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.

 

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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.

 

 

We Need to Be Selfish

Selfishness is a character trait that gets sort of a bad name. Along with traits like greed, ambition, and pride, selfishness is one of those traits that you rarely see in the story’s hero, unless it’s a flaw that needs to be overcome. Selfishness belongs to the villain. It is a problem, a word to dismiss your choices and behaviour as wrong.

“You’re being so selfish” is just another way of saying “you shouldn’t do that”.

But I’m going to offer up a rebuttal to all of that today: personally, I think we all kind of need to be selfish at certain times in our life.

I’m certainly not going to deny that selfishness can be a problem, especially in excess, but aren’t most things already a problem in excess?

Selfishness becomes a problem when you are consistently ignoring another person’s feelings and putting your needs above theirs.

Selfishness becomes a problem when you become absolutely incapable of looking beyond yourself and seeing things from another perspective.

But at the same time, it’s difficult to deny that the opposite of excessive selfishness, and by that I mean excessive selflessness, can also be just as much of a problem.

If you spend your life living for other people, you risk losing your sense of identity. You become their caretaker, or a filter for their thoughts. You waste all your energy trying to make them happy, so that you have none left to make yourself happy. When all you care about is other people, then you stop caring about yourself – and we have seen multiple examples of this.

For example, mothers are often considered one of our society’s most prime examples of selflessness, but 11 to 20% of women who give birth in the United States report symptoms of postpartum depression, meaning that more women will be diagnosed with postpartum depression in one year than men or women will be diagnosed with tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, or epilepsy. And yet, only 15% of these women will ever receive treatment for their postpartum depression because there is such an intense stigma against mothers who suffer from it. These are women are literally not taking care of themselves because they have been told by society that it is more important that they take care of their children. That if they don’t drop everything and put their children first, then they are selfish and, therefore, bad mothers.

And if postpartum depression goes untreated, it can result in some very dangerous, life-altering side effects, like chronic depression and anxiety for the mother, and complications in the child’s development.

And I’m not trying to say that mothers with postpartum depression should neglect their children completely; all I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between caring for yourself and caring for others.

And you don’t even need to be a mother to need this balance too. I have known many people who spent years dedicated to other people, whether it be to a parent, a sibling, or whatever, doing whatever they could to make them happy, until one day they just couldn’t anymore. They realized that nothing they had done had made them happy, that they didn’t even really know who they were, and they needed to take time for themselves and find out who they were. Sometimes this means partying. Often this means rebellion. And every time I have seen someone do this, they did it because they needed to. It is because they could not do anything else anymore.

I have also known people who never came to this point where they realized they weren’t happy; they just kept serving other people, more and more of them falling away until they were just a ghost. They didn’t have their own opinions. They didn’t stand up for themselves. They just parroted the things that others said to them, reflecting them more than they did themselves.

I’m not trying to say that taking care of others is not a fulfilling thing to do. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider other opinions. All that I am trying to say is that you are just as important as anyone else.

You deserve the chance to be yourself. You deserve the chance to build your own identity and become comfortable in it. You deserve the chance to understand what you believe in and how your mind works and when you are not well, and all of those things are bought through selfishness. Through taking the time away from other people and focusing on yourself.

The main component throughout all of this is balance.

You need to know that other people matter, but you need to know that you matter too. You matter just as much as anyone else does. And just like your parents or children or whatever the case may be, you deserve love and kindness and understanding. If you rob yourself of this, that is when you risk becoming a ghost.

So be a little bit selfish. You need selfishness. We demonize it too often in our society, when the truth is that it is just as dangerous and just as beautiful as selflessness.

I Long For Selfishness

I long for selfishness. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

I don’t ask for an insane amount of it. I don’t want the solar system to revolve around me. I don’t expect to have others forgive me when I cause them harm. I don’t want to take it too far, to be cruel or harmful. But I want to be selfish. I want to be an individual.

Through most of my life – maybe all of my life – I’ve lived for other people. The words “I don’t want to be an inconvenience” have been on my lips so often that they might as well be tattooed there. I’ve made decisions based on what other people want, not me. I’ve allowed myself to be lied to and manipulated until the world that I lived in wasn’t mine. It was built by others, formed out of expectations and good intentions, but all in all amounting to little more than regret and my own personal loss of power.

So now, I long for selfishness. I long to make my own decisions, even if they’re stupid ones. Even if they’re irrational and emotional and wind up leaving me bitter and alone, at least they’re my decisions.

I long for these decisions to be made with only me in mind, and maybe that’s why I’m so afraid to attach myself to someone. Because once I fall in love, then it can no longer be about me. My decisions must involve another, and that’s the only thing I’ve ever known. I’ve never done anything big for myself, never done the thing that I, personally, wanted to do, and I long to do that. I’m tired of being attached to people. I’m tired of having to make everyone happy at the expense of my own contentment. I’m just so fucking tired.

I long for control, to do the thing that makes me happy even if it doesn’t make anyone else happy. I long for a life that is completely my own.

The only problem with all of this is, I have no idea where to start.