When I was a little girl, I thought telling lies was cool. In my mind, it was a very “adult” thing to do, and it was often far more exciting than the truth. There is a very fine, thin line between lies and “make believe.” As a child, my wild imagination allowed me to think I could easily straddle that line without crossing it. My parents taught me it was wrong of course, and I learned. But even after I knew, sometimes I couldn’t help myself from telling a little white lie here and there. I thought it was easier to lie. It was surely less scary than telling the truth.
I was very, very wrong.
If you look up “honest” in the dictionary, there are nine definitions of the adjective. To be honest is to be free from fraud or deception, genuine, humble, and marked by integrity. To be reputable, creditable, good, and innocent. Marked by free, forthright, and sincere expression. There is more to honesty than just, as I once thought, telling the truth.
Honesty is hard. To share who you are and what you believe, first with yourself and then with others, with the world. To let down every guard and share your fears, your dreams, your demons. It is easy to be honest about the good things. But to be honest about the not-so-good and not-so-pretty things? To share what darkness or mistakes look like? Honesty comes with its own vulnerability and complications. But it is necessary, for it helps us understand our fellow humans and it gives us a glimpse of the world around us.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. Some things may be destined by the universe or fate or a god, but even the things that aren’t happen because of something. Honesty reveals pain and hurt. But all pain has purpose. Beauty, mistake, loss, friendship, nature, love–there is reason for all of them. The reason I am writing this blog, at this time, is because of something I read the other day that has stuck with me.
There is a raw, unfiltered, unadulterated honesty–the most beautiful kind of honesty–that is so powerful, but also both very pure and very hard to come by. In 2006, Jamie Tworkowski wrote the honest story about a friend’s struggle with addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts. He named the story “To Write Love on Her Arms,” posted it on MySpace, and watched it go viral. Jamie and his friends sold t-shirts to raise money for Renee to go to a treatment center and get the help she needed. Since then, TWLOHA has become a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people fighting addiction and mental illness.
Jamie has been very honest–the raw, unfiltered, unadulterated honesty–about his own struggles with mental illness, and the darkness that so many of us face at some point or another. He has helped to create the dialogue that does not stigmatize mental illness, one that celebrates that life is always worth living. He posted this picture on Instagram the other day, reflecting on his life in recent months:
“…It’s an interesting season. There are things missing. There are things not missing. Most people never get four custom surfboards delivered all at once. i ordered them when i signed my book deal. Most people never sign a book deal. i start a book tour in a week. There is so much to be thankful for. And at the same time, life is still a struggle. i still struggle with depression. i still suck at being alone. i’m still almost always restless. i was doing an interview the other day and the guy asked me if it was harder to be honest now compared to years ago. Really good question. i said yes and then he asked why. And i had no answer. i fumbled through some thoughts and then i stumbled upon the truth: Because i feel like i can’t keep saying the same thing over and over. Because i feel like my life should look different than it does. Because i feel i should be past the stuff that hurts. Because i don’t want people to worry about me or feel sorry for me. So maybe this picture represents this moment…So much to be thankful for. And still some stuff that’s missing, still a bunch that hurts, still both fears and dreams. i think i’m supposed to be honest about all of it.”
There are things missing and not missing. There is restlessness and loneliness. I wanted to write about how much I have admired Jamie’s honesty in the past nine years. Because it has been genuine, sincere, and good. Because it sheds light on the scary and misunderstood illnesses, the ones that attack people’s brains, the ones that go unseen. It is okay to lean on other people for help when you need it, and it is okay to lean on yourself when no one is around. It is okay to ask for help.
All of us bend or break or fracture sometimes. And yet there is always hope. There is always the choice to be honest. There is this moment, this life: It is wild and magical and terrifying, and it’s all we’ve got.