Eyes drawn upwards
You would think I thought all the answers
Were written in the clouds,
In the craters of the moon,
In between the changing hues –
Orange, yellow into blue
I’m just searching for you.
Distracted by the calm of the skies,
I’m reminded of what I
Saw in your eyes -
And when the sun dips
Beneath the horizon –
Because I was never meant to have you,
I was never meant to find you
Look but don’t touch,
You gave me so much of a rush
That I thought it was love.
I still think it was love.
Imagine what life would have been like if you had
Thought it was love, too.
There’s nothing to regret,
Nothing I’d want to undo
Even all the time I spent crying over you.
It taught me
That the sun is to the moon
As you are to me.
As careful and restrained is to
Wild and carefree.
It had to be done.
Like the moon has to rely on the sun,
I had to rely on life to give me something that would make me shine…
Even if it burned.
Even if it came from elsewhere.
Even if it meant you were elsewhere.
I had to learn how to lose
In order to learn how to grow.
Like clouds that beautifully billow
Against a blue sky,
I had to know
That a time would come
When I would break,
When all that I had taken
Such care to create
Would become too heavy
And, for me, unnecessary
To cling to.
But like clouds don’t need to keep the rain,
I didn’t need to keep you
Nor keep the pain.
We never needed to remain,
We were needed elsewhere.
The longer I wait to write, the angrier I become with myself. This setup seems so foreign to me – How do I write? Was I ever able to do this? I’m annoyed that I even let myself get to this place where I’ve lost all momentum and motivation and discipline to write and I have to spend more time re-teaching my mind what my body has never forgotten how to do. My fingers don’t seem to fumble on a keyboard, yet I find myself hitting the backspace button repeatedly because my brain is a mess and can’t quite decide how it wants to express itself. It feels as though I've been stuck replaying the same level of a game over and over again. There's always something that prevents me from progressing and keeping me at square 1. I have insufficient experience, I haven't found a collectible needed to progress, there are enemies that lie in wait who remain undefeated.
I haven’t published on this website in months (I mean, the proof is in the archive). It has been ages since I’ve written anything more than a paragraph or two that wasn’t work-related. I remember when I purchased the domain to my website, I promised myself that I would post every Sunday or least dedicate some time to write on a Sunday. I’ve always found it unbelievably easy to break the promises I make to myself which is frustrating and strange considering how I bend over backwards to appease other people and uphold promises made to them that even they are unaware of. I suppose it makes some kind of sense. It’s easier to please other people than to please myself - I’m far less easily impressed. I make other people a priority so that I have an excuse not to focus on myself and my personal aspirations. Why? I don’t know, out of fear maybe? Maybe what I’m so scared of is going full force into taking my goals seriously and then failing. It’s been ingrained into me not to be selfish or self-serving to the point where my own failure would be processed as a warning that I had been focusing too much on myself. There’s a part of me that is so terrified at failing that it doesn’t even want to try. Of course, not trying is worse than failure because I haven’t grown from doing nothing – I just get more comfortable with the idea of being safe in nothingness. However, I can’t keep claiming to be a writer if I never write.
I need to be writing more with the purpose of publishing my writing. Otherwise, I’ll be waking up on the other side of five years abroad with nothing to show for it in regard to my writing goals. Writing is one of the few things that make me feel alive within every cell and semblance of my being. The problem comes with how I’ve used writing throughout my life as a healing activity. I learned that I was good at writing when I started writing about pain, more specifically when I wrote in a way that channelled my own pain. There has been so much therapeutic value that I’ve found in my writing, but that came at a price. I have conditioned myself to associate writing with pain and the processing of difficult emotions. I always end up writing about pain in some way, I end up caught up in the same cycle I’ve been in since high school. Even now, I’m writing about the pain of writing about pain. Hopefully the difference is that I’ll be able deconstruct and dismantle the cycle... because I’m so tired of writing about pain and sadness and heartbreak. I’m not saying I never want to write about those things again, I just don’t want that to be all that I am capable of writing. I want to be able to do more.
I remember being so terrified in high school to write about anything other than death because that’s all that I had written about convincingly. As much as my writing healed me, it kept me in a place where I was feeding into my own depression in order to have something to be sad about... in order to write again. University was similar, although more deeply connected to themes of unrequited love and heartbreak. Just a different kind of sadness. I found almost every excuse to punish myself. I wasn’t good enough for these people and that’s why could never return my affections. I was never good enough to be loved. Therefore, I needed to be punished. And then I could write. Sexual identity and orientation became promising themes for me as I struggled to come to terms with things that I had learned about who I was and the parts of myself that I had been hiding. While I speak more convincingly on those themes due to greater experience and confidence, I struggle to write about them because they are so wildly entangled with my history of self-harm and self-loathing that it would mean more writing about pain and suffering and inner turmoil.
Writing became cemented as strictly for healing and processing purposes. I never gave myself the room or allowance to grow as a writer beyond that. If I wasn’t in some kind of pain, I convinced myself that there was nothing to write about that I had the ability to convey - that only happy people could write happy things, and I was not happy. Any sort of published writing of mine has been decidedly depressing or at least recalls depressing times and experiences. So much time has passed since some of these moments on which my mind dwells. I gave myself an unnecessarily long grace period when I moved abroad, and even once I started taking my writing ambitions more seriously, I let myself make excuses and put other things ahead of them.
