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 agenda with empty pages

I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.

Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.

One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?

But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.

Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you might not be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.

It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.

People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.

There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.

There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.

And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.

Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.

The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.

Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.

If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.

There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.

And that’s a society no one wants to live in.

Managing failure, the test we keep on taking

Failure is a heavy topic. It is hard to think about failure without remembering yours, and it is hard to look at the way others manage their failures without asking yourself how would’ve you done it. And, yet, it is a topic of major importance, its proper management being a never-ending test.

Failing is a part of our lives, even if we are not fond of it. We fail constantly, even if we talk about our personal lives, about our careers, or about our relationship with ourselves. We fail, and this is not bad at all, as failure is such a powerful tool for learning.

Because, yes, failure is, above anything else, a tool we’re handed. It is a mirror showing us what could’ve been done better, or at least in a different way. It brings along different perspectives, others than our common favorites. It helps us grow.

But this only becomes visible after the dramatic phase, after the why me, why again? moment. And, if you happen to be a perfectionist, like, getting through this phase is a challenge in itself, the learning part coming more as an extra task. As much as it is a tool and a way of learning, failure is also a test. The way someone manages their failures speaks volumes about that person. It is a good thing to pay attention to when you meet a new person, their attitude about failure.

Usually, there are three big types of approaches: Why me, I wasn’t worth it anyway, and It’s not the end of the world.

Why me? is the approach where the person, put in front of a failure, tries to find an external source. It is never about them, their failure is the consequence of other people’s actions, and they have nothing to think about. If you ask them what are they thinking they did wrong, will tell you there’s nothing wrong about their way of action, the other people or maybe the destiny didn’t want them to succeed. They were right, and would if they could turn back the time, do things the very same way.

The I wasn’t worth it anyway narrativeis the perfectly opposed approach. It is, just like the previous, strongly connected with one’s self-esteem. The person tried, hoped for success, but deep inside the feeling that they’re not good enough to make it persisted. They take their failure as something personal, that is way more about them- their interpersonal skills, their knowledge, their way of action than it is about others and their perception.

It is not the end of the world is, if you ask me, the only effective approach when it comes to managing failure. You try, you fail, you take some time to analyze and see what could’ve been made differently. Maybe you were not a good enough fit. Or maybe your knowledge of the subject was lacunary. Maybe you just tried at the wrong time, and the right moment for it would’ve been other.

It implies taking everything into consideration and then choosing up wisely. Maybe you will or will not try again, but what you learn from that attempt remains with you, shaping you into a different individual. Being aware of that keeps you committed to learning and without any bitter feelings long-term.

Naturally, the way one will approach a failure has other stuff in the background, besides of their maturity level: how important was for them to make it from the first attempt, how much work they’ve put into it, how many other chances to try again they have and the pressure of their close ones are also factors to consider when we talk about one’s attitude on failure.

My experience with this was, as expected, a tough one. Being a perfectionist with a low self-esteem level, the tendency was to assume that every failure was my fault. Other factors were always secondary and the“what could I have done better” list was a neverending one. Till one day, when I got to understand that, no matter how hard I want it to be that way, truth is that very little of the outcome was under my control. I could only control the way I act and talk, as well as my level of knowledge, but the perception of others about me will never be something I could control, so blaming myself for not being enough won’t lead me anywhere. And this was such a hard pill to swallow for an anxious girl like I am. However, it only made things easier, as it made me come to better terms with my failures.

Linking my self-worth on my success-failure rate was for a long time one of my most toxic behaviors. It made me think that to be worthy of respect, affection, and trust, I have to be successful constantly. But this is not how life works.

You are going to be successful at times and failing at times, but this won’t make you a failure as a person. You can be a good person and still fail at things. This doesn’t mean that your goals are unrealistic, or that you’re a fool for trying to make them happen. It only means that you’re human, and failure is a perfectly human trait. No one has it all together every second of their life. No one said that failure is something to be happy about, or that feeling sad about your failure is not a valid feeling. Yet here’s the catch: being a worthy human being is a constant, and linking it to something as fluctuant as the success will harm you. It is one of the things with the greatest impact on your mental health, as well as one of the biggest fears. Don’t let your failures mess up with your most important resource, you know better.

Failure is far beyond the good and the bad. It is a complex phenomenon, the beginning of a whole journey that has a unique purpose to help you learn about yourself. Looking back, there are moments when I’m happy things didn’t work out my way, as I can now see clearly what a disaster this would have been. But some failures were my fault, and that taught me how to act in future situations like that, which I’m grateful for.

So do yourself a favor, and stop trying to put all your failures in the same box. Keep in mind that you are a person who deserves love, appreciation, and good things, no matter your failures. Your failures don’t make you a bad person, even if the voice inside your head keeps nagging you with this idea. Instead, it makes you an apprentice, someone who has to keep on learning. And when it comes to dealing with life, we’re all apprentices here, so cherish every opportunity you get to discover more.