Vulnerability

How showing vulnerability helps build a stronger team |

Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.

Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.

I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.

One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.

The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.

So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.

I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.

I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.

I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:

No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.

Federico Garcia Lorca
Vulnerability: The Key to Better Relationships

Non-Binary Bigotry

More and more people are beginning to identify as non-binary. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it just means that you don’t strongly identify as either a man or a woman. You identify as you and that’s all. Gen Z, and millennials to a lesser degree, are the primary generations that are expressing this new identity category. While I do know older people and baby boomers that are respectful and accepting of this neutral gender expression, the majority seem to be personally offended by it for some reason.

In high school, I was crestfallen to discover that so many of my liberal friends were uncomfortable with bi-racial dating. Now once again I am finding out that concepts I thought were openly accepted by all my political allies, are not accepted nearly as much as I had assumed. I am also learning that people that define themselves as “liberal” are not nearly as liberal as I am. Honestly, I would consider them moderates at best.

In the few years that I’ve worked at my child advocacy center, we have met a lot of kids that have expressed that they identify as non-binary. For me this is just valuable information so that I can make an effort to make them more comfortable. However, it always seems to be a point of contention for basically all of my coworkers. Whether or not they claim to even believe non-binary is a thing, they all seem to disregard a child’s wish to be identified as such. It hurts my heart so much to hear people that have literally just met this child act as though they know who they are more than the child themselves. I mean, sure, there are probably a percentage that are just confused and still working to figure themselves out, but how is that anyone else’s business? Our job isn’t to decide what gender a child should identify as. Our job is to be loving and supportive and respect whatever they decide, wholeheartedly and without judgment.

I’ve been thinking about this issue even more recently because we happen to have a non-binary intern at our sister office. Upon finding this out, I was rather excited. I have never had a non-binary friend and I was eager to get a chance to practice using they/them pronouns and be an ally for them. I was even more excited yesterday when I found out that they were going to be transferring the rest of their internship to our office. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized just how uncomfortable that would make basically all of my coworkers who I had assumed would be kind and inclusive.

My boomer friend at work, whom I love dearly, immediately started cracking hurtful jokes about them. Even though I know he isn’t coming from a place of hate, he was still being alarmingly inconsiderate and offensive. He was laughing, calling them an “it”, and saying that he would just refer to them as their actual name every single time rather than using they/them pronouns. Even our therapist and other intern who are much closer in age to me seemed just as disturbed to share our office with them. We do a secret Santa every year and our primary intern was petrified to discover that she had pulled the name of our non-binary intern. (Why that is, I genuinely have no idea. It’s not like these gifts would be gendered anyway, and we make a list of things we like to help whoever pulls our name.) I quickly realized that it was going to be solely up to me to help them feel welcomed, respected, and understood. I plan on offering to switch with our intern for secret Santa if that would make her more comfortable.

I cannot express how sad it makes me to consider how hard it must be to be a non-binary person even today, especially in my small, rural, conservative area. I’ll never understand why people feel so burdened by interacting with these people. Literally all that is required of you is to try to use they/them instead of she/her or he/him. Why is that so hard? It irritates me even more that these people who complain about it don’t seem to ever consider just how difficult it is for the non-binary person. Oh poor you, you have to alternate ONE SINGLE WORD, whereas they have to be misunderstood, excluded, targeted, and disrespected literally everywhere they go just for being honest about who they are.

Maybe it’s just because I am so used to being the misunderstood weirdo, but I am more than happy to make accommodations for others. I’m also quite familiar with having to deal with people making “harmless” jokes about core aspects of my identity and expecting me to just smile and take it, lest I be considered “uptight.” For all of these reasons and many more, I am honored to consider myself an ally to all those who need social support. I know how awful it is to have to decide whether you want to be untruthful about who you are or be criticized for it.

Even after two years of working at this office, my coworkers are all unaware how many times they have openly made fun of or dismissed aspects of my identity that I haven’t shared. Each time they make comments about people who are pansexual, polyamorous, or atheist, I am reminded why it is unsafe to fully disclose who I am to most people. They also consistently make comments about “when I have children” despite me openly saying I don’t plan on having children many times. Each time this happens, I am that much more reluctant to ever mention I’ve had my tubes tied. God only knows how they would react to learning that, even though it does not affect them at all.

So many people will openly share their disdain or disregard for different types of people without even stopping to consider that they don’t know everything about the personal lives of the audience they are sharing these opinions with. And maybe that’s another reason I feel such a strong sense on kinship with other social outliers. In their presence I feel safe enough to be my full self. And I am eager to offer them that same sense of acceptance and comfort, which I know is so rare.

