mental health

Impossible Things

Anything new can mean feeling better about youself
Image by armennano from Pixabay

Everyone take a moment and consider something in your life you’ve NEVER changed. Because, odds are, you can come up with at least one answer. Maybe it’s a habit (cleaning chores don’t count – those are important). Or it could be a hair style you’ve clung to for decades. And let’s not forget a job you’ve planted yourself in (I won’t count it if you’re genuinely happy there). Something you’ve worn a TRENCH into the ground with your repetition and used some form of the words, “Well, I can’t…” when someone asks why you haven’t changed or done anything about it. Got it in your mind? Good.

WHY are you doing that?!

Don’t worry, I already know the answer. It’s because anxiety and fear have made it easy to stay on that old familiar path. Change is HARD. Sticking to what you know? That doesn’t require any effort or special talent. You simply do what you’ve always done. And it’s comfortable, in a strange sort of way. You’re not entirely happy, but you’re not miserable, either. It’s a functional limbo. But the trench gets deeper every month. Eventually, you’ll wear it down deep enough that you may never find a ladder tall enough to climb out of it. And that’s a frightening place to be.

We NEED to shake things up periodically. For ourselves. It’s healthy – much as people will try to convince you otherwise. (Newsflash: They’re in their own trenches and want the company) We need to bite the bullet, set the anxiety aside, and decide change is in order. It elevates your spirits and SELF to a higher level – one you’re not capable of imagining from the darkness of that old familiar shadow. You gain a new perspective when you decide you’re willing to try something different. That little (or big) something new peels away a scale from your eyes. The world looks different. YOU look different – to yourself. And that’s HUGE.

But you have to take the first step.

For the majority of my life, my hair was LONG. We’re talking ridiculous lengths, here. I refused to cut it more than my stylist deemed absolutely necessary. Which was, honestly, stupid because I always wore it up in a braid of ponytail, anyway. (Mostly because if I didn’t, people knotted things in it while I sat in class) Finally, the summer before my senior year of high school, I’d had enough. I came to a place of personal growth and decided I needed to make a change. I cut it off – ALL of it. The weight – literal and figurative – was liberating. I walked with my head held high for the first time. I looked people in the eye. And I took that confidence with me through college, maintaining the pixie cut all four years.

Until I lost my confidence again following graduation. Funny how something like hair length can tell the outside world what’s going on in your mind. As my hair returned to its previous length, my mental state plummeted again. I crawled back into the shadows. It took me SIXTEEN YEARS to get myself sorted again. And, yeah, it ended up chopped off. And I haven’t looked back since. It’s stayed ruthlessly short for the past five years. And my confidence? It wobbles now and then, but – for the most part – it hasn’t tanked.

I needed that dramatic of a change, though.

People were shocked. Others looked at me strange. Some said they couldn’t believe I’d gone to such a new extreme (we’re talking waist-length to a severe pixie). A few even wondered if my mental health was stable (never mind that they never asked when I was hiding behind my hair). And when I started coloring my hair? Yeah, those questions popped up again. Was I having a midlife crisis? (When IS your midlife, anyway? It’s not like you get a piece of paper with your death age on it. So I think that concept is ridiculous) Had something happened that made me feel rebellious? (I love how hair color is rebellious) No one ever asked if I suddenly felt like ME. No one smiled and said I looked like myself. (FYI – I did, and I still do)

And last week, when my stylist asked what color we were going with this time? I felt like something different. I’ve gone with blue for close to three years now. Something in my brain decided it was time for something new. And while I would have protested up, down, and sideways in the past, my hair is now bright pink. And I LOVE it! I feel amazing and have a renewed sense of self and purpose. From something as simple as a new hair color! All I needed to do was decide on the change and not let ME hold myself back.

It’s that easy!

I’ve heard the phrase, “I could never do that” so many times, it gives me a migraine. The only thing that ever stops you is YOU. Anxiety and fear stand in front of you, and you let them! I don’t say that to be cruel. I say it because I’ve been there. I talked myself out of short hair. Then it was hair color. I’ve argued myself away from clothes I genuinely wanted. And my dream job? I spent DECADES telling myself that’s all it was – a dream. There wasn’t a word of truth to any of it. But I was afraid of what other people would say. I worried what perfect strangers would think (as if their opinion means two cents). Anxiety after anxiety piled up. And instead of using them as a LADDER out of that stupid trench, I used them as shovels to dig deeper.

