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.

Why Boys SHOULD Cry

When I was a little girl, I received the message that men did not like it when female-gendered people cried (particularly if it was during an argument or disagreement) because it was as good as blackmail. I was indirectly told that it did not matter if my tears were genuine or not, they would always be perceived by men as intentional and manipulative, a way to get what I wanted out of them. I must have been around five or six when I first heard this – kindergarten aged, anyway.

Throughout my life, I would hear a very similar message repeated. I learned that any excess of emotion that I showed in front of men would earn me a dismissive scoff and the question, “are you on your period?” I learned that, throughout history, women have been accused of being hysterical and insane because they tend to express more emotion than men do. And only yesterday, I heard the comment that finally made me break down and write this article: “You can’t cry as a woman. If you cry, then you give away all of your power” (the amount of emotion you express has absolutely no connection to your level of power, just to make that clear now. You can still be a total badass while simultaneously crying at dog food commercials).

Now, so far, I have been focusing on the female experience simply because I was born and raised female. I know what it’s like to be a woman, while I’ve never really lived as a man, but I do know that this is not an issue that stems traditionally from the way that we view women and their emotions. Rather, it is an issue that stems traditionally from men, and the way that we as a society perceive male emotions.

Men are taught essentially from birth that emotions are not only a bad thing, they are decidedly un-masculine (read: feminine). Young boys are allowed to express emotions like anger and aggression, and even happiness to a somewhat subdued extent (if they’re too openly happy, they run the risk of being accused of being feminine or, in this case, gay). But we’ve all heard the expression “boys don’t cry”, and that expression comes from somewhere culturally. We teach boys that they shouldn’t cry, that if they’re sad or troubled or struggling, they should bottle that up and shoulder the burden themselves. They should not reach out. They should not talk to someone. They should not cry. They should buck up and be a man, grow some balls, rub some dirt in it and move on.

And just to make this clear – I’m not trying to say that no man is in touch with their emotions. I have known many men who are even more in touch with their emotions than I am. What I am talking about here is the cultural idea of “boys don’t cry”, and how this idea has affected some men.

This cultural idea that men can never be vulnerable or excessively emotional has led to many, many problems for the men who take this message seriously. Pent-up unhappiness needs to come out in some way, and if men aren’t going to talk about it or deal with it directly, this can sometimes come out in the form of aggression toward other people, or behaviour that is self-harmful (but “boys will be boys”, right?). Other times, this unhappiness will lead to clinical depression, which in and of itself is a major problem that needs to be addressed, but especially when you add on to that the fact that men in America die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women. And in many cases, men who take this message of “boys don’t cry” too seriously are, to put it simply, emotionally immature. They are men who don’t know how to deal with emotions when they’re confronted with them. Men who assume that, every time a woman cries, it is weak and it is manipulative and it is evil. Men who just emotionally check out of a situation when it gets too be too much or too big for them to handle.

My point is, when you teach a young boy that “boys don’t cry”, that they can’t deal with their emotions and work through them, all you are doing is hurting them in the long run. You are taking away their opportunity to learn about their emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy and mature way.

But this is an issue that’s getting better, right? As feminism becomes more and more prominently talked about and we begin to question gender roles more openly, we as a society are becoming more and more accepting of male emotions, right?

Well, actually, if the personal experience that I shared at the beginning of the article means anything, I’m tempted to say: no. In fact, in some ways, this issue actually seems to be getting worse.

Although we talk more and more about feminism nowadays, society at large still has this tendency to think of things as a binary of good and evil, and gender still tends to fall into that binary. We’re opening up more and more every day – transgender issues are being more prominently discussed, and the existence of gender queer or non-binary people has been acknowledged to some extent, but at the same time, I’m tempted to say that society still tends to split gender into this idea of man/masculine, as opposed to woman/feminine. And more than that, as with most binaries, society tends to value one side over the other. Society likes light better than dark, no pineapple on pizza better than pineapple on pizza, and men better than women. And with that hierarchy, we also have all the behaviours that are associated with the two genders.

