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.

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.