Fearing the End of the Story

It’s starting to feel like I’m hitting the denouement of my story. At least, it feels like I’m hitting it for this part of my story…

I’ve been living in the climax of a stressful, traumatic, gritty, exhausting story for the last four years or so. Unlike the climax in a short story, my life story climax plateaued and stayed climactic for a really long fucking time.

But I can feel myself progressing. I can see it and this week in particular, I’m having an upswing, which is a very welcome change after months and months of being depressed.

But it’s all starting to change and, to be honest, that scares me a little bit.

Okay, it scares me quite a bit. Because I harbour a deep sense of fear that healing means my past doesn’t matter or is no longer true.

I’m often scared that if I stop being an outright champion and reiterating the facts of my past loudly and consistently, then people will think (and I will feel) like they didn’t happen. That me growing and moving forward isn’t a positive thing; that it’s an obliteration of all that came before and as such, leaves no room for relapse, triggers, memories, or scars.

I’m scared of getting better, which sounds ridiculous, but letting go of the fierceness that’s kept me safe and strong is incredibly uncomfortable.

Why do I sabotage myself like this? Why stymie the progress in my life for the sake of holding onto a broken and battered story? Why not celebrate the fact that I’m safe and have moments of joy and can relax sometimes and have goals and achievements that I’ve accomplished as an individual? What the hell is wrong with me??

Well, we all know that the answer to that question—nothing at all, and a whole helluva lot.

I think I’m scared because I learned to not trust good things. I learned that setting expectations guarantees disappointment and that making goals or changes results in failure. These are some of the strongest lessons I carry with me from my past as a codependent and I resent them as much as I recognize them. I hate their potency as I begin to notice all the good shit that’s going on in my life again. I give space to my fear and allow it to bring me back to a state of helplessness, which on an intellectual level I recognize is bullshit, but on an emotional level, feels (strangely) comfortable and normal.

So how to avoid giving up? How to stop the self-sabotage? How to savour the good stuff and build my confidence while recognizing that moving forward absolutely does NOT mean that my past doesn’t matter?

My first instinct is to answer that with a “hell if I know!”, but I DO actually know! The answer lies in the capacity I developed during my trauma to survive…I can’t quit. I just don’t give up. I allow myself to feel my fear and to acknowledge it while also seeing the positive things that are happening at the same time. I get uncomfortable and then push through those feelings and keep trying. I embrace the upswing and the denouement; the falling action in the climactic journey I’ve had these last few years. I remember that every story remains for as long as we exist and that mine is still true even if I’m smiling and even if I move on.

I will always be a person with mental illness. I will always be an abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will always be myself. And being me is a nuanced, changing, shifting, growing, colourful experience; I can’t cling to one version or one time and say that it’s the only truth in my life!

I’m feeling ready to embrace more of who I am and give space to the things that come from this new acknowledgement. Maybe that sounds new-agey and super corny? Fuck it.

Yes, I’m still scared. I still worry (thanks anxiety) that I’ll fail at trying something new or that I’ll push myself too far and have to pull back from the goals I want to achieve. These are very real, very tangible fears that I’m not working at surpassing. I tell myself that being happier is something I deserve and that it’s possible, with love and support around me, to do more than just survive. It’s time to start thriving.

xxJ

Keep Fishin’, Keep Swipin’

I’ve had “Keep Fishin’” by Weezer stuck in my head all morning for exactly one particular reason: there’s this seemingly universal analogy that compares fishing to dating. Haven’t we all heard the phrase, “there are plenty of other fish in the sea”? There’s even a dating website called “Plenty of Fish” and in fact, a quick online search tells me that the “more fish in the sea” idiom (or similar iterations of it) dates back as far as the late 1500s, so clearly this is something deeply ingrained in our culture.

I’ve tried to fish a handful of times and only ever caught weeds and rocks, which was both frustrating and highly unsatisfying. After these experiences, I feel like I’m able to understand why we try to console ourselves, both about catching fish and about finding love, by promising that a better catch is just another cast away. Because, as I attempt to meet a partner, I’m metaphorically casting my fishing line out again and again, hoping for a decent catch of some kind. But, to continue with the fishing metaphor, despite the bait I choose, or the way I throw my line, I always seem to end up with an empty hook or a fish so puny that it needs to be thrown back.

