Count to…

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

~Aristotle

My father is a blunt person (I inherited a lot of his personality – to the chagrin of my mother). When we were growing up, he took a frank stance with all of us. No, we weren’t supposed to get into fights. Why? Because the person that starts a fight is always the person that gets caught. (Definitely a fact) However, while we were never to throw the first punch, he had no qualms if we threw the second. (Metaphorically or physically)

I took the lesson to heart. While I never laid a finger on anyone (siblings don’t count), I knew exactly where to use my words. I’m a writer, after all, and I always have been. A few well-placed phrases, and I cut people to pieces. (Girls are mean. Anyone that says differently lives in a dream world) With rare exceptions, my emotions built over weeks and even months – gifting me plenty of time to build my arguments. My opponent felt blind-sided, assuming I was working off the top of my head.

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it?

Gut punches fail us. Our brains shut down, overwhelmed with furious emotion. We might as well revert back to grunting Neanderthals. The ability to express our message, our feelings, or even conduct a coherent argument vanishes. Instead, we sputter, our blood pressure surges, and we’re left with kindergarten-level taunting. It isn’t until later (in bed or in the shower), when our body regains homeostasis, that we’re able to construct the sentences we WANTED to use.

Hours too late.

Which is where the adage “count to ten” starts to make sense. When you stop, breathe, and think, you regain common sense. Your blood pressure may not return to normal in that time, but at least it won’t surge into stroke-risk zones. Some call it holding a grudge to bank embers over time before releasing statements. I call it reasonable. You save your brain, you maintain better health, and, honestly, they’re just pissed they can’t respond to your eloquence. Patience is a virtue, after all.

I’m not a person that believes anger is unacceptable or has no place. It’s an emotion, same as happiness or misery; you have a right to feel and express it. I’m not one to condone violence, but getting angry has it’s place. You FEEL angry for a reason, and people have a right to know they’ve pushed you past your tolerance limit. There’s no guarantee they’ll change, but at least you let that frustration into the open.

Holding anger in ISN’T healthy.

Take your time to examine WHAT, exactly, bothers you. Think through your reasons and arguments. THEN let your words out. You won’t dissolve into name-calling and ridicule (or, at least if you do, it’ll be elevated above schoolyard terms), and the vein in your forehead won’t threaten to explode. Calm anger IS a thing. It’s damn hard to react to (and a lot of fun, frankly). Staying ice cold while the other person pushes themselves towards a stroke is therapeutic.

I don’t apologize for feeling and expressing my anger. I’m a human being, and I’m entitled to EVERY emotion I’m capable of. I won’t start a fight. I never have. But I have finished a lot of them.

Cut the Cord

There’s a slough of things that come with advancing age that kind of suck. Arthritis, organs crap out on you, your brain starts slacking off, and you start stockpiling knowledge that you A) needed when you were younger, and B) debate whether you want in the first place. You know the lessons are valuable, but they’re rough lessons, bringing bruises, scrapes, and a lot of scarring.

This particular lesson goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge from Dancing on the Line. I won’t backtrack on that stance: you do need to acknowledge that there are multiple sides to every issue. However, I never said every side was RIGHT. There are certain issues that arise where you decide to draw a line. You plant your feet, you firm your jaw, and you say, “NO!” It takes a lot of courage to find your causes.

It takes more to hold that line.

Friends and even family won’t agree. People you love and admire will say things that shock you to your core. You’ll hear statements and see things that make you want to vomit. Your blood pressure will rise, your limbs will shake, you’ll lose the ability to hear, to see. Honestly, it’s like having a stroke without the medical consequences. You just suffer the mental and emotional consequences. That’s NOT better.

Time to make a decision.

When your mental health is on the line, you have to make a choice. Which is more important: You or that relationship? Keeping people like that around ISN’T healthy, and somewhere deep down inside, you know that. Witnessing that behavior is slowly poisoning yourself. How long do you want to ingest that toxin? When do you finally decide to cut off the drip of venom? After you’re so ill you can’t function? Or when you still have a chance for recovery?

