The world asks us all to put our best foot forward. To be fun, to be chill, to be cool, to be strong, dependable, easy to get along with.
Work demands our game face. We’re competing constantly. At all times on display, being assessed, critiqued, counted on. Competing every day for the chance to bring home groceries again next week. Even when we’re really good at competing, we always know we’re one misstep from it all being taken away. So we tread carefully. We hide our struggle.
Our friends and families may be a little more understanding. But when we show our weakness, sometimes their pity and patience only last so long. Some of us just can’t be bothered with another’s feelings, but I think far more often, it’s just that we’re fighting our own battles, too. And sticking around to watch his battle might make hers a lot harder. So when we overshare, over-need, our lifelines start to distance themselves, and we quickly learn to hide our struggle at home, too.
Hiding. Always hiding. Doing fine. It’s all good.
But please, look closer. We’re deep creatures. With deep happiness, but also with deep sadness. Deep fear. Deep pain.
And the constant fear that our deep feelings will get us kicked out of each other’s good graces means that our fear and pain and sadness and anxiety and depression and trauma and stress and anger and panic and burnout and insecurity and heartbreak get deeper and deeper and deeper. Because it’s dangerous not to hide.
So when you see a smile, look closer.
When you see success, look closer.
When you see beauty, look closer.
When you see laughter, look closer.
Sometimes you’ll find the smile is real. Sometimes you’ll find that underneath the smile, there’s a dam about to break. Sometimes you’ll find that the smile and the struggle are both very real together.
And sometimes, the person you were most sure has it all together, turns out to be barely holding on. I feel like I see this again and again and again.
So please, practice looking closer.
There are happy people. There are healthy people. There are people without mental illness, trauma. People who aren’t as fragile as others. People whose smiles are a lot deeper than their frowns. I think.
But what I know is that if you’re willing to look closer, you’ll be surprised how many of us are broken.
The longer I live, the more I see this vision of an earth crawling with a bunch of anxious creatures who just desperately need someone to give them a hug.
Brokenness isn’t all there is. There’s beauty and happiness, adventure and connection, accomplishment and excitement. There’s so much good in this world. It’s the stuff that we talk about all the time! That thing went well! Way to go at this! Look where I did a thing! We don’t often hide the good stuff.
So please, when you see the good stuff, don’t forget that underneath may be someone who really needs you to ask if they’re a little broken, too. Someone who might need a hug, a smile, a shoulder, a chat.
What about you? What are you hiding?
We’re all in this together, friends. Let’s be brave: Hide less. Hug more.
And every chance you get, take a closer look.
P.S. And if you can truly hear this yet, please know that your brokenness is okay. You are exactly you, and that is a good thing. So maybe “broken” is the wrong word…
Yesterday I felt really upset and sad that I got a concussion last year. A year–seems like this should be done now, right? When I had my first concussion, everything felt pretty normal again a few months later. This time, it’s been almost a year, and I don’t feel like myself.
I think the last of the physical and mental effects wore off months ago–at least the effects directly from the concussion–but I’m still trying to get past the after-effects of those first effects. Like when you go from running miles and miles every week to suddenly hardly being able to go for walks. Now my head isn’t keeping me from going for runs. Now I just can’t go for runs because I lost so much strength and didn’t realize how slowly I needed to work back into exercise, so I screwed up my back. And I’ve discovered along the way bad habits I’ve always had that have made my back so weak and vulnerable to begin with. Or now my head isn’t making the world seem foggy, confusing, or dangerous. But all the days and weeks and months of extreme anxiety added up and left me feeling scared and on edge and a lot more emotionally vulnerable than I used to feel.
Yesterday all I wanted to do was go to the gym or go out for a run, but I felt self-conscious and weak and frustrated, and running isn’t the healthiest exercise for my back these days. I thought about how fit and active I was a year ago. I had worked hard to be as healthy as I was. It was great. I was always up for anything! It was a part of my identity. Why the hell did that day have to happen? It still sucks.
