What I Am Going to Be

I have a picture in my head of what I’m going to be.

I’m going to be big. Not too big – I’m not going to be talked about hundreds of years from now like Shakespeare or anything. I’m not going to last long enough for people to start arguing about whether or not I actually existed. But still, there will be people who will know my name, people who I haven’t met before. That would be enough for me.

I’m going to be stable, and I’m going to land my dream job, and I’m going to be satisfied with it. I’m not going to go home after a long day at work and feel like nothing I did mattered, or like it was all just a big waste of time. No, I’m going to change people’s lives. I’m going to make a difference in this world.

I’m going to be happy. I don’t entirely know how yet, but when I look into my future, I see it. I see me, fifty years old, smiling and serene and satisfied with my lot, proud of my past self for not giving up. I’m going to have a system of support around me – friends, colleagues, a partner maybe (if I get really crazy with the happiness).

In short, I’m going to be okay. I see it. I feel it there, just there, just beyond my reach, and if I just keep trying, just keep reaching for what I want, I know I can get there, I can, it’s just…

It’s hard.

It’s hard to remain convinced that what I see is real, it’s achievable. I can get everything I want if I just keep trying. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to spend all my life trying and trying and trying, and it’s never enough, no matter what I do, because regardless of persistence or resilience or talent, I just wasn’t born in the right place, to the right family, knowing the right people. That would never happen.

Right?

But at the end of the day, do my doubts even matter? Because, hell, maybe my doubts are correct. Maybe my vision of the future is a lie that I tell myself to make these meaningless work days go by a little bit faster, these constant rejections feel a little less final. But either way, I think I need to live as though this vision of the future is real. I need to pretend that I can be big and stable and happy, so long as I just keep trying. Because at the end of the day, I know that I can’t give up now. If I give up, then that vision of the future is guaranteed to be a lie. If I keep trying, then how can I know for sure?

So I’ll keep trying. And I’ll keep telling myself that that picture in my head is what I am going to be. Because that’s what I want. More than anything in this world, that is what I want.

We All Lead Our Own Stories

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about people en masse is the fact that we are all our own separate story.

Our world is filled to the brim with stories, and we are all the protagonists of our own. The genre changes by the week or by the month or by the minute even. Sometimes, we are caught in horror stories or tragedies, and our lives are characterized by fear or loss or sadness. Sometimes, we are swept up in romantic comedies for a time, or maybe inspirational dramas, where we’re the underdog just struggling for recognition, striving to reach that happy ending so we can move on to the next chapter in our lives.

And just like with any well-written story, we are all three-dimensional characters. Every last one of us have a motivation for our actions, a reason to do it. Some of our motivations are better than others. Sometimes we are motivated by fear or anger or bitterness or a plain-and-simple bad mood. But, end of day, we all have a motivation, and we all believe that our motivations are good enough.

We are all the protagonists of our own stories, and so we are all just trying to be heroes. We want to overcome our obstacles, to come out stronger in the end and make a difference in the world. Sometimes we’ll settle for the role of anti-hero to get what we want, but nobody ever sets out to be a one-dimensional, cut-and-dry villain.

Nobody acts without motivation. Nobody intends to be cruel for the sake of cruelty, not unless they are really and truly hurt as human beings. Nobody is any less than a detailed and well-told story of varying genres.

And one thing that really bugs me, something that is growing as a pet peeve of mine, is when people forget all that.

And sometimes it’s not only easy but necessary to forget all that, but I’m talking about some pretty intense situations here. I’m talking about times when you have been hurt deeply by someone, and when forgiveness just isn’t possible quite yet. When the only way that you can fully rationalize what they did to you is by telling yourself that they’re simply evil, and that’s all there is to it. In situations such as these, I cannot bring myself to look down upon a hurt person who is still dealing with a fresh trauma, but these are not the situations that I am talking about.

I am talking about the people that we do not know, the stories that we have not yet been told, and yet we dismiss them so quickly, without even a thought.

I’m talking about seeing a girl in a public space wearing a bikini, and immediately dismissing her as a “dumb slut” without even considering any other alternatives – maybe she was just at the beach? Maybe she is really self-conscious about her body and trying to come to terms with how it looks? Maybe she’s really, really hot? Who knows, and more importantly, who are you to judge?

I’m talking about seeing someone standing too close to something dangerous, and rather than trying to help them, dismissing them as “stupid” and “deserving to be hurt”, but maybe they don’t even know that this is dangerous?

