Who Are You When No One is Watching?

#Trigger Warning- This post discusses suicide

Have you ever experienced a situation where you are talking to someone about something that’s really important to you and that person all of the sudden changes the topic to talk about themselves? You might have said something that resonated with them and they interrupted you so they could start telling you what happened to them instead.

Have you also experienced how some people will straight away not even let you finish your thought before they are giving you advice or somehow trying to make you feel different about something you’ve shared with them?

I have often noticed this pattern of communication when at work, sitting in a cafe, on the bus, or just talking to people I know. I can understand why we tend to jump at the first chance we get to say something about ourselves. Sometimes when it happens to me, it makes me feel unimportant and not heard- so I figured when I do it to others, they probably feel the same. I have trained myself to be more aware of when this happens and why it happens so that I can stay quiet and let the person I'm talking to speak their mind, even when they pause for a second. Writing about this topic made me think about all those opportunities we have to really listen to someone when they are talking, even if it seems mundane at the time.

A few years ago, I lost two friends to suicide, on the same day.

The shock and pain of finding out was soon joined with thoughts about: did I listen to them enough? Was there anything I could have done differently when I was with them? Smiled more. Paid more attention to the little things. Been more present so I could have noticed more? Should I have been more upfront about how much I loved them and that whatever they were going through was never going to take away from how much I loved them? I know it doesn't work that way but I couldn't help thinking like that. I also know that often times we are all going through tough times but other people have no clue because there are seemingly no signs of anything being different.

I will never know if there ever was anything I or other people could have done differently. I just know I want to become more aware, I want to be more present and actually listen to what someone is saying regardless if I'm late for something, or if I'm tired. The moments we give each other are so important even if it doesn't seem like it. I don’t ever want to take someone for granted and miss an opportunity to let them know I love and appreciate them.

The Japanese say we have three faces.

The first face, you show to the world.

The second face, you show to your friends and family.

The third face, you never show anyone. Perhaps the latter is the truest reflection of who you are.

Our fears and insecurities tend to be wrapped up in a mask of “I’m good”, “I’m strong”, or “I can handle this on my own”. There are certain things we never talk about, or let other people know about us. We try so hard to mask our truest emotions and often times those emotions can come out as anger, withdrawal from others, insecurities or apathy.

Maybe we all have another person inside of us who no one really knows. A person who is aware of everything you have experienced and done before. A sum of all your good and bad ideas, good and bad actions and how you really feel about things. Unfortunately, I think when the inside world doesn’t match what's happening on the outside world, we start losing our space out in the world. We get sick of pretending and the cracks starts showing.

Every time the topic of suicide comes up in the media (usually if a high-profile person has committed suicide) it makes me think about the three faces. How we might think that if someone is suffering it will somehow show up in different ways and from then on we can do something about it. What do we do when there are no signs?

A lot of times the second face allows us to show happiness and care on the outside. Allow us to love our lives and our family. But at the same time, the third face can be so deep in suffering and pain that we have become so equipped at masking that away from the other faces we portray on a daily basis.

So what's the answer? How can we become more open and authentic in our lives? Not care what other people say or think about us? Where do we learn to hide who we really are anyways?

So, to go back to the questions I asked in the beginning.

Who are you when people are watching? More importantly, who are you when they are not?

All we can do is use those small opportunities we get every day to remind both familiar and unfamiliar faces of what we appreciate about them, how we all struggle with the same problems and that nothing is ever so corrupt that you have to suffer on your own. Show them that they matter.

  • Listen when someone is talking, really listen regardless if the topic is interesting to you or not. Don’t think about what you are going to say next if the person has paused for a moment. You have no idea how valuable it is to be heard just for the sake of being heard and seen by another person.

  • When giving someone a hug, hug them tightly for no reason. It feels so good and is so simple to do.

  • And, if you are afraid of showing others who you are because they might not accept you, start slowly by speaking your truth. Meaning, start being more open about what you really mean and feel regardless of how it lands.

  • Practice being more of yourself and being more vulnerable. Vulnerability means that you don’t use masks to cover what’s really going on.

  • You might feel like you are the only person who is going through something and that there is no way out and that no one understands. This is not true. We are all just hiding behind our masks.

Where To Get Help

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7) • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • Youthline: 0800 376 633 • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm) • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.