Every time I’ve silenced the fears and worries, embracing the change – the CHANCE – I’ve come out happier on the other end. Does it take a whole heap of courage and bravery? Of course. You’re doing something new! You close your eyes and take a deep breath. But when you open your eyes again? The view is so spectacular. Your heart swells in your chest, and you BREATHE. And the air at the top of that trench is WAY sweeter than the must inside it.

Even if it’s a little change you’ve been contemplating, don’t let your anxiety stand in the way. You have that idea for a reason. It’s a part of your mind driving you forward. Don’t let what your fear – or anyone else – says stand in your way. You only get so many ladders.

mental health

Permanent Stories

“I am a canvas of my experiences, my story is etched in lines and shading, and you can read it on my arms, my legs, my shoulders, and my stomach.”

~Kat Von D

Certain things fall out of your notice after awhile. For instance, I forget that my hair’s blue all the time. When I first dyed it, I was always conscious of the color, and I felt people’s eyes on me constantly. Some of the people who saw the color narrowed their eyes in disapproval, and I hunched my shoulders. (Never mind that I loved it and felt like myself for the first time in ages) Others took the time to come over and compliment me, which made me smile and relax. And kids – especially little girls – loved it, which tickled me to no end. It’s been a few years now, and I’ve gone through several other colors, but blue is the most common. And since it’s ALWAYS colored at this point, I forget about it. So I don’t think anything of people turning to look my way – and I stopped caring about their opinion. It only matters when someone comes over to ask me how I did it (and I feel bad when I admit I don’t – that I rely on my fabulous hairstylist to keep me from looking like a Smurf)

My tattoos are the same way.

Now, there’s a slight caveat there. When I got my first tattoo, my mother was panicked. She was afraid I’d risk losing my job. Even in our current “age of enlightenment,” she felt that tattoos equated to rejection by employers. And she wasn’t entirely wrong. The clinic I worked at had a strict “no visible tattoos” policy. We weren’t in the Bible Belt (where damn near everything is against the rules), but they didn’t want clients getting offended. I’m not sure how a tribal shark and Calico Jack’s Jolly Roger might offend someone, but people can get weird about anything. So I brought my scrub top to the appointment, and we made sure the tattoo wouldn’t be visible when I was working. And I did the same with my second (dragon triquetras being horrific images and all).

Every time I got another tattoo (if you’ve never experienced the process, they’re like potato chips – you can’t stop at just one), I made sure it would remain covered by my scrubs so my mom could rest easy. Because the prejudice against ink kept cropping up. Unlike questions about your marriage status and children, it’s acceptable for an employer to ask if you have ink. And they can demand you cover it up. (So much for enlightenment) I decided it didn’t bother me, but I noticed a difference when out in public – where no such restrictions are in place. During the winter, when my arms and legs were covered (and thus no tattoos were visible), I ended up with those annoying kiosk people at the mall coming up to me ALL THE TIME. My Resting Bitch Face did nothing to deter them. (Yes, I am a master of that expression – most Capricorns are) However, during the warmer months when I had on shorts and tank tops, they decided to avoid me. The only difference between the situations was the visibility of my tattoos. I didn’t change how I walked, the expression I wore, or anything else.

The difference was THEIR perception.

Obviously, I’m not hemmed in on tattoo placement restrictions anymore. While I DO have client conversations via Zoom now and then, I feel zero need to worry that a person might decide I can’t write because I have a tattoo here or there. (And I have grand plans for two more – at least one of which will be my forearm) But the prejudice hasn’t stopped – even within my family.

