I was coming home in an uber from my vet, as I continue to get my kitten, Frida, all ready for our upcoming flight. Normally I love to engage in conversations with drivers, and this instance felt no different. As a writer and fellow human, I find everyone pretty fascinating. I gargle and swallow any tidbit of information they are willing to give me so I can go home and dissect who they might be, knowing that I only have a piece of them.
This particular drive, I spoke with Owen* (which isn’t his real name) who inquired about emotional support animals after I told him Frida was one. I talked a bit about my depression and anxiety, how I felt adopting her really saved me during that period, and how she continues to each day.
“But you’re so happy and cheerful. You don’t even look sad. Maybe you just wanted a companion?” he suggested.
And that’s when I killed him.
Okay, okay, I’m kidding.
“My mental health is a daily challenge,” I told him. “It’s something I have to work at and manage each day, but with Frida, I feel like she needs me. She can’t have me just die or leave or crumble, and sometimes that is the only reason I need to keep going.”
We stop at a red light and he turns back to scan my face. “Are you sure? I don’t buy it. You’re too bubbly to be someone like that.”
Someone like that. It was the way he said it, and the way I’ve heard it many times before. As in, those people who can’t actually handle anything. Those people who are too sensitive about everything. Those people who don’t have a spine. Those people who just need to grow up and deal with their lives. No, he didn’t want to peg me as one of those people. That would be a disservice to me, of course.
All I wanted to do was to make him understand or prove him wrong about these people, whom I am one of, but instead, all I could say was:
“Could we change the radio station?”
To be honest, I’m quite exhausted from having to explain myself to anyone, let alone someone I met briefly and will never see again. As I work to find the balance between standing up for myself versus saving my energy, choosing my battles has been a game-changer. I don’t think I have anything I need to prove to him about myself, even though I wanted to. Realistically, what would I say?
“I’m in pain all the time and I feel like I could just explode, or I feel so hopeless and disconnected that I feel nothing at all. Believe me, I am sad!”
No, that wouldn’t quite cut it. To be honest, the kindest, bubbliest, cheerful people that I know are typically the ones who are in the greatest amount of pain. This old mentality of strength meaning that you are capable of shoving down your feelings and ignoring them completely is just too outdated. Witnessing it yet again was just triggering at this point, so I let it go.
I wanted to write this as a reminder that we can never really know what someone is going through; what is happening beneath the surface of the face they decide to show us. I’m sure we’ve all had our own versions of this experience: of someone assuming a thing about us that isn’t actually true to our current situation. I hope one day we can all feel safe in being more authentic, but for now, we’ll just have to keep our reminders on.