A poisonous worm eats away at my heart excreting the thick slurry of selfishness that runs through my veins Sudden flare of fierce emotion at the disclosure of others' good fortune leaving me feeling ashamed The wretched sensation of anger that suffocates more appropriate emotions choking off a chance to celebrate A friend's success could be shared by relinquishing comparison and competition fed with heavy spoonfuls of self-doubt The fear that another's joy might threaten my own as if there is only so much happiness to go around and my chances of winning that lottery are now lessened What a sad state of affairs to let the luck of a loved one tear at me instead of fill me up What kind of person am I that my first instinct is to be unkind to someone that is thriving? The best I can muster is to remain silent when I should be smiling and adding my positivity to their blossoming abundance
Working at a child advocacy center, I have learned a lot about trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just something that war veterans have, it’s something that can result from many different situations. A lot of the children I work with end up having PTSD as a result of the abuse they have experienced. You might have PTSD from childhood trauma, a car crash, an abusive relationship, the sudden loss of a loved one, or any number of different scenarios. I’ve also learned that what defines “trauma” is different for everyone. Two people may experience the same thing and react completely differently. There are tons of things that factor into trauma.
It seems like trauma and PTSD are popular topics in the media today. I hear it mentioned all the time in the various videos and podcasts I listen to. The reason I want to talk about it today is because I caught myself feeling guilty about not having experienced any serious trauma in my life. Let me explain. I’ve always kind of considered myself a mess. I feel incapacitated by anxiety and neuroticism most of the time. However, I have heard so many stories of people that have gone through so much more than I could even imagine that seem to be coping with life better than I am. It makes me feel ashamed of myself, quite frankly.
It almost feels like I don’t deserve any compassion or sympathy for the issues I am struggling with from myself or anyone else. I often joke with my coworkers that the kids we meet are still higher functioning than I am, even though I’ve had such an easy life so far. I genuinely can’t understand it. Combing through my memories trying to find some kind of event to explain my poor mental health only makes me feel worse as I realize that I’ve not even had many minor forms of trauma in my life.
When I caught myself feeling guilty the other day, I tried to imagine what I would say to myself if I were a good friend. (We should all be our own good friends anyway, right?) I would have told that friend that they don’t need to justify or explain why they feel the ways they feel. It’s their experience and that’s enough to make it valid. This isn’t the trauma Olympics. Not all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness have to have had a traumatic life experience. That’s why the DSM distinguishes between PTSD and other anxiety disorders, for instance. Not every mental illness has to be trigged by a particular life event. Not all traumatic life events have to lead to mental illness.
I often fall into that familiar trap of black and white thinking. Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean that my suffering doesn’t matter or that I’m not allowed to experience it. We each have our own shit to deal with. There is no need to compare ourselves to others in any way, let alone when it comes to mental illness. It’s not as if I choose to feel this way. Just like others didn’t choose to experience traumatic events or the aftermath that comes with them. You should never feel ashamed of something that is out of your control.
I would never want anyone to feel ashamed for not being able to “justify” their mental illness. That’s like being ashamed of having cancer because you never smoked and lived a healthy lifestyle. It makes no sense at all. In fact, even someone that does smoke cigarettes, resulting in lung cancer, still deserves compassion and sympathy. Despite all of my psychology education and social work experience, I can’t seem to let go of these nonsensical perspectives when it comes to myself. Even though I know mental illness is just as real and valid as physical illness, I can’t seem to shake the idea that it’s somehow my fault that I manage it so poorly. Even when I really am trying my best.
It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to offer love and understanding to others, while it feels impossible to extend the same kindness to myself. So this post is for all the other people like me out there, beating themselves up over things they can’t control. If you are unable to say it to yourself, I’m here to say it for you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, YOU deserve love. YOU deserve compassion. YOU deserve happiness. YOU are enough. YOU are worthy. Don’t forget it.
