Why It Is Important to Talk When You Aren’t Okay

As human beings, we are not always okay.

We are not consistently positive, every single moment of every day. We are not always right. We are not always kind. We have moments where we feel broken and discouraged and hopeless and cruel.

And I’m going to tell you a secret: you don’t always have to be okay.

This should not be a secret. Because I think we have all generally accepted this idea that people are not perfect. We say, “to err is human”, and we expect that everyone will, at some point in their lives, make a mistake, or get hurt, or be down and depressed and lost. And yet, despite all this, we still make an attempt to hide it. We still think that we will be judged for being flawed – or, alternatively, we are judged for being flawed.

It has been a long time since I tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay. I’ve worn my status of ‘not okay’ quite proudly for a while now – speaking up about my experience with depression and anxiety, my struggle with toxic people in my life, as well as the simple daily struggles that I think all of us go through. My experience is not a particularly unique one – I think that many of us deal with these issues, if not all of us, at one point or another. And yet, despite this, I have been described by people – both personally and online – as “really messed up” or “seriously ill”, not because of the things that I have gone through, but because I chose to speak up about them. I never tried to hide the fact that I wasn’t okay at certain times in my life, and for some people, this was unacceptable – a sign of weakness.

What these people didn’t see was just how therapeutic this was for me. Speaking up allowed me the chance to see that I wasn’t alone. That other people experienced the same thoughts and feelings and issues that I was experiencing. Some of these people went public, like I did – expressing these issues loud and proud for all to see, while others simply whispered it to me behind closed doors. And either way, I am grateful for them – because they helped me. They relieved my guilt, my fear, my need to repress. They freed me. Because all of a sudden, I wasn’t only speaking for me – I was speaking for us.

And, on the other hand, I have known many people who tried to fit into a certain image of flawless. I think many of us know these people as well – the hyper-yogis and gurus who never have a negative thing to say. Their social media platforms are full of inspiration and positive thinking and little more. And while inspiration is great – necessary, even, there is such a thing as going too far in this direction.

Because when these flawless people do, inevitably, show a flaw, they cannot accept this. They cannot hear it. They must blame everyone else for their flaw, or deny that it is a flaw, or push it deep down, never to see the light of day, never to be worked on and fixed and improved upon.

And often times, these flawless people are so insecure, so afraid, so depressed, and never allowed to acknowledge the source of this, because they do not allow themselves to talk about it. They are too afraid that they will be judged, or looked down upon. They are so frequently told that they will not be strong, or admirable, or acceptable, if they are suffering. And we are all suffering, at one time or another.

Ultimately, you do more harm to yourself and to those around you when you do not allow yourself to discuss the fact that you might not always be okay.

End of day, life is not about being perfect. Life is about growth. And you achieve this growth by confronting your pain, rather than pushing it down and ignoring it. Now, the way that you confront this pain can take many forms – whether you speak out about it openly, or with a trusted friend, or a therapist, or your personal diary, whatever the case may be. But regardless of the way that you choose to speak, there is nothing wrong with it. There should be no shame in the methods that you choose to better yourself, and there should be no cause for judgement either.

So if anyone makes you feel ‘lesser than’ because you choose to speak out about your problems, please keep in mind that that reveals more about them than it does about you. You are not ‘messed up’ or wrong – you are dealing with the natural problems that many of us deal with, and you are dealing with it in the way that works for you. Meanwhile, they will not allow themselves the same luxury. They are still caught up in this myth of perfection, or flawlessness, that none of us are truly capable of.

And if you are someone who will not allow yourself to speak out, then allow me to say this: I understand that it can be frightening. It might seem weird, and you might think that you will be judged, and maybe you will, but more than that, you will be received with love. You will find kindred spirits, so much more personal to you than they would otherwise be, because they understand what you have been through. They understand the workings of your mind.

