I Wasn’t Made to Be Silent

“Be silent, child,” they said. “The world does not care for your troubles. If they ask, they do not mean it. Just look pretty, smile, recite your niceties, and all will be well.”

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart hurts, sir. I do not feel anything behind the smile. It is not real.”

“Of course it isn’t,” they said. “No one’s smile is real.”

So I smiled.

“But, sir,” I said, “the world is hard, sir. I know a girl who is starving herself because the world keeps telling her she’s too fat. I know a girl who was raped and will never see justice done because nobody believes her. I know a boy who parties every night, and I warn him to be safe because I fear that he will flirt with the wrong man and get beaten for it. I am scared, sir, because this world makes me scared, but I don’t know how to fix it without talking about it, sir.”

“You can’t,” they said. “There is nothing you can do. The world is hard, and that is all there is to it. There is no saving anyone. There is no fixing anything. Stay silent, child, for nothing that you say will matter anyway.”

So I was silent.

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot stand this. My heart aches all the time, sir. I stay up at night and I listen to them cry, and I want to help them. This world is terrifying, sir. Is there truly nothing I can do?”

“You can be happy with your lot, child,” they said. “You can be grateful that you are not them, and you can rest easily knowing that things could always be worse. Do not complain, do not cry, because there is always someone out there who has it worse than you do.”

And so I tried to be happy. I really, truly tried.

“But, sir,” I said, “my heart still hurts. My heart hurts, and I feel it in my soul now. I carved red lines into my arm today, sir. I cannot contain this fear, it is everywhere, sir, it is inside my skin and I cannot escape it or ignore it anymore. Please, sir. My own blood is on my hands, and I need to do something.”

“You are wrong to think so,” they said. “Are you not grateful? Are you not happy? What is wrong with you, what makes you carve red lines into your arm? Normal people do not do that, child. So cover your arms with your sleeves, put on that smile, and recite your niceties. That is all you have to do. Why are you making this so complicated?”

“But, sir,” I said, “I cannot do this anymore. I do not believe you. I think you are disillusioned, sir, and I think your advice hurts me in the long run. So, sir, I will no longer be taking your advice. Thank you for your attempt, I know you were only trying to help me, but I must try something different if I am going to stop being so afraid.”

And so I spoke. For the first time in my life, I spoke loudly and clearly, to anyone who would listen to me.

“What are you doing, child?” they said. “Nobody cares what you have to say! Nobody feels the same way as you! You are changing nothing in the world, and worse, you are making everybody hate you! We think you are crazy, child! We think you are too aggressive, and we think you must hate us if you dare not take our advice! Why are you doing this to us, child, when all we ever tried to do was help you? Why do you hurt us so?”

“But, sir,” I said, “for the first time in my life, my heart does not hurt. The red lines in my arm have left scars, but they have healed. I am alright, sir, and I will be alright, and none of this would have been possible if I did not talk. I want to do the same for others, sir. I want to make them feel safe to talk. I want to make sure they know that the option is open to them, that they do not have to live in silence, that they can be perceived as crazy or aggressive or wrong, and yet that does not necessarily mean that they are. And maybe my voice is just one among the million. Maybe it gets drowned out in the crowd, and maybe I’m heard by very few, but at least I’m heard. And at least I’m talking. Because I think I need to talk. I wasn’t made to be silent.”

I do not think they heard me. And yet, I speak.

 

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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.

 

Why We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.

 

 

While Life May Hurt, You Cannot Give Up

This world isn’t a perfect place. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

No matter who you are or what you believe, there is always going to be someone out there who you disagree with whole-heartedly. Always. There are going to be people out there who you can’t bring yourself to understand, whose shoes you simply cannot walk in no matter how much you try because end of day, those shoes don’t fit. And when you come across these people, you’re going to be tempted to hate them or look down on them because they are beyond your understanding.

No matter who you are or what sort of people you surround yourself with, you are going to have moments of loneliness. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there is nobody around you, and quite literally, the only person you can depend on is yourself. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there are people around you, but you do not feel at all connected to them. You feel like they don’t understand you, or like they don’t actually love or care about you. And when this happens, you are going to question yourself and your part in all this. After all, it’s only natural to wonder if you’re the problem here. Are you wrong? Unloveable? Asking too much of people? Or is it simply impossible for us as human beings to fully connect with another in the way that we all hope for?

No matter who you are or how carefully you live, you are going to get hurt. Maybe by other people, because as I mentioned previously, people aren’t perfect. Some people are so hurt from their own life that they then set out to hurt other people, to return the favour that life has dealt them. Some people simply act without thinking, and we wind up being the casualty of that carelessness. And maybe it isn’t another person who hurts us, maybe we end up hurting ourselves. Maybe we make mistakes that we can’t forgive ourselves for. Maybe we live so carefully, so guarded and safe, that we wind up missing out on opportunities, or on life itself.

And all this isn’t even mentioning all the big problems in our world that might lead us to feelings of stress or depression – things like war, poverty, racism, sexism, and so on.

But despite all of this, despite the imperfection that most certainly does exist in the world and despite the fact that you are not going to enjoy every moment spent being alive, we cannot allow ourselves to give up.

Because life is hard. Life is a battle, and it is long and bloody and difficult, but it is a battle worth fighting. Because as much as life is hard, it is also the most brilliant thing that we will ever do.

