Are You Unlucky?

Sometimes, I do want to think that things are outside of my control.

And I’m not necessarily talking about situationally, well-I-did-all-I-could-now-all-I-can-do-is-wait-for-the-results kind of outside of my control. I’m talking about higher powers than teachers or employers or friends and family. I’m talking about luck, this idea that some people do well in this world because some force outside of their control has decided that their worthy.

I think we all like the idea of being lucky, and we’re consoled by the idea of being unlucky. When something goes wrong, then that’s okay; we just weren’t lucky, there was nothing else we could have done. When something goes right, then that’s great; we’re lucky, and things are going to keep going right for us. Either way, the result was outside of our control; we didn’t necessarily have to do anything to earn it, we just earned it by way of existing. For some people, this might be a comforting thought.

But at the same time, it isn’t really true.

Not everything is always within our control, of course; sometimes things just happen, whether they’re bad or good. Sometimes we are subject to the choices that others have made. Sometimes we lose something, or someone. Sometimes we can control what happens to us, but not always. Not often, in fact, and trying to control everything will only make the world that much more frustrating for us.

Life is a game with too many players, too many chances, for us to be in control all the time.

So when bad things happen to us that we can’t control, why wouldn’t that be because we were unlucky?

Well, in my opinion, it’s because these bad things don’t necessarily have to be bad things. We sometimes get so lost in this idea that life has dealt us a bad hand, life is being so unfair, we are so unlucky and doomed to be unlucky forever, that really, we create our own suffering. We’re so focused on the idea that we’re unlucky, and so that is all we see: terrible luck, everywhere. But the truth is, bad things happen to everyone, at one point in their lives or another. And maybe this is a rough patch in your life. Maybe things are a little bit harder right now than usual. But things like that happen to everyone at one point or another; you have not been singled out by the universe.

And more than that, I am firmly of the belief that even bad things have their purpose and meaning. And, yes, I know that can be a controversial statement for some people: people want to know what the meaning for some of the world’s most terrible crimes can possibly be, and I don’t have a blanket answer for every single scenario. But what I do know if that, in my life, my greatest suffering has been used for a purpose. I learned from my mistakes, lessons that I never could have even imagined if I hadn’t gone through them. I took my pain and I used it to relate to other people in a similar scenario, to help them. I do not regret a single tear that I have shed, because they all led me to where I am today.

So, ultimately, I don’t know if the bad things in our lives can necessarily be labelled simply as ‘bad’, not when they have their good sides as well. They most certainly hurt, yes, and they might require time to heal from, but they don’t have to be entirely negative aspects in our lives.

So when you fail, when you get knocked down and suffer loss and betrayal, can it be said that that was entirely bad luck? Is the scenario bad because it caused pain, pain that you may eventually heal from, stronger and smart than ever? Or is the scenario bad because you have decided it is bad? Are you unable to see the potential growth and change that it can offer you because you are too single-mindedly focused on the pain?

Flowers grow from mud, after all, but not if you stunt their growth and ignore them.

And I know, the world isn’t even as simple as all this: saying that all you need to do is change your perspective and focus on the good is all fine and dandy in a world where mental illness doesn’t exist. But, unfortunately, we live in a world where it does, and depression and anxiety sometimes does all it can to obscure our vision of the good. But, again, from my experience, that doesn’t mean that the good isn’t there, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t train yourself, try, to see it. All you need is time, patience, and practice: just keep looking for it, even when it seems impossible.

And, of course, you aren’t always going to see it, even if you don’t deal with mental illness. Sometimes the pain is still too fresh, too raw. Sometimes the good is hard to find, or far away, waiting to be discovered at another time. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to look for it.

Finding the good won’t magically turn the situation good, either. I’m not trying to say that we will consistently have ‘good luck’ throughout the rest of our lives if we do this. All that I’m saying is that we won’t consistently have ‘bad luck’; we’ll just be. Sometimes, things will hurt, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow from it and that doesn’t mean that all of our lives are pain. Sometimes, bad things happen, but that doesn’t mean that we are unlucky or that only bad things ever happen to us. That’s just the way that life is; messy and complicated, but not awful. Not so long as we train ourselves to see the brighter sides that do, most certainly, exist.

 

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I Wasn’t Made to Be Silent

“Be silent, child,” they said. “The world does not care for your troubles. If they ask, they do not mean it. Just look pretty, smile, recite your niceties, and all will be well.”

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart hurts, sir. I do not feel anything behind the smile. It is not real.”

“Of course it isn’t,” they said. “No one’s smile is real.”

So I smiled.

