Do Not Suffer in Silence

Hello. My name is Ciara Hall. It’s nice to meet you. That’s a lovely shirt you’re wearing; it really matches your eyes. And who am I, you ask? Well, I’m a lot of things, many of which aren’t relevant to the discussion that we’re having right now, so I won’t mention them. Instead, I will mention that I sometimes struggle with depression, and I almost always struggle with anxiety. I have dealt with suicidal thoughts off and on for pretty much my whole life, and although I am trying to break the habit and I have made significant improvement, I have also dealt with issues surrounding self-harm since I was about ten years old.

Again, it’s very nice to meet you.

I have been told by people in the past that I should not be so open about these issues. And, I mean, I don’t usually greet someone in quite the same way that I greeted you, humble reader. Usually, I’m a bit more discreet than all that. But that being said, I do not try to hide it either, and this little exchange between us is not the first time I have written about this. I mean, I sort of wish that I could say it was, because that would imply that this doesn’t occupy much of my brain space.

And I come from a rather private family, so it should come as no surprise that I have been criticized for talking about this by being told, “how do you think the people who care about you feel, having to read about that?” And I have no doubt, my mother did not wake up this morning thinking, “oh boy, I really hope that I can read about my daughter’s battle with depression today!” My grandmother does not want to know that I deal with anxiety; my sister does not want me to dig my nails into my skin in frustration. I know all of this. Every time that I write these articles, this exact thought crosses my mind.

And I am not writing these articles because I want them to worry, or feel bad, or anything like that. That is not the point. Truth be told, the point has very little to do with them. The point is me. The point is, I feel better when these thoughts exist outside of my own head. The point is, I know that there are people out there who are dealing with the exact same problems that I am, and I do not want those people to feel like they are dealing with them alone. The point is, these are pervasive issues that our society has been ignoring for far too long now, and somebody needs to stand up and speak about them; I cannot control the voices of other people, but I can control my own voice. And I choose to speak.

It just so happens, the unfortunate side-effect of this is that the people who care about me learn that my life isn’t exactly perfect.

And I hate to come across as callous and cruel here, but my answer to that is: so what? Nobody’s life is perfect. That’s just one of those things that we all know know and accept, one of those phrases that we pass around to make ourselves feel better about our own dumb lives. And yet, we never want to believe it when it comes to our loves ones. I know that I wish my loved ones never had to hurt. But the fact of the matter is, they do, even if it hurts me to know that they do.

The fact of the matter is, we all do.

Maybe your issue isn’t depression or mental illness, but you have an issue of some sort.

I have known people who spent their entire teenage years in the closet and hating themselves for it, and the only way to make things better was to come out to the world around them, even if there were those in their life who wished they hadn’t.

I have known people who have been hurt and abused, and despite that, lied about it for years, even to themselves. And the only way to stop the hurt and abuse was to come forward and talk about it, to deal with it, even if their loved ones did not want to hear that they had dealt with something so horrible.

I have also known people who claim to have the perfect life on social media, never once making a single complaint, and yet their eyes are hollow in every picture, their smile forced. When I see these people, I always wonder what they aren’t saying.

Because end of day, we are all suffering, to one degree or another. That is simply part of the human experience, and it’s unfortunate, but denying it won’t make it any better. And hiding your pain may make your loved ones a little bit less concerned, but it most certainly isn’t fair to you. Nobody should have to suffer in silence.

And, in a perfect world, revealing your pain to others shouldn’t make them shy away from you or angry. Rather, it should bring you closer; maybe my family doesn’t want to hear that I deal with depression and anxiety, but at least if they know, then they are aware of what is going through my head, and I have someone to turn to when things get particularly bad.

But I get it; the world doesn’t always work that way. Not everyone responds to things they don’t like in the most ideal fashion, but that still doesn’t mean that you should be silent. Rather, keep talking about it. Talk about your experience to anyone who you feel comfortable enough with, and either one of two things will happen: 1) those who don’t respond well will come around eventually, understanding that your safety and happiness sometimes needs to come before their comfort, or 2) you will find someone who does, in fact, accept you for all that you are, and lends an ear to your troubles when you need one.

