What’s missing from the picture

As some of you might already know, this period is rather tough for me, as I’ve recently lost a loved person. But this has also given me the context and space to better understand myself and my emotional dynamic, as I’m passing through the whole grieving process.

Grief is, to put it in a poetic way, the daughter of love. Is what’s left when a dear person leaves us. It doesn’t matter if we talk about someone’s death or about being left by those we were holding dear. It is loss, and loss is painful. That easy.

But this whole pain is never just about the present moment. More often it is about the future moments that person will be missing from our lives. Maybe our first job, our graduation, our wedding. Milestones where we’d love that person’s presence around us.

Currently, my main struggle is to accept that there is no such thing as a right way of living the grief. That the fact that I’m active on Social Media, paint my nails and I’m not wearing only dark clothes is not the expression of me being over it. It’s hard because of the social conditioning that surrounds this kind of moment. The social imperatives of what should and should not be done in such contexts.

Here, though, the grief is about something else. About the small gestures that no one else will be doing for us again. About the way that person smiled or comforted us. About the moments that person will be missing.

Grief is a void. An empty space, a trace left by someone we’ve deeply cared about. And managing it might be hard and uncomfortable at times. It’s personal, intimate, and unique, there is no such thing as two individuals grieving in the same way.

I can only share what I’ve learned so far, hoping it will help more people with their mental struggles.

  • It’s okay to feel good

At first, the moments when I was feeling good, authentically good, were followed by guilt trips. As if I wasn’t doing things right if I could, still, feel good. Until the moment when I realized, sitting in the sun, that she wanted me to feel good. To be happy. And if that person wanted me to feel good with my life while she was part of it, she definitely would have the same attitude now.

  • Stick to a routine

One of the best things you can do during a tough time is sticking to a clear routine. Small habits, daily practice. It helps you adapt to the new reality: a reality where that person is no longer living. But you do still live there, so try to make it easy, not a burden.

  • Do things that make you happy about yourself

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, it has to make you smile. For me, this moment was while cutting the first flowers from my garden and putting them in a vase on my desk. I was happy to see their beauty, feel their fragrance, and I’ve smiled thinking about how much she loved this kind of thing.

  • Revisit your memories with that person

I’m not sure if our loved ones ever leave us, to be fair. There is a part of me that likes to believe that they still hang around somewhere, laughing at our clumsiness and bad decisions. And I might be old-fashioned, but do you remember those photos with you? Go and pass through them. Revisit those moments, the details of the memories you’ve got together. Remember the things you’ve learned from that person. I remember often things she loved, or things she has told me. I also know that, as long as I don’t forget, she’s not dead. Because people die only when those that could tell stories about them will die.

  • Plan your future

Grief tends to make you live in the past. Don’t. Instead, do your best and plan your future. Do it how you feel it. Maybe put together a vision board, or set some goals you want to reach, this is all up to you. Just take the time to reflect on it and establish the small steps you need to take. Your loved ones, even if they’ve passed away, will love to see you succeed.

  • Reach out for support

Say it after me, loud and clear: I’m not weak for needing help. I’m not weak for needing help. Because it’s true, you’re not. Just a human that has to pass an incredibly challenging period of their lives. Talk about it. Be honest about it. Let your dear ones know that you struggle with integrating that loss. It’s okay. It really is. Some of us need more help than others, and it’s perfectly fine. This, as I have said before, is a deeply personal and intimate process. If you feel like the help of a counselor would be beneficial, go ahead and make that appointment. No one has ever been born ready for such life contexts.

This is what I’ve learned so far about dealing with a loved one’s loss. That you need to maintain your composure and take things slowly, one day at a time, without any kind of guilt trips or remorses. You did your best, and definitely has been enough for them, as it should be for you as well. So try to give yourself some credit. It doesn’t seem like it, but you’re doing a great job. And one day, the sun will shine again, as bright and warm as you remember it used to.

The world as we knew it

I am now, more than I used to, looking around me, and I have this feeling that the world, as we used to know it, is coming to an end. A rough, yet unexpected ending. This pandemic context made me aware of one thing in particular, and this is our tendency to taking everything we’ve had until now for granted.  It is not the end in a biblical way, but rather the ending of a way of living, understanding what happens around us, and reevaluating the ways we cope with everything what happens around us daily. In times like this, the real challenge is to remain calm and sane when everything is shaking.