One silver lining is that all the anxious days made me pay more attention to myself deep down, though that doesn’t always feel like a good change. Another silver lining is that I think I feel more compassion and acceptance than I used to–for myself and for other people. I guess I get that no matter how much you wish you were exactly your dream self, sometimes life has other plans. Or sometimes life just throws a curveball at you, and not everyone is going to find the strength to head in the right direction every day. Some days just giving in to the weakness or the pessimism feels like … well it doesn’t feel good, but it just happens anyway. Like eating your feelings. I think I understand even better now, that people don’t just live screwed up lives because they want to, or because they have bad attitudes. People are fragile. Fragile AF. But we’re also strong, so I decided to go to the gym anyway, and I set a few healthiness goals for August 16–the one year mark since I bonked my head.
Silver lining or no, though–sometimes life has its crappy moments. Crappy days. Crappy happenings, that can leave you feeling weak and frustrated, uninspired, lonely, misunderstood, just … sad.
I think we all need each other to understand each other in times like that.
I spent a lot of yesterday thinking of how much my concussion last year changed my life. I felt embarrassed, because … come on. Right? But I know a concussion can mess with your life pretty long-term. Especially repeat concussions. I think mostly they’re not the end of the world. But I think a lot of people don’t give each other or themselves the benefit of the doubt–space to feel and heal.
And it’s not just concussions–and it’s not just a few of us. PTSD, losing a loved one, sexual abuse, auto-immune diseases, bullying, losing a job, miscarrying your baby, depression, addiction, loneliness, feeling betrayed, verbal and emotional abuse, chronic migraines, cancer…
I think it’s always worth telling each other how these things affect us. Being open and honest about the darkness we sometimes feel. And then, like Lyssi helped me with yesterday, helping each other reflect on the good things we still have, too.
I wanted to re-post something I wrote in January about some of the unexpected effects of dealing with a concussion, along with something Lyssi wrote about it, too.
I also want to encourage everyone I know to learn about all the different hard-things that your people go through. And to share your own. We’re all in this together. Nobody has to be a hero. Mostly we just need some love and understanding. So ask and listen, and speak up, too.
If you’re depressed and you stay depressed, you’ll look back at the end of your life and have good memories and bad memories.
If you’re broke and you stay broke, you’ll look back at the end of your life and have good memories and bad memories.
If you’re lonely and you stay lonely, you’ll look back at the end of your life and have good memories and bad memories.
If you’re socially awkward and you stay socially awkward, you’ll look back at the end of your life and have good memories and bad memories.
If you’re anxious and you stay anxious, you’ll look back at the end of your life and have good memories and bad memories.
If you’re human, life will be happy and sad. Good and bad. Peaceful and stressful. Exciting and boring.
So if you’ve been feeling low on hope, hang in there. Sure, aim for more of the good and less of the bad. I don’t mean to belittle the struggle. But remember there are good moments, too. I’m sorry there is going to be lots of hard stuff. That feels very bad. Remember, too, that your life is just as beautiful and important and just as much to be treasured as any other.
Your struggle won’t keep you from having the good memories when you’re old and grey. Maybe it’ll even give you an appreciation for the good that others don’t have. And your good memories will matter just as much as everyone else’s, they’ll be just as valid, just as happy. And they’ll be yours. So find the beauty when you can. Make the memories when you can. And when you can’t, hang in there. I promise life is holding some good memories for you.
P.S. You are not alone! So while you’re hanging on through bad days, reach out your hand. And if you ever find your hands slipping, say something! We’re all in this together!
My best friend and teammate and life-person Lyssi wrote this yesterday. I asked her if I could share it on my own blog as a window into what concussion recovery can look like. Really it’s the same sort of stuff as a lot of people go through: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.
For all of us, life can be a lot more confusing, challenging, and sad on the inside than people can see on the outside. I think it’s really good to remember that with each other. So here’s a somewhat vulnerable peek into my world lately.
Also, I have to give credit and say how thankful I am for Lyssi, who has been the strongest, kindest, and most supportive friend I could have ever asked for through this!
