So… Twice in the last week I fell down. Once off my office chair and on my butt. Once into a storm sewer and, well, on my butt again. I have fallen down before, and have even fallen down a storm sewer before, and who do you know that can say they did that twice and lived to tell about it?
As I think about it, I have quite a history of falling. My mom fell down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant with me. My own first significant fall was out of my crib at 9 mos. old, resulting in a broken collar bone. In the fourth grade, I fell at recess and broke my wrist. As a young mom, I fell at a kiddie pool and broke my toe. Ten years ago, I fell in the parking lot at work and broke my face (“Does your face hurt? Because it’s killing me!” Haha!).
For your information, I used to have at least a smidge of coordination (I was a high school cheerleader for criminy’s sake!), but lately, I mean, sometimes I fall.
Everybody falls now and then, right? Raise your hand if you’ve ever fallen. Be honest.
My point is not that falling is remarkable. People fall. What I really want to pick your brain about is this: In every situation like this, my very first reflexive response is not pain… not sadness… not fear… not even survival. It’s embarrassment. Before my brain can even register any one of those other more appropriate things, I am hoping that no one saw me, hoping no one will laugh, that no one will ever know. The other day, sitting where I landed in the snow, on my butt with one leg up to my hip in a storm sewer and possibly in need of help to extract myself and really fortunate not to have broken a bone but also possibly stuck, the first thing I thought was “I sure hope none of my neighbors are out to see this.” In other words, I would have, in that moment, rather frozen to death in a snow drift halfway down a storm sewer than to suffer the indignity of being seen in such a state.
And I think that’s weird – but maybe not so uncommon. Can you relate?
It's not like I grew up in an insensitive environment where being laughed at in my pain was the norm, though it did occasionally happen (my next older brother, the arch-nemesis of my early childhood, did get some twisted entertainment from my misery). Mostly I lived in an atmosphere of care and compassion – and still do. I have good and loving people all around me… family who love me well… a strong supportive neighborhood… a healthy and accepting network of friends and colleagues. So, why the embarrassment?
I see this sort of thing in the counseling world, too. There seems to still be quite a bit of a stigma attached to seeking mental health help. While we are usually not embarrassed to go to a doctor for our gall bladders or tonsils, when it comes to going after our own mental health, we sometimes get embarrassed. We don’t talk about it. We hope no one sees us entering the office or in the waiting area.
And I understand that some things are just personal. I don’t mean to say that we should broadcast all our doctor’s appointments or blog about our latest skin conditions. But I do wish that we could talk about mental health as easily as we discuss trying out a new healthy eating plan or walking routine. I do wish it was more acceptable when listening to a friend struggling with anxiety to say, “Hey, I have a great therapist who has helped me with some things. Let me introduce you.”
I do wish our first impulse was not to hide, as if exposing a shared struggle would be disappointing or surprising… as if there is an expectation of, if not perfection, at least superior well-being. And to admit otherwise would be to become vulnerable, and vulnerability is scary and scary things are to be avoided.
You know what’s at the end of that rabbit hole? A lot of folks just like you – who occasionally fall and who once in a while need help. At the end of that rabbit hole are a bunch of human beings, perfectly imperfect, but designed for connection with other perfectly imperfect human beings. And the truth is, once we can bypass the awkward embarrassment, we can see the universal truth… that all of us sometimes need help… and it’s OK and normal and real – and we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to be alone in it, because every now and then we fall. And it’s ok need help to get back up.