Maybe we don’t want to hear that our loved ones are suffering, but our loved ones are suffering nonetheless. That’s just the nature of life. And if they are truly someone that you care about, then ask yourself this: is it not better to be there for them and do everything we can to alleviate their pain, rather than forcing them to suffer in silence?

Speak out. And more than that, lend an ear to someone who needs it. Because the truth is, we all need it, from time to time.

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Giving Others Your Light

There is this quote that I have seen bounced around on social media, by an unknown author:

“Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light”.

There’s something about this idea that struck me, and it has to be more than a somewhat accurate metaphor.

Perhaps it’s this idea of self-sacrifice (to this degree) being connected solely to good people, the implication being that, if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent when they produced the quote; more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a ‘good’ person is by putting out your light is, admittedly, an interesting one to me.

Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have known people who gave everything that they had, all of their time and energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

I have known people who do, in fact, expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as ‘not good enough’ if they spare a little light for themselves.

But, personally speaking, I do not think that giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.

This quote relies on an idea that we have in our society, that you need to give people your 100 percent greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if you have made a commitment to them such as marriage. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms you emotionally, then that’s your problem that you need to work on, because that person needs your attention. Society has decided that you owe them that.

But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.

You should not feel like you are a candle, melting away to give light to others; ideally, you should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.

Remaining in a toxic relationship and allowing the other person to drain you away to nothing does not make you a good person, and walking out of that relationship does not make you a bad one. These really are not moral questions. If someone is hurting you, or making you feel like you are diminishing, then sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away, for our own sake. Because not everyone in this world is going to make us feel this way; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past. Sometimes, the only thing that good people can do is leave.

And maybe that does mean that the other person has to go without light for a little bit, but they will find it again, even if they have to create their own. But if you allow yourself to burn out completely, you may never get yourself back. You only have one you, so value it.

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time to time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light for a bit. We put too much emphasis on giving everything we have to others, that sometimes, we forget that we need to give something to ourselves as well, and this doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.

 

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.

 

You Don’t Own Me

You cannot possess me.

You cannot tell me how to think or feel. You cannot dictate where my heart goes, or where my eye wanders off to.

I will not give you the book of my life and allow you to write in the blank pages for me. Because those pages are mine, they were given to me to fill out in whatever way I see fit. And you may feature as a character in my story, but you cannot control the story.

You shouldn’t. And I hope you don’t even want to.

Because, my dear love, I spent so much time in a cage already. I sat there, alone, cold, confused, wondering why I couldn’t see the blue, blue sky that everyone outside the bars spoke so highly of.

I wanted that sky. I spent so long, dreaming of the breeze that my feathers would find when I had the opportunity to stretch my wings. I just didn’t realize that I couldn’t fly while in that cage.

And one day, I realized it.

And I broke the cage.

And the one who placed me there, he was so mad, he told me that I was wrong for doing so, but I didn’t care. Because while he screamed, I was looking up, and I could see the sky for the first time ever. And it made me realize that I never, ever, ever wanted to be caged up again.

So please, I beg of you: don’t do that to me. Don’t even try. The moment I catch the briefest hint of iron bars, I will spread my wings and I will be gone, because that is in my nature, beloved. I do not want to leave you. I do not want to be alone forever. But more important than that, I cannot be caged.

I won’t allow it.

And you will whisper sweet words to me, try to tell me that you are mine and I am yours, but I am not yours. I will never be yours. I am mine. I belong to me. I control my heart, my thoughts, my actions, my life. I will never surrender to you completely, so much as you may want me to.

You are your best thing” – Toni Morrison.

And I love you. I want to love you. I will love you. But I do not want to own you. I do not want you to be mine. Because you are yours, you are your best thing, and I am my best thing, and together, we will be two great things existing alongside one another, supporting one another, making each other greater and stronger and beautiful, and we will build an empire with our most marvellous power, because together, you and I can do it, I know we can.

All I ask is that you let this happen. You let me happen. Don’t stifle me or belittle me or try to make me less than what I am. Don’t try to put out my flame; I will only burn you.

And if you try to put out my flame, then believe me; I want to burn you.

Why We Need to Let the Ones We Love Make Mistakes

When it comes to relationship advice, pretty much anywhere you look, the word ‘trust’ will come up. In fact, in our society, trust has come to be up there with love and loyalty as far as traits that make a successful relationship.

