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.

Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Mental Illness

In this post, I’m going to be talking a bit about my own experience with mental illness, not because I think that my way of experiencing it was “right”, or because my experience was universal or anything along those lines. I am not a trained therapist. I am not a definitive master in this subject by any means. All I am is someone with an experience, someone who took a lesson from what I lived.

I am mostly going to be focusing on my experience with anxiety, as well. And, of course, every mental illness is different, and even those with anxiety experience it differently, but my hope is that you as the reader might find something in my experience that you relate to as well.

Anxiety has always been prevalent in my life. It is something that has run in my family – something that plagued some members to the point that they refused to even leave the house if they could avoid it. Yet, for years, my family just thought of a person’s anxiety as their “quirks”. If someone didn’t leave his house, it wasn’t because they were mentally ill, but because they was quirky, they had a healthy dislike of crowds, it was nothing. That was the way that mental illness was discussed in my family throughout most of my childhood.

When I was eighteen, I identified my constant stress and outright illogical level of fears as an anxiety disorder – one that hadn’t quite reached the degree of some of my family members, but that plagued me nonetheless. I had a hard time applying to jobs, because the thought of doing so was enough to send me into a panic attack. I couldn’t talk to anyone without stuttering, and after talking to them I made myself miserable with thoughts of “I bet they hated me” and “god, I’m so stupid, why did I do that?” And while I excelled at school, a big part of the reason for that was because I needed to finish all my projects several weeks in advance because I couldn’t stand the stress of having essays that weren’t done yet.

After I identified what I had as an anxiety disorder, I started to talk about it. And after I started to talk about it, I begin to identify the several others in my family who also dealt with their own anxiety, tracking the signs that should have been apparent to me from the beginning.

From there, I wanted to move immediately from identifying my anxiety disorder to curing it. I didn’t want to be swallowed whole by it, like so many others had. While they might have been perfectly satisfied living their days in solitude, I didn’t want that to be me. When I looked into my future, I longed for the image of a highly-educated, greatly successful writer with a wonderful partner who supported me through everything, and the way I saw it, none of this would be possible if I was still dealing with my anxiety at the time.

So, the logical choice: I needed to get rid of my anxiety.

The next year or so was spent trying to find ways to do that, although many of them only made things worse. I would intentionally do things that gave me anxiety because I knew that these were things I needed to do. But once these things would inevitably put me into a panic attack, my insistence on simply banishing these feelings wouldn’t work, which would only make me more stressed, which would only make me feel bad that I was so stressed. I got to a point where I was stressed about being stressed.

Essentially, I was telling myself that I couldn’t be a person with anxiety, which didn’t really work out because I was a person with anxiety. And throughout all of this, I had my mother trying to tell me that my anxiety wasn’t actually something to be ashamed of, that it was just a part of me that I needed to learn to live with.

But I didn’t want to hear that.

I didn’t want to have anxiety.

But eventually, I did come to the conclusion that what I was trying wasn’t working, and I was willing to try something different.

So when I got a panic attack, I stopped fighting it.

When something started to stress me out, I would slow down and talk to myself before a panic attack could start.

I learned ways of doing things that worked best for me, and before long, I discovered that I was capable of doing everything. At one time, I would have thought that anxiety stood in my way of getting the future that I wanted, but it doesn’t; all it is is something that I need to keep in mind and work with so that it doesn’t slow me down or stop me.

I still have anxiety. I do everything that I can to keep it controlled, which includes eating healthy, exercising, taking supplements, and, of course, designing my thinking around it, but every once in a while, it still props up. It just doesn’t stop me from doing anything that I want to do.

I am not ashamed of who I am, or the struggles that I have dealt with. If anything, they have made me stronger, made me realize just how capable I am. My anxiety has made me realize that the things that I want in life are going to make me uncomfortable, and they’re going to scare me, but that isn’t a sign that I shouldn’t do it. It’s just a sign that I need to change the way that I do it.

And this is the part of the post where I speak directly to you, because this is my message to you: not to be ashamed of who you are. Mental illness is not something that you choose to live with, but it is not something that needs to hold you back or define you. You can do everything that you want to do, even with it. As cheesy as it might sound, your only limits are the ones that you set for yourself, and that is just as true for mentally ill people as it is for neurotypical people.