Cutting the cord on a friendship is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. After all, people like to walk around, righteously declaring that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yes, yes, they are. That doesn’t mean they’re right, and it doesn’t mean you need to be subject to that opinion. Not when it’s damaging to your mental well-being. That’s a load of bull shit.

YOU matter more than that!

This year I learned to wield the scissors. I opened my eyes, and I put my foot down. Because I saw how sick the racism made me. I acknowledged the horror of the religious intolerance. I finally admitted to the basic ignorance of humanity. And I said ENOUGH. There are too many genuine loved ones in my circle – people the hatred excluded – for me to accept the blatant disregard any longer. I cut, and I cut, and I cut.

And now I can BREATHE!

I drew the line, and I’m holding it. Is it choosing a side? Yes, I suppose so – MINE. I make no excuses for what I’ll tolerate and what I WON’T. Are there regrets? Yes – I regret that I thought better of those people. I thought they were intelligent. I assumed they were educated. I believed they were good, thoughtful human beings. And THEY let ME down.

You make your own decisions on your life. You decide what you allow in your space and in your mind. If you feel you can stomach the poison, that’s your decision. I couldn’t swallow anymore.

Talk

“I usually know almost exactly how I feel. The problem is, I just can’t tell anyone.”

~Meg Cabot, Princess in Love

So here’s the thing: mental illness carries a stigma. We’re supposed to be enlightened and advanced in this day and age. (Pardon me while I pause to laugh hysterically) If you dare to stand up and admit to having a mental illness – any kind of mental illness – people look at you sideways. I’m not really sure what they picture, but you can visualize the box they shuffle you into.

“Uh-oh, crazy person right there.”

Imagine the shock when the majority of people opt out of standing, speaking up, or bringing any kind of attention to themselves. Why would you? Why would you voluntarily welcome getting tarred and feathered? Why would you step onto a stage and wait to get doused in a bucket of misconception and hatred from an uninformed public?

Odds are, you wouldn’t.

Here’s the catch-22. Mental illness and mental health demand conversation. Not just for people to understand they’re being morons (that’s a big part, though). No, we need to stand up and talk because that’s how we HEAL.

Oh, yeah – HEALING? Remember that?

Not a single person with mental illness is happy with their diagnosis. Not a single person battling with anxiety or depression or manic-depression or ADHD or any number of other illnesses is HAPPY. They don’t wake up, cheerily greeting the imbalance in their brain. We confront our reflections every day cursing our biochemistry to the ends of the universe and beyond. We run through checklists to even GET OUT OF BED! You think we want to exist like this every day?!

We want to heal. Which means admitting a need to talk about the things going on in our screwed-up brains. It means sitting down and discussing the thoughts rattling around in ours heads. We know they aren’t always logical (somewhere), but until we get them out in the open, we can’t deal with them.

Want an example? My anxiety amps up beyond my limit to control it. Worries stack up and stack up and stack up. If you think I haven’t thought of something to worry about, you are in for a surprise – I’ve got EVERYTHING mapped out with every possible scenario. And I know I can’t control 90% of those things. But I CAN control a lot of things. Like the way the towels in the kitchen and bathroom are folded. Like the way the dishes are stacked in the cabinet. Like the way the books and movies are organized. That order is my way of staying calm and organized and in control in a world that is literally planning to fall apart around me.

So when my fiance’ decides to ignore that order, my world comes apart. And I break down. It took me a long time to finally open up and explain why the towel folding was so important. That it keeps my tiny part of the world SANE. I had to TALK to him, to sit down and TALK through my insane logic. Is it his logic? Of course not. But when I finally talked to him, he understood. He laughs, but the towels are always in place now. He understands he’s keeping my world safe.

If you don’t talk, people don’t know. They don’t understand what you need. They don’t know what you’re feeling, what you’re going through. And so they can’t help. People out there DO want to help, they really do. They just need to understand. Which means opening your mouth.

No, not everyone.

But we fix that by talking, too. Mental health is repaired by making discussion open. By not shuttling it into the shadows. By not stigmatizing it as “crazy,” or “disturbed,” or any other number of fucked up labels. The world has done those of us battling these diseases a disservice. And we fix that by standing up and speaking up. It’s the only way things are ever going to get better.

