Speaking ghosts: the V-word

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about words. More than I usually do. I’ve been thinking about the way they shape our attitudes and views about the world around us. And I got to the conclusion that in every individual’s dictionary are at least a few taboo words. Words that haunt us, that feel unspeakable, words that call out pieces of personal history that we don’t feel ready to claim as our own yet. One of those words, for me, is vulnerability, but I am sure that, reading these lines, your own unspeakable words popped-up in your thoughts.

I have always had a complicated relationship with my vulnerabilities. On one hand, I was totally, deeply aware of their existence. I have always known which are my biggest vulnerabilities, and  I have never denied the fact that they exist. On the other hand, though, I’ve never been open enough to admit them in front of others. Actually, a lot of my social self was built on diminishing those vulnerabilities.

This happened because, in my head, at least, being vulnerable was nothing to be talked about. It was deeply connected with being weak, and that was nothing I would, back then, have admitted being. And, as getting rid of what makes me vulnerable is not an option, the only thing left doing was diminishing my vulnerabilities as much as possible. This is how I’ve managed to build myself up in such a way that, when it comes to discovering my vulnerable to someone, it weighs less than it normally would, as I have never defined myself through it.

But this isn’t an inspirational story. I can’t say that I’ve put in a lot of work to reach this point, as I’ve directed my energy to the domains that seemed interesting to me and which were almost natural. It is, however, the story of a well-disguised fear, my fear of rejection.

It took me years to be able to admit that, in the shadow of this v-word I’ve been constantly avoiding, was comfortably laying a fear. My fear of being rejected, of being dismissed once people found out how much of a vulnerable being I am in fact.

Because I’ve always thought that a group will, eventually, get rid of its liabilities first, and those tend to be the most vulnerable members of the group. This is why I have always done whatever I felt was needed in order to keep myself updated. I got involved in causes and fields which were genuinely mattering to me, I kept reading, writing and planning things. It was my way of resting assured that, if it would ever happen to become a liability for a group, that group would be strong enough and smart enough to see that I’m more than my vulnerable side.

Even when it looked like I wasn’t doing anything, I was, in fact, preparing to do something. Because I was never the one to stay and wait for things to happen. Actually, doing things that mattered for me was the way to hide my vulnerabilities. How could possibly a girl like you, doing so many things, be vulnerable like that? I never answer, but the truth is that those vulnerabilities made me become this girl, to begin with. The girl that seems to never struggle, that never gives up, that never gets tired.

And everything worked out just fine until life showed me that the ways of becoming were way more complicated than I thought they would. The time came when I was left hanging, without the energy needed to keep being the old me. And this brought me to some really surprising things to notice.

One of the first things I’ve observed was that, even with my vulnerable side exposed, there were still people by my side. People who kept on believing in me, supporting me, caring for me. People who tried to befriend me with my vulnerable parts, as it was the only way to avoid reaching that point again.

I’ve also noticed that I do not, in fact, hate my vulnerabilities. Of course, they are uncomfortable, and I would still rather hide them, but I’ve discovered that talking about them helps to forge connections. It helps you to stay humble, to stay human, and to meet other people, with different vulnerabilities, halfway. Talking about sensitive topics makes life better, but only when I felt too tired to hide I could actually understand it.

And, last but not least, I found out that the more I discover about being vulnerable, even if it is from personal or from shared experience, the better I become. That there you can be vulnerable, yet strong, that you can share openly about what makes you vulnerable without being automatically labeled as weak. That there are strength, beauty, and warmth in showing up as yourself, with your strong points and your vulnerable sides. That only when you’ll stop playing hide and seek with the others, your tribe will finally reach out to you.

That no one should be so scared of being labeled the wrong way by the others so it will hide who it really is. Hide and seek was a thing when we were kids, but it is not a lifestyle. And there’s nobody who could make me see it like that.

Într-o zi, Orașul ׀ Adoptă un canadian

Pe Alec Bălășescu l-am descoperit studentă fiind, prin cartea sa Paris elegant, Teheran incitant, care mi-a arătat cât de puțin știu, de fapt, despre lumea ce se cască mai la est de noi.

