You have bad days. Your car doesn’t start, you’re late to work, you miss a meeting – it’s a bad day. You just want to get home, put your feet up and write it off because tomorrow is a fresh start – an opportunity to reset your mind and put yesterday down to “just one of those days.”
Tomorrow you get to work on time, you go into a meeting and give an outstanding performance, your boss pulls you to one side and talks about a possible promotion. You text your partner who wants to take you for a celebratory dinner. You show up to the restaurant and he’s there with flowers and a ring – he proposes to you. Your day could not have gone better. But you go home, and you cry yourself to sleep. You wake up feeling empty. You feel heartbreakingly sad and you have no idea why. You convince yourself he doesn’t know you, because if he did, he would never want to marry you. If people at work knew what you were really like, they wouldn’t promote you. They would fire you.
They would fire you, because you are worthless. He would leave you because you are fundamentally unlovable. But to the outside eye, your life could not be more perfect, and there is no logical reason why you shouldn’t be ecstatic. At your engagement party you fake a smile and tell everyone how incandescently happy you are, but it is all a lie. You smile because you should. You tell people you are happy because that is how you should feel. But you don’t. There is a gaping sadness in you, which is there for no reason at all.
And no one can see it, so maybe it’s just you. Maybe something’s wrong with you. What possible reason do you have to be sad? And you feel ashamed. So you don’t say anything to anyone. Because when you have in the past, they’ve said – “What reason do you have to be sad?” “You should be grateful, some people have it much worse.” “You don’t look like you’re depressed.” “Everyone has a bad day, you’re just overreacting.” So you stay silent. You internalise the struggle. You fight it alone.
How do you explain something you don’t understand? How do you tell people how you feel when you don’t feel anything? And when you do feel, it is an onslaught of self-loathing and unparalleled sadness.
You go into work the next day, and you don’t have the energy to lie. You don’t have the energy to pretend to be okay. So you excuse yourself and you go to the bathroom. You make sure no one else is in there, you lock yourself in a stall and collapse onto the floor, crying uncontrollably. You struggle to catch your breath and you panic because you cannot get enough oxygen to your lungs. You cry more. You panic more. You start to remember every bad thing that’s happened in your life, every negative comment, every failed relationship, every single thing that happened which is all your fault. You cry until your facial muscles cramp, until you can catch your breath long enough to remember where you are.
And you sometimes even calm yourself down by telling yourself it won’t last forever, that you can make it all end. You pick yourself up off the floor, readjust your clothes, wipe your tears and open the door. And someone is standing there. Someone is standing there looking at you. But they are looking at you with compassion and understanding. They are looking at you because even though they don’t understand what you feel, they understand that you are in a lot of pain, and you cannot see a way out. That you are struggling. So they step forward, place their hands in yours, and ask for your story.
I look up at them, fresh tears in my eyes. I prepare to confess. I prepare to hear the same responses that I have heard since I was 15 years old. But I take a deep breath and tell her. I tell her and I close my eyes. Waiting for the disappointment. But she says nothing. I look at her and she’s crying. And she tells me that she believes me. The weight lifts off my chest. The guilt and the shame I had been carrying around for 10 years had almost gone. Because I knew there was something wrong with me, and she believed me.
We go for a drink, and she asks me when this all began. We sit for hours. She asks me how I feel. She cares. She gives me her number and tells me to contact her when I need to talk to someone. It is a lifeline. It is renewed hope that with the help of someone else, I can be better than this. I can live a better life than this. I can overcome this. And it all started when she placed her hands in mine.