One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is to look okay.
Hell, looking very fine and having your emotions in check could probably be one of your worst decisions. It is incredible how this works.
I’ve been told that I’m so good at looking the opposite of what I’m going through. Apparently, I’m so good at it that I even fool people close to me. How did I get here? It could be a number of things.
For starters, perhaps it is my cultivated disdain for any appearance of weakness or neediness. It could be my unfathomable desire to always downplay things that are going on with me and prioritise or upscale others around me. It is as though I am choking with guilt every time I focus on and verbalise the things happening to me. It could be the nagging sinking feeling that truly nobody cares. So, why raise alarm if it’ll only earn you pity stares and a few whispers of ineffective anecdotes?
I have no certainty concerning the origin of this behaviour, I am most confident that I was not always this way. As a child, I was expressive about both my thoughts and feelings. Somehow, I learnt how to prune the branch of me that expressed emotions. In Nigerian colloquialism, I chest things a lot. It is damaging.
Because for all the seasons I’ve been in and out of depression, people around me were oblivious to my struggles. And on my very bad days, they only gave me shit for having a ‘bad attitude’ or ‘being difficult’ when I was slowly dying inside. The worst, however, are those who minimise my already downplayed problems and try to tell me I have it good so I should not have any cause to worry.
How dare you? How dare you quantify pain, fear, anxiety or trauma? It has no barometer. Na only person wey carry hin eye see shege fit call the weight and size of the shege.
Whether I’m howling in pain from a mosquito bite or an amputation, the bottom line is that I am in pain. You can only imagine it from your experiences but your experiences may be clouded too. What if I have a rare skin condition that amplifies pain in my receptors or severe allergies to mosquito bites? Does your lived experience of scratching a bite spot once invalidate mine?
Why am I here writing this? I am not sure. It could be because I am tired of looking like I’m okay. It could be a gentle reminder to look around you, in your life, and check on those who look okay. It could also simply be my brain helping me process my emotions. Regardless, I intend to stop here lest I overshare (at least, more than I already have).
Recently, someone in our book club said something profound about non-fictional writing. They said it’s like putting your life on display and inviting others to ‘criticize’, or ‘comment’. Basically, offer a sneak peek at very personal matters and get opinions from strangers. It is a powerful tool yet one that makes you so vulnerable. It made me shudder and yet tear up a little bit. Because here I am, typing words very difficult to articulate with the hope that they heal others who come across them and maybe, just maybe heal me too in the process.
I may have no control over my ability to look ‘okay’ but I might be able to convince you to take a closer look at those in your life. I hope we learn to be kinder to each other. That we show a little mercy and tenderness. Like Mary McKee and The Genesis said — Try a little kindness.
Love, Ballie 💖
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