And you can start slow, if you want to. Start by simply saying it to yourself. You can move on to speaking out when you feel more comfortable. But end of day, you need to speak out. You need to do it for yourself, and for the kindred spirits who feel silenced, alone, and frightened.

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You Cannot Change People – And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

We as a society tend to romanticize the idea of changing someone.

It’s a common romance story trope to have two people meet, one flawed but with a heart of gold (usually the man), one more or less perfect already (usually the woman), and through their love, they both become more or less perfect, compatible, happy lovers.

A more recent example of this might be the Fifty Shades of Grey movies, which have come out with a new installment consistently around Valentine’s Day since 2015. These movies follow Anastasia Steele as she meets and falls in love with the wealthy and conventionally attractive Christian Grey, only to find out that he is emotionally distant, deeply traumatized from childhood, emotionally abusive, possessive, and uninterested in a romantic relationship. Yet, through her love and her love alone, she manages to train him into becoming her husband and (presumably) a better man.

Now, I wish that I could say that the Fifty Shades of Grey movies invented this trope, but I sort of feel like it’s existed since the dawn of time. Growing up, I had this notion that romantic love was supposed to be a force so strong, that it could not only withstand but defeat anything. If you were a bad person, then the compulsion for romantic love would be enough to lead you out of your habits and into the light.

And I think it’s significant that women, in particular, are told that this is possible. From the time that we’re small, girls everywhere are told to romanticize the ‘fixer-upper’. The rude, disrespectful, selfish man who we can teach to respect us with time, patience, and love. The beast to our beauty. We’re encouraged to put up with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour because “we can change him”, because he’s really a good guy “deep down”.

But here’s the thing that I think everyone should hear, whether they be men, women, flawed, or somehow, impossibly perfect: you cannot change people.

That isn’t to say that people can’t change. They most certainly can, but they need to be the one at the helm of that change. Not you. Because you can stand beside someone for their entire lives, telling them what to do, how to act, what to say or think, but if they aren’t hearing you, then it won’t matter. You can have the best intentions, the best advice, the most confidence that they can be a better person, but you cannot help people unless they want to be helped.

I think that this is an important lesson for all of us to learn, regardless of which side of the change that we intend to be on.

Because if we want to change our loved one, and if we believe so whole-heartedly that we can do it no matter what, then we set ourselves up for failure. When they inevitably return to their harmful behaviour, then we blame ourselves for it. We wonder what we could have done differently. We wonder why our love wasn’t enough to stop it. We tell ourselves that it will be different next time – and maybe it will be, but only if the other has perfectly, completely understood that they need to change. If they don’t understand this, then they’ll just end up doing the same thing again, because they don’t have a reason not to.

If we hold onto this idea of being able to change someone, then it allows us to excuse their behaviour and stick by them, even when we have no other reason to. Even when their behaviour harms us. They might even use this idea against us, telling us that it will be different next time, that they can change, but not if we leave them or hurt them. They might hold desperately onto us, taking what they need and giving nothing back. And we allow them to keep doing it, all in the hope that they might eventually stop.

If someone in our lives is flawed, self-destructive, or outwardly toxic, then we really only have two choices: we can accept them as they are, in full knowledge that they might never change, or we can decide that what they do doesn’t serve us and only hurts us in the long run. There is no shame in either option. There is nothing wrong with you if you leave, because there was nothing you could have done that would have fixed them. Their flaws are not your responsibility. And there is nothing wrong with you if you stay, so long as you understand and are prepared to deal with the potential consequences.

And perhaps all this sounds a little bit harsh, particularly for the people who are dealing with some sort of flaw or habit that they hope to be able to change, but I don’t think it should be. On the contrary, it can be a very liberating thought.

Your salvation does not lie in another person. You do not need a hero; you can be your own. And, no, that isn’t as easy as it sounds: you need to want it. You need to be able to recognize that what you are doing does not serve you or the people around you. You need to know that you deserve better. You need to put in effort and you need to pick yourself up after bad days and you need to forgive yourself when you inevitably fail, and you can do it. It is possible, but there is a reason why very few people succeed. You need to be strong. You need to be a warrior.

