When I am struggling in my life, my end of the communication line often goes dead.
I do my best struggling alone. I sob, I cycle through the poor me, why me, and when me.
I view myself as alone—always—when I am at my lowest.
Then, when I am ready, I pick myself up and I move forward. For me, it is really when I do my best work, in regards to my own self-awareness, accountability, and empathy.
The problem with this form of struggle is it is painful for those who love us.
Those who love us do so when we are at our best. They love us when we are at our worst. They love us during the in-between, mundane times as well.
We bring them along when we are at our best, we bring them along for the boring, but our line goes silent during the times of struggle.
And this is probably a bit confusing to those who process struggles differently.
What does that say to our inner circle? What are they assuming our motivation is during this time?
This is where things can get sticky—making assumptions.
Those who love us will either assume we are struggling and bear with us or they will take our silence personally and it will create distance. It all depends on what story they bring to the table. It also depends on what story our family has created for us.
Did our family provide a space for us to grieve? Did they provide a space for us to think on our own? Did they provide a space for the struggle?
Do any of us know the right way to struggle? Is there even a right way to struggle? How can we let others struggle in their own way, if we are not comfortable with our own struggling process?
Personally and professionally, I feel the right way to struggle is akin to the right way to experience self-care.
Self-care should energize us, it should feed us spiritually and leave us feeling motivated and at peace for whatever comes next.
Struggling is the same in my book. We all need to struggle because it is how we grow and create space for change. Struggling is an inherently personal journey. We all struggle differently.
Some of us struggle out loud and some of us struggle silently.
My best form of self-care is hiking. In the hiking world, fellow hikers build what’s called a cairn to let us know we are in the right place on our journey.
A cairn is a small tower of rocks that marks the trail.
When you see a cairn ahead, it brings reassurance that you have been on the correct path and continue to be on the correct path.
The cairn brings a warmth to my heart when I see it and reassures me that I’m okay, that I’m just on a journey and I will wind up at the place I am intended to reach. It soothes my anxiety about the journey and helps me to be present within the uncertainty of struggling.
So I thought—what if we took the cairn out of the mountains and brought it into our relationships?
What if we used it as a marker to let those we love know that we are okay but just on a journey?
The cairn could help us to bring clarity to those who process differently. The cairn could help define our motivations for those who don’t understand our unique way of struggling. The cairn could be an offering of sorts to those who love us—an offering of understanding even while we process and struggle silently, we love them just as much.
The cairn could tell them:
I love you, and I am in my thinking space.
I love you, and I am processing.
I love you, and I am where I am supposed to be.
I love you, and I need a little more silence but I will return to you.
I love you, and please accept this as a bridge of understanding between us.
I love you, and please don’t punish me for this silence.
I love you, and need you in my life so please hang on with me.
This communication could be simple—we could send a picture of a cairn by text.
Sending it by text would not only allow us to continue our silent struggle it but it would also support those we love, who love us.
It would be a signal that could break the silence while continuing to support our struggle space.
The cairn honors all forms of struggling, all types of motivation and builds a bridge of understanding.
Those of us who struggle silently owe it to the ones we love to send a cairn, to calm their worries and respect their love for us.
Those who love someone who struggles in silence need to graciously accept the cairn and allow their loved one the space requested.
A cairn is a love pledge. A love pledge that says that while we may not struggle the same, we love each other just as hard and just as continuously. No more explanation needed and no misunderstandings—just space for love.
Author: Kerry Foreman
Apprentice Editor: Jessica Chardoulias / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Flickr/Craig Stanhill