Learning to be more open

Today marks one month since the end of my last and most significant romantic relationship to date. The feelings are still pretty raw, to be honest, but I feel like I have made some significant headway towards recovery. I still have a long way to go yet, but I am starting to see signs with place names I recognise on this long road to rehabilitation.

I wrote a blog post a few days ago that outlined where I was at the time and my opinions and theories as to why this all happened and why I didn't see it coming. I just wanted to get to the bottom of it and get it out of my head. After I had finished it, however, I decided not to post it as it was largely based on conjecture and circumstantial evidence, all from my own perspective (which, wasn't fair on her.). Also, even though I did not mention any names or specifics it would be quite clear to anyone who knows me, who exactly I was talking about. It ended up containing lots details that were far too personal and were certainly not for me to say in a public space like this.

Although I will not be publishing it, I am still glad that I wrote it, and I am glad that I wrote it with the intention of posting it. The fact that I thought it would be read by other people forced me to try and be fair and considered in the way I wrote. It helped me to get past a lot of my bitterness and my anger and to accept that the situation is one that I cannot change and could not have possibly prevented. I still have it saved on my computer and I think it might be interesting to revisit it in a year or two to see how far I have come since then. It will probably turn out to be like one of those Facebook memories I get every day reminding me of what an awful pretentious, self-righteous little shit I used to be.

The main purpose of me writing this blog is to help me be more expressive as a person; as I believe this to be one of my biggest flaws in life. I want to learn to share my opinions more freely and to be more honest with the world about who I am and what I believe. I want to become more vocal and understood and be the kind guy who is known for giving great advice to people. But most of all I don’t want to be tortured by my own mental anguish and anxiety anymore. I have found that getting my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (figuratively speaking) really helps release me from much of this. As if I am literally emptying my head of the things it is now too full to contain. I don’t mean that I wish to get rid of the thoughts entirely, I am simply just backing them up somewhere safe to make room for more useful ones.

I think this new method of self-expression has already helped me be far less closed off to the people around me who love and care about me; although it was a bit rough to start with.

I decided initially that I was going to be completely honest with everyone all the time. If an acquaintance asked me how I was doing I would simply say. “Shit, I’m doing shit.” I stopped doing this after a couple of days because people seemed quite taken aback by my abrupt frankness and it’s really not the British way to say exactly what you are feeling all the time. Who wants that!? Plus I feared I was becoming a super downer, that I knew people would eventually start avoiding like I was a paid charity fundraiser. People are generally nice though, and they would, of course, ask me why I was doing “shit.” But I would sort of brush the question aside and not really answer. Not because I didn’t really want to be honest, but because I was sick of explaining the whole sorry story to people. So I decided that I would limit the times and people with whom I would confess my deepest thoughts and feelings.

Even with this slightly more restrained approach to honesty, I came to embrace how showing, what I would have perceived as weakness before, actually made me stronger. What it did was to make me realise I am not alone. Other people have been where I am and they are here for me while I am experiencing it. Plus, worse things have happened at sea after all. This brings me into a closer community with my friends and there is enormous strength in numbers.

Last Sunday I was out for lunch with two very good friends who more than qualify as people I can be completely honest with. I was having a worse time than usual that afternoon and it was totally ruining my day with my friends. Normally I would push all the feelings of worthlessness, sadness, and rejection deep down inside my mind, paint on a smile and pretend all was well in the Pete camp. If you were around me you might notice that I was perhaps a little quieter than usual, but that’s about all you would see. This time, however, I decided to confront the demons head-on. Like Bob’s terrible advice to Will in Stranger Things 2*, I was going to stand my ground and reclaim my pleasant Sunday with my good friends.

*I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen the latest season but basically, Bob, gives Will, some advice that would normally be the perfect thing to do. However, Bob does not understand anything about the supernatural consequences of standing your ground against a very real Mind Flayer from the Upside Down. Poor Bob.

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I decided that I was going to tell my friends exactly what was going through my head at that moment and that I knew it was irrational to think this way. I told them that I wanted to vocalise how I was feeling because I wanted the emotions to exist outside of myself and not just in my own mind, driving me slowly mad. I somehow felt that acknowledging how I was feeling aloud would break me out of the cycle and release me from the anxiety that was coursing through me. And you know what? I was right! Even before their reassuring words entered my ears I felt about a stone lighter. The sun in my mind broke through the dark and ominous clouds and my true self could come back out to play again. I recognised the truth of my life that I was loved, accepted, and appreciated. I still had my baseline sadness under it all but I knew that I was going to be alright... eventually.

Honesty and vulnerability actually released me and at the same time, helped my two friends understand me a little better. I realise now that my previous unhealthy response to inner turmoil was essentially a lie of omission I was telling everyone. It wasn’t just that I was hiding my true feelings for the sake of my pride, or so as not to burden other people. I was lying. Lying to my friends, my family, and my past partners about who I really was and that had to stop!

If you don’t have people you can be vulnerable with then things can get very hard and keep getting worse over time. When you keep it all inside it causes so much more damage and needless hurt to yourself. We were not made to be alone, we were made to be in community with each other. We may have evolved to build skyscrapers, cappuccinos and space stations, but we are not so different from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We are a tribal species at our core and we still need each other just as much today. If you take anything away from this I hope it is that you can unload your fears, worries, and insecurities onto your friends or family. It is no burden for them to carry at all. If they love you, they will gladly help you bear the load.