. We are all moving on or hanging on or letting go or going forward. When I think of the people who truly inspire me, I don’t think of heroes who always wear a plastic smile and have an effortless existence. I think of people who are raw, honest, and real. I think of people who overcame adversity, or even those who still show up every day when they are outnumbered by their obstacles.
When I’m face to face with burnout and disappointment, a perfect life seems tempting. But instead of brooding, I am forced to reassess. If I lived in a world without challenges, I wouldn’t have my favorite songs. My favorite books would never have been written. There would be no art. There would be far fewer stories. There would be much less passion.
My life would be good, but it wouldn’t be interesting.