Who Has The Time?

The March Hare: The time! The time! Who’s got the time?

In high school, it was simple: wake up, go to school, hang out with friends, go to work, go on dates, do homework, hang out with parents, take some breaks for mental health, volunteer because it looks better on university applications, be active, eat, sleep for eight hours. Wake up, repeat. And if you don’t do every last thing on that list, then you’re slacking off. You aren’t doing well enough. What are you doing? You need to get up, smarten up, think about the future, what are you going to do if you fail at one of these things? What sort of adult are you going to be?

Do you even care about your future?

Mad Hatter: If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.

Alice: I don’t know what you mean.

Mad Hatter: Of course you don’t! I dare say you never even spoke to Time!

Alice: Perhaps not, but I know I have to beat time when I learn music.

Mad Hatter: Ah! that accounts for it. He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock.

I think I must have pissed Time off at some point.

In university, it got even simpler: Wake up, eat healthy because if you don’t you’re going to gain weight and feel awful, go to classes, do five hours worth of reading a day, exercise, write essays, go to work, hang out with friends, go to parties, develop a small drinking problem because everyone else is doing it, go on dates, spend time with your parents, try to build your own life, come up with the final answer for what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, volunteer because it makes you look better for future jobs, work on your passions even if they don’t pay anything, take breaks for your mental health because if you don’t then the crushing weight of everything that you have to do is going to descend upon you.

Them: So, have you been going on any good dates lately?

Me: No, I don’t have the time.

Them: Really? That wouldn’t stop me!

The future better be fucking spectacular, because I seem to be living exclusively for it.

Then university ended, and it became even less okay to not have any time. They say that we aren’t kids anymore; we need to get serious. This is our life, the only life that we ever going to live, and we had better do everything with it.

Wake up. Go to work. Plan out the future, because you didn’t actually have time to do that in university. Volunteer, because it looks better for the kind of jobs that you actually want to have. Hang out with friends. Go on dates. Work toward your passions. Exercise. Eat healthy, because there’s still that problem of feeling awful if you don’t. Build your own life. Take breaks for mental health. Don’t give into the existential crisis waiting for you at night when you turn out the lights and lie alone in your bed.

I make plans. I work hard. I do everything I can to work toward my goals, and so what if I don’t do anything else? Who has the time?

We all make time for the things that matter, that’s all I know. We prioritize what’s important. And, unfortunately, not everything can be important at all times. There is too much in the world for that to be so.

But, perhaps, for the things that we miss today, their time will come tomorrow. Just be patient, work on what matters now, and wait for the time to come for everything else.

After all, today might feel long, but it remains short in the span of an entire life. It is not possible to do everything with a day. But it might still be possible to do everything with a life, so long as you work on it all in its time.

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Breathe

Breathe.

In and out. They say it helps with stress, and I believe it does. When you can remember to do it. When you are capable of doing it. When the anxiety isn’t so bad that you can’t catch your breath, when your nose isn’t so stuffed up from crying that the simple act of taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide is pretty much all that you’re capable of.

When things aren’t so bad yet, then breathe.

Because you’re going to be okay. On some level, you might even know that; things will work out eventually, they’re just hard right now. But they are so incredibly hard right now, in this precise moment in time, that sometimes you get lost in that. And a life is such a long time – eighty years, if you’re lucky – so knowing that, at some point in the course of all that, things will fall into place and turn out fine might not be the most reassuring thought in this moment, when things aren’t fine.

But it’s still true. And as much as life is the longest thing you will ever do, time passes quickly. And before you know it, you’ll be looking back on now and you’ll be surprised by how much things have changed, how much better they are.

Because things are going to be alright eventually, and you need that thought to hold onto today. Because today, maybe all you can do is breathe.

And I know, you want to do more than that. You have plans. You have things you need to do. You have new problems that keep popping up – so many problems, all at once, endless, and they’re not getting better, they’re not getting easier, and a part of you keeps wondering if this is just life, how it will always be. And when it gets like that, you need to stop. Plans will be there. Problems can wait. And there are things you need to do, so do them, and take your time with what’s left.

You need to rest.

You need to breathe.

You need to realize that you are stronger than you think you. You need to realize that you have pulled yourself through hell before, and you can do it again. You can always do it. You are a warrior, a champion, a wonder. You are made of stardust and there is magic within you. You are the only person like you that exists in this world, and you need to exist because of that, and a part of you knows that, but when things get so fast and so busy and so endless, it becomes difficult to remember all of that. That knowledge exists only in the quiet, in the rest, in the peace.