“But, sir,” I said, “the world is hard, sir. I know a girl who is starving herself because the world keeps telling her she’s too fat. I know a girl who was raped and will never see justice done because nobody believes her. I know a boy who parties every night, and I warn him to be safe because I fear that he will flirt with the wrong man and get beaten for it. I am scared, sir, because this world makes me scared, but I don’t know how to fix it without talking about it, sir.”

“You can’t,” they said. “There is nothing you can do. The world is hard, and that is all there is to it. There is no saving anyone. There is no fixing anything. Stay silent, child, for nothing that you say will matter anyway.”

So I was silent.

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot stand this. My heart aches all the time, sir. I stay up at night and I listen to them cry, and I want to help them. This world is terrifying, sir. Is there truly nothing I can do?”

“You can be happy with your lot, child,” they said. “You can be grateful that you are not them, and you can rest easily knowing that things could always be worse. Do not complain, do not cry, because there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.”

And so I tried to be happy. I really, truly tried.

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart still hurts. My heart hurts, and I feel it in my soul now. I carved red lines into my arm today, sir. I cannot contain this fear, it is everywhere, sir, it is inside my skin and I cannot escape it or ignore it anymore. Please, sir. My own blood is on my hands, and I need to do something.”

“You are wrong to think so,” they said. “Are you not grateful? Are you not happy? What is wrong with you, what makes you carve red lines into your arm? Normal people do not do that, child. So cover your arms with your sleeves, put on that smile, and recite your niceties. That is all you have to do. Why are you making this so complicated?”

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot do this anymore. I do not believe you. I think you are disillusioned, sir, and I think your advice hurts me in the long run. So, sir, I will no longer be taking your advice. Thank you for your attempt, I know you were only trying to help me, but I must try something different if I am going to stop being so afraid.”

And so I spoke. For the first time in my life, I spoke loudly and clearly, to anyone who would listen to me.

“What are you doing, child?” they said. “Nobody cares what you have to say! Nobody feels the same way as you! You are changing nothing in the world, and worse, you are making everybody hate you! We think you are crazy, child! We think you are too aggressive, and we think you must hate us if you dare not take our advice! Why are you doing this to us, child, when all we ever tried to do was help you? Why do you hurt us so?”

“But, sir,” I said, “for the first time in my life, my heart does not hurt. The red lines in my arm have left scars, but they have healed. I am alright, sir, and I will be alright, and none of this would have been possible if I did not talk. I want to do the same for others, sir. I want to make them feel safe to talk. I want to make sure they know that the option is open to them, that they do not have to live in silence, that they can be perceived as crazy or aggressive or wrong, and yet that does not necessarily mean that they are. And maybe my voice is just one among the million. Maybe it gets drowned out in the crowd, and maybe I’m heard by very few, but at least I’m heard. And at least I’m talking. Because I think I need to talk. I wasn’t made to be silent.”

I do not think they heard me. And yet, I speak.

 

We Are All Afraid

Here’s the thing about life that no one will tell you: we’re all afraid.

All of us. Think of the bravest, strongest person you can possibly think of: that person is afraid. That person was most likely afraid when they did whatever it is they did to make them earn that title in your mind.

Because this world is a huge and terrifying place, filled to the brim with uncertainty. You can never know if the decision that you’re making is the right one or not. You can never know if it will all turn out all right in the end, because you simply aren’t at the end yet. Maybe you will fuck up. In fact, chances are, you will, at one point in your life or another. Life is hard, and it is filled with dangers and failures and pain, and we cannot avoid it altogether.

So of course we’re afraid.

And yet, we console ourselves with stories of bravery. With this idea that there are people in this world who are made differently from us, people who are capable of amazing feats because they just don’t feel fear. They smile in the face of adversity and they think it’s cute. They think it’s beneath them. They overcome any obstacle because they are different. They are courageous. And we aren’t like them, but at least we can rest easy knowing that those people exist.

Right?

Well, no. That just isn’t how the world works. It might have been when we were children, but things aren’t quite so simple now. The world is not split into heroes and cowards, or people who don’t feel fear and people who do.

Because, as I said, we are all afraid. Every single one of us.

The people who accomplish amazing feats are not made different from us. They are not more than human, they do not feel any more or less than we do. They’re just people. People who were positively terrified to do something at one point or another, and yet they did it. It mattered enough to them that they valued it higher than their fear.

Filled with terror and uncertainty, these people who we look up to and tell stories about marched on, and eventually, it became easier for them to do it. Their fear, which assaulted them daily at first, simply became background noise, and they simply became accustomed to this as their life. And they were afraid. Of course they were afraid, but they didn’t allow that fear to stop them from doing what they wanted. They controlled their fear.

Because courage does not come from a lack of fear, but from the ability to move forward despite it.

