The words that open doors

Photo by Annie Spratt

There are a lot of things going on, as the world as we used to know it fades away and our lives tend to be all over the place. It makes us feel bad about our journey so far, and become self-absorbed, very often in some toxic loops.

In times like these, extremely challenging for our mental well-being, the key to one’s soul is a simple phrase: What do you need right now?

There are six simple words, making a big statement. A common phrase, that doesn’t require you to have years of studying behind you or a specific social status to be successfully used. It requires a simple, yet efficient thing: to have a genuine interest for the other person.

We are forced into change. Changes that were not planned, that were not expected demand to be done. And this means that a lot of people struggle. They struggle with pain, anxiety, high-stress levels, and loss. They lose their jobs, homes, even loved people. It is a generally disturbing time, extended to a global scale. This can’t and won’t be easy to manage, and we can’t expect it to be.

This also means that the struggle can be made easier to go by. It only needs us to be kind. Kind with ourselves and with others around us.  In times of hardship, kindness becomes not a virtue, but a responsibility.

Of course, it takes courage and practice, as we’ve got so, so used to seeing other’s flaws and always have negative inner monologues. But this should change as well, if we want the damage made by a historical challenge to diminish. We can’t help people get back what they’ve lost, we can’t do this for ourselves either, but we can be the ones with kind words.

Today I won’t come and say that this or that should be different, or how to change things about yourselves. Today, instead, I come and tell you to get in the world and be kind.

Kindness has, unfairly and for too long, been mistaken for weakness. It’s not, and has never actually been. It is, somehow, a universal language, the key to any door, regardless of how guarded it would be. Kind people tend, because of their guarded doors, seem as strong too often and for too long. Today, this can do more harm than good, for their own mental health, to begin with.

Do you know those people that help everyone, and seem to have everything together all the time? Those people that walked with you on this path till you got where you are? The people that you keep saying that you’re so grateful to? Talk to them, and ask them that question. Then wait and see. Witness them blush, witness them getting shy, trying to put a reliable façade on, and, eventually, witness them telling you what’s missing from their bigger picture.

Because we all miss something and we all need something, but when you are so used to be the provider, it feels inappropriate to ask for things. Even if you offered support, been there for people when they’ve struggled, you feel like it’s an unnatural thing to do it yourself. Like that’s your job, to support and lift other people. How would you admit that you need, as well, to be lifted and supported? It is, by no means, an easy thing. But it is what one needs to remain able to keep going.

So go out there, and text or call the person that has always been there for you, the one that has already popped in your mind. Ask that person what it feels like it would make her journey easier, better.

The answer will rarely be materialistic. Instead, it will give you the chance to open a new door and see them blooming differently. And this will always be the kind of gift to remember, as our kindness and empathy remain, at the end of the day, signs of our adaptability. So let’s just try to be kinder, so we won’t turn bitter.

Me, my grief and I

During the last few days, as I’ve been trying to understand and name what I am feeling, a word was spinning across my mind over and over again- grief. Defined by the American Psychological Association as the anguish experienced after significant loss, usually the death of a beloved person, but it is so much more. The notion of grief can be extended to any major loss encountered by an individual: the loss of a lifestyle, a job, a dear person, a pet or whatever was bringing meaning into the person’s life. We’re constantly grieving a lot of things, as it is a huge part of managing our losses.

This happens because what we’ve lost had a big meaning for us, maybe it was also a big investment- we often grieve relationships and things we’ve put our soul, time, energy and effort into, but grief is way more complex than just that. According to the same association, grief often includes physiological distress, separation anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling on the past, and apprehension about the future. This is a clear image of how rich are the shades of such a feeling and, by extent, how important it is to be seen and managed accordingly.

As I’m writing this piece, I look outside my window, seeing the snow falling on the forest that comes to life slowly, and I recall everything I’m grieving. All the little things, the chances I didn’t take when I was put in front of them, all the people I’ve never got to say hi to because I was shy…

The context we’re currently living in made me aware of a lot of things. Small things, small gestures now I regret that I’ve never made. All the compliments I didn’t get to make and every truth that I’ve avoided to say, in order to protect my peace and fragile-anyhow balance.

And, because nothing’s ever black and white, I have, as I write this article, a revelation: nostalgia is only grief in disguise.

That explains a lot. The memories I tend on recalling often, the hope that it will, soon, be everything “normal” again…a lot. It even explains why I miss worrying about what am I going to wear tomorrow, or the sprint after the bus. Because being trapped in a present continuous is just exhausting. It makes you fall into a loop of grief, in shapes that you’re not aware of being ways of manifesting grief.

You feel nostalgic, regretting things and periods of your life, often remorseful on how could you’ve done things better. These are, all, ways of grieving.

I can’t say that I will make things better after all this is going to end. But I will certainly tell those people what bothers me about them. I will go out with the dear ones that I keep postponing over and over. I will go into that coffee shop and tell that barista what an awesome guy he is, and how I’d wish to have discovered the place earlier. Basically, all the tiny things that my timidity stopped me from doing. It will not be huge, it will not change the world, but it will change me, for better or worse.  

Because, and that’s another bitter discovery I’ve made, the opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude, but grief, as it is making us hold on to some old ties, most of them cutting new scars into our souls.

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.