To anyone else out there living with stuff that doesn’t show up on the outside, remember you’re not alone! Don’t hesitate to share with me, if an ear will ever help! :)
Look at this kid! He just won first place as an evaluator in a Toastmaster’s competition this weekend. He also just aced his accounting final. Just gotta show him off a lil bit. (Don’t worry, I bought him cheese to celebrate).
While I’m bragging, I’m gonna brag some more.
As most of you know, back in August my adorably happy go lucky life-person jumped headfirst into a sideways tree trunk (turns out wearing a hat can drastically increase your blindspots when mobilizing upwards at significant velocity) and what we originally brushed off as “ouch”, and later “altitude sickness” (we were 4 miles into a 8 mile hike in the Rockies), turned out to be his second concussion in 18 months. That same day he started school. When he was officially diagnosed a week later with a concussion, he took a couple days off work, but stayed in school (even though thinking through things or putting thoughts together or even speaking/remembering what he said or what was said to him was difficult). Though he was told it was a “minor” concussion, the injury has greatly affected his day to day life and the things he is capable of physically, emotionally, and mentally. While both injuries have had obvious initial physical effects, this second one has added a side dish of cognitive effects that he didn’t experience the first time around. He’s had to give up a lot of the things he loves the most, some temporarily, some that remain challenging in surprising ways. He’s been in a lot of physical pain on and off, has experienced cycles of severe anxiety and occasional panic attacks, and had to completely give up all strenuous physical activity for much longer than expected.
Sensory things like noise, or lights, or music, or emotional movies, or high energy people (or people who aren’t high energy but are sharing excitement and joy or anger and stress) often feel overwhelming or threatening and can cause him to shut down physically and emotionally. (This can look like me sharing lots of details about my day or telling a happy story with enthusiasm and a minute later he can go from totally tracking with me to suddenly overstimulated, and in need of calming sensory input. Sometimes he has to lay down and have complete lack of stimulation, take a nap, put on headphones, turn off the lights, stop talking, do something that has a calming sensory affect like deep breathing, meditating, a hot shower, heavy blankets, etc).
A lot has healed and improved in the last couple of months – he has been able to go on a few runs or do some low impact workouts recently, he has worked with a therapist for anxiety, he is more cognitively “quick”, has a little more mental and emotional stamina, and is getting really good grades in his accelerated accounting course 😛 – but a lot of things are unexpectedly difficult. There are stretches of days where it will seem that everything is mostly back to normal, he can go running, he can be around noise, the anxiety subsides to manageable, and things feel “normal”. Then randomly days where trying an easy workout or thinking too hard or processing an emotional or stressful moment sends his brain back into a relapse of sorts (he’ll experience brain “fog”, extreme anxiety and heightened emotions, and intense headaches), sometimes for an hour or two, sometimes for days. This can be frustrating because of how unpredictable it is. Lots of starts and stops and excitement and discouragement and trying and waiting again. He’ll have good weeks with bad days, or good days with bad weeks.
He’s had to relearn how to take care of himself. He’s had to relearn how he learns and thinks and processes and works and relates and finds balance and happiness and peace. So many things changed for him. We’ve had to relearn how to take care of eachother. The concussion-induced anxiety is something that’s hard to talk about sometimes, because some don’t believe it or think it’s being blown out of proportion, because some misunderstand what it is or try to help in ways that actually hurt, because it’s deeply personal and constant and affects everything in life. It’s exhausting for him. Emotionally, but the anxiety also takes a physical toll. We have friends and family who openly or secretly also struggle through anxiety (and depression, PTSD, etc – so many of the things that are still misunderstood and mishandled), and they are some of the most understanding, strong, and kind people we have in our lives. We’re so thankful for them (and to the ones we know but don’t know about, you deserve a shout out too!).
As the person who is there to see all of it every day, it makes me love him SO MUCH and it makes me hurt for him SO MUCH and it makes me SO PROUD of the way he keeps working through therapy, through school, through work, through friendships and relationships, through physical recovery, through all of life. How weird and unsettling and hard it’s been for him to build himself back up into this new person who is relearning strength and vulnerability and safety and peace and love and everything he knew about himself, after a “minor” concussion that from outward appearances hasn’t changed much of anything at all.
