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.

Check the Fertilizer

Wasn’t exactly intentional, but I’ve stumbled onto a theme this month concerning dreams and goals, and this post circles around that same concept. When you sit down and start to figure out how to break down your dream into goals, it’s natural to look around at the people you love and admire – especially if they’re successful and living their personal dreams. It makes sense, too, since they’ve achieved a lot of their goals and climbed higher on their ladders than you. I’m not saying this is a bad idea by any stretch. The problem comes in when you start to compare and contrast them against yourself.

The grass is greener on the other side for a reason.

You are NOT that person. The two of you don’t have the same pedestals, don’t have the same ladders, and you aren’t even standing on the same level ground. Comparing yourself to them is going to start a round of self-defeating thoughts and behavior that will guarantee one thing: you aren’t going anywhere. You don’t know how many goals they’ve checked off the their list to get where they are today. How many sacrifices have they made? How much work have they invested? What kind of commitment are they putting in every single day? And how long have they been at things? You’re not even at DAY ONE – expecting brilliance is asking too much of anyone (not even superheroes save the world on their first day).

Yes, they make it look easy, and it’s depressing. When you reach that stage, you’ll get to depress everyone watching you from the ground floor – so there’s that to look forward to (don’t make that a goal, please). As soon as you sit down and FOCUS on what steps you’ll need, you’ll figure out it isn’t easy and gain some perspective. Whatever the dream is that you’re chasing down, there’s work involved that demands your attention, blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing that requires those things is easy. Anyone that tells you differently is selling something – usually at a steep price.

Are there people out there willing to sneer down at you from their ladder? Of course – people are shit. They live to make you feel bad because they aren’t secure on their own journey. Maybe they didn’t plan very well and are stuck without a new rung to go to. Maybe they realized what they were chasing wasn’t their dream (NEVER follow someone else’s dream!). Or maybe they’re just an asshole – those people do exist out there. Yeah, they’re standing above you, but if they aren’t doing any work, you need to stop and think before you try to compare yourself to them.

Sometimes the grass is green because it’s full of shit.

Is it hard to stop comparing yourself with the successful people around you? Of course it is. I spent years hearing my parents tell everyone who would listen about my sister being the only one in the family who used her college degree (newsflash – I’m not using any of my degrees). I watched my brother move up through the ranks of his military career (you get medals there, too). Then my other brother got a job where he was PAID to go to movies and got free tickets to ComicCon – I mean, come on! Meanwhile, I was sitting in a career that didn’t really offer advancement and wasn’t exactly thrilling me – yay.

I was embarrassed, I was depressed, and I avoided family functions whenever possible so I didn’t have to admit that I was a pathetic nothing in comparison to my fabulous – younger – siblings. It took me YEARS to realize that my siblings didn’t feel they were any better (or worse) than me, nor was there really any comparison. None of us are even in the same REALM as one another when it comes to our dreams and goals!

Comparison can get your nowhere – FAST!

What I DID finally get was a blueprint for my own success: I stopped being an idiot and realized what I wanted to do with my life. I thought over how my sister followed what she wanted to do – I could do that (and I have). I looked at how my brother has continued to pursue his dreams despite all of the changes in his life – hell, I could do that (and I am). I admired my other brother’s commitment and constant genuine self – yeah, I could do that (and I figured out how to). I picked out the RIGHT comparison to get myself moving forward, instead of continuing to stagnate.

Pick out the elements of those people you admire and decide how they benefit you. If they don’t, dismiss them and move on. If those people look down on you – get rid of them, because you don’t need that kind of negativity. Compare, don’t contrast; you can find the right model to help you adjust your goals and planning appropriately.

Remember: the only person you’re in a race with is you and where you were yesterday.

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.

Our New Normal

The human world – it’s a mess.

Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID

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

Enter a level of chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

So what do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Life

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yet, people still make it inside.

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

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

Taming Godzilla

I think envy motivates a lot of people.

Shia LeBeouf

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

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

But can envy be productive?

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

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

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

Let envy MOTIVATE you instead of make you miserable.

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

A Bar Too High

Seek No Approval

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

We failed.

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

Why? Where is the breakdown?

