Biggest Piece of the Puzzle

Stop me if this sounds familiar: you spend HOURS reciting conversations in your head. Whether they be arguments, lengthy discussions for ways to better things at work, or just elaborate plans for your future. In your mind, your carriage is always upright, you don’t stumble over your words, and the other participants always hang on your every word. (They also don’t interrupt, talk back, or break from the script – something they fail to do in real life)

Do you recognize that person in those flights of fancy? (I’m not trying to demean your exercises, but if you never follow through on them, they are little more than imaginings) That’s who you WANT to be. It’s the confident person you carry around inside, buried under layers of self-doubt, questions, and years of ridicule. Which is why those rehearsed speeches never see the light of day.

Which is an absoltute crime.

Those words MEAN something to you. You wouldn’t take the time to craft those speeches if they didn’t. You don’t stand in front of a mirror and talk to your reflection for nothing. (Yeah, I know you do that; I’ve done it, too) That core of SELF is trying desperately to reach the surface, to break through the abuse and lack of self-confidence. YOUR voice wants to be heard, to come through into the atmosphere. It’s why you spend so much time in your head. It’s the only life that voice gets (most of the time).

Anxiety KILLS confidence. That niggling condition buries those speeches under an avalanche of “what if” scenarios until you crawl away to the shadowy corner where you’re happiest. And most of those situations are ridiculous. (I mean, what are the odds of Godzilla bursting through the building because you suggested a new chart to hold people accountable for tasks?) Meanwhile, your confidence is screaming in its cage, asking you to be reasonable. But you can’t hear it. Because it’s often too small, too quiet in comparison to that thundering roar of insecurity and doubt.

Freeing your confidence is HARD.

Taking the step off the ledge to becoming a freelance writer took me four months. Not because I needed to figure out how to write. I’ve had that down since I took home my first award in the second grade. It wasn’t even a matter of figuring out the freelance system. I read articles and advice columns starting in January when the idea first took root (and I realized I no longer wanted to do my previous line of work). No, what took so long was having the confidence to admit I COULD do the job. Having the confidence to stand up and assure people I was the right person for the their projects.

That scared the SHIT out of me.

My anxiety went into overdrive at the very thought. What if I was wrong? What if I wasn’t the right person? What if I couldn’t write after all? (As I said, anxiety gets kind of crazy) What if no one wanted to take a chance on me? What if I had to give up and go crawling back to that hateful job? What if I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life? I circled down the drain for weeks, convincing myself out of the very idea. And depression decided to join in on the fun. Pretty grim.

I’d love to tell you some magical switch flipped to pop confidence out from under the mountain. I wish I could say I had a spontaneous moment of clarity. But I’m not a liar. The truth is, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped off the damn cliff. Because I wasn’t getting anywhere in the anxiety spiral. Because it was something I WANTED enough to try. Because, in the famous words from We Bought a Zoo:

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrasing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

~Benjamin Mee

And, in the end, that’s what confidence IS: stupid, ridiculous courage. The courage to embrace YOURSELF. It’s getting to your feet, opening the cage, and letting your voice come out. I won’t deny that confidence is frightening (horrifying, and your anxiety passes out from conjuring possible scenarios), and it doesn’t get any bigger even if you use it daily. I wish it did. Maybe for people that don’t crawl out from avalanches every day – maybe it’s a larger concept for them. For those of us that battle other monsters, it’s feeble and needs coaxing and protection.

I still rehearse conversations in my head, but I think I do it a little less. My hands shake every time I compose a pitch, but I DO submit pitches for my writing. I’ve stood up for my abilities more and more often. I feel that my confidence in my writing has grown. I proudly call myself a successful freelance writer, at this point. (I mean, I’m not world-reknowned or anything) I’m brave enough to use MY voice.

Is my confidence still on life support? Yeah. But it’s alive. And that’s the most important part. Take your twenty seconds and give yours a chance. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Even if Your Voice Shakes

“We need someone who is going to stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people who need help, for the people who have been discriminated against.”