And you cannot do any of this if you put all of the work required for your change into another person.

This idea of romantic love being strong enough to incite change is incredibly harmful – for both sides. Romantic love can be a powerful force, sure – it can be what inspires people to want to change, and it can bring out the best of people, but it cannot be the sole reason for any permanent change. For that, we need a very different sort of love: we need to find self-love.

 

Why I Don’t Like The Word ‘Victim’

The words that we use to describe something matters.

There’s a little joke that I’ve seen passed around on the internet from Tumblr user malkiewicz that I think illustrates this point nicely: “Synonyms are weird because if you invite someone to your cottage in the forest that just sounds nice and cozy, but if I invite you to my cabin in the woods you’re going to die.”

Connotation is everything. The words you use might have the same meaning, dictionary-wise, but the double-meaning that we have prescribed to them as a society also affects the way that we think about the matter at hand.

This is why I do not like the word ‘victim’.

I mean, if you look at the dictionary definition of ‘victim’, it’s a fine enough word, as far as words go: “one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent”. Chances are, we’ve all been victims at one point in our lives or another.

But there’s a social definition to the word ‘victim’ that I tend to not like.

When I hear the word ‘victim’, I tend to think of someone who is playing a very passive role in the scenario. And perhaps this isn’t helped by the people who I have heard use the word ‘victim’ in a negative way.

“You’re just playing the victim card.”

“Everyone wants to be a victim.”

Especially in scenarios where someone has been hurt by someone in particular, in an instance of abuse or sexual assault or discrimination, I find that the word ‘victim’ can be extremely limiting.

Because a victim doesn’t fight back. A victim doesn’t create change, or grow from the experience, or really do anything at all. A victim is… a victim. A victim hurts and wallows and needs to be saved.

And some people are victims. Some people do exactly this, all their lives. Some people have a very hard time moving passed or confronting their pain. But in a scenario where someone has been hurt by someone else, when they’ve been abused or harassed or assaulted, I don’t like to call people victims. I would rather think of them as survivors.

A survivor is a different connotation. A survivor is not passive. A survivor does not wallow, though they might hurt. And the difference might be slight, but it is important. Because people who have been hurt need to know that they can fight back.

Being hurt is not the end of our story. When we are hurt, we do not have to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves – we have options. We have a whole journey ahead of ourselves that we can choose to take.

We can fight against the person who has hurt us. And I don’t mean this in a violent or unfairly cruel way – I mean that we can stand up to them and make ourselves heard. We can remove that person from our lives if we have to. We can bring these people to justice, if we can and in whatever way we can.

We can fight for ourselves. Fight for our self-esteem and our ability to see our own worth. Fight for our ability to see our own strength, even when we think that it has been taken away from us. Fight for our self-respect and our mental health and our ease of mind. Fight to learn from what we’ve been through, and take those lessons into other aspects of our life.

We can fight for other people. We can reach out to people who have been through the same thing that we have. We can lend them an ear, or a hand. We can listen to their perspective and we can understand it because we’ve been there. We have the power to make them feel valid and heard and respected, and we can make them understand that they aren’t alone. We can reach out to people who haven’t been through what we’ve been through, and we can help them to understand that this happens, and it needs to be addressed. We can help people understand the issue in a way that would otherwise be very difficult for them, because they haven’t been there before.

There are many, many battles that can be fought by a person who has been hurt, and these battles can’t be fought by a victim. These battles are owned and spearheaded by survivors. And, no, not every person who has been hurt will fight these battles; some people get so lost in their own pain that they simply cannot fight them. But I still think that these battles are important, and I think that people should be encouraged to fight them. And I think that so many people can fight them, so long as they can find the strength. And strength can be found in something as simple as changing the language that we use to describe someone.

We are not victims of sexual assault. We are sexual assault survivors.

We are not victims of abuse. We are abuse survivors.

We are not victims of discrimination. We are survivors.

We are strong. We are capable. We are pro-active, and we have the ability to change the world. All we need to do is fight.

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.

Healing From Pain: The Limitations of Empathy

I was raised to see everyone empathetically.

I was raised to believe that, if you knew someone’s story, their whole story, you would love them.

And, you know what? I still do believe that.

I believe that no one acts with the express purpose of causing harm and making the world worse off unless they are extremely hurt people who are acting out of pain or anger. I believe that everyone, end of day, wants to make the world a better place, wants to do good and help people, but sometimes they fall short because of ignorance, or mental illness (not to imply that everyone who has a mental illness will do nothing but harm in their lives; that most certainly isn’t the case).

I believe that the person who hurt me most in this world did not want to or intend to hurt me, but wound up doing it because he did not know better, and he did not have the capability to question what he was doing. I believe that, if he was able to fully comprehend what he has done to me, he would feel terrible about it.

But that being said, as much as I believe all of this, there is another side to all of this that still needs to be discussed.

Because the thing is, when someone has hurt us, especially when the pain is still raw and new, their intentions can only matter so much. And constantly taking their intentions into account does pose the risk of making the healing process that much harder for us.

I have known many people who have been hurt by people that they love, people that they know and understand, and so even when all is said and done and the two part ways, the survivor still does not want to come forward or confront their pain because they do not want to hurt the aggressor by doing so.

I have known many people who have been hurt by someone deeply, irrevocably, and yet they were so constantly bombarded with questions of, “but how could they have done anything? They’re such a good guy!” or “I’m sure they didn’t mean it; have you tried looking at it from their point of view?” that, eventually, they started to question their own perception of things. Maybe they’re right; maybe I am being unfair. Maybe I made it all up in my head, maybe they didn’t really do anything all that wrong. Maybe this is somehow my fault.

And as I said, I fully, truly believe that nobody is entirely evil and worthless. But sometimes, when you’re trying to cope with pain, you might need to forget that to a certain extent. Maybe you need to see things as black-or-white in order to heal.

Because when all we can see is how hard this is for them, how much they are losing because of their actions, it becomes more difficult for us to move on. If we feel guilty for our anger and pain, then we do not allow these natural emotions to run their course. If we become stuck in this idea that we were the ones who acted wrong (because, obviously, they didn’t mean it), then we never show them how their actions were wrong, and they never change or grow.

And, yes, in a perfect world, we would be able to accept that they did us wrong, but they are only human and they did it because of a very human fallacy. And maybe someday, we will be able to come to that conclusion and find comfort in it. But when the pain is still fresh, when we are still trying to sort through all of these messy emotions and we are still in the thick of dealing with it, maybe we need to separate ourselves from them a little bit, so that we may protect ourselves.

Now, that’s not to say that we should completely and totally discard them as worthless human beings, and that’s not to say that we use our pain to justify hurting other people. All that I am trying to say is that, while we should remain aware that they are a human being who deserves all the dignity and respect that the simple act of being human affords one, there is nothing wrong with separating ourselves from someone, even with hating them while the pain is fresh, if that is what you need to do to heal.

If hating them makes you realize that what they did wasn’t right and that you deserve better, then hate them. If hating them helps you heal and grow and get yourself out of a bad situation, then hate them. Do not feel guilty for putting yourself first when you need to, and do not feel like you are wrong for how you feel.

And hopefully someday that pain might become a little less fresh. Hopefully we’ll be able to see things from their perspective, to forgive them, not for their sake, but for our own peace of mind. Hopefully we’ll come to understand eventually that they were not pure evil, that they simply did the best that they could with what understanding they had at the time. But for the time being, do what you need to do to protect yourself, so that you may eventually reach that glorious “someday”.