Relearning Vulnerability

I’ve always struggled with letting my guard down around people. There are very few people in my life that are given the chance to see the real me. I’m only able to open up on this blog because none of the people I know if real life even know it exists. I suppose even if they did though, it would be easier to tell them these things behind the veil of words and screens than upfront and personal. For as long as I can remember, there has always been this small voice deep in my heart that tells me I must hide myself away. It warns me that I mustn’t reveal my true, full self to anyone. That no one would be able to accept, let alone love, the real me.

There have only been a couple of people in my life that I felt really saw me and chose to love me anyway. There is nothing more precious to me than the relationship I have with these people. They are my world. I am humbled by their love. Most days I don’t feel worthy of it. They have seen all the ugliest parts of me throughout the years and yet they are still willing to stand by my side, to be there for me. It seems impossible, but it’s true. And there is nothing that they could do that would change my powerful love for them. I’m sure they feel the same, although my mind doesn’t want to believe it.

Secrets separate. Secrets create space. I’ve noticed throughout my life that the more secrets I keep from people, the lonelier I feel. Sometimes it feels like I am playing a character when I interact with others. But the longer I play that character, the more certain I feel that my true self would be unacceptable to show. I even fear people seeing through my facade. I have always been so brutal towards myself. Always telling myself I am not enough, that my many flaws disqualify me from love. But life and love aren’t so black and white.

There are few things in life as beautiful and meaningful as bearing your soul to someone and receiving in return their unwavering, unflinching love. The mere concept is almost enough to bring me to tears. Yet at the same time, there is nothing more painful than bearing your soul and having it rejected. Few things are able to cut so deep, to leave such jagged scars. Such is the duality of life. We must always take big risks if we hope to have the chance for big rewards. I know I’ve once again reached that fork in the road where I must choose to take that risk.

Even though I have decided to trade vulnerability for intimacy, I’m honestly not sure how anymore. It has become second nature for me to cut and edit myself to be more pleasing to others, especially those I admire and respect. The idea of “being myself” seems utterly foreign to me now. I’ve isolated myself to black and white. The shade of grey that is truly me got lost somewhere along the way. I suppose that uncertainty is all part of relearning how to be vulnerable. I don’t have to be sure. I’ve just got to be honest and try my best.

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Community & Isolation

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. It feels like a huge portion of the human race has been suffering from a less intense version of this type of isolation for over a year now. Even introverts like me have started to feel the effects of spending days upon days alone and cut off from social settings. People’s mental health started to deteriorate after only a few months of lockdown. And that is in our own homes, with access to the internet, television, books, often our pets, roommates, and/or family. Imagine being locked away in just one small room with nothing and no one. With no idea when or if you will ever be allowed to leave or even how much time has passed.

The strange consequences of prolonged separation from others is a humbling testament to how much we really need one another. For me this is quite frustrating and difficult to wrap my head around. How can I simultaneously have social anxiety and need to interact with others regularly to be mentally healthy? Before the lockdowns a year ago, I would have thought I would be my happiest alone in a hut in the woods. But now I see that what we want and what is good for us are often two very different things. I guess we never really stop being children in some ways. Needing someone else to look out for our best interests. I suppose that’s just another benefit of the communal life humans once had that we’ve now strayed from.

Most children would prefer not to go to school, even me, someone who’s always loved learning. I can remember dreading every moment of it. Even signing myself out early a lot of days once I was 18. But looking back, I would love to go to school again. I didn’t realize what a blessing it was to be put in a fishbowl everyday with dozens of other people my age. I didn’t know how difficult life would be once that was no longer a normal part of it. Now I am so grateful for all of those years where I got to spend everyday with my friends, growing and learning and playing together.

Some people are really good at managing themselves. People that create and run their own small businesses or are otherwise self-employed for example. I realized a few years ago that even though I’ve always wanted to break away from normal 9-5 work, there is really no way I would be able to make it on my own without having structure of some kind forced upon me. Given the opportunity, I will always procrastinate and get lazy. It’s quite bizarre given that I’m so rigid about other things in my life.

