Stage This

‘And if one day, she said, really crying now, ‘you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn’t even speak to me, then you have to know, Conor, you have to that is was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud.’

~Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Grief impacts everyone at some point in their lives, and it can come in a lot of different forms. We experience loss of loved ones: family members, friends, pets (though I rank them in the first category), significant others. We lose jobs or opportunities that meant the world to us. We have property taken from us through various means. All of it strikes us to the soul, and we’re plunged into despair – which people understand. After all, psychology informs us that there are five stages of grief we’re allowed to experience.

And then we move on and get over it.

Except that’s a load of crap. We aren’t robots – we don’t follow programming, regardless of what doctors with medical degrees tell us. Stages or no, everyone goes through the grieving process differently. Maybe we mix up those stages, maybe we skip stages entirely, or maybe we decide to stay in a single stage and never progress beyond it. Does that make us wrong or backward or [insert medical jargon here]?

Of course not!

Everyone experiences grief differently. How you go through the grieving process depends on the kind of person you are, the loss you experienced, and how the loss came about. I have not grieved the loss of any of my cats the same way because I haven’t lost them in the same manner (you may not relate, but I can’t have children, so they are my kids). Mischief was hospitalized for several days for a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis and rapidly declined. Nimue had lymphoma, and the second round of chemotherapy was failing. Talisman developed acute renal failure. Necile declined over several months (likely cancer) and was wasting away.

Each time, I had to make the decision, and each time was pure agony that ripped out my heart. But the grief wasn’t the same. I wasn’t prepared for Mischief or Talisman because their conditions were sudden – Tali’s more so than Mischief’s. I knew Nimue and Necile were coming, and the knowledge hovered in the back of my head for months, but the grief was no less for that. Did it hit me any less when the time came? Maybe, but it still ripped through me.

To this day, I see pictures of them, and I cry. I hear the song, “Memory” from Cats and think of Mischief (she always sat with me when I listened to the soundtrack). I watch the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and sob because Tali sat with me when I first brought the DVD home. I can’t let go of the sadness attached to the memories and “move on” as everyone insists I should. They were a huge part of my life, and I cannot detach that and pretend it’s gone. What insane moron would expect that?!

When the grief was fresh, I isolated myself and ignored everyone around me. They all wanted to hug me and say the same exact thing:

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking about you.”

“I know how you feel.”

Tripe.

It’s what’s said when you have nothing better to say – when you’re mind goes blank because you KNOW you can’t say anything. You have NO IDEA how that person feels! You have NO IDEA what they’re going through! But not saying anything is frowned upon. And if they continue beyond the proscribed grieving period, you’re supposed to nudge them forward into sunshine and light.

Leave them be!

Let a person feel the emotion they need to feel! Don’t spout the conventions! Be honest: Tell them you can’t imagine what they’re feeling! Let them scream, let them break things, let them cry for hours or days or weeks. Let them sit in silence. Let them experience the grief how they need to. If you’re a friend, let them do what they need to, and be there for them.

It rips my heart out every single time I read it, but A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is the best book I have ever read on the subject of grief and letting go. It’s a quick read (a couple hours), but don’t read it before bed because you’re not going to sleep, you’re going to cry. It’s a realistic portrayal of grief, and the movie was a faithful representation, though it does leave a couple of key scenes out.

Take the time and the means you need and grieve your losses. The world is still going to turn (I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true) while you do. If you make people uncomfortable, good – more people need to be.

Saying No to Yourself

Over here - No, this way
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether we admit it aloud (or even to ourselves), we all have vices. Big or small, we have our negative habits that we fall back on during our times of stress or depression to cope with the pain and darkness. They are our standbys and faithful friends, built up over years into a quasi-addiction (after all, we’re not exactly enamored with being depressed or wound-tight with anxiety).

Be honest: What are yours?

A particular food? (Chocolate doesn’t count – that’s a food group)

A game you only pick up when you want to disappear?

An album you never play except when things get bad?

Walking blindly out of the house and not paying attention where you’re going?

Tearing plants out of the ground?

Cleaning the entire house beyond normal levels? (Nope? Just me? Okay, moving on)

How about everything listed above? That’s right – I’ve had every one of those vices on my list at one point in time (we won’t discuss the fact that the last one is still on the list). Some of them are more harmless than others, and I won’t discuss the harmful vices I know exist out there – you know what they are, and you know you need to speak with someone about those. None of these are healthy coping mechanisms, though, for one simple fact:

They don’t SOLVE anything!

They’re AVOIDANCE maneuvers! They are designed to avoid reality, to avoid confronting whatever is going on at the time. So far as that goes, they’re brilliant. The problem is, they don’t actually help the depression fugue, they don’t ease anxiety (especially not the damn video game – it brings MORE anxiety…I really don’t know why I play it), and they don’t solve any of the problems I was ever trying to avoid. They gave me some space away, sure, but then I went right back to where I started – usually worse than I started.

It took me awhile to figure out that I wasn’t helping myself by turning to those “old reliable” standbys. I had to realize that I was constantly feeling worse every time to confront the reality that they were vices – with everything that word entails. Now, there is no Anonymous for crawling around your yard, pulling out dandelions (at least, I haven’t found one), but when you do it for several hours to avoid what’s swirling in your head, it’s STILL a problem! A vice doesn’t have to drain your bank account or shame your family members – it’s simply a negative habit you develop and come to rely on to avoid reality.

So how do you fix it?

Same way you do excessive drinking or smoking. First, you admit you have the problem. Then you start denying yourself that vice. Yup, that means learning to tell yourself, “NO!” That particular lesson is a bitch.

Trying to tell someone else, “No” is pure hell – I won’t deny that. It took me YEARS to figure that lesson out, and I STILL felt guilty each time. It didn’t matter that it was in my own best self-interest and for my own good, I agonized over uttering that single syllable. I still do, honestly, though I’d like to think I’m getting better at it (I’m really not, but I’m trying to make you feel better).

Now multiply that lesson times 5000 and you get an idea of how hard it is to deny yourself. Especially when you’re talking something you KNOW has “helped” in the past. It SUCKS. You can do it, though, with practice, and it gets easier over time. It also has the side benefit that you start to learn how to actually COPE with what you’re feeling (I know, that sounds like a terrible idea, but you’ll learn to appreciate it down the road).

We developed those vices for the wrong reason, and they aren’t doing us any favors. The sooner we recognize that – and admit that the vice is doing damage – the better off we’ll be.

Nothing Ventured…Everything Lost

If you dare nothing,

then when the day is over,

nothing is all you will have gained.

~Neil Gaiman, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

Everyone out there has dreams: little dreams, big dreams, supposedly impossible dreams (okay, if you’re dreaming about being made ruler of the entire world, that one is impossible – because my tiny demon has that one in the bag). Everyone has probably also shared those dreams with other people and heard variations on the following theme, “Yeah…that’s not going to happen,” or “Do you know what that would cost you?”

Then one of these happen: you bury that dream in the backyard (with or without funeral rites), you laugh it off as a joke (“I can’t believe you thought I was serious!”), you channel your disappointment and/or frustration into about twenty pages of journaling that no one will ever see, or you turn those words into a fire of determination to prove the idiot wrong.

Guess which one is LEAST likely?

Risk is scary, and following a dream is crazy-risky. It takes hard work, commitment, and sacrifice – not just on your part, but on the part of the people around you. You may be the one standing on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump, but those people have to be prepared to LET you. They don’t know that you have any idea of what you’re doing (frankly, neither do you), but you have to convince them to untie the safety line, stop holding your hand, and let you take that leap.

Not to mention, then YOU have to jump.

Taking risks is what makes us ALIVE; it gives our existence MEANING. Otherwise, we’re just plodding along a set path like robots. And following a dream – no matter how large or small – involves taking a risk. Maybe it means choosing a different career, or starting your own business, or showing your artwork (whatever the medium) to a critic…or just the public. It’s a risk that invites failure, and that is HORRIFYING. People don’t want to fail, don’t want to have to scrape back to those nay-sayers and admit you screwed up.

Which is why we often end up huddled on that cliff, looking over the edge and just sit there…for days…for weeks…for months…for years. Eventually, our friends and family get tired of watching us, and they drift away (can you blame them? How long are you going to stand there and watch for something amazing to happen?). They took a risk in believing, and it isn’t panning out.

Take the jump!

What’s the worst that can happen? Okay, yeah, you can fail and plunge to the bottom of the cliff. You’ll learn something, at least. Maybe you’ll be a little battered and bruised when you climb back to the top and try again, but you’ll have some rudimentary wings to help the second time around. You’ll have a new energy, a new drive to take that chance again. And maybe, this time, your jump won’t end in disaster.

