Emotional Maturity Does Not Mean Eternal Happiness

When I first realized that I have anxiety, the biggest lesson that I needed to learn was to not fight against it.

I think that fighting against unpleasant emotions is only natural. We don’t want to feel them, so we push them down. We deny that they’re happening. We try to move on, and if we can’t, if we wind up showing that unpleasant emotion in any way, then we feel guilty for it. We feel like we need to apologize.

The problem with that when it comes to anxiety is that it only makes anxiety worse. When a person with anxiety starts to feel stressed and they try to push that stress down – it doesn’t go away. It stays there, in the forefront of your mind, demanding to be heard and getting worse by the second. And the next thing you know, you are stressing yourself out because you know you are getting stressed. It progresses. It might even progress into a panic attack, for which you feel shame and guilt. It exhausts you, and it really puts a damper on your whole day, and it makes everything in life that much harder to do.

The best way to deal with anxiety is to just admit to yourself that you are anxious, and allow yourself to be anxious. Take the time to slow down. Talk to yourself about what you’re feeling. Figure everything out.

When you have anxiety, you have two options: you can push it down and make it really, really difficult to do anything in life. Or you can allow it to happen, and thus make it so that you can do anything you want, you just have to do it at a pace slower than people without anxiety.

Now, why am I saying this right now? Well, I am of the opinion that everyone – even people who don’t deal with anxiety – can apply this to their daily lives.

Let me give an example – the other day, I was feeling extremely frustrated. It had nothing to do with my anxiety, it was just your average, everyday, unpleasant emotion. It made me upset. It made me snap back at people all the time. It made me a general bitch to live with. And all the while, I was trying to tell myself to bury it down. Stop being so annoying to people. Why are you saying that, just shut up and stop feeling this already!

It wasn’t until I actually sat myself down and said, “okay, you’re frustrated for now, and that’s okay. Do whatever you need to do so that you can let it go” that I actually began to feel better. I gave myself permission to feel what I needed to feel, and that made it so much easier for me to stop dwelling in the negative.

And it’s this idea that I want to focus on, this idea of giving yourself permission to feel how you feel that I think is so important.

Because I think that we, as a society, have a very strict notion of how we should all feel.

In order to be stable role models, we need to feel strong, capable, in control, commanding, intelligent, always in the right.

In order to be good yogis, we need to feel peaceful, happy, accepting, optimistic, inspirational.

In order to be good adults, we need to feel as though we know what we are doing.

But the thing is, before we are any of these, we are human beings. And human beings experience the full gambit of emotions – pleasant or unpleasant, at any given time. We dangle this idea of perfect happiness before society’s face, telling society that that is the goal, that is the way to emotional maturity. But perfect happiness doesn’t exist, and trying to demand of ourselves that we feel that way ignores all the other ways that we feel.

Emotional maturity is not feeling happy and stable and pleasant all the time. Emotional maturity is accepting that you will feel any number of ways, and allowing yourself to feel that.

Not wallowing in it. Not pitying yourself for it. Just… allowing it. Let the storm come and pass, and remember that both will happen. There is no avoiding it. There is no reason to believe that it will last forever. And there is nothing wrong with it.

Because when you reject unpleasant emotions, they do not go away. Anger and sadness may not be as incessant or obvious as the symptoms of anxiety are, but they react in much the same way. When you try to push them down, they don’t actually go anywhere. They just stay with you, in the background, affecting everything you do and see and hear. They grow and they spread, and before you know it, the problem is even bigger than it initially was.

If you fight your emotions, then they will fight you right back.

So breathe. Have faith that this will pass, and it will. For now, just think about your situation, work it out, and do whatever you need to do to move beyond this.

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The Consequences of Dismissing People

So I have something to confess: I’ve been sort of angry lately.

And why have I been angry, you might ask? (Or, maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to complain to you anyway.) I’ve been angry generally, broadly, at the state of the world.

It feels as though the #metoo movement has been losing a bit of its momentum lately, but I’ve been one of those people who refuses to let it die. And as a result of talking about this so publicly, as often as I have, I’ve been hearing a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming comments lately. I’ve had people tell me that women’s issues don’t matter. And for the first time since I opened up about my struggles with mental illness about a year ago, I’ve had people try to insult me by calling me “seriously mentally ill”, making me realize that I cannot own my mental illness without certain people immediately dismissing me as some sort of uninformed, unintelligent, worthless person.

All of this has resulted in me feeling a little bit pessimistic about the state of the world.

And that isn’t to say that I haven’t had rewarding experiences from talking about this issue. I have. I don’t regret speaking out, but the problem is that anger and pessimism is easy to fall into. As the saying goes, “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

And normally, I’d say that a little bit of anger is healthy. A little bit of anger stokes that fire in your belly. A little bit of anger keeps you going. But I don’t like this anger that I’ve had lately. This anger is not the sort of anger that keeps me going; it’s the kind that makes me dismissive and rude and sloppy. It’s the kind of anger and frustration that often comes from feeling like you haven’t been heard.

And that’s incredibly important – for both sides of every argument. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel as though an attempt was made to listen to their argument and understand and sympathize. Nobody likes to feel as though they’ve been dismissed.

And this anger that I’ve been feeling – it’s the kind of anger that makes it easy to dismiss people. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just stupid”, without stopping to think that they might have a reason for why they think the way that they do. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just a garbage human being”, without stopping to realize that they’re still a human being.

And the problem with saying the sort of things that this anger makes you think is that it isn’t constructive. It doesn’t make the other person feel as though they’ve been heard or understood. It makes them feel dismissed, because they are sort of being dismissed. It makes them angry. And when both sides of the argument feel angry and ignored, it creates a divide. It makes it difficult for any progress to be made, because both sides of the argument have shut down completely. Discussions cannot be had. Greater understanding cannot be reached. Nobody is learning anything, and that doesn’t help either cause. It only creates resentment. So although my recent anger is born from my complete and total dedication to this cause, it simultaneously hurts this cause and turns people away from it.

And, as I said, anger is easy. Pessimism is easy. There is some research that even suggests that we, as human beings, are naturally inclined to focus on the negative. And, more than that, when someone isn’t listening to what we have to say, it can be very easy to ask ourselves why we need to be the bigger person if they won’t be. Why is it okay for them to insult us, to dismiss us, to belittle us, and yet we can’t do the same to them? But the thing is, this sort of anger isn’t healthy or constructive for anyone. It hurts the person who we are dismissing, because they don’t feel as though they’ve been heard. It hurts our cause in the long run, because like it or not, we are representing it, and so we cannot use it as an excuse to mock or belittle people without serious detriment. And it also hurts ourselves, because it makes us bitter and pessimistic and sad. It isn’t fair, not to anyone. It’s easy, but it isn’t right.

And I know that it can sometimes be hard to swallow your anger, especially when what the other person is saying is something that you perceive to be very harmful. But one thing that I have found very useful for getting passed your anger is, quite simply, this: take some time with what they say. Don’t respond to them immediately, because if you do that, your response will be pure emotion. But, rather, think about it. Try to imagine the issue from their perspective. Try to explain to yourself why they might think that way (and don’t run to that default excuse that they’re stupid, because it isn’t true). When you do get back to them with your response, chances are, it will be more logical, more thought out, and more sympathetic.

And maybe they still won’t hear you. That is very possible, and when that happens, it can be very frustrating. But if you listen to them and you try to understand them (not necessarily agree with them if you just don’t), a few things still happen that otherwise wouldn’t:

  1. You expand your understanding of the issue. You see that there are other views, and you have at least made an attempt to understand the thought process behind these views, so that, if you still don’t agree with them, you can intelligently and thoughtfully explain why you don’t agree with them.
  2. You don’t make any enemies – for either yourself or the cause that you might be fighting for. The people that you have been talking to still might not agree with you, but at least they feel heard. At least they feel as though a discussion has been had (or at least attempted, in some cases), and at least they are not made to feel stupid and ignored. Nobody is hurt because of this discussion. And, whether you want to hear this or not in moments of anger, that is incredibly important.

We are far too quick to dismiss people in this society – and perhaps part of that is because anger is easy. Listening to people is difficult. It takes actual effort to sit back and think about other perspectives, and I’m not trying to say that we don’t want to put the effort in. Sometimes, it just isn’t our first response, especially not when we feel insulted and ignored.

But putting that effort in, taking the time to step outside of your emotional response, is worthwhile. As I said, a little bit of anger can fuel you, but too much anger will have its consequences.

Why We Make Mistakes

Let me ask you something that you might not particularly like: have you ever made a mistake?

It could be a small mistake that’s easily fixed, like not saying something that you probably should have, or stepping on your cat’s tail without noticing. It could be a huge mistake that affects your entire life, like not going for that particular job, or keeping someone harmful in your life way past the due point. Or maybe it’s none of these: maybe it’s a mistake all your own, something that I can’t even think of off the top of my head, and yet it came to your mind immediately when I asked the question.

Because, chances are, when I asked the question, you answered yes.

Because, end of day, we all make mistakes. We make mistakes so often that we have written multiple cliches about it – “you’re only human”, “to err is human”, so on and so forth.

So, okay. You’ve made mistakes. What are you going to do about them?

Apologize? There’s a thought. We tend to turn toward apologies whenever we do something wrong, but what happens when our mistakes are too large for a simple “I’m sorry”? What do we do when we’ve hurt someone so bad that we can’t be forgiven? What do we do when we haven’t hurt anyone, except for ourselves? What do we do when apologies don’t fix anything, because what’s been lost is time or trust or mental health, something that can never be fully returned?

Well, when that happens, we tend to have two options: 1) we can wallow. We can remain in the knowledge that we fucked up and there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s all just irredeemable, so why bother to make it better? We can continue making the same mistakes. We can continue hurting the people around us. We can continue hurting ourselves. We can become lost, stagnant, without growth, and we can do all this without even fully realizing that that’s what we’re doing. We can avoid confronting what happened, because what happened was uncomfortable and awful and we don’t want to go back to that again.

I understand wanting to do that. It is a very human thing to do. But, as the cliche goes, to err is human, and this is, most certainly, one of those errs.

Because then there’s our second option: 2) we can confront it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we can make it better. We can’t fix something that is already broken, but we can try to build something new from the pieces that are left.

We can try to learn about what we did wrong. We can look back on it from a better, more mature vantage point. We can discuss our mistake with people, listen to what they have to say about it, try to expand our mind and accept that we are not going to be correct 100% of the time. We can learn, and by learning, we can grow. We can become better for our mistakes.

Maybe you had to keep that toxic person in your life for as long as you did so that you could set up boundaries, and discover how you want to be treated in future relationships.

Maybe you didn’t go after that job because there was something that you needed to learn elsewhere before you could pursue it – even if it was something as simple as the significance that that job has. Maybe you needed to know what an awful, soul-sucking job was like so that you could fully appreciate a different job.

Maybe you stepped on your cat’s tail so that you can learn to watch where you’re going next time, I don’t know.

Things are going to go wrong. We have made many mistakes in the past, and we will make many mistakes in the future. But, hopefully, the mistakes that we make in the future will be different mistakes from the ones we have already made.

Because each mistake gives us our chance to learn something new, and it is up to us whether or not we want to utilize that opportunity. We don’t have to. We can allow ourselves to become beaten down by the knowledge that we aren’t perfect. We can become depressed because of it, we can delude ourselves with stories of our own grandeur. But if we do that, then we don’t grow. We don’t become better; we stay the same. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with who we are, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also become better.

And, end of day, so long as we are still alive, we still have time to make things better. We still have time to change. Because our lives are not over yet. We have opportunities, even if we do not see them yet. Who we are today does not have to be who we are tomorrow; we are ever-changing creatures. If you want to get that job, then go get that job – I don’t care if you’re twenty years old, or fifty. There’s still time. And even if the only thing that you accomplish with it is that it makes you happier, then do it, for god’s sake, because that’s more than enough!

Even if your mistake is that you’ve spent too much time wallowing in your own mistakes, there is still time to change. All you need to do is confront who you are and what you have done, open your mind to other perspectives, and try to be patient, understanding, and humble when you talk to people about it. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you: it will be worthwhile.

And, please, don’t be afraid to seek out help if you need it – whether that be professional help, like a therapist or a support group – or more personal help, like a friend or a loved one. Sometimes, other people will give us a better perspective on where we are than we have, because they come without our biases.

We all make mistakes. We all screw up from time to time. There’s nothing wrong or shameful in that. But that doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility to learn from them and grow as human beings because of them.

The Other Me

“Come on, sweetheart; won’t you give me a smile? Is that too much to ask? Just one smile?”

Do I have to?

I know, in life, you’re going to have to say and do a lot of things that aren’t true, just to make other people happy. Words like “I’m fine” will have to escape your lips. “It’s all okay.” “No, I’m totally not on the verge of a breakdown, what are you talking about, this is my regular face.” But it’s just that… I’m so fucking tired of smiling. My face hurts, and I can feel my eye twitching from the strain, but you ask me to smile and I do it because what other choice do I have? I’ll just wait until your back is turned to let it fall. You won’t even realize it left; by the time you turn around again, it’ll be back, and you’ll be just as fooled by it as ever.

“Oh, come now, dear, that isn’t very happy. Cheer up! Tell us a different story! Give us a lesson, a moral, a happy ending so that we can all leave you feeling better about ourselves!”

Why would I? Maybe there is no lesson. Maybe this is just the way it is. Maybe there is no great, big take-away, maybe there is no reason, no rhythm, no rhyme. Maybe the world is just one great, big stinking cesspool, and we’re all trying to force reason into it. Maybe life is nothing more than a constant stream of pain from which we can never fully escape. Maybe I spend all my time waiting for things to get better – just one more year, three more months, another day, things will be fine, I promise – and maybe it’s all just one great lie that I tell to keep myself from giving up.

Do I really believe that? Of course. Of course not. I won’t in an hour, at least, and I don’t even know if I do now, but now it feels like the right thing to say. Right now, whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter; what matters is that it reflects my mood.

I’m not saying it because I want you to believe it. I don’t. The only reason I’m saying it is so that you can see into my mind. So that you can understand why I hesitate when you ask me to smile.

Would you smile if these meaningless thoughts kept returning to your mind?

Stop ignoring me! Stop pretending that she is better than me, because she isn’t! She, the other me, the one who smiles without being told, the one who gives you inspiration that’s fresh and new and meaningful at the drop of a hat. She exists, but so do I. We take turns; sometimes she’s in charge, sometimes I am. And sometimes, she leaves me holding the bag, struggling to fill in for all the things she does, all the jobs she told me she’d be able to handle.

“Smile, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Give us a happy story, dear. The other you does.”

I know. But I’m not her right now.

“Well, when will the other you be back? You’re tiresome and annoying; bring her back.”

I can’t. I can’t just summon her from thin air. She needs to return of her own accord. And until then, I’m all you’ve got. I’m sorry that isn’t enough for you, but I’m trying. Believe me, I’m trying so fucking hard, that I literally cannot do any more for you.

And why do I have to be her anyway? Why do I have to pretend for you? Why does every story need to be wrapped up nicely with a happily-ever-after? Why does every face need a smile to be considered polite? She’ll come back eventually, and when she does, you’ll get all of those, but in the meantime, why do I have to lie for you?

I don’t want to pretend. We shouldn’t have to. We should be allowed to feel how we feel, regardless of how we were yesterday. Because sometimes, we’re going to be happy, and sometimes we’re going to be mopey and tired and depressed. Both are perfectly alright. Both are part of being human.

Consistency is overrated; we are ever changing. Be who you are today, whoever that may be. Love who that is, and don’t compare them to who you were. Because fighting ourselves, forcing ourselves to be someone we want, is only going to make those moments of depression longer and harder to deal with.

She, the other me, the other you, will come back. But for now, don’t deny who you are.

 

All Happiness is Valid

Enjoy life to the fullest.

Talk about your passions, even if you suspect that the people around you might not be quite as invested in them as you are.

Get excited, jump up and down and scream, speak in a high-pitched, squeaky voice and don’t worry about the possibility that you might be annoying other people.

Love things. Love things deeply. Love material things and non-material things. Enjoy the feeling of sun on your face, or the way that ink spills easily out of a new pen. Enjoy wasting hours away on the internet. Enjoy every bite you take, whether that bite be out of an apple or a doughnut.

Read books that you want to read, rather than the books that you think make you look or sound most intelligent.

Play video games on easy, because you don’t have to be good at them to enjoy them.

Shave your head because you’ve always wanted to know what you might look like with it, or dye your hair a funky colour because you have the opportunity to.

Dress up a bit more than the occasion calls for, for no other reason than because you enjoy looking good.

Look good for yourself, rather than anybody else. Try out that new make-up look or wear that outfit, even if you think people won’t like it.

We don’t need to justify ourselves.

Because, here’s the thing: life can suck. In fact, at one point or another, life will suck. It’s unavoidable. We all deal with hardships, and we all have traumas from our past that we are struggling with, and we all have moments where everything just feels pointless and difficult.

Many of us, in fact, will even feel like giving up every now and again.

So, all of that considered, it seems sort of silly to deny ourselves pleasures, even seemingly small, insignificant ones, just because we’re worried about what other people might think.

Life is hard, and we all need those things that will get us through the day. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a network of supportive and loving friends and family to pull us out of our dark times, while some of us have little more to look forward to than the sun on your face. But we all have something. If we just allow ourselves the chance to search for it, we will find something that brings us even the smallest amount of joy in the most bitter times. And sometimes, all we need to pull ourselves through are those small, fleeting moments of happiness.

And nobody should ever feel silly or insignificant for the things that bring a smile to their face.

So, please, the next time that you see someone thoroughly enjoying something, even if you don’t understand it yourself, allow them enjoy it. And the next time that you are enjoying something that other people might not understand, allow yourself to enjoy it. We all deserve our happiness, no matter what form it takes. All happiness is valid, and all happiness is necessary. Because you are valid, and you are necessary, and nobody should ever make you feel otherwise.