How do you reply when people ask how you are? Most times I go with “I’m fine.” “I’m doing okay.” “Pretty good thanks.” Regardless of how I actually feel.
If I get pressed on the matter (like all good perceptive Christians do – “No, how are you really?) I’m not left with many options. Either I lie (bad), cry (usually not appropriate in most situations) or fly. I like that last option – I’m a terrible liar, and although I’ve tried crying a few times, I’m not a massive fan of letting go at every opportunity. Flying isn’t that literal however, although turning into superman and disappearing off into the sunset would be the best way to escape a conversation. The one I normally use to escape meaningful conversation though – to flee in the opposite direction towards sanity and happiness – is “I’m fine”.
‘Fine’, as put nicely by Emma Scrivener, it the verbal equivalent of “Look! A Lion!” And then hoofing it before you have to share anything.
Fine is a filler word, it distracts from how you are actually doing, most people don’t question it and it means you can easily run away and find another conversation. It’s also a blatant lie in most cases. I’m tired. I’m sad, angry, broken, confused, scared, lost, overwhelmed. And definitely not fine.
It’s so hard to open up though.
It’s so hard to let yourself be vulnerable. For starters, you go through the whole “Do they really want to know how I feel or are they just making niceties and actually all they care about is getting home to their Easter Sunday lunch and if I tell them will it ruin their day and make everything worse…” etc etc in your head until you’ve missed the opportunity and already said “I’m fine” on autopilot.
If I’m honest, most of the time I don’t want to offload. I’ve spent a lot of time carefully boxing away those feelings. Sometimes it feels like if I loosen the lid everything might explode outwards, just like Pandora’s box, except there won’t be anything left at the bottom, least of all hope. It’s exploded a couple of times at church and it wasn’t overly pretty.
But I’m certain that if you seal yourself off from others with “I’m fine” all those emotions don’t disappear or drift away. They seep out when you least expect it – angry words, self-harm, comfort eating, or whatever it is that does it for you. It’s like cooking pasta – leave the lid off a bit and all the steam escapes nice and calmly. But put the lid on properly and all hell breaks loose, leaving a horrible mess all over the cooker (yep, sorry mum, that was me).
We all have carried a secret at one point or another. The secrets vary in degree, but they are still part of our day-to-day reality. Having the courage to open up about them is the difficult bit – it leaves you vulnerable.
Dr. Brené Brown says: “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. And when you start naming [the cause of your shame] and talking about it with people who have earned the right to hear these stories in your life, it dissipates, because shame only works when it keeps you in this false belief that you are alone.”
When I first told my friends about my depression I felt pretty vulnerable. You know that sinking feeling you get when you go too high on the swings and the swing drops away beneath you? Or when you go over a bridge too fast in a car and it feels like your stomach has ended up somewhere at the end of your left shoe? So I felt a bit like that. Thankfully they reacted with love and kindness (cheers guys) and I no longer felt quite so alone.
Telling the internet was a bit of step up from my best friends. At the time I was all “Yeah this is great, I don’t care about everyone knowing, it might be helpful for others” etc etc. Then the realisation of what I’d actually done dawned on me… Feeling vulnerable was a bit of an understatement. Thinking about it now though, I realise that worrying about it was a little ridiculous. Firstly because I could have just edited that first post, or deleted it altogether, and thereby removed the problem. And secondly because it doesn’t actually change much. Will my admission change people’s impressions of me? Maybe. Will it have been useful for other people? Quite possibly. Has it changed the way I live and interact with others? Not at all. Has it changed how God views me? Never.
That was the difficult one. Telling God. Which is silly, because he already knew anyway. But keeping it a secret from Him, the shame I felt because of my weakness, that’s what kept me running away. I was hiding in the garden from the God who already knows I’m vulnerable, naked, broken, and in need of rescue.
Psalm 139:7-10 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
We are made in the image of God and that in itself is pretty special – being me, with all its flaws and brokenness, is nothing to be ashamed of. He “knows the secrets of our hearts” (Psalm 44:21). When we trust God with our secrets we can re-establish that intimacy which we were previously running away from. When you share a secret with a friend, a weight is lifted off your chest. If you feel that way with an earthly relationship, imagine the difference telling God will make! He sent his Son down to earth, who died and rose again (so mind-blowing and the ultimate case of being vulnerable) so that we might be saved from all of the rubbish, the mess and the secrets we have. So don’t worry, be thankful, and be vulnerable.
So I guess, even though I’m not fine, I’ve admitted it to myself, to my friends, and my God. Yeah sure I regret those decisions sometimes, but most of the time it doesn’t matter – I know I’m loved regardless. And being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing, it just deepens my relationships with others and with God.
So I guess my final question is this:
How are you? …No, Really