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

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

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

The End of the World

Rejection SUCKS. There’s no way I’m even going to try to deny that fact, and I’m sure that Dame Rowling, The Beatles, and Mr. Jobs wouldn’t have bothered to deny it, either. Getting rejected sends a shrapnel-covered ice spear straight through to the very core of your soul that sits there, slowly melting away and reminding you – day in and day out – of its presence. Even worse, you swear that everyone around you can see the damn thing; everyone has to somehow know that you were rejected. Pull that monstrosity out and eliminate the pain sooner? Are you kidding? That shrapnel acts like barbs, and you’re just going to shred everything in the process, and who wants to endure TWICE the pain? Even worse, there’s all of these “flavors” of rejection: professional, personal, relationship, even casual (remember when that taxi driver drove straight past you like you didn’t even exist?). At any given moment, you could be carrying around over TEN spears at once!

Insanity!

There’s an easy solution, of course: never put yourself out there. If you never ask any questions, if you never try anything, if you never lift your head, that spear assassin will never get you in their sight. Well, sure, that removes the anxiety of rejection pain, but it also guarantees that you are never going to get anywhere in life. In fact, you may as well start checking out real estate options for a cave and pricing out plastic bubbles to live in, but that’s basically your future. I’m not positive that will stave off all depression, but you won’t be depressed that that particular someone you’ve had your eye on will turn you down. You won’t have to worry about being turned down for your dream job (or, well, probably any job), and no one will ever tell you, “No,” because…well, you’ll never ask any questions (I’m guessing there isn’t a big demand for living in caves – just don’t pick a nice one). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a really bleak existence, to me.

Why endure that kind of madness?

This is why taking the risk of rejection exists. Yes, it hurts like hell to get rejected. You feel like you’re entire world is collapsing, you feel like a complete failure/ idiot/ loser (insert your insult of choice), and you slink home to your blanket fort to hide in shame. That “melting time” from the ice spear grants you something, though: reflection. The majority of the time (I’m exempting the relationship section here because some people really just are assholes), there is a reason behind the rejection, and it’s a useful bit of knowledge you can carry forward. Read through or mentally review whatever conversation took place and find keywords or phrases – they’re likely in there, and they likely weren’t personal. Use that information to apply towards the next time.

Writers, artists…well, all professionals do this all the time. Your work gets rejected CONSTANTLY; it’s considered a badge of honor (sometimes, it’s funny – very famous authors were rejected and called hacks by publishing companies). You develop a thick skin (or you give up because the rejection overwhelms you), and you learn to look for those clues. No, you don’t listen to everything, because you don’t necessarily agree with everything, but there are notes you can use to make your work better. The same applies in your life, once you get past that initial wince of gut-wrenching pain. You don’t need to over-analyze (that’s an entirely different kettle of fish), but run things through your head at least once, and ask, “Does this make sense?” It pulls the sting out of the rejection, and it redirects you to a new direction. With luck, that new pathway will get you an acceptance.

Even if it leads to another rejection, just remember: at least warm and safe in your blanket fort, eventually, that ice spear is going to melt; you just have to give it a little time.

Be Anyone but Yourself

I've always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be. - Dita Von Teese

One of the biggest lies you will ever hear from another human being has to be, “Be yourself.” Those two little words come from everyone: family, friends, teachers, motivational posters in medical offices. The words come in the form of empowered scripts, cute kittens, every range of emoji, and endorsement by any number of celebrities. Indoctrination begins way back in kindergarten and follows you into adulthood, becoming more and more of a parroted line with every recitation. Now, I’m not condemning the sentiment or even every person who tells you to, “Be yourself,” because there probably are people who were – and are – genuinely honest. Let’s be real, though: the vast majority of people say those words with a little tiny caveat attached.

Be yourself…with the following conditions.

People really don’t like us to be ourselves; they like it when we’re THEIR version of ourselves. So, be yourself…but don’t wear that, don’t say that, don’t speak up, don’t join that group, do join that group, don’t write that way, don’t associate with those people, don’t vote for that person, do vote for that person, don’t support that cause, don’t color your hair that shade, don’t color your hair at all, don’t wear your hair in that style, don’t wear glasses, do wear glasses but not that style, don’t listen to that music, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on and on, and suddenly you’re no longer yourself, you’re a ridiculous clone of the person who told you to, “Be yourself.” Sometimes, you can’t even remember who you actually ARE. Did I really like Top 40 music? Do I even like reading mysteries? Have I always liked the color green? When did I sign up as a member of the Walking History Tour Fans? How did I ever end up with green braids in my hair? Suddenly, you find yourself staring in the mirror, struggling to figure out who the hell that person is looking back at you – not because of depression or any other mental imbalance, but because you’ve lost your personal identity under a tidal wave of, “Be yourself!”

