"Being bona fide is hard. So hard. And you know what’s easy? Letting people think my life is rosy. When someone assumes I’ve got life figured out, the last thing I want to do is admit that I’m actually a hot mess 100% of the time. But even though it’s easy, it’s unsatisfying.
As a kid, I wore my heart on my sleeve. I gave minute-by-minute updates so everyone knew how I was feeling. I announced when I felt pretty, when I was mad at my sister, when I was scared, when I was thrilled out of my mind… You get the picture. As I got a little older, that constant commentary turned into late night talks with girlfriends, giggling about boys, crying about homework, and all the crazy hormones that come along with middle school.
Then something strange started happening when I was in high school. For some reason, telling people my feelings got harder and harder. I not only felt pressure to look a certain way and act a certain way, but even to feel a certain way. I was embarrassed to cry, and I felt guilty for being mad, so I held it all in. People liked me. They respected me. I couldn’t let them know that I had bad days sometimes. They thought I was strong. I couldn’t let them down.
Fast forward four(ish) years, and you’ll meet me now, a 20 year old college student battling cancer. When I was diagnosed as an 18 year old, I wrote a post for my blog called “Cancer Doesn’t Scare God.” I told everyone I was afraid, but that God wasn’t. I felt like I was being very real and honest. And for some reason that I couldn’t fathom, everyone wanted to tell me how strong and brave I was. I was so confused because I’d just confessed that I was weak and scared, but people were responding as if I’d announced that I volunteered as tribute to get cancer in place of my sister.
Those sweet words of encouragement only increased. People gathered around me to lift me up more and more everyday. I was so grateful, but I started to rely more and more on that mask. People expected me to feel optimistic, so I had to be optimistic. They expected me to feel brave, so I had to be brave. They expected me to feel strong, so I had to be strong. Bad news had to have an upbeat twist so people didn’t know I was terrified or upset. Before long, I couldn’t tell what I was feeling at all. But when people asked how I was doing, it was easier to wear a smile andsay, “I feel great,” than to actually think about what was going on inside me and let them see me broken and vulnerable.
It’s taken two years of living in this crazy cancer world to start tearing those walls down. I’m practicing telling people how I feel instead of just saying, “fine, thank you.” I’m learning to think about the hard stuff instead of shoving it into a back corner in my mind. I’m practicing being honest when my life isn’t picture perfect. I’m learning to cry in public.
That stuff is hard, but I’ve learned that vulnerability is what builds relationships. It’s easy to put walls up, but people need people. We were designed for relationship and community. By building those walls, I locked other people out, and I locked myself in. So what if other people believe we’ve got it all together if we’re actually struggling on the inside? No one can be there for you in your time of need if all they see is fake smiles and perfectly edited instagramphotos. I look back now and see so many friendships I missed out on because of my unwillingness to open up and be real.
Being vulnerable doesn’t really get easier. I still cringe every time someone sits down to talk and asks, “how are you?” because I know I’m about to have to deal with (shudder) feelings. But being vulnerable does make life so much sweeter. It opens the door and invites people into your mess so they can feel with you and love you through it. Having someone admire your strength is nice, but having someone love you in your weakness is so beautiful, and breaking your walls down is so worth it.
So stop hiding. Let people know the real you. Relationships are built on the raw, unedited version of life – the version that includes hurt, fear, and failure. You are worth more than pretty pictures that lie about who you are. Be bona fide. It’s a dangerous way to live, but it’s so immensely satisfying."
We love Kayla's heart and love her story even more. Sometimes life throws us curve balls but it's only then that we are given the opportunity to choose joy and seek life whole heartily. We are so proud of you, Kayla. Thank you for being Bona Fide through the hard stuff. You are a world changer. xo
Visit openhandsoverflowinghearts.org, a non profit organization started by Kayla, to read her story, donate directly to cancer research funding, and see how she is turning a not so pretty situation into something greater than herself.