Your meme or mine?

The other day I was scrolling through my morning Facebook feed when I saw a meme that stopped my pointer finger in its track. The meme, posted by a friend of mine, read, “Sometimes the strongest among us are the ones who smile through silent pain, cry behind closed doors, and fight battles no one knows about.”

Oh, no, I thought. No, no, no. The meme’s words got me riled up in the way you get when you’ve learned an important lesson that really moves and inspires you and you’re convinced the rest of the world needs to learn the same lesson. Whether they want to or not.

I grabbed my mouse, hovered the cursor’s little hand over her name and clicked on “Message.” I stared at the empty private message box and wondered where to begin. The old me, from a few years ago, would have hopped on this meme’s bandwagon and clicked “Like.” I may have added a comment, “Right on” or “I feel you” with several exclamation points. “This hits the nail on the head!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

That was before.

That was before I learned what it feels like when your world caves in on you. Before I learned what it feels like to wage a losing battle against an invisible demon that’s ripping your family apart, stealing your child’s innocence and her mind. I know what it means to feel totally alone; to feel that not one single person on this planet understands your pain and to keep it bottled up. I know this feels like the only way to survive. I also know it doesn’t have to be.

For my friend, I wanted to harness the swell of emotions I felt in my chest, to empathize with her, but also let her know I disagreed with her viewpoint and why.

So in my mind I gathered my resources. I silently repeated the mantra I learned from reading and rereading my Brené Brown books (especially The Gifts of Imperfection): Courage, Compassion, Connection. I wanted to shorten my friend’s path to the lessons I learned about the importance of connection in the giving and receiving of compassion, how much courage it takes to be vulnerable, and that connection to others is an essential element for humans to thrive, at any age.

I typed the following message:

Over the last couple of years I spent a long time crying behind closed doors. I bet you have too. Here’s what it taught me ____________________. By that I mean it taught me nothing. At least not right away. Eventually, I figured out there’s more pain behind the pain and when we stay in that pain alone, we don’t allow ourselves the generosity of others who could show us compassion and help alleviate our suffering. Then, for them in turn, we help alleviate their suffering. We don’t have to suffer in silence, and, in fact, we shouldn’t. We are on this planet to help one another. Although I understand 100% how near fucking impossible it is to take that leap of faith to vulnerability for fear it will only provide us more suffering, not less.  

She wrote me back:

It has nothing to do with being vulnerable. Not everyone finds comfort in letting someone into their pain. And for me, I don’t think I’m weak for not doing so. I have found that only I can help me feel better.

Wait. What? I was expecting a “thank you” and maybe even a “you’re right.” She missed my point which made me sad. I wrote her back:

Nope. Didn’t use the word weakness and wasn’t implying it. Sounds like a lonely place to be, but I’m glad you figured out how to make yourself feel better.

She wrote me back again:

Just because someone prefers to cry alone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in a lonely place and shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re being judged.

Whoa. Now I was pissed. She could have just asked what I meant. Judgment of her, her feelings or how she was handling them was the last thing on my mind. Yet, my chest was burning. Had she touched on something?

If only feelings followed a nice neat pattern, like a flow chart, one with a circle that says, “Start Here” with yeses and nos and arrows that point in different directions until you arrive at your final destination. Alas, my only option was to be honest with myself. It took a while, but when I looked beneath the anger I found what’s always beneath anger:  Hurt.

Every day after my daughter got sick, I sought ways to make sense out of what happened, but came up empty-handed. After a while, I gave up. I believed I’d never understand why she suffered and why nothing I did helped her. She went into a residential treatment program, and while she was gone, I was forced to focus on myself. That’s when I found Brené. My friend’s response hurt because I felt misunderstood and dismissed, yes, but there was more to it than that.

As my daughter healed, I too healed. Healing requires change and hard work. By the time we emerged from the black hole of her mental illness into recovery, I had learned how to foster positive change in my life and wanted to share my knowledge with other hurting parents. To lessen another’s pain gave me purpose. As I reread my message and felt its preachy insistence, I realized what was at stake. If “my” way of dealing with the pain wasn’t better than my friend’s, then I had traveled this far and worked this hard for naught. I needed to be right, and my need fogged my intention. But connection isn’t about being right, it’s about being present.    

I wish I could say that I called her and we forged a deep new understanding of one another over the phone. I didn’t call. Instead, I wrote her back and told her I wasn’t going to write this kind of stuff to her anymore because it’s too easy to be misunderstood. I told her that if she wanted to get together, to let me know. I’d love to be able to support her.

foggy pathA short while later we did get together. We risked vulnerability and said we were sorry. She allowed me the privilege of compassion. We mended our spat and are closer now than we were. When I asked if she’d mind if I wrote this piece, she cheered me on. She said she learned our friendship is a gift. I told her I felt the same way.

There’s no right path to connection—only the path that brings you together.

How has connection worked in your life?



  1. Tracey, we'd all be blessed to have a friend like you in our lives. One who really searches her motives and is willing to admit when they cause misunderstandings and hurt. I'm relieved and happy to read that your friend was willing to meet and talk things over. I think that's the heart of the connection puzzle: when both parties are willing to listen, and to be changed by what they hear. The healing that comes is so wonderful.

  2. I am not one to connect willingly with others…I have lots of acquaintances but very few really real "friends". So when I do find one I can connect with, I do so – albeit guardedly, but connect nevertheless.

    Like my connections are a series of dots and dashes as opposed to bold lines….does that make sense? Navigating the gaps in the series of dots and dashes is the challenge we all have as beings – that is the challenge.

  3. Thank you Maria. It's hard to do sometimes, to reflect on our own motives when things don't turn out the way we expected. I got a healthy dose of that when my daughter got sick. Her illness was by no means my "fault," but I still had to learn to look for ways in which I could improve. I wanted to do so to help her. I've gotten way more out of it than she has LOL…she's a teenager. Nothing I do impresses her 🙂

  4. It's hard Wendy…I hope there's no implication that it's easy or should be done willy-nilly. Not everyone earns our trust or the right to hear our stories. We have to be wise in the relationships we cultivate and we don't need many. Your analogy makes perfect sense and it is a challenge. If we have a solid line to one or two people we are "rich" indeed.

  5. It's fantastic to see your website and blog come to life, Tracey!

    I deeply appreciate the journey you share in this post, probably because I so strongly relate to the need to be "right" in certain situations–especially ones as emotionally-charged as how we respond to pain. The way you handled this will inspire me to take a closer look at my silent judgments and how those fog my own intentions. Thank you.

    At this point in my life, it's all about connection. Connection with myself, and connection with others. It took me a long time to get to this place–many layers over my truer selves, many years of hiding–and it feels so good to feel comfortable enough with myself to be able to nurture deeper connections.

  6. Right on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (get it?) xoxoxo I feel outed as the exclamation point queen but at least I've progressed from "Like"

    I'm so pleased and proud to be your friend.

  7. This is a great premiere blog post! I really enjoyed reading it. It happens all too often on social media when we see other people's posts and get upset over their opinion or way of living that we can't justify as "right" or "healthy." I've had to learn to step back and not react out of anger like you said. We all have our own path to our best selves and we can only hope that we have friends to learn from. I have to work daily on my own judgements on others that comes from being so harshly judged my entire life both from my family and my work industry. I also try to work on not getting so defensive right away when I know someone is judging me. It makes for way better communication and connection with friends and loved ones if both parties can get to that point! Looking forward to your future posts:)

  8. I think my comfort zone lies in between you and your friend. There are times when I connect and make myself vulnerable. There are also times that I think it is best to keep things to myself for various reasons — I want to be careful who I choose to confide in and how, I want to sort it out a little more first, I believe my initial reaction is over-reaction and I want to settle in first. And so it goes.

    I'm glad you spoke your truth and I am also glad she spoke hers. Your approach is right for you, and that is what matters. Perhaps someday she will agree with you as well, but I am happy to see that it doesn't seem so important anymore.

  9. Tracey – you're a hero to me! Thank you for your courage to share your honesty and painful lessons!!!!

  10. I loved this post. Appreciate your honesty and and self-awareness. I saw me somewhere in there,the one who is afraid to disagree with a friend for fear of rejection. I admire how you respectfully disagreed but then took the time to figure out what was underneath the hurt of your friend disagreeing with you. Beautiful.

  11. I treasure the people, you included, who I connect with. I've learned some hard lessons on who I can be vulnerable with. As you know, I lost a friend about a year ago, after her unexpected reaction to something I trusted her with. In the end, I'd take one true friend who "gets" me, who can empathize and sympathize with me, over 100 people I could socialize with but never feel close to.

    I love this post of yours. You speak honestly and from the heart. I am so glad you and your friend mended hurt feelings. That took work on both sides. I have to say, though, that posting a meme on fb about suffering in silence is an oxymoron.

  12. We have been through a lot together my friend… What an amazing post… It touched me… I love you….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *