You know how when you buy a new car, it seems that suddenly, everywhere you look, that same car is there? It’s strange, but as soon as you slapped your insurance sticker on the licence plate, you realize that you’re not the only one who had your idea.
You probably chose this car because it’s unique. Maybe it’s flashy, or maybe it’s understated – either way, you chose it because it’s uncommon on some level. You’re exceptional and not like everyone else, so you chose that car to parallel that.
But it turns out that you’re not the only one with that car after all. There are tons of other people just like you, who didn’t choose a Mazda 3. Those fuckers.
As soon as you think you’re the only one, others like you come out of the woodwork.
Same goes for mental health issues. You think you’re the only one, but the reality is that you just weren’t paying attention. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of people out there just like you. You just have to be deep within it to notice the numbers.
I felt very alone before I started writing here a month ago. It’s just as well that I have social anxiety, because misery hates company anyway. But as I delved deeper into this online world, I learned a lot. If I look up the hashtag “anxiety” on my blog reader, I find hundreds of blogs on the subject. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with them all! And when I started my Instagram account? I was blown away with how many similar accounts are out there. Mental health warriors like me are out there – they’re everywhere. Maybe they’re in the deep end of the anxiety pool like I am. Its omnipresence is overwhelming and interlaces itself into every aspect of their lives. Some just throw out a #panicattack after an acute flare-up. But look for it, and you find that people everywhere are struggling. They’re everywhere.
Recently I learned that my go-to esthetician wasn’t working full time anymore. We aren’t friends per se; since I’ve been seeing her for years, we do have a bit of a relationship. We have chatted about our personal lives a fair bit and I do think she thinks of me as more than just a client.
But her new schedule struck me as odd because she was previously a cyborg who was working 15-hour days and had a management role in the salon. My mental health radar was beeping.
I thought I’d drop her a text. Just in case something was up. If nothing else – was she working elsewhere? My eyebrows are very important to me.
When this girl text me back, I learned I had been right: she was working part time due to work stress and burn out. I obviously will not get into her story here, because it’s not mine to share.
I offered her my words of support and told her if she ever needed it, I can be a good listener. She thanked me politely and graciously.
When my appointment time finally rolled around, I was a little nervous to see her face to face. I was freaking out that I had overstepped a boundary. Who am I to barge into her life, assuming she’s not happy or something is wrong? Did I make her uncomfortable? Did I make it awkward? Would I need to find a new eyebrow girl?!?
My need for great eyebrows is apparently stronger than my anxiety.
Once we were alone, I timidly asked her how it was going. A nice, gentle, normal conversation opener. She also took the safe route and asked me a similar question. I realized quickly that this was 50/50. How could I expect her to feel safe if I lied and told her life was great and everything was “fine”? If that’s how I would proceed, she would surely follow my lead and the mere exchange of pleasantries would be the extent of our conversation. There’d be no depth. We’d do nothing but grimace behind our masks and add to the stigma that the tough shit in life is something to be ashamed of. That we need to convince everyone that everything is fine. That talking and being real is not okay.
That’s not real life. I wanted her to feel safe. I wanted her to feel normal, and not alone. So instead of telling her things were “fine”, I took the first scary step forward and told her things were going okay….. but that I was off work and on stress leave so things were not perfect.
At least I got to do this while laying on a table with my eyes closed. Which was awesome since eye contact is fucking impossible for me.
To my relief, she took the same scary step and opened up. She spoke about what she was going through too. I think perhaps it evoked a sense of relief for her as well. Our conversation was not long, but we both rattled off such a mirror image of thoughts that it actually made me smile. We even tentatively made plans to get together for coffee or wine and have a real girl date.
I was on a mission for the greater good and her wellbeing. But an amazing side effect was that I ended up feeling better about myself. I hope she did, too, but it made me realize I am not the only one in my life going through tough times. We all know your 20s are for learning and making mistakes, but apparently your 30s are for falling on your ass. And if you’re brave enough, talking about it. Opening up about it. And that can lead to healing and growth.