Now, I wish writing wasn’t so immediately triggering and traumatizing. It saddens me that the one thing that brings me such instant relief, release and joy has been imbued with the pain of my past. Every time I sit down to write, I’m inevitably sitting down to cry. I very rarely make it through writing something without crying. Most times I’ve just stopped. Issues I didn’t even know were issues bubble up from my subconscious and make their way into my train of thought. The pieces I have tried to work on often become derailed and lack their intended focus and depth, and I am usually left trying to stuff unwanted memories back into storage. I’ve processed my pain and past. My most eloquent style of writing, however, asks of me to dwell on old issues as if there’s something more to be said about them. The truth is that there isn’t anything for me to say – at least not in my writing, not anymore. It’s taking so much longer than I expected to learn how to take the heaviness out of my writing.
Does that make any sense?
New Years Day 2017, I was sitting on the edge of my bed feverishly drawing lines on a large piece of brown people taped to the wall with the stub of an oil pastel. I looked down at my friend who lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling as though her thoughts were swirling above her.
"Would you consider yourself to be a happy or a sad person?" I asked randomly, still moving my hand up and down my makeshift canvas. I don't know exactly why I asked in that moment or what I hoped would come from this conversation. She looked back at me, equally if not more confused, as she tried to formulate an answer. It was as though the thoughts that had been swirling above her had stopped moving, an answer waiting to be plucked from them.
"Like in a resting state, or a normal day... are you a happy or sad person?" I reiterated.
"I'm more happy," she said slowly but assuredly. I nodded immediately as it made sense to hear that answer come from her. She was very different from me. She seemed like a person who found it somewhat easier to be happy, but although she was my friend I didn't want to just assume things about her life, so I asked her. We talked a bit more on the subject about emotions and the mind. I've always been very aware of my vulnerability to depression, but that conversation remains a very vivid memory about what it is going to take for me to be 'happy', By the way, as if to prove the point of my resting state of sadness, I ended up drawing an homage to lost love that day .
Happiness has been weirdly packaged as this almost tangible, reachable thing. I used to believe that happiness was a goal to be reached. To think of it that way is just asking for fear. My relationship with the idea of happiness is a weird one - not because I don't want it, but because I would be too scared to lose it if I did have it. I've self-sabotaged myself in so many ways, so many times because I have learned to live without happiness rather than allowing myself to have anything worth losing. I don't know if it's just me, but my lows in life have felt devastating to a point where I do everything to avoid pain. Truly avoiding pain means avoiding happiness by default and entering a state of numbness. Sometimes it feels as though as I'm just weak and silly for complaining about something that everyone goes through, and other times I can't help but think that life affects me differently, that my lows are somehow lower, deeper, wider than they should be.
I've gone through life watching other find happiness and exude happiness in ways that feel or look practically unattainable to me. I find myself asking, "But, how can I do that?", "How can I even begin to have that." There's a trap out there when it comes to happiness, in that people would have you believe that happiness is and should be the same for everyone - that what makes one person happy, should be the same for the next person. There's also this idea of equating happiness with success and fulfillment. I've never considered them to be the same thing. Yet I've always felt dehumanized by the expectation that to be considered a functional and successful human being, I need to be happy. If you're not happy, you're broken - perpetuating the illusion that not being 'happy' in the way that the world sells it means that you are depressed or sad or unfulfilled. I don't understand where this monopoly over emotions came from. Now, it's a weird thing to try to justify and let me set the record straight - I'm not anti-happiness (what a weird statement). I just don't believe that the pursuit of happiness has been used or packaged in a healthy or realistic way. It has been used as a illusive ad unattainable ideal to draw people into doing and consuming things under the assumption that it will make their lives better.
I've taken way too long to put these thoughts into one somewhat cohesive blog post. It just goes to show how deep down I have shoved any ability to articulate my emotions outside of myself. Not addressing one's self is so temptingly easy - auto-pilot is always easy. It's just not living... for there is nothing to be felt.
We had had a party and the plastic, white outdoor chairs were due to be stacked up and put away until the next gathering. I don't know how young I was, probably around 5 - apparently old enough to stack chairs... or at least climb up them. I remember thinking, "How many chairs will it I need to stack in order to touch the sky?" I very remember standing on a stack of chairs (I wouldn't be surprised if it were only 2 or 3) and reaching up to the overcast sky with the expectation that I would be able to touch it, that I would so easily have the answer to my initial question. The world tells you that happiness is the sky. You don't realize that happiness hides in the chairs and the way you climb them and who you climb them with. You become so concerned and impatient, that you start to question whether the sky is worth it and sometimes you even abandon the task and go inside, leaving a stack of chairs in the middle of the patio. I've since come to learn that you can't actually touch the sky (how disappointing), but that makes for an even better metaphor. Don't fall for the illusion that happiness is something to obtained with finality and certainty - it's in the chairs you stand upon, it's in the eyes of the people watching over you, it's in the very air that surrounds you. Look around on your way upward, there is happiness to be revealed to you... and don't fear that you will lose it because you most definitely will. But that loss is not final, either.
Disclaimer: Opinions and experiences expressed are my own and are not meant to speak for anyone other than myself. If you relate, great. If you don't, that's okay too.
