I was walking through the airport the other day and saw a woman standing in line at Starbucks who clearly wasn’t feeling her best.
She had such a look of forlorn sadness in her eyes, it broke my heart.
I offered to buy her a coffee and she seemed taken aback. “No, no no… that’s so nice. But you don’t have to do that.”
“I want to,” I said. “You look like you need it.”
She smiled shyly, grabbed my hand and said, “Thank you so much. I needed that.”
As we stood next to each other at the cream and sugar station I could feel her sadness. One of the hardest things about being empathic is feeling other people’s emotions—but in this case, it was a gift. I asked her what gate she was going to and if she wanted to walk with me.
“I’d love that,” she replied and in the 10 minutes we had together, I learned a little bit of her story. She admitted she had a tough holiday. It was the anniversary of the death of her father. She had been feeling depressed leading up to it and had a big breakdown on July 4th.
I shared that it would have been my seventh wedding anniversary that weekend so the holiday is also hard for me every year. She shared how after five years of her father being gone, she thought it “should be getting easier” but it wasn’t. I shared the same expectation I had of myself.
We were two strangers who just got each other.
“I’m realizing it’s okay to not be okay,” I said. “I’m too tired to keep pretending.” It’s like being on a roller coaster and expecting myself to not be scared when the coaster goes barreling down a huge dip at 100 mph. Yes, I know it’s coming, but it never prepares me for the knot in my stomach I feel every time it comes.
Sometimes these chance encounters with people are just what we need to feel okay with where we’re at.
We live in a society that encourages us to be positive, let things go, move on, be grateful for what we have, and strive for inner peace in times of stress and turmoil. And I think most of us try to do that. Nobody actually wants to be unhappy, which is evident by the thousands of best-selling self-help books and speakers out there teaching us how to transcend this stuff.
But what we often forget is that feeling the icky, uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable feelings are a part of life and essential to our spiritual growth. We can’t be in an eternal state of bliss all of the time. We can’t expect ourselves to never feel stressed, depressed, hurt or angry. But what we can do is be honest with the people closest to us about our suffering.
And then ask for some support.
We learn the most about ourselves and the people in our lives when we’re not okay. When we’re in those messy, complicated, self-defeating emotions that feel so oppressive, we think we’ll never be happy again.
We get to notice who shows up for us when we’re at our worst. Who checks in, picks up the phone for the 10th time to listen to us cry, reassures us it’s okay to feel the way we do? It gives the people in our life an opportunity to be there for us, to show how much they value us and what we bring to their lives by being there during these trying times.
But more importantly, we learn the most about ourselves. I hate to admit that I’ve never learned anything truly valuable about who I am as a person when my life is going amazingly well other than I like to dance around when I’m really happy.
But at my worst…I’ve marveled at the woman I am inside. I’ve become 10 times greater each time I’ve been forced to pick myself back up from another setback or disappointment.
I think most of us can say that about ourselves. We see what we’re really truly made of. We see what other people are made of when they knock us down and hurt us. We start to make better decisions about who we allow into our lives and what kinds of things we’re willing to put up with.
We stop hiding who we are and how we’re feeling by dropping the false pretense of “I’m great” when we’re not. When I walk past a colleague at work and ask, “How are you?” I don’t want a canned, “Good, how ‘bout you?”
I want the real. I want them to tell me if they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed or don’t want to be there today. I want them to be honest that their weekend sucked and do I want to grab coffee and go talk. Give me that.
Because then I feel that it’s okay to not feel okay myself. And isn’t that where real healing and emotional intimacy with others begins? With the truth about what’s really there and what we need from others to help us pass through it?
Give me that…give me that any day.
Author: Dina Strada
Editors: Catherine Monkman; Nicole Cameron