But that evening, some other pressures and tensions in my life came to a head, and left me feeling really low. For the purposes of this post, it really doesn't matter what they were; only that the effect was by the end of the night, I felt completely worthless. It had been many, many years since I'd experienced anything like this, certainly with this level of intensity. I wanted to withdraw from everyone around me because it seemed that their lives would be better without me in them.
The next day was my birthday, and I awoke feeling like that was nothing to celebrate; I wasn't even grateful to be alive that morning. My morning ballet class helped a bit. Even though I felt on the verge of tears throughout a lot of it (especially in the slow movements), the mental focus of dance demanded attention on something other than my feelings.
A few things really helped me over the next 24 hours; most particularly the love of my incredible wife and family.
But while that's an uncontroversial observation, the purpose of this post is to acknowledge the way that social media helped as well. It's fashionable with some commentators to take a really cynical view of this part of our modern lives. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter "likes" come cheap, we're told. What happens on social media isn't "real" they tell us.
Cynics be damned: that day, when I was feeling at my lowest ebb, the sixty-something people who left me a birthday message, even if it was often only three words, helped to turn things around for me with their small kindnesses:
And then came an Instagram post from a friend that spoke to me exactly what I needed to hear that morning:
The picture of a caterpillar dangling from a stem was captioned "Hang on" and continued:
"Sometimes it’s all we can do - and we need to know what a huge and brave thing it is. Just showing up in the most difficult of times allows our inward transformation to keep ripening. We can describe this ‘hanging on’ as ‘holding the tension’ without collapsing things into right or wrong, success or failure, black or white. The truth is that we have no idea who we are about to become because it’s beyond our mind’s capacity to understand something truly new. Indeed our minds would even rather decide that “all is lost” - because of the mind’s difficulty with uncertainty. If we can be kindly courageous with ourselves and allow the unknown, healing is always possible."
On a morning when I did indeed feel like "all is lost", these words gave me the courage to show up despite my hurt and shame and to receive love and healing.
So, thank you Emma, for your wise post that morning. And to everyone who wished me happy birthday on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere: it was a little gesture on your part, but you made a huge difference in my day, and I'm very lucky to have you in my life.
Emma's Instagram image and post reproduced with her kind permission.