If you hadn't gathered from the title, I was or am lowkey a huge Lil Wayne fan. I say lowkey because I generally don't seek out rap music or certain rappers the way I used to seek out Lil Wayne's music. Before I turn this into a fan girl post, the reason I titled this How to Love is because of Lil Wayne's song of the same name. My now-deleted 2011 Facebook statuses would be telling of just how much I loved that song - now that I think about it, if you scrolled far back enough through my Twitter history (passed the Tumblr spam), you would probably find it there from when I had nothing else to offer the Twitterverse other than quoting song lyrics thinking I was being deep and relatable. I used to sing that song as though I were genuinely the woman in the song that Lil Wayne is referring to - even though at that point young Jillian was probably more innocent and inexperienced than she would've liked to be. I was only 17 - plagued by peer pressure and an intense desire to be desired. That time of my life was certainly marked by a lot of self-discovery - particularly figuring out how to love and how I loved.
The reason why I wanted to write about this now is because I have embarked on a bit of a self-improvement/transformation journey and what becomes inevitable on this kind of journey, is that you have to call yourself out on unhealthy behaviors and the causes of those behaviors. So welcome to the journey, to the narrative, to the discussion - I hope to begin to find out why I am so messed up and how I got that way.
It makes me rather angry to admit that there's no obvious reason (at least at the time of writing this) as to why I have such a difficult time forming relationships - particularly romantic ones or intimate ones (see my previous post Ghosts for more on this). I suppose on the other hand, I'm grateful for there not having been a traumatic experiences or a series thereof that I can say I went through. I feel it would be somewhat easier to embark on a path of healing if I knew what it was that I was supposed to be healing from. I would like to think that it would make me feel less guilty. Without a definitive cause, my defectiveness seems like something inherent to me as though I came out of the womb a defective and messed up individual - as though I am a botched job of a human. My personal opinions of the psyche and nature vs nurture theories however, would not allow me to be satisfied with that opinion of myself. That's why I recognize the importance of unpacking why I seem to be so incapable of forming healthy, stable relationships and why I turn into a gremlin when splashed with the idea of love.
I'll talk a little more about personality disorders a bit later on, but generally they require an experience or experiences of early childhood trauma. Since I don't have that, I'm just working through what I know and can remember. Throughout my school career, I had a series of crushes and feelings as most young people do. My experiences were usually unrequited and met with mild rejection. Even as early as 9 or 10 years old, I remember behaving in a way that could be considered obsessive, intense, highly sensitive and emotional. I cannot remember ever having behaved 'normally' when I had a crush on or feelings for someone - what I mean by this goes far beyond feeling and acting awkward around someone I liked. I can only describe it as having an incredibly uncomfortable experience where I felt like my body was being controlled by someone else and all I could do was watch in horror as "I" sabotaged myself. I'm not saying this to avoid taking responsibility or ownership for my behavior - I am merely attempting to account what it felt like and to emphasize why I recognize my behavior to have been a problem. I didn't want to do what I was doing, but I couldn't stop myself.
I remember asking myself, throughout high school, why I couldn't just be normal. The phrases "You need to chill" and "You're too intense" became and still are) incredibly triggering, mostly because I felt like I had no control over what I was doing. Let me try to describe it like this:
Imagine wanting something so badly and for so long that it began to feel like you needed it. You became so excited to have even a glimpse of this thing, preparing as best you could to have it - to be worthy of it. You would go out of your way to learn everything you could about how to take care of it, how to nurture it and how to keep it - most importantly, how to love it. Then came a chance for you to prove yourself. You could obtain it, if only your proved yourself. As soon as you gazed upon it, you were overtaken by the cruelest form of performance anxiety. The second it was placed in your hands, you clutched it a little too tightly - your desperation and excitement getting the better of you. It cracked beneath your touch. You watch as it was reclaimed from you hurriedly - its hooded owner recoiling from you in disgust. You had instantly been deemed unfit... unworthy. You were left alone in dark room of swirling echoes - "What's wrong with her?" , "She's just too much." The emptiness and darkness - your failure - infuriate you, so you adamantly promise that you will do better, work harder to prepare next time... Little do you know, you will only perpetuate the cycle. The desire to redeem and prove yourself only further solidifies your inevitable failure. They will never want you. They will never love you.
I've done my research and having also studied psychology, I was afforded more insight into how I view my relationship with relationships. I spent so long with a sneaking suspicion that there was something wrong with me, but I never had a name for it other than that I viewed myself as a messed up person. I finally went to therapy to deal with other more pressing symptoms of my messed-upness. At that point, I had gotten so good at sabotaging relationships and I had no one to blame other than myself for my own loneliness and state of dejection. At the same time, I was getting just as good as punishing my own deviance in ways so cruel that I now weep for my former myself.
In therapy, I came across the term Borderline Personality Disorder for the first time. I wasn't entirely sure what it meant - I remember assuming that it just meant that I was crazy but not crazy enough to be diagnosed with a personality disorder. I've since learned what it actually is thanks to an abnormal psychology module I had the next semester and finally watching Girl, Interrupted. I also found out that it was one of the most misunderstood disorders thanks to its name (petition to change it please #notmyBPD).
