real life

"While two women I see everyday were going through hell, I didn't have a clue."

When I met my boss Leigh Campbell for the first time, it was only her second day in the office.

She was everything I looked forward to being ‘when I grew up’ and I recognised her face from the glossy beauty pages of the Cosmopolitan magazines that arrived in my letterbox every month.

I didn’t get time to do my nails, but I washed and blow dried my hair that morning and put more effort into my makeup than I normally would for work. Leigh was a beauty editor, after all.

Working with her that day was a career highlight, a dream come true. She was warm and generous and made me feel like she was excited to meet me, which is how you hope but don’t always expect meeting your idol will go.

That was months ago, and while I know her better now, I often think about the impression Leigh made on me that day.

Last Sunday, sitting in front of the TV, I read the latest posts in Leigh’s series about her experiences with infertility Treading Water. (You can read it from the beginning here, it’s brilliant.)

The final post was called The Worst Day. The Worst Day was the day we met.

“My second day [at Mamamia] was my due date. I spent the day picturing what would have been happening in my parallel life and I wanted to be anywhere but where I was,” she wrote about the baby she never got the chance to meet.

“I dried my eyes in a meeting room and sat back at my desk and interacted with my team like everything was fine. I went to meetings like everything was fine. I so desperately wanted to get up and leave – but it wasn’t physically where I was I wanted to get away from – it was my life. But I pretended everything was fine.”

Yesterday, my co-worker was late to work. I’d noticed she wasn’t at her desk, and when she arrived a couple of hours into the work day, I wondered if she was OK. I didn’t ask though. Better to leave her be, I thought.

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That afternoon, I gave her a wave through the glass window of a meeting room – she was going home early. She smiled, but it didn’t touch her eyes the way hers normally would.

Later, I found out through her Instagram story she’d accepted a plea deal from a man who assaulted her at a concert several months ago.

She’d been standing towards the front of the crowd, but decided to move slightly to the left to get a better view of the stage. What followed was months of police reports, rehashing the assault in excruciating detail and a court date, all of which culminated in her accepting a plea deal from this man because she doesn’t have a fancy lawyer and quite frankly, the system is exhausting.

Both of these situations had and continue to have nothing to do with me, other than that I’m now aware of them. But stronger than the pang of sadness I felt for them, wishing I’d known sooner or that I could’ve done something to help was the overwhelming realisation that you never, ever truly know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

While two women I see everyday were going through hell, I didn’t have a clue. They wouldn’t know when I’m living through mine either.

When did we all get so good at hiding our pain from the world? It’s a skill, looking up to stop the beginnings of tears from spilling over onto our cheeks. At putting our headphones in, getting on the train and coming to work when we’d rather disappear.

I have no right, nor do I expect to be privy to the inner workings of another person’s mind. Everyone deals with their sh*t differently. Some push it down and pretend it’s not there, others like to get the weight of it off their chests. But no matter how you go about your day when you’d rather be anywhere but where you have to be, there’s one thing that will always be true.

It’s not hard to say hello when they walk in and goodbye when they’re leaving. Or to include someone in a joke. It’s easy to compliment them on their work or their lipstick, and to say they did a great job on something.

It takes no effort to be kind.

I’ve always known this. But these women’s stories were an important reminder.

If this post raises any issues for you, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or SANDS on 1300 072 637. If you’re in immediate danger, call 000.

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