Love on display

Time passed, a lot of things happened, and yet, February has arrived again. And, as in any other February, love statements are being shown off everywhere. I mean, if not during the love month, then…when?

My subjective answer to this question is daily. Because, if you love, if you really love somebody, then you love them daily. And you prove your life to them daily, not only a few days a year. That is anything but love, at least in my book.

I write this piece as V-Day’s approaching. The thing is that now, unlike a normal year, it hits different. Like anything else, love and dating have been tested a lot. And, if anything happened, it was a shift in the way we’re looking at our romantic ties.

We feel the need to be loved, appreciated, and held, now maybe more than ever. We need contact with others, physical affection, and emotional support. We’ve seen couples breaking up after years and years, and couples that have only grown stronger from this.

And we see our single friends doing their best to deal with the lack of romance in their lives. This meant going back on dating apps, talking to other people, thinking about how to merge dating and staying safe, working on themselves, or talking with their friends about it.

This also means that all the public display of perfect relationships affects them more than it would on a normal year. It does so because, unlike other years, they’re now finding themselves to be severely limited. They can’t go to singles parties, they can’t go on random dates with people they’ve chatted with for a week, or so, they can only sit there and watch.

And seeing everyone else posting their perfect, sweet, incredible relationship all over Social Media is harming their mental health more than usual. It brings up old feelings of inadequacy, of being unworthy, of being bad. These are some hard to cope with things, especially after a year of pandemic, constraints, anxiety, uncertainty, loss, grief, and burn-out. Because no one has enough mental energy to deal with all these things at once.

What should you keep in mind for this V-Day if you’re one of the single and struggling friends in your group?

No one has it all

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: not everything we see on Social Media is real. Most of the time we see just cut-outs of the reality. The highlights of the day, if you want.

This means that all those pretty flowers and cheesy gifts can be an expression of love, but can be as well an expression of fear and anxiety. Keep in mind that a lot of people have turned to buy stuff online as a distraction from their pandemic anxiety. Maybe you’ve done this yourself. There are always two sides to a story, regardless of what the story’s about.

The perfect relationship doesn’t exist in real life

The only place where relationships are perfect, with cute words, gifts,  and appreciation is the Internet. In real life, a relationship has also ups and downs, bad days, heated arguments, and partners asking themselves What was I thinking when I’ve picked you?

And these are the happy, ordinary cases. I am not going to talk about all the abusive, toxic relationships that are living hell in real life and all sugar and pink sequins online. Keep in mind that the number of partners reporting abuses from their significant others has severely increased during the pandemic, so most probably what you see is not what you get.

But none of these things are worth posting online, are they?

You’re not alone in this

This is not the problem of an individual, but of a big part of the population. And it’s okay, this year has wrecked us all, without any kind of discrimination. Our social interactions are being severely diminished, and we play by different rules. Even like that, it’s temporary, and we have to try our best to be patient and, you know, just hang in there.

You are worth it

Having to say this makes my heart sad, but I will do it anyway. You are worth it. Even if you’re single for a long time, or maybe your significant other and you have just split up, you’re worth it. You deserve kindness, respect, attention, care. You deserve to be supported, feeling understood, loved, important. appreciated. You deserve to have around people careful when it comes to your emotional needs, people who won’t belittle you for having a bad period or feeling low. And no one should ever have enough power to make you think otherwise about yourself.

You can still celebrate

Even if you’re single, you can still celebrate love. I mean, self-love is love, after all. So go ahead and treat yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to put on some make-up and nice clothes, take a loong bubble bath, cook something delicious, watch those cheesy movies you’ve always postponed, have a videogames night, or simply sleep in early. It’s your celebration, and you get to do it your way. What matters is reminding yourself that you can be single and still have a lovely time.

Stand your ground

In times like these it can be really tempting to go back to people we share memories with. Maybe our exes, maybe some close friends that proved themselves to be bad for us.Friendly advice: don’t. The reason is the fact that, usually, the mix between nostalgia and loneliness seems to erase the downsides of those relationships. You don’t need to bring back something harmful to your mental health and overall evolution. You know and deserve better. And you will get what you deserve when you’ll stop trying to open closed doors.

These are just a few things we could do to ease our passing through the month of love. Keep in mind that all the good love stories begin with people that have fallen in love with themselves in the first place, and find their way to it. It can be journaling, psychotherapy, Zoom calls with your best friends, whatever you feel might be helpful for you.

Don’t forget that some of the relationships you see might be actually tainted, despite all the pretty moments those involved choose to share. Or that everybody tries to do their best on days of celebration, like Valentine’s Day. And this implies buying pretty gifts, pretty clothes, setting up fancy dinners, and all the special things no one is making daily.

So take a deep breath, and look around. They are human, just like you are. So take advantage of this day and do more of what makes you happy. That will be more than good enough.

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.