I'm not going to get into the history of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as much as the symptoms, but I urge you to learn more about mental illnesses such as these especially if you have a mental illness or you know someone close to you who has one (CrashCourse Psychology is a great resource). BPD can be described as a complicated set of learned behaviors and emotional responses to traumas or neglected environments, particularly in childhood. Some symptoms include unstable relationships characterized by dramatic shifts between obsession/idolization and detachment/disassociation, unclear or unstable self-image, chronic feelings of emptiness, impulsive or self-destructive behaviors, self-harm and frequent, dramatic mood swings. Over the years since becoming aware of likely having BPD (I have never been officially diagnosed nor do I feel it is necessary for me to be diagnosed), I have begun addressing each of the above-mentioned symptoms. Especially since living away from my childhood home and my family, I have been somewhat forced to become more disciplined about what I express and what I allow myself to do. I am constantly self-monitoring, introspecting and attempting the best self-care than I can manage.
I haven't recently found myself in the throws of obsession for the better part of three years. That's partly due to strict self-discipline, but also social withdrawal employed as a defense mechanism. I've thrown myself into my work and made excuses to avoid having to make particularly deep connections with people. I haven't completely withdrawn, I am just severely guarded to a point where it probably wouldn't matter if I suddenly disappeared. This is why I started to write this in the first place. The place I am in after disaster and the pain of loss, rejection and failure is one where my mind, body and soul are being so heavily-policed in order to emulate the slightest feeling of being in control. Now it feels like one really long episode disassociation and avoidance. It feels like I've broken myself. There is a light bulb that blew, but I don't know which room it's in. I remember a time where I felt capable of 'love' despite it being defective and unstable it was still something to be felt. I'd like to think that I'm capable of love - the untainted kind. The last person I loved made me feel and express something close to it - alas I managed to mess that up, too. Since then, I can't bear to fail again. I can't bear to feel that blame one more time - I don't know what comes after being broken. I don't know where to start, I don't know how to learn how to love.
If there were a feeling I remember most, it would be warmth. It drew me in and stole my attention. I gazed upon her until there was nothing else that I could see. I noted her vibrancy, her ferocity. I watched as she glowed, her light changing everything she touched. Bathed in her presence, I could see colors I never thought went together, I heard awe-filled whispers from onlookers also captured by her striking beauty.
I was still watching as intently as I had been at the start if this affair when she suddenly turned cold. I witnessed the exact moment that I lost her. I wasn't necessarily surprised by the disappearance of her warmth and light, but that didn't take away the heaviness and sadness that her absence brought. All of her beauty was now committed to eerie memory. It somehow felt fitting that I would now be haunted by her. Instead of getting lost and overcome by her presence, I found myself clinging to any last sign of her - perhaps being just as lost and overcome, this time by her absence.
If you haven't heard about this story yet, let me summarize for you quickly before I dive into my thoughts on it. 12 boys and their soccer coach entered a cave complex in Thailand and were trapped when the complex was flooded due to the rain (it's currently monsoon season). They have been trapped since June 23rd and supply and intelligence gathering missions have been underway since they were first found on July 2nd. From what I can gather from current sources, is that a rescue attempt will be happening today with technological assistance from Elon Musk. If you'd like a more detailed account of the story, I've been following CNN pretty closely and I originally found out about this story from watching The Philip DeFranco Show on YouTube.
I am almost hesitant to write anything out of fear that I might be too hopeful and end up jinxing the outcome of the rescue mission(s). Irrational fears aside, my heart cannot contain this feeling of excitement and relief and gratitude for the families involved. The fact that all of the boys and their coach were found alive and uninjured after 10 days of being stuck in the cave complex is still mind-blowing to me. I suppose I have become so used to just hearing about death and devastation across global news and current affairs that hope has never even remotely been an option. Now that there is a situation where we didn't just immediately hear of definitive tragedy, I find myself uncharacteristically optimistic about the situation. The story has also grown and transformed in such a way that with the response of support and outreach from so many people and communities outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand that its as though their rescue and safety is imminent. I don't not want to be hopeful, especially because these lives deserve to be more than hoped and prayed for, but their is the fear that there will be tragedy like we see so often, that something will go wrong and that despite all of the human effort, support and innovation, we could not save them.
That leads me to what I really want to talk about which is hope as it relates to human potential. It has been so easy to give in to viewing the world as dark and wicked, and in so many ways it is because that's what we've let it and ourselves become. There is so much sadness and pain because of all that we have done to hurt one another and all that we have done in the pursuit of power. Human potential is a spectrum and while it can feel like there is no hope for humanity, that attitude or perspective is more a reflection of where we have put ourselves on the spectrum after constantly repeatedly choosing anger, greed, pride, and all those other evil things within us instead of what is good, just and selfless. It's like that story of the two wolves that live within you - Good and Evil - that are always fighting. The one who wins is the one you feed. Human potential is infinite, and infinite in either direction depending which way push it, depending on which wolf we feed. Of course, individual people disprove that everyone is evil and wicked, just as actions by a collective like a reaction to the Thai Cave Rescue show that human potential doesn't have to be won over by the direction in which it is being pushed. No matter how dark the world can be, there is always the option for goodness and love.
I will continue to be hopeful about the Thai Cave Rescue and its outcome for everyone involved especially the boys, their coach and their families as well as the divers and Thai Navy SEALS for their tireless efforts. It just goes to show the level of compassion, resilience and fellowship we should expect from each other. It's not a revolutionary idea to be kind and to care, it is not a revolutionary idea to help those in need. But by choosing those things consistently and by choosing those things together, how much better can our world be? There are tragedies and instances of injustice happening all over the world constantly. We need to be better to one another. We need to do better for one another.
This plea for goodness is in honor of former Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan who lost his life while on a supply mission to aid those stuck inside the Tham Luang Caves. Rest in power.