Actually being yourself means NOT listening to those people. It means closing out all of the other voices when you make your daily decisions, not worrying about what someone else is going to think about your choice. Not everyone is going to agree with you (that’s a good thing, by the way), and they’re going to make faces, and they’re going to roll their eyes, and they’re going to say things – usually worded quite cleverly – to make you question yourself. They do that because they want you to BE LIKE THEM! Consider that when you hear that slight inflection at the end of their words questioning your decision. After all, cutting your hair super short and dyeing it ice-blue isn’t going to end the world (personal experience, here). Speaking your mind, rather than keeping things bottled up and eating you alive inside, may or may not be detrimental – depends on how you say things – but it’s a thousand times better than keeping pain inside, allowing it to fester and destroy you. Honesty isn’t going to win you a lot of friends, but it is always, always, always the best policy.

If you can look in the mirror and see YOU – 100%, genuine, YOU – and be content, then that’s a win. It likely means disappointing people, annoying people, aggravating people (all of which has the potential to be fun, if you look at it the right way), but where lies the greater peace? Making everyone else happy, or making yourself happy? Looking in the mirror and seeing the Indianapolis 500 version of yourself, created by everyone around you, or looking in the mirror and seeing the you that you have worked so hard to create yourself?

Mirror, Mirror

Warning: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially construed ideas of beauty.

My favorite time of year: resolution time; that glorious period when everyone spews list of changes that they intend to make and which end up being kept for all of, on average, five days. Most of those fantastic claims center around the body: attending the gym more frequently, eating better, attempting one (or more) fad diets that have yet to be discredited by science. And why not? It’s not as if our entire social culture were structured around norms of expectations of beauty, right? Oh, wait, it is. We have entire channels of YouTube that explain how to contour your face, dress appropriately for your age, shop thriftily so you can emulate the looks of the stars. Don’t get me started on what you can find on Instagram (and, yes, I’m old enough that I had to research both because I don’t actually utilize either one on a regular basis).

I don’t believe in resolutions, in general, but I really avoid the ones in relation to the body. Why? Because I have major body image issues, the same as most other people who suffer from depression. The crazy part is that I probably shouldn’t, at least according to logic. After all, I weigh a solid 100 pounds less now than I did even ten years ago when I was in a terrible relationship; that equates to 10 sizes smaller (and the real annoyance of having to buy new clothes every time I lost a significant amount of weight). Instead of reveling in the loss, though, I freaked out. I kept pushing against newly-appeared bones and ligaments, trying to figure out what in the world the protrusions were; I ended up with a lot of bruises. And I continued to avoid mirrors at all costs – because I still saw the same girl in the mirror as always.

And I still do.

This past year, everyone was posting their 10-year challenge photos to show the difference a decade can make. Now, I hate having my picture taken (see above in case you were under some delusion as to why that might be), but I finally caved to the pressure and found an old picture as well as one from this summer. It was the first time I was able to see the difference in weight, mostly because the evidence was sitting in front of me. The shock was overwhelming, but the bigger shock was walking to the bedroom, looking in the mirror and seeing that same enormous hippo staring back at me. Nothing had changed, not even moments after glimpsing the truth! My mind insisted that I was still an unattractive blimp. All of the broken thinking came right back: the taunting from school, the embarrassment from the playground (you know – when no one else can lift you on the see-saw?), the humiliation of walking past women your own age as you go to the Plus section while they traipse to the Juniors section, all while your much thinner friends insisted that size is just a number and prance around in crop tops, skinny jeans, and bikinis. So I put my sweats on and went back to avoiding the mirror – standard procedure.

The grip that thinking has on a person is insane. I’ve continued to lose weight, I’ve toned my arms and legs some more, and I STILL see the same horrible image in the mirror. Every now and then, I catch a brief glimpse of someone else, but I don’t know who she is. And the really crazy thing is, if I just look at my arm or my leg, I see changes (we won’t talk about my stomach – that’s insanity); but the entire picture…it falls apart. Trying to rewire my thinking has failed every attempt I’ve made. Those hurtful remarks are embedded deep in my psyche, along with every rejection.

If I were to consider making any resolution this coming year, it would be to root out all of those horrible sentiments and banish them from my way of thinking. Because, honestly, I would really like to look in the mirror and at least see MYSELF, as I am.