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  • Keith Abraham

Appearances Are Deceptive

Those who appear toughest may be most in need of help

The photo below was taken at the end of my tour in Afghanistan in 2008. What words come to mind when you look at it? “Hard”, “dangerous”, “violent”, “aggressive”, “tough”, “unapproachable”? It seems a fair assessment and, in this case, the camera doesn’t lie, I was all of those things. But what if I told you I was also desperately in need of help. My experiences in Helmand Province were profoundly life changing. While I’m now grateful for them all, it’s still difficult to adequately summarise them as they ranged anywhere between moments of ecstatic joy and the desperately traumatic. As Dickens rightly said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

When I returned home from Helmand, all I wanted to do was go back out there. I felt like an alien wandering around my local supermarket or watching TV and despised the perceived superficial nature of this “civilised” reality. Nonetheless, I presented an image of myself that would be easiest for my family and loved ones to engage with. Only my girlfriend at the time, an incredibly patient and loving person, was privy to the nightmares, vivid flashbacks and periods of acute depression and anxiety. But it soon became a little too much for us both and, for various reasons, our relationship fell apart. This fresh heartbreak only made things more difficult. I was now desperately alone and unable to share my pain, believing no one would understand and that no one could help me. I felt my only choice was to continue to build and maintain the facade of the tough, robust warrior. The problem I found was that people really believed it! To even the most trained eye, I appeared to be tough, hard and impervious to pain. Yet, if someone had laid their hand on my shoulder and genuinely asked how I felt, I may well have broken down.

When we are emotionally mature and own our feelings, it’s easy to reach out for help and, because most people are inherently kind and want to help others who are in need, we normally receive it. But when we feel insecure and fearful of how any display of emotion will be received by others, it’s safer to present a facade similar to the one I just described; one of enduring strength, despite the pain and suffering that may be swirling around inside.

Appearances are deceptive and so I challenge you not to judge too quickly, to look beyond what is presented and see the truth: We are all in need of love and healing, despite what is presented and we are all deserving of love and healing, despite our actions and beliefs.


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