At the end of the day, we are all just human beings who deserve dignity and respect. That is what we should remember above all else. Even if you are someone who doesn’t understand, accept, or support these newly expressed identities, at the very least you can try to keep your opinions and judgments about it to yourself. I’m not asking everyone to like it or accept it. All I’m asking is for people to be decent to other people whether you understand them or not. Yet I am constantly reminded that even that is too much to ask.

Scotland Will Legally Recognize Non-Binary Gender Markers - The Pride LA

It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

Equanimity

Finding the fortitude
to simply surrender
Nodding in acknowledgement 
toward all that's disconcerting
Breathing into the tight spaces
of not only our bodies
but of our minds as well

Saving space for the unknown
bowing down to the bigger picture
that we cannot yet see
humbly accepting
a limited perspective
of this life

Noting our indignation
as it arises in opposition to adversity
and asking ourselves:
What is this?
Do I really know what's best?
Can I release my opinions 
and embrace what is?

Learning that our white knuckled grip
is doing us no favors 
practicing unclenching our grasp
on the way things "should" be
the way others should act
should think
should be

Having the humility to say:
I don't know
Having enough trust to say:
And that's okay
Cultivating curiosity
in place of judgement 
Letting go
Meditation | El arte de la meditación, Diseño gráfico ilustración, Diseño  de ilustración

Making the “Right” Choice

No matter the scenario before me, I find myself stressing over making the “right” decision. Even seemingly simple choices are blown way out of proportion. Should I take a walk or not take a walk? Should I order take out tonight or cook? Should I clean today or tomorrow? When you break life down into these small decisions, it can become overwhelming quite quickly.

It appears as though everyone around me is moving through life intuitively, with confidence in their decisions. Even big life-changing decisions like leaving a job, getting married, having a baby, going back to school. I guess it’s not fair to say these are easy situations for others to navigate. Maybe they are just as tangled up inside as I am. I just only end up seeing the final result. Still these decisions are made firmly, as if they truly know it will be the right one. When it comes to big decisions in my own life, I can’t say I’ve ever even made one. Looking back most major life-changing decisions were made for me like getting a scholarship to college. Or I just find myself gently pushed into one like when I decided to do yoga teacher training with a friend from work.

It feels like all this time I have just been allowing life to happen to me, rather than playing an active role in directing my own experience. I guess I’ve always felt safer not being in control of these things. I’d rather feel like a victim than feel at fault. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so hard for me to make decisions is because I know how hard I am going to be on myself if I make the “wrong” one.

I go through each day in a precise set of activities. Even though it might be nice to break away from my normal routine once in a while, I’m always too afraid. It’s not even so much about the tasks themselves, like I once thought. It’s more about not having to contemplate what to do next. When I have a schedule to follow, that takes away a lot of the decisions I’d have to make in a day. Take away the routine and I feel like I’m at sea, drowning in an ocean of possibilities.

The real issue here is thinking that there is a “right” decision to be made at all. Especially about such insignificant choices like whether to go for a walk or not. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, a walk would be nice” and going, or, “Eh, I don’t feel like going for a walk today,” and letting it go, I agonize over whether or not I should. I use up so much mental energy arguing and debating with myself about the smallest things.

I take life, and all the decisions that comprise it, far too seriously. I blow each little moment way out of proportion. Most of the thoughts I suffer over for hours or even days, won’t make a difference in the long run. It’s like I have this delusion if I can choose what to do with each second of my life perfectly, all my problems will go away. I know that isn’t true though. There is no perfect answer. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices. There is just me and what I want. And maybe the problem is I don’t know what that is. Or maybe the problem is I’m always looking for problems, so that’s what I find.

What’s the problem with being indecisive anyway? I can choose how I frame even this dilemma. I could take pride in this “flaw.” I’m quite careful and conscientious. These are excellent qualities. I want to make the most of this precious time I’ve been given. I don’t want to be wasteful with a single second. I am insightful and capable of self-reflection. Already, this mental shift has put me in a better mood. Now instead of feeling afraid and broken, I feel happy and proud to be the way that I am.

It’s so easy for me to look outside of myself for answers. I feel like in order to be happy or to love myself, I’ve got to change something outside of me, like the situation or my behavior. That’s always just another distraction though. I don’t need to change anything external to be happy. All I’ve got to do is give myself the space to find different perspectives of the same “problem.”

When I find myself sweating the small stuff today, I’m going to return to one of my favorite mantras: Can I love myself even though…? Can I love myself regardless of whether or not I go for a walk today? Certainly. Can I love myself even though I have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance and default to routine? Absolutely. Can I love myself even though I often take life too seriously? Of course. Can I love myself even though I spend so much time worrying about making the “right” decision. Yes I can. And that’s all that really matters.

