Preparing for a night out with the girls, Leila added the final touches to her outfit whilst waiting for the taxi. She dabbed on her perfume, slid into her heels and donned the prerequisite for a fun girls night, the ‘I am happy, all is well’ mask.
Ready for a night out with friends, she was nervous with anticipation about what the night might bring. She sipped her drink and waited patiently for the taxi to arrive. In the pit of her stomach she noticed a nagging feeling, she winced and wished it might leave her alone. Tonight she was more than ready to feel free, free of niggles and free of tension.
‘Throw caution to the wind’ said an inner voice, ‘Just see what could be’ it continued. She wished that she could, but felt sure that if she were to allow herself that kind of freedom, she risked her mask slipping. Showing her friends her true self, her true feelings, could be a sure way to lose them, or at the very least make them really uncomfortable.
She sat in the taxi, silently willing her perfume to mask the smell of the inside of this stinky vehicle. She worried about the outfit she’d chosen, unconsciously smoothing and adjusting it. She contemplated the dresses she’d rejected, now strewn across her bed. She wondered if perhaps she could have chosen differently and avoided the overwhelming nervousness she was currently experiencing.
As the niggling feeling in her gut took hold, she noticed another feeling creeping in: disappointment. She realised that despite recently feeling as if she had conquered self-doubt at work, it continued to thrive in her personal life- including providing a critical commentary on her looks.
Arriving at the restaurant, she gathered herself and attempted to lose the sense of uncertainty that had taken hold during the taxi ride. She moved toward her friends sitting at the back of the noisy room. Smiles and greetings ensued, in the corner of her eye she caught the cool stare of a friend sitting across the table, it gave her a chilly feeling on her skin. She tried to ignore it, but she knew from past experience that the friend was quick to judge appearances.
She wished she could become invisible, knowing full well that the cool stare served to invite that critical voice of her own to intensify. It felt impossible to notice the warmth of her friend next to her as she pulled out a chair and sat down.
She drank her drink as quickly as she could, without appearing obviously anxious or reckless. She willed the vodka, cranberry and soda to calm her nerves and soothe that niggle in the depths of her stomach. Conversation bubbled along just like it does when a group of women get together to catch up, drink and gossip. Stories were shared across the table, the latest on work, men and plans for travel.
Leila told her friends the parts of her story that she thought they wanted to hear, whilst omitting the tangle of ongoing low moods, self-doubt and the very worst of it, the sense of being lost with no real purpose in life.
Every one of her friends seemed to be doing so well in life. Even Jen who recently broke up with her long term boyfriend seemed great, and she had lost some weight. ‘I guess not everyone turns to pizza, chocolate & Netflix after a break up’ she mused.
The night came to an end, and she found herself back in a taxi, this time less anxious, with thanks to the vodka. On the ride home her attention was far from the smell of the taxi. This time, she was preoccupied by that niggling feeling in the pit of her stomach. ‘What is the matter with me, why do I feel like this, even after having a nice night with friends?’ she asked herself in frustration. ‘Why can’t I just be like everyone else?’ she dwelled silently.
This story is a fictional story drawn from my own experiences and those shared by many others. Within the confidential space between client and counsellor, women have confided that they feel many of the things shared in this story. They've longed for someone to be able to share these feelings with, but the fear of being exposed as different (and the shame) has kept them from sharing.
As I've sat with women whilst they share these kinds of stories, I've tried to reassure them that they're not alone; because I KNOW they are sooo not alone. I've wished I could introduce all of these incredible women to each other; so as they could understand that they're not alone and connect with one another in a real and honest way.
If you can relate to this story, this is for you. I want you to know that you're not weird and definitely not alone. In fact, in my experience, you're most definitely awesome!
Some questions I invite you to consider:
How might things be different if you freed yourself of the need to please others & ‘fit in’?
How might things be different if you stopped judging your own feelings & worked on accepting them?
Is wearing the mask working for you? If not, what is it costing you?
What would be the worse thing that could happen if you did be your complete self the next time you caught up with your girlfriends?
Are you willing to try it!?
I also highly recommend watching Brene Browns TedX talks for words to soothe your soul!
Please do share your thoughts, I love to hear from you, it's so important we let each other know that none of us is alone in this x