That knowledge exists when you breathe.

So breathe.

Right now, that’s all you can do.

 

 

Is Happiness Really a Choice?

I think we’ve all heard the phrase “happiness is a choice” tossed around every now and again. Sometimes we hear it used seriously, by people who actually, genuinely believe that it is true. Sometimes we hear it used sarcastically, by people who are struggling, in one way or another, and cannot imagine how such a thing is possible.

And I have to admit, coming from the perspective of someone who has dealt with depression and who, chances are, will always live with anxiety, I do come to this phrase with a slightly… different perspective from what might be considered the average person who takes it seriously.

I mean, I know that happiness sometimes isn’t a viable choice. When my depression returns, and my mood takes a shocking dip into not-okay territory, I can’t instantly stop that just because I don’t want it to happen. If I could, I would do it, because you know what? Being depressed isn’t fun. I don’t like waking up and wondering what the point of my life is. I don’t like feeling like I haven’t contributed anything to the world, or like nobody would really care if I stopped being here. Those are all feelings that I would choose to avoid if I could.

The same goes for my anxiety. I mean, have you ever had a panic attack? They’re embarrassing at best and exhausting at worst, and most of the time, even I’m aware that they’re about nothing. I know the world won’t end if I don’t finish this project on time, or if I take on something new, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t worry me.

That’s just the nature of living with a mental illness; you can’t just banish it because you don’t want to deal with it. Trust me, I wish I could. I have wasted hours, even days of my life, wishing that I could just think and be like any neurotypical person would.

But at the same time, I still sort of believe that happiness is a bit of a choice.

And I know, I know; what I just said sounds incredibly contradictory, and like I’m turning my back on my mentally ill brothers and sisters. But hear me out:

While not everyone who uses this phrase will understand that happiness isn’t an immediate choice for people living with depression, anxiety, or any other breed of mental illness, I don’t think that means that it can’t be a long-term choice.

We can’t banish a depressive episode because we don’t want it. We can’t suppress a panic attack because we choose to. But what we can do, what we do have power over, is how we choose to react to the fact that we have these issues.

You have two options when you’re faced with these issues: you can choose to seek help, in whatever way that might mean. You can try to talk to people, whether that be a friend, a family member, a doctor, a therapist, a support group, a journal, an online blog, your guinea pig, or whatever. And, yes, sometimes this can be a bit outside of your control too: sometimes the people we choose to talk to don’t understand us, but that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. And if we feel comfortable and if we can afford it, there is also the option of medication, which has been proven to improve the lives of countless people living with mental illness – not by making them neurotypical, necessarily, but by making the more dangerous and harmful parts of their mental illness easier to deal with. Not only that, but there are several other options that have been proven to make life easier for people living with mental illness, such as healthy eating, exercise, and meditation.

Or, you can take the second option: you can choose to suppress it. You can not talk about it. You can not seek help. You can never awknowledge that there might be something causing you to feel the way that you do, and as a consequence, you can continue to suffer under the weight of your mental illness. That is your choice.

And I know – trust me, I understand that sometimes, the lines between these two choices get blurred when you’re dealing with a mental illness, especially if you haven’t been diagnosed yet or you’re still questioning whether the way you feel is valid or not. When you’re depressed or anxious, your mind – which is, I repeat, ill – might repeatedly tell you that you’re wrong, that you’re just looking for attention, that there’s no way to help you and you should just give up. But there are options for people living with mental illness. If one doesn’t work, then you try another until you find something that does. People can and have found ways to make their life not only bearable, but happy and worthwhile, despite dealing with mental illness.

We talk about people who are depressed or anxious or otherwise mentally ill as though there is no possibility that they can ever lead a happy, fulfilling life, but that just isn’t the case. I might get depressed from time to time, I might have to make a point of moving gingerly around my anxiety lest I set it off, but that doesn’t mean that, overall, I’m not happy with my life. I am. I am taking strides to make life easier for me in the long run, and I am working toward my goals and dreams as best I can.

