Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself

I know a woman who has been in multiple abusive relationships in the past. As a result, she has been dealing with many mental health issues as well, and I did not know any of this about her until recently, when she started talking very openly about both issues and her own experience with them. There are those who tell her that she shouldn’t talk about these things, that all she is doing is hurting her previous abusers by spreading this information about them, or making herself look bad because she is publicly admitting to dealing with mental illness, and yet she continues to talk about them. And she talks about them because this is how she feels, this is her experience, and staying quiet about it was only making her life worse, only making her suffer more.

I know a woman who recently got out of a bad relationship, during which she was neglecting her health and her relationship with other people. And when asked how she was, she didn’t just smile and say “fine” like we are taught to do; she opened up and told her story. She explained what she had been though, how she was trying to reorder her life into something that would make her happy. When I heard her do this, I was a little bit taken aback, because I could already hear the comments that I have heard about people who are eager to share their personal thoughts and experiences: that no one cares, just say you’re fine and move on, everyone’s too busy dealing with their own dumb lives to hear about yours – but personally, I disagree. I liked hearing her story. I thought that she was incredibly brave to be willing to tell it. She risked being silenced, but instead she opened up, and I felt like I got to know her a little bit better because of it. I saw her humanity, not the front that we are all taught to put up all the time.

I know a man who recently lost his dog. To give you an idea about what sort of man this is, he’s a grown man who goes to the gym very regularly, and as a result he is a very large, very muscular man, and his dog of choice has always been a chihuahua. He loves his chihuahuas. And today, he was telling the story of how he his dog passed away, and as he told it, I could tell that he was very emotionally affected, even now. He told about how, the day after it happened, he went to the gym only because he didn’t want to face an empty home, and all throughout his workout, he cried over the loss of his dog. He talked about how he used to take her for walks with her sparkly, pink collar, and people would make comments about him because he’s a big man with a tiny dog, but he didn’t care. He loved her.

I tell you about these people because, today, I find myself awed by them: the people who are unapologetically themselves. The people who know that what they feel and who they are won’t always be accepted, but they express it anyway. There are too few of these people out there.

Because, end of day, we all experience things that not everyone is going to like, and this can be any number of things. Maybe you’re dealing with mental illness. Maybe you’re going through a hard time. Maybe you want to do something (harmless) that society tells you you shouldn’t because of something frivolous like your place in life or your gender identity. Maybe you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Maybe it’s any number of things that we as a society are told, again and again, that we can’t do, when there’s really no logical reason for it. There’s no reason to hide who you are, and doing so is only harmful in the long run.

When you hide who you are, you hurt who you are. You internalize the idea that what you are is wrong if it has to be hidden, which can then turn into self-loathing, or feelings of guilt. When you hide the fact that you are dealing with mental illness, then you don’t ever improve – you just began to feel as though it’s your fault, as though you’re just looking for attention, you’re weak or stupid, when this isn’t the case. You’re ill. That’s all.

When you hide how you’re feeling, those feeling don’t go away; they fester. You feel as though they’re wrong, so you don’t act on them, but because you think that they’re wrong, you punish anyone who does act on them. You mock them, look down on them, tell them that they’re stupid for expressing how they feel, that no one cares to hear it. End of day, there are many people who say these sorts of things because they have restrained themselves to the point that they are not free to be themselves.

And we should all have that freedom.

But I know; it’s scary to be unapologetically yourself. I get that, trust me. We live in a society that tells us that so many things are wrong that it’s impossible for us to be completely right. And when you’re constantly told that something is wrong, it’s difficult for us to turn our minds around on that regard. But it’s worth doing, because it’s worth knowing that you are not wrong.

And when you are yourself, fully and completely, not afraid to be dismissed as stupid or selfish or silly or wrong (because when you are yourself, you will be dismissed as this by some people, and that’s okay), a wonderful thing starts to happen: you will be loved for who you really and truly are. Your relationships with other people will be much deeper, much more personal, because people will always know the real you, not some front that you put up to be considered “acceptable”. There will always be those who look down on you, but there will be those who admire you too, those you see you in all of your great you-ness and say, “wow, I wish that I could be that unashamed”.

We all long for freedom, and this is one great way that you can find it: the freedom to be who you are. The freedom to not care what others think about that. The freedom to love yourself and all you are, even if who you are is messy, emotional, hurt, struggling, outside the norm, or just trying their best. There’s nothing wrong with being any of that; the only thing that’s wrong is forcing people to suppress themselves.

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Don’t Let Someone Else Live Your Life

There’s this issue in society that I’ve seen come up again and again, and I’ve seen it in multiple forms.

When I was in high school, I would always answer the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” with “I want to be a writer”, to which most teachers would respond, “oh, that’s not a practical job, you can’t make much money with that. Why don’t you do something else – you could be a teacher instead.”

