How Do You Know When Someone Is Suffering?

October 31, 2017

As I reflect back on the past year and a half or so, I think about the various stages I went through, I think about the beginning stages of being desperate for everything to “be okay.”

I think of how much work I put in to trying not only to appear happy in front of other people, but also to force myself to be happy too.

I would be crying myself to sleep every night, but I would be making lists during the day of reasons to be thankful to remind myself, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. My life is actually good. It’s cool. It’s good. My life is good. I have a good life.”

I tried not only to remind myself of this, but also to do it publicly. I made this instagram post in March in about how wildly happy I was – but I did it through tears. “I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy. I’m happy.” I told myself (and to some extent, the world), even as I was wildly unhappy.

Even when we talk about my individual one-on-one reactions with people, a lot of time, I wasn’t giving the full story.

A lot of people afterward told me something felt “off,” but they didn’t know what.

I talked to some of my friends about how much I was affected by this guy refusing to speak to me [in the 30 days of silence following the second assault]. And everyone understands that it would be frustrating to have someone you talk to multiple times a day all of a sudden not talking to you anymore. Everyone understands the idea that you wouldn’t want someone to be so angry with you that they refuse to talk to you. Everyone also understands that I, specifically, as Aurora, can take it kind of hard if I’ve really upset someone, and it might bother me more than an average person.

But no one could understand the level of distracted-ness and despair I was feeling. “Okay, so you made somebody angry with just a lil’ social media post. You accidentally overstepped their boundary. Nobody got hurt. I’m sure they’ll talk to you. It’s really not that big of a deal, Aurora.”

Because, with the information they had, it wasn’t. They didn’t know what was really going on. They didn’t know the horror that had happened the last time I’d been with him – that I’d been assaulted and was crying myself to sleep every night, thinking a resolution would help.

Sometimes I even mentioned something slight, as the tiniest signal for help in the world. But it’d be lumped in with, “Ugh, yeah, men are awful, aren’t they?” And even though I’m a grown adult who speaks the language of the people I was with – I couldn’t bring myself to just talk in real terms of what was really happening.

So, some people close to me noticed some weird-ness, but didn’t know what to do with it. Some people not close to me perhaps didn’t notice any. I don’t know that I notice an external difference between my instagram post where I was desperately trying to be happy vs. the ones where I actually am.

I didn’t get help until one of my closest friends who’s known me for a while sat me down, and was just like, “Seriously, Aurora, what is going on? This is not the you I know. There is something – some part I am missing.” And he kept asking questions until he got to the root of the issue, and he convinced me to call a helpline. And he showed a lot of patience. And he was a giant fulcrum of help.

But how do we know? How do we know when something is really wrong vs. when someone is just a little off?

I don’t know the answer. I just know that it is surreal to remember how hard I was trying to keep it all together when all of this happened, and how hard I was trying to paint this facade of okay-ness. (And how only one person noticed enough/did enough/(or maybe felt comfortable enough) to make sure I got on the path of getting the help I needed)

And for a while my facade worked (at least kind of)! I could see a scenario where people could keep it up better for me and for longer. So, how do we know when they’re in trouble?

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?