Peter has talked openly about some of the struggles he has faced in the last few months, and he’s always honest but completely positive about it. I just want to give him an extra shout out because it is HARD and he’s a CHAMP. And if your person ever suffers long term side effects from a head injury, big or small, obvious or subtle, you have our support and love.
“Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
Every winter the day comes when we box up the Christmas decorations and close the door on the last little reminders of the wonder that the holiday brings. It won’t be long before I start looking forward again to the next first snow and the accompanying cheer. Whenever I’m asked my favorite Christmas movie, I have to say it’s The Polar Express, because it’s about a kid who learns not to outgrow magic.
As well as being a time for magic, jolliness, snowy walks, and hot chocolate, December is also a time where a lot of people who should feel love and belonging instead feel especially alone, confused, and hurt. Maybe your holidays are a mix of both. We’ve all just made it through the holidays and as we return to working full time through the cold, short days of winter, many people are left aching a little more than usual, a little more numb to the possibilities of joy and hope. Seasonal depression is ready to kick in. January can leave us feeling like, “Where did the magic go?”
As we get older and experience more stress and disappointments in a big and confusing world, I’m afraid we tend to lose sight of the little bits and pieces of the world that are beautiful and happy. The constant drip of stress rewires our brains and we might find ourselves daily a bit more “Bah humbug” about it all.
But guys… the magic is still there. I think no matter how much we grow up, if we look and listen closely enough, we can still find it. I promise.
If you’re struggling to find the magic you knew as a kid, you’re not alone. Here are a few places I’ve learned I can find magic. And maybe these will help you also find magic this year–if you look closely…
1. Watch a nature scene for a while. There are beautiful sights all around you. Bumblebees buzzing around flowers, leaves rustling in the breeze, fish jumping, storm clouds rolling in, little spiders, soaring eagles, and silly squirrels, the smell of rain and the burning warmth of sunshine… Nature is free. And beautiful spots are closer than you might think. Open Google Maps and zoom in on the sections shaded green. And if you need any recommendations, let me know! The only catch is: You have to sit still long enough to still be watching when the magic moments happen.
2. Learn to give someone a massage. Even if you don’t go to massage school and become a pro, there are lots of easy books and YouTube videos to teach you some basics in giving someone the gift of a relaxing massage. And honestly, just giving it a shot without any help will still be worth it. The soothing and caring touch of massage can be a comforting and relieving experience. The simplest massage can be an amazing gift for someone you appreciate, and giving that gift can be just as gratifying as receiving it.
3. Read a story from history. Our planet’s history is colorful, intriguing, and downright entertaining. Take a break from the modern world and immerse yourself in tales of Montezuma’s bustling old city of Mexico, fierce raids by the Vandal tribes, or the beautiful arabesques of the old Arabic world. If you don’t know where else to start, try E. H. Gombrich’s book A Little History of the World, which reads like a fairy tale.
4. Cook a recipe from a different cuisine. If you can read and if you can be patient with the slow, imperfect process, you can do this no matter how little cooking you’ve done in your life. And you may find it a delightful (and tasty) adventure! I especially love the idea of experiencing the creation of a meal like another culture traditionally does it. With thousands of recipes online and a variety of ethnic cookbooks at your local Barnes & Noble, and with a little help from Google in deciphering the weird ingredients and tasks–this can be an awesome experience. For Christmas this year we made a few traditional Italian country meals, like linguine with lentils and pancetta. I’m no chef, so it took a few hours, but how much fun (and what a delicious celebration)!
5. Take a simple hiking trip. Guys, here’s the thing: Outdoor hiking adventures aren’t nearly as expensive or complicated as you’d think! Seriously. Big airport hubs like Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas often offer cheaper flights than you’d expect. Or you can rent a car with unlimited miles from Enterprise for a several day road trip. Airbnbs can be way more affordable (and way cozier) than hotels. Local grocery stores have the same food you buy every week at home. You can cover a lot of ground in just a couple days. And nature is not expensive! National Parks are a great place to start–guides and information on experiencing them are plentiful, their trails are well maintained, and park rangers are there to help. Some even have free entry, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An annual pass to all US National Parks costs less than a fancy dinner at a resort. And guys, once you get out into the nature and start moving… and seeing… the beauty you can find in nature is just indescribable. Hiking trips can become the most thrilling memories in your life. (Need any tips? Let me know!)