Dancing on the Line

Black and white image of trees fading into fog
Photo by Vlad Bagacian from Pexels

Black and white. Us versus them. Right and wrong. This or that. Ever notice how many extremes things appear to come in? People like to turn ANYTHING into an issue with polar opposites, and they set up camps in the two extremes. Then they look at you and expect you to choose one option or the other. Failure to do so, or (universe-forbid) failure to choose the “correct” option results in abuse, sneering, and insistence that you fix your way of thinking.

Because, of course, there’s a giant chasm in the middle.

Oh, wait – no there isn’t. Between those two poles is an entire gradient of colors (or, if you can’t see color, a spectrum of greys). The view from the middle lets you see EVERYTHING. Which, frankly, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if more people took the time to stand on THAT line, maybe we wouldn’t have to cope with so much sniping and nastiness. (Go figure)

Unpopular truth: There’s no one right way.

Crazy, right? Probably why I spend a lot of time with people casting ugly looks in my direction (don’t worry – I get over it). But it’s how I was raised. I look at things from every angle before I make a decision (and sometimes that decision is to park myself in the very middle). I don’t necessarily LIKE considering issues from the other side (because sometimes the other side is incredibly stupid), but it’s the only way to be fair. It’s a necessary dance in order to remain objective.

Wait, objective with idiots? Yeah, I know – it sucks. My fiance’ shakes his head a lot when I start a conversation with the words, “But think of it from their side.” Does it mean I agree with them? No, not a lot of the time. But it means I need to take five minutes to stop and consider things from the other side. I can’t rush into an argument screaming from my heart. I have to give my brain time to process every angle first. (Don’t you wish everyone did this?)

It won’t win you any friends.

Want an example? I’ve read Mein Kampf. (Not in the original German, but a faithful translation) Hitler was an extremely intelligent man, and the book is a brilliant read – I recommend it to anyone. When I say those words, people act like I’ve executed a country in front of them. Do I agree with what he did? Of course I don’t! But can I admire the brain of the person who wrote that book? Yeah, I can. Can I point out the fact that someone so simple was able to corrupt an entire nation (an entire region) using simple rhetoric and propaganda? Yeah, I can. I can look at BOTH sides of something.

It takes practice and a backbone to dance on the line of objectivity. Standing still while someone rails in your face that you’re a horrible person is difficult. (Of course, unless you agree with them in the first place, you’ll probably have to do the same thing) You need a strong stomach to look at the other side of some issues, too. Again, you DON’T have to agree with them (I don’t support racism, religious intolerance, discrimination of ANY kind, and in our current pandemic situation, I support science and doctors – NOT politicians).

Once you learn to look at both camps, you find yourself sitting outside of them – even when you pick one. They WON’T let you stay inside the tent if you utter a single “but.” And a lot of times, you’ll end up in that fictional middle ground they told you didn’t exist. It gets lonely, but you’ll be stronger for it. While the others are busy screaming at each other, you get to note how similar they actually are (and refuse to acknowledge).

Plus, when you’re willing to learn more, you become a stronger ally. You know what to say to shut someone down when they try to abuse a person you’ve elected to defend. After all, you understand that side as well as they do, right? So you know where to aim your words. (Maybe it’s a LITTLE petty, but I personally take joy in watching bigots deflate and skulk away)

You DON’T have to pick a side, not if you don’t feel comfortable. There’s no chasm between them. You don’t have to remain ignorant of what the other “side” has to say. Knowledge doesn’t make you a traitor, it makes you smart. If your friends can’t accept that, are they the friends you want to keep?

The Constant Battle

“You may have to fight a battle more than once.”

~Margaret Thatcher

Chronic illness sucks. Actually, let me clarify that: chronic illness SUCKS! When you have a chronic illness that brings pain along for funsies…suffice it to say there aren’t enough expletives available in every language in the known universe. Don’t get me wrong, we all get good days. We get days without pain (ha, just kidding – we get days with manageable pain). We get days where we get to function like semi-normal human beings. Those are usually days when we overdo it in a heady rush to catch up on everything we’ve slacked on during the bad days.

