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.


It Is Okay To Talk About Your Depression

Recently, I have noticed a few people on social media passing around a very interesting quote about depression. I’m not going to lie, it caught my attention – and not necessarily in a good way. Upon looking into the source of the quote, I discovered that it originated as a tweet from rapper Post Malone. The full quote reads:

“shoutout to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in your life. especially those who did it by themselves bc they never showed it or let anyone know they were hurting. to silently battle & win is hard, be proud of yourself & all the progress you’ve made”

I’ve read variations on this quote that end after the words, “especially those who did it by themselves”, but its this part that I want to focus on in particular – this idea that people who suffer in silence deserve a little extra kudos than the rest of us.

Because, yes, shout out to everyone who has made it out of a dark place or hard time in their life. Anyone who has successfully done this, no matter how they did it, is amazing and strong and deserves all the praise and attention for getting themselves back into a healthy and happy lifestyle.

And, yes, to silently battle and win is hard. Very hard. Downright impossible, for many people.

Personally, I am of the opinion that we, as human beings, are pack animals. We need other people in our lives – and not just for simple survival either. Yes, building human communities helps protect us from being eaten by wild animals, but more than that, creating close bonds with other people helps protect our mental health.

Rats, for example, are pack animals. And if you keep a rat alone for too long, it will show symptoms of depression. The same thing will happen to humans.

And I’m not necessarily speaking of extreme, physical isolation either. Simply feeling emotionally isolated from other people will result in intense depression as well. This is actually a rampant issue within our society – particularly for men. Essentially from birth, men are told that “boys don’t cry”. Men are encouraged to bottle up their emotions, to never burden anyone with how they’re feeling, to show “real strength” by going through life without ever letting anyone in or opening up to people. This has contributed to a society where depression in men goes woefully undiagnosed, and because of this, men are 3.57 times more likely to die from suicide than women are.

So, yes, it is hard to silently battle and win. Chances are actually pretty good that if you battle silently, you will end up losing.

People need support. People need to know that they aren’t alone, and people need that validation that what they feel is accepted. That who they are, depression and all, can be loved. And not only that, but people need the other opinions that other people can offer. Sometimes, the greatest gift that a depressed person can receive is a loved one’s assurance that they’re going to be okay, even if they don’t currently feel the same way.

And, personally, I am one of those people why apply to the first part of Post Malone’s tweet, but not the second part. I have made it out of dark places and hard times, but I didn’t always do it alone.

I fought small battles alone. I hid panic attacks in the bathroom, and then wiped away my tears, picked myself back up, and forced myself out the door. But when it came to the much larger war that is fighting depression, I couldn’t do that alone. And that isn’t to say I didn’t try. For quite nearly a whole year, I did my best to hide my depression, not wanting to make people worry about me. And then, when I couldn’t hide it anymore, I just… spoke.

And then I couldn’t stop speaking.

I kept talking, and I kept reaching out, and eventually, my depression just wasn’t anything shameful anymore. It was just a part of me. And that made it easier to fight, because I wasn’t fighting alone.

And, not only that, but speaking out and hearing my own depressive thoughts voiced was actually really helpful in recognizing just how wrong they were. It’s surprisingly easy to think, “if this person doesn’t say that thing, then they obviously hate me”. It’s much more difficult to take such a sentiment seriously when you’re saying it aloud.

When you’re depressed, depressive thoughts are simply the norm. They crowd your brain, and they convince your mind that they’re facts, and there’s just so many of them that it’s hard to fight back. When you speak these thoughts, or write them down, or do whatever you need to to simply get them out of your head, then they become less overwhelming. You begin to see them for what they are. And maybe that doesn’t get rid of the fear or the sadness that these thought create, but at least recognizing them as false is one step forward. And it’s a step forward that’s difficult to take alone.

And yet, despite all of this, we live in a society that loves to romanticize that idea of making it through hard times alone. I think it goes back to that idea of how men are raised – this idea that there is strength in being solitary and not burdening other people with your thoughts and your emotions. And this is what I see in Post Malone’s tweet. He starts out by giving a “shout out” to everyone who has suffered hard times, but he goes on to create a sort of hierarchy. If you have suffered alone, then you are especially deserving of a shout out, and the rest of his tweet focuses on that particular form of suffering. We see people who have suffered alone as being more deserving of praise then people who reached out to others and asked for help.

And when we do that, when we create this hierarchy, what we are actually doing is encouraging people away from seeking help. We make people think that there is something wrong with getting help – that, if they were truly strong, then they would do this alone. And often times, that just isn’t the case. You can (and probably will have to) fight battles alone, but it’s really, really difficult to win the war that way. To win the war, we need a solid army of love and support – whether that army take the form of family, friends, pets, a diary, people that you met on the internet, suicide crisis lines, or therapists.

There is no shame in reaching out. There is no shame in talking about your emotions, or crying, or having a difficult time managing what life has given you. All of this is just a natural part of being human, and we shouldn’t be so afraid of it – when it presents itself in ourselves, or in our loved ones. Instead of encouraging people to suffer in silence, we should be willing to lend an ear to anyone who needs it.

And let’s give a shout out to everyone who asked for help in getting out of a dark place or a hard time, whether they have gotten out of it yet or not. It can be really, really hard talking about your emotions in a society that consistently tries to silence them, but you are doing the right thing. You are doing the best thing that you can for yourself and your mental health, and that is extremely important. May you have all the best going forward, and may you know that you are loved and you are valid and you are strong.

Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.

Your Depressive Thoughts Are Not Real

Have you ever heard of this thing called depressive realism?

It’s a not uncontroversial theory that I don’t quite feel fully qualified to explain in great detail, so I’m pretty much going to stick to essentials here. And, essentially, what it means is that people who are depressed have a more realistic view of the world, as well as a more realistic set of expectations. This theory is backed up by a study where participants were asked to press a button and determine how much control they believed that button to have over a light that would occasionally go off. People without depression tended to overestimate how much control they had over the light, whereas people with depression tended to be more realistic.

I first heard about this theory when I was eighteen years old, from my philosophy teacher. Depressive realism wasn’t part of the curriculum or anything like that; it was merely something that was mentioned in passing. And pretty much all that he said about it was, “studies have proven that people with depression have a more realistic view of the world.” He didn’t mention the fact that some studies have proven this; not all. In fact, there are plenty of studies that indicate that there are countless different factors that dictate our view of the world, including whether or not you’re discussing your own control or the control of others, whether you’re currently in a public or private sphere, and how much time has passed since the incident occurred (just to name a few). My teacher also failed to mention the fact that this is still a heavily debated theory that has been intensely criticized. All that he said was that “studies have proven”.

And when I was eighteen years old, this was not what I needed to hear.

Because when I was eighteen years old, I was in the process of falling into a deep depression that would stay with me for the next two or three years, and the last thing that I needed was to be told that my depression was true. Valid, yes. Recognized, of course. But true?

I didn’t want to hear that my view of the world was, in fact, reality. That when I thought that I was worthless, incapable, weak, and stupid, I was actually telling myself the truth. I didn’t want to hear that my fears that the world was corrupted and beyond saving were more than just fears. I wanted to be able to tell myself that these were all lies that my mind was telling me because my mind was sick.

But, of course, my depression grabbed onto this idea of depressive realism and it ran with it. Of course I was worthless and stupid; anyone who thought otherwise were delusional because they didn’t want to face the truth. Of course the world was going to burn to the ground; anyone trying to save it was fighting a losing battle. Of course. This was truth; other people were just too happy to see it.

Time has passed since I was eighteen years old. I have done more research on depressive realism, sure, but I’ve also done more research on depression. It’s been a long, uphill battle, but I like to think that I’m in a much healthier place with it now. That isn’t to say that I never have my depressed days, or even weeks, but I recognize it better now, and I know how to deal with it.

And I no longer accept that depression gives us a more realistic view of the world.

Because I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum. Hell, I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I have been depressed, and I have seen the world as a terrible, awful place, full of terrible, awful people – and of those people, I was included. And when I was depressed, this, to me, was truth. In these moments, I had more than enough evidence to back up what I believed.

I have also been happier, and I have seen the world as flawed, and yet I have known, in my heart of hearts, that change is possible. I have seen the evidence of that myself, in every young girl who identifies, proudly, as a feminist, in every marginalized person who demands to be recognized and respected. I have told myself and believed, fully, that these voices cannot be ignored forever. I have also seen change in myself; I have noticed my own successes, I have proven to myself that I am not stupid, that I am capable. I have come to the conclusion that people are, generally, good, and they try to the best they can with the information they have at the time. And when I have seen the world this way, this was also truth.

End of day, truth is, quite simply, what you believe. There is no way that depressed people can see the world more realistically than non-depressed people, because there is no one set standard for reality. The world is what you see it to be. You can see it as a terrible, ugly place, because it can be; or you can see it as a beautiful, loving place, because it can be.

What you focus on becomes what is.

And, of course, that isn’t to say that people who are depressed can just wake up one day and decide to start seeing the world better; depression doesn’t work that way, and that isn’t what I’m trying to say here. But what I am trying to say is, quite simply, the way that depression makes us see ourselves, the people around us, and the world at large, is not real. Telling ourselves that we are terrible, worthless human beings is no more or less realistic than telling ourselves that we are magnificent, glorious gods with no flaw whatsoever.

The views that depression tries to give us are lies, and more importantly, they are not constructive lies. Nobody feels good when they think they are worthless. Nobody is inspired to try their hardest in a world that they believe to be beyond saving. So if this is the case, then why not fight to convince yourself of a better lie? Why not identify your depressive thoughts for what they are, and remind yourself of what they are every time that they rear their ugly head?

So even if the more positive thoughts feel like lies, even if they feel completely unnatural to you at first, keep trying to tell them to yourself. Because even if they are lies, they are no more or less lies than the opposite. And, most importantly, forcing yourself to think these thoughts might eventually make you believe them (fake it until you make it, am I right?). Thinking these thoughts could, quite literally, change the way that you perceive your entire world.