Have you ever noticed how the people with the most light to give are often those who have endured the most suffering?
I realized this the other day when a friend came to my café for a coffee and a chat. A normally cheery, bright-eyed, light-up-the-room kind of person, almost immediately I could tell something was off. Her usually infectious and radiant demeanor had been replaced by a slump in her shoulders and a distant look in her eyes. Over steaming flat whites, we discussed the reason behind her despondency.
“I feel like I always have to be ‘on,'” she confessed. “Like I’ve created this persona of being the class clown, the jokester, the perpetually fun, energetic, happy girl in the room, and now I find that people expect this of me all the time.”
Like me, she has endured a lot in her short life. After losing both of her parents at a young age, she’d been forced to navigate an existential maze of grief and emotional trauma, and came out on the other side a stronger and more resilient person. It was through experiencing this pain that she grew into the person she is now, capable of lighting up a room, of being a fiery ball of energy that can draw others in.
Yet, she had also created a kind of cage for herself by embodying this persona. While it felt good to be a light and infectious to others, she’d left little space for her own emotions. While she was able to express her wild, fun, carefree, and happy soul to the outside world, she felt unable to express her truth on days when she felt sad or introverted.
The truth is her words couldn’t have hit home harder for me. People-pleasing has always been a trait of mine, but in the past few years, I’ve noticed it turn into a chronic disorder.
Having endured cancer twice in my 20s and the loss of a parent, I’ve built up an emotional suit of armor. This armor has given me the capacity to make light of things that feel heavy and not take life too seriously. Through my own proclivity for silliness and joy, I enable those around me to take life less seriously. The greatest gift cancer has given me is this ability to make others feel alive and joyful. It’s something I truly pride myself in.
Yet, the other side of this coin is this relentless feeling that I always need to be this person. That if I’m not feeling light and joyful and happy, then people will assume that something is wrong. In trying to be this person for others, I often deny myself the very real and necessary expression of my own sadness and pain.
I’ve observed it to be a common trait among cancer survivors: We often feel like we need to be strong for others. My friend’s confession highlighted my own propensity to hide my truth from the world. Through trying to be everything for everyone and remain the life of the party, I end up exhausting and draining myself.
The biggest takeaway from this realization is that it’s OK to say no. It’s OK to have off days, and it’s OK to not always be OK. Learning how to have boundaries and say no to people can be a big learning curve for many of us, especially those whom others look up to. We want to be there for everyone by always offering sage advice and being emotionally available, and yet by not learning how to say no, we only hurt ourselves.
Finally, I feel like I’m learning how to protect my energy by giving myself rest days. I don’t feel like I have to attend every event or party, and I don’t feel like I have to be a light in the room on those days when, frankly, I don’t feel light at all.
But like most life lessons, learning this will take time and constant gentle reminders. And that’s OK. Hopefully, my friend and I, and any of us with a propensity to give a lot to others, will remember that it’s OK to preserve some energy for ourselves.
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.
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