But what, exactly, does it mean?

Trust that our loved ones won’t cheat on us? That’s certainly important; you can’t build a healthy relationship while simultaneously getting offended every time that they talk to someone of the gender or genders they’re interested in.

Trust that our loved ones won’t hurt us? Well, we have to trust that they won’t hurt us intentionally or excessively, but a little bit of pain is just part of the territory every now and again.

But what about trusting them not to do something stupid? Trusting them not to put their foot in their mouth? Trusting them not to make mistakes or royally fuck things up in their own lives? Is that sort of trust important?

Because sometimes, it can be really, really hard; I get it. We are talking about someone you care about, and when they start to do something that you not only disagree with, but that you can see potential ramifications for in the near or distant future, you might want to get involved.

You might want to steer them away from saying that thing that might fuck things up.

You might want to tell them not to do something that poses a potential risk, just because you don’t want to see them get hurt.

You might worry about them, and worry about them a lot, because they matter to you, and their happiness and wellbeing matters to you. And we all know that everyone makes mistakes every once in a while, and you might start to think that, if you can help them just avoid those mistakes beforehand, tell them what to do and how to act now before anyone gets hurt, then you’re just looking out for them. You’re just being a good partner to them.

But let’s go back to that idea of trust now, because I’m going to suggest something here: you need to trust them to be able to handle their own lives.

And I’m not saying that relationships aren’t a partnership and that you shouldn’t work together; you should. But when it comes to your partner’s life, work, hobbies, and friendships, that is their business. They might talk to you about it. You might be able to give them insight and input about what they can do about it. But end of day, that is their life, and they should be free to live it. And you need to trust that they have the judgement and intelligence to live it well.

And I know what you might be thinking now: but what if they don’t? What if they fuck up? What if they say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and they lose a friend, or they embarrass themselves, or they get themselves punched? What if they lose their job? What if they make the wrong decision and regret it later? Isn’t it better for me to guide them and make sure that they can avoid all of that?

Well, in my opinion, no, and for a few reasons.

First of all, maybe your partner will make mistakes. It’s totally possible; we all do, after all. We all say stupid things from time to time and make the wrong decision. We all lose friends or jobs or pride. It happens. And that’s the point; it happens to all of us. It’s a human experience, and it happens for a reason. We make mistakes so that we can learn from them. We say stupid things so that we can realize that they’re stupid and not say them again. We make the wrong decision so that we can realize that it’s the wrong decision and fix it later. It isn’t always as simple as that, no; sometimes it takes time, and sometimes that time is spent in regret or depression or anxiety, and it can be very hard for us to see our loved ones experience that, but sometimes they just have to. That’s just part of life, and you can’t keep them from living life. Chances are, you wouldn’t even want to.

Secondly, you might think that you are helping them avoid mistakes, but you can never really know for sure. Though your heart might be in the right place when you lead them toward making a certain decision, they might later decide that that was the wrong decision, and that the alternative would have been preferable. And maybe they would have chosen the alternative if they had just gone with their gut rather than allow themselves to be influenced by outside parties. It’s hard to say; not one of us living has all the answers. If we did, we wouldn’t run into these conundrums in the first place.

When it comes to relationships, we need to trust our partners to be able to use their own judgement and their own intelligence. We need to have faith that, when faced with difficult choices, they will make the one that feels right to them, and hopefully that choice is the right one. And if it isn’t, if it’s the choice that leads to pain and heartbreak, then we need to try to be there for them to the best of our ability. But end of day, we should not try to tell our partners what to do and how to act, because that isn’t actually doing them any favours. When we do this, it doesn’t actually help them to grow as people, but leaves them stagnant, relying on you to tell them right from wrong, which is not a healthy way to lead a life. And when we do this, we are communicating to them that we do not trust them to lead their own lives. We place ourselves in the role of parent and them in the role of misbehaving child, even if that is not what we intended. And though our hearts are in the right place, it is not fair to our partners.

So though it might be difficult to trust that the universe will be fair to the ones that mean the most to us, we need to at least trust our loved ones to have the ability to navigate their way through it. Have faith in their abilities, because they are much more capable than you might even realize.