Am aflat de noua carte în preajma târgului Gaudeamus, apucând să pun mâna pe ea abia în preajma Crăciunului. Dacă ar fi să rezum cele două proze cuprinse, ar fi un singur cuvânt: Celălalt.

Cartea e o împletitură frumoasă de povești care îți arată, prin bogăția lor, toate modurile în care poți fi celălalt, dar și toate modurile prin care întâlnirea cu Celălalt poate avea loc. Clădită pe alternanțe între spațiul intim și afișarea în public,  pe geografia reală și simbolică au unui oraș divers, Într-o zi, Orașul este o povestire despre oameni, emoții și întâlniri. Întâlniri între oameni, întâlniri ale oamenilor din diferite părți de lume cu orașul. Cu marele și pestrițul Istanbul, orașul unde toate poveștile își găsesc casa.

E o poveste despre cât de ușor poți deveni chiar tu Celălalt. Despre diversitate, acceptare, despre a-l primi pe celălalt în preajma ta. Poveste la răscrucea observației de teren cu ficțiunea, Într-o zi, Orașul mă lasă să mă întreb cât din fiecare e acolo, cât sunt oameni reali și cât personaje de literatură. La asta ajută, poate, și faptul că povestitorul pare să fi fost acolo, în mijlocul poveștilor pe care ți le spune pe un ton prietenos, de om care împarte ce a aflat cu ceilalți, fără pretenția că ar deține Adevărul.

La polul opus, Adoptă un canadian vine cu o viziune ușor distopică asupra lumii, în care lumea așa cum o știm noi dispare sub ape, rămânând doar câteva enclave izolate. Printre care, da, și România.

E o narațiune deși mai scurtă, mai intensă despre întâlnirea cu Celălalt, și șocul pe care ea îl aduce, anterior adaptării la acesta. La fel de bogată în semnificații, povestirea prezintă întâlnirea unei familii educate de canadieni cu românii satului din Apuseni, unde ajung după ce Canada e scufundată, și ea, sub ape. Șocul cultural, modul de ajustare a unora dintre protagoniști la ceilalți sunt prezente și ele.

Naratorul rămâne însă pe aceeași poziție, de martor care urmează să dea mai departe celorlalți ceea ce tocmai a aflat. Proza lui Alec Bălășescu, la răscrucea terenului antropologic cu ficțiunea, e povestea noastră, a tuturor. E povestea tuturor modurilor în care fiecare din noi poate deveni Celălalt, dar și a tuturor modurilor de raportare la întâlnirea cu acesta.

O carte calmă, tihnită, care captivează și ne arată cu fiecare rând că Celălalt nu e, întotdeuna, de temut. O lectură care, mie uneia, mi-a lăsat în urmă o întrebare: Tu realizezi în ce momente devii celălalt? și pe care o recomand oricui vrea să vadă mai clar printre straturile lumii pe care-o locuim.

Flipping the coin: life between self-care and self-sabotage

As the conversation about mental health gets more personal and spreads wider, another topic makes room into our lives and talks. Self-care. Understood as a set of practices and rituals that help enhancing one’s well-being, self-care is praised, talked about, and made look like something pretty, pink, comfy and glowy.

And, even if, at times, it really is comfy, pretty, glowy and pink, it rather isn’t. Because the first thing about self-care routines that should be understood is that any routine of this kind responds to a state of need. There is no self-care if there is no need for it. And it can be anytime. Self-care ain’t as pretty as social media makes it appear, because there’s more about that particular routine than the cozy surface. There are issues that one tries to manage behind every self-care routine shared. 

And self-care is not always about bubbly baths, cozy sweaters, or hot chocolate and cheesy movies. It also is about anxiety, emotional pain, about hanging on and diminishing the damages. It  is also about uncomfortable but necessary life choices, like learning how to properly manage one’s money, taking that medical exam you keep avoiding, or getting into therapy.

It is  also about long, sleepless nights when you just sit with yourself, and revisit milestones of your life, trying to figure out what went wrong. What could’ve been done better. About admitting that, no matter how dear, some people around us are toxic, and we need to distance ourselves from them.

But, above all of these, self-care starts on the very moment when someone understands that self-sabotage will lead nowhere. Because a lot of the problems which require self-care routines for minimizing their effects, are the consequences of past self-sabotaging acts. And from compulsive shopping, to hanging on the wrong people repeatedly and for too long, everything can, at some point, turn into a self-sabotaging act.

No one thinks about little kind gestures done for themselves in the good days as self-care. But, whenever the bad times hit, the little coffee dates we’re taking ourselves to, the long baths, or any other thing that used to bring us a good vibe and we keep doing even if we feel like drowning, suddenly gets labeled as self-care. Actually, it is just about being persistent, and not giving up on who you are. 

Because self-care and self-sabotage are the faces of the same coin. As mental health is not constant, is something fluctuating, depending on a lot of factors, and not as much that can be under our control as we’d like to be, same is this continuum. 

There is a personal dynamic in every story of self-sabotage, as well as in every routine of self-care. Even if social media tries to say so, not every kind of self-care routine works in every situation, for every individual. As the journey unfolds, the needs to be met change, and there are all kind of needs and days.

There are days when cleaning the house while listening to my favorite gangsta rap tracks is as close as seeing a therapist as one could get. There are days when all I have to do is to cook something both tasty and healthy, while chatting with mom. There are days when I need a long bath, some blues and getting my nails done in order to calm down my anxiety and feel better about myself. There are days when I cry myself to sleep, in order to let the grief and the hurt release themselves. Days when I’d do all of  this at once, or not at all, none of it. 

But there are also days when all I need is sitting with the cats and listening to some blues. Or when all it takes is a good chat with my favorite people and a memes exchange. Or maybe a short shopping session. As well as the days that require me  to make big decisions for what will come next. 

These are all forms of self-care. As well as procrastinating, hanging out with the wrong people, eating your feelings or letting yourself get devoured by anxiety are forms of self-sabotage. Basically any action taken, aware or unaware of it, that has the potential of endangering our well-being, even if we talk about immediate, mid-term or even long-term well-being, counts as self-sabotage.

Of course, life will always be a mix between these two, and this should not scare us. I know, it seems to be easier said than done, but fictional expectations will never lead to real progress. And there’s nothing that did more harm than the idea that the journey to recovery should be smooth, linear and predictable. Neither the recovery journey, our mental health needs, or the self-care routines are. And this is absolutely great, as it was never supposed to, in the first place.

Because they’re so intimately linked to someone’s life history and personality that you’ll never see two of them to be the same. Might seem alike, but that’s only a superficial feeling about a façade. Self-care is, somehow, the bright side of the story, the one that brings us joy as we practice our ritual, and as we tell the others about. The side that tells the others we know in the same kind of situation that good days can still happen, despite of all struggle. 

But there are the self-sabotaging moments the ones who really get to shape us into different persons. The moments that make us take deep breaths, while asking the eternal question: How on earth did this happen, why I’ve got to this point?. Those moments when we feel like quitting. Like taking a nap for the next…few years, until every problem we have will be solved. The moments when, even if we feel like giving up, we keep going. And, especially, the moments of enlightment, when we finally understand what are we doing wrong.

Of course, it ain’t easy to talk about these moments, that would mean the healing is easy. And everyone knows it ain’t at all. Healing is a beautifully dramatic story, with ups, downs, and even stops. How one approaches this, though, is a whole different thing, a thing shaped by their personality and values, while changing the person’s personality, values and beliefs. Getting the courage to actually sit, even with a single other person, and tell the stories of those moments, is a great thing. It is the main sign of the pain starting to fade away. 

At the end of the day, the only thing that should be let to sink in is the fact that self-care is not just a label we mindlessly attach on random practices. 

Self-care is a whole category of small gestures of kindness directed to one’s person, that allow us to function during the tough times. This is why it matters to openly talk about self-care, even to share our favorite self-care routines, and perhaps even their stories, or what they’re good for, and this is also why, when somebody tells us about a thing that it functions as a self-care routine for them, we don’t get to tell them that they don’t. 

Because the only person entitled to label a thing or other as a self-care act, is the person practicing it, with the good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly sides of their journey.