In December, I added my fifth tattoo. I know I discussed it with my mother, and I even posted pictures on my social media accounts (because it’s adorable and came out fantastic. It’s also my first color tattoo, which I was a little nervous about). Earlier this month, we had a surge of warm temperatures, so I had shorts on when my father dropped by to help us with some home improvement things. It’s hard to miss the tattoo since it takes up most of my thigh, and he immediately commented that he didn’t know I got a new one – in a disapproving tone. I was shocked. One, that he wasn’t already aware of it (I mean, it’s been months – the thing’s completely healed). And two, that he sounded like one of those people on the street that ask if you realize tattoos are permanent. I carefully explained when I’d had it done, and that I’d told Mom about it (assuming she’d tell him). It did nothing to change his expression.

Which sums up the reactions I get out in public. It’s like my hair: some people offer positive comments, while others turn up their noses. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I know they’re permanent. (For that amount of pain, they damn well better be) I’m not a spur-of-the-moment tattoo person. I plan them over MONTHS. I think through what I want and why. Every tattoo has multiple meanings and reminders for me. I put them where I can see them for that reason. It’s why I’ll never get one on my back – what good is it if I can’t see it every day? These are important stories for me, marking moments in my life that I don’t want to forget. And I know it’s the same for other people that decide to go under the needle.

Tattoos are a person’s identity.

It amazes me, in the age we’re in, that you can still find pockets of prejudice. If hair color, piercings, or tattoos aren’t your thing, that’s fine. But does that give you permission to judge the people who DO want to embrace them? These are people expressing their personal identity. For a lot of us, it’s finally embracing our self-expression – people we’ve hidden away for decades. Your judgement? That’s not needed. We aren’t walking around telling you you look ridiculous buttoned up to the chin and wearing…oh, I don’t know, a wristwatch. (I have no idea where to go with that – mostly because I don’t engage in this behavior) I’m proud of the hours I’ve sat for my tattoos – because it isn’t easy! They fucking HURT! We’re talking holding incredibly still, trying to distract your body as it screams, “What the fuck are we doing?!” Not to mention the weeks after as you engage in care while it heals, and peels, and ITCHES.

Left WITHOUT parental interference, kids don’t judge. They come up to you and examine hair, earrings, and tattoos with interest. They ask questions – and a lot of them are intelligent questions. Have I EVER told a small child they could get a tattoo? No. I always explain it’s something they need to think carefully about and WAIT until they’re 18. With hair, I say they need to ask their parents. I’m not an irresponsible individual (though parents like to make me out to be one – thanks ever so much). Prejudice is LEARNED, it’s not innate. And it needs to stop. People need the freedom to be themselves – whatever that looks like.

Do you want to cover every inch of your skin with ink? Then do it. Want to experiment with every color on your hair? Go for it. Maybe you want to shave your head entirely. Why not? Self-expression represents who you are at your core. There’s nothing wrong with it. Do you need to open yourself to the potential questions? Yeah, you do. But – barring the ignorant – is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so. It gives you an opportunity to open up about YOU. Embrace your self-confidence. You never know when THAT might catch on. And maybe you’ll inspire one of those kids to do the same – away from that misguided parental influence.

mental health

Big-Brained and Beautiful

For anyone that experienced the same hateful school trauma that I did, raising your hand to answer a question equated to volunteering to stand in front of a firing squad. Not because you didn’t know the answer (only an idiot raises their hand when they don’t know the answer), but because you admitted you DID understand the posed question. QED: you were announcing to the world that you held a glimmer of intelligence.

Big mistake.

Even in my advanced classes, volunteering knowledge and smarts meant setting yourself up for failure. Not in the class (teachers adore a smart kid), but in the jungle that was your peers. It made no sense to me then, and it still doesn’t add up to me now. After all, the stereotypical image is that intelligence is something to be admired and respected. (Okay, maybe not at this moment in this country – in general, though) Posters decorated the hallways proclaiming a need to study, to better yourself, to stand up and nourish your brain cells.

Meanwhile, every time you showed the slightest glimpse of those smarts, your classmates took it upon themselves to beat you into the ground (sometimes literally). Smart wasn’t cool, wasn’t acceptable, and wasn’t tolerated. Again, even the advanced classes had a tolerance threshold, and woe betide you if you dared to cross that line. It was a lesson I learned EARLY:

Never let on how smart you really are.