Because the bad days…

Pain takes a big toll on mental health. Not just for people with chronic illness, but anyone. Nerves screaming for your brain’s attention diverts blood flow and resources away from – well, pretty much everything. (I’m not making this up, either. This is genuine science) There’s only so much the brain is capable of handling at one time. When pain demands too much focus, that beautiful machine sacrifices other functions to try to cope with the raw nerves. Guess what that leads to?

The dreaded FOG!

Doesn’t matter how well-educated you are, how fluent your usual vocabulary. You are suddenly reduced to a complete and utter idjit. You lose entire sections of the dictionary. Not just the big words, either. I’ve stared at a table and come up with nothing more than, “flat thingy.” (Oh, yeah, people look at you with respect then!) Sentences trail off to nowhere. Focus? Forget it. Your poor brain doesn’t have time to help you concentrate. You stare at computer screens while clocks tick by, wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. You wander into rooms with no clue why (assuming you remember what the room is in the first place).

And you’re mental health tanks behind it. You KNOW you’re intelligent. You KNOW you’re competent. You KNOW you can write and speak and read at more than a kindergarten level! But you’re sure as hell not demonstrating that fact! So you hide away from friends and family. You avoid speaking aloud lest some brainless phrase escape your lips. You frantically run documents through spellcheck and Grammarly to save yourself from looking stupid. You feel less than a milometer tall.

All from a physical reaction.

Pain is a powerful thing. It really can sabotage your brain that easily. I don’t want to say those of us with chronic illness are used to it, because we’re not. We hate sputtering through our flares. We hate canceling plans to avoid looking like certifiable morons. But we at least know it comes with our diagnoses. Someone experiencing nexus-level pain for the first time? Yeah, no clue what they’re in store for.

Spoon theory works for chronic illness when measuring physical activity. But it fails when we try to account for our mental well-being. How many spoons to speak like an educated person? How many to write a thought-out article? How many to describe a room? How many to understand a Dad joke? Who freaking knows?! It never comes up in all of those cute memes displayed around social media. But it matters. Our mental health and well-being is just as important as our physical capabilities.

Yes, I want to know what I’m going to accomplish each day. (And, yes, I overspend my spoons pretty much every day) But I also want to know how much fog I’m going to cope with. I want to know if I’m going to sound like a moron with a new client. I want to know if I’m going to have a sentence fade out when talking with my fiance’ at the end of the day. I want to know if I’m going to just curl into a ball mid-way. Not just because the pain is getting to me, but because I feel like my brain is failing on me.

How many spoons to feel like a real person again? That’s what I want to know.

Finding the Closure Store

How many times in your life has someone insisted you “need closure?” You end a relationship – you need closure. You get in an argument with a friend (or even just an acquaintance) – you need closure. You have some kind of incident (I’ll leave the details up to you) – you need closure. Your barista hands you the wrong cup of coffee in the morning? Dammit – you need closure!

Closure starts to sound like a physical object after awhile doesn’t it? Either that, or it starts sounding like some kind of talk show “professional” advertised on late-night television. (Personally, I’d prefer the kitschy object) Everyone has the opinion you need it, they strongly recommend you seek it out, but no one quite knows where the store selling this magnificent solution is located.

Where IS that elusive closure store?

Allow me to clear things up for you. Closure is different for every person and every situation. Which is probably why you’re having so much trouble tracking down that store. (And please DON’T try booking yourself onto a talk show) Also, whether you NEED it or not is entirely up to you. You NEED to breathe. You NEED shelter. You NEED food. You NEED water. Closure? Nah, not in the essential pyramid.

So what is closure?

Closure is nothing more than the point where you can finally move on from a bad situation. (Which means you should probably let your barista off the hook. Seriously, was one wrong order THAT detrimental?) That is the entire magical definition. It’s also why it’s different for every person and every situation. Some people do have physical objects – like baseball bats to their ex’s heads (please note: I’m NOT advocating this!). Some people are subtler: they finally manage to tell their story without crying. You might even achieve closure and NEVER REALIZE IT! All of a sudden you look back and realize you’re miles away from that nightmare. Who knew!