~John Lewis

No one is ever going to question that I have ZERO qualms speaking my mind. Actually, most people that know me would prefer I had a mute button, off switch, or at least a little modicum of tact to moderate the words that come out of my mouth. I won’t deny that my words (spoken and written) have gotten me into trouble. Has it stopped me or curbed the habit? Not a bit.

Why?

Because I spent A LOT of my life with what I felt buttoned behind my lips. I was afraid to speak up. Even if I felt something was wrong, or saw a cause that needed support, I sat in the corner in silence. I didn’t want to “rock the boat” or draw attention to myself. After all, people who raised their hands became the target of everyone around them. I didn’t want to deal with opposition or ridicule. My psyche wasn’t capable of handling the abuse. And silence was (is) so much easier.

But it doesn’t accomplish anything.

Once I found the ability to accept myself for ME – which meant acknowledging my anxiety and depression – my voice came with it. So did my spine, oddly enough. I’m not saying I enjoy the heckling (no one does), or that the barbs don’t still play directly into my depression’s hands. I have to pry every spine out of my brain at the end of the day and push the resultant shadow back. I have to swallow my panic before I utter a single word, cope with shaking hands (okay, my entire body vibrates like I’m having a seizure), and go through breathing exercises to reassure my body the world isn’t ending. But I still SPEAK UP.

And I’m BETTER for it!

Why? I’m finally standing up for what I believe in. Instead of holding those causes inside (where they do absolutely no good), I’m letting them out into the air and providing one more voice where it’s needed. I place my feet, stand up, and meet opponents directly in the eye. I reaffirm myself as a person by saying “yes” or “no” to something that defines ME.

Starting this blog took a lot of debate in my head. Acknowledging that you have a mental illness is still taboo. People look at you sideways. They laugh, they cross to the other side of the street, or they do much worse. There’s a negative stigma attached to mental health, even in this so-called advanced age we live in. Making the decision to openly discuss and PROMOTE discussion of mental health took weeks, three nervous breakdowns, and multiple silent pep talks. What if people reacted negatively? What if I faced nasty pushbacks? What if no one responded? I went around in circles. But I kept coming back to a single thought:

I felt it was important.

This meant something to me. I wanted to put my voice out there. I wanted to reassure someone – anyone – out there that I, at least, understood what it was like to cope with such things. That’s what standing up for a cause DOES. It tells other people you get it. You understand. No one says you need to champion a major cause if you don’t feel up to it. But I bet there’s something you feel strongly about. Something that you catch behind your teeth for fear of ridicule. Something you want to say but hesitate to out of fear. Believing in something is part of who you are. And denying those words denies a part of you.

I had someone close to me remark that they were glad I had made a post that wasn’t about mental health last month. It stung. BECAUSE of how important a topic it is to me. And also because of the hell I endured through my younger life coping with anxiety and depression. When I was afraid to speak. When it was taboo. When you shut such things behind locks and bars and pretended it didn’t exist. The comment told me that they still believed I shouldn’t speak about the state of my mind. That I should confine my thoughts to whispers, at best.

Which is why I SPEAK UP.

Never feel ashamed of the things you believe in. Never hide parts of who you are. Keeping the truth behind closed lips denies everything of who you are. The world deserves to hear you, to see you. Get out of the chair and speak up. Scream your words. Make the world acknowledge you. Your voice WILL shake. Your hands will tremble. You’ll tear up. But you’ll feel like yourself.

And THAT is what’s most important.

Put Up or Shut Up

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

~Abraham Lincoln

In 64 days in this country, all legally-permitted citizens have the opportunity to partake in the presidential election (and some other elected seats). The official count of the people that have the right to cast ballots is staggering. It’s only dwarfed by the number of people that will skip out on that right, for one reason or another (according to their whine of choice). The reality is quite simple: apathy. They simply can’t be bothered to stand up and get counted. However, it won’t stop them from registering their opinion over the next four years – as if they’re somehow entitled to comment on a process they skipped out on.

Now, I’m going to refrain from delving into the politics itself. Mostly because no one wants to spend an hour reading a blog post. Also, I don’t feel this is the appropriate arena for that discussion. I’ve registered my opinion (numerous times) on my personal social media feeds, and that’s where I’ll continue to keep my personal feelings. (So you can breathe a sigh of relief)

What I want to address is the pathetic lack of action so many people engage in every year. The simple act of walking to a polling location (hell, this year you don’t even have to leave your house! You can order a ballot from online!) is just too much to ask. People provide long laundry lists as to why they can’t be bothered, but it boils down to apathy. They simply don’t care – about anything! Not when the moment calls for action, anyway.

Oh, but they have the answers later!

When the moment passes, and there’s no chance to implement a change, they have the solution in hand. From the safety of their parked butt, they extol on how they would have done things differently. Suddenly, their genius is what’s called for, and the person they WOULD HAVE voted for, would have corrected the problem. And beating the shit out of the moron is illegal.

Because they HAD the chance to make that decision, and they watched it pass them by. The opportunity to participate in the electoral process lay in their hands, and they tossed it in the trash. In my area, we’re given 13 hours to cast a vote. But that’s not enough? Your worthless ass couldn’t move in that space of time? Really?

No, you just couldn’t be bothered!

And I’m tired of it. If you didn’t participate, you lose the right to say one word about the outcome. BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T A PART OF THE PROCESS! You sat back as an observer, nothing more. If you don’t contribute, then you forfeit a right to complain or cheer or even say a single word. Stay in the background and watch. It’s clearly where you’re happiest. Let your apathy keep you company (there are thousands of people who stand with you).

An opinion is an opinion. But ONLY if you make it. And sitting on your ass is NOT an opinion. That’s laziness and callous disregard for the people in your family, your friends, the others around you. How many countries on this planet have ZERO say in what happens to them? If you have ANY chance, why would you not stand up and demand to be counted? Why would you cross your arms and invent some lousy excuse?

If you don’t cast a vote, you don’t get to complain. Sorry – active participants ONLY. Everyone else is studio audience. They’re there, but no one actually cares about them or acknowledges them as individuals. (Wow, sounds like the apathy you’re displaying by refusing to vote!)

Get your ass out and VOTE!

Don’t dissolve into an apathetic blob. Find an opinion and register your voice! Make your number COUNT! You have the right to stand up and be heard, so SHOUT! Otherwise, what’s the point of existing? If you aren’t willing to take hold of a freedom you’re granted, then you may as well move yourself to a country that makes all of the decisions for you, with zero input from its people. You can TRY to complain then (good luck).

Frankly, though, if you won’t get off your worthless, apathetic ass and hit the polls, I don’t want to hear a single complaint or idea from your mouth. You have nothing worth listening to. If you did, you’d make sure your voice was heard WHEN IT MATTERED!

Brain 180

Collection of blue arts and crafts supplies
Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst

Overcoming the need to constantly achieve perfection is difficult. Remembering to take a time out and allow the brain and body to reset is crucial to our general well-being (and sanity – though that’s overrated). I’m the first to admit that I continue to struggle with both on a daily basis. However, I’ve found an outlet that’s set me on the right path:

Creativity.

Now, I could cheat and say that my speculative fiction fills that creative outlet, but that’s an outright lie. Writing is writing, no matter how your dress it up. Sure, I have complete creative freedom with my own writing (though, to be honest, I have pretty loose reins with most of my freelance work). It’s still work, though. I demand nothing short of perfection from myself. Watching me edit makes a deranged serial killer look like an angel. I’m ruthless. I hack and slash with the best horror movie monster. Even the writing process is terrifying; no character is safe. (Not even main characters – no one gets my sympathy!)

No, when I say you need a creative outlet to escape to, I mean something outside of your wheelhouse. Something you maybe aren’t good at but enjoy. (Don’t torture yourself – that’s bad for your anxiety and depression) Something that engages the other half of your brain, taking pressure off your overworked synapses. An art form that sparks your imagination and gets you excited in a different way than your usual goals.

A break that isn’t a break.

Sneaky, right? You’re still actively participating in SOMETHING, but you’re not driving yourself crazy with work. You step away from assignments and a need for perfection (that’s a cardinal rule, by the way), and you just PLAY. It’s not a complete reset, which appeals to those of us who struggle with the need to STOP, but it gives your brain breathing room.

The kicker is finding something creative you WON’T stress over. You have to relinquish the reins of perfection and be willing to create a mess. Remember, this isn’t something you’re pursuing as a goal. This isn’t a lifelong dream. This is just a creative outlet. Something that catches your interest. A 180 from your usual interests and work pursuits. Something you’re willing to complete suck at. (No one else has to see the results except you)

I have a couple of creative retreats. I have a scrapbook I’m slowly moving my old pictures into. Is it Pinterest worthy? Not by a long shot. Am I proud of it? Of course I am! I love all of the papers, stickers, and various scissors. Looking through the old pictures relaxes my brain, flares old memories, and drops my shoulders back where they belong.

I sketch and draw. Are any of the pictures going to sell on Etsy? Not even for a penny. But I like them. The movement of the pencils across the page does something to my body. I feel my blood pressure come down, synapses quiet, and my lips curve into a smile. The sound blends with the music I listen, soothing the thoughts in my head until there’s nothing troubling me.

I’m trying to learn to crochet. I have the chain down, but I haven’t figured out any further. The feeling of the yarn under my fingers is soothing, even if the hook and I aren’t sympatico. (Not to mention that fending off cats from the yarn gets annoying after a while) And, while it sounds crazy, knowing that I’m struggling with something my sister is a sheer genius at (she even creates her own patterns!) calms my brain. I SUCK at something! It’s humbling.

Simple, uncomplicated, and WORTH it!

When everything starts overwhelming me, I go to my creative outlets and resettle. When I feel like I can’t take time out (guilt’s a terrible thing, by the way), doing SOMETHING eases the feeling. It’s a break, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an active break. My brain still gets the chance to reset some of the circuit breakers, and I get to wake up some of the breakers that were asleep. It’s a win-win, of sorts. And I’m creating SOMETHING! I’m using my hands to create something of my own that has meaning to me.

Find a creative outlet that works for you. You won’t regret it. And your brain will thank you.

STOP!

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.”

~ Maya Angelou

Have you ever reached a point where you opened your eyes and had absolutely no clue where you were or what you were doing? I’m not suggesting you lost consciousness, just that your brain completely blanked out and abandoned you. Not a fun experience, am I right? Especially because those moments like to come when you LEAST need them (exams, interviews, traffic lights). Your brilliant intelligence leaves you looking and feeling like a complete and utter moron. All because of one simple fact:

You pushed yourself too far.

If you have anxiety, you know there’s a limit to what your brain can handle. Trip that line, and the system goes down. Then you’re left struggling to put two syllables together. Same with depression: drop too far down the hole, and standing goes out the door. We KNOW this! Yet we still let ourselves get worked up to the edge, and we even trip right off the cliff, over and over again. And the payment is a system shut-down while the brain tries to reboot and make sense of the gibberish we’ve created.

Even without the struggle of a mental illness, you can overload your thought processes and crash your brain. Everyone has a threshold of tolerance, and so many of us push and work right up against that line. We set unrealistic deadlines, impossible standards of perfection, and bars so high that even Godzilla couldn’t reach them (if you know of a taller monster, feel free to sub their name). Exhaustion depletes our brains of resources, frazzles our nerves, and the body has no choice but to shut down.

Why?! Why do we do this?!

We’re clearly intelligent, and yet we forget the importance of STOPPING and TAKING A BREAK! Even a five minute breather to let the system cool down! We deprive our more cells of a chance to settle and reset before returning to the grind. We know the importance of that break, of stopping to reassess and think, but we ignore it and plow forward like an idiot. Then we wonder why our brain abandons us. It’s smart, that’s why! It’s trying to preserve function! Instead of letting us completely burn out and collapse, it’s enforcing the break we skipped!

This is probably a good time to mention this is one of those posts where you should do as I say and not as I do. I’m TERRIBLE at remembering to take a break. I panic at the very thought of stopping to breathe. If I pause…you know, I’m not really sure there’s logic applied to my thought process. I think if I pause, the entire world will collapse into chaos. So I work late. I throw myself into assignments until I’m cross-eyed and mind-blurry (a great frame of mind for working, I might add). Then I have to redo everything, taking MORE time.

And my brain goes into self-preservation mode.

I’m still learning the importance of taking my fingers off the keyboard and walking away. Closing my eyes, breathing, and letting my poor synapses collapse into overworked puddles. Which is hysterical because the times I DO take those breaks, I function better. My work flows better, and I FEEL better.

You’d think I’d have the system down by now. But that drive for perfection, the anxiety to get things done still raise their heads. It’s difficult to overcome. And so I get those blank moments of, “Where the hell am I?” Eventually, I might learn my lesson. I’m hopeful.

“We Go Together Like…”

Ice cream sandwich cookies
Photo by Henry Geddes from Burst

Forget whatever crazy nonsense you might have heard from fairy tales, social media, or your even your own family members. Relationships are meant to be partnerships. Yes, that means an even share of give and take. If you’re involved in anything else, it’s time to BAIL!

I believed the hype for a long time, convinced that that Prince Charming was going to swoop in on a white horse and carry me off to a dream castle. Not only does Prince Charming not exist, his useless cousins drag in on run-over turtles, incapable of asking for directions. And that castle? It’s a run-down apartment in a building without an elevator. (Imagine my disappointment when that particular reality waltzed through the door) Worst of all, I faced a series of morons that either expected me to cater to their every whim, claimed we were equals (and then settled into the former’s habits), or checked out completely and decided our relationship only existed when it was convenient.

Little tough to believe in fairy tales then, believe me.

It took me a long time to realize the Grimm Brothers and Disney got everything wrong. Even worse, I failed to see that my friends who were “blissfully happy” were all lying through their teeth. They just didn’t have the backbone to venture out on their own. So they stayed where they were. And so did I. Clearly, that’s how relationships worked. One person shouldered abuse, misery, and the bulk of the work while someone else sacked out on the couch with their phone or video game controller of choice. Oh, yeah, pure bliss at work!

When I finally came to my senses and recognized my full worth, I saw the situation with fresh eyes. I was being incredibly stupid. Not only was I selling myself short, I was allowing behavior I KNEW was wrong! My parents provided a perfect example the entire time I was growing up of how partnerships worked. How had I lost so much in the translation? Oh, right – because I was terrified of being alone. I let society’s dictate of HAVING to be involve thrust me into bad relationships where mental abuse and cheating got excused – just so I wasn’t single.

So much stupid.

When I woke up and started demanding better, an amazing thing happened: I GOT BETTER! (Crazy, right?) No, my fiance’ does not worship at my feet and give me everything I ask for without hesitation. Frankly, I’d smack the shit out of him if he did. I don’t need someone to do that – it’s not healthy. He DOES work beside me all the time and support my dreams and endeavors without hesitation. THAT I need, in spades. And I do the same for him. We complement one other, filling in the weak places for each other and shoring up the rough edges. Because that’s what a partnership is meant to do. That’s what the fairy tales fail to describe, and it’s why we need to set them aside.

Without saying a word, we divide household chores. We push one another when one of us lagging at something. (Such as physical therapy stretches someone might not be doing – I refuse to admit anything) We keep tabs on how the other is doing when everything decides to fall apart because the world’s experiencing a pandemic. The balance is as delicate as the tang of a sword and as strong as a mountain. If I have to work a little late on a project, he doesn’t ask questions. He might send our youngest cat in to pester me, but he isn’t phased. If he needs to adjust his schedule to take a phone call for work, I balance my workload accordingly.

There’s no complaining, no screaming, no yelling. Everything falls out in a perfect balance – exactly like the ice cream sandwich in the picture (peanut butter and jelly felt too pedestrian). It’s what a relationship is meant to be. It’s what you should aim for. If you don’t have that perfect give-and-take, then ask yourself why not.

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?