And of course, not all of them succeeded. Not all of us are going to succeed, but that’s not why we do things. We do things because they matter, because they are important to us. This world is too uncertain, too vast and endless, for us to know the outcome before it happens. But if we don’t at least try, then we know with absolute certainty that we will never succeed. We give up on what we want entirely from the moment that we decide to let fear get in the way.

The only action that creates certainty is giving up and giving in. Trying puts us in a place of uncertainty, where we may fail, or we may get exactly what we want. And yes, that thought is scary, but it is also worth the battle.

It is worth defying your fear and becoming that person who is thought of as extraordinary.

 

 

You Cannot Change People

They say that people can’t change, but I disagree. People change all the time.

People grow and develop. People learn new things and change their minds and take on new and better habits. People apologize for their own wrong-doings and try to make amends. People change their entire lives and use their mistakes to help other people going through the same thing.

Change isn’t just possible; it’s common. It’s a daily occurrence that comes for us multiple times in our lives.

But what isn’t always possible is changing someone else.

Sometimes, the people we care about don’t want to change. Maybe you see something wrong with them, but they don’t. Maybe you want them to become a more outdoors-y type person, but they’re perfectly satisfied staying indoors – in fact, they might even prefer it. You might be succeeding only in making them uncomfortable by encouraging them to do otherwise. Maybe you disapprove of a specific habit of theirs, but they see absolutely nothing wrong with it, and don’t understand why you’re trying to take it away from them.

Sometimes, when we try to make people change when they don’t want to, all we do is create a strain. We make them want to do the forbidden thing even more, directly because it is forbidden. Sometimes, when we try to make people change when they don’t want to, all that we are really doing is getting mad at them for being who they are. And from time to time, we seem to take this opinion that, especially if we’re in a romantic relationship with someone, we should come before everything else in their lives, but that just isn’t the case. I’m not saying that our loved ones shouldn’t value us highly, but it is important that they value themselves, their personalities, their likes and dislikes and the way they were made.

And it’s important for us to value all of that too. Maybe not like it; no one is going to like absolutely every tiny little aspect about someone, but so long as what they are doing does not hurt or disrespect anyone, then all that making a big deal out of it does is hurt and disrespect who they are as a person.

And no one should have to shave off important parts of themselves in order to be with someone they love.

And if what they are doing is hurting or disrespecting someone, and you want to stop them from doing that because you truly do love the better sides of them… you still might be disappointed. Like I said, people can change, but you can’t necessarily change someone.

If they are going to change, then that change needs to come from them. This is true of small changes, like encouraging someone to go to the gym once in a while, and this is true of larger changes, like dissuading someone from engaging in behaviour that is bullying or abusive. You can try to help them out, you can try to be there for them, but if you choose to do that, then you need to remember who they are, and that they aren’t going to change unless they make the decision to do so. And they might never make the decision to do so.

And if you don’t think that you can handle that, then it’s okay to decide that you can’t have that person in your life anymore. It’s okay to value your own well-being.

Because change comes from within. You cannot enforce it on someone else. And if you choose to try, you run the risk of pushing them away or forcing them to give up pieces of themselves. So end of day, you can choose between two options: you can love them for who they are, flaws and all, or you can decide that they do you more harm than good and leave them. There is no shame in either choice, but you need to make the one that you can live with end of day.

 

Three Lessons I’ve Learned By Maintaing An Online Blog

So today is a somewhat exciting day for me.

Today is the first year anniversary of maintaining my blog online.

(Woot woot!)

It’s sort of a strange thing to think. Maintaining this blog has been such a huge part of my daily life that it feels a little bit like it’s always been there, while simultaneously feeling like something incredibly new, something that I’m still getting the hang of and still has a long way to grow from here.

But end of day, this blog has been an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I’m very happy that I took up and will continue doing for a long time to come. And although I’ve only been at it for a year (which, while I’m celebrating the impressiveness of that, I’m perfectly aware isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things), there are quite a few things that I’ve learned in the course of this year. Lessons that have become ingrained in who I am as a person, and how I view the world. Lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, because I needed to learn them, and for me, this was the best way to learn them.

So, without further ado, here they are: the top three lessons that I have learned by maintaining an online blog.

1) Whatever you’re going through, no matter what it is, you are not alone

Before starting my blog, I had been dealing with a lot of mental health issues, primarily involving depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I talked about these issues a little bit – mostly with my mom – but I never really branched out and spoke to anyone else about it (besides one drunken announcement that I made to a friend that we shall not speak about). Mostly, this was because I was incredibly embarrassed. I didn’t necessarily feel like dealing with mental health problems made me any lesser of a person, but I didn’t depend on anyone else to feel this way. I thought that talking about how I felt would make me look weak, or like I was a burden on others. I thought that being honest about how I felt would chase people away from me, because they wouldn’t want to deal with the truth of who I was.