The best part is, when you’re willing to take a risk, people are willing to stand behind you and cheer you on. People love determination, and they cheer for people who face up to fear. You can inspire someone else to take their own risk, to reach for their own dream.

Or you can huddle on the edge of that cliff for the rest of your life, wondering what could have been. The choice is yours.

DON’T Conceal – FEEL

Eggs displaying emotional expressions
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

When you’re bright and happy and full of hope, the people around you are content to join in and encourage those feelings. In fact, that’s the dominant message expressed all the time: be happy, be hopeful, look at the bright side of life. Everything is one big rainbow of glitter and possibility. Right?

WRONG!

Okay, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those messages, but they whitewash over and obscure the fact that the emotional rainbow actually contains a lot of darker pigments. The range of emotion doesn’t stop with “Just Okay” – it continues on down through sadness, grief, fear, anger, and even fury, with all of the requisite shades of grey and darkness smeared between.

And all of those emotions are okay!

The problem is the general public HATES those emotions and likes to bury them and shove them behind corners or into closets as if they don’t exist. People will tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way, that you shouldn’t express yourself a certain way (keep in mind I don’t condone violence or self-harm, okay? There are limits, people), and then they spout some spiritual guru nonsense that leaves you feeling like shit…usually worse than you were in the first place. They tell you they’re making you feel better – or, my personal favorite, that they’re making you a better person – when all they’re actually doing is overlooking your feelings, overlooking YOU.

Guess what – we’re all human (much as Wal-Mart people and the internet, in general, might prove otherwise). We have feelings and emotions that run the gamut – sometimes all in a single day (single hour?).

And that’s OKAY!

It’s a GOOD thing to not be full of sugar and glitter all of the time – frankly, that’s terrifying. We are NOT My Little Ponies! (Seriously, they are horrifying) We feel EVERYTHING, and we should be allowed to do so. Instead of denying a person’s anger, a person’s sadness, a person’s fear – LET THEM FEEL THOSE EMOTIONS! How would you feel if someone denied your feelings and slapped a rainbow sticker on your forehead instead? That’s exactly what you’re doing when you pat them on the head and then quote Annie…or worse, scripture.

I believed people when they did this to me, in the past. I swallowed my emotions, thinking I was wrong to be upset, to be angry. I also ended up adding the burden of guilt for having felt those things to the mix. I FELT GUILTY FOR FEELING?! All that happened was that I made myself even sicker, more depressed, and I damaged my psyche – I inflicted mental wounds on myself because I wasn’t allowed to express my true feelings.

That’s SICK!

And this happens all the time – to children, to teenagers, to ADULTS. They’re feelings are dismissed or belittled, and they internalize them in shame. It’s wrong.

Especially right now, people need to be allowed to feel how they feel – whether you agree or not. Let people vent, let them cry…and for those that are in that state, let them spout about rainbows and flowers. You don’t have to agree – and, no, you can’t kill the latter – but you can LISTEN. The majority of the time, that is ALL a person is asking for. They don’t expect you to agree with them, they just want you to listen – THAT is validation for them.

Talking through a feeling will usually help a person unravel the core, even if it doesn’t provide an answer. And if they don’t want to talk, build them a blanket fort and just sit with them.

Just stop with the Bob Marley music and stickers, and stop telling people to only focus on the positive side of the spectrum. Emotions get dark and murky, feelings get scary, and ACCEPTANCE is the answer, not bullshit.

Our New Normal

The human world – it’s a mess.

Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID

Right about now, everyone’s definition of “normal” has shifted a few degrees. I’m one of the lucky ones: both my fiance’ and I already work from home, and our children have four feet and don’t require school (in fact, the little black and white one is already too smart for her own good), so those aspects of our lives didn’t change. But we lost our ability to go to the gym, our grocery habits had to change, we’re still planning for our wedding, and we like to have a monthly game night with friends.

Enter a level of chaos.

My fiance’ reads the news, and I can feel his stress level increasing (for the sake of my sanity and everyone around me – not to mention inanimate objects in the immediate vicinity – I avoid the news).

I encountered people on Facebook that I thought better of suddenly deciding they were entitled to “hazard pay” and extra vacation time when other friends and family members are working on the REAL front lines, in ACTUAL hazards, without any extra pay or benefits – just begging for proper PPE, and I wanted to scream and demand they take their piece of shit petition down and replace it with an apology (frankly, I still do).