If you’re still fixated on something, then you haven’t achieved closure. No magical store is going to do it for you, either. Trust me. You think I haven’t hunted for that store over the years? Of course I did! I wanted that wand (baseball bat – I’ll admit it; I wanted a baseball bat) in my hands SO many times. I never found it. Instead, I found paper shredders (paper shredders are awesome – just watch your fingers and remember they overheat), Unfriend buttons, and weeds in the yard. Did you know you can rip weeds out of the yard without any repercussions? True story.

You do what it takes to mark something OVER.

The point of CLOSURE is to END it. You don’t revisit it, you don’t bring it back to conversations, and you don’t give it space in your mind. You want that anxiety OUT of your head space. If that means visiting a gun range and turning a target to Swiss cheese, so be it. If it means turning old records to confetti, do it! Take the burden of liars, manipulation, and misery OFF your shoulders. Dump it in a hole and bury it out in the woods where no one can find it ever again. (No physical people – I’ve been informed this is illegal)

But stop looking for the store. It’s just not there. And what works for one person won’t work you, anyway.

There’s Sorry and There’s Stupid

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.”

~Lady Gaga

I spent a lot of time thinking through this post, considering it from different angles and reflecting back on my own personal experiences and lessons. The one truth I came to realize was that there will be a number of people that won’t agree with my perspective. Which is fine – I don’t claim to be the only answer out there. All I can say is what I’ve learned and realized over the years.

Trust is a tricky thing. Some people claim it’s something you earn, others that it’s something you hand out indiscriminately. Some people feel it’s strong, nearly unbreakable, while others consider it delicate and fragile. Some people think it can be repaired once broken, and others stare at the shattered fragments and see nothing but an incomplete jigsaw puzzle.

What do I see?

When I was younger, I believed that everyone deserved to be trusted. I handed it out to everyone with a smile, confident that I’d receive the same treatment. I was taught by those with authority around me that I was supposed to trust: my peers, my elders, my friends (not strangers – that was going too far). I was blissfully stupid, and I got exactly what I deserved: betrayal. And that first lesson was hard.

Know those trust falls?

My so-called friend thought it would be funny to let me fall. And I guess it was a riot because everyone else in the class laughed and made fun for days. Meanwhile, I was left with a sore back, sore head, a bitter taste in my mouth, and the first twist of the knife in my heart. Oh, the teacher scolded, but that was the end of things. One more betrayal. After all, kids will be kids, right?

No one can see the knife – be it in the heart or in the back – but it stays. Each betrayal buries it deeper until the trust that exists between those two individuals shatters completely. That’s the only thing that saves you from the damage being wrought by the knife. Whispered conversations behind the back (which you’re not supposed to hear but ALWAYS get around to you), “forgotten” promises, blatant lies – they all add up. People decide they’re “harmless,” and wave away the fact that they’re breaking your trust.

And then it snaps (or you do).

You stare at the destructive remains of the trusting bond you shared with a person, and you don’t know what to feel. Relief that they can’t hurt you anymore? Anger that you allowed them to hurt you for so long? Sadness that the bond is gone? Misery that you were manipulated? Despair that you’ll never be able to put those pieces back together? Everything at once? Fragile or strong, the trust is now gone.

Sometimes, that trust stays gone. Friendships die without trust (well, any relationship does). Is that a loss? No. True friends don’t behave that way, and you’re better off without them. Other times, those same people bounce back into your lives with big smiles and offer you the bond of trust again. Often, they act as if nothing ever happened, as if they never thrust a knife into your back and destroyed some part of your life.

And you know there’s another knife in their hands.

Do you extend that trust again? Or are you smart enough to walk away?

I spent a lot of my life being stupid, and I paid for it – over and over and over again. My back is covered in the metaphorical scars of betrayal. As time went on, I stopped trusting people, stopped extending it to those who showed smiles that were too big, used the words, “trust me.” Does that mean I made the right decisions all the time? No. I’ve removed knives from my back in the past year.

And it still sucks every time.

Now, I might accept apologies from liars, but I never trust another word from their mouths. I expect manipulators to continue doing so, and I watch everything they do. Promises made from people I know that don’t keep them are expected to be broken, and I make alternate plans. New people that come into my life are watched like a hawk, and I don’t trust them – not for a long time. I refuse to do trust falls.

