The fear of opening up

25 February 2020 | Columns

Justicia Shipena

The days are getting darker, the weather is getting colder and most news on the TV is anything but optimistic. Coupling this with the personal hardships and academic stressors that come with this never-ending ‘midterms season’, it’s no wonder the start of the year presents an absolute whirlwind for so many.

Attempting to individually work through all the roadblocks life throws your way can be exhausting. Many times, we choose to shoulder these issues on our own, and in the process, become closed off to the people who are most equipped to help us.

We rarely allow ourselves to open up to those who care about us out of fear of being burdensome or of being rejected. In the best cases, we end up feeling lonely and distressed. In the worst cases, refusing to reach out for help can have more serious consequences.

For many, it has become increasingly difficult to open up to others. Sometimes we close ourselves off because we want to preserve a certain image of ourselves.

For the first 19 years of my life, I was determined to project the image of a close to perfect, happy-go-lucky girl. Admitting that I was really struggling with a problem would mean admitting that I had a weakness or a flaw.

Not only is this type of thinking irrational, as there is no such thing as perfect, but it also actively inhibits you from making real and deep connections with those around you. Only presenting one side of yourself, even if it is the “perfect” side, leaves a whole part of you hidden from the world.

Other times, we refuse to reach out because we do not want to be a burden to others. When things got hard, I bit my tongue, convinced that talking about my hardships would only end up being more destructive than constructive. I was always there for my friends when they needed me, but I did not trust that they would stick around when I was the one asking for help.

This led to lopsided friendships throughout my life, some of which were unsurprisingly unsustainable. Opening up only to be pushed away is a valid and universal fear, but at the end of the day, it causes more harm than good.

Entering the journalism world, I soon found it impossible to consistently hide the part of myself that was dealing with tough issues. Amid the challenges that accompany any major life transition, staying silent about what I was struggling with led me to push people away until I found myself feeling even more isolated and lost. As I started observing those around me, I realised it was not just me who felt this way.

Many mental health conditions appear between the ages of 18 to 24, according to the JED Foundation, an organisation that seeks to improve mental health among university students. Dealing with difficult life transitions, newfound independence and finding a new identity is difficult for most people, whether they are professionally diagnosed with a mental health condition or not.

As time went on, it became clear to me that many of the people dealing with such emotions were feeling the same hesitation to ask for help.

It was not until I actively started reaching out to those around me that I realised how valuable a resource they could be. Contrary to my beliefs, my friends did not leave; in fact, sharing more vulnerable and real parts of our lives ended up bringing us even closer. Leaving stigma and imagined consequences behind, I found that being honest about the problems I was dealing with led to healthier relationships with those around me – and with myself.

Reaching out for help is a scary step, but in the end, it is worth it. Opening up is terrifying, but staying quiet when you’re hurting is dangerous. While there may be various degrees of help needed – whether you just need a shoulder to cry on or a professional therapist – you should not feel ashamed. Being vulnerable and honest with yourself and with the people around you can change the way you interact with your community. At the end of the day, there will always be people who care and are willing to listen, no matter the circumstance.

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