I see a lot of things happening around, people trying their best to manage this situation they have never experienced before. Some try to follow their old routine as much as they can Some are drowning in anxiety and confusion, being unable to adapt to the new way of doing things. If I can say something about this, it would be that this global issue has put every one of us in front of our friends from the closet. Because we’re only human, after all, and every crisis has the potential to bring up to the table the unsolved issues we’ve been successfully avoiding for so long.

It happened to me as well. I’ve been pushed to revisit and reconsider the way I’ve been placing myself on certain topics. One of them was my homeland. Coming from a small village surrounded by hills, I’ve always wanted to get out of here and never come back. Somehow, this whole thing caught me here, due to some things out of my control, and it took me a few days to understand that this was not a bad thing at all.

Even so, adjusting was hard, as I’ve seen, once again, that all my plans were blown away. This forced me to sit and ask myself Who were you before wanting to have it all at once? and everything became slightly more clear. I’ve seen that there are still things I can do, such as reading outside, in the sunlight. That there are still little joys left.  That slowing down for more than I’ve initially hoped I will have to will, eventually, help me know myself more.

I’ve understood that this is not some form of punishment, but a road meant to reconnect me with the pieces of the puzzle that I’ve lost in my rush. That I can have a taste of the things that used to make my childhood here, in the countryside, pretty. But it also made me aware of the fact that our ultimate survival tool remains gratitude.  It made me understand that I should be grateful for having enough space, living in the countryside, to move freely. That I still have my mother and cats around me. That there are still things to be done here, as the nature doesn’t really care about our whining.

I’ve begun to discover the old ways of doing the things, and that every ending has a little door left open. I understand that there are still little things that can be done, and that no bad shall last forever. Also, I’ve got to understand how important is the way we look at the things we live. Our perspective is a big part of what we’re actually living and what we understand from it.

Only by being grateful and trying to see more in-depth this brutal shift of our daily lives, we can get out of it sane. Because this is the perfect moment to look behind us. To see all the Mondays we didn’t do anything but ask Is it Friday already? and all the times we procrastinated just for the sake of it. Change is hard, is painful, is bringing up to surface all our well-hidden anxieties, but it is, at the same time, so necessary.

We need to get through all this process to finally understand how privileged we have been, and for how long. We have to change the way we live, work and dream so that we will be able to appreciate what used to be our taken for granted normality. We have to dream new dreams and discover new ways of making things work and, above all, we have to understand that slowing down is not a crime.

Because we’ve rushed for too long. We’ve been greedy and ungrateful for too long. And now we’re being forced to unlearn as much as we can these things. We are put in front of a whole new context, and this brings up to me an old phrase from a psychology handbook, saying that Intelligence is the individual’s capacity of adapting to new situations. This means, above anything else, to be able to let go. To reinvent our routines in ways that make life bearable. To keep from our old ways of doing things only the bits that were genuinely bringing us joy as they were also functional. And, last but not least, to relearn how to use technology to connect with the ones we care about, and not only for showing off our personas.

This, too, shall pass, but it doesn’t mean that the world will remain how we used to know it because it won’t. But it means that we have to learn how to be selective in a constructive way. It is the moment when we have to admit, to ourselves in the first place, that individualism won’t bring us any good in the nearby future. To rebuild our communities, to share more openly what brings us joy and what we feel that could be done better.

To spend more time doing things we love, even if it’s reading, listening to music, or calling our loved ones to chit-chat. Now is the later where we’ve stored all our projects, plans and dreams. We can either get intoxicated with fear and uncertainty or try to rip out pieces of what we’ve been postponing for so long and take everything step by step.

Yes, this is a hard time for all of us, and harder times are expected to come. But this is no excuse to let ourselves down once again or to allow ourselves to drown into anxiety and fear. We can do that, but we can, as well, start and accomplish everything we’ve been postponing for some undefined later. Not if we want to get out of this sane and mentally prepared for the good that is to come. Because, yes, things are bad, but this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing good to be expected.

So go and put some water to boil, have some tea, listen to some music. Maybe you will watch a movie, or read a book. You can call your best friend, or your mom, or that person you’re always saying that you’re going to catch up with, but you never do. Or maybe don’t do any of these, and just go to sleep. It doesn’t matter that much. What matters, instead, is how good you’re managing to hold up and stay collected, because now, more than ever, we can see how contagious our emotions are. So let’s just try and be our most responsible, patient, caring and rational selves, at least for a while. This might be the only way out from what tends to feel like a trap for most of us even if it is, ironically, only putting a mirror in front of who we are.

