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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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.

The Monsters in My Head

In my head, there live two monsters.

The first calls itself Depression, and it is a mass of shadows, dark and lazy and heavy, oh so heavy. Sometimes it goes to sleep, and it stays there for weeks, months even. Sometimes I think Depression has moved out, moved on, realized that there are better things for it to do than sit in my head all the damn time. Then it wakes up. It wakes up, and it sits there, weighing a ton, and it never shuts. The fuck. Up.

“Why are you doing that? I mean, why do you bother? You aren’t even all that good. Nobody cares.”

“Why are you even saying that? It isn’t like you have any friends. Nobody will respond. Nobody really likes you.”

“Oh. My. God. Did you really just say that? God, it’s no wonder all your friends left you and you’ve been single since the dawn of time.”

“Maybe it would just be better for everyone if you would just give up, you know?”

Opposite Depression, there exists its roommate: Anxiety. Depression and Anxiety don’t like each other much, but they’ve learned to coexist. While Depression sits on the couch all day, eating potato chips out of the bag and binge-watching a show it really doesn’t care for all that much, Anxiety is poised, ready to strike at a giving moment. Depression is still, but Anxiety vibrates with energy, excited and scared all at the same time.

Anxiety speaks just as often as Depression does.

“Why are we sitting still right now? There are things we have to do! Come on! Move it! Move it! Move it!”

“In case you haven’t realized, you don’t have any friends, so what you need to do is talk to that person! Go! Say something! What do you say? I have no fucking clue, just say something, because if you don’t, you won’t ever make any friends and you’re going to die alone, having contributed nothing to the world! Do you want that? Do you really fucking want that?”

“Oh no! You said the wrong thing! Well, now they hate you. You aren’t going to be alone now; you’re going to be a social pariah. Have fun with that!”

Sometimes, Depression and Anxiety speak together.

Depression: I don’t feel like doing anything today. I’m tired. I think I’m just going to stay here all day.

Anxiety: No! No, we can’t do that! We have things to do, goddamnit! And if we don’t do them, then we’re going to lose our fucking job, and have no fucking money, and not be able to do anything, so we’re just going to die alone and mean nothing.

Depression: So what? We already mean nothing. It’s not like getting up is going to change any of that.

Anxiety: Well, we have to try, don’t we? We have to do something? Get up, get up, get up! Move, move, move! Why aren’t you moving? Fuck!

Depression: Because we’re worthless. We’re lazy and stupid and nothing we ever do matters.

Anxiety: Not with that attitude, it doesn’t!

Depression: I’m tired. You’re making me tired. Can’t we just go to bed?

Anxiety: If you do, then I swear to god, I will nag you until you get up again!

Depression: That’s fine. This is fine. I’ll just lay here then.

I don’t know when they moved it. I don’t remember ever letting them in; I just discovered them one day, both living in my head. By that time, they had already wrecked the place, leaving me to do the clean-up. I despised them for that. I wanted to kick them out. I wanted them gone. I told them: get the fuck out of my head! I told them I didn’t want them, I tried to chase them out with pills. They responded differently. Depression would hide, going back to the shadows and remaining there until precisely the right time when it could return again, and I wouldn’t even notice. Anxiety would try to bribe me with new promises: “you can’t kick me out; you need me! I am what makes you brilliant! Without me, what would you be? How would you get anything done? I am your motivation, your muse! You can’t deny that, can you?”

But as time went on, I began to learn more about these annoying little tenants in my head. For one, I learned that I couldn’t just kick them out; it wasn’t as simple as all that. And I learned that they were both filthy liars who would say anything to get my attention.

I learned that they were different from one another, that Depression preyed upon insecurities so that it would be easier to ignore, but end of day, there was still nothing to prove that it was correct. Depression said that I wasn’t good at what I did, and yet I received compliments. Depression told me that they were making it up, and yet logic pointed out that that didn’t make any fucking sense. Depression could sit in my head for weeks, and I could have a hard time ignoring its drivel, but eventually, I did learn that that was all it was: drivel. The ramblings made up by some terrible tenant in my head, bent on my pain and destruction because that was what it thrived on. When I gave in, Depression won.

