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Monday Moment: Behind our glossy exterior

Emma Grey

Yesterday, I went for a walk around Canberra’s beautiful lake with my nieces. It was a crisp, sunny morning and we stopped to photograph swans and rabbits and hot air balloons. We drank in the view of the mountains, the quietness, the clean air. Then, on the way back to the car, one of the little girls asked why there was a person sleeping on a cardboard box in the picnic shelter…

Last week, our city was named for the second time as the best place to live in the world. An OECD report ranked 362 regions against nine measures of well-being including safety, housing, access to services, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, income and health — and we came out on top.

In the same week, another report explained that homelessness here has increased by 70 per cent in the last 12 months. Hundreds are turned away from shelters every night. One night last week we had the coldest minimum temperature in Australia (even colder than the top of Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains). It was -4.7 degrees, with an apparent temperature of -7.6. And hundreds sleeping rough.

Four Canberra women have been murdered in domestic violence situations so far this year. Domestic violence crisis centres and hotlines are being crushed under the weight of increased demand.

So, when you peel back the layers behind our glossy OECD image, there is much more to the story.

There always is.

I remember having a conversation a few years ago with a woman whose life I idolised. She was stunning with a pigeon pair of beautiful children. They lived in an exquisite house and she had a rewarding career and bountiful time to volunteer. She was also studying and threw parties the likes of which I’ve never experienced before or since because she was a fabulous entertainer. Her clothes were glamorous, her car was amazing and, no matter what time of the day I bumped into her, she appeared flawless.

I asked her once how she had time to do it all (and to do it all so seemingly well) and her answer floored me, “I’m so miserably married, I have to fill every waking moment.”

That was the day I learnt to stop comparing my ‘behind the scenes’ with others’ stage performances. It’s when I realised that we never truly know what’s going on in someone’s life, no matter how things look from the outside.

Like Canberra, each of us might measure up well against certain ‘ratings’ in our lives: we have a roof over our heads and a job and a family — but what’s really going on for us? There’s no neon sign above our heads proclaiming to the world that we’re struggling with a mental illness, or we hate our work, or that we suffer abuse at the hands of the partner everyone else admires. There’s nothing to explain that the breezy smiles and fake “I’m fines” are the armour we wear against crumbling.

Nobody can hear our secret thoughts. Nobody knows how unqualified we feel in certain situations. How nervous we are or how fearful. Nobody can tell how much we’re privately berating ourselves for yelling at the kids until our throats hurt, or mucking up that presentation at work.

Because there’s ‘public us’ and ‘private us’. Even the most communicative and open amongst us have some deep and private thoughts or fears or guilt or embarrassment that we worry we couldn’t even admit to our closest friends.

One of the most powerful things we can know is this: “It’s not just me.

If you’re feeling like a “freak” — as if everyone else has their lives together and you don’t; as if you’re not far enough ahead or not a nice enough person… If you’re feeling judgemental and short-fused and disappointed… and if you’re comparing yourself to someone who appears to the world as though they don’t struggle with any of these things, then take a deep breath.

The official rating is only part of the story. How we rise against the challenges we’re all facing underneath our glossy exterior lives is what really makes us who we are.

We can and should celebrate the things that go right and pat ourselves on the back when we do well. But it’s realistic to remember, too, that every single one of us is struggling with something. xx

Here are some resources and helplines…

 Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock. 


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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