So it’s second period block and I’m supposed to be working on an essay about the government and the economy. But since I procrastinate on writing essays by writing other things, here I am, not doing my gov. essay. This state is my form of senioritis, so, you know, it could be worse.
But we had a really important, really wonderful discussion in rhetoric yesterday that has been tugging on my heart ever since. Jena’s speech, which was fantastic, by the way, graciously criticized people for the tendency to say we are okay when we are not. Like the concept in Robert Frost’s “Revelation” of hiding ourselves away. So after her speech we talked about what that looks like in our senior class, why we do that, and how do we fix it, if we should fix it at all.
We are all guilty of this lie: I’m okay. I’m fine. Whatever is wrong, it’s nothing. Just nothing. No it’s not. And some times people see through it, and ask if we’re really okay. Honestly, if someone cares about you enough to ask that much and be that intentional, open up to them, please. Those kinds of people have become so rare, and they already fight their own discouragement. But, most of the time, people don’t notice. They don’t realize that “I’m okay” is a lie, that your smile is painted on, and that the façade of ‘fineness’ and ‘got-it-togetherness’ that you’ve built is one wind gust away from crumbling to pieces. They nod at your “I’m okay,” say they’re fine themselves, and walk away. Then you’re left fighting your battles, your pain, your confusion on your own. So are they. And you were never meant to be alone.
I say all of this because I am personally guilty of this practice. It legitimately constituted part of my personality for the longest time, and occasionally still does. Sometimes I still catch myself saying in my mind, “paint on your smile, put up the façade, you’re fine.” I used to tell myself that every day as I walked into school. I try to be the most genuine, kind person I can be. When I compliment someone, I sincerely mean it. I intentionally try to make people smile. I am loyal to a tee to anyone who needs me, as much as possible anyway. Sometimes I fall short and that’s okay. My kindness and gentleness and fondness, and lately, unfortunately, my saltiness, that I exhibit toward other people is genuine.
But, for the longest time, I hated my own vulnerability. I hated it when people think I’m not okay. Honestly, I still do at times. So I would put up a facade, daily. So nobody knew. It is only recently that I have come to realize how completely ingenuine (I think this should be a real word, so I’m using it in my writing anyway) that is. Sincerity and transparency and genuineness have to work both ways. Being sincere in my feelings toward others and letting them open up to me, but not opening up myself to them is half-hearted, lukewarm, and not the way I want to live my life.
But opening up is hard. Vulnerability is hard. (Consequently this post is a little stressful.) I mentioned in rhetoric that this year, my senior year of high school, is the first time I have ever cried on anyone’s shoulder. I feel like I didn’t say it very eloquently in rhetoric because I can write, not speak. But I hate it when people see me cry. Not because I don’t want them to think that I’m weak, but because that is way to much vulnerability for me to show. It makes me uncomfortable; I used to feel unsafe. Until this year, I made a goal to never let anyone see me cry. I didn’t, well still don’t, let my parents see me cry. (This is bad, I know.) But no one had ever seen me cry. Until I realized how utterly fake I was being. I was falling apart on the inside, and crying on the floor of the bathroom alone during class was not going to heal me. So for the first time, I let myself fall apart in front of people and it was so freeing. Shoutout to Nic for this. You are my rock and I love you. (And Libby and Sydney and Laura, I thank God for you guys, thank you.)
Being vulnerable like that was so incredibly freeing, but vulnerability is hard. It’s difficult but it’s necessary if we are going to have strong relationships and a unified senior class. Now, I still believe in “fake it ’till you make it.” Sometimes you have to do what it takes to get through. Sometimes you have to just suck it up or else you’ll be stuck in a cycle of stress that gets you nowhere. Fake it ’till you make it because, good news, everything changes and none of these battles will last forever. But that being said, we cannot ignore the aching necessity our society and ourselves have for vulnerability, for honesty, for transparency.
We all know someone, and maybe it’s ourselves, but we all know someone who struggles with mental health or depression or stress. A lie of “I’m okay” is not enough anymore. Pretending to be strong so that you aren’t a burden to anyone else isn’t working. Trust me, I know. We are losing too many lives to the lie of “I’m okay.” You were never meant to go through this alone. We were not made for solitude or isolation, but for relation and genuine human interaction. But this vulnerability has to start with us, with you. You can’t force other people to open up, especially certain people in our senior class. The only thing you can do is take the risk to be vulnerable. Be tender, be open first, and hope that others will follow. Maybe it won’t change all at once. But humans are relational creatures and we respond to the actions of those around us.
So be the first, take the risk, be the leader. And I promise I will try to do the same.