Why It’s Exhausting to Hide

It’s exhausting to hide who we truly are, because the true self is like a beach ball. It wants to float, and it takes an awful lot of work and energy to keep it pushed beneath the waves…

true self

Photo Credit: PKMousie via Compfight cc

The cold brick dug into my forehead.

Spring 2005. Early morning. I’d walked out the back door of our small, third-floor apartment, and I was leaning my head against the brick wall on the outside landing. I was exhausted and I had all sorts of good excuses for that—a clinical internship, a young and struggling marriage, a sick baby—but the truth was, my false self was slowly killing me.

Or, rather, the work of maintaining my false self was killing me.

Building an image. Preserving a reputation. Appearing confident and competent. Keeping everyone happy with me. Feeling like I was never enough but always looking like I was more than enough. Falling apart but acting like I had it all together.

Utterly draining.

It’s tiring to hide your true self.


Have you noticed how tired we all are? I suppose it’s possible we’re all just working too hard. Or playing too hard. Or both. It’s possible Netflix binge-watching is costing us valuable sleep and the blue light of our LED screens is messing up our circadian rhythm. It’s possible the anxieties and stresses of modern life are keeping us tossing and turning all night.

It’s possible.

But it’s also quite possible we’re simply exhausted by all of our hiding.

I used to think the true self was hard to find, that it required a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to unearth, like buried treasure on a rocky beach. Now I know the opposite is true. The true self is like a beach ball we push beneath the surface of our lives. The true self is designed to float—it wants to rush upward and outward.

The effort to keep it pushed beneath the waves can wear us out.

A decade ago, with my head leaning against the cold brick of an apartment building, I said to myself, “I can’t do this for one more day.” Since then, on some glorious days, I’ve let who I am float to the surface. Other days, not so much. Today, though, I have a confession:

In the last six months, I’ve pushed parts of my true self below the surface, not because I didn’t want them to be seen, but because I couldn’t let others see them until I could see them more clearly. Suppressing them has, indeed, been as tiring as I remember.

Today, finally, I get to let them float.


My wife and I spent the last fifteen years carefully assembling a life that culminated in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, IL.

Over the next two months, we will dismantle it.

A new job. My wife is resigning from her job as a tenured professor of psychology, and she will become the child clinical psychologist for a new pediatric development center in the rural town of Dixon, IL. In north central Illinois, kids and families have a high need for integrated healthcare, but few options for accessing it. My wife wants to change that. And she’s joining a bunch of dedicated people who have already started to do so.

A new town. We are uprooting our family and replanting ourselves in Dixon, the small town in which I was born and raised. We will be putting about 70 miles between ourselves and our chosen family—the good friends we’ve lived and loved with over the past decade.

The grief of that is deep.

But the change doesn’t end there.

A new business. This summer, I will be leaving the practice I’ve been with for almost nine years and launching my own practice in Naperville, IL, just a few miles south and west of where I work now. It will be a partnership with one of my best friends, who also happens to be an outstanding therapist. It will be called Artisan Clinical Associates. I will be commuting back to the suburbs two days a week to continue the work I’ve been doing with the lovely people who have invited me along on their journey.

And the rest of each week, I’m going to write.

A new book. Over the last six months, most of my creative blood, sweat, and tears have been given to writing a book manuscript and submitting a book proposal. For six months, my most exciting content has been going into the book. And I’m thrilled to tell you, last week, I got a book deal. I’m looking forward to telling you more about it in the months to come.

Big sigh.

Confession feels good. So good.


Confession isn’t a religious practice; it’s a human one.

We don’t confess because we’re commanded to or because our fate depends upon it or because we’re a bad person if we don’t do it; we confess because pressure builds and the human container has limits. We confess because when we cage up a part of us, it’s exhausting. We confess because there is joyful relief in letting the beach ball rush to the surface. We confess because parts of us need to float, to be seen, to be known.

How have you been hiding who you really are?

Is it wearing you down?

How might you allow your true self to surface?

Which parts of you want and need to float?

Who do you want to hear your confession?

