In my counseling session yesterday, my therapist brought up something that I found quite intriguing. I’d woken up with a headache yesterday. It should come as no surprise that I have been having them more frequently in the last two weeks. When I mentioned my headache, we talked about the causes of them, and I explained that they are caused by different factors: environmental, emotional, and dietary. I talked about how long I’ve been suffering from headaches, and he asked me how I handled them. I told him that for the most part, I just carried on and tried not to let them ruin my life. He brought up that I have a lot of “hidden pains.” My headaches are just one example of it. Rarely can someone look at me and tell that I have a headache. Only people who know me very well can tell on even rare occasions. You see, I try not to make a big deal over them. Yes, I have mentioned them on this blog more than once (an understatement), but I don’t want it to be something that defines me. I also don’t like to show weakness, so many times when I have a headache I don’t mention it. I go about my day and then when I’m alone and away from everyone that’s when I can deal with the pain.
My headaches aren’t my only hidden pain. I hid my sexuality for a very long time. My sexuality wasn’t something I wanted to be defined by either. While you hope that people will react kindly to finding out you’re gay, it’s not always the case. Someone that I’d always thought of as a friend (he is married to a friend of mine), once said to me after I made some offhand comment about a guy being sexy, “I don’t care if you’re that way, I just don’t want to hear about it.” As a whole this group of people knew I was gay and didn’t care, and it was one of the few times in Alabama that I could be my true self. After he said that, what I’d thought of as my safe zone shattered. I eventually stopped hanging out with this group because I realized that while they’d all acted like they accepted me, no one called him out on him calling me out. All the people I work with now know that I am gay. I never made it a secret, but at some point you do have to come out. To me that’s the worst thing about being gay, you have to continue to come out all your life.
I also hide my emotions. Southern boys/men aren’t supposed to be emotional. You can’t talk about your accomplishments because then you are bragging, unless it’s something manly like hunting or athletics. Accomplishments in academics and the arts just makes you a weakling and a braggart. Men, of course, no matter where you are must hide weaknesses. You most certainly have to hide emotional pain. I “fail” at this one too often. While I can usually keep my emotional pain hidden, sometimes the sadness bubbles over. With the death of my friend, it was hard to keep that sadness hidden, but I’ve suffered from depression for years, and I do my best to keep it hidden. My anxiety is the same way. I hide the magnitude of it often by making a joke of it. I always say that I fly Air Xanax because I have to take Xanax to be able to fly. If I don’t, then I have full blown panic attacks and generally burst into tears. So it becomes anoher pain that I hide, but with anxiety I just make a joke out of it so that no one realizes the magnitude of my anxiety at times.
Even though I may look fine on the outside, it doesn’t mean that everything is great. Often I feel ashamed if I can’t maintain poise and self-control at all times, even when I am alone. I hate the loss of control over my emotions or other pains. I have to begin to understand that it is human to break or to feel that I just can’t take another hit. It is okay to lose it once in a while. That is when I need my friends and family the most. My friend that I’d lost was one of the few people who I could be completely myself with. I didn’t have to hide my pains. The sharing of vulnerabilities, mess-ups, weak moments and despair with my friend who was a trusted listener helped. No matter what the problem was, I could get past hellish happenings, cease downward spirals and emerge from an abyss because he made me feel understood. Being understood is empowering. It’s right up there with being loved or respected. With my friend, I had all three. He understood me, he loved me, and he respected me. Now I have to learn to deal with these hidden pains by myself, without the tremendous help of my friend.