The Only Choice We Have is Perseverance

I was once told, from someone I trust, that if you want to succeed at something, you need a combination of two of three things: luck, talent, and perseverance. I heard this and I went, great. I need only two of these things, and I can guarantee that I have at least one. I mean, talent is something that I strive for, luck is an elusive bitch that I try to catch, but perseverance is something that I can control. It is within my power to decide whether or not I give up or not.

Turns out, perseverance is almost as much of a bitch as luck is.

Perseverance is easy to aspire to in the beginning, when the only obstacle in your road is actually starting what you’re going to do. It’s simple enough to say, “yes, I want this, so I’m going to do this, no matter what it takes”.

And then you actually begin, and the world crashes down around you.

You begin, and the beginning is such hard work that it leaves you exhausted. So exhausted that it’s difficult to do anything more than merely begin, even though there’s so much else to be done, so much that needs to be covered in such a short amount of time. You take caffeine pills and coffee and tea and tell yourself that you’re not tired, all the while snapping back at anyone who dares to speak to you and crying over the tiniest thing, but you’re not tired. You’re too busy to be tired.

And in those late hours, when there’s still things to be done and you haven’t gotten to them all yet, when you can think of nothing you’d rather be doing than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling because at least that would be a fucking break, the thought crosses your mind that maybe you shouldn’t do them. Maybe it would be alright if you just quit.

And when the rejections keep piling up. E-mail after e-mail, letter after letter, so many that you stop expecting anything but. You used to get excited to receive a response, but now it’s all just the same. You know what you’ll find. You’ll open it up, and you’ll read the automated message that they send to everybody, because you didn’t even leave enough of an impression on them that they cared to dignify you with anything original. And sooner or later, you inevitably began to wonder why you even bother. You just keep getting the same response, over and over and over and mother. Fucking. Over. Again. What’s going to change if you stop, really?

We tell ourselves that failure isn’t an option, and really, it isn’t. It’s inevitable. We may not choose it, and we may not want it, but it happens anyway. That’s just the way of things.

And that’s where perseverance comes in. Because perseverance is a difficult choice to make, and sometimes, especially when we’re tired and beaten down, giving up really does look like the best option.

But what would we do if we did give up? What would be left of us? Of our lives? Would it be worth it?

These are questions that we need to ask ourselves in these moments. Because, yes, perseverance is a bitch, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be chosen in favour of the things that matter to us. Because if it matters, if it truly, honestly matters, then we need to find it within ourselves to keep fighting for it.

Because, believe it or not, perseverance does offer a difference from giving up, even in the moments where all perseverance buys you is failure: it is the difference of possibility. If you give up, then you lose all possibility. What you want to happen most certainly will not happen. If you can live with that, then great, whatever, I hope you find happiness in something new. If you can’t live with that, then the only option you have left is to persevere, because at least with that, you still have hope. You still have that chance that something might change. That among countless exhausted, run-down days, you might have one where you’re bright and full of inspiration. That within that endless pile of automated rejections, you’ll eventually receive that one acceptance that will change your entire life.

These are the thoughts that keep us from giving up. These are the thoughts that we live for, when there is noting else to keep us going.

And, no, it’s not fair. It’s not easy. It’s not how the world should be, but it’s how the world is. And at the end of the day, you do have control over perseverance. And if you keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, sooner or later, either someone is bound to notice your talent, or you’ll simply get lucky. I wish that I could give you something more than that, some guarantee that you’ll be okay, that today’s pain can easily be swallowed away in favour of tomorrow’s hope, but I can’t. All that I can ask is whether or not it’s worth it. Can we accept the exhaustion, the disappointment, the rejections, and the labour, all for the possibility that it might work out in the end? Are our dreams worth all that for us? Because if they are, then the only choice we have is to persevere.

 

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Healing From Pain: The Limitations of Empathy

I was raised to see everyone empathetically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Giving Others Your Light

There is this quote that I have seen bounced around on social media, by an unknown author:

“Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light”.

There’s something about this idea that struck me, and it has to be more than a somewhat accurate metaphor.

Perhaps it’s this idea of self-sacrifice (to this degree) being connected solely to good people, the implication being that, if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent when they produced the quote; more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a ‘good’ person is by putting out your light is, admittedly, an interesting one to me.

Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have known people who gave everything that they had, all of their time and energy, and it still wasn’t enough.