Loving Kindness & Our Bodies

Even though I began intensely working out every day over a decade ago in an effort to lose weight while still being able to eat as I pleased, it’s no longer only about weight loss. What I once use to dread each moment of has become one of the things I look forward to most days. It is incredibly invigorating and empowering to witness just how much my body is capable of. I may not have every achieved the body that I had been seeking, but I did discover something even better: a newfound love and respect for the body I have.

I once saw a quote that read: Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. I think about those words a lot. They have almost become a mantra. When I begin to feel frustrated that my body still doesn’t look the way I want it to and wonder why I even bother with all of my exercise, I remind myself that regardless of the end result, I’ve come to enjoy my daily workout.

For me, exercise has practically become a moving meditation. It helps me reach that blissful flow state. I lose myself in exquisite motion. I don’t really know how to dance (nor do I ever really try to), but to me my workouts are almost like dancing. It truly does feel like an act of celebration for what my body can do. It is so fun to witness this body become stronger, faster, more coordinated. It’s truly incredible. Just like in my yoga practice, I am now able to do things I never imagined I could ever be capable of. It makes me feel proud of this wonderful body of mine.

It’s a rare thing for me to acknowledge the beauty of my own body, not necessarily for what it looks like, but for all that it does. Besides that, it is a perfectly beautiful body visually as well. I know I am too hard on myself, accepting nothing less than perfection, a mirror image of the models and actresses I see everyday on my screens. When I take a step back though and imagine how my body would feel, being taken for granted and criticized and belittled at every turn, never acknowledged for the marvel that it is, it makes me very sad.

Today I wanted to take a moment to be mindful of just how lucky I am to have such an amazing body. It does so very much for me every day, and I don’t give it the credit it deserves. I want to carve out more time in my life for sending loving kindness to this physical form I have been blessed with to house my soul. I would not trade it for any other body in the world. It deserves to be treated so much better. Sometimes I like to think of this body as a precious animal that I have been charged with the care of. I have certainly not been giving it the care that it needs or deserves, especially this past year.

I am always so worried about how others judge my appearance. Even more than usual today since I am going on my third date with my vegan guy. I am always worried that I’m not good enough. That I will miss out on opportunities, friendships, love because of that inadequacy. Today I am reminding myself just how absurd that notion really is. Do I really want friends or a partner that love me only for my looks? Or who would think less of me if I looked differently? If the people I meet in life can’t accept and appreciate me for who and what I am, that is their loss, not mine. I will love myself boldly, inside and out, even if no one else in the world will do the same. I can’t control how others perceive me. All I can do is keep working to cultivate a more positive perception of myself. In the end that is all that matters anyway. Learning to love myself exactly how I am is all I’ll ever need to be happy.

Perception & Mental Illness

I went to visit my mom yesterday. We had planned to do taxes, but I told her that I might end up being too anxious to actually get very far. I explained to her how I’d been feeling: racing thoughts, worrying about everything big and small, present and future, feeling rushed, feeling like I’m going to forget something important, etc. My mom seems almost relieved when I tell her these things. Not that she is glad I’m feeling this way, but just knowing that I understand the way she feels.

She tells me that she has felt that way her whole life, overwhelmed with anxiety. But I suppose she wasn’t overwhelmed exactly. She put herself through college, had a career that she excelled in, raised a family, all while paying her bills and taking care of household chores. I often think about this and feel amazed. I can’t imagine having to deal with the shit I put her through as the parent, with this level of mental disfunction. It seems like I would most certainly go mad.

It seems like the only difference between her anxiety and mine, is that I have almost immediately identified and classified it as a disorder. My mom on the other hand was raised in a much less psychologically aware time. Nothing ever led her to believe that what she was experiencing was anything abnormal. It still seems kind of funny from my point of view, but she tells me she just thought everyone felt like she did growing up.

It’s so interesting to think about what a huge difference just that small distinction can make in a life. Two people living with the same level of anxiety, only one knows that there is something wrong, while the other thinks it’s normal to feel this way. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer as much as I do if i wasn’t also piling on more anxiety about being “broken” or “messed up.” At times it seems like a lot of my stress comes from desperately looking for a way to stop or prevent these anxious feelings from happening.

My mom didn’t have this added level of distress. She just carried on with her life despite these feelings. It would almost be a comfort to think that it was normal and everyone around me also struggled with these same feelings. To believe that even with this inner anxiety others managed to do great things and lead happy, peaceful, successful lives. Instead I spend the majority of my time trying to “fix” myself. Resigning myself to mediocrity due to my psychological limitations.

I’ve been thinking once again about starting therapy. I know there are tools that I could learn to help me cope. Even that idea “to cope” implies that these feelings won’t ever go away. I can’t evict this anxiety from my mind. All I can hope to do is learn how to make peace with it, to accept it as a part of me, to stop fighting it. My mom’s life is an excellent example that it is possible. I can live with my anxiety instead of constantly struggling to push it away.

I’ve always been grateful that I live in a time where psychology is widely accepted and understood by the general population. I’ve always loved to learn about the mind and all of it’s different disorders. I feel my peers are able to sympathize with and understand me better than they would have in older generations. But at the same time, I know knowledge and awareness don’t necessarily produce more happiness. Maybe I would have been happier not knowing all the details. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

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The Comfort of Not Knowing

If you saw my post yesterday, you already know that I have little to no expectations for the future. I am just trying my best to be grateful for the amount of life I have been given and not worry about the years of growing old that may be lost to me. I’ve always had a hard time imagining myself being old anyway. The thought is pretty unsettling actually. However, obviously I don’t know everything.

I am simply making an educated guess based on all of the information I have available to me. I recognize that there are still things in this existence that I don’t know about or understand. Laugh if you like, but taking LSD has humbled me. It showed me that even when you think you are seeing everything, there are always new perspectives and new discoveries to be made. There is still so much about this life that we do not understand, and most likely never will.

For someone will such a dark outlook on the world and the future, this is a great comfort. Not knowing is something to be grateful for. There are few things more beautiful and enlivening than being surprised. No matter how much you learn or know, this life is always full of surprises. Amongst the monotonous daily drudgery, lurk the most unlikely things.

If I’ve learned anything, the farther in the future something is, the less accurate any predictions you make will be. It’s almost like the butterfly effect played out before our eyes. Small, seemingly insignificant details can snowball into relevant factors for the future in unpredictable ways. Now perhaps this is just a depressed mind grasping for some shred of hope, but even though I’ve lost any expectation that humanity can or will rise to the occasion, I have opened my mind to other (albeit somewhat ridiculous) possibilities.

This strange comfort of “not knowing” struck me one day as I was watching alien conspiracy theories. *Pause for laughter* Yes, I realize how silly that may sound. But hear me out. From a purely mathematical and probability perspective, aliens exist somewhere out there in the vastness of space. This I’ve accepted with not much interest. It doesn’t mean they have or will ever make any kind of contact with us. However, there are a lot of unexplained wonders that exist across the world that some people suspect have alien origins.

Obviously just because something can’t be explained, doesn’t mean we can assign any fanciful explanation we want. But the fact remains, there are quite a lot of things in this world that for the time being we are completely at a loss to explain. Whether that means there are aliens or ghosts or whatever is irrelevant. It simply means we don’t know everything.

Sometimes I like to amuse myself by coming up with outlandish ideas of how the world may not end. Maybe aliens arrive and save us and the planet, maybe something like this pandemic takes out the majority of the population before we have the chance to put the final nail in our environmental coffin, maybe the world governments have some kind of contingency plan that will save us at the last moment, maybe an amazing technology is being invented as we speak that will change everything. It could also very well be something I am entirely unable to imagine. I’ve also learned from taking acid that even our imagination doesn’t define the limits of what is possible.

It seems like most of the population has been continuing on with a foolish sense of assurance due to a vague idea of these ace in the hole possibilities. I’m not among those that always think everything will work out for the best somehow. I don’t believe there is a god up there that has a plan for all of us. I don’t believe humans are some type of miracle of creation or evolution. The universe couldn’t care less whether we exist or not. Despite all of that though, I do accept I don’t know everything. And I am interested to see what surprises are still waiting for me.

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Social Awareness about Mental Illness

As you grow older it is interesting to watch the world change around you. The social climate is so vastly different than it was when I was a little girl. It is refreshing to see that a lot of the things that used to be controversial or taboo are now commonplace and widely accepted in the majority of society. Even though I have always been a liberal and progressive person, even I have come a long way in my ideas and beliefs.

One of the areas where progress has been made in regards to visibility and social acceptance/understanding is in the field of psychology, particularly when it comes to mental illness. When I was an anxious, socially awkward, probably autistic little girl, there wasn’t much support out there for me or my family. No one seemed to understand what was wrong with me or my sister. My mother, who is also likely on the spectrum and who has been shy and anxious all her life, was forced to accept these issues with no explanation or even understanding from her peers or colleagues. She has lived the majority of her life simply believing she was strange and that was that.