And this is my point: there seem to be plenty of single people looking for someone to be with, but few are actually willing or able to do what it takes to make that happen and, in general, they seem to treat other people like a stinky boot they just pulled out of the water.

Why are we all making each other feel like shit when we should be trying to make each other feel more connected? I mean, you want to be happy, I want to be happy; you want to connect, I want to connect… There’s no way to get to know someone without having a conversation. And just because it may turn out that we’re not compatible as a couple, it doesn’t mean that we should be dicks to each other.

Dating pokes at all my insecurities; in fact, it puts them all on high-alert. That’s because dating is, at its core, an exercise of making yourself vulnerable over and over again. And when you come from a history of abuse, you’re far more tender and raw than people who haven’t. It’s so much harder to allow yourself to be vulnerable when you come from relationship trauma and the sting of rejection, or betrayal, or even just a perceived threat or slight, is far more potent than it would be otherwise.

I actually loathe the expression “there are plenty of other fish in the sea”. No, seriously; I hate hearing it. (And I hate that this stupid Weezer song is stuck in my head, pounding its catchy pop hook against my brain.) When someone says that to me, I feel like I’m being consoled as a 17-year-old who’s crying after a breakup. Except that at 17, you knew (c’mon, you did know!) that your relationship probably wasn’t going to be “the one” because breakups are part of growing up and we pretty much all go through them in our younger years.

The difference between those breakups and breakups now is that the ones in our youth came with a promise: that you would move on and meet someone better and not feel sad for very long. At that age, most of our friends were going through the same shit and most of them were living lives that pretty closely resembled ours, so you didn’t feel alone and you had plenty of opportunities to meet someone new at school or the mall or wherever.

As you get older, finding love gets a lot harder, and I say that as a person in their early thirties, so I can just imagine that it will become exponentially harder if I stay single into my 40s or beyond. But it also feels like if I have baggage like a history of abuse, a shitty ex-partner,  or a dependence on psychiatric meds to keep me stable, then other people my age must have similar experiences that could help them be compassionate. I accept that these are not the things that we should put in the front window of our dating storefront displays, but I also feel like it’s these experiences that have likely led us to be single, so shouldn’t there be some understanding?

Why not be kinder to each other as we float around in the dating ocean? Let’s allow our fishing lines to get tangled, even if only briefly, and then carefully unwind them with decent behaviour and a shred of integrity. There’s enough trash in the world’s oceans; why add more shit to the pile?

As I wade back into the waters of 21st century courtship, I think I’ll adjust Weezer’s lyrics to reflect our modern times and my own experience…sing it with me, people:

“Oh yeah when they keep ghosting you
keep swipin’ cause they’re not for you
there’s nothin’ much that we can do
to save us from ourselves.”

xxJ

The Proliferation of False Positivity

My biggest pet peeve is the proliferation of false positivity.

False positivity litters Instagram, Facebook, magazine pages (wait, does anyone still read actual magazines??), blogs, web sites, self-help books, and almost all other media and advertising. We seem to be living in an era where we are told that simply having the “right” attitude is what will fix all of our problems:

Okay, first of all, no one should be taking advice from a fictional character, ESPECIALLY not Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp…ew!). Secondly, I’ll buy that the way we think about things affects our experiences of them, but I refuse to promise myself or anyone else that just “changing my attitude” will solve all my problems. In fact, I see this kind of bullshit approach to managing mental health and personal well-being as reductive and limiting. It tells me that if I’m feeling shitty, it’s because I just don’t have the right attitude! As a survivor of abuse and a person with diagnosed mental health disorders, I’m offended by the suggestion that my attitude about these traumas and struggles is what’s affecting my ability to heal or feel well.

And this is the problem, I feel, with what I’m calling “false positivity”. False positivity reduces our legitimate struggles into memes and clichés that essentially instruct us to ignore or disassociate from our problems. OR they create a sense of shame and blame that we can’t just “attitude” our way out of them!