And maybe you don’t completely believe it right now; I get that. Maybe it’s still difficult to believe that you can conquer the world when it’s difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, or leave the house. And I’m not trying to say that all of this will happen overnight. It didn’t for me. It will take time, and it will mean forming new habits and ways of thinking and doing, but it can happen. And the most important step in starting all of this is refusing to think that there is something inherently wrong with you. There isn’t. You are not wrong, you are just different, and you are not the only one who is different. Once you reach out and talk to other people, you’ll begin to realize that you are not alone. You are beautiful and you are strong and you are so much more capable than you know.

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 You Need to Talk About Suicide

Every once in a while, something will happen in the news that will bring the issue of depression and suicide to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Most recently, this news has been the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.

Bennington killed himself on July 20 after a lengthy and somewhat public battle with depression. And none of us can judge the choice that he made, or think any worse of him because of it. Even those of us who have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts before do not know what his precise situation was or what he was going through. I wish his loved ones all the best, and I truly hope that he has found peace now.

But all that being said, we do need to talk about suicide. And not because Bennington killed himself. Not because it’s a trendy topic to pass around now. Because there are still people out there who are considering taking their own lives even now, and those people need someone to reach out to them.

Suicide is an awkward topic of conversation for many people, and it can be hard to approach someone who you know and love and ask them, “are you considering killing yourself?” Unless we have dealt with suicidal thoughts ourselves, we tend to think of it as something foreign, as something other, as something that can’t touch the people we care about, but it very much can, and it’s not as strange or unusual as you might think. In fact, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on average there are 121 suicides per day. The only reason why we don’t think of it as common is because we just don’t talk about it.

We are told, indirectly, that we should not talk about it. We don’t want to come forth because we don’t want anyone to worry about us, we don’t want to burden them with something that they don’t have to deal with. I know that when I was dealing with suicidal thoughts, one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to tell anybody about it was because then they’d think that I was going to kill myself, and I didn’t want to be thought of as a risk. We as a society hold such a huge stigma against mental illness and thoughts of self harm that we silence people who are actually dealing with them, people who don’t want to be perceived as weak or risky or bothersome or attention-seekers. And so, silenced, they deal with these thoughts on their own. They mull over these thoughts within a mind that is already ill, already enforcing beliefs that are not true, and so it isn’t at all surprising when they come to the worst conclusion.

The more that we talk about depression and suicidal thoughts, the more that we are willing to approach someone who we think might be dealing with either illness, the more that people who are dealing with them will feel comfortable talking about it themselves. We need to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts because talking about it could quite literally save lives.

And if you are a person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you deserve to have your life saved. You deserve to be listened to and loved and understand, and you deserve to live a long and fulfilling life. You deserve all the amazing things this world can offer to you.

And I understand that, if you are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might not believe that right now. The problem with these illnesses is that they cause your mind to lie to you, to tell you things that aren’t true and skew your perception of the world. You see everything through the lens of your thoughts, like that old line about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses except the exact opposite. Your illness tells you that the world would be better off without you and that you don’t matter, but you need to know that that is a lie. You do matter. You matter so much that I don’t even have words to fully encompass it. And if you were to die, then your loved ones – friends, family, pets, maybe even that neighbour who says hello to you every morning and has come to depend on your smile and wave, they would all care. I would care. With you gone, there would be a great hole in the world that can never truly be filled.

But let’s ignore all of that for a moment, because I know that your depression and suicidal thoughts might be contradicting everything I just said: you simply deserve to live for your own sake. No one else’s. You deserve a chance to find something that makes you happy. You deserve a chance to feel the sun on your face again. You deserve a chance to chase your dreams and maybe see them come true, to fall in love with someone new (or someone old again) and to build a whole new life, different from the one you’re leading now. Because the only thing constant in this world is that things change, and maybe you aren’t happy with where you are now, but maybe you will be one, two, ten years from now. Maybe you’ll look back on this day and find it difficult to believe that that was you, that you ever felt this way. Don’t you at least deserve the chance to know if that’s true? Life, after all, is full of possibilities, while death is so final.