Don’t worry. The anxiety of everyday’s life

Don’t worry. I’ve already lost count of how many times I’ve been told this line. And, I agree, sometimes I really, really should not get worried, but there’s more to it than just that.

Actually, the right answer for How are you? should be, in my case, Anxious. Because I’m anxious a lot, and this got me into a lot of things. You see, the world we live in makes anxiety seem normal, but it’s not. It’s a trap. Anxiety is not a normal response, and if it is, then you’re living in the wrong environment.

Because, if we’re honest with ourselves, anxiety is rooted in fear. We’re scared of things, and we’re mostly scared of things we can’t control. Anxiety is the fear that something bad could happen. We don’t know why, we don’t know when. We only know that it is possible. That it is around the corner.

If I’d have to use a metaphor, I’d say that anxiety is that petty chick who comes at the party only to ruin it. Anxiety is, as much as we hate it, a thief. It steals our ability of enjoying the good we are living now, making us think that we are going to pay for that joy later, when the bad will strike.

While trying to get in a better mental state, recovering after emotional traumas, I’ve got to acknowledge all the things that I was doing and that were signs of my anxiety. People talk about being anxious around us all the time. Many times we have anxiety issues ourselves. But how many of us have the knowledge of the anxiety inducing behaviors as being such?  Here’s a little bit about the behaviors which are signaling anxiety issues, that I thought would  be helpful to share with you.

  • Criticizing my every movement

Anxiety does not come alone. It comes with her best friend, overthinking. And they have learned to play nice with perfectionism, so here’s the big triad.. As an anxious person, one tends to be overly critical with themselves. And this is how the joy and good mood are stolen away from you. By overthinking and criticizing yourself constantly, for the smallest thing, throwing shade at your own progress.

  • Thinking that I have to be perfect to avoid judgement

Remember that wild, wild mix of anxiety, perfectionism and overthinking? That’s also responsible for another self-sabotaging belief: that you have to be perfect, so that others won’t judge you. Here comes the thing: you don’t owe anything to anyone. The imperative of perfection is one of the most common signs of anxiety, but this doesn’t mean that you have to fall for it. Keep in mind that perfection is nothing but a lie, and enjoy every little thing that makes you smile.

  • Resenting myself for not living up to everyone’s standards

The whole thing about anxiety is that it often makes you feel like your best is never good enough, that the ones you care about feel like you’re not that great. Which might lead to the belief that, in order to be loved, you have to meet the standards of all those  people you love. This is not only harmful, as it brings a huge amount of pressure, but is definitely unrealistic. Most of the time, those people can’t fully live up to their standards themselves, and trying to meet them is nothing but a vicious circle. Conditioned love is not love, and the only standards you should make reality are your own. Regardless of what anxiety tries to tell you.

  • Believing that everyone is judging me

Well, this is a bit more complex, as it involves the belief that something is  bad. And, even if sometimes it really is, most of the times,  it is not. People judge people all the time, and this happens for many reasons. Just think about it. A compliment is as much of a judgement as an insult is. The good part is, however, that other people’s judgement is not a mirror of your personality and worth. You can be as much of the person that you feel like as you want, people will judge you either way. Regardless of how much you’d like to have the certainty that you make a good impression, this has nothing to do with your real self. But it is not an excuse for not being a decent human being either.

  • Worrying about my word choice I used while interacting with people

This tends to happen, from my experience, because we’re struggling with making good impressions. We want to have a good image, not offend anyone, and often enough this makes it harder to freely express ourselves. We tend to pay some extra attention to the way we say things, so that what we say would, ideally, bother no one. The truth is that there is no such thing. No matter how carefully we will choose our words, there will always be that someone who’s going to be bothered about what we say and how we do it.

  • Thinking that everyone could see inside my head

This is a common idea, that people can read our minds. Or, anyways, at least our emotions. I’ve had to face this countless times, the thought that people will read my mind through my tone of voice, my facial expressions or my choice of words. This brought, of course, some added pressure and some added social anxiety, as I’ve always hated being misunderstood or, even worse, exposed. The news is, however, that a few people, even those who know us really well, will be able to do this. Actually, it happened to me that some things that in my mind were already really, really obvious, to be unknown by those  people I thought saw them clearly. This remains one of the main reasons why I encourage people to be honest, as no one could read minds.

