Inside Out


I created this piece awhile ago when I was reflecting on how we can have such a different internal experience than what is reflected on the outside. Sometimes the way we appear can be so different from what we are actually feeling. There was a time when I was a backpacking guide, and a group and I were ascending the last stretch to the summit. It was one of the summers after a winter of record snowfall, and so where we had scrambled up rock and patchy pathways the year before, there was feet of snow. You might guess this made for a more challenging route, and it did. We had to set up several hand lines, where each person wore a harness and connected to a rope that was anchored into the snow in case you slipped. I was the person in the back of the group who was responsible for cleaning up the lines, so I would coil up the rope and carry it on my back while also making sure I was safely connected. Let’s just say it was “exciting.” I remember getting to a point of having to wait for more people to ascend ahead of me, and I was joined there by a friend. We were sort of looking at each other like, “Woah, this is kinda crazy,” and then I realized that she was scared and a little tearful. I talked her through the next steps, and she said, “Your presence is so calming.”  

Calm?! Oh, if she only knew how much fear I was battling in that moment! I am not the most comfortable with heights or snowy slopes with poor runout. I often have the thought of “one wrong step and I could literally fall off this mountain.” I wouldn’t have guessed that I was calm during any part of that summit experience. 

And yet, there’s often more than meets the eye, isn’t there. Sometimes we aren’t as good at hiding it as we think we are, like when you’re public speaking and your voice starts wavering a little. You’re like, “Oh, I’m getting over a cold.” And sometimes we’re like highly trained professionals at hiding what’s actually going on inside. We’ve learned that it doesn’t go so well when we are vulnerable with our emotions. 

We are so good at becoming disconnected. We are so good at pleasing others or faking it, and I wonder what that does to us. How does it feel to hold it all inside? How do we actually feel known if that is the case?  

It takes time, as well as being okay with being messy, but the more that you can take a look at what’s happening inside of you, with what you are actually feeling in your body, the more you’re likely to find ways to express those parts. Sure, it was helpful to my friend who was scared and able to find some comfort in my calmness on that mountain peak, but eventually I was able to share with her in the fear and we were able to bond over having a similar experience later on. And I felt more known in my experience as well. 

What are the emotions that you cover up and don’t want to come out? What would it look like to find a space to acknowledge them and let them exist outside of you? 

Remember that all you need to be is you.  

Alissa Swank