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.
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.
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.
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?
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.