There are a lot of things that my body remembers, that my subconscious remembers that I have fought to repress and have pushed from my conscious mind. That's how I've learned to cope with the general pain and trauma that comes with life. Everybody goes through turbulent times, everybody is faced with obstacles and challenges, and those experiences can help you to grow and change for the better if dealt with in a healthy way. It just continues to blow my mind that there are things that have happened in my past that have so dramatically changed the way that I navigate life and experience this reality.
Sometimes I wish I could undo certain experiences and relationships so that I could have my old self back, so that I could have the same innocence and openness towards people and situations. I find myself very obviously cutting out a pathway for myself that, in my subconscious opinion, prevents me from any assumed harm or pain or discomfort. I have always been deeply reflective and analytical of my own behavior and the patterns that emerge, so I often find that subconscious intentions are often brought to the conscious forefront of my mind. Sometimes I feel like I'm two different people - the person doing, and then the person thinking about the doing. I always find myself questioning my own actions as if there is something that my subconscious mind is desperately trying to keep hidden from me. There are ghosts from my past that still quietly haunt me and frighten me into this almost submissive, helpless behavior of playing it safe, of convincing myself that my fears are unquestionably right.
Perhaps the oldest of these ghosts is the fear of ugliness. This has a lot to do with compounded experiences and societal pressures bleeding into the way that people interact and communicate with each other. The construct of conventional beauty is so pervasive that anything outside of that is deemed to be not only ugly, but broken or worthless or evil. As if being different is such a terrible, malicious and destructive thing. This first came up for me in primary school when I was bullied and teased about everything from my weight, to my hair, to the size of my nose, to my voice, to my eczema, to the tiny birthmark on my left hand. And when I say bullying, my experiences were in no way as bad as what other people have gone through or are going through yet it still actively affects me today.
Thinking back on it now as an adult, I am able to separate myself from the comments that were made. I can identify them now as unimportant. But now, it's too late. I don't remember a lot about primary school and that has always been a worry of mine - the fact that from the age of about 8 or 9 I began to shut out a part of my life where I began to look at myself as ugly. At first glance, I look like I turned out fine. If you asked me, I would say that I turned out fine perhaps even better for it. However if I told you that and then went home to actually think about how it affected me, it would be a totally different answer. I mean, I am better for it in the sense that I gained a lot of patience, resilience and compassion from those encounters, but that also means that as a very young person I had to deal with a lot of pain, feelings of betrayal, self-doubt, low self-esteem, etc. I'm grateful for the ability that I have to help others now because of what I have experienced, but that doesn't mean I'm happy it happened. I certainly wouldn't wish it upon any young person to feel broken and humiliated and disgusting no matter how "okay" you are at the end of it all.
That ghost still haunts me on a level that can be so superficial that it infuriates me. I don't want to have to care about how people perceive my appearance. I don't want to be so caught up in how I look that it takes me almost two hours to get ready to leave my apartment (on a regular work day, no crazy glam or outfits required). The thing that really gets to me though is that it made the younger version of me so unspeakably unhappy. I remember feeling so small and insignificant, but then so huge and inconvenient to other people at the same time. That too big/too small feeling went on to influence my relationship with my body, with eating and with exercise in ways that were not healthy. I'm still dealing with a lot of residual behaviors as a result of the fear of ugliness, and I am so grateful to the people who have helped me through it even when they haven't realized it. Kindness can do so much. Understanding that we have been conditioned to perceive beauty and worthiness in a certain way and unlearning the toxic thinking that comes from that? That can do even more.
Next, is the fear of failure. This one has been at my side since high school. I would say it's just barely a ghost because it feels as though it is still to pervasive and active in my life and in my mind. I'm not entirely sure why or how this overwhelming sense of terror came to be when it comes to the idea of failing. The bottom line for 99% of motivational speakers on success is that we shouldn't fear failure, that we should embrace it and that it is more than necessary for us to fail before we reach success. I've had that rhetoric drummed into my head since primary school and through high school and university. Perhaps the fear of failure was something that was always there - working on the down low and minding its own business - when suddenly I started being told to embrace failure and my fear decided to rear its ugly head out of its own fear of being forgotten. Make sense? The more people kept telling me to let go of fear, the more the fear sunk its claws into me and tried its best to override this instruction.
Even working on this blog post, I can feel the inner self doubt working so heavily on me. It's telling me to give up on writing this because people will think that I'm stupid and that it won't be well-received, etc. In fact, I started writing this a week ago and stop as soon as I started writing the section about the fear of failure - as if by talking about it, I summoned it into action. I'm desperately working against it right now because the fear of failure has already taken enough away from me. I have found myself in so many situations where I was given an opportunity to learn or try something new, and I stepped away from it for fear of failing. I find myself reflecting on those situations, thinking about the worst thing that could have happened if I had taken any of those opportunities. Yes, the worst thing that could have happened was failing, but failing in itself is not the bad. It's easy to reflect on a situation and think that failing would not have been that bad to experience, but when I am in that situation and faced with the possibility of failure, I immediately recoil.
