(This article was first published on Medium.com on Jan. 21, 2016)
Hi. I’m Sylver, and sometimes I don’t think everything is going to be okay.
Now for me, that was a big thing to admit. And at first, I wasn’t going to.
But this is a very important thing to say — in the form of a strange, hopefully-sensical article about masks, anxiety/depression/illness, the movie Inside Out, and what happens when you don’t acknowledge when you’re hurting.
Because for the past several… years, really — I’ve been making a very concerted, very definite, very difficult effort, to behave as though I’m always happy, the stable one who’s ready to help, and basically Okay.
And it’s not lying, exactly. First of all, because largely it’s true — and it will be truer again, I know. I love the people in my life, I have a wonderful small family and circle of loved ones, and very big network of friends and acquaintances, and they bring me a great deal of happiness. The people around me are amazing, and have done so much to keep me healthy and safe. (And probably, by this point, are a little worried about me. Sorry.)
Secondly, pretending everything is fine is, to an extent, something a lot of people do. We all have different versions of ourselves that we present in different places and there’s nothing wrong with this. The only time it gets out of balance is when you don’t let yourself admit you’re in pain or sad, or that there’s a problem at all. (Pixar made a whole movie out of this. Hello, Inside Out!)
(I actually have a lot more to say about Inside Out — for a later article. It’s kind of an incredible movie. But too much to get into here.)
Anyway, we do this all the time. Usually, it’s fine. But sometimes, “Being Okay” gets… Challenging.
Especially if you suffer from the devastating one-two-three-four-five punch of depression/anxiety/chronic illness/malformation/pain/neurodivergence/PTSD… Basically, a lot.
Especially if you’ve been trying to keep it up without end, for years.
Which brings me to why I’m writing this. I might not be as ‘Everything Is Going To Be Okay’ as I’ve been trying to seem. For myself, at least. (I still firmly believe it for everyone else — I just have trouble seeing it for myself. See how that works? That’s one of my brain’s favorite tricks. Neural Dissonance. It helps to know the name.) And now that I’m realizing this, and what I’ve been doing, I think I can help myself be better. And you. Which is STILL what I’m here for.
My avatar on a lot of sites is a Harlequin mask, and has been since I was around 13. I think subconsciously I picked that for a reason. Mostly I just thought they were pretty, kind of an *~*aesthetic*~* but now I’m thinking it had another reason I didn’t even realize until now.
Because I have been wearing a mask a lot, in public. I think we all do. It’s a survival thing. Fake it ‘till you make it. Try to believe you’re okay. Try hard.
We all wear masks. And they’re not always lies. There is a difference between a mask and a lie. Sometimes your mask can be your highest expression of truth. (I’m a Theatre Person. I have a lot of Thoughts about masks.)
And this particular mask — happy, creative, enthusiastic, hopeful— really isn’t a lie, because ultimately it is who I am. The lie part only came from when I tried to pretend that I was still feeling that way. Or do all the time.
See, hope has always kind of been my deal.
In a way, I think I built a persona about optimism — no, that implies I did it deliberately. I really just tried to live my life hopefully. Free of pain and fear, I’m happy, friendly and generous, and basically overflow with joy and energy and enthusiasm and hope for the world, which is increasingly kind of awful and frightening. Maybe it’s my way of fighting back. My life isn’t easy, sure, but I try to find the joy in it — hell, I try to find “The Sylver Lining,”
like my screen name a lot of places. It’s not just a clever wordplay, It’s a literal reminder to myself, every time I see it — find the joy. Find the hidden blessing. It’s just getting harder and harder to do lately.
So I write self-care blog posts and inspirational articles about writing while you’re sick and depressed and in chronic pain, and try to help others find the good parts in their lives and in themselves, even when they’re suffering, and basically try to help everybody feel safe, and maybe even a little hopeful, even in the worst times.
I even wrote a book — which is indeed full of a lot of Dark Stuff, sure, it’s a dystopian novel, people suffer — but the overarching message, the actual stated “Arc Words” written on a T-shirt and the hearts of everyone in Chameleon Moon — and mine at the time of writing it — are “Everything Is Going To Be Okay.”
Because that, most of all, is what I think is most important to remember. Even when the world is a dark and horrible place. You gotta remember why you’re here, what’s most important to you, and why you want to keep going. And that you’re loved, and that this too will pass. And that it’ll be okay.
Well, that’s started to get a little harder to say.
Because for me… and probably for a lot of you… that’s increasingly not true.
Mostly because I got sick. Those chronic illnesses. Got slammed with them all at once, about 3–4 years ago. My “Mask” has been… trying to act like the Old Me. (Or maybe just Actual Me, because I don’t really feel like Me anymore.) Back from before I got sick. My pain has been getting worse for several months, so of course that’s been getting harder.