The other day, when I was at the gym, I met a woman in her fifties who was enthusing over another woman’s bright red and orange dreadlocks, and she mentioned that she had recently gone to the hairdresser’s asking for a funky haircut herself, to which the hairdresser responded, “oh, you’re much too old for that, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

I recently read an article about a girl who described herself as ‘fat’, and she stated that when she went to the beach in her bikini, she was spotted by a woman who responded to her by saying, “you’re much too big for that bikini, I don’t want to see that. Why don’t you wear something that covers you up a bit more?”

And I very recently watched a video posted on Elle Magazine’s Facebook page discussing an eight year old boy who enjoyed dressing and performing as a drag queen, and in this video he mentioned that he knew other kids who would go to their parents saying that they wanted to be drag queens, to which their parents would respond “you’re too young to even know what that is”.

Now, there’s a lot going on in all of these examples, but the common theme that I notice, the thing that really gets under my skin, is this idea of telling other people what they can and can’t be, the acceptable ways of expressing themselves, based off of your limited understanding of who they are and what they are capable of.

And this happens so often, and in so many different ways. In the above mentioned examples, we see at least three different types of discrimination as well.

In the example of the woman in her fifties wanting to get a funky haircut, we see a prime example of ageism, or discrimination against someone based on their age. The woman was deemed to be too old to look good with a funky hairstyle, and so the hairdresser refused to give it to her, but when it really comes down to it – why? Why wouldn’t she look good with a funky hairstyle? And more than that, who is the hairdresser to judge if she would or would not? If the woman in question wants to express herself in that way, and if it would make her feel more comfortable in her own skin, then what is so wrong about it? But we as a society have a very basic understanding of what someone in that age group should be – they should be humble, quiet, non-offensive, ready to wind down and start taking things slow, and so when someone comes along to challenge all that, we don’t like it. We tell them that they can’t do that. Which is really unfair, because it limits the way that they get to express themselves and find comfort in their own skin.

In the example of the larger woman in a bikini, we see one of the most classic examples of fat shaming. I don’t know a whole lot about the woman in her bikini – I don’t know if she felt like she was rocking the bikini or if she was already a little bit self-conscious about it, but the one thing I do know is that she did not deserve to be told that she shouldn’t wear it. Because she should. If she wants to put her body in a bikini, then she should put that body in a bikini, and she should have the opportunity to go out and look fabulous and be her beautiful self. Her body and her bikini was not the problem here. The problem was the other woman’s limited idea of what beauty is. She decided (because she was told this by society) that only thin women look good in bikinis, and therefore, only thin women should wear bikinis. Larger women should spend their lives enrobed by the shame one-piece, forever going to the beach in frumpy tee shirts and acceptably covering shorts.

And lastly, in the example of the children who wanted to dress in drag, we see an example of sexism and/or homophobia. A lot of people see gender as a very two-way street: you are either male or female, and especially when it comes to children, a lot of parents fear that deviating from that two-way street will result in their children becoming ‘other’. Their sons will grow up gay, their daughters will grow up confused, cats will live with dogs, havoc will erupt upon the city, and dear god, will someone please think of the children! There are two major problems with this thinking: 1) we already force children who are LGBT+ to act straight and/or cis-gendered, but that doesn’t cause them to grow up to be straight and/or cis-gendered, and 2) this sort of thinking hinges on the belief that being LGBT+ is wrong and must therefore be avoided. Children must give a very limited, very prescribed performance of gender, or else they risk becoming queer, but even if they did, what would be wrong with that? And, almost worse, by telling children that they shouldn’t know what drag queens or anything similar to that are, you are indirectly telling them that being a drag queen or anything similar is wrong or dirty, which poses one of two risks: either they start treating their fellow LGBT+ children accordingly, or they internalize these opinions about themselves, that they are wrong and they are dirty, because they are LGBT+. We associate being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer, drag queen, etc., as being an ‘adult thing’, but most everyone who falls under those categories as an adult can tell you that it started somewhere in their childhood, or that they knew it all along. So if this is the case, and if children most certainly can be something other than straight or cis-gendered, then why do we force them to act otherwise?

One of our societies many problems is that we are constantly limiting one another. We see each other in very basic, very simple ways, and then we act accordingly: a person is either fat, thin, young, old, child, woman, man, this, or that, and when they start to step outside of those lines, to challenge our ways of seeing them, we tell them, “oh, no, no, don’t you do that – get back into that line where you belong!”

But that isn’t how things works. People are more than the labels we give them, and they should be allowed to express themselves in any way that they see fit.

So if you are a fifty, sixty, ninety year old woman who wants to get a bright green mohawk, do it! If you’re four hundred pounds of pure awesome and you want to wear your stylish new bikini to the beach, then please be the most beautiful, most confident person there! If you want to dress in drag, or express your gender in a way that is sort of unconventional, then you will look all the better for it because you will be expressing who you truly are, and nothing is more beautiful than that!

And to go back to the example of my wanting to be a writer – if you have a dream that other people tell you is unrealistic, but you still need to pursue it, then pursue it for all it’s worth. Trust me, it will make your life so much more fulfilling.

Don’t ever let someone else live your life for you. You are amazing, and you are so incredibly strong and capable. So even if you do face the occasional doubter or nay-sayer, just remember that they’re speaking from a very limited understanding and that they don’t know you. You know you, and at the end of the day, you are the only person who has to be satisfied with your life.

My Life is Mine

I am a person.

I have hands, feet, fingers, toes.

I have teeth, claws, muscle, bone.

I have a soul.

And my soul is mine.

You can reach in and touch my soul, feel it, affect it, make it grow.

But you cannot take my soul.

In your hands, my soul will wither, welt, and die.

I have seen what you have done to souls in your hands.

You change them. You do not make them grow, you keep them stunted. You do not protect them, you conceal them. You do not show them the path, you take them by the hand and make them walk behind you.

I have seen what you have done to her, and she is my fear.

She who has never made her own decision in her life.

She who just took what came to her and accepted.

She who was passive, she who allowed.

I will not be her.

I am a storm, a force to be reckoned with.

I am the maker of plans, the wielder of my own world.

I stand up tall and I say what I will.

I hold my soul out before me and I keep it within my own grasp, because my soul is mine.

And maybe I will fail, but you know what? I want to fail.

I want to skin my knee.

I want to fall down flat on my face, because only by doing that will I find out if I have the strength to pick myself back up.

I need to fail. I need to be scared. I need to cry and suffer and second-guess, because all of that comes with making your own decisions. With doing the thing that isn’t easy.

And I don’t want my life to be easy.

I want it to be mine.

Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.

 

Why It’s Okay To Be Disliked

There was a point in my life where I’m not sure that I had a solid personality.

I was what people said I was. If I said one thing and another person disagreed with me, I’d retract my statement to somehow force it to agree with theirs. If someone wanted me to do something that I really didn’t want to, I’d do it anyway, or risk feeling extremely guilty for letting them down. And if another person wanted to say, sleep in the comfortable, cozy bed, then I would be the first person to say that I was totally fine with sleeping on the floor so that they could.

I lived this way for several years, and I told myself that I was right by doing it. I was being selfless and kind. I was sacrificing my comfort for the comfort of others. The way that I saw it, this was the way that you had to live in order to be a moral human being.

Looking back on it now, however, I think that I should reveal what was actually motivating my actions back then: I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be accepted and loved, and the only way that I could think to do that was to let them get whatever they wanted. If I thought that someone wouldn’t like a smart woman, then I was stupid. If I thought that someone wanted me quiet and docile, then I was quiet and docile. It was no big thing. It was just what they wanted.

Right?

Well, in retrospect, no. What I wanted was for people to like me, but what I was actually communicating to them was that they mattered more than I did. They could get whatever they wanted from me and so they took advantage of that, and why wouldn’t they? They had every opportunity to.

And more than that, I was forgetting something very important during all of this: in order for someone to like me, they needed to know me. And that wasn’t going to happen if whoever I was was changing depending on the situation. Sometimes I believed in one thing, sometimes another. Sometimes I liked this, sometimes I liked that. And if someone did manage to pinpoint a specific persona on me, who could say that that person was actually me?

We get so caught up with being liked that sometimes, we forget that it might actually be better to be disliked. And I’m not talking about being disliked by everyone. I’m not talking about being rude or disregarding someone else’s feelings. What I’m talking about is standing up for what you believe in, for what you know to be right, and maybe making some enemies along the way simply because other people don’t agree with you.

And here’s the thing: whatever you believe in, whether it be something political or the mere fact that you deserve to be treated as a person and an equal, there is always going to be someone who disagrees with you. Not everyone, hopefully, but someone. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with you. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your choice, and that you stood by what you believe.

And, furthermore, the people who make a difference in the world aren’t always the most well-liked people. They make a difference because they say something new and they refuse to back down from it, and that will always be met with some resistance. I know that many of the people who made big differences in my life were not necessarily people that I liked at the time, and that was because they challenged me. They took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow – which might not have been what I wanted, but it was what I needed.

That is what the world needs – people that force it to grow. People who don’t care about being liked, but are not cruel in the process. People who are in tune with themselves and their emotions enough to know what they believe in, and who are strong enough to stand by it. And while it might not necessarily be easy to become one of these people, it is worthwhile. Because once you become a person who doesn’t care about being liked first and foremost, then you get to know yourself better. You might even come to like the person who you are. No longer is there all of this clutter about what you should be and what you should believe; you are just you, in all of your messiness and your flaws, and the relationships that you do make will be stronger for it. People will know you then. They might not always agree with you, but they will know you, and that is so much more valuable.