Dear MEL (Mia, Ezra & Lorenzo),
You’re entirely forgiven if you look around at the world and think that you’re the only one in the middle of a struggle.
On top of the ever-growing pile of terrible things we adults unwittingly teach you, please toss the notion that you must project an image of success, perfection and happiness at all times.
I know that your social media feeds show you lives comprised of nothing but sunny skies and lovely food and fun times and awards and trophies and parties and beautiful people and Instagram-ready quotation images about being mindful or wise or centered or blissful.
And when someone actually does have the audacity to be transparent about their problems, we twist the knife by labeling them drama queens, whiners, vaguebookers, etc., until we finally just block them. How dare they air their problems in a public forum? It totally ruins the artisan vibe I was getting from this high-res Pin of creme brulee French toast with organic raspberry jam.
Social media has undoubtedly made the problem so much worse, but the instinct was there far before Zuckerberg’s Facebook landed the final haymaker on Tom from MySpace. Long before we were spit-polishing our public personas several times daily on a half-dozen social networks, we’ve been meetings friends on the street who ask us, “How’s everything with you?” and we reflexively fire back, “Great!” and fire off whatever high points come to mind about the accomplishments and goings-on of our spouses/significant others, kids, parents, etc.
But here’s a secret for you:
We are all liars.
Sure, most people have some good stuff going on in their lives, and I think that slowly but surely, people are trying to be more appreciative of what they do have. I hope so, anyway. I know I am.
But please, make no mistake: Everyone is struggling. If everyone were as happy as they pretend to be, most of our self-help gurus and authors and therapists and counselors would be out of work.
Some people bury their struggles deeper under the surface than others, but they are there. Everyone’s wounded, or afraid, or haunted, or regretful. Or sad, or nervous, or guilty, or anxious. This includes the happiest-seeming people you know, your teachers, your mentors, and all the other people you look up to the most.
They’re not going to tell you about their struggles, because few people like to break from the beautiful crowd and admit that we might be different from, inferior to, all these people around us who, judging by their Facebook statuses, appear to be experiencing permanent, unfettered joy.
And that’s fine, because it’s none of our business, really. Not unless they want to share it with us, and most people don’t.
Now, a person could read all that and assume that my point is that, because everyone has problems they deal with in silence, that your problems are not important and should be crammed down inside you accordingly. But that is not what I mean.
My advice has two parts. The first and most important part is simply to realize that you aren’t alone in your struggle — even if you won’t be privvy to the details of everyone else’s. It may suck to have difficulties in life, but it sucks even more when you’re imagining you’re alone in those hardships. You are not.
The second part of my advice is to open up a little bit and, when you can and you’re with people you trust, share the bad with the good. You don’t have to unleash a tirade of every single thing that’s bothering you upon every person who waves hello to you in a given day — that’s probably a quick way for people to unfriend you in real life.
But you don’t have to mask your struggles as strenuously as the people around you, and your friends and family are there to help you. Not only does it make life easier on you to open up and share them, but when you’re brave enough to share your own troubles, it may embolden others to share theirs as well.
So here’s to our troubles, children — everyone’s got ’em. May they provide common ground for all the friendships you ever make, so that you always know that no matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.