When I started my blog, however, I went in with one rule that I told myself I could not break: everything that I wrote needed to be honest. It didn’t matter if that honesty hurt other people. It didn’t matter if that honesty made me look bad. When it came to writing, there were so many writers that I admired because they didn’t care how they looked, they just wanted to reflect their honest experience, and I wanted to be that.

So, for the first time in my life, I was honest.

I wrote a piece on suicidal thoughts, and I had a grown man send me a private message about how he had considered killing himself after he got out of an abusive relationship.

I wrote a piece on depression, and I had another grown man thank me, because he had spent his whole life feeling a certain way and afraid to tell anyone about it, thinking that he had to go his whole life alone because of it.

And, to branch outside of issues of mental health for a moment, I wrote another piece on feeling confused about my sexual orientation, and I had a grown and married woman confess to me that she really saw herself in what I wrote, and that she was happy to see it put into words.

And you know what this made me realize? I’m not alone. None of us are alone. We are all messy, confused, broken human beings, and we think we need to shoulder this burden ourselves, but we don’t. We are all struggling, and once you speak out about that struggle, you really find that out.

And maybe it doesn’t take away the hurt. Maybe it doesn’t fix the problem, but I know for damn sure that it at least makes you feel a little less weak and a little less lonely because of it.

2) Everyone has a story to tell

This lesson sort of branches off of what I was talking about with lesson number one.

Because you know those people who I talked about, the ones who reached out to me and told me that I wasn’t alone? Some of those people were complete strangers to me beforehand. And I’m not even talking general acquaintances, I’m talking never-met-them-before, not-even-sure-we-live-in-the-same-country strangers. You know, the sort that you meet on the internet all the time.

And I suppose that, because they felt that they knew something about me, they felt more comfortable coming forward and telling me more about themselves than I’ve even learned after years of friendship with some people.

I heard a story about a man who attempted suicide, and although everyone knew he had tried, nobody spoke to him about it, forcing him to live years in secrecy and shame.

I heard a story about a man who was trying his best to keep going despite his recent divorce, but he was getting tired and beginning to accept that maybe the best thing he could do for himself now was admit that he wasn’t okay.

And hearing these stories, allowing people to open up to you so much, really makes you realize that we are all so much more complex than we give other people credit for. We are so quick to dismiss someone as ‘stupid’ if they do something that annoys us, ‘wrong’ if they say something that offends us, but every single person in this world has a story to tell and a life that they’ve lived.

“If you knew everyone’s story, you would love them” – Emma Stone

3) Sometimes, you’ve just got to do the thing that scares you, especially if it’s your dream

So, I’m not gonna lie, as much as I’ve spoken very highly about this whole maintaining-a-blog on the internet business, I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, when I first started, I was downright petrified to do it.

And why?

Well, because it’s scary, that’s why! Look – I’d been writing for a long time before this. I’d decided that I wanted a career as a writer when I was about ten years old, and even before that, I’d been writing. It’s just part of me. It’s what I do, as natural as the sun rising.

And putting my writing out there to be judged and critiqued by everybody is a goddamn worry, okay?

And I know what you’re thinking: but Ciara, you marvellous creature you, to have a career as a writer, don’t you have to let other people read your work? And the answer to that is, yes, of course, and even at the time I knew that. And truth be told, as much as this experience has been rewarding for many reasons, knowing that was what initially made me decide to start this blog: to get my writing read and my name out there a little bit.

So I did it. Like ripping off a band-aid, I just did it.

And… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

You might be expecting me to say that there was a period of time where it was hard for me, where I had to get used to having my writing read by actual people who weren’t just me and my mom, but there wasn’t really. Not everyone liked everything that I wrote, no, but I always found comfort in one of three thoughts, depending on what the post in question was: 1) that I stood up for what I believed in, and not everyone is going to agree with everything I believe in, 2) that I reflected my honest experience, and so long as that is so, I did my best, and 3) that, end of day, if this post really, really sucked and there was nothing redeemable about it, I can just write another one tomorrow and everything will be better.

Despite my fears, misgivings, and worries, this experience has honestly been nothing but rewarding for me.

So if there is something that you want to do, whatever that might be, something that you’ve really been dreaming of but too afraid to try – start an Etsy store, apply for that job, take that program – I say do it. The worst thing that you can do is fail, and then you try again tomorrow. And the hardest part of all that will, of course, be your persistence – it can be difficult to find resilience when people put you down, sure, and I get that. But just do what I do whenever I seriously fail at something: cry for a bit, stuff some junk food in your face (we’re all allowed our cheat meals from time to time), wipe away the tears and the smeared make-up, and then get right back up and do it again.

Because this is just the beginning.