I've done my best to dissect this ghost and I've found that it comes down to a series of sub-fears that are associated with failure as I define it. There is the fear of humiliation which is also related to my fear of ugliness. I have an idea in my head of how people see me and how I want people to see me and for some reason maintaining that imaginary reputation is of utmost importance to me. So if a situation could lead to be being humiliated or embarrassed in front of other people, I consider it to be failure. For example, if I am given the opportunity to go ice-skating with friends, I will say no due to my lack of ability when it comes to ice-skating. I would rather forego the opportunity to learn something new and spend time with friends because the idea of falling on the ice or being burdensome to my ice-skating-proficient friends is absolutely mortifying. Next is the fear of disappointment. Every time I've ever heard my Mom or Dad or a respected teacher or friend say that they're disappointed in me, I can't detail the pain, guilt and remorse that that brings me. Even thinking about the idea of disappointing the people I love and care about makes me emotional (tears have been streaming down my face since typing 'Dad'). There's nothing I want than to make people happy and to make them proud, so naturally any sadness and disappointment that I bring them is classed as failure. Then, there is the fear of mediocrity. This one is easy to explain because of how clear my behavior is when faced with any high stakes opportunity. I can't stand poor quality work especially from myself which has led me to develop some perfectionist tendencies (I know real perfectionists, and while we are similar I would not go as far as to consider myself one). I would rather not do something than (even potentially) produce mediocre work. I tend to lump these three sub-fears together because they almost always overlap and are ultimately make up my fear of failure.
Finally, the most recent of the three, my fear of intimacy. Let me start this one by talking a bit about love languages. Love languages are the way that we feel loved and give love. My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. Physical touch is perhaps my primary love language as I feel most loved when I am in a relationship or friendship where I am open to giving and receiving physical touch. Because of how important I consider physical touch and words of affirmation, emotional and physical intimacy are not given out freely or flippantly. Every interaction I have with people is very carefully calculated so as to not give to much or make myself too vulnerable. I am very easily won over by people who are charming and affectionate, and my sensitivity to touch and affirmation makes it very for me to get caught up in someone who may not feel as deeply as I do and that person ends up having a ridiculous amount of control over me regardless of whether they are aware of it or not.
I have had a few (but still too many) experiences where I have become completely obsessed with other people. The termination of those relationships tore me apart because of how invested I was in them just due to the way that I am wired to love people. As a result I have become a very close off and guarded person. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like a fear of intimacy as much as it does an angry and adamant refusal thereof. Although it is something I know I need in order to give love and feel love, I forego intimacy for the sake of maintaining my sanity. The extent to which this has grown in such a short period of time makes me fearful that I will never be able to be in a place where I feel safe enough to be at all intimate with another human being ever again. Of all the ghosts I have, this is the one that I feel most physically. Its not even pain at this point, it is an overwhelming numbness that has taken over me - the last person I loved so deeply and shared with so intimately being the face of this ghost. I see their face everywhere - telling me not to make the same mistake ever again, telling me that I've had enough love and intimacy for a lifetime, telling me that if I am emotionally or physically intimate ever again I might not survive this time. It is the ghost that feels the closest to death.
Recognizing my ghosts and heading down on a path of reconciliation with myself is the only way I feel I will ever be happy and emotionally healthy again. I have been in my own head for far too long, convincing myself that my ghosts are right and that I have no right to be happy, successful and fulfilled. I am done believing that I am destined to be empty and perpetually scared. I hope that in reading this you start to become aware of your own ghosts and start having more honest conversations with yourself about what can be done to overcome them. Thank you for being here, for being patient with me and for learning more about me.
About a week ago, I was driving back from a doctor's appointment when I decided to take my time and stop at any interesting place along the way. I had my camera with me and a desire to take photos of something other than what I usually see in the area that I live. When I had a long wait at a red light, I pulled up Google maps and found a huge park where I could stop and explore a bit.
It already looked big on the map, but once I got there I felt like I had entered some kind of enchanted forest. Perhaps it was the mood I was in, it felt like I was in a bubble and no one else could hear or see me. I could just float around, hearing incomprehensible conversations of passersby as if the sound was muffled by a layer of water. I wondered around, the shutter sound of my camera clicking intermittently, until I had made my way around the park in a wonky circle.
I was losing sunlight rather quickly at the point, so I figured I'd make my way out before it became to dull and dark to take the kind of photos I wanted. I was almost out of the park when I noticed a squirrel running down a tree. Now, one of my favorite things to when taking pictures is to capture a subject in the perfect candid moment. For a lot of animals or insects, that can sometimes simply mean a moment of stillness. So I stood for a while and got some pictures of this squirrel. I looked up from the viewfinder at one point to glance around and I saw what looked like a piece of wood nearby. But this piece of wood wasn't acting like a piece of wood should. It was standing weirdly upright, but complete still and stationary. Perplexed by this optical illusion in the distance, I looked back into the viewfinder and zoomed in.
It wasn't a piece of wood, obviously. It was this strangely beautiful bird... and it was just standing there completely still for most of the time that I watched it. There were a few moments of movement which were almost too quick to be documented - turns of the head, quick leaps forward. It felt like this bird was on show just for me, like it knew that I had come into this park to get a picture of something other than ordinary.
At first I was excited and also nervous about the prospect that this bird could fly away at any moment, so even though it wasn't a difficult shot to get I struggled because my head was clouded by all these other things that trumped by desire and ability to take the photo. So here's what I did... I chanted to myself, "Be the bird" and then proceeded to get as many shots as I could. Eventually I slowed down a bit and moved around a bit more because I realized that this bird wasn't in a rush to get anywhere.