And maybe your depression will never fully go away, and maybe your life will never be entirely perfect, but pain can be dealt with. You can learn to live, not defined by your pain, but existing alongside of it, understanding and respecting it but not run solely by it. I know that I may never be completely rid of my depression, as it’s something that I’ve dealt with on and off for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean that my life isn’t worth living. Quite the opposite, actually; the moments of pain and emptiness make the moments of joy and fulfillment all the more spectacular.

And if I can give you a bit of advice right now, since we’re talking about depression and suicide, I would say that you need to keep talking about it. Reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a therapist, a doctor, a diary, a stranger on the internet, a suicide crisis line, your pet gerbil, whatever might make you feel comfortable. Because an amazing thing happens when you start to talk: you are no longer dealing with everything on your own. There is someone else in this world who knows how you feel, who can be there for you and make you feel like you aren’t alone. And sometimes, when you can hear or read your own thoughts expressed outside of yourself, you might even begin to realize that the things your depression have been saying to you are lies. And as much as it might be difficult to make yourself un-believe them, the first step in overcoming them is at least identifying them as lies.

Whenever anybody takes their own life, celebrity or not, it is always a great tragedy. It is someone who has succumbed to an illness that they could no longer control, and that is always a huge loss in this world. But so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance, and you still have control. You can reach out and talk to someone, you can seek help in dealing with your illness. In the words of the late Chester Bennington, “I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and f****** die or I can f****** fight for what I want,'”, and so long as you are still alive, the fight is not yet over. You are a warrior, you are stronger than you will ever know, and you can beat this. You deserve to beat this – for your loved ones, for the world, and most importantly, for yourself.

You Are Stronger Than You Think You Are

Hey, you.

Yeah, you.

You want to know what I think of you? Really?

I think that you are an incredibly strong person who is capable of much more than you think you are.

Yeah, I know it’s scary. Trust me, I do. I understand that, when you’re facing something new, something that you’ve never done before, something that you have heard other people build up as big and tough, it is very, very easy to become intimidated.

And when you become intimated, it is very, very easy to want to back down. Maybe you decide that you won’t do it at all. Maybe you decide that it’s too hard for you, that there’s no point in even trying because you’ll probably just fail anyway. Maybe you decide to pass it off on someone else, someone you perceive as stronger, someone who you think can actually get the thing done better than you can. Sometimes, it’s easier to just not do it.

But make sure that you make that choice with the full knowledge that if you do, you might regret it. You might even regret it for the rest of your life, always looking back on that decision and wondering what would have happened if you had tried.

And if you are going to make that choice, make sure that you do it because it is the choice you actually want to make, that you aren’t making it because you don’t think you’re strong enough, or because you think you are going to fail.

Because you are strong enough. You just won’t know it until you’re in the midst of it.

When you’re just starting out, it’s very easy to look in and get scared, but when you’re in the midst of doing it, then you just have to do it. You figure things out. You ask questions along the way. You learn new things, and you take those lessons to the next problem and somewhere along the way, you start to grow. You become stronger. You become the person that you would have initially passed your problems onto.

In fact, as scary as everything seems now, once you began and actually get into the thick of it, there will eventually come a day where you look back and laugh at yourself for having gotten yourself so scared.

And maybe you will fail, yeah. Trying is not always a recipe for success. You can give everything your all and still not get where you want to go, but why should that mean that you don’t even try? If you give everything your all and you still don’t get where you want, then at least you can rest easily knowing what would have happened if you tried. You never have to live with that question in mind.

And along the way, you probably will fail, once, twice, who knows how many times? And every time that happens, you’re going to find yourself falling right back into your fear. “Can I do this?” “What if I fail?” “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”

But you are strong enough. You can do it. And you owe it to yourself to stand back up, dust yourself off, and prove that to yourself.

Don’t give into fear. Don’t allow others to define you as weak or incapable. They are liars. They are giving into fear themselves, and you can do better than that. You have the power to do anything you want to do; you just have to allow yourself to do it first.