Thankfully, as I’ve grown up, there has been a major shift in social awareness and understanding of mental illness. From a very early age, I came to understand that I had an anxiety disorder. Even though knowing that didn’t fix the problems I faced because of it, there is something very comforting in at least having an explanation. It has also been a great help knowing that other people around me understand anxiety disorders and what it means to have one. In the past, I’m sure you were just considered rude for not always making eye contact or smiling and greeting others on the street. I doubt it was given much more thought than that. This perception, I’m sure, caused a lot of people that were already struggling socially to be even further ostracized by their communities. Now I am easily able to explain my odd behaviors to others and, more often than not, receive compassion and understanding in return. Strange habits and behaviors can now be discussed openly, with far less fear of judgement.

As with most things though, there is a potential negative to this social progress. The other day, a thought occurred to me after explaining to a new friend why I am so inconsistent with my texts (sometimes I’ll reply right away, other times I’ll be MIA for hours or even days.) In some ways, knowing that other people will understand and be accepting of these social issues enables me to continue engaging in otherwise frowned upon behavior. I started to wonder if being enabled to continue these behaviors in this way actually serves to exacerbate the problem.

In the past, a lot of people like me just had to “suck it up” and make phone calls, keep appointments, and participate in other common social interactions. There was no excusing yourself from normal expectations by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just too anxious.” And while I’m sure it was often unpleasant, it may have actually been therapeutic in some ways to be forced to face your anxiety regularly in these ways, instead of being able to so easily avoid any situation that makes you uncomfortable. With so much social and technological progress, isolating oneself has never been more simple. Perhaps this is partially why despite significantly improved living conditions in a lot of the world, rates of mental illness continue to rise.

I am very grateful that more and more people are becoming educated in regards to mental illness and psychology in general. I’m sure overall it is extremely positive. With more knowledge and less stigma, people will more easily be able to reach out for treatment and support. The more we learn about these disorders will also lead to more effective forms of treatment as well. Yet it is still important to consider the possible drawbacks of this crucial shift in global consciousness. I would be very interested to see what solutions we will come up with to address this issue and when we will somehow draw a line between acceptance/understanding and enabling.

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A Life with No Resistance

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I create my own suffering. I have been so fortunate in this life. I really have not ever experienced any true suffering. I have always had food, water, shelter, family, and friends to support me. I got a free education all the way through college. I have been healthy and so have my loved ones for the most part. I have basically wanted for nothing in my life. And I am truly grateful for that.

I so often lose sight of all of that though. Somehow I still manage to find reasons to suffer. The mind seems to always be looking for problems, for ways to fix things. Even when changing the situation is useless or even impossible. Internally we rise up against so many little aspects of our day. We wrestle with our own discomfort and rejection of reality. In the end nothing is as bad as our resistance makes it seem.

I read a metaphor that sums this idea up perfectly. Imagine a leaf landing on the still mirror-like surface of a pond. It is going to create ripples. Maybe we don’t like these ripples. Maybe we were staring at the reflections in the water. So we try to remove the disturbance, resist it. But in the process of trying to get rid of the leaf’s ripples, we end up creating even more disturbance in the water. Now it will take even longer to return to stillness.

There will be things that come along in life that are truly unpleasant, but even those problems are best accepted and allowed to pass through you. The brain seems to think the best way of preparing for the future is to “protect” ourselves from anything we dislike and lock ourselves away, closing off our heart. But in reality all of these small, daily, disturbances are gifts. They are opportunities to practice releasing, allowing, letting go. I want to use these minor moments as training to learn to live each moment with more ease and less resistance.

I try to think of this practice as a game. After all, I have always taken life too seriously. But this game is more challenging than I thought. I find myself getting easily frustrated with myself. After years of building up a strong tendency to resist every moment, it is incredibly difficult to learn to release and let things pass through you instead.

My mind is quite crafty and persuasive when it wants to be. It throws out endless reasons why we must resist. It jumps from one thought to the next, stirring up my fears and anxieties, encouraging me to close my heart, to seal myself off, to “protect” myself. But what I’m really trying to protect myself from is my own internal dialogue. What happens if I decide not to defend against it? It cannot hurt me. All it can do is talk and rustle around inside my head. I don’t have to let it touch me or let my heart close because of what it says.

So far, I don’t think I’ve been very successful at this game of releasing and allowing. But I am not going to give up. I am going to keep trying until my heart is perpetually open. Even though I am already impatient to achieve peace within myself, I know that this is the work of a life time. I’ll have to be patient and gentle with myself as I continue along on this new journey.

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