What kind of joy and relief is awaiting the revelation of the good thing you truly are?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Upcoming Posts: Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more observations about life and love that have been born out of this great divide in our family’s life: why life is not about being more happy but about being more you, how growth is more a result of preparation than bravery, how to recognize the people you belong to, the true meaning of friendship, and how gratitude helps us leap into the new and unknown.

Free eBook: My eBook, The Marriage Manifesto: Turning Your World Upside Down, is available free to new blog subscribers. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can click here to subscribe, and your confirmation e-mail will include a link to download the eBook. Or, the book is also now available for Kindle and Nook

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

59 thoughts on “Why It’s Exhausting to Hide

  1. My heart sank when I realized I won’t be seeing you around town as much. Although, I’m excited for your wife and family as you enter this new season of your lives together.

    It will be neat to experience your writings from a more rural community perspective. Anxiously awaiting your new book. Blessings, Dr Flanagan.

    • We’re coming in this Friday for lunch and a cookie. I hope we see you, because we don’t have too many Fridays left. : ( The hardest part of our transition is the people we are leaving. Will be writing about that in the coming weeks. Thank you, Kirsten.

  2. Congratulations Kelly! I am totally unsurprised by the book deal – who in their right mind would turn you down? All the best for this new exciting chapter in life. You guys deserve all the joy and good breaks that can be!

    • For those of you who have enjoyed The Marriage Manifesto, please give Jennifer a shout-out, as she was the one who edited it for me (for free!). Thanks again for that, and thanks for your consistent support and encouragement.

      • I am so looking forward to reading your book, Kelly. It will be a great gift to many people. I am just happy I could help a tiny bit in your journey so far. Onwards and upwards!

    • Thank you, Spring, I’ll have more details for you hopefully soon, when they are all finalized!

  3. Congrats! Exciting and daunting at the same time. Looking forward to reading your book. You are an excellent writer!

    • Thank you, Jenny! Exciting and daunting is exactly right, though the daunting has started to give way a little bit to the excitement. May that trend continue!

  4. What exciting, purposeful, and mindful changes you and your wife are building in your lives. Congratulations– and hooray for embracing the wild ride!

    • It took us four years to pull the trigger, Shel. But since we did, the ride has definitely been wild!

  5. Once again…great post…thanks! And very exciting…life-untangling news my friend. Congrats on all fronts! I look forward to hearing more. Take care buddy, D.

  6. praying for you and your fam during this exciting/stressful transition! So excited to read that book!

  7. Congratulations! Keep us posted about the book and when it is available. Praying that the transition for all of you will go smoothly and that patience, grace and understanding will be evident in all of you.

    • Thanks, Ginny. I will be sure to keep you all posted about the book as things progress. Thank you for your prayers, and if we could be blessed with that trio of qualities throughout this, I would be grateful.

  8. Excited for your journey toward more of your true selves! It is a constant struggle I believe and everyday we have to wonder where we are at in that struggle of true and false self…..Feels like a battle at times but then as we let go and see who we are with the help of community and faith, there is such sweet freedom and peace even for just a moment! All the best to you and your family!

    • It is like a pendulum, Kathy! I guess we have to trust we’re being formed in the midst of the back and forth. I’m sorry to being leaving Alliance just as you’ve arrived, but grateful for the short overlap we’ve had.

  9. It’s bizarre how synchronicity comes together…the idea of being our true selves has been something that’s bubbled up a few times in the last couple of weeks. My counselor recommended I read a book by Donald Miller called “Scary Close,” that I started last night. Then I read your post. I’m almost afraid to open my email, because now I have to get real. All the best to you and your family as you start this amazing new path!

    • Ha! Synchronicity, indeed. I finished that book a few weeks ago. It’s very good and definitely worth finishing! Thanks for your best wishes, Shasta.

  10. Kelly, I am so excited for you. I am so looking forward to reading your book when it finally arrives. Blessings on your transition, and blessings to your wife and you in new work and new worlds. May your little ones thrive and be inspired by your pursuit of your own passion. And may the pursuit of your passion thrill you and fulfil you endlessly. Vaughan

    • Vaughan, thank you for this. I know you’ve been aware of the work I’ve been putting in on the book for a long time. It’s exciting to see it moving into this next stage. And you offer a keen insight here. I do hope our kids see us living congruent with our values and passions and are inspired to do the same for themselves.