There is a reason why society tells men that they should be emotionless: because, in society’s eyes, emotions are weakness. Women are emotional, and that’s what makes them weak (or, as I brought up earlier, hysterical and insane). Men are better suited to the world of leadership, protection, and big business because they don’t let emotions get in the way; they are strong. And as women emerge more and more into these fields, they tend not to be accepted for the emotional, vulnerable women that they might have been taught to be from childhood; rather, they are expected to become more like how men are expected to be, hard and emotionless, and even then they will constantly live with society’s doubt that they can be that. For proof of that, look at the fact that, very recently, society posed the doubt that a woman could be as successful a president as a man because when she gets her period, she might PMS and declare war on Germany or something.

Except emotions are not weakness. In fact, if anything, they are a strength.

Having the ability to discuss your emotions can be very healing, and it can be very bonding for two people to discuss their emotions together.

Having the ability to understand the way someone else is feeling and empathize with them allows you to connect with them on a more human level, meaning that I’d argue that having emotions would actually make you better leader, as it makes you want to understand the people that you are leading, as well as the people who could potentially be your enemies.

I may be a weak, manipulative, hysterical, emotional woman to you, but in my own eyes, being an empath is my superpower. It is what has kept me from getting lost in the depths of depression for all time. It is what has helped me understand and love people, rather than give up on them all as cruel or worthless. It is what has made it possible for me to reach out to other people, even help them through difficult times. It is what makes my life worthwhile, and I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my emotions.

Emotions are a treasure that society looks down on ‘feminine’ people for possessing, when the truth is that they are a gift that should be given to more ‘masculine’ people as well. We treat them as something shameful, as something that should be hidden or ignored, but they are a beautiful, human thing. They have the capability to turn us into better people, and all we need to do to let them is develop and learn about them.

Why We Need to Suffer

So life kinda sucks, right?

And I don’t just mean your life. I mean everyone’s life. Every single one of us deals regularly with pain of some sort. We all have our difficulties to face, our dragons to battle. My dragon might be very different from your dragon, but we are united in our struggle nonetheless.

And I think it is fairly needless to say that struggling is… well, hard. Inherently, that is the nature of it; when you’re in pain, it is very difficult to get over, and it is very difficult to see the bright side of it, especially when you’re still in the thick of it. It’s very rare that you hear someone say, “thank you for hurting me, I really needed that,” at least not until years in the future when they’ve had some retrospect on the whole incident and the pain has had its chance to subside.

And more than that, I think that a lot of us tend to have this opinion about pain that it’s something that is better left avoided. We look back on certain choices that we made at the time and regret them, because those were choices that led to pain. We think that we would have been better off if we hadn’t suffered at all. We ask ourselves questions like “why me” and “what did I do to deserve this?”

But the thing about pain at the end of the day is that you need it. Pain is absolutely essential as a part of life and as a method of growth.

And I know, if you are currently in the thick of suffering, you probably hate me for saying that. You probably think that I sound insensitive, and you want to punch me in my stupid, optimistic face. Trust me, I get it; I’ve been in your position.

Throughout most of my life, I suffered from depression and anxiety. I self-harmed, I made plans on how to end my own life, and the only reason why I never really gave up on my life was because my anxiety animated me like a puppet on strings, propelling me forward with the help of nerves and fear. And especially when things were really bad, I often found myself wondering why? I blamed other people, I thought back on certain things that had made my mental illness worse and I wished that I could have avoided them, I was generally upset and bitter about my lot in life. After all, what had I done to deserve this? Why did I have to be born to have a harder time existing in this world at all?

And admittedly, I deal much easier with both illnesses now. I understand what they mean, I know how to cater my thoughts and actions around avoiding panic attacks and bouts of depression, and while it doesn’t always work, it does help. And since I have had an easier time dealing with my mental illnesses, I have come to learn that I am glad I dealt with them.

That’s not to say that I hope I struggle with dealing with them again. That’s not to say that I wish it upon other people, or that there is anything romantic and glamorous about suicidal thoughts and tendencies at all.