6. Make some new music. Don’t play an instrument? Can’t get one? Then sing! You don’t have to be a master musician to feel the magic of music. It can carry deep and powerful emotion and can move the toughest people to tears. Try picking up the guitar. Or the piano. It’s not too difficult, really. Or just turn up your favorite songs in the car and belt them out like there’s no tomorrow. Nobody’s watching, I promise. And if you can’t do any of those, find a beautiful piece of music and just sit down, close your eyes, and feel it. Music doesn’t have to become your “thing,” but maybe once in a while you can find magic there.
7. Find an epic make-believe movie. A lot of us adults decide we can’t like “kid stuff” as much when become older. Fantasy and imagination… aren’t those supposed to fade from our focus as we get older? But why not just embrace the fun and the artistry of it every once in a while? Epic visual story-telling can be a genuinely fun experience. Find some unique and enchanting animation. Shamelessly binge your favorite superhero movies and get excited about them. Why not? You can…
8. Have a conversation with a child. Nothing will remind you of the magic all around you quicker than having a chat with a little kid. They see monsters and epic battles and plots and imaginary friends and amazing animals all around them. Christmas and Halloween are just out of this world exciting to them. Accidentally walking into a wall or leaves them in hysterics. Every little leaf is fascinating. And each day is a new adventure. Listen to them tell you about their magic.
9. Start learning a new language. How cool is it to hear someone fluently carry on a conversation in another language? Isn’t it fun to learn how to greet someone from a little country on the other side of the globe? And what a magical connection when you meet somebody whose first language you’ve learned, even just a little. Languages aren’t that hard to pick up. They’re hard to master, but a few basic greetings and common words aren’t too complicated. And it can be loads of fun! Download the Duolingo app!
10. Take a long, quiet walk. Detach. Leave your phone in your pocket, if not at home. Just walk out the door and keep walking. A quiet, peaceful walk can be a grounding experience. Have some you time–time to catch up with yourself like you’d catch up with a friend. Time to think and feel while you’re not racing around accomplishing things. Maybe even bring a friend or two. A long walk can reconnect you to yourself, reconnect you to a friend, or even just reconnect you to the earth that is your home.
11. Make an elderly friend. I love listening to people reminisce about their years and years of unique experiences and adventures, the people and places they’ve known, the happy, sad, or funny things they’ve seen. And I love hearing the perspectives and words of wisdom their lives have given to them. And I love seeing what is truly important to people towards the end of their lives. Try getting to know someone who has lived a long life they’re willing to share with you. Not only can hearing all their stories be fun, and listening to their advice be helpful, but it can be incredibly happy for them to have a friend to talk to when some of their own friends have started to pass on, and their accomplishments have started to fade into the past–it can be a magical friendship for both of you.
12. Try meditating. Just try it. There are as many different reasons and ways to meditate as there are people who do it. Two of the things I love to find in meditation are: A grounded connection to yourself and the real world around you; And an acceptance and “okayness” with the way things are. If you’d like help getting started, look up Jon Kabat-Zinn, who helped bring mindfulness meditation to the west. His books Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses were very helpful for me. His abridged audiobook version of the latter is a breeze. Or check out the Headspace or Calm apps. Or, if you’re brave enough, just take 20 minutes, sit quietly, and stop trying things. Just let things go. Observe. Allow feelings. Be still. If you’re not sure it’s “working,” you’re probably doing it right. Meditation doesn’t have to be about achieving some euphoric state. It’s more about learning to accept–that it’s all okay.
I hope this list has inspired you a little. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of these every month. They’re all easy and affordable adventures. And I promise by the end of the year you’ll have made lifelong memories and you’ll have tasted a little bit more of the magic this life has to offer.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl