I’m often curious how others perceive me. At work this past week, I’ve been used as a manager, mediator, problem-solver and substitute therapist… yet every night as I left work, I had to fight the vivid thoughts of suicide. Am I really that good at hiding my internal chaos, that people don’t see the stress that I am under; or do they not care?
The nature of my dissociation, means that I can compartmentalise and hide the chaos. Just like everyone else, I have a “work face” that I present to those around me. But even with each “face” we present to the world, things show through. Over the last three months, my eating has become more of a problem… to the point that my jeans are now, literally, falling off me. Isn’t that a visual clue of the chaos that is going on behind the scenes? Yet, no one mentions it… making it like a dirty secret that exists in plain sight.
I became curious about this, after reading We must see past what it seems… a post about Melody’s struggles after her husband suffered a brain injury, and they were forced to sell many of their possessions. When they put their farm equipment up for sale on their property, a neighbour complained about the eyesore it created… Melody’s husband response –
“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”
When did society, as a generalisation, stop caring about the people around them? I know the research behind the disintegration of the community, and the individualisation of the population… I get that… but it also makes me sad, and more than just a bit frustrated.
In her blog post, Melody asks what would happen if we each wore a sign which told of the struggles and fears we are facing. Would seeing such a sign change the way in which we act towards each other? I’d like to think it would, but would it? For a start, would the signs we wore be honest? Part of the reason why we have a “work face”… “party face”… “school face”… etc, is so that we can protect ourselves a little from the harshness of the world, and to fit into the group that we find ourselves in. So would you want to wear a sign saying “I’m going through a painful divorce” (one of the signs on Melody’s blog post), in all of those situations? I doubt that many of the signs we would wear would be G rated, or appropriate in all situations.
So what is the alternative? One of the big things for me, is something as simple, and complex, as respect. If we respect each other, then we don’t need to wear any signs, because we’ll be treating each other as individuals with unique needs, wants and problems. We’ll be seeing each other… really seeing each other. Seeing past the protective sarcasm, to the hurt underneath.
Of course, if we did this all the time, or were particularly empathetic, then our emotional reserves would be constantly running on empty… but I do think there’s a balance. I think we can treat each other with respect, without losing ourselves in the process. I once read a story about a domestic abuse survivor who used to go to her children’s weekly sporting events with evident bruises… she said that many of the people there would look at the bruises, and some would come up and ask why she didn’t leave her partner, even offer to help her leave. But the one person who made the difference, approached her, and simply said “I’m here if you ever want to talk”. There was no judgements or advice, just a respectful opening. There was no promise of help, or saving the woman, but a respectful, gentle opening of a door.
It’s this sort of respect that can change lives.
How many times when you were a child, did an adult get down to your level, and really communicated with you? I don’t remember one incident of that happening to me, and maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything… but maybe it would have… who knows?