All that I am saying is that if I hadn’t dealt with them, if I hadn’t struggled the way that I had, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. My struggles helped to shape who I am, how I think, what I push myself to do and what I aspire to be. They helped me to better understand when someone else is suffering and how important it is to help them. They made me a more empathetic person, and they made me a much stronger person. Because I have dealt with depression and anxiety, I know what that’s like, and I can use that experience to help someone else who is dealing with something similar. I have the ability to help someone else out by sharing my pain with them.

When you’re trying to make a muscle stronger, you must first cause yourself pain so that your body can repair it. The same is true with mental and emotional strength. If we were constantly happy and comfortable, there would be nothing to overcome. We would take things for granted and accept the world as it was, would make no attempts to make the world or ourselves better.

We need our pain because it is a part of our lives. Our pain takes us on different paths, just as much as our pleasure does. I have known people who used their pain to build a whole life, people who make a career out of helping others in a similar situation. I have known people who learn from pain, who discover how important it is to talk about the suffering that we experience in life and how important it is to not only help other people but to change things. Pain is not a hindrance in our lives; it is our teacher.

So, yes, life sucks. We all must suffer, and maybe that isn’t fair, but who said that life is fair? Beautiful things can still come from pain if we let it. If we focus on making ourselves strong despite pain, rather than allow ourselves to become weaker because of it, then pain can be a wonderful thing. It has so much potential, so long as you stop asking “why me?” and start asking, “what is the lesson in all of this?”

So forgive your pain. Don’t regret experiencing it. Don’t wish that it could have just gone away, because it shouldn’t have. You should have experienced it. After all, it helped form you into the person you are.

Thoughts on Regret

Regret is a pervasive and terrifying thing.

The idea that you can look back on your life, on decisions that you made at the time, and come to the conclusion that you made the wrong decision. That the path you chose is thin and winding and leads nowhere, and there’s no way to get to the path that you wish you had taken now. Because now that you are on this path, now that you realize that it is impossible to turn around and walk back, now you know that that other path was a much better path to take.

I know many people who have felt this way. I know many people who have gotten lost to this feeling, have become bitter and depressed because of it. And for a brief time, even I found this feeling creeping up on me.

I regretted the fact that I allowed my depression to cripple me for a year.

I regretted the school that I had chosen upon going into post-secondary.

I regretted things that I couldn’t possibly have changed or even chosen, things that I was born into. Things that simply were. Things that I could only curse fate or the universe of God or whatever you believe in for, because only that could have been responsible for it.

And you know what I began to realize? There’s absolutely no good to be found in regret.

Once you start down a path, you can’t turn around and change your mind, that’s true. You can only move forward, not back, and it’s important for you to keep that in mind – and one of the reasons why it is so important is because you can still move forward. You don’t have to stay on the path you are on. Just because you have started on it, it doesn’t mean you have to continue. You can change your mind, you can start on a new path, you can cut across and cheat your way onto a new road. Your past is set in stone, but your future is free. Your future is something that you still can change.

And often times, we make the decisions that we do for a reason, and it’s too easy to forget that reason when we have grown and learned new things. At one time, I regretted allowing myself to be crippled by depression, but I forget that I was crippled by it because I was deeply, intensely depressed, and I didn’t understand that at the time. I understand that now. I know how to cope with that now. But I didn’t at the time, and that’s why I made the choice that I did. It’s important for us to remember that, because it makes it easier to forgive ourselves for the decisions that we made in the past.

More than that, we should never regret the bad times because, often times, the bad times need to happen. Nobody’s life is constantly perfect – we all need to experience pain because we learn from pain. From pain, we are given the opportunity to find our strength. The bad times teach us lessons which we can then take with us into the good times, which we can then use to teach others. Maybe I did lose a year of my life to depression, but when I hear someone else voicing the same thoughts that tormented me during those years, I know what they are going through and I can try to help them. So why would I regret any of it?

Regret can be a very harmful thing. It can become something that overwhelms us, that depresses us, but it can also be a good sign. We regret things when we realize that we now know more than we did then, and that if we were to make the same decision now, we would have chosen differently. Regret is a sign of growth. So do not linger in your regret. Be proud of the fact that you have grown, and take that growth into the future with you. After all, the future is the only place where you can take it now.

Being Not Okay

IMG_2627

As I was scrolling through Facebook this morning, I came across this post from QuotesGate. “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order,” it said. “Even with tears in her eyes, she still manages to say ‘I’m Ok’ with a smile”.

And I’ll admit, maybe I was in the wrong place in life to come across this post, or maybe I’m just not the right audience for this post. I mean, yeah, sure, I’d identify myself as a strong woman, and that’s the only audience that this post specifically calls out, but I’m a strong woman who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety three years ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working hard every single day of my life, every last second that I’m forced to spend within my diseased mind, to achieve peace and happiness. But as hard as I’ve been working, the last month or so has been particularly hard on me. Completing my B.A. in English sent me into an existential spiral, wondering what the hell I was supposed to fill forty hours of my week with now – what would fulfill me in the same way that reading and learning new things did? To try and ease my pain, I got myself a job, which turned out to be thoroughly unenjoyable, and I was let go from it as soon as the busy period ended, which just threw me right back into that very same existential crisis, but with the added depression of wondering what I had fucked up, if I was actually employable in the real world, and what it was about this job that I had hated so much. And on top of all of that, I’ve had a very hard time getting in contact with old friends, I’m not very good at making new friends, and I am very, very, very, very single. And I’m not saying all of this to complain – everything that I’ve gone through is very simply a part of mundane, everyday life, and I know that I will get through it eventually. The only reason I am saying this is to explain why I have not been emotionally okay for the last month.

My life has not been kept in order. I’ve been trying to keep it in order, but I’m twenty two years old, which means that I have a whole lot to balance right now. My arms are filled with creative pursuits, my job, my ambitions, my friends, my family, my health, my love life, my passions, my financial situation, and because of my history with depression and anxiety, I’m holding all of them while balancing on one leg. And for the most part, I don’t think I’m doing a particularly terrible job at holding them. Some things slip from time to time, sure, but I’m confident in my ability to pick them back up again. Maybe not right now. Maybe not for a long time, and maybe life will suck a little bit until then, but I know that I’ll figure it out eventually, or at least learn how to live without them.

And here’s the thing – many of us have lives that aren’t in order right now. I am not alone in this. And more than that, many of us have lives that aren’t in order, and yet we don’t know how to put our lives back in order, but why should that make us any less strong? Having an orderly life is not the thing that indicates strength – what indicates strength is your ability to persevere, your ability to keep trying even when things aren’t in order. A strong woman (or man) may not know how to keep their life in order, but they shouldn’t be expected to. That is a hell of a thing to expect from a person, because nobody has all the answers, not even the strongest of us. The strongest of us just don’t give up, even when we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.

But more than that, let’s talk about the second part of this post, because it might be the part that irks me the most: the part that claims that a strong woman (or man) can tell the world that they are okay, even when they aren’t. And, yes, sometimes it is incredibly admirable of a person when they put aside their own feelings to fix or otherwise manage a situation. But that is not something that we can expect from someone constantly. As someone with a background in depression and anxiety, I know this firsthand. Sometimes, emotions get to be too much. Sometimes I need someone to talk to. Sometimes I need to let those tears in my eyes actually spill out onto my cheeks. And sometimes, when I’m not okay, I need to admit that I’m not okay, because that is the only way that I can figure out the best way to deal with the situation.

Emotions do not make us weak. Talking about our problems and admitting that we are not okay does not make us weak. For generations now, young boys have been told that strength means swallowing their emotions to become men, and as a result, there are many men who are emotionally immature and unavailable – this is not a message that we should be extending to women and girls now. Because here’s the thing – emotions are simply a part of us. We should be allowed to learn how to deal with this, how to talk about it, how to learn and grow with our emotions. Suppressing our emotions does not get rid of them – it only makes them manifest in different, more harmful ways.

And from my own personal experience, I was only able to confront my feelings around depression and anxiety when I was finally able to talk about them. I was only able to become okay when I was able to admit that I wasn’t okay. Because being not okay is perfectly natural. Sometimes it happens – there’s nothing shameful about it. And sometimes, admitting that you aren’t okay is the strongest thing that you can do.