So whenever I tell someone it’ll be okay and that the world is good, it feels a little more like lying. When I tell myself everything’s fine, it feels even more dishonest. And that’s effecting my happiness and creativity, and because I’m not admitting it, it’s basically The Worst Secret Ever.
You might feel this way too. Especially if you spend your life trying to stay positive and help others and cheer them up. Sometimes that can actually make you (and me) feel better when nothing else does. At least if you can’t help yourself, you can help someone else, right? Isn’t that worth something? (Oh God, please, let it/my existence be worth something…)
Yeah. That kept me going for a long time too.
I’m in pain. All the time. In my body, and my brain, from chronic, degenerative illnesses that I will always have. Those will not go away.
There are people who would very much like me to stop talking and disappear, either because of who I am, or the things I say. They will always be out there, and they will always be angry. They will not go away.
There are many things, inside and out, that are pressing down on me as surely as my throat closes when I go into anaphylactic shock, and as painfully as when someone comes at me with bigoted words. And they will not go away just because I tell myself they will.
And even if they did… Ultimately, who cares? They’re hurting me now.
My pain is valid now.
Everything is not okay now, and to silence myself and lie — both to myself and the people around me — that I’m totally fine, will not make anything better.
But what will make it better is acknowledging it. Accepting it. Giving it dignity and respect.
Because no, sometimes everything is not okay, sometimes everything is absolutely shit awful and you can’t see anything good about it, because your damaged or imbalanced brain won’t let you. Sometimes real people come at you from every possible angle and say you do not deserve to be alive, or just turn out to be much different than you thought they were. Sometimes you physically cannot breathe because your body is actually trying to kill you, and nobody will ever understand this, and sometimes they do not even try.
Sometimes this happens. It does.
And it makes you feel exactly how you would expect.
So feel it. Embrace it. Maybe feel it first, before it builds up too big and intense, and devours you whole.
Do you see what I’m getting at here, why I wrote this? It’s not just to confess my reality, or even to get my feelings out (though I guess I am, a good bit of that). It’s to say a couple things that I really hope helps someone else, because that part, I was never faking:
1) Someone can appear perfectly happy — or genuinely be happy in some ways — and also be struggling and in terrible pain. It happens all the time.
2) If you are making an effort to smile when you are in pain, it’s not lying, it’s survival.
3) Therefore, don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t need any more pain.
4) But it’s still important to avoid doing this, and release and express your feelings instead of denying them.
5) Otherwise everything ends up worse, you can become someone you don’t really recognize.
6) And maybe worst of all, nobody even knows this is happening except you, because it is… The Worst Secret Ever.
Fun fact: this wasn’t the article I was going to write this month — it was supposed to be an uplifting and encouraging piece on self-care, and how whatever you need to do is okay. So I guess this might be a form of self-care anyway. Admitting when I’m not okay. Not forcing myself to always be the happy helper. My brain has been a very dark, scared, and hurting place lately, and it can’t help anyone if I don’t address all its dimensions, even if I would much rather be the person everyone else thinks I am. (Nobody misses the old me more than me.)
So yes. Sometimes It’s Not Okay, Sometimes It Sucks.
And you know what? That’s
FINE. YOUR AWESOMENESS LEVEL DOES NOT DEPEND ON THE STABILITY OF YOUR MENTAL, PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL HEALTH. It’s okay to SUCK sometimes, and do WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO (short of harming yourself or others) to HEAL YOURSELF IN THAT MOMENT OF *SUCKING,* even if that is LAYING ON THE GROUND AND GOING “WELL, THIS SUCKS,” because that means you are ACCEPTING IT, instead of UNHEALTHILY DENYING THE SUCKAGE!
I yell this at you because I wish someone had yelled it at ME! WELL, NOW I KNOW!
Anyway. One last thing. A warning.
One of the most dangerous things about this might seem the most obvious. If someone seems happy… You won’t catch the warning signs. (Unless they have a background in this or some crisis training, or know each other really well; I’ve caught subtle warning signs in friends before.) If nobody knows you’re in pain, no one will know if you need help.
And by then it might be too late. And you’re really fucked.
So don’t make the mistake I made, lovelies. Do not bottle this crap up inside until you have a full Twitter meltdown yelling about how I’m Not Me Anymore, and then write a 3-page article on the subject. Talk to your friends or family or people you trust. (And if you have nobody else, this would be a standing invitation to talk to me. I have indeed talked a lot of people out of a crisis, it’s just one of those funny little things I can’t do for myself!)
If you let the bad crap out, and be honest about your emotions and mental state, even if it is incredibly shitty, accept that sometimes it just sucks, or that’s how you feel, and how you feel is valid — and let people know when you’re not okay…
Then everything really might be okay.
(And if it’s not? THAT’S OKAY TOO.)