I intentionally failed tests – including the entrance test for the advanced program. (When you know the correct answers, it isn’t hard to pick the wrong ones. It’s also easy to gauge the rough percentage you need to get wrong to not come off as a complete idiot and arouse suspicions) Of course, I made the mistake of bragging about that particular exploit and got a lecture from my parents (and ended up repeating the test a few years later – without knowing what the test was for. Wonder of wonders, I passed with a startlingly high score). I always made sure I got just enough answers wrong on tests to keep my “A” average but not get 100s all the time.

Except…people still hated me. Because I was still smart. My need to keep my parents happy with straight “A” report cards alienated me from my peers. And when you like the teacher who calls on you? You can’t lie or fumble an answer. (They KNOW you know – it sucks) All of my attempts to hide my brain resulted in an epic fail, and I found myself shunted to the fringes.

Smart people get tarred with a brush of humiliation. Despite the fact that people run around demanding answers all the time, they’d rather listen to YouTube videos or podcasters than those with backgrounds in the topic they’re asking about. Intelligence gets ridiculed, even as they cower in the counter and wonder over the end of the world. It’s the biggest catch-22 in the world, and it’s damaging to those of us with beautiful brains.

You develop this reluctance to speak up. It doesn’t matter that you have the answer or know the solution to a problem. Your entire body seizes up, and you stay silent out a sense of preservation. If you don’t say anything, no one will make fun of you later. (Never mind that they’ll also figure out what’s going wrong; that never seems to occur to them) It’s like existing in a real-life zombie movie where you watch everyone else get picked off, one by one, while you sit there, holding the antidote.

Madness, right?!

For me, college was a breath of fresh air. I had four years where being smart received praise and awe. The people around me shared the same mindset, applauding those who raised their hands and volunteered information. You surged around intelligence and hoped it rubbed off on you – because I wasn’t the smartest kid there. I breathed easy for the first time. And I foolishly thought that enlightened state of mind would carry through to my adult life.

And then my first job introduced me to the Good Old Boys Network. It didn’t matter if I had a better way of doing things; I was a girl trying to step out of bounds and act intelligent. Could I go back to my cube and just do what I was told? No one wanted my opinion. And I definitely wasn’t deemed smart enough to venture changes or improvements. I was a mindless gopher, following instructions. It was a soul-sucking environment.

And leaving Cube Land didn’t make things better. People don’t like it if you try to offer ideas that are smarter than theirs. You get frowns, ridicule, or just steamrolling. “Work smarter, not harder?” Yeah, that phrase has no meaning in the real world. If you attempt to show someone a more reasonable way of doing things, they flounce away as if you’ve insulted their ancestors. And then you find yourself getting shut out by everyone else. It’s school all over again.

And it’s WRONG!

No matter where you are – school, college, work – you have the right to be intelligent. If you’re smart, then SHOW it! I know it won’t gain you any friends (well, except for the rest of us nerds), but trying to cram yourself into that idiot box? First of all, it’s full of insipid morons. They’re lousy company. Second, there’s no room in the damn box because they aren’t smart enough to get in there in a logical manner. So now you’re wedged into an uncomfortable position with a bunch of mouth-breathers? Come on – you deserve better than that.

I hid my brain for a long time, squashing it into a tiny box. I was embarrassed that I was smart. I stopped using some of my vocabulary, shrank into the back of the room, and hunched my shoulders. I let the outside world dictate who I got to be. It took a supreme effort of will to stand up and admit I was SMART. To defend my choice of words in documents. To point out that my way of doing things made more sense than twelve extra steps that accomplished nothing. To accept that I couldn’t tolerate stupid activities – even if it meant losing friends. (That was the biggest kicker, by the way)

Your brain is a gift. I’m not an advocate of reading the news, but if you need proof of how important your intelligence is, skim the headlines some time (especially a paper from Florida). You’ll see how lucky you are NOT to be one of those people. If the rest of the world wants to sneer, let them. When things go to shit (and the way 2020 is going, that’s shaping up as a real possibility), they’ll be the first to go. Your smarts will keep you alive and kicking, figuring things out.