Hard to believe it’s already June 2021. This past January I had intended to stop smoking cigarettes. I hadn’t realized just what a difficult task that would be unfortunately. I didn’t really have much of a plan either. I did manage to cut back somewhat, and I am proud of that fact. But just like in the past when I took up smoking, the longer it goes on, the more repulsed I become by it. Each time I light a cigarette I am overcome with guilt and shame and anxiety. Strangely what pushes me to light up is also anxiety. There is a momentary relief as I inhale that foul smoke. I reminisce about the reckless abandon I once felt, the freedom, the sheer disregard for everyone and everything, even myself, in favor of the sickening pleasure of the moment. It made me feel tragic, dangerous, poetic. But these feelings are the foolish fantasy of youth, and like youth they cannot remain for long. What was once an act of rebellion has become the very chains that bind me. So today I want to write about the reasons that I want to stop smoking in the hopes it will shake me free from this secret shame.
One of the reasons smoking causes me such intense shame is the hypocrisy of it. I am constantly railing against the hypocrisy of loving animals while simultaneously eating them, but in the end I am just as absurd. How can a vegan, yoga teacher smoke cigarettes? It’s laughable. I claim to care about my body and my health, but how can I while I continue to poison myself all day, every day? I want to treat my body with the love and respect that it deserves. I want to take good care of it so that it can take good care of me for a long time. If this pandemic has taught the world anything, it should be the incredible importance of our lungs and respiratory system. Even my yoga practice is all about the breath. Yet despite this sacred gift of breath I have been given, I choke myself with soot and black smoke. I pollute the very part of me that gives life.
Time to state the obvious. Buying and smoking cigarettes isn’t exactly “vegan.” While it may not be a food or an animal product, like certain cosmetics, the cigarette industry is no friend to animals. While I’m not sure if they still do (I’m too afraid to google it) I know that cigarette companies are notorious for their horrific animal testing. Whether or not these practices persist, I cannot continue to support such a heinous industry. Not only that, more personally, I am directly harming my own animals by smoking. This is the main reason that finally got me to stop last time. I may not care enough about myself to stop, but I love my sweet babies even more. I genuinely believe that the world as we know it will come to an end before I have to worry about lung cancer, but my fur children have much shorter life spans. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I caused them to suffer and die from the effects of second hand smoke. I’m so ashamed of this aspect of my smoking that my boyfriend doesn’t even know. I’m afraid it would make him lose all respect for me, and I wouldn’t blame him.
I don’t even want to calculate the amount of money I have wasted on cigarettes. They are expensive enough as it is, but I also buy Marlboro so it’s even worse. I definitely spend at least $30 a week on cigarettes. I am such a cheap person though! I don’t even want to spend $10 a year on multivitamins. Or $60 every other week on therapy! I’m basically teaching my yoga class to pay for cigarettes. The irony is palpable. I should be saving that money or at least spending it on something worthwhile. Maybe when I finally stop, I’ll set that money aside and get myself something nice with it as a reward.
Even though all of my other reasons are probably more important, the biggest thing pushing me to stop is shame. I’m pretty much a secret smoker. My close friends and family know, but even so, I try not to smoke around them. I always feel so shitty and stupid whenever I do. They must think I’m such a fool. Besides that, I don’t want to make them worry. I used to sneak out at work and smoke once or twice a day. Eventually I got caught and even though they didn’t seem to care, I was utterly humiliated that they knew. Shame is a toxic emotion. It rots away your insides. It erodes any positive image you have of yourself. It isolates and separates. I want to live a life I can be proud of. I can’t bear to live in shame any more.
I’m sure there are probably many more reasons I could think of that make me want to quit, but those are the biggest ones. To be honest, it was hard for me to even write about this. Denial is part of the way I’ve been able to continue for so long. It’s painful to face your own hypocrisy. I have a plan now though and I’m praying it works this time. I’ve ordered some nicotine salt vape juice. I know it’s not ideal, but I figure it’s still a step in the right direction. I’m not going to buy any more cigarettes. Once I finish the packs I have, I’m going to switch back to vaping. I’m hoping this will be the end of my dalliance with tobacco. Wish me luck.