Building on ruins

This is a piece I’ve deeply thought about writing, as I can’t tell myself that I’m a fan of cheesy writings. However, this is about me, about you, and everything in-between, a little longer Thank You note.

 I can recall starting this column in November 2019. It was a gloomy, cold day, and I was feeling low. I was trying to find something to do that would actually make sense, something that would help both me and others. So I thought that it would be a good time to actually put my Psychology knowledge and my personal background to good use. This is how Tuesday Conversations started: from the mix of the thought that I’m not able to write consistently, the need of finding meaning in my life, and the wish to tell my story.

This is how the blog column got to cover all kinds of topics, talking about feminism, suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, saying no, or creating boundaries for the interaction with other people. And I’ve been up for a pretty big surprise, have to say. Not only I have found that I actually can write about various topics consistently, but I have also discovered that there were people that needed these topics to be addressed.

It seemed like those were not just parts of my story, but parts of a whole bunch of other stories which have, by now, found their voice. It was like the tribe I didn’t know I was belonging to found me without me asking for it to happen.

And this brought me to one of the most surprising conclusions so far: something can be built from scratch, even if the foundation is a ruin. Ruins are not dead. Even if what you build is a narrative, a story having her focus on aspects that have been rather hidden than put on display your building has meaning and a purpose to serve.

I can’t help but remember a thing a friend told me when we were talking about writing, drawing, and letting our writings and drawings roam free on the internet: I have always wondered how it feels to write about things so intimate and to share them with the world. It was that moment when I understood that I don’t see the things I’ve faced or the things that hurt me in the past as a private area of my life. Not anymore. Once they stopped hurting, they turned into stories to be told about passing through dark places, as I believe that no one should ever pass through dark times alone.

For me, life means stories to be told, as they are the best way to actually put together a group. Because a problem that no one talks about is a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And mental health has been for too long an invisible problem to keep being ashamed of it, especially when that shame affects us all.

Obviously, it was and still is a process that leaves me speechless every now and then. I write, I post, and it happens to look at those materials and tell myself Did I really write that? Whoa. as my 16 years old self would rather have died than admit there’s something wrong with her. This column helped me not just bring some issues to light or help other people recover, but it has also given me a measure of my evolution. I’ve read the writings and seen how far I’ve come, sometimes without even noticing the evolution,  the direction of the process.

In the end, this is how we learn, by doing things and looking behind us every now and then. And this is how one gets to understand that healing is, indeed, a process. Something beautiful, something spectacular, something deep, unique, and extremely personal. At the end of the day, there is no actual recipe for fast healing and even the thought of a universal recipe to heal one’s wounds sounds like a fantasy plot.

Just like our traumas and our life history, our ways of healing are unique. There are no two individuals with the same way of healing their wounds or the same way of living through their suffering. Actually, the mere idea of it sounds absurd as one is reading this. But this doesn’t involve that there are no common points, as they certainly do. The beauty of it though is the fact that you can’t find those common points without being brave enough to step in the lights and tell your story. You don’t even have to tell the world all of it, or to use words. You can sing, dance, paint, act, sculpt, run, draw, photograph, even film your story, your way out of the hurting. You have total freedom when it comes to how much you’re feeling to express about your journey, and you have total freedom when it comes to the way you choose to do it.

Tuesday Conversations, my mental health column, will go on. I’m deeply thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, for their support and critics that helped me make it better, and I hope that more and more people will become brave enough to start telling their stories. Your stories matter, your feelings are valid, and your healing process is worth it. You, as individuals, are worth love, appreciation, respect, support, and help. Go into the world and allow yourself to get them.

The forgotten recipe

It’s again that time of the year when the days become shorter, the nights become longer, and the weather becomes colder. It is, once again, the time to sit and look backward, to the good, the great and the terrible things that happened. To be grateful for the lessons, for the good times, and to note down our questions that are still looking for an answer.

So I’m gonna do what I feel like would be my share of gratitude and understanding, and will say a story. This is not meant to be a diary page. It is just a story about which I know it’s relatable for a lot of people, as 2020 came with such an emotional struggle to manage.

I remember a talk I’ve had with a guy in a moment when I was feeling really tired. I knew it’s about the burnout, yet only when he told me You’re being way too hard on yourself, you need a day to do literally nothing. Just to be lazy and stop thinking about all the things you are thinking about daily. And you’ll see how many things you’re actually doing.

That was a revelatory moment for me, the moment when I’ve understood, in the end, that my exhaustion was rooted in my incapacity to relax. It was a hard pill to swallow, the idea that I forgot how to relax. Yet, it’s true. I got all caught up in the craze of showing that I am willing to do things as good as possible even if the possibilities are rather low and…I forgot. I forgot to put myself first, above the Social Media numbers, views, shares, aesthetic or content ideas. And this got right back at me.

I’ve started, in a short time, to feel tired. Really, really tired, and the never-ending to-do-list of the day. I was enjoying less and less what I was doing, and I was always finding flaws in what was already done. That talk was what I needed to hear at the moment, that I’m doing enough things at once, and I gotta loosen up a little. To slow down the rhythm.

And… I tried. I started to post less, to stop worrying that I don’t know what to post that day, or that there is X thing that could’ve been done better. I tried to do things at my own pace, one day at a time. But there is a secret to all these. The mix between a brain so overwhelmed that it refused to cooperate anymore, and my willingness to actually talk about this, to go to people I look up to and tell them I’m tired, I forgot how to take a break from all this, and I need to relearn it, otherwise, I’ll be over and done.

Having external support is a huge deal because no one can do it alone. No one can escape the ropes of their own mind. You can’t shut up that voice telling you day after day that you didn’t do enough by yourself. You can’t escape the guilt trips by yourself. You can’t get rid of the productivity rush by yourself. No one can, no matter how strong their mental is.

The tough part is the journey before that breaking point. The exhaustion, the work, the feeling of not being enough. The internalized voices of all your critics. That ugly carousel you get a free ride into.

Because there is more to toxic cultures than diet culture. The hustle and productivity culture is just as toxic for individuals, as it reinforces the mindset that one has to be 24/7 busy and productive, to stay relevant. You don’t. An individual is not a business. An individual is not a brand either. An individual is a human being, with human needs.

And human beings need breaks. They need periods to stop thinking about what’s done already and what should be done afterward. Denying yourself the time to rest will only harm you. That’s the thing felt by all those promoting hustle culture. Felt, but never gone public about them, only talked in small circles.

I can’t say that now I’m doing things in a totally different way. Or that I am done with the burnout, even if, to some extent, I’ve overcome a lot of struggles. I’ve understood that looking at myself like I’m some kind of content-creating machine is not the way. That my value isn’t the quantity of the things I am doing daily, but their quality. That I am owing to myself to be alright in the long run. But most importantly, I’ve learned that the moment when something I enjoy doing becomes a source of worry, more than a source of joy, it’s time to let loose.

There is still a lot to be thought about and done, but the most important part is becoming aware that whatever you do, you have to find balance, as the smallest things impact your mental health.

To be or not to be…enough

I’ve seen something on Social Media these days, saying that this is not the year to make everything happen, but it is the year to be thankful for everything you’ve done so far. Cute,  but that was the moment when my inner critic started to tell me again how I didn’t do anything big so far, that’s not about me. But that was also one of those moments when I came to realize that progress will never be reached by constant self-bullying.

If I were a dramatic character, I would be a millennial Hamlet, consumed by anxiety and perfectionism, asking myself Am I, or am I not good enough? But I am not, and I come back and ask myself again: Good enough compared to what, exactly? To who?

And, as a restless perfectionist, I have to admit: that’s a great game-changer when it comes to the old matter of being enough. We often tend to tell ourselves that we’re not good enough period. But when it comes to telling what the other term of comparison is, we often put the story on hold. Because we don’t really ask ourselves with who am I comparing myself this time? And being enough is always about comparing yourself with another person or, even worse, with a whole set of social expectations.

This is where the trap actually is. Comparing yourself with somebody else makes you lose focus and perspective. You are not looking at your journey from the inside, as you should, but you look, instead, from above. You look down to your life, and you look down to the side of the other person’s life that you know about, and compare. And, as expected, you are never winning the imaginary race. Because no one can compete with a well-crafted image. And this is what we mostly know about other people’s lives. Well-crafted lives, created for the public eye. Basically, illusions where everything seems doable, and any failure seems easy to overcome. Unlike actual life.

But no one gets to see things like this from the beginning, it would be too easy. We have to compare ourselves to others, see our self-esteem and self-image be affected, and eventually get tired by everything, to see things clearly. Things that happen with age.

This is, however, the bright side, when you compare yourself to other people. The darker side is comparing yourself over and over again with society’s expectations from you. When you keep in mind that you are supposed to have your life together by 30 years, with a family of your own, a good job, a home, and possibly children, as you get closer to that age you tend to keep looking at your life, and then to look at your socially-imposed check-list.

The fact is you’ll never be on the same page with the never-ending list of social expectations, and this happens because every person has their own pace. There is no standard age for things like buying a house, completing your education, starting a family or a business. It’s true, coming usually from one’s dear people, the confrontation with the standards that society is imposing becomes much harder, as it borrows the voice of the ones you love. That’s why it is the darker, more damaging path to the Union of Never Good Enough.

But there’s nothing as damaging as looking at your life from outside in the long run. It makes you unable to be happy for yourself, and this is by far one of the most toxic things one can do. Because you can’t compare yourself over and over again and reach a balance. You can’t keep asking yourself why you’re not good enough and expect your mental health to be on point.

Mental health is, in fact, severely impacted by all the self-criticism and pressure one has to bear while constantly doubting on themselves. There is relief in accepting that your life and your choices have to only be meaningful to you, as you’re the only one able to access the whole image all the time. And there is joy to be found in knowing that whatever you feel like, is a valid and important feeling to be felt.

The reality is that you are and will always be good enough. No matter where you are in your life, no one could’ve done things better than you did. No matter what your inner mean voice says, it is only background noise. And no matter what you think, there’s a big, big difference between self-criticism and perfectionism, and it comes from the fact that critic comes from the inside, while perfectionism is always an outer voice. You are not too late and not too early either, because this is your life, not some social event to attend. And as long as you’re the MVP of your story, there’s no such thing as someone more worthy than you.

So next time when you want to turn into a modern Hamlet, asking yourself if you are good enough or not, remember what it made you feel like the last time, and ask yourself: Would I deliberately make my close friends feel like that? If the answer is no, then go for a walk, some popcorn and a cheesy movie, a bubble bath, or whatever makes you happy. You’re worthy of feeling good feelings about yourself and the life you’re living, so allow yourself as many occasions to do so as you can. And you’ll start to see why you’ve always been good enough.