So raise your hand. Speak up with an idea. Ignore the smirks and rolled eyes. Those detractors are zombie-fodder. There’s nothing, NOTHING wrong with being five steps ahead. Don’t let the world dull the shine of your thoughts. Smart is beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

mental health

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.

mental health

Write It, Mean it

“Aim higher in case you fall short.”

~Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

So we’ve set out our dreams, and we have that finish line clear in our minds. Odds are even fair that you have some goals in mind that will provide the rungs on the ladder you need to ascend the pedestal to achieve that dream (at least, I hope you aren’t one of those people sitting on the floor and expecting the dream to just fall in your lap). A reasonable checklist is perfect, and it breaks down the journey into manageable “bites” that makes that dream feel achievable. But there’s a critical problem people tend to forget when they set goals:

They leave those goals in their head.

I have a great memory (not bragging, just stating a clear fact), but even I lose things into a black hole at times. Guess which things are usually the first to go? Everything really important – like that super-important checklist of goals I worked so hard on. (You know that super-safe place you put things in and then promptly forget? Same concept) It’s self-sabotage at it’s best, and you end up shrugging and waving at your dream.

I’m not advocating you share your goals on social media, because I’m not – that’s stupid. Never share your goals with other people. People will sabotage you, too, especially if you start doing well. Share your goals AFTER you’ve accomplished them, when people can’t do anything to interfere. However, you have to get the checklist out of your brain and commit it to reality (not that I’m suggesting your brain doesn’t exist in reality, but…well, you get the idea).

Write your goals down!

Whether this means writing it out in a notebook, writing it across a whiteboard you keep in your work space, or even painting it across a wall – so long as it is printed out in your hand somewhere you can see it EVERY SINGLE DAY. What does this do? This wonderful concept called self-responsibility. It’s hard to avoid working on those goals if they’re staring you in the face day after day (seriously – can you avoid a cat or dog sitting in your face? No). Guilt will start to build up if you put things off, and it will drive you forward.

Plus, hello? Checklists!

How can you resist the lure of getting to mark off an empty checkbox? I certainly can’t! I love getting to put an X in that box, and it feels AMAZING. Even if it was for something simple (i.e., a work assignment), I get a shivery feeling of accomplishment. You get the same sense when you write out your goals and check off each step. Then you get to look back and see how far you’ve come – bonus feeling!

You create the ladder toward your own success, and you see your journey of accomplishment. It boosts your confidence, it boosts your sense of self, and it brings that dream within reach. With that checklist drifting around in your brain – a nebulous concept – you don’t have the same feeling. Did you come up with that step a month ago or yesterday? Did you remember to do that step yet? Did you think about how to break down that goal into individual parts? It’s just more difficult, and it can become more frustrating – to the point that you skip it entirely.

You want that dream – you know that – so sit down and write out how you’re going to get there. Write out every goal, every step you need to get there. Then make sure you can see those goals every day. Otherwise, your dream is going to stay on that pedestal forever, and you’re going to stay miserable.

mental health

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.

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.

mental health

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.

mental health

An Inconvenient Lie

Always speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.

From the beginning, we’re taught that telling the truth is good and telling lies is bad; it might be lesson one, even before we learn the alphabet. That lesson is supposed to be ingrained on our brains from a very young age – reinforced at periodic intervals by teachers and respectable adults, lest we forget – so that we carry it through with us our entire lives. And I don’t have a problem with that; in fact, I applaud that system because I believe that truth is an important foundation of our society. No, the problem comes in with the fact that no one actually means a single word of the lesson in the first place. That’s right – it’s another case of a statement with an unspoken caveat:

Tell the truth…but only when it meets these specific criteria.