I’ve always hated the pressure of having someone else to answer to whether it was my parents, my teachers, my peers, or my boss. I thought without this constant stress I would find freedom. However, I’m starting to learn to be grateful for that stress. It seems that without it I fall to ruin. I become utterly lost. Yet even though I’ve realized this strange paradox, it doesn’t make it any easier to help myself.

I often mull over the idea of joining a book club or even starting my own group of some kind. Perhaps a hiking group or a vegan support group. But the eventuality of being held to account by these people, being expected to follow through with plans, etc. is overwhelming. It feels easier and less stressful to just forget about it all together. How frustrating it is to know choosing the path of least resistance is likely not the path to happiness. Even though I don’t necessarily like it, we humans need one another. We need each other for support and love, but also to hold one another accountable so that we may all continue to grow and blossom into the very best versions of ourselves.

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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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Doing the Best with What You Have

Well it finally happened. I may have been exposed to Covid yesterday. I’ll probably have to go get tested. I may even have to miss Christmas with my family. I’m trying my best not to spiral into indignation and depression. I can feel my body tensing with the desperate desire to somehow undo what has already been done. Waking up with a mild headache this morning certainly isn’t helping. But this is an excellent opportunity for me to practice surrender. To practice breathing into the moment, into the reality that lies before me, a reality that I cannot change or avoid.

It is much more painful to recoil from unpleasant news when it’s presented to you, than to accept it. When a tree falls in the river, the river does not harden and smash against it. The river keeps flowing. It must graciously alter it’s course, flowing around the obstruction in its path. Today I will practice being like the river. I will keep flowing. The important thing is making sure my family is safe. It is a blessing that I live alone, so that if I have been exposed I can prevent infecting anyone else.

I have plenty of food and water. I have my sweet fur children here with me. I have endless ways to entertain myself. I even have a lovely bottle of Grey Goose now that I was gifted yesterday. I have so many things that I can be grateful for, even if I have to miss family Christmas this year. Even if I get really sick. I will surrender to what is. I will keep flowing around the fallen tree in my path.

If I must remain on my own this year, I will plan a wonderful self-love Christmas for myself and my babies instead. Thanks to technology I can even have a Zoom Christmas with my family for a little part of the day. Everything is going to be okay. I am strong. I am resilient. I will do whatever needs to be done. I will stay grateful. I will keep flowing.

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Self-portrait

Her fingers smell like cigarettes
she's waiting for the day to end
she's waiting for the inky black of sleep

She's fortunate, yet full of fear
she's stacking up the wasted days
to make a wasted year

Somehow still hoping
with that numb and heavy heart 
hoping something good is almost here

She hides away inside her head
feeding demons who promise
they'll keep the world away

But that sense of safety never stays
instead she's given lonely days
and an ever-shrinking window for change
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The Social Dilemma

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The Social Dilemma is a new documentary on Netflix that everyone needs to see. It is a harrowing look at what social media and the internet in general are doing to us as individuals and society as a whole. I’ve long suspected that this new age of technology was having a deleterious effect on our brains, but never could I have imagined how serious it actually is.

We have been trapped under the wheels of a machine that we created and set into motion but now have no power to stop. The tropes about robots taking over and destroying humanity didn’t manifest in exactly the way we pictured it, but I would argue the age of AI overlords has already begun. We have become the victims of our own advancements. Our biology and slow rate of evolutionary change simply cannot keep up with and stay on top of the rapid growth of technology.

Our psychology is being used against us for the sole benefit of corporations and advertisers. This documentary points out that we are no longer the consumers. We are the products being sold. More specifically our attention is being sold. And it seems for the most part we are helpless to overcome the addictive nature of this new market. Not only that, while we feed into this system, society as a whole is becoming more and more anxious, depressed, and isolated from one another. This isn’t necessarily a purposeful outcome, yet it is an insignificant side effect for the people and algorithms running the show.

If you’d like some first hand evidence, try logging off of Facebook for a few weeks. I have been avoiding that site for over a year now. You wouldn’t believe the lengths the site has gone to try to reel me back in. I found it funny at first, seeing notifications for less and less relevant things when I did open the app. How desperate Facebook is to somehow regain my attention! But now I think it’s actually quite scary.

