When was the last time you answered “How are you doing?” with the real, raw truth?
It’s tough to pin down exactly where I learned to take that classic “A Few Good Men” line “You can’t handle the truth!” so literally. Perhaps it was growing up in an environment of Iowa Nice, in which we don’t want to burden others with our worries. Or maybe it was traveling to Tanzania and seeing people with no running water and realizing how remarkably privileged I was. Or it could be a vestige of my eating disorder days, when I starved away all of the hormones that would have made me experience any feelings and spent several years as a numb and skinny shell of myself.
Regardless, somewhere along the way I began to reframe my not-so-great days as A-OK in the grand scheme of things, and I’d gloss over my fears, sadness and anger. Hey, I have a roof over my head, more food than I could ever want, loving parents, supportive friends … my bad days are not bad days in the grand scheme of things. And with that in mind, I found that I was consistently invalidating my feelings and skating through life on a superficial cloud of “I’m good, thanks!”
That is, until I started diving into the concept of intuition. When I learned to tune in to my gut instead of relying on my head or my external environment to tell me how to feel, I found a new level of feeling. I discovered that it’s not always pretty, but it is always easier to process when I let it out rather than bury it deeper.
This mindset stepped into the spotlight last May. One evening, I attended a five-course dinner with friends at the Iowa Culinary Institute. Each unforgettable plate was not only a visual work of art but also a symphony of flavors. In the joy of the evening, I ate more than I had in a long time in one sitting, and in a relic of mental health struggles past, I spent the whole night tossing and turning and beating myself up for eating too much.
That sleepless night led into a big day; I was nominated for a humbling award by a nonprofit organization and would spend the lunch hour in a room with 500 of some of the most inspiring people in Iowa. I’d do so while seated at a table with my mom, grandma and four of my best friends. Although I was able to still soak up the magical experience, my head and stomach ached with the burden of the 12 hours prior. My shoulders felt the weight of the feeling “you were supposed to be ‘over’ these eating disorder thoughts.”
Later that afternoon in the car, my mom asked, “How did you sleep last night? How are you doing?”
At the thought of answering that question with the real, raw truth, I started bawling—the almost-needed-to-pull-over type of sobbing. I leveled with her how frustrated I was that I still struggled with these body image-bashing thoughts that I overindulged. That I felt puffy and ashamed. But when I dug deeper and kept trying to answer “how am I doing?” I could also acknowledge all of the growth that was on display in that uncomfortable, teary moment.
Rather than carry those negative feelings around with me, ruminating over the fact that I may never be fully separated from my anorexic thoughts, I was giving myself permission to feel frustrated that these feelings came up. To feel vulnerable enough to share them with others. To feel proud that I didn’t let those thoughts change my actions the next day—I didn’t overcompensate with exercise or restrict my eating to “make up for” the five courses the night prior.
Once I let that out, the cloud over my head began to lift. Simply realizing that those thoughts were no longer mine alone to carry, and being able to separate those worries from who I truly am, I felt lighter. My stomach and head stopped aching, and I was able to go about my weekend knowing that these thoughts don’t have to control me. It was a huge step in my emotional growth.
So consider this your permission to be real, to be really real when your inner circle asks you, “How are you doing?” We truly want to know, and chances are your gut and your heart truly want to share.
Drop freelance writer and editor Karla Walsh a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell her how you’re doing or to share topics you’d like to see covered in future No Filter columns. You can also keep in touch on Instagram @karlawalsh.