There are days when you feel like an oil spill in the mouth of a whale, when every movement is self-destructive and even your heartstrings are as tangled as the roots of a tree. These are the days when I’m fine isn’t good enough. These are the days when it’s necessary to finally pull up the anchor of I feel like a failure, I need help or even just another hand to hold, I am trying so hard but nothing is happening, this weight is just so heavy and let it rise up to the surface of your body and burst through the waves of disappointment and sadness crashing across your chest.
These are the days when I’m fine is just a pile of stones you need to clear out of your throat before they become a landslide and choke you up.
Honesty is so refreshing. But while it’s happening, it can feel about as refreshing as a hike up Mount Everest. Maybe no one ever told you, though, that “letting it out” doesn’t have to involve letting anything go. It doesn’t turn you into an entirely different person. It doesn’t radically alter your DNA or inject your chromosomes with some sort of corrosive dust. Letting it out doesn’t have to leave you scarred and faithless. Letting it out doesn’t have to leave you with bruises. Sometimes, it can even fade the ones that already remain.
And I know, I know. Most of the time when someone asks how you’re doing they’re not expecting or even wanting to hear anything else besides fine or good. You know that. But it’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they don’t know how to react to someone who is screaming on the inside, their stomach full of a gnarled mess of bats beating their wings against the walls of this person’s skin, someone who would need a C-section just to let all their hurt and not-fine, not-good spill out. It’s that they have no idea how to handle a person who comes up with the startling response of I want to die or This week has left me so crippled emotionally or Just hold me and don’t say anything else.
So sometimes you have to help the listener help you. This can be accomplished through showing as well as telling. Whatever makes you most comfortable- visual or verbal? You can place your palms on their palms, gesture to your lifeline, and tell them that today you wish you could slash it and disappear into the ground. You can make them look you in the eyes until they see every anxiety and fear buried in each iris with claws so deep you’re not sure they’ll ever climb their way out. You can show them a photo of the Big Bang, point to it, and say that’s how I feel today. Or you can come right out and say it directly, no visuals aids, no pointing or motioning or subtext. I feel like shit; I need you to just be quiet here with me for a bit. I’m not doing so well- no, that’s a lie- I’m doing pretty badly. Please help me.
Once the listener hears this, this honesty and truth barreling at them with the speed of a landslide, they’re probably terrified they won’t be able to get out of the way in time before it hits them. But the thing is, you have to let it hit them. You have to let it hit them, full-force, in the chest, because once the landslide collapses into them, they’ll have a much better sense of how you’re collapsing yourself, and why it’s so necessary to understand you and your needs and to help you in whatever way they can. But always remember to be patient. The listener is only human, as are you. They’re likely not going to be a professional, trained crisis hotline operator or licensed therapist. They’re going to have their own struggles and midlife crises and regretted mistakes, just like you. And sometimes, miracle of miracles, they might just be dealing with exactly the same issues you’re struggling with, or at least something similar. So by beginning to help yourself, you can begin to help the other person, thereby helping each other.
Even just the experience of having someone listen to you, not only with their ears but also with their heart and mind, can be such a huge relief. It can begin to clean up the edges of your oil spill, to untangle your heartstrings, to make every motion less painful. It’s a quick relief, not necessarily a permanent fix, but every step counts. And once the listening part is done, and the shock is over, you’re so much closer to I’m feeling better today than you were before.
So spit out I’m fine. Spit out I’m okay, I’m doing alright, and I’m fairly good, thanks for asking. Spit it out unless it truly is the truth. Not into the asker’s face, but into the trash. Or off a cliff, into the sink, down the toilet, whatever suits you’re fancy. Watch it disappear. Then replace it with what you’ve always wanted to say, what you always wished you could say, what you so desperately need to say.
And watch how everything changes.