By the time I was ready to leave the park, I had plenty of photos to edit, I was in a much better mood and the bird was still standing there. I've been struggling with managing stress recently and part of the reason why I was coming back from a doctor's appointment in the first place is because I have been trying to regain some control over my mind and my body so that I am able to better function. This unplanned stop over at this park, and that bird in particular, helped me to zone out and not focus on the million and one things that I have to do. It's important to take time out and switch off because it can and will catch up to you.
Sometimes you just have to stop, still your mind and "be the bird".
Disclaimer: This post discusses aspects of my personal journey with anxiety and depression. These are my own experiences and are not meant to speak for the experiences of anyone else dealing with anxiety and/or depression.
The first time I started a blog in this type of format, I was sixteen. Thinking back on it now and thinking about the type of person I was eight years ago, I treated my blog as a glorified journal with an extra dose of teen angst for effect. I got a lot of attention from it (well, as much as a very average, anxious, non-famous, high schooler could get). There was a fair amount of interaction from people I saw in my everyday life. I would get approached by other students at my school or messaged on Facebook about how they related to what I was writing and how they wanted me to continue to write. Some of my family members read my stuff as well - the feedback there was mostly praise for my writing skill. So I kept writing as the people around me kept on gently inflating my ego and built my confidence. What became problematic was that I would always write from more or less the same angsty perspective or I would generally write about sad or painful experiences. My writing in high school, even in the form of creative writing in my English class, would mostly be centered on some form of pain and suffering. Death was a common theme, betrayal and separation were, too. To this day, I still struggling immensely with writing anything remotely happy or sentimental - my go-to is blood and tears. I was confronted by my parents at one point about the content I was sharing and the way that I was portraying my life. To be fair to them as concerned parents, I was skewing how people saw my life, but I am not certain if they understand how truly unhappy I was at that point in my life.
High school was hard for me as it is for a lot of teenagers. I struggled with depression and anxiety in the earliest of their forms. I had masochistic tendencies and what I would be so bold as to say was a form of body dysmorphic disorder that led to developing habits that resembled but couldn't be classified or diagnosed as a major eating disorder. With writing, specifically on my blog which gathered a fair amount of attention, I was afforded a sense of purpose and could slowly repair my ever-dwindling self-esteem and self-image. Even though it was an outlet for my frustrations, it still wasn't a healthy way to cope with stress and pain. Pretty soon I had skewed my own perception of my life due to my writing and the similarly-minded voices around me. When my parents spoke to me about presenting a skewed image onto a public platform, I thought they were wrong because I had been convinced that my life was that way - that it was all blood and tears, nothing in between. At the time there was no convincing me that I was doing anything wrong especially when it came to my most effective vice at the time - my writing - although, that encounter with my parents did make me wary of what I posted thereafter.
Wariness turned to anxiety over the years. I posted less and less regularly with my last post being in December, 2014. It doesn't sound like such a long time ago compared to how long it feels. I kind of miss the burning desire to upload a blog post... mostly because that would mean that I had motivation to write, and whenever I had the motivation words came so easily and naturally. When I reread some of my old writing, I get chills because of how effortlessly good it sounds in my ears. I wonder to myself how it had been possible for me to create something like that, and why it feels like I can't do that now.
I started this blog in 2016 with a different goal than my first blog. I didn't want this to be journal or an easily abused venting space - I have way too many blank notebooks lying around from my shopping sprees in stationery stores that can be filled with my day-to-day ramblings. I wanted this to be a showcase of my art. If my blog is anything to go by (thanks to dated posts), it's clear that hasn't been as successful as I hoped. 2017 was busier and more stressful than I could've imagined, the after effects of which I am still processing and dealing with. Along with stress and busyness, I couldn't ignore the anxiety that I associated with this website. If there is anything that I fear, it is failure. Everything that I hoped to put onto this website - the galleries and this blog - had to be absolutely perfect as if I were expecting that each and every post would have this magical reach and catapult me into fame for my art and writing. So I posted nothing, because I knew that instant success wasn't possible. Hence the title of this post, this blog has been a big source of my anxiety because I have been expecting so much of myself and thereby rendering myself useless and tired and constantly depressed because I have been made unable to create. Hopefully, this will be the end of that.
I still feel vulnerable, incredibly so, every time I put anything on here even if it's a photo of a tree ("But what if it's not the perfect photo of a tree?? Everyone will hate you and ban you from the Internet"). This website is the curation of my own creations - so much of what is here is me, and that is terrifying. Which is why I finally decided to by this domain. If there is anything that will motivate me to be motivated, it will be the fact that I am paying money to have my own domain, so I best make good use of it.
I have hope that there is more left in me, that I have more to offer, to give, to create. I hope you will give me the chance to show you the vastness that I see in our world and beyond it.
We've all probably encountered some form of the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" As you inevitably grow up that question often changes to something like, "What's next for you?" or "Where do yourself in the next (insert period of time here)." Sometimes I miss the original question. I, for one, often find myself so busy hopping from one thing to the next and getting caught up in seeking that end goal that I forget the most important part of moving forward in the first place... Growth.