I will say I have felt much better mentally since I stopping using Facebook. I don’t spend nearly as much time on my phone for one thing. I am not weighed down by constant updates and online drama. I don’t waste time thinking up a status update or obsessively checking to see how many people liked it. It is freeing. I feel lighter now.

However, despite my success at overcoming the algorithm in that regard, I am still not completely free of the strong psychological drive to seek dopamine “rewards” online. For instance, I now post on here everyday. I do greatly look forward to seeing how many people like what I’ve written. Although I limit myself to checking my notifications once a day. I also still scroll my feed and post drawings on Tumblr. Not to mention I am perpetually watching either YouTube or Netflix all day long.

While I am able to remember, and think back fondly, on a time before the internet and social media, newer generations will not have this luxury. This new form of society is all they have ever known. Soon humanity will not even be able to conceive of a world without these detrimental influences.

I desperately long for the simplicity of my childhood spent away from screens, enjoying the real world. But even more than that, I pity the children of today. They have become victims without even realizing it. And what choice do they truly have? While disconnecting from our devices is liberating and beneficial in many ways, it is also extremely isolating in others. It is choosing to be apart from the rest of society in a major way. Even though it is better for your own mental health, it is also lonely, a virtual exile.

Ultimately I don’t know what the solution could be to this problem we’ve unwittingly created. Humans are forever hopeful. The executives that once had a hand in creating this new world seem to believe we can overcome it somehow. But I don’t know if I agree. I see it as just another sign of our rapidly advancing inevitable demise as a society and as a species. Although I sincerely hope I am wrong.

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Happiness & Relationships

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There is a lot of research that suggests having meaningful relationships with others and frequently interacting with other people is associated with a higher level of happiness and wellbeing. I doubt anyone would be surprised by this data. It seems like common sense. It stands to reason that a social species like human beings would gain comfort and pleasure from our relationships.

However, correlation cannot prove causation. Having more interpersonal relationships could be leading to increased happiness. Or it could be that happy people are more likely to form close bonds and socialize more. It could even be an unmeasured third factor that is contributing to this phenomenon.

Despite this data not necessarily meaning you need these relationships to be happy, it still troubles me. Maybe a lot of my unhappiness is due to my tenuous relationships and social ineptitude. The pandemic has allowed me to notice a drastic difference which I did not expect. I thought I would rather always be home alone than go to work every day, but surprisingly I felt much happier and less anxious on the days I went in to the office. And it did seem like my life was more vibrant and interesting when I had a “friend group” I would hangout with frequently, if not daily.

I genuinely miss being in school. It aided me greatly to be corralled together with my peers on a fixed schedule. I find it quite difficult to maintain close, regular contact with people on my own. Apart from family, there is really only one person left in my life that I would consider a close friend. And we go weeks without even sending texts usually.

I don’t mind being on my own for the most part. I keep myself busy and enjoy many solitary activities. I’ve always been an introvert, and find social gatherings quite draining and stressful. Yet I fear because of all of these factors I will inevitably end up all alone in life.

As I watch my social life dwindling with age, I am scared. But I have no idea how to change. Even when I do make plans to be more social, my anxiety prevents me from following through. I don’t feel like I am necessarily unhappy because I am lonely. But maybe the link is just not apparent. Maybe my mental health would improve if I had more friends. It does stand to reason that a species which evolved to depend on being part of a larger group would suffer some type of mental or physical effects from being alone.

I am the youngest person in my family. My one true friend considers moving out of the area someday. Will I be strong enough to survive on my own? Will I be brave enough to form any new bonds? Ultimately I feel helpless to improve my position. And it makes me uncomfortable knowing I have to depend on other people. I sincerely hope that I am the outlier in the population that can manage to find happiness without the love and support of others. Because I really don’t see myself becoming close with anyone new. I’m lucky I’ve been able to find acceptance from the few people I do have in my life. I can at least be grateful for them right now, and try to let go of the rest.

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