Anxiety, on the other hand, could never be satisfied. It lived on the idea of moremore work, more friends, more success, more more more. There was never enough. I was never enough, and Depression was quick to agree on that point. And when I really sat down and thought about it, I decided that I didn’t like the way that Anxiety thought. I wanted to be good, yes, great even, but I wanted to be satisfied. I wanted to be comfortable and open and happy, but Anxiety could never be any of that. And when Anxiety realized that I was pulling away, it would say anything it needed to draw me back, like any abusive partner would. It needed me much more than I needed it, because without me, it could not live.

Depression and Anxiety continue to live in my head together. They continue to chatter, on and off, and I know now that they will never leave, but their voices are quieter now, easier to ignore, because while they still prey off of insecurities, I recognize now that the things they say are a lie. And I do not want to listen to them. I set up the rules, I put them back in their place when I can, and when I can’t, I try to remind myself that it is not for the reasons that they give; I am not weak or worthless or unable to deal with them. I am strong, but I am struggling, as all those who are strong do. And when I need help, I will ask for help, because that is precisely what Depression and Anxiety do not want me to do. And if I am going to best them, I do not want them to be comfortable.

Breathe

Breathe.

In and out. They say it helps with stress, and I believe it does. When you can remember to do it. When you are capable of doing it. When the anxiety isn’t so bad that you can’t catch your breath, when your nose isn’t so stuffed up from crying that the simple act of taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide is pretty much all that you’re capable of.

When things aren’t so bad yet, then breathe.

Because you’re going to be okay. On some level, you might even know that; things will work out eventually, they’re just hard right now. But they are so incredibly hard right now, in this precise moment in time, that sometimes you get lost in that. And a life is such a long time – eighty years, if you’re lucky – so knowing that, at some point in the course of all that, things will fall into place and turn out fine might not be the most reassuring thought in this moment, when things aren’t fine.

But it’s still true. And as much as life is the longest thing you will ever do, time passes quickly. And before you know it, you’ll be looking back on now and you’ll be surprised by how much things have changed, how much better they are.

Because things are going to be alright eventually, and you need that thought to hold onto today. Because today, maybe all you can do is breathe.

And I know, you want to do more than that. You have plans. You have things you need to do. You have new problems that keep popping up – so many problems, all at once, endless, and they’re not getting better, they’re not getting easier, and a part of you keeps wondering if this is just life, how it will always be. And when it gets like that, you need to stop. Plans will be there. Problems can wait. And there are things you need to do, so do them, and take your time with what’s left.

You need to rest.

You need to breathe.

You need to realize that you are stronger than you think you. You need to realize that you have pulled yourself through hell before, and you can do it again. You can always do it. You are a warrior, a champion, a wonder. You are made of stardust and there is magic within you. You are the only person like you that exists in this world, and you need to exist because of that, and a part of you knows that, but when things get so fast and so busy and so endless, it becomes difficult to remember all of that. That knowledge exists only in the quiet, in the rest, in the peace.

That knowledge exists when you breathe.

So breathe.

Right now, that’s all you can do.

 

 

Is Happiness Really a Choice?

I think we’ve all heard the phrase “happiness is a choice” tossed around every now and again. Sometimes we hear it used seriously, by people who actually, genuinely believe that it is true. Sometimes we hear it used sarcastically, by people who are struggling, in one way or another, and cannot imagine how such a thing is possible.

And I have to admit, coming from the perspective of someone who has dealt with depression and who, chances are, will always live with anxiety, I do come to this phrase with a slightly… different perspective from what might be considered the average person who takes it seriously.

I mean, I know that happiness sometimes isn’t a viable choice. When my depression returns, and my mood takes a shocking dip into not-okay territory, I can’t instantly stop that just because I don’t want it to happen. If I could, I would do it, because you know what? Being depressed isn’t fun. I don’t like waking up and wondering what the point of my life is. I don’t like feeling like I haven’t contributed anything to the world, or like nobody would really care if I stopped being here. Those are all feelings that I would choose to avoid if I could.

The same goes for my anxiety. I mean, have you ever had a panic attack? They’re embarrassing at best and exhausting at worst, and most of the time, even I’m aware that they’re about nothing. I know the world won’t end if I don’t finish this project on time, or if I take on something new, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t worry me.

