People warn you not to wear your heart on your sleeve. They say it will only bring heartache—and I have had my fill of heartache in my 22 years. I have dealt with recurrent depressive episodes that went unseen and undiagnosed, for nearly five years. I have spent weeks in anxious agony, unable to eat or sleep, for things I can no longer remember being of any consequence. I have cried so hard I puked, made an attempt on my own life, and screamed at the world until my throat was burned raw. I have been labeled “too sensitive” and “dramatic” for simply allowing myself to express my emotions. People have begged me to take my heart off my sleeve and hide it away, “keep it safe,” they say. In reality, I know they are asking me to be different, to water myself down in order to make them more comfortable, to dilute my emotions and my personality so they don’t have to see themselves.
But I kept my heart on my sleeve. Through the discomfort, I held my own hand, and reassured myself that I was not “too much” for simply existing as I am. Through the judgment, I kept my heart on display, praying to a god who doesn’t listen that this time things would be different; I would be loved. Through the raging pain, my heart stitched itself back together every time. Perhaps with a new scar, but with a new lesson learned too. The scar tissue built my heart up again and again, bigger and stronger. It doesn’t mean the scar isn’t there, or that I’ve forgotten about it. It doesn’t mean I am wrong to feel things so strongly or that I am burdensome. It means that I have survived, I have persevered, and I have never forgotten how to love.
There is no shame in that.
My heart being on my sleeve is what saved my life. It’s what made me reach out for help in college when I knew the thoughts in my head were sliding into a place I didn’t want to go. It’s what gave me the courage to try antidepressants. It’s what thrummed deep in my chest as I spoke out about my depression, my rape, and my heartache. It is what beats still and keeps me going. For as much as my heart has brought me pain, it has also brought endless beauty into the world.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve means you can share a truer version of yourself. It means you don’t have walls built up around you anymore. People know — they can sense it — when someone has an open heart. It has allowed me to connect with people on another level. My vulnerability has let others be vulnerable around me. My resilience has shown them that there is always a chance for a better tomorrow. I have loved becoming the person that shows others the way, holds their hands, and tells them, “Careful, the next step is tricky, but I’m here to catch you. You can do it.” And when that person is afraid to take the jump, I can show them my scars. Proof that pain doesn’t mark the end, proof that you can slip and get back up, proof that if an unremarkable woman such as myself can make it through this, then you can too.
Truly, I have longed for someone to understand me, to hold me, to show me the way forward. Someone older and wiser to guide me through these tribulations. I can look back now at the last few years of my life and look at who I was and what I have been through with love and forgiveness, not just for myself but for others. It is in this retrospection that I have become the person I always needed. I am my own guardian angel. No matter what is going on, my future self is looking back at me, telling me to keep going. My future self is already guiding me with love, her heart beating as strong as my own.
It is up to me, in the now, to take the next step toward that person, that woman I want to be. But I also know that who I am now is already good enough. I can do good things and help people. I can be the person I needed when I was younger for someone else. I can keep another person from feeling lost and alone, desolate in their pain. I can be the hand reaching out to pull someone up. I want to be that person. I want to help. I never want to see another go through what I had to go through, let alone go through it alone.
I wear my heart on my sleeve. And gods does it hurt sometimes. But I would never, ever change that. It has let me love fiercely and live fully, and it has let others begin their healing. Regardless of how some may see it as a weakness, as being overly sensitive or feeling too much—I know I am meant to share my heart, and I know it will make the world a little kinder.
People need other people. You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].