Is this healthy?

I’m the first to admit it probably isn’t, but it’s what people have taught me. I spent too much of my life being stupid, and I’ve finished with that phase of things. There ARE people in my life I trust. They’ve stuck with me through everything and proved there are decent individuals in this world. Is the list long? No. Am I worried that it’s a short list? No. A tight, small, STRONG circle beats a big, weak, floppy circle any day.

So, yeah, maybe you won’t agree with my view on trust. That’s okay. If you haven’t experienced the same level of betrayal, I’m glad – and I mean that. I hope that continues in your life. No one deserves to carry a back full of scars.

Embrace the Happy

"Just Be"
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Let me set up the scenario for you: something amazing just happened (you choose the amazing because that definition is different for everyone), and you are dancing on air. You can’t wait to share the news with everyone around you, hoping for the same cheer and light to infuse their day, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. You can barely keep still, and the words jumble together. If you battle depression, this moment shines even brighter for you because it means you’ve climbed out of the pit and felt the sun on your face for the first time in days, weeks, maybe even months. Your face feels like it might split wide open, you’re smiling so bright. Your present your news and pause for the reaction.

And they just stare at you.

The entire world falls back around you in shatters, and you feel like a complete and utter fool. If you’re really unlucky, you receive a lecture about having the nerve to be so cheerful during “this time” (I’m not referring to any time in particular – sure we’re experiencing COVID-19 right now, the upheaval of race relations, the trauma of LGBTQ rights being revoked, but there are also individual times that get thrown at you). All of the life goes out of you, and the chasm splits under your feet to cast you back into the pit.

How DARE you be happy?

Because no one on this planet is ever allowed to be happy (well, except for them, of course – don’t you dare ever consider doing the same thing to them). Happiness must be squashed out at every turn, crushed into the mud and silenced lest it brighten the world. You spend 95% of your life depressed and miserable, and – dammit – people want to push that to 100%. What’s the phrase: misery shared is misery halved? Yeah, that’s bullshit; misery shared is misery compounded.

The truth is you have every right to be happy, regardless of when it happens. It’s not like you have a crystal ball to predict and plan out your moments. Happiness is random, spontaneous, and, frankly, the times it needs to be shared are when everything is falling apart. You can’t just save it up until “time is right” – who knows when that might happen? Do you want to wait months to share the news that you got a job? Got engaged? Are pregnant? Bought a house? Finished a story? Will you still feel the same rush of joy months down the road?

Of course not!

Share the news when you have it (not before – you’ll jinx it). Don’t feel guilty about your happiness, and don’t let anyone rob you of your joy and excitement. You’re entitled to be happy! Every person on this planet has that right! If the people around you feel a need to lecture, then they aren’t the people you need in your circle. You should be allowed to be yourself at all times with the people who support you, and that includes being allowed to share good news – whenever it happens.

If you wait until the “right moment” for something…are you prepared for that moment to never happen?

Out of the Box

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.”

~Benedict Cumberbatch

There are plenty of people out there that like to stick to their plans, never deviating from the precise details they spent so much time working out – and that is definitely one way to go about things. Hell, I spent a lot of my life following that pattern; I accomplished exactly what I set out to achieve.

Yay.

If that’s all you want – the success of a job well done – then, by all means, keep to the paved path. However, if you want to flex your muscles even the tiniest bit, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and set some challenges. I don’t mean goals (you do need those, of course) – I mean out-of-the-box, out of your comfort zone, risky challenges. These are steps that still coincide with your ultimate dream, but they’re not on that careful map you worked so hard on. They involve a stretch of your creativity, and they’re probably scary (in fact, the more they scare you, the better). Those kind of challenges.

You want your blood pumping.

Why? Because, ultimately, those challenges make you a stronger person. They push you to grow beyond the boundaries you thought you had (crazy when you discover how far you can really go), and they teach you skills you never imagined you were capable of.

Maybe you’ve only ever written fantasy or literary fiction. This time, you sit down to try something new, a strange idea you’d never consider normally because it’s not what “you’re known for.” Did you know you could write that level of horror?