It's so easy to get caught up in all of the things, the steps you set up for yourself on your way to your dreams, that you forget about the growth part. Unless you are intentional about acknowledging and managing it, goal setting can often revolve around this completion high and just be about getting to the next step or to where you think you need to be before you can say "I've made it". That completion high is great, don't get me wrong - it's what makes goal setting so important for actually reaching where you want to be. It keeps you motivated and holds you accountable (if you're doing it right). That sense of accomplishment is what keeps you moving in the direction you think is right. Things finally begin to make sense, your idea for your life may not seem so far fetched anymore and the end is in sight. That's what I used to think about my dreams - they were end goal, they were meaning, they were accomplishment. What I wasn't recognizing was how instrumental those micro-goals were in shaping me into the person worthy of my own dreams.
Problem 1: Blocked
Have you ever experienced a time in your life where you felt like nothing was going right or nothing that you were trying was working or would ever work? Have you ever felt that sense of stagnation where you know, theoretically, what you should be doing, but you have no idea how you are going to bring yourself to accomplish that? I consider myself to be a creatively-minded person who is also functionally fluent in the language of left-brained rationalism. I've grown up around intensely logically-presenting people - I say it this way because over the years and as my relationships with people close to me have changed and grown, I realize that the way people have been made to communicate does not necessarily reflect the true language or personality of their minds. I consider my family to be a wonderful blend of right and left brained, Type A and Type B personalities, but while a lot of people are quick to say they are one or the other and adhere to a sort of binary understanding of people and personality, the world that I see is a lot more fluid and spectrum-based than that binary can accommodate for.
Trying to find a balance that works best for one's own mind can be so difficult. For some, that difficulty can be found within a standardized education system. I did well in school because it was a system developed in a mental language that I could, fortunately, understand and feel somewhat stimulated by. There are some people who don't do well in school, the system doesn't work for them, it doesn't make sense to them. I have seen this so many times where people leave school (a system and institution not built for how they learn and live) and go and excel in life on their own terms, in a world of their own making with a different system and mental language where they are able to more actively and successfully shape their reality. If you don't have the opportunity or the environment to shape your world, you feel blocked. For example, I've had this blog for over two years now, and it's not the first blog-type site that I've had. I had a vision for this site, I was going to post every Sunday and create art and moving content and buy the domain for this site and establish an amazing art and poetry anthology and, and, and...
I found myself in the midst of heartbreak and rejection as well as transitioning into living and working in a country half way around the world from my family, friends, and the only place that I had lived in my entire life. I was in a state of emotional shutdown, and in a lot of ways I am still in that place. I had to focus on surviving and then thriving in a life that I was now solely responsible for. I couldn't allow anything to pose a threat to being successful and making a life for myself. For me, that meant heavily guarding my emotions and not allowing my negative past experiences to taint new relationships that I needed to form. As much as I believe in spectrum-based thinking, I can still tend to be a bit of an all or nothing person. I ended up completely shutting myself down in order to protect myself. I put a lot of personal and emotional energy into my creative projects, so my productivity as a creator has suffered massively over the past two years. I haven't written a poem since Every Beautiful Thing (aka since 2015). The artwork section of the gallery on this site was meant to function as a portfolio for what I envisioned to be constant creative output yet it has fewer posts than my favourites and travel tabs (because I don't have to do much creating when dealing with my photography outside of carefully selecting shots and editing - it's a reflection of how I see the outside world, whereas my artwork is essentially a photograph of what is going on in my head). There is so much fear that surrounds creating the way I want to because I know that it's going to bring up issues that I haven't allowed myself to even recognize let alone deal with.
So now after all of that context, let me get back to the thing about growth. I know what I have envisioned for my life, I know the answer I want to tell people when they ask "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Isn't that great? I know the answer. But do you know why I haven't made the progress I feel that I should have made by now? I didn't allow myself to grow all that much. You can't be who you want to be just by sitting around and wishing it into existence. The question isn't simply about what or who you want to be. It's about what or who you want to be when you grow up. And of course, the growing up I'm referring to here is not the intended use. I'm not talking about age here. I'm talking about personal change and development. Being mentally blocked is, at least in my case, a signal that you are not paying attention to the growth that you need to make and let happen alongside the goals you set for yourself. A flower cannot grow and blossom in soil that has no nutrients in it i.e. if it is never added to or changed. How can one expect their world to change without having changed themselves?
Problem 2: The Destination Illusion
It's easy to think that the allure of the destination you seek will be enough to keep you motivated on your way to getting there (especially if you are sitting a new vision and are just about starting on your journey). I found out the hard way that it's not enough. I found myself tossing away old dreams because I got impatient, then having to go back and sift through the trash heap in my mind to find those dreams again after having berated myself for my lack of patience and perseverance. I've considered myself to be 'lost' a fair few times in my life. Perhaps the most intense example of this feeling was during my second, going on third year of university. I had very recently spent six months in therapy after struggling with my sexual identity or my sexual orientation identity and the effects it was having on my academic and daily life. At that point, I was also very disillusioned with the Psychology department at my university which was heartbreaking for me in the sense that it had been my dream to study psychology and eventually become a registered psychologist since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I had always wanted to combine psychology and the arts in order to help others. My grades were slipping and I wasn't doing as well as I felt I was capable of doing. Everything about the vision of my life was slowly slipping away. I was trying to follow the steps that everybody said I should be taking to get where you want to be in life - very arbitrary steps, mind you: do well in school, go to university, find your future husband, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, etc. Nothing about my life was going in that way - I felt like I was in free fall with no control over my life and no hope of ever getting to feel like I had accomplished something meaningful.
I remember conversations I had with my father, someone who I consider to be successