When not all vampires fear the light

Scrolling down the Internet these days I’ve seen a question on a page saying If you could go back to your past and unmeet someone, who would it be? and it really got me thinking. If I could unmeet people from my life, those would be a friend and two of the men I’ve loved so far. Three different persons, but with a really important shared trait: they’re all takers.

My friend was a simple girl, wanting to have a successful life and turn into a better woman. And I tried to give her some help with it, as she asked me to. I started to share with her books, film recommendations, to try and have debates on topics that mattered to her, to help her gain clarity. And, still, she kept on doing the same mistakes and complaining about the same things year after year.

Everything till one day, when I got to understand that it was never about me not being a good enough friend to her, but about her unspoken need to be constantly in the spotlight. She wanted attention, wanted to make everything about her, and she discovered that the easiest way of getting it without having to give something in return is to be the victim of the story. But only the fact that she wasn’t willing to admit, once I got tired enough to try and fail to be helpful, that she wanted to vent and have my attention, not help, made me leave the friendship behind.

Talking about the men, there are much shorter stories to be told. One was a nice guy, you know the type, who wouldn’t take a no for an answer, no matter how often it was told. Because, obviously, he was such a nice guy that managed to always make feel guilty about saying no. The other one seemed to be the perfect man, but loving him proved to be one of the most toxic experiences I’ve got so far.

What’s the common point? They wanted to have it all. Attention, resources, affection, everything I got, and was good. But when it came to giving back? Less is more seemed to be the golden rule. They were not able to fully understand that not everything has to be around them. That one could have joys, sorrows, worries, anxieties…that has nothing to do with them. Nope, those were quickly dismissed, as the main subject was put on hold. And the main subject was also something about them.

It hurt at first, admitting to myself that I cared so much about people who’ve got such a bad influence on me. It still leaves a bitter smile on my face, but I still have a reason to smile: because of them, I’ve gained a better understanding of this kind of person.

I know it is not something they’re fully aware of. It is a painful subject to be addressed, the source of this type of behavior. I also know it is not about me, either. I did what I was able to do, with the knowledge I had at those points in my life. Truth is it wasn’t more than a sad encounter in any of the cases.

And this is how it usually happens: the giver meets the taker. It is the toxic half of the duo that one’s looking for without even knowing. And, as draining and as painful as it could be for the giver, they will meet until they learn their lesson. About how to establish and respect boundaries. There’s nothing more important when it comes to human interactions than this one aspect.

I know the narrative where saying no is making you a selfish, evil person, but it’s wrong. It is wrong and harmful. A taker wants to fill up an inner void, but they never think about how constantly taking without putting something else in place affects the giver. That they are recreating the same void they try so hard to avoid but in someone else’s life.

They don’t think about it and will make a whole tragedy if you tell them. Because, in this story, there has to be only one receiver, and it has to be them, always them. They are, always, the helpless ones, the ones that require to be taken care of. It doesn’t matter how they do it. It can be by never listening to you when you’ve got something to tell them that means a lot to you, but doesn’t affect them. It can show up like never really feeling happy for your accomplishments. It can be an attempt to convince you that your feelings are not valid. It can take a lot of forms, much more than you could possibly imagine, but in the end, it is about the same thing: about being out of the spotlight.

I remember reading some of Eric Berne’s books, and seeing something that stuck with me to this day: for children, receiving negative attention is preferable instead of being ignored. At first, I looked at the sentence a bit surprised, then read again. Now I am just as surprised as I was when I first met the idea, but because it amazes me how many adults act just the same. The father of transactional analysis was jus saying that children associate being ignored with being abandoned, which could, in older times, bring them in dangerous situations. Therefore, they did what they could to receive attention from the grown-ups. Whatever paying attention to them meant to the adults. It could’ve been as reproaches, blame, didn’t matter that much as long as it was attention, it was about them. For some people, doing something bad and being punished was, sadly, the only form of parental attention they’ve ever received, because why bother when everything works well?

This means that the people that received more attention when they misbehaved, even if it was negative, taking the shape of slurs or quarrels, become grown-ups acting the same due to their wounds. They prefer to start an argument with you, rather than not talking at all. Why? Because that’s how they were taught it works. And any lesson about emotions that we’ve learned as children will be painfully difficult to be unlearned as adults.

But, and this is a huge one. It is not your job to heal them, it’s theirs. You can only support them and be there for them. Of course, they will not do it, because it is painful, uncomfortable, and a losing move for them. If they heal, they will have to reciprocate, to give in return exactly what they pretend to receive. And that means a whole other journey of learning how to open up and give. To actually give to other people meaningful parts of who you are.

Your job, however, is to take good care of yourself. To understand that being picky with who you’re giving access to your resources won’t make you a bad person. Will only help you preserve those resources and your sanity for people that deserve having access to them, to people that will give you other things in return. Your job is to look in the mirror, see what you’re truly being made of, and not letting anyone else suck the spirit out of you, no matter how helpless they seem to be.

Because being selfish, being self-absorbed, is not the same as being a person that is going through dark times. There is a difference, and that difference, the moment when you can accurately spot it, is the game-changing point. And the sooner you’ll find it, the better your life will be. Vampires will always be around, ready to take every good thing you could give, while they’re ready to put your dark side in the spotlight and demonize you, but they don’t fear sunlight anymore. They fear boundaries, so state yours clearly, and make sure everyone, including yourself, is respecting them. What you have to offer is good, important, and necessary to many, so choose those that really deserve it.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

And as well the most exhausting time of the year. Just think about it, about all the gifts, family dinners, friends’ nights, about all the small talk and the preparations needed in order to make a good figure. Yes, it’s Christmas time…again. And this could be pretty tiresome for some of us.

But Christmas, as any other big celebration, could be as much of a festive time if you’ve had a rough period mentally as it is for the others. You just have to set some limits for yourself and for the others.

I tend to call this eating the dessert first, because just like that, it puts me in a good place, mentally speaking. This, outside the kitchen, means that I begin every festive season with the things that I genuinely like doing.

Treasure-hunting for the prettiest gifts I could think of, decorating the house, helping mom with the cooking. These are the dessert when I speak of household chores.

When it comes to people, however, things tend to get complicated, as I know for a fact that there are people that I can’t really avoid. And, as in every story, they tend to be exactly the nosey relatives I’d give anything to get rid of, at least for a while. 

As I cannot, though, this made me sit a bit longer with myself and analyze the whole context. To see what exactly bothers me when it comes to them, and how much I can be in control of that. Surprisingly, I’ve discovered that they don’t bother me as human beings, as I really love them and I can actually enjoy spending time with them, but the problems tend to appear whenever they begin with their old interrogatory.

I’ve also noticed that the greatest amount of discomfort appears when they try to get to my personal life sphere (maybe because, before being a person who struggles with a pretty rough period, I’m also an introvert). For you the no-no domain might be your professional life, or maybe your health. 

It is important, crucial to identify the domain that you’d prefer to avoid talking about, and especially why you don’t want to. This might be helpful to your growth, as knowing more and more about yourself tends to be.

The second and the public part, however, involves finding your formula. The go-to line, always ready to be served in a talk, when they tend to be uncomfortably nosey. It doesn’t have to be offensive in order to be effective, a simple It just wasn’t my year can make wonders, as it offers an answer and signaling them that you’re not comfortable in sharing details. 

If I’d have to say which is the ‘dessert’ part when it comes to holiday visits, I’d say that it involves catching up first with your dearest ones. We all have that cousin, or that high-school friend that we simply adore, but we are awful at synchronizing with. Well, this is the best time to go and pay them a visit first, or make that phone call we always postpone for whenever we’ll have a bit more free time. 

It could also be someone from the past that we dearly miss and with whom we’d love to catch up again. The Christmas gives us the perfect reason to share a kind thought with them.

But, if you need a bit more help than this, here you have a list with my golden tricks for living the Christmas magic while keeping my mental health as good as possible:

  • Do something for yourself daily

Yes, holidays tend to be a break in our usual life rhythm. You can adapt easier to this break if you do something you love for the sake of it daily. It could be sitting in bed with a hot mug beside you and a movie, a good bath, whatever helps you. This also helps recharging after every visit that could’ve been exhausting or annoying. Small acts of kindness  still matter.

  • Don’t guilt trip

I don’t know how things are in your community, but here Christmas involves a looot of food. Tasty, fat and hypercalorical food, in insane amounts. And every family has that one member that gets upset if they see that you haven’t finished your plate.

If you’re anything like me, you know how guilty  this makes you feel. You get to feel guilty eitherway, even if you give no damn about how much or what are you eating, or if you choose to say no to auntie’s next course. So just choose what’s best for you, instead of trying to fit everywhere and please everybody.

  • Remember your good parts

Holidays tend to be rough, and they often make us feel unworthy, as we tend to compare ourselves to others more than in the rest of the year. To diminish that feeling of unworthiness, it could help you if you keep a gratitude diary, to state daily a good part of being you and a thing that you are really, really grateful about. It always helps me keep it real, as I remember constantly who am I and what I did good so far.

Holiday meetings should never put us into a competition with our loved ones.

  • Celebrate your own way

As I was stating above, part of the game is keeping it real to yourself. This means that it’s ok if you get all hyped up by the Christmas spirit since   November, but it’s also ok if you don’t feel moved by all the red-glittery-bright-lights thing. It’s ok if you feel like you should lose contact with some people, even if they are related to them, or if you don’t feel like being the life of any party or visit. It is just as good if you choose to live as in any other day of the year, as if you’d choose to go all-in with the festive thing.

You just have to make your own choices, and this is the most important thing to understand. That having a poor mental health, or maybe just an introverted type of personality shouldn’t make you the try-hard person, who tries to fit in anyone else’s but his own standards and ideas. That is fine to celebrate your own way, and is just as fine if you won’t celebrate at all. 

  • Ask for help

Yes, it might be the case. It doesn’t sound pretty, but the holidays bring a huge wave of depression and suicidal thoughts. Ask for help if you feel that your best is not enough to keep you safe. It might be your mom, your best friend, a therapist or maybe someone you deeply and genuinely admire. Don’t hesitate, don’t think that you’ll be ruining their holidays, just reach out. It would hurt them way more to know that they won’t see you smiling anymore because you were too afraid that you could ruin the Christmas dinner if you’ll be honest with them. Please, remember that, even if you might not feel like it, the world is a better place because you’re a part of it.

And if you notice changes in a loved person’s behaviour, be brave enough to talk openly to them. You can never know how much of a difference a hug and some kind words can do in someone’s life.

With this being said, let’s enjoy the Christmas holidays our own way, all while we keep caring for our and our loved ones mental health. Merry Christmas, wherever you’d be, and whatever this would mean for you!

New times opening new doors: when self-love fades away

There aren’t many things that can compare, when depression comes into one’s life, to the loss of individual’s self-worth. And, today more than ever, this loss is visible, impacting especially the way that the person thinks about her appearance and body. If this used to be a girls’ thing, now it’s a collective problem, affecting us all. Because, yeah, when depression comes, the self-love starts to pack and fade away. When you’re in a bad place for your mental health, all the insecurities that you thought there are long gone, start making their comeback into your life. This is how you know that things are getting rough again.

For as long as I can recall, my most difficult relationship was the one that I’ve had with my body. It was never good enough for me, with the extra-weight and all the other things I used to hate about myself.

Because I’ve been hating myself and the way I look for way too many years. I used to say that it’s enough that I’m ugly, and tried my best to achieve what society defined as beauty. Obviously, this led me to a whole bunch of debatable decisions. It was in my early teenage years where I started to feel unworthy. Unworthy of being seen as attractive, beautiful, of receiving compliments regarding my looks, of feeling…I don’t know, feminine, maybe?

As any story, this one reached its peak when I’ve reached my biggest weight, and my lowest self-image. It was 6 years ago. At that time, I was sick of seeing my own body, and started to avoid every mirror or reflection of it. Looking backwards, I can’t explain how comes that I didn’t developed an eating disorder, but it must be some magic involved.

But at that time, the self-hatred started to fade away, even if I was stuck with the guilt. That’s why, when a weight-loss plan was proposed to me, I’ve accepted it: because I wanted that guilt to stop. And, as I was getting thinner, the guilt was leaving room to confidence.

It didn’t last as long as I wished, though. As the depression made its comeback into my life, so did the insecurities regarding my body, and the mindless eating. Yet, it was something different in this comeback.

And the difference was that I knew that I can do better. That it is a period, not something that would last a lifetime.But this doesn’t mean it has not been one hell of a journey, because it totally was.

Being aware of the fact that I was, at a certain point, capable to do better, was a thing that really enhanced the hurt and frustration. The if I was able to do it then, why am I not able to do it now mentality wasn’t helping me at all, it just helped me  become more frustrated and guiltier day after day. A big part of the recovery journey was a fight.