That’s just the nature of living with a mental illness; you can’t just banish it because you don’t want to deal with it. Trust me, I wish I could. I have wasted hours, even days of my life, wishing that I could just think and be like any neurotypical person would.

But at the same time, I still sort of believe that happiness is a bit of a choice.

And I know, I know; what I just said sounds incredibly contradictory, and like I’m turning my back on my mentally ill brothers and sisters. But hear me out:

While not everyone who uses this phrase will understand that happiness isn’t an immediate choice for people living with depression, anxiety, or any other breed of mental illness, I don’t think that means that it can’t be a long-term choice.

We can’t banish a depressive episode because we don’t want it. We can’t suppress a panic attack because we choose to. But what we can do, what we do have power over, is how we choose to react to the fact that we have these issues.

You have two options when you’re faced with these issues: you can choose to seek help, in whatever way that might mean. You can try to talk to people, whether that be a friend, a family member, a doctor, a therapist, a support group, a journal, an online blog, your guinea pig, or whatever. And, yes, sometimes this can be a bit outside of your control too: sometimes the people we choose to talk to don’t understand us, but that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. And if we feel comfortable and if we can afford it, there is also the option of medication, which has been proven to improve the lives of countless people living with mental illness – not by making them neurotypical, necessarily, but by making the more dangerous and harmful parts of their mental illness easier to deal with. Not only that, but there are several other options that have been proven to make life easier for people living with mental illness, such as healthy eating, exercise, and meditation.

Or, you can take the second option: you can choose to suppress it. You can not talk about it. You can not seek help. You can never awknowledge that there might be something causing you to feel the way that you do, and as a consequence, you can continue to suffer under the weight of your mental illness. That is your choice.

And I know – trust me, I understand that sometimes, the lines between these two choices get blurred when you’re dealing with a mental illness, especially if you haven’t been diagnosed yet or you’re still questioning whether the way you feel is valid or not. When you’re depressed or anxious, your mind – which is, I repeat, ill – might repeatedly tell you that you’re wrong, that you’re just looking for attention, that there’s no way to help you and you should just give up. But there are options for people living with mental illness. If one doesn’t work, then you try another until you find something that does. People can and have found ways to make their life not only bearable, but happy and worthwhile, despite dealing with mental illness.

We talk about people who are depressed or anxious or otherwise mentally ill as though there is no possibility that they can ever lead a happy, fulfilling life, but that just isn’t the case. I might get depressed from time to time, I might have to make a point of moving gingerly around my anxiety lest I set it off, but that doesn’t mean that, overall, I’m not happy with my life. I am. I am taking strides to make life easier for me in the long run, and I am working toward my goals and dreams as best I can.

And when we say ‘happiness is a choice’, I think we too often confuse it for ‘constant happiness is possible’. It isn’t. Even if you aren’t dealing with a mental illness, there are going to be times when life, quite frankly, sucks. Sometimes, people die, or tragedies strike, or our relationships crumble, or we get let go of jobs. And when that happens, of course you are going to be sad, of course you are going to be hurt and angry and resentful. But the difference between people who choose happiness and the people who don’t, is that those who choose happiness eventually try to do something about their bitterness, and even if it doesn’t work immediately (heck, it very well might not), they do eventually let go of it and move on. Those who choose otherwise don’t. They hold onto their pain like a lifeline, feeling justified in being cruel and miserable because life wasn’t fair to them.

I have known too many people who have become addicted to misery, who feel lost without something to complain about and feel slighted from. And by knowing these people, I came to the conclusion that I never wanted to be that. So, while it isn’t always easy, while it’s not consistently possible at every moment of the day, I work hard for my happiness.

And that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have panic attacks that make me miserable and pull the proverbial rug out from under my feet. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still have depressive episodes that last for days, sometimes even weeks. All that means is that, when I hit rock bottom, my goal is always to pick myself up and start climbing again. And maybe all that is difficult and exhausting, and maybe it sometimes does feel impossible. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile.

I don’t choose constant happiness because that isn’t an option; what I choose is overall happiness.