I stare at the wedding prep calendars and the boxes that are unchecked as tasks are delayed due to businesses being closed down as non-essential. It wasn’t too bad when the first orders came out, but now the orders have been extended into June, which eats into my timeline. I’m an organized person who lives by checklists and deadlines, and my stress level is starting to bubble.

Kickboxing has been one of my biggest stress relievers, but that’s closed now, and my only consolation is the classes via Zoom…without a bag. Shadow-boxing isn’t the same, I don’t burn the same level of calories, my living room feels cramped compared to the studio, and I have interference in the form of my four-legged children. I have two other exercise routines via my Nintendo Switch and my Wii U, but it feels lacking, and I miss my partner drills and the camaraderie of the studio. We could kayak, providing we could find somewhere to park the car, but there’s that question mark.

I find myself looking at the frustration, the uncertainty, and my anxiety and depression hover right above my shoulders, waiting to pounce. There’s a lot of negativity feeding both of them, and the outside world is doing it’s damnedest to provide fodder. It is the easiest thing in the world to succumb to either one right now, and those of us who suffer from either are the most susceptible.

So what do you do?

I don’t know what YOU can do, but I can tell you what I’M doing. Maybe somewhere in there you can find something that will point you in the right direction.

First, much as I want to, I’m not giving in to the worst of my desires (other than removing those people from my Feed so I don’t have to see the crap I don’t want to). We have the power to choose what we see and don’t see, what we accept and don’t accept – much as we like to forget that. Clean out the trash. I felt better for it.

Second, I’m helping the people I can. That means, where we can, we’re ordering things for the wedding from Etsy – finding people who are local (i.e., this country) who can use the income. Artisans are hurting right now, small businesses are hurting right now, and going to them helps. We’re ordering take-out/pick-up from restaurants that are still open to provide income to those workers. We’re being smart and ordering ahead of time and not fussing about any delay in the pick-up process. We’re being patient with every person we interact with when we go to the store because we know they’re stressed.

Third, I’m maintaining my routine. I have my schedule set for myself, and I’m sticking to it. Sure, it’s hard to get motivated to write at times, and I know that I’m going to edit a lot of what I’ve written because my heart’s not in it – at least I’m getting words on the screen. If I don’t dissolve into a lump on the couch, I hold the clouds at bay a little bit longer.

Fourth, we’re looking at the things we CAN do. My fiance’ picked up corn hole boards from our local Feed and Seed store (they’re an essential store) that are blank, so we get to paint them ourselves. I have the paint leftover from my craft projects, and now we get to figure out what to paint on them (actually, I already know – my business logo). We’re going through our To Do Lists for the inside and outside of the house and figuring out what can reasonably be accomplished (Lowe’s is open, after all). The outdoor painting has to wait for the idiotic pollen to die down, but we can still plan.

Finally, I’m just doing whatever makes me feel like ME. Whether it’s wearing something fun (I love this moto jacket I just got), playing around with my hair (face it – we’re going to have some scary hair by the end of this), or just dancing around the office for a song – five minutes of feeling great is five minutes that the anxiety and depression don’t stand a chance.

Everything is a mess and chaos right now, and we’re all going to have to face a new normal for a while. It sucks – no one is going to deny that. But it doesn’t mean we have to spiral down into our dark places. We know what waits for us there. Good can wait for us here, if we’re willing to adjust.

No Introduction Needed

Girl lying down in the center of a maze

There is never a question in our minds as to who our personal heroes are – we can name them without having to think about it. When the world goes haywire, no matter how large that disaster may be, we also know who to list as heroes. Those lists are second nature to us, and it takes nothing for us to tip our hates or extend our hearts to those people.

Why?

Because those people are selfless. They do their jobs without a second thought, without hesitation, without complaint. They embody the definition of the word, “hero.” Most importantly, they never once ask us to call them heroes, because they don’t think of themselves as being worthy of the title. They’re doing what they’ve wanted to do, what they’ve dreamed of doing, and they expect nothing in return. We embrace them for that goodness of spirit, and it makes it easy for us to idolize them, to wish thanks and bestow praise upon them. After all, how can you not embrace such an ideal? They are the living personification of our fictional ideals.

But that love and adoration breeds a second group.

This second group does everything in its power to make sure you KNOW what they’re doing…constantly…every moment of every day. They complain about everything they have to do. They WHINE about their tasks. They make martyrs of themselves and expect the same adulation and praise. They want the same title of “hero,” the same praise and cheering. They actually believe they’re ENTITLED to it, and they throw it in your face with every breath and stand there, expecting you to turn around and shower them with your worship.