  • Feeling unable to or too afraid to speak up

Oh, well. This is a huge part of the typically anxious discourse, also known as If everyone will like me, then I will have nothing to fear. There were times in my life when only the thought of speaking up my mind made me want to hide under a rock. Growing up, I discovered two things: that this is called social anxiety, and that the world won’t fall apart if I say what I think.

  • Fearing that I could come off as stupid

And that’s another “pretty” side of being anxious. The one where you doubt yourself so much, that you keep digging for new things. News, books, movies, you’re in a continuous rush to be up to date on  the hottest topics, so you can entertain a smart conversation. Stop. No, seriously. Stop wasting time and energy documenting on subjects you don’t care about, just because anyone else seems to. You’re not stupid, you just have different interests, and that is perfectly fine.

  • Feeling that I have to overachieve, be the best at everything and know everything to be considered intelligent

This brings, by far, the biggest amount of anxiety. The constant pressure of the thought that, in order to be seen in a good way by others, you have to have everything together, all the time. Career, education, relationship, friendships, hobbies, everything. Otherwise you’ll be dismissed, as not being good enough for the people you love. Pause for five seconds, acknowledge that no one has it all together, all the time. Some areas of our lives make slower progress than the others, but that is progress as well. Take things one day at a time, and tell that inner voice to shut up. You’re only human, after all, just like everyone else.

  • Nail biting and skin-picking

Sometimes, our anxiety becomes visible for others around us via some physical signs. These are the most common and, for some people, the most annoying. I am guilty of doing them myself, and even if I haven’t tried it yet, I know that there is nail polish specially made for getting rid of these habits.

  • Avoiding eye-contact

Having social anxiety will make eye-contact appear as a risky move, especially when it comes to meeting new people. And I can totally understand. It must be terrifying to look into someone’s eyes and think about all the ways that they could be judging you, or about every single scenario that could work out wrong. It happened to me as well, countless times, and even if keeping up with making eye-contact helped me be more comfortable with it, there are still days when I’d look anywhere else.

These are the main ways in which  we are robbed of the joy and goodness of the moment. By falling for all the fears and the what could go wrong scenarios. But living with anxiety means that I have also found some tricks to decrease its impact on me. Here are a few of them.

  • Avoid the news channels

I have to admit, giving up on watching TV News was one of the greatest decisions I have made recently. It didn’t only save me time, but it also made me less anxious. This happens because news are usually presented in a manner that makes the world appear as a more frightening place than it really is, fueling one’s anxious scenarios.

  • Do things manually

Even if we talk about writing, painting, drawing, cooking or any other craft, use your hands. You could just be painting your nails in a bright shade, and it’s already enough! When I feel anxious, my go-to move is, usually, cleaning up the kitchen, but whatever you feel it’d be helpful works. Just use your hands, so your brain won’t be distracted and the anxious thoughts will, eventually, vanish away.

  • Breathe

Yes, yes, that simple. Breathe. Inhale, count to 10, exhale. Repeat this as many times as you need. Everything’s going to be ok. You’re safe.

  • Have a routine

Anxiety is all about the lack of certitudes, so work on minimizing that as much as you can. Eat at the same hours, wake up and fall asleep at the same hours, keep a diary to help you have a better view on your days.

  • Spend more time with yourself

Question yourself and your anxiety. Learn about what triggers it, why is it manifesting the ways it does, discover your own ways of making it have a minimal impact on  your life.

  • Be socially selective

And by that I mean Cut people off. Do you know those people that are always worried about anything and everything? Exactly. Your life is way better without them constantly around you. Cut them off, or at least talk to them as rarely as possible.

This is the summary of my journey across the Anxious Land, a journey far from its ending. What I’ve learned about it, and about any other mental condition, is that it doesn’t heal. Yes, it will disappear for a while. Yes, it will get better. But it won’t last forever. There will also be periods when it will return and when you’ll feel weak. It’s ok, we’re all humans. Seek help if you feel like it is needed, but never forget that you are worth more than your anxiety tells you, and that there’s a difference, a huge one, between fear, the real, legitimate fear, and anxiety. And the difference is that fear comes as a message of warning, while anxiety comes as a thief, trying to steal your smile. Don’t let it, you’re better than that.