Fighting the guilt, the frustration, the thought that I failed myself by not reaching my goal. Trying to come back to a disciplined way of eating and living, and failing every attempt. The more radical it was, the bigger and quicker the failure. Add this up to the already old battle with my feelings of hurt, numbness, being unworthy, and lack of purpose, and here we go: a big, beautifully dramatic depressive episode.

But as nothing’s ever built to last, neither was this thing. One day, I gave up on the diary where I was rating my weeks, in the attempt of becoming more aware of my progress, understood back then as a comeback to the life I’ve had until that summer, and stood still.

I stopped trying to force things and, as letting life flow, I’ve understood one important thing. The most important relationship I will ever have is the one with my own body. It is the ultimate relationship, as it sets my demands and expectations from interacting with other people, my relationship with the society, my long term well-being. It was a huge revelation, understanding the fact that I don’t have to love myself in order to genuinely care about myself.

And this is how things started to change again. Not on the scale, but on the inside, as I’ve finally understood that what I deserve and the way I look like should never correlate and, if they do, it is a sign that I’m in the wrong context.

If it was to choose a point, some kind of milestone that marked the beginning of the real recovery, this was it. Understanding that I may not feel beautiful, I may not love my body, because I didn’t reach that point yet, but that is not my right to bring it harm. That food is not going to help me get over the bad times, or make the depression walk away.

That was also the moment when I’ve noticed how depression alienates me from my body. How it made me sleep, eat and behave was totally opposed to what I knew. But not unexpected. Because when the pain comes, we gotta deal with it somehow. And here this meant lots of sleeping, eating, isolating and crying. It was not the best thing to do, and definitely not the wisest, but it helped get through the period as safe as possible.

Can’t say that I’m proud, or that I’ve made it. I’m still looking at what the society calls beautiful, and then I look in the mirror. I still notice how far of the social beauty I am. But the achievement is that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I am aware of the distance, but I don’t feel guilty for not fitting in anymore.

It might sound sad, and almost cliché, but it took me 25 years and a serious depression to really aknowledge the fact that I can still be pretty in my own way, regardless of what society claims as beautiful, feminine or attractive.

This period brought the clear image of all the ways society made me feel bad about myself, by constantly telling me that I’m not enough. That my body doesn’t look magazine-worthy enough to allow myself to feel beautiful or eat my favorite foods without shame or guilt trips.

That I can’t afford being picky about my clothes, friends or men, because I don’t look beautiful enough to afford having my own standards. But I suppose that this is also a part of growing up, the development of the ability to give no damn about what is inoculated as a general standard. Not in one’s personal life. And any attempt of personal life begins with the relationship we have with our bodies.

There is no universal recipe to do it. Just spend time with yourself and the people who love you, ask them about the good they see in you, because we often tend to see our bad parts before we see the good ones, do things that really make you happy. Dance, eat, smile, enjoy any kind of pleasure. Don’t get stuck on façades that have nothing to do with your own image about yourself, and explore.

Explore the internet, the fashion history, the subcultures, the aesthetic of your favorite decades, you name it. Explore, document yourself, pick your favorites and try to integrate them into your wardrobe, and give up on feeling guilty about who you are.

This was my recipe, mixed with lots of moments when I’ve just sit in front of the mirror, naked, analysing it, as an attempt of getting familiar with it without the judgment. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes did not, but for sure it led me to an intimate connection between me and my body, happening as the attachment to the socially-promoted ideas was fading.

Of course, this story has no ending. Every depressive episode shakes the balance and brings up physical insecurities. It is part of the process, as well as learning the lessons which are unfolding in front of our eyes. But, as I know more about my body, managing depression becomes easier. Because, at the end of the day, I know, deep down, that between being worthy and looking like you’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine covers, ain’t no correlation.

We are all in this, fighting all these constant pressures daily, and we are all worthy. Worthy of love, acceptance, care. But, first of all, we’re all worthy of having a good, intimate relationship with our bodies. And this is something I hope that each and every one of us, men or women, will achieve, in its very own rhythm.

Because there’s no outer relevant shoulds and what ifs when it comes to one’s personal journey towards well-being and balance, and we should never let other people drag us into journeys that are not ours. And this is something that applies on the way we get to know our bodies as well. Or especially there.