You help tinker around with electronics every day, and you can repair just about anything someone hands you. You have endless boxes of parts and equipment stacked up in your garage, collecting dust, so you decide to go through them, just to see what’s there. Did you imagine you could assemble an entire computer from scratch?

Whenever you’re bored, you putter around in the kitchen. You’ve made cookies dozens of times, and you can bake a mean cupcake – everyone tells you this on a regular basis. You’ve never attempted anything “significant,” though because you’re just a home baker. Did you have any idea you could bake a tiered cake with your own two hands?

You love attending cons, and you marvel at the ingenuity in the people around you; they’re so talented. You wish you had more to offer than your comic t-shirts and cat ear-headband. You’ve glued some foam together before, but you’ve never even touched a sewing machine. Did you realize you could sew a unique costume from a design in your head?

Stop sitting in the box!

Yeah, the outside of the box is unknown territory, and the challenge is as daunting as scaling a mountain. The feeling you get when you reach the peak, though…nothing feels that good. You amaze yourself, and you start to wonder more, to ask yourself more questions.

“If I did this, what else can I do?”

Suddenly, your checklist of dreams gains color and depth, and it becomes even better than it was before. Those challenges drive you forward in a way you wouldn’t believe. They have a way of silencing doubt and bolstering confidence. Yes, you have to overcome the shivers and hesitation each time, but the risk is worth it. I challenge myself with my writing all the time: can I handle this topic? Should I pitch this article? Maybe I should try setting this in this genre? The rewards have paid off each time, and my writing has continued to improve. If I hadn’t challenged myself, I wouldn’t have some of the contracts I do, I’d only have a handful of insipid short stories, and I wouldn’t have half of the novels I’m working on. I would have hamstrung myself.

Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and then think of something just outside of reach, something that scares you. Then go do it.

Never Ever Stop

Image by J Garget from Pixabay

Things are always easiest when they’re rolling along smoothly – no one doubts that. When you can check boxes, climb rungs on the ladder, or even just cruise along down the freshly-paved sidewalk with a smile, you feel good and the world is at it’s brightest. It would be amazing if life stayed that way, but the universe has entropy at its heart (and no one is that lucky, regardless of what they might tell you).

Enter the complication.

You end up staring at something you can’t check off the list. The rung snaps under your fingers (or, worse, your feet). An earthquake breaks the sidewalk in front of you, leaving a chasm. You’re left feeling down-trodden, miserable, defeated, and all you want to do is circle back around and go home to hide in a blanket fort. While I am a big fan and supporter of the blanket fort, they aren’t the answer. Life doesn’t persist and continue or become interesting in a blanket fort – not for more than a couple of hours. You have to keep moving forward if you want to reclaim that high of accomplishment and success.

You have to persevere in the face of adversity.

Of course it’s hard, and sure, no one ever enjoys pushing against obstacles. It requires work, you’re going to sweat (sometimes literally), and you’re going to need a hefty dose of motivation – constant, driving motivation from deep inside yourself. Every day, every moment, you have to grit your teeth (maybe not literally – that’s bad for your jaw) and push forward. That obstacle isn’t going anywhere unless you do, and until you remove the impediment, you won’t make any progress toward your goals, your dreams, or even just your everyday life.

Perseverance comes in a lot of different forms, all depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe it’s continuing to write, edit, and submit your work for publication – refining your style and voice with the notes you receive in response. Maybe it’s marketing your particular skill set to potential employers/clients in order to obtain contracts, adjusting your pitch to attract the highest quality and most beneficial work. Perhaps it’s practicing speaking in front of a mirror until your voice no longer shakes so you can stand up to someone, demanding a right you’ve earned. Or it could even be something as simple as getting up every single day and reading five pages of a guide or manual for something you’re interested in. Forward momentum is still momentum, and it’ll get you across the chasm when you build up enough speed.

You just have to be willing to keep going.

In the face of thankless work (the finish line is likely still miles down the road – this is just a hurdle), with detractors on the sidelines, and with the knowledge that future obstacles are going to arise, you have to be willing to keep going. How important is your dream? Your goal? Your happiness? If it’s worth it, you’ll find it easier to persevere against the brick walls, and you will get through them.