Those little asterisk start to pop up all over the place – a veritable constellation of excuses to water down, “little white lie,” or out-right ignore the facts (and, no, I’m not about to get into politics, so don’t panic). You’re not supposed to, “hurt someone’s feelings,” so people encourage you to skim off the truth when they ask you for an honest opinion. No one wants to be told they’re newborn baby looks like a bright red, screaming, wrinkled potato (I’m sorry, but unless you are pumped full of mommy-to-be hormones, a newborn looks like a newborn…and, just to complete the picture, NO ONE who has just been through labor looks like anything other than a war victim). I am the only person on the face of the planet who WANTS an honest opinion of how I look in a bathing suit (for the love of the Universe, do NOT let me walk out of that dressing room looking like a complete disaster!). As soon as someone uses the words, “give me your honest opinion,” they’re looking for anything else. What they’re really telling you is, “tell me what I want to hear.”

It gets worse than that, though, because there are repercussions to being honest that no one mentions in those oh-so-important lessons. Honesty and telling the truth come back to bite you in the ass in the form of isolation, nastiness, and gossip. People will do everything in their power to convince you NOT to tell the truth ever again. It doesn’t just come from your peers, either: people in positions of authority – people you have been taught your entire life to trust – will encourage you tell the truth and then penalize you for doing so by ignoring it in favor of someone else’s lies or discount your words entirely. Over and over, you are hammered with reasons to back down, to tuck the honesty away; after all, dishonesty gets rewarded and praised all around you on a constant basis. Examples surround us everywhere: television, newspaper, social media, popularized in movies and television shows, in books; lying is placed on an epic pedestal. Truth, in contrast, limps along in the dirt and mud, feebly trying to gain attention, usually without success.

But WHY?

Is it really that difficult to tell the truth? Is honesty that difficult a concept? The majority of little kids manage it just fine (seriously – if you ever want to know how you look in something, just ask a small child). True, if you ask them who broke something in the other room when no adult was present, you’re bound to get a whopper of a story, but when it comes to the rest of life, they have truth down pat. So why have so many people failed at keeping that lesson? And why has it twisted into this cynical point of view where people turn on the truth-teller, ostracizing them and threatening to burn them alive? Are people honestly that afraid of…well, honesty?

"No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth." - Plato
mental health

The Great Adult Debate

Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.

~C.S. Lewis

At least for the immediate future, there’s nothing we can do about the inevitable march of time; we’re going to continue to get older with each passing year (don’t ask how old I am because I’m not going to admit to that age – suffice it to say that I used landlines as a kid, and my first tool of research was the library and not Google). I have no doubts that science (or some less research-based organization that will go horribly wrong) is tirelessly working on methods to slow this process so that no one need suffer the ravages of old age, but until the Benjamin Button pill becomes available, we’re all stuck with the reality of encroaching wrinkles, body aches, and gray hair. For those of you out there with exceptional breeding (or excessive bank accounts – and, yes, we can all tell), you will still find the following signs of advanced age creeping into your life: a plastic bag full of plastic bags somewhere in the house, multiple chapstick sources (i.e., the car, work, several locations in the house), and multiple ibuprofen sources.

Face the facts, we’re all going to become adults whether we like it or not…and, frankly, we like it not. Who in their right mind likes bills, responsibilities, and taxes?! Sure, being able to rent a car and consume alcoholic beverages (legally – I’m looking at some of you) is a bonus, and there might be a few other perks sprinkled in there, but there’s a lot of dead weight that comes with being an adult…which prompts all of that ibuprofen you start carrying around and popping like candy. Is there anything more depressing than watching your hard-earned paycheck disappear – first to the government, and then to all of those necessities you thought sounded so cool as a kid? You know: a house, electricity, a car, the Internet no one can live without, and the ever-present phone? And, if you went to a higher education, there are those student loans you will be paying off for the rest of your life…and probably from the grave, too. We actually looked FORWARD to this and WANTED to grow up?!

What the hell were we thinking?!

Well, to be fair, we weren’t because we were young and stupid. Also…we didn’t have a choice – no Neverland, and no magic pill to let us stay kids forever. Damn. Okay, so here we are – adults (please feel free to add your own whining sound effect); we don’t get to change that. What we DO get to change – and somehow forget – is what we do with our lives. Yes, we have to be responsible members of society; we have to get jobs and pay our bills because prison really isn’t as glamorous as television makes it out be (unless you are a traffic cone, orange is not your color). This doesn’t mean staying in a mindless, soul-sucking job that makes you wish you were dead – that is NOT the definition of being an adult, and whoever tells you differently is lying (and probably wishing THEY were not in a mindless, soul-sucking job). NOTHING stops you from doing something you love, something that makes you happy…well, except YOU. Have you ever noticed that the word, “can’t” is uttered more by adults than kids? Think about that.

