The S between us

Even if normally I tend to write differently, this week’s article will be centered more on the story, as it feels so important to be shared, to gain a better understanding.

Not that long ago, a guy asked me if depression ever cures. I told him that, no, it doesn’t. Not in the same way a cold would. But there are remission periods that, in a best-case scenario supported by the right amounts of psychotherapy and medication, last for years. He told me that he asked me that particular question because he has met a woman. And she is depressed. Diagnosed by a professional, not by Dr. Google.

I’ve asked him what’s the thing about it, and he told me that he has second thoughts about dating her, now that he’s aware of the fact that depression is a lifetime-lasting condition. He told me that it sucks, but it didn’t really hit me until he said to me I won’t have a relationship with her based on my empathy for her condition, I want someone normal by my side.

And then, it hit me. It wasn’t about that woman, she surely is a wonderful person. It was about him, and the way he’s seeing the world. About the chameleon always around us called stigma.

To keep the definition short, any label that favors discrimination is a stigma. There’s stigma everywhere: attached by your professional status, relationship status, financial status, and, of course, medical status.

More often then not, we tend to overlook the stigma and its presence in our lives. I have this tendency myself. But, at that moment, I thought She is, probably, awesome. A real, imperfect, yet strong and inspiring woman. She certainly didn’t have it easy. But every single good thing about her will be undermined by the fact that she is not normal. And that’s a shameful thing, indeed.

Of course, there is a man’s right to choose his significant other as he feels. But rejecting someone based on diagnosis will never be an actual choice. It is, usually, a proof of lacking empathy. Labeling someone before you even get to have a coffee with that person, to actually know it, is stigma. A harmful behavior, as it often brings up feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. And even if we know that we hate feeling like that ourselves, truth is that things are even worse if you face a chronic illness.

As a chronic illness person, you constantly tend to try and see yourself through other people’s eyes. To understand what could make them stay around you despite your illness. It could be your charisma, your sense of style, your intelligence, determination, the fact that they feel safe and empowered around you… a lot of things, basically, that don’t depend on a diagnosis or the lack of it.

But what about those facing a mental condition? For them, every new day brings a new battle. Their illness affects their mood, determination, their personality as well in some cases. They tend to be unstable, not because they want to, but because that’s part of their illness. Even so, some of them are wonderful people. Caring, genuinely interested in other people, open to be known better, to know you better. Some of them are artists or volunteering for NGOs, trying to offer to other people the support they needed at some point in their lives. Some tend to focus on more practical stuff. They all are worth knowing better. Being seen as they are, respected, helped, cared for, loved. Just like any other human being.

Yet, some of them never get to experience this part of their lives, because of the judgmental people that use their diagnosis as a sentence. As an excuse for giving up in the very beginning. And if for some people facing another kind of medical issue this can be more bearable, for them is not. A person facing a mental health issue will meet rejection frequently, in every aspect of her life, but the thing is how that person is rejected.

Being rejected for not being the right person for the one you’re into, or for that one job you would’ve wanted so bad to get, is one thing, and it happens to all of us. But being rejected with the underlying message that it’s not you, it’s that thing… That’s hard to bear, as it cancels everything good about yourself. It tells you that nothing could make up for that. Where that isn’t something that you could, as an individual, be blamed for.

 If there’s something that could only be accomplished with constant education and documentation, that’s more likely a better understanding of how mental health issues are functioning like. Because they’re not just a phase. Won’t just pass either. They’re affecting that person’s brain, balance, and lifestyle. And no one wants to have that kind of life, where you’re constantly between highs and lows, without any grey area to breathe in.

Stigma is fueled by stereotypes and misunderstandings that became popular. That’s why reading and asking about sensitive topics, like mental health illnesses, is the only way of getting rid of it. And if you’re feeling ashamed to ask a professional, you can always ask a person that you know suffering from depression, or any other chronic condition. They will answer all of your concerns and misunderstanding, even sharing documentation resources with you.

Because, at the end of the day, there are a few things that will remain unchanged. Like the fact that the easy way won’t be fulfilling, and the fulfilling way won’t be easy. Also, it is worth questioning our beliefs every now and then, especially when they can have an impact over the vulnerable categories, like the disabled, the mental illness patients, the poor people, the sexual minorities, and see what harm could bring them our attachment to our toxic, outdated beliefs. Keep always in mind that ignorance is like a walnut’s shadow: nothing ever grows underneath. Especially not meaningful relationships with other people. So the next time when you tend to avoid someone because of a stigmatizing label, sit a little and ask yourself is it really worth it, a reason good enough for me not getting to know this person? and you’ll have a surprise. More often than not, the answer is no.

The word that frightens begins with C

Last week, I had a talk with a good friend that asked me, Lucretia, why are some people always complaining about their lives, but they refuse to make a change for the better? I admit, I’ve been taken by surprise by her question, as nothing from our little chit-chat was pointing to it, but it also made me smile.

Truth is, even if all kinds of words have all kinds of powers, one has the particular power of scaring people more than everything. Its name is Change. Of course, we’re told that change is good, that we need to look for it and embrace it with all our being, but the truth be told, for most of us, change ain’t pretty at all.

Change is not frightening by itself, as most people understand that it is nothing to be endlessly avoided. What makes it frightening, though, is its complexity and, even more often than that, its costs.

Because change is, before anything else, a process. A long-term process, involving being put in front of your own mistakes and flaws, and asked Do you like what you see? The real answer is, usually, no. And this is where the fun begins. Choosing to change is the first step, and the easiest to take, even if it doesn’t feel easy at all. The root of change, however, of noticeable change, is giving up. You give up whatever you notice that is holding you back- beliefs, habits, relationships. You might even have to give up on perspectives, and that’s a tough one to be done, I admit.

If you think about this, the existence of people who fear changes becomes understandable. No one likes the process of changing, but we all want the results of it. It sounds foolish and naïve, but it’s called being human. Evolutionary talking, change was never something good, or something to be hyped about. It meant loss, uncertainty, anxiety, maybe even danger. That’s how our brains got wired, during a long, long period, to resist change. That’s also the reason why we fear more social changes than we do fear the technical ones.

This is also why it takes so long for an individual to actually change something that bothers its life. It is, above everything else, an inner battle- a battle between your current dissatisfaction, and your amygdala, telling you that everything is fine just the way it is now, but it might not be as good if you’ll make changes. Maybe things will get worse, instead of getting better. That’s how your close ones dismissing changes think. This is how the change resistance sounds like.

It has never been about laziness or dreaming small dreams. It has never been about not wanting to be a better version of yourself, either, we all want that. It has, however, always been about fearing the process and the costs. Costs that are not small at all, if you give them a second thought. If you add to this some past traumatic events, the resistance to change is bigger than one could possibly expect. And, at some point in our lives, any changes, however big or small, involve the risks of new traumas. So, once put in front of this eventuality, the ordinary individual will make the safest choice, which is, usually, stagnation.

Because after the moment of deciding to make a change, confusion is coming. Ok, I have to change something, this is not what I want my life to be like. But…what should I actually change about my life? And this is how the whole process, anxiety generating and pretty painful, begins. There is a good reason behind the old saying the first steps are the hardest to take, and it applies the best when it comes to the trauma survivors faced with an urge for change.

This is something that personal development didn’t have the courage yet to tackle. Everyone tells you how wonderful the changing process is, and what a wonderful person you’re gonna be at the end of it. Somehow, nobody talks about the ugly fights that happen before one takes the decision to engage in a changing process.

About the self-monologues one has, that tells you to keep what’s working not as a way of seeing what could serve your purposes and what should be changed, but as a way to keep everything. And that also includes the things, beliefs, routines, and relationships that brought you up to that point, too.

Another reason why we have to battle our tendencies of resisting change is attachment. Yes, the good old emotional attachment. We have finally figured out a way of doing things that work (ok, ok, it could be improved, but it works out fine just like it is, too!), so we got attached to it. We like it. And you come and tell us that it should…change? For the sake of the better? The answer will be, most likely, a big no.

Because we like things as they are, and we want them to remain that way for as long as possible. We like our good evening routines and our good morning habits. We like having certain persons around us, even if we are aware that our lives would be way better without them around. This is how it works- we figure out something, we notice it working out in a decent way, we get to like it, and then we dismiss the guys that keep preaching change over and over again.

Yes, change is good. Sometimes, it is so, so needed. But the moment when an individual becomes aware of its need for change is something deeply personal. No book or workshop will ever teach you how to spot it, or how could you tell if somebody has reached that point. This is why most of the change missionaries tend to fail. Because there’s no outer clue to tell you if that the person in front of you needs a change in its way of lifestyle, or it is just your projection about it who’s talking.

So, whenever you feel the need to tell someone that they could just make a change take a deep breath and ask yourself which was the last remarkable change you have taken yourself. You might be surprised of the answer, and it might just as well remind you that every person has its very own life map, with changes and all the milestones marked accordingly. Learn to see the differences between their maps, and yours, as it is the only right way to choose for evolution.

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.