mental health

A Thousand [Wrong] Words

My Wedding Picture

Take a look at the photo above and let me know what you see. I’ll tell you my first impressions. The left strap of her dress has come down (she really should have fixed that before the photographer snapped the picture). And I think she needed to pull the dress up, it’s showing too much cleavage. Then there’s the fact that she isn’t smiling (though maybe her smile’s hideous, so who knows – this may be the better option). Her shoulders are rolled a little forward, showing poor posture. She’s incredibly pale, too. You’d think she’d have tanned, right? And while there’s some hint of bone structure at her collar bone, you can easily tell she’s not a thin and trim girl.

Harsh or just realistic?

Now, before you start condemning me to the depths for judging someone like this, the photo’s mine. It’s from my wedding, actually. And I’ve spent plenty of time looking at it and dissecting it. (This is one of my better assessments, truth be told) I’m also the only person to analyze it this way – to my face, anyway. Most people that saw it when I shared it gushed and went on an on about how beautiful I looked. I responded the way I always do: I deflected the compliment by assuring them it was only due to the work of my hairstylist (who also did my makeup – and she DID accomplish an amazing job). And, mentally, I told myself they were saying the words you’re supposed to on someone’s wedding day.

I’ve always picked photos of myself apart. And it goes back to my issues with self-image. Use whatever lens or filter you want: all I’m going to see is the distortion my brain’s programmed with. It zeroes in on every millimeter of cellulite and loose skin (translate that to “fat” – though my husband glares when I use the word), every stray hair, every imperfection – and I fully admit they’re usually imagined. It made me duck away and hide from cameras. And the words, “Let me take your picture” turned my stomach.

So I developed bad behaviors.

I always drifted to the back of group photos so I could hid as much of my body as humanly possible. (And since I’m tall, I told myself it was acceptable) I’d sneak an arm behind my back to try to tug loose clothes tighter so I wouldn’t look misshapen and fat. (News flash: when you wear scrubs, it doesn’t work) I turned sideways as much as possible – at least until I realized that did nothing to disguise the fact I was overweight. Because I always seemed to end up with people thinner than me, so comparisons were inevitable. And trying to focus on my face alone? Forget it. I’ve resigned myself to the fact I will never master the art of the selfie. The angles never come out right, making me look wrong no matter what I try.

The number of pictures I’ve deleted could fill a warehouse. But I can’t do anything about the photos other people take. Except stare at them, and hate them, and pull them apart. The phrase, “I hate having my picture taken” became my motto. It was easier to hold up my hand in front of a lens than to explain the resulting photo would land me in a fugue of depression. And I know plenty of other people out there struggle with the same problem. If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror, a picture is ten thousand times worse.

Because you can spend HOURS hating it!

The longer you stare at a picture, the more you find wrong with it. It doesn’t matter that other people use photo programs and filters to alter their images (that idea never occurs to us). All we see is perfection on one hand and every flaw on the other. Oh, we KNOW the pictures we see on those social media accounts aren’t real. But our minds aren’t wired to let that understanding through. Instead, all we can hear are the whispers telling us what’s wrong with US. And self-preservation encourages us to stay away from the source of our misery.

Then I came across this picture. It wasn’t posed like the other. (I didn’t know our friend took it) And when I sat down to start pulling it apart and cycle through my usual depressive spiral, I didn’t make it very far. Not because I couldn’t find things wrong (Please: my brain had a list within 5 seconds). It was more because something else clicked. I look HAPPY in this picture. That doesn’t happen in most pictures. And that’s where the key turned.

I went back over other photos, looking for similar smiles. And I remembered a few my husband took when I wasn’t looking. They were different from those horrible “let’s take a picture!” images I’ve always despised. I still WANTED to pick out the flaws, but the overwhelming feeling was more, “Gee, I look like ME.”

And I changed my mind about pictures.

It’s HARD, I won’t deny that. My gut reaction whenever I see a photo is to break out my mental magnifying glass and start taking notes. But I’m getting better about stopping myself and stepping back. I’ve even managed to share some progress photos on my weight loss with my coach. (My anxiety won’t let me share them with the entire group yet) I didn’t see the progress until she helped me, but now? I get it. And that allowed me to see things differently in the mirror.

I used to get annoyed when my husband would sneak a photo when I wasn’t looking. But they’re some of the best pictures out there. Because they’re REAL. So I’ve stopped protesting. And I’ve learned to smile – when I see them. (Let’s be real – I’m not the kind of person to walk around with a goofy smile on my face) They’re a part of who I am, and they represent what HE sees in me. It’s a new lens I can use in MY mind. And it’s healthier than the shadows my depression wants to use.

Even a year ago, I never would have dreamed of sharing my face with complete strangers. Oh, sure, I have a headshot for my freelance work. (It’s actually from our engagement photo shoot – another set of pictures I found myself loving, even though some of them WERE posed) But this is different. And I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. The negative voices still circle in my head, of course. But I can also drown them out with a few positive shouts. And that’s my hope for other people.

Don’t worry about filters or PhotoShop or whatever other programs are out there. And don’t let the voices in your head get to you. Somewhere in your phone or a shoebox or an album, there’s a picture that encapsulates YOU. And when you find that happy moment, it’ll lead you to the next and the next and the next. Once you pick up the thread, you’ll find a way to see your pictures differently. And maybe you’ll stop hiding from the camera. Just a little.

mental health

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?

mental health

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.