It isn’t just the professional side of things, though; there is this “adult persona” that people feel a need to embrace once they exit the doors of their educational building of choice into the “adult world” (if that doesn’t sound like the lamest amusement park in the world, I don’t know what does). People actually think they have to turn in their toys, posters, games, and books at the gate in exchange for classical art pieces, pottery, furniture that is non-functional (look, don’t touch!), and – my personal favorite – coffee table books. There’s this overwhelming pressure to hold dinner parties with fancy canapes, wine glasses, and conversation with Mozart playing softly in the background. Your dinnerware needs to match (of course), and it should only be in the most refined taste, coordinated with the drapes in your dining room. Your handbag has to match your shoes (or maybe not…I’m not fashion-forward, so definitely don’t trust anything I say in regards to clothing), and you’d better have the proper jewelry accessories. I think you’re allowed one pair of tennis shoes, but they are strictly for outdoor activities or sports. Everything is sophisticated, classic, and screams, “grown-up” – and people believe this is real!

WHY?!

You became an adult, not a Stepford Wife! Just because you age up doesn’t mean setting aside who you are and stuffing yourself into a mold you’ll never fit in. Have you ever set foot into ComiCon or DragonCon? You think a single one of those adults are not fully-functional, responsible members of society? (If you have doubts, go look at the cost to get in and then rethink your opinion) Getting older doesn’t mean letting go of the things that make you happy, regardless of what those things are. Adults play video games, read YA fiction (right now, some of that is better than the other side of the bookstore), read comics, build Legos (no child is building that Millennium Falcon), watch Disney+ and plan to storm Build-a-Bear when The Child is released (I will mow down your kid if they are in the way), and stand in line for animated movies. We didn’t give up on the things we loved just because society decided we were “grown-up.” And we’re HAPPY. Sure, we get some odd looks. Sure, people point. Sure, people roll their eyes, laugh, mutter under their breath – all of those things. So what? Last time I checked, I wasn’t enjoying things for anyone but myself.

I fell for the “adult” trap out of college. I scrambled to project the right image, follow the “rules,” and set up my first apartment appropriately. I lost myself, too, watched fragments drift away. I would see something I knew I loved, and I’d point it out to one of my new “friends,” and then wilt under their skeptical eye and crawl back home in shame. It took me a long time to realize how miserable I was, being so “adult” all the time, quashing all of ME inside, away from prying eyes. It wasn’t until I met a friend of mine, who wasn’t afraid to just be herself – consequences be damned – that I started to crawl back out of my shell. Oh, I lost some of those “friends” – they declared me “too weird,” “strange,” “immature,” and plenty of other derogatory things – and my ego took a blow before I realized they were A) wrong, and B) never friends in the first place.

Now? Now, my house has stuffed animals and Funko Pop! figurines in every room, as well as Lego sets. My movie collection is a mixture of animated, superhero, musical, anime, and action. I have a fair amount of YA on my book shelves, as well as manga/light novel, and comics. My purse and wallet are Harley Quinn, my laptop bag is Nightmare Before Christmas, my water bottle has The Child on it, and my gym bag has a Flerken on it. My clothing has Disney characters (including Star Wars and Marvel), DC characters, and cats on it. The vast majority of my jewelry is handmade (not by me – I’m not talented in that arena), and instead of a diamond, my engagement ring is a color-changing garnet. When we have dinner parties, we play Villainous or Unstable Unicorns or Bears vs. Babies, complete with shrieking laughter and accusations of cheating and hateful remarks. And I love every minute of it. Yes, I get weird looks sometimes, but I also get a lot of compliments and smiles. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me anymore, because I’m happy. Maybe it’s not the Webster’s Dictionary version of, “adult,” but it’s my definition, and my only regret is that I wasted a lot of time arriving at that realization.

So, you tell me: what kind of adult do you want to be?