Look at this bullshit! I guess it’s supposed to be uplifting, but it feels like anything BUT uplifting to me! If only I could simply use my supernaturally powerful thoughts to think away the abuse I endured, the chemistry of my brain, and the long-term trauma that’s resulted from my struggles with these things! Wow! Either I’ve been handed a magic key to happiness (nope!), or I’m being blamed for the trauma I experienced (yep!).

And this! This actually makes me angry. Like, I want to go punch something right now, because it’s so wrong to suggest that betrayal by someone you trust and love is actually a blessing or a gift! It’s the same with suggesting that my anxiety is a gift in disguise. Or that emotional abuse was a blessing because now it’s fueled this blog and my writing.

My anxiety is a daily and lifelong struggle. It was exacerbated to the extreme by my abusive partners. I did not asked to be abused. I have not fully recovered from that abuse and likely never will. And most of all, it’s NOT MY FAULT that people took advantage of me. Telling me that I should just “think differently” or see my experience of abuse (or the aftermath of it) as anything other than trauma is exceptionally upsetting to me.

I found these and many, many more after spending only about 10 minutes scrolling through Instagram. All of them create so much unease within me. I’m frustrated that people seem to think that comments like the ones in these screenshots are helpful, authentic, or reasonable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they are more damaging than anything. They offer, at best, a temporary sense of relief from whatever mental anguish is ailing us, but the consequence of that is, I believe, a perpetuation or deepening of the shame/fear/struggle/anger/issues that we are trying to cope with.

You can’t solve real problems with fake positivity.

So what is an alternative? How can we offer better support and cultivate hope for people who are struggling for any reason? Why do we continue to rely on cute memes and catchy Instagram posts instead of addressing our problems in more authentic and lasting ways?

I believe that vulnerability and authenticity are the key to managing these problems better. For example, my writing with head/strong is based on relating my first-hand experience and offering insights into how I *actually* manage (or don’t) based on the  knowledge I have right now. You don’t have to swear like a sailor to be authentic; you just have to be consistently honest and allow yourself to admit fault, to share struggles, and to relate the real experiences you have.

Therapy can be a great tool for cultivating self-awareness and authenticity. Good therapists don’t hand you answers (which is effectively what the images above are trying to do); they help you work through your struggles and co-develop the coping strategies that work best for you.

Unfortunately, therapy isn’t accessible to enough people. And it can be really hard, even IF you can afford and find therapy, to get a counsellor whom you work well with! Just because they’re qualified as a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health worker, doesn’t mean that they’re able to support you in the ways that you need. My experience is that I have the most success in finding therapy when I reach out to referrals from trusted people in my life and then set up what are essentially interviews with these prospective therapists. If we don’t mesh in that interview, then I try someone else.

My first therapy experience was with someone who didn’t care to know me as an individual. We made progress in some regards, but the lasting impression from that experience is more trauma that I carry with me. I’ve learned how to speak up for myself so much more now that I’m not willing to accept people like that in my care team or in my life in general. (‘Bout fucking, time, eh?) It’s been decades of learning to get to this point though and I know how lucky I am that I can access exceptionally high quality counselling as I need it.

After learning so much in therapy, mental health programs, and lots of hard work, I can’t look at bullshit like what I see on Instagram and buy into it. I guess I can imagine, though, that some people feel good when they read something like this:

At least, they likely feel good for a moment or two…

But really, how practical is it to “walk like you are made of magic”? Like, how the hell do you even do that? What does this have to do with improving your mental health (the screenshot came from a mental health support post) and how effectively does its message of “walking with magic” reduce the legitimacy of mental health (or any) struggles?

My god, I wish I could feel like magic all the time! I can’t. No one can! And I don’t want to feel a sense of shame for “failing” to walk like magic when clearly that’s exactly what I should be doing to fix my life.

What do you think about false positivity? Do images like the ones in this post lift you up in authentic ways, or are you like me and view them cynically (and likely cringe) whenever they show up in your news feed or wherever?

I plan to continue avoiding and remaining skeptical of messages like the ones I screenshot for this blog post. And my goal with head/strong (and in general) is to continue being authentic and offering real, tangible ideas for how to manage as an abuse survivor and a person with mental health problems—we can do so much better than telling ourselves that our attitude is the problem, instead of the problem being the problem.

xxJ

My attitude towards false positivity (artist unknown, unfortunately)