They have completely and utterly failed at every definition of a hero.

They are pretenders to a crown they are unworthy to touch.

We all know some of these people, and we’ve all been subjected to their rallying cries for a personal parade they don’t deserve. They put on airs, expecting us to fall at their feet in wonder. They enact dramatic retellings of their exploits, expecting us to hang on their every word. They bitch about every inconvenience, expecting an outpouring of sympathy.

Meanwhile, the genuine heroes are going about their day without a single complaint, without a need to say a single word, without asking a single person to hear of their pain. They smile through pain, they work through tears, and they wake every day to repeat the process over again. They work in conditions that are sub-optimal and struggle through to the best of their abilities – they don’t sit back and whine. They might beg and plead for help, but they don’t stand by and laugh or gossip about how lucky they are that they don’t have to have clients in the lobby anymore.

What’s the difference?

True heroes don’t have to be labeled as such – they are defined by their actions. Just as fake martyrs are defined by theirs.

And the world can tell the difference between the two.

Open Brain – Insert Reason

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

By now, you have probably had the unfortunate experience of witnessing first-hand what happens when human beings go into idiotic panic mode. It is really easy to point fingers at governments or media as the source of the problem – and I won’t deny that they have a share in the blame – but the truth is that the majority of that blame comes right back home to rest with each and every individual who ran out blindly without a single thought in their head. They forgot they were rational creatures, capable of reason, and turned into a mob of insanity that generated an entirely new problem.

Because we really needed a new problem.

When I was getting my Wreck Diver certification, they put us through an exercise that has stuck with me ever since, especially in these kinds of situations. Our masks were lined with aluminum foil so we couldn’t see out of them, and then we had to dive in a pool full of obstacles – this simulated a dive where visibility was lost and you needed to navigate blind (a real possibility in caves or wrecks). We ended up tangled in ropes, caught on pool hooks, and our instructors would turn off the air on our tanks (lots of fun). The purpose of the exercise was to teach us one simple thing: when a situation arose, our first reaction wasn’t to panic (that gets you dead), but to stop and think about what was going on first and THEN figure out how to react.

Every last one of us failed the first time.

It was hard – especially when you realized air was no longer flowing through the regulator – to think first instead of reacting first. Once they hauled us out of the pool and told us that we were killing ourselves, though, things started to make sense. No, air wasn’t flowing, but we still had air in our lungs, and provided we DIDN’T panic, we weren’t going to suffocate instantaneously. The second time around, when we stopped, thought about where the tank was on our backs, and how to reach the valve, we did fine. The same with all of the other obstacles. It didn’t even take long to stop and think before puzzling out the problem and how to correct it (crucial when you’re diving and might have a limited air supply).

Guess what? Lesson works in real life.

For some strange reason, people want to panic first and think…well, they don’t want to think; they decide that thinking is overrated, that Fake News, or an idiot with a big mouth is good enough for them. For some, it does go back to school and the fact that we’re failing to teach children to think for themselves anymore. For others, they slip into hysteria and forget that they ever learned the skill in the first place. Either way, it’s damaging – to everyone. I’m not saying that you have to adopt the pose of The Thinker and write out a 10-page essay on the topic, but take a breath and ask yourself, “Wait a second – what am I reacting to?”

I’d like to say this has always benefited me, but since not everyone in the world thinks, it hasn’t. I can say, with a clear conscience, that I have employed this lesson to myself before I’ve done anything – though I stretch it a bit into the overthinking realm (you do have to learn where to stop). People don’t like to think – it’s uncomfortable (for some, it’s painful – you can see it on their faces), it makes them responsible, and it sets them against the grain of the mob. However, if the mob is hurtling off the cliff, why do you want to go with them?

Thinking is not illegal – yet. And as soon as it DOES become illegal, we need to stand up and question why because there’s a problem. It doesn’t take much time or effort to ask a single question of yourself before you react to anything. Thinking is a quick process, for the most part, and it saves you from looking like a complete and utter moron.

Or you can always blindly follow the mob off the cliff. But it’s a little late to question why when you’re falling onto the rocks.

For Life

People clinking coffee mugs together
Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Hands up everyone who has ever spoken some variation of the following, “We’ll be friends forever.”

Okay, hands down (it’s not like I can see them anyway). Pretty much everyone, at some point in their lives, has used that phrase or something like it. And pretty much everyone has regretted using that phrase at least once in their lives. Everyone has had at least one best friend in their lives, and everyone has had at least one soulmate in their lives. And everyone has lost those same people at least once and conferred the titles to someone new.

Why?

Because we’re stupid, pure and simple. I’d sugar-coat it if I could, but I can’t. The truth is, we go through a lot of friend phases as we age, and we (hopefully) get smarter in the process and start to realize that the majority of the people out there who claim to be friends can’t even spell the word.

When we’re little (or trying to break records on Facebook or Instagram), everyone is our friend, we run around collecting them like Pokemon. You’ve seen these people – they display the counts and brag about them like it’s some kind of trophy. They can’t name all of the people if their life depended on it, and they don’t know the simplest facts about the people (middle name? last name? address? pet? eye color?). These aren’t friends. None of them are going to stand with us when the chips are down, and odds are none of them even made it to high school with us. The people that are still like this are sad and should be pitied, not envied (this is NOT a pattern you want to emulate, believe me).

A few school yard fights down the road, and we get a little smarter and choosier about who we offer friendship bracelets to. The circle is still bigger than it should be, but at least we might know everyone’s name. We still can’t reasonably fit everyone into a slumber party, though (unless you lived in a mansion, and then see the previous category), and we’re definitely missing details on a few of the people. Odds are, there are some cliques inside of this circle that aren’t keeping you in the loop (look at that – circles within circles!). Enter a girl’s most dreaded enemy: gossip. This is where you learned the lessons of backstabbing and betrayal. This is where you discovered that not everyone you liked actually liked you the same amount. This is where you learned who thought you were a nerd, a geek, a loser, a snob. This is where you learned about pecking orders. And this is where you started to really learn who your true friends were.

Enter high school and the pure hell that it is – enough said.

By the time we start stumbling on our adult feet, we’re battered, bruised, and we have a pretty jaded outlook on friendship. We know now that people will lie straight to our faces. We know that people will smile at us and talk about us the second we turn our backs. We know that people whisper as if we’re deaf (and half the time, it isn’t even a whisper – the deaf could hear them). We know that people laugh at us or joke and insist that it’s, “all in good fun” when it’s actually meant to cut us in pieces. We know that everything in Mean Girls was a reflection of reality (save the positive ending). We know that you can’t trust anyone.

Friends are now few and far between. We become skeptical of the word itself, much else anyone attached to it. That circle has shrunk small enough to fit in a standard household bathroom. We become ruthless at excising the liars and backstabbers from our lives – not always before damage has been inflicted. We build up walls, plant thorns, and we post guards.

And, yet, people still make it inside.

My circle is tiny. It is composed of people that I met in college and only get to keep in touch with via social media because we live in different states – yet they continue to be there for me. It is composed of people I met online and never in person who have done more for me than I could ever imagine. It is composed of people that have beliefs and politics I abhor, but we still support each other. It is composed of people that I get to see on a fairly regular basis.

It is composed of people who have never once lied to me, never stabbed me in the back, never given me a moment of doubt, never made me question their loyalty, and never blinked at the fact that I am an individual damaged by people who’ve done all of those things. They are the epitome of the word, “friend,” and I am beyond grateful every day that I have them. There is not a price in the world that I would be willing to pay to give them up.

Taming Godzilla

I think envy motivates a lot of people.

Shia LeBeouf

Who here hasn’t experienced a visit from the green-eyed monster? It’s a common enough visitor in our lives, and it changes size depending on how we’re feeling that day. Maybe we’re going through a rough patch, and so every person we look at feeds the monster a little bit more: her hair looks better, his job sounds better, their yard looks better, his lunch looks better, his car isn’t broken, her elliptical has a higher incline…the list goes on and on until the monster could give Godzilla a run for his/her money (depending on which movie version you’re watching). Or maybe the day hasn’t been so bad, so we’re just that little bit envious that the person ahead of us in line got the faster cashier, so the monster can still fit in our pocket.

You hear it from everyone around you that you’re not supposed to envy anyone else; depending on your belief system of choice, it’s actually a sin. Not every envious thought it detrimental, though. Personally, I am almost never warm – even bundled up in sweats and a blanket with a reasonable setting on the thermostat, I am freezing, and I envy my finace’ (and most normal people) and the fact that he’s perfectly comfortable. I refuse to believe that envy is a crime punishable by condemnation to a fiery pit (needless to say, I don’t subscribe to any of those religious practices). Now, when you decide to take your level of envy and translate it into a felony crime, there might be a problem.

