She woke up with a silent scream.
The room looked strangely alien. A blanket of darkness, punctured by thin slivers of light from the street lamp outside. And empty. Terrifyingly empty.
The 5-year old stumbled out of her bed, the nightmare still fresh in her mind. Hands stretched out, she tried to find the door. And couldn’t. Each time her hands hit the wall, fresh tears would start trickling down her face. She screamed for her mother, which came out in a strangled, choked whisper.
Finally, she dragged herself back to bed, curled up and cried herself to sleep. Hating her parents for making her sleep alone like this. Hating her infant sister for taking her place beside her mother. And terrified of the knowledge that this is how it is going to be from now on.
The next morning, when her parents asked her if she slept alright, she nodded her head, with feigned nonchalance. Yes, it was alright. She was alright.
Because deep down, she had started feeling that she needs to grow up now. And toughen up. Grownups deal with their issues themselves, right?
And that is how it continued to be. Over the years, across 2 decades.
What’s wrong? Nothing.
Is something worrying you? No, nothing important.
Is everything alright with you & … ? Yes, all good.
Do you need me to get it for you? Don’t bother. I’ll get it myself.
Through every failure, every anxiety, every heartbreak, every fear, every longing, every guilt and every sadness – she was fine.
At least in front of the world.
There’s no reason to bog others down with details. I can handle it. I can survive it. I’ll get over it. I’ll figure something out.
It’s almost intoxicating, being self-reliant. Or at least believing that you are.
Once you get used to looking out for yourself, comforting yourself and being your only confidant regarding matters that you’ve kept buried deep in your heart, it’s difficult to imagine someone else doing justice to that role.
Each time you rock yourself to calm after a nauseating bout of anxiety, put on a smile when your insides seem to be full of splinters, cry in the dead of the night to make sure no one gets a whiff of your sadness or Google a How to… article to get over your nagging self-doubt – you convince yourself that you are enough for you. That there’s nothing that life throws at you that you can’t handle.
The catch is, it gets tiring after a while. All that self-reliance.
Yes, you are good at giving yourself the pep talk. But…maybe it’d be nice to hear from someone else that they believe in you.
Yes, you can hold yourself steady when you’re hurting. But…maybe it’d be nice to have someone else be strong for you, while you get to be all over the place.
Yes, you can handle this problem on your own. But…maybe it’d be nice to have someone else help you out and save you from overexerting yourself.
There’s a lot you can do on your own. If you’ve lasted this long on Earth, then you definitely are a survivor. But, that doesn’t automatically mean that you don’t need other people.
Why are we so hesitant about depending on others?
Because we fear being let down by them.
For some of us, leaning on someone takes a lot more courage than going it alone. Because for us, it means letting that other person see our vulnerable core and opening up to the risk of not being liked for it. It means letting go of pride and coming across as a human as frail as any other.
And most of all, it means breaking this life-long conditioning we’ve had of suffering in silence.
The ones who suffer in silence are often the people you least expect to be that way. Often they are the most vivacious, assertive, funny and confident people around. And yet, they have this secret world of theirs that even their closest pals have no clue of.
You know how they say misery is addictive? It is. Suffering in silence magnifies the pain and over time, that very pain becomes addictive. Because it’s familiar, comforting in an odd way. Then, you don’t want to share it with anyone. You don’t want anyone to know about it because it feels too personal. Also, you’re convinced that no one will get it. What do they know about how I feel?
Stop trying to be a calm martyr when you want to scream your head off. Stop gulping down the burning resentments because you think it’s your and only your problem. Stop putting on a brave face when your heart is shattering into pieces.
And start leaning on someone. Start with one small confession – no, I’m not fine. Share one worry that’s eating you up. Let that first tear drop in front of someone you trust.
You don’t have to go through it alone, you know?
Being a grown up doesn’t necessarily have to be synonymous with suffering. Being a grown up can also be about learning to be kind to yourself by accepting that you need help. It can be about letting others love you when you’re at your worst. It can be about not assuming that your moments of weakness are a burden for your loved ones.
In other words, being a grown up can be about learning to lean on someone and not be ashamed by it.
Take it from someone who is used to being her only go-to person – nothing comes close to the feeling of finally letting it go and leaning on someone, and them catching you.