Tiffany has been my friend since the 10th grade. It started out as a simple friendship, with few similarities besides our mutual dedication to school and a deep love for shenanigans. We lived the ups and downs of high school together, and by the time we graduated she was my closest friend in all the earth.
We were roommates our Freshman year of college, one of the most difficult years of my life. This was the height of an extremely hard season struggling with my OCD, something I had always managed to conceal from those around me. Now, living in tight quarters, it was all but impossible to hide from her. I did my best to seem like everything was normal, and I somehow convinced myself that I was pulling it off. My habits were far beyond irritating. I never took my turn at cleaning the bathroom. I spent insane amounts of time showering each morning. I ignored my mounding pile of laundry. Avoidance of everything that gnawed at me was the only coping mechanism I knew. The way I acted had to drive her crazy, or at the absolute least, annoy her.
Years later, I found out that my mom had discussed my growing problem with Tiffany before we started our year in the dorm, together. While it seemed like an explanation to how she was able to tolerate my strange behaviors, I realize it's so much more. She knew my deepest, darkest secret. For years, I had struggled with haunting thoughts from OCD. No one knew the extent of it, besides my mom and step dad, who lived the day in and day out beside me. Even then, they didn't understand the emotional load that consumed me. But here was Tiffany, living with the annoying behaviors of a person who couldn't control her own thoughts. Behaviors that affected more than myself. They affected her. She was seeing me and my faults up close, and she never treated me differently than she ever had. She kept from pointing out my faults. More importantly, she didn't look down on me or treat me like I was broken. Tiffany didn't tiptoe around, babying me and treating me as less-than because I had a mental illness. She treated me the same. She treated me like me, her best friend.
Once I was aware that she knew about my hidden reality, I found myself able to open up to her about it, over time. I could bear my soul to her, in ways I've never been able to with anyone else. Over the years we have been through death, divorce, motherhood, spiritual struggles, and simple day to day life, with growing authenticity. She knows me, truly and deeply. And never once have I felt judged or inferior in her eyes. Instead, I feel safe. I feel known. I feel loved and understood.
As my school days drift farther away and life gets busier and messier, I find myself yearning for the authentic self I can be with Tiffany. I wonder why I can't live this way with anyone else. Why do I feel the need to put up walls and live with pretenses? Why do I pause before mentioning my brother's death and stop myself from revealing that he took his own life? Am I concerned about making them uncomfortable? Will they judge me? Will they judge him? Am I worried they will ask more questions? Am I worried they won't?
People I love deeply struggle with drugs, homelessness, bouts of jail time, and other difficult realities that have evolved from their decisions. This is a 1,000 pound weight on my heart. Sometimes I feel consumed with the bleakness of it all. I worry about their safety and pray for their recovery. I am heartbroken for their kids. But, I rarely open up about any of it with others. I don't feel like anyone can understand, not in its entirety. It's too dark. Am I concerned about what they will think of me? Do I worry that they won't hold this heavy truth with enough tenderness; with enough grace; with enough love?
I married my first boyfriend. We were a cute couple with a sweet love story. But my marriage is far from perfect. We don't fill our days and our home with joy and tender kisses. We love each other, but we fight, we take each other for granted, and we don't fill each other's expectations. Why do I only speak half-truths about our difficulties? Marriage is hard, for crying out loud. Why don't I feel like I can talk about that? I'm worried I will sound ridiculous, or that I will make my husband sound bad. Doesn't everyone struggle? Can't we be honest about the frustrations we wrestle?
I'm not honest about my parenting. I don't tell people that I yell at my kids way more than I should. I'm not open about the fact that though I love my kids with my brain, I don't always feel love for them in my heart, and sometimes I don't even like them. Surely I'm not the only one, right? Wouldn't it be better to know that these feelings don't make me a terrible mother, but simply a person that isn't perfect? Couldn't I work through my difficult mommy feelings quicker and more effectively if I talked them out with someone?
I find myself lonely and longing for connection. Shallow social gatherings can leave me feeling empty and alone. I want to be truly known and see deep into the hearts of others. But how can I have that without being authentic in who I am? How can people draw close when I've built this mote around my heart? Why do I feel the need to portray myself through this myriad of filters? What good is it doing me? It might make me more presentable, but it also makes me far, far lonelier. I want to strip off the makeup and take down my hair; pull off the dust jacket and bare the binding of my heart the way I do with Tiffany. I want to live a life of true, raw authenticity.