But can envy be productive?

Absolutely, if you look at it from a different angle and make the monster work to your advantage (a helpful tidbit all of those people fail to tell you). It’s super easy to wallow in self-misery about what someone has that you don’t – we all know that; it takes a little more effort to examine what it would take to GET what they have.

Okay, so you hate your job – how do you get a better job? Remember, you aren’t handcuffed into that position (and if you are, you have a completely different problem than envy). Talk to other people in the place or field you want to work in – hell, talk to the person you envy! – and ask for their advice about what is needed to move to that job.

You hate something about your appearance – who doesn’t? Everything is able to be changed, if you really want to, but odds are it’s time for a pep talk with yourself about what’s really bothering you inside (don’t roll your eyes – you know that’s true). And if you’re still determined to make a change, start small and go get a new haircut…mostly because it will grow back if you don’t like it. Or get a new outfit – you can always return it if you hate it. Just don’t jump to something drastic.

Let envy MOTIVATE you instead of make you miserable.

The monster doesn’t have to tower over you and crush you into the ground, making you feel worse than you did in the first place. The monster can actually help lift you up, give you a firmer place to stand and push yourself up from. It isn’t BAD to envy someone, not when it gives you a chance to examine yourself and ask important questions. WHY am I feeling like this? Why am I so upset? Is it really that I think her hair is better, or is it just that my coffee sucks? Do I really think his job is better, or am I just not happy in mine? If you catch yourself BEFORE the monster destroys Tokyo, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be in a position to do something to help yourself out…and, seriously, hasn’t Tokyo been destroyed enough times?

A Bar Too High

Seek No Approval

Everyone has their own interpretation of success based on their career or personal goals, whether it’s a promotion, a weight achievement, publication, or sale of a piece. Each of those things represent approval from someone outside of ourselves, usually someone we have placed upon a pedestal in admiration. They’re the person we’re going to go to with a smile when we deliver the news, and we’re going to expect them to smile in return and cheer that success; more than anything else, it’s their approval we’re chasing. And no matter how fantastic we feel about that achievement, nothing makes us feel worse than dancing in front of them and watching them stare back without any emotion whatsoever. That’s when it really hits us:

We failed.

The excitement runs out of us, the delight collapses, and the achievement turns to disappointment. We slink back to our drawing board with our tails between our legs and re-examine everything from square one. We didn’t accomplish anything after all, and we struggle to figure out where to go next, how to actually achieve something…gain that much-needed approval. The problem is that we’re setting ourselves into an endless loop of hope and disappointment broken up with gopher-pops, checking to see if that person has cracked so much as a grin yet. We become completely blind to the fact that we are accomplishing SO MUCH in the process of chasing that smile.

Why? Where is the breakdown?

It would be really easy to blame ourselves, and, a lot of the time, that’s exactly what we do. In fact, those people encourage that belief, usually because they know it’s a weakness of ours. They know full-well that we suffer from anxiety, that we desire perfection, and that we want their approval. And they sit back and laugh hysterically as we chase down imaginary checkboxes and turn ourselves inside out, trying desperately to impress them. They play on our insecurity, telling us they’re providing coaching and advice that will “improve us” and “push us toward success.” The truth is that they’re steering us in circles, pushing us away from ourselves, and setting standards that are impossible – all while encouraging us to jump for that bar.

The problem was never with us, not really; the problem was we chose the wrong person to set on that pedestal. We chose a person we might have admired (for various reasons) without doing our homework. Did we REALLY know them? Have we ever seen them actually mentor someone else? Have we seen them encourage other people? Was it done the same for each person, or did they exhibit favoritism? When they speak, do they provide equal amounts of positive and negative feedback? Are they excited when you reach a milestone – any milestone? Are they invested in everyone’s success, or just their own? If any of the answers are “No,” then you’ve chosen the WRONG person.

And, honestly, the best people to seek approval from are going to seek YOU out. These people come to YOU cheering before you even have a chance to tell them a word. They don’t have expectations, they don’t set any bars for you, and they don’t make ridiculous hoops for you to jump through. They love you, for you, and they never waver; they are the people who cheer for EVERY single accomplishment – even if all you managed to do today was get out of bed.