“Hey, are you okay?” She turned to look at me, her grey eyes always perceptive to pain.

No, I’m not! A voice inside of me begged to burst out and be heard. The same voice that couldn’t mask the pain anymore. I was sick and I was exhausted. My throat was aching and I couldn’t stop coughing. I had a migraine that was driving me insane. To make matters worse, I was stuck at school, unable to function properly. I was bogged down by tons of homework and tests I couldn’t handle in this state. I was left feeling what I hated most – utterly helpless and unaccomplished.

Old habits pushed me to take on more and more until it sapped my strength and I started to lose my balance. The more I kept the stress bottled up, the more the pressure built up. I couldn’t carry on any longer, not like this. Not when I felt like I was dragging myself straight to self-destruction. To someone I did not recognize anymore.

But I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t actually speak my mind. So, I smiled at my friend reassuringly, “Yeah, I’m okay.” She returned the smile and that moment of revealing the truth slipped through my fingers like it always did. We went on like everything was normal, even though the bad feeling didn’t leave me just yet.

It’s not like I was intentionally telling her a lie. More like, I was pretending to feel something I didn’t feel because it was the right thing to do at the time.

Why do we pretend everything is okay when we know it isn’t? Is it because it is human nature to put on a facade for the world? One that we hide behind until we feel safe to come out and present the real us? Or is it because we don’t want to feel vulnerable in a world that judges our every action and response?

For me, it is a mixture of both. I don’t want to expose strangers to this weaker, less “attractive” side of me. Not because I’m afraid of what they will think, but because I’m afraid of what I will think, knowing that they’ve seen me  at my breaking point. I don’t want to be misjudged or mistreated for my moment of weakness when I know there is more to me than that.

I want to be a role model – someone people look to for inspiration and courage. But I can’t be that person if I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Concealing that vulnerable side of me from the outside world gives me a false sense of comfort that I am always secure. If people believe it, then maybe I can convince myself too.

What I forget is sometimes even the strong fall. In the end, none of us can escape our insecurities or, more importantly, ourselves. Yes, “sometimes you just have to smile, pretend everything’s okay, hold back the tears and just walk away,” but we can only pretend for so long until reality catches up with us and haunts our thoughts.

We can’t always have it all together and we don’t need to pretend that we do. Not even every superhero I admire and every legendary leader in history can block out their emotions and imperfections forever. Our emotions and our life experiences – whether positive or negative – make us real. They mold us into new people. They create a personal characteristic that we will carry on for the rest of our lives and that will set us apart from everyone else.

It makes sense to shield our real selves from those distant from us – trust must be earned. But meanwhile, we don’t have to pretend to be someone we can’t even recognize ourselves. After all, “you were born to be real, not to be perfect.”