I’m talking about hating someone because of the way that their face looks. I’m talking about telling others that you want to punch someone because of something small and trivial that they keep doing, like smiling or looking your way. I’m talking about deciding that someone else is “no good” or “up to something” because they dress a certain way.

I’m talking about judging someone else as worthless without even knowing anything about them.

And one of the greatest reasons why this has become a pet peeve of mine is because it creates such an intense air of negativity. It creates enemies out of people who are just leading their own lives. It makes the one doing the judging think so much worse of people, because they are so much quicker to hate them. And I don’t want any part of that.

I’m not saying that all people are good or trustworthy, but all people are people. They have reasons for the things that they do, and you won’t always know their reasons. You might never find out that the girl annoying you with her public crying cannot control her panic attack and is at her wit’s end with the story she is leading, but that doesn’t make it any less real. That doesn’t make her story any less valuable or important. And it doesn’t make us any better to look down on her for it.

There Is Nothing Wrong With How You Feel

Very frequently, we will feel the need to hide the way that we truly feel.

This can be in a very small way, like pretending that something that someone else said didn’t hurt you just to avoid unnecessary confrontation, or it can happen in a much larger way, like spending years of your life pretending that you’re straight, or that you aren’t severely depressed and considering taking your own life.

And, similarly, this can happen for several different reasons. Maybe we’ve been told in the past that other people aren’t interested in hearing how we feel. Maybe we feel like the way that we feel is inappropriate, that we’re simply exaggerating to ourselves or seeking attention, even if we haven’t even told anyone yet – we’ve just internalized this idea that the way we’re feeling is always associated with attention seeking. Or maybe we don’t want to burden someone else with our honesty, we don’t want to make them worry about us or angry with us or look down upon us. We want to maintain a certain image before them – a strong, healthy, normal image, even if we don’t feel like we match it.

And so we keep silent.

We say nothing, but we keep on suffering. We keep on feeling.

And we keep on feeling alone.

So let me take this opportunity to say this: you need to say how you feel.

Now, maybe you need to be selective about who you say this to. For example, if are currently closeted, I am not advocating coming out to people who you know are not going to accept you, but rather will try to hurt you, either physically or mentally. If sharing the way that you feel is guaranteed to cause you harm of some sort, then I am very sorry for you, because you do not deserve that. You deserve the opportunity to be open and honest about how you feel without fear, and if you can’t be, then that is not your fault. That is the fault of the other who is causing you harm, whether they are doing it intentionally or not.

But regardless, in every single situation, it is important for people to not shoulder their burdens alone. We as the human species need people; we need to open up, to communicate. And once you do that, whether you’re talking about a mental illness, your identity, or a mere fear or anxiety that has been plaguing you, a miraculous thing happens – the burden becomes easier to bare. All of a sudden, you are not alone in this world. There is someone else out there who knows how you feel, who understands you and shares in your experience.

And furthermore – when you talk to someone else about how you feel, it can either validate it, or help you to work through it. Too often, our own minds become toxic places to hold thoughts, especially if they hold them for a long time. The longer they’re in there, the more that they sour, becoming something that doesn’t even reflect reality, and sometimes, the only way to recognize what they have become is by getting them out there in the real world to be discussed. Maybe you’ll realize that the way that you’ve been feeling is ridiculous, and maybe you’ll realize that the only ridiculous thing about all this was holding onto it for so long, or thinking that you were wrong to think it in the first place.

Too often, I hear from people who have been holding onto thoughts and feelings for years and haven’t opened up, haven’t even explored them. We as a society tend to encourage others to bottle up their emotions, to buck up and be strong and go through it alone. But going through life alone is incredibly lonely, and sometimes we need to talk to others.

So let’s talk.

Let’s offer people in need our ears.

Let’s refuse to bottle up our emotions and leave them to fester.

Let’s stop promoting this idea that reaching out is weak, or that naturally occurring emotions can be wrong.

We all need to talk, and we should all have the opportunity to talk. Because there is nothing wrong with you or how you feel; there is something wrong with a society that keeps us all silent.

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Mental Illness

In this post, I’m going to be talking a bit about my own experience with mental illness, not because I think that my way of experiencing it was “right”, or because my experience was universal or anything along those lines. I am not a trained therapist. I am not a definitive master in this subject by any means. All I am is someone with an experience, someone who took a lesson from what I lived.

I am mostly going to be focusing on my experience with anxiety, as well. And, of course, every mental illness is different, and even those with anxiety experience it differently, but my hope is that you as the reader might find something in my experience that you relate to as well.

Anxiety has always been prevalent in my life. It is something that has run in my family – something that plagued some members to the point that they refused to even leave the house if they could avoid it. Yet, for years, my family just thought of a person’s anxiety as their “quirks”. If someone didn’t leave his house, it wasn’t because they were mentally ill, but because they was quirky, they had a healthy dislike of crowds, it was nothing. That was the way that mental illness was discussed in my family throughout most of my childhood.

When I was eighteen, I identified my constant stress and outright illogical level of fears as an anxiety disorder – one that hadn’t quite reached the degree of some of my family members, but that plagued me nonetheless. I had a hard time applying to jobs, because the thought of doing so was enough to send me into a panic attack. I couldn’t talk to anyone without stuttering, and after talking to them I made myself miserable with thoughts of “I bet they hated me” and “god, I’m so stupid, why did I do that?” And while I excelled at school, a big part of the reason for that was because I needed to finish all my projects several weeks in advance because I couldn’t stand the stress of having essays that weren’t done yet.

After I identified what I had as an anxiety disorder, I started to talk about it. And after I started to talk about it, I begin to identify the several others in my family who also dealt with their own anxiety, tracking the signs that should have been apparent to me from the beginning.

From there, I wanted to move immediately from identifying my anxiety disorder to curing it. I didn’t want to be swallowed whole by it, like so many others had. While they might have been perfectly satisfied living their days in solitude, I didn’t want that to be me. When I looked into my future, I longed for the image of a highly-educated, greatly successful writer with a wonderful partner who supported me through everything, and the way I saw it, none of this would be possible if I was still dealing with my anxiety at the time.

So, the logical choice: I needed to get rid of my anxiety.

The next year or so was spent trying to find ways to do that, although many of them only made things worse. I would intentionally do things that gave me anxiety because I knew that these were things I needed to do. But once these things would inevitably put me into a panic attack, my insistence on simply banishing these feelings wouldn’t work, which would only make me more stressed, which would only make me feel bad that I was so stressed. I got to a point where I was stressed about being stressed.

Essentially, I was telling myself that I couldn’t be a person with anxiety, which didn’t really work out because I was a person with anxiety. And throughout all of this, I had my mother trying to tell me that my anxiety wasn’t actually something to be ashamed of, that it was just a part of me that I needed to learn to live with.

But I didn’t want to hear that.

I didn’t want to have anxiety.

But eventually, I did come to the conclusion that what I was trying wasn’t working, and I was willing to try something different.

So when I got a panic attack, I stopped fighting it.

When something started to stress me out, I would slow down and talk to myself before a panic attack could start.

I learned ways of doing things that worked best for me, and before long, I discovered that I was capable of doing everything. At one time, I would have thought that anxiety stood in my way of getting the future that I wanted, but it doesn’t; all it is is something that I need to keep in mind and work with so that it doesn’t slow me down or stop me.

I still have anxiety. I do everything that I can to keep it controlled, which includes eating healthy, exercising, taking supplements, and, of course, designing my thinking around it, but every once in a while, it still props up. It just doesn’t stop me from doing anything that I want to do.

I am not ashamed of who I am, or the struggles that I have dealt with. If anything, they have made me stronger, made me realize just how capable I am. My anxiety has made me realize that the things that I want in life are going to make me uncomfortable, and they’re going to scare me, but that isn’t a sign that I shouldn’t do it. It’s just a sign that I need to change the way that I do it.

And this is the part of the post where I speak directly to you, because this is my message to you: not to be ashamed of who you are. Mental illness is not something that you choose to live with, but it is not something that needs to hold you back or define you. You can do everything that you want to do, even with it. As cheesy as it might sound, your only limits are the ones that you set for yourself, and that is just as true for mentally ill people as it is for neurotypical people.

And maybe you don’t completely believe it right now; I get that. Maybe it’s still difficult to believe that you can conquer the world when it’s difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, or leave the house. And I’m not trying to say that all of this will happen overnight. It didn’t for me. It will take time, and it will mean forming new habits and ways of thinking and doing, but it can happen. And the most important step in starting all of this is refusing to think that there is something inherently wrong with you. There isn’t. You are not wrong, you are just different, and you are not the only one who is different. Once you reach out and talk to other people, you’ll begin to realize that you are not alone. You are beautiful and you are strong and you are so much more capable than you know.

We Need to Talk About Catcalling

Earlier today, I was walking home from the movies with my mother. We were talking about the movie, having fun, not thinking about much at all, when a man across the street from us began yelling. I wasn’t paying much attention to him because he was across the street and I really didn’t care, but I could tell that he was yelling at us.

I ignored him. I continued on my way, talking about the movie with my mother.

And then the man crossed the street and approached my mother and I. He made a couple of uninvited comments on our appearances and we ignored him, just started walking faster. It didn’t take us long to pass him by, but he continued yelling at us, making comments about tattoos (which both my mother and I have).

At that point, we stopped ignoring him. We turned into a more residential area, one that would have been a little easier to find help if we suddenly needed it, but that was a bit out of our way, and we continued walking quickly. I kept looking back over my shoulder, because at that point, I didn’t care about being subtle. If he figured out that he made us uncomfortable, then good! He should know! But I wanted to make sure that he didn’t continue following us, and he did make the same first turn as we did, but upon us making the second turn onto another residential road, he left our field of vision and stayed there.

My mother and I continued walking through the residential area for a little while, and then once we felt a bit more comfortable, we returned to the side of the road, because that was the quickest and easiest way for us to get home. A moment later, a truck drove past us, and a man leaned his head out of the window and screamed at us: “Fuck you!”

The two events in succession made me a little bit angry, making me think about the way that women are treated in public spaces.

Keep in mind, there was absolutely no way that anyone could possibly depict any of this as being our fault. We were leaving the movie theatre in the middle of the afternoon. We were not drunk, we were wearing our everyday yoga clothes. The only possible “crime” that we could have been committing at the time was being two women who were occupying a public space.

And this is not the first time that things like this have happened to either me or my mom. The two of us go for walks frequently, and this has resulted in the two of us racking up quite an impressive amount of stories about men who have uninvitedly made comments about us in public, stories that range from being approached by a man in the rain, who then proceeds to make very sexual comments about my mother’s body, to a man making actual cat noises at us while we walked.

And don’t get me wrong: I am fully aware that not every man harasses women on the street (and that’s exactly what this is: harassment. It is harassment when a man verbally insults you and/or makes unwanted advances toward you), the fact that it is not every man does not at all improve the fact that it is every woman. This has happened to me frequently in my life, and it has happened to every woman that I have spoken to. In fact, it’s so common that I’ve even heard some women joke about it, regarding it as something that is simply to be expected.

But why is it so common? Why does every woman become subject to being commented on and yelled at in the street? Well, for this I propose two reasons:

  1. The reason why men do it: because they can. Because it makes them look aggressive, heterosexual, and masculine in front of all other men. It has nothing to do with the woman at all. If it did, they would get out of the car, stop yelling, be respectful, and have an actual conversation with her like an actual human being, but they don’t care about her or what she thinks about them. They just want to look tough to those around them, and they aren’t thinking about the potential costs that it would have on the woman, including but not limited to: feeling uncomfortable, feeling unsafe, feeling objectified and dehumanized, feeling as though this is somehow your own fault and that you did something to invite this. But none of that matters, right? So long as everyone knows that you’re a big man on these streets.
  2. The reason why it’s perpetuated: because no one stops them. In some cases, it’s difficult for women to respond to these men because they just leave so fast, whether they be in a car or simply passing by – like the man who yelled “fuck you” at me and my mother. But there are other cases, like the man who followed my mother and I on the street, where they give you every opportunity to respond, but frequently, women just… don’t. We have been socialized to just keep walking, just ignore them. They’re just being dumb guys, and boys will be boys, so why get mad at them? Or, in other cases, women don’t want to respond, because if you make them angry, that might escalate the situation and they might try to hurt you. Which only further proves my point that this scenario goes much further than a simple ego boost for the man: it is based in fear for the woman. In this scenario, the man in question is proving his masculinity by causing a woman fear. And that, to me, is not masculinity.

Catcalling is an issue that people have been talking about more and more frequently lately, but as the fact that it happened to me and my mother twice today proves, we need to talk about it more. We need to make people aware of the way that it affects women, because I don’t think that a whole lot of people are aware. I think that the majority of men who do catcall do it without even thinking about how it affects the other party. But it most certainly does affect the other party, and we need to stop ignoring that.

And as much as I previously pointed out that, at the time, my mother and I were doing nothing that might make someone perceive that we “deserved” to be followed by some creep who kept yelling at us, and then yelled at by another man, I still don’t care if we did “deserve” it. Even if it was me and a friend walking to a bar, completely drunk and practically naked, we still do not deserve to feel unsafe in a public space. We should be allowed to walk from point A to point B without being harassed or dehumanized. In my opinion, that should simply be a basic human right.