And when we say ‘happiness is a choice’, I think we too often confuse it for ‘constant happiness is possible’. It isn’t. Even if you aren’t dealing with a mental illness, there are going to be times when life, quite frankly, sucks. Sometimes, people die, or tragedies strike, or our relationships crumble, or we get let go of jobs. And when that happens, of course you are going to be sad, of course you are going to be hurt and angry and resentful. But the difference between people who choose happiness and the people who don’t, is that those who choose happiness eventually try to do something about their bitterness, and even if it doesn’t work immediately (heck, it very well might not), they do eventually let go of it and move on. Those who choose otherwise don’t. They hold onto their pain like a lifeline, feeling justified in being cruel and miserable because life wasn’t fair to them.

I have known too many people who have become addicted to misery, who feel lost without something to complain about and feel slighted from. And by knowing these people, I came to the conclusion that I never wanted to be that. So, while it isn’t always easy, while it’s not consistently possible at every moment of the day, I work hard for my happiness.

And that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have panic attacks that make me miserable and pull the proverbial rug out from under my feet. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have depressive episodes that last for days, sometimes even weeks. All that means is that, when I hit rock bottom, my goal is always to pick myself up and start climbing again. And maybe all that is difficult and exhausting, and maybe it sometimes does feel impossible. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile.

I don’t choose constant happiness because that isn’t an option; what I choose is overall happiness.

 

Why We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.

 

 

Don’t Apologize For Your Mental Illness

Don’t apologize.

Don’t feel bad about how you feel.

Don’t feel as though your emotions are a burden on other people, as though you need to excuse yourself for doing what you need to heal.

When it comes to issues like depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, we have this tendency to treat those who are suffering from it as though they are a burden. As though anything they do as a response to their mental illness, either because of it or as an attempt to heal from it, is an incredible inconvenience to those around them.

We get embarrassed, maybe even angry, when our loved one experiences a panic attack or some other sort of episode in public.

We get frustrated when our friends cancel plans because their depression is just too bad for them to do anything.

While we may not mean to, we create an environment where people dealing with these mental illnesses feel the need to hide the fact that they do. Our embarrassment forces them to have their panic attacks in the bathroom. Our frustration forces them to lie about why they need to cancel plans. Our behaviour, unintentional or not, makes them feel like they are a burden. Like the way that they feel is wrong, or impossible for other people to understand, but they can’t control it. They can’t stop being mentally ill. If it was as easy as a depressed person deciding not to cancel plans, then they wouldn’t cancel plans. If it was as easy as a person with anxiety deciding not to have a panic attack, then they wouldn’t have a panic attack. These sort of things are neither fun nor desirable, and would in fact be avoided if they could be.

But they can’t be.

So when you roll your eyes at someone for doing these things, you aren’t stopping them from doing it. All you are doing is making them feel as though they are wrong for doing it, as though they are a burden. As though they are a burden for being something that they can’t help being.

You make them feel wrong for being sick. And you wouldn’t roll your eyes or be embarrassed by someone for having a coughing fit or throwing up, would you?

And that’s not to say that people with mental illnesses cannot get better, or that they are completely incapable of ever changing this behaviour. But if they are going to do this, then they need understanding. They need to learn about their mental illness, rather than feel forced to suppress it. They need to be able to do what makes them feel better, whether that mean taking things slower than other people might, taking breaks to think  or calm themselves down if they need to, or whatever might work best for them. It’s all very individual, and it takes time to figure it out for yourself. Time, and allowing yourself the chance to figure it out.

And if you’re going to give yourself the chance to figure it out, you need to unapologetically accept that this is who you are, and that that’s okay. There is nothing wrong or shameful about having a mental illness, but learning to live with it will make it easier to deal with it.

So if you are living with a mental illness, don’t apologize for it. Don’t let anyone feel like you are any lesser because of it. If your actions have actually hurt someone, then apologize for that, but do not apologize for who you are and the things you cannot control.

And if you know someone who is living with a mental illness, then please try to be patient with them, and try to make allowances for the things that are outside of their control. This does not mean that you have to put up with their abuse if their mental illness has reached a toxic level, but if they are merely struggling with their mental illness, having panic attacks or cancelling plans or discussing their feelings, then try to be there for them. Try to help them, listen to what they’re saying, talk through it with them. I understand that an initial reaction might be frustration or embarrassment, especially if all of this is new to you, but trust me when I say that your relationship with them will become much closer and much more meaningful if you only help them rather than make them feel guilty for who they are.