Life is filled with people who you will not understand, people who will hurt you and be ignorant to you and not let you speak, but it is also filled with beautiful people who care about you. People who have been hurt themselves, and don’t want to see other people go through the same thing. Complete strangers who will approach you in public when you’re looking sad and ask if you’re okay, because even if they don’t know you, they care. They want you to be happy. They want you to be okay. Not for any selfish reason, but because you’re a person and you matter and you deserve to be told that, especially if you aren’t told very often. Life is filled with an endless array of possible friends, possible futures, possible saviours, while the alternative is empty and final. It is devoid of life’s possibilities.

Life is filled with loneliness and depression, but it is also filled with passion and love and inspiration, and you will have moments of both. You will lose your way and you will be confused and lost, but with that, you will find your way again. It might take you some time to find the path, and you may began to feel hopeless if you’ve been off of it for a while, but sooner or later, the path will always reveal itself. For every door that closes, another opens. For every storm that rages through our lives and destroys everything, a new bud sprouts out from the dirt. We will lose people, and we will find new ones. We will see dreams die, only to discover new dreams that make us so much more excited, so much alive.

Life is filled with pain, but it is filled with so much more as well. It is filled with hot, summer sun that bakes our skin. It is filled with good food and good laughs and loving animals. It is filled with endless possibilities that we may not have complete control over, but we do still have some – enough control, anyway, that we can decide if we want to open ourselves up to these possibilities or not. And if you give up, then you are not only giving up on the pain, but on everything else as well.

So fight. It won’t always be easy. In fact, sometimes it will feel downright impossible, and in those moments, our best strategy for fighting involves taking a step back and recouping. It involves admitting that we aren’t okay and trying to get some help. Sometimes, it may even involve putting on a smile you don’t mean and going through the motions of your life until you can get to a place where that smile no longer feels fake. And as much as doing all this might hurt, it is all part of the fight that we cannot give up on. Because if we give up, then we lose everything. If we give up, we hurt ourselves more than life ever could, because we are robbing ourselves of our chance at ever making things better. And maybe that doesn’t matter to you so much right now, but if you would give yourself some time, if you allow yourself to fight, even just the slightest amount, then you will someday reach a place where it does matter. Where you will look back on where you are now and be so incredibly proud of yourself for giving yourself the chance to reach that place.

 

 

Don’t Apologize For Your Mental Illness

Don’t apologize.

Don’t feel bad about how you feel.

Don’t feel as though your emotions are a burden on other people, as though you need to excuse yourself for doing what you need to heal.

When it comes to issues like depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, we have this tendency to treat those who are suffering from it as though they are a burden. As though anything they do as a response to their mental illness, either because of it or as an attempt to heal from it, is an incredible inconvenience to those around them.

We get embarrassed, maybe even angry, when our loved one experiences a panic attack or some other sort of episode in public.

We get frustrated when our friends cancel plans because their depression is just too bad for them to do anything.

While we may not mean to, we create an environment where people dealing with these mental illnesses feel the need to hide the fact that they do. Our embarrassment forces them to have their panic attacks in the bathroom. Our frustration forces them to lie about why they need to cancel plans. Our behaviour, unintentional or not, makes them feel like they are a burden. Like the way that they feel is wrong, or impossible for other people to understand, but they can’t control it. They can’t stop being mentally ill. If it was as easy as a depressed person deciding not to cancel plans, then they wouldn’t cancel plans. If it was as easy as a person with anxiety deciding not to have a panic attack, then they wouldn’t have a panic attack. These sort of things are neither fun nor desirable, and would in fact be avoided if they could be.

But they can’t be.

So when you roll your eyes at someone for doing these things, you aren’t stopping them from doing it. All you are doing is making them feel as though they are wrong for doing it, as though they are a burden. As though they are a burden for being something that they can’t help being.

You make them feel wrong for being sick. And you wouldn’t roll your eyes or be embarrassed by someone for having a coughing fit or throwing up, would you?

And that’s not to say that people with mental illnesses cannot get better, or that they are completely incapable of ever changing this behaviour. But if they are going to do this, then they need understanding. They need to learn about their mental illness, rather than feel forced to suppress it. They need to be able to do what makes them feel better, whether that mean taking things slower than other people might, taking breaks to think  or calm themselves down if they need to, or whatever might work best for them. It’s all very individual, and it takes time to figure it out for yourself. Time, and allowing yourself the chance to figure it out.

And if you’re going to give yourself the chance to figure it out, you need to unapologetically accept that this is who you are, and that that’s okay. There is nothing wrong or shameful about having a mental illness, but learning to live with it will make it easier to deal with it.

So if you are living with a mental illness, don’t apologize for it. Don’t let anyone feel like you are any lesser because of it. If your actions have actually hurt someone, then apologize for that, but do not apologize for who you are and the things you cannot control.

And if you know someone who is living with a mental illness, then please try to be patient with them, and try to make allowances for the things that are outside of their control. This does not mean that you have to put up with their abuse if their mental illness has reached a toxic level, but if they are merely struggling with their mental illness, having panic attacks or cancelling plans or discussing their feelings, then try to be there for them. Try to help them, listen to what they’re saying, talk through it with them. I understand that an initial reaction might be frustration or embarrassment, especially if all of this is new to you, but trust me when I say that your relationship with them will become much closer and much more meaningful if you only help them rather than make them feel guilty for who they are.