I have known people who do, in fact, expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as ‘not good enough’ if they spare a little light for themselves.

But, personally speaking, I do not think that giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.

This quote relies on an idea that we have in our society, that you need to give people your 100 percent greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if you have made a commitment to them such as marriage. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms you emotionally, then that’s your problem that you need to work on, because that person needs your attention. Society has decided that you owe them that.

But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.

You should not feel like you are a candle, melting away to give light to others; ideally, you should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.

Remaining in a toxic relationship and allowing the other person to drain you away to nothing does not make you a good person, and walking out of that relationship does not make you a bad one. These really are not moral questions. If someone is hurting you, or making you feel like you are diminishing, then sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away, for our own sake. Because not everyone in this world is going to make us feel this way; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past. Sometimes, the only thing that good people can do is leave.

And maybe that does mean that the other person has to go without light for a little bit, but they will find it again, even if they have to create their own. But if you allow yourself to burn out completely, you may never get yourself back. You only have one you, so value it.

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time to time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light for a bit. We put too much emphasis on giving everything we have to others, that sometimes, we forget that we need to give something to ourselves as well, and this doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.

 

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.

 

 

Sticks And Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words Will Hurt Us Worse

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

We said this as children, when we didn’t have anything clever enough to retort back to our playground bullies, those big, mean, ugly kids who called us names but, end of day, didn’t matter because they were stupid.

We said this to ourselves to nurse the wound that words caused us, to tell ourselves that it didn’t hurt, that we were fine. That it didn’t matter because they were stupid and we were awesome and they just didn’t understand. That words bounced right off our skin, tough as armour, and we never thought about them again. And if we did feel any pain, then that was stupid; they were just words after all.

Then we got a little bit older, and we stopped saying this, because, slowly but surely, we learned that words did hurt. And yet, we still had a little bit of that old mentality – “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words should never hurt me”. They’re just words, they don’t mean anything. If that person telling me that I’m fat and ugly hurts me, then that’s my problem, I’m too sensitive. I mean, yeah, end of day, maybe that person is a little bit of a jerk for saying that, but that’s just the nature of the world. There are jerks everywhere, and I’m going to have to get used to dealing with them. I have to suck it up, learn how to accept it, move on and stop dwelling.

And yet, we got ever older, and we dwelled. We remembered that person that called us fat, that told us we wouldn’t ever be able to do anything, that we were stupid and lazy and useless and wrong. They may have stopped saying those things, we may even have stopped knowing them, but we heard their voice nonetheless every day. We heard their voice when we looked in the mirror. We heard their voice when we considered applying for our dream job. We heard their voice when we were faced with any disappointment or struggle, and their voices began to mingle with our thoughts. They began to define how we saw ourselves – they told us enough times who we were, and in our own minds, that’s who we became. We were stupid and lazy and ugly, not because of who we were as people, but because that was what they made us see in ourselves. And we didn’t really stop to question who it was that they had defined us as.

But, even saying that, these are not the only voices that we can hear. It is human nature to look in the mirror and hear the voice of that one man who told you that you were “too fat to be attractive”, but you can also look in the mirror and hear the voice of the woman at that party who gushed on and on about how pretty your hair is. When applying for your dream job, chances are, you will hear the voice of the teacher who told you that you won’t be able to do it, but it is the voice of the friend who told you that you were really talented and you really had a shot at doing it that will make you truly go through with it.

You just need to be able to shift your focus from the negative comments to the positive ones, and more than that, you need to seek out and surround yourself with people who will give you these positive comments in the first place.

And maybe one of the first steps in doing this is being one of those people who gives positive comments, who compliments and lifts up and tries to focus on the positive (even when the positive may be really hard to find; in fact, especially then). And we can do this both toward other people, lifting them up and helping them see the beauty in themselves, as well as toward ourselves.

Because when we were kids, we got it completely wrong; sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will hurt us worse. Words will change who we are as human beings, or at least change the way that we see ourselves. Words will attempt to define us, to trap us in boxes and low self-esteem. And, similarly, words have the power to break us out of our traps, whether these be the words that we speak to ourselves – the words that we use to challenge the way that we see ourselves and how we have been defined – or the kind words that others speak to us.

Words are immensely powerful – more so than we seem to want to realize. So let’s utilize that power. Let’s use them for good instead of harm, and let’s do this for ourselves as well as for those around us.