  11. Dr. Flanagan,

    It is incredibly uplifting to read you every Wednesday morning. I am not the type to comment, or write reviews, but after reading your blog today, I would like to say THANK YOU and best of luck to you and your family on this new journey.
    I am excited for you and cannot wait to read your new book. You do an amazing job and I have no doubt you will continue to do so.


    • You’re welcome, and thanks for your kind wishes. I’ll be writing more about this journey in the coming weeks, and I cannot wait until the day you can read the book, too. : )

  12. Congratulations, Kelly! So many new, wonderful and scary adventures coming ahead! I look forward to your new book and hope you will continue to keep your weekly blog writings up as they help us so much! Blessings to you and your family!

    • Thanks, Jenny, and thank you for being such a consistent and positive presence here. And, yes, I will definitely be continuing my weekly posts. It has been hard not to be able to share some of the central things happening in our life, but now that I can begin sharing some of that, I’ve already got the next five posts lined up! : )

  13. Congratulations! All good news. I wish you the best of luck but one huge request…please don’t stop this blog. WE LOVE it and need it!

  14. What a great gift you and your wife are giving the town of Dixon! Wow! I look forward to your posts each week, and I am thrilled that you have a book deal.

    I agree on the need for confession and how difficult it is to keep the true self hidden. But sometimes, plans and decisions have to be kept quiet for good reason, to explore possibilities and determine how they are to be lived before causing chaos in others’ lives.

    Your post made me remember the period of silence when I realized that I was being called to ministry, but waited to finish other commitments before telling others. At times it felt like I was pregnant and I wondered if others could tell that there had been a change within.

    Sometimes telling a story changes how we remember it. At the time, I appreciated holding the call story secret because I was afraid that telling it would make it seem less meaningful, or change how I perceived it.

    I hope that this change brings joy to you and your wife, and I am praying for strengthened bonds of love among your family as you deal with so many changes.

    • Cyndi, it’s clear you do understand what it has been like to be living through this change but to not be able to share it in its infancy. In the last two weeks, as significant pieces fell into place, I felt a weight lifting. It feels good to fully connect again.

  15. I come from a long line of beach ball hiders! We have chosen our own life for the last 32 years and never regretted it. All the best to you and your family.

    • A long line of beach ball hiders. : ) These things do tend to run in the family, and in most families. Good for you for starting a new tradition!

  16. Mazel Tov! May your moving into your next phase of life bring you the best in life.
    Thank you for the wonderful insights every week. You have made my life better simply by being there. Thank you. May G-d be with you and yours.

    • Leah, that means a lot to me. Thank you, and may G-d be with you and yours, as well.

  17. Congratulations on all your exciting news! I’m fortunate to know personally that friend and fantastic therapist you are starting out with and consider myself blessed that we discuss your blog to help me during my sessions. I too can’t wait to read your next book and hope you will be able to continue the blog as it has helped so many. God’s blessings on you and your family on your next adventure!

    • You’re fortunate to know him, Patricia, as am I. I’m glad the blog could enrich your time together, and I can guarantee you I will be continuing it!

  18. It is such a beautiful sadness to begin from an ending.Ending the comfort of your current life, sad at loss of the stable but beautiful in the creation of beginning, of building. Life is meant to be fluid.. You can never change your true self you can only change the physical location of the body that holds it.. So this is a joyous time(even if your kids may not think so at first). I look forward to your growth and perhaps new insights that you will glean as you transition.. i also look forward to not only this book you have written but future books as well as you use you ability to reach the heart of us all.. May the move go smoothly, I remember when I moved from Ohio to New York(a 4 hour drive) my kids took it so hard that at first I had to travel “back home” every weekend so they could see thier friends, then as time went on the visits became fewer and fewer until I was able to stop them all together. They are both adults now and well adjusted. Now they understand the why of the move, back then they only saw the leaving behind.

    • Karen, thank you so much for this encouragement, coming from your own experience. My oldest is an adventurer and seems genuinely excited about this new chapter in our life. My daughter seems to just be happy when the family is together (and excited she’ll get to paint her room yellow). My middle guy attaches deeply to people and is, I think, quietly struggling a little more than he lets one. I’m sure there are a few trips back to Wheaton in our future. : )

  19. Very excited to read the book! Have followed your blog for awhile and find it so inspiring, helpful and real. I am in the middle of my journey to release my own beach ball and your post reaffirms that while the journey is sometime painful, it is absolutely essential!! Thank you!!!

    • Sandi, thank you for reading and for your encouragement about the book! And, yes, let that beach ball go, at any cost. : )

      • Kelly, Wanted to say another “thank you” as yesterday I released the beach ball and quit a part time job that was wonderful and fulfilling but ultimately allowing me to hide from really embracing my dreams. I am terrified and exhilarated. Thanks for sharing your journey so others can embrace theirs. Gratefully, Sandi

  20. The universe unfold arms and pulls you and your family into a turbulent change. I will send energy, peace and good will. Your blog has given me much so I have much to send back. May you feel the love and support of those around you. Best wishes.

  21. Congratulations to you and your wife on the big changes ahead! It’s such a beautiful synergy when a family can make changes in such a supportive container for all. It is such a model for the rest of us to see two people living their dreams and negotiating that together.

    I remember when I let go of my biggest secret many years ago – it was exactly like that ball held underwater that you describe. Such a perfect analogy. So true what you write about confession – it isn’t because we are told to do it, but because the pressure builds up and we have no other choice. In the long run, it is oh so cleansing and makes room for all the good stuff to come.

    Wishing you and your family lots of that good stuff! Thanks for sharing your gifts with us.

    • Thank you, Christina! You can’t put all the stress and conflict and debate into a post, so I’m afraid it sounds like we’re a little more functional than we are. : )

  22. Sounds like exciting changes are coming for both of you! Being a tenured professor myself, I appreciate the sacrifice of security and predictability that your wife is making by taking the leap to clinical practice. It is one I long, hope and plan to make myself at some point. Academia is not supportive of such moves, and I am glad she found the courage to act on what she believes matters.

    I enjoy your blog, which I find thoughtful and insightful and often makes me evaluate myself.Congratulations to you on the book deal and best of luck to all of you in the transition!

    • Thank you for your encouragement, Mauricienee. And you’re right, she’s one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. Impressed me from the beginning!

  23. Kelly, I have been religiously reading your posts since a year but finally decided to comment because I’m so excited for the new steps you and your family are about to take these coming months. Hearty congrats and many many blessings your way.

    However, in response to the questions you posed; I can’t agree with you more. Recently I’ve been so tired and distressed myself because thoughts and anxieties that I was hiding, were only making me more anxious. Something happened a week ago where I was forced to let my guard down unintentionally and when I did, it was surprisingly liberating. Like everyone else, I still need to work on myself to take off the multiple masks that I put up time and time again to ward off any possible judgment from those around me, but yes…I can’t agree more how hiding is indeed very fatiguing.

    Thank you for all your amazing work and writing.

    • Sidra, thanks for deciding to speak up and for doing so to encourage us. I’m grateful. Your comment made me think of something a friend said this weekend: “Until we are free to disappoint people, we aren’t really free at all.” I hope you will continue to feel liberated.

  24. Congratulations – man this is going to be fantastic for all of you. I’m really interested to hear you share in a few years about how this change impacted the whole family.

    I left a long-time job to take a chance on something in 2012. One of the things that I realized afterwards is how much my unhappiness at my previous job had impacted the family – especially my wife. They were aware of my struggles and they weighed on them as much as they did on me.

    I don’t think you are/were unhappy by any means, but the pursuit of a dream is fantastic, and I wish you and yours the best

    • Hi Mike, it’s so good to hear from someone who took the leap and in hindsight realized what a toll his previous situation was taking. You’re right, we weren’t unhappy, but there was a sense we might quickly become so if we didn’t listen to that voice nudging us in a new direction. Thanks for being such a thoughtful presence here, Mike.

  25. Congratulations on the book deal! I look forward to reading it. I always look forward to your posts.

  26. How have you been hiding who you really are?
    Is it wearing you down?
    How might you allow your true self to surface?
    Which parts of you want and need to float?
    Who do you want to hear your confession?
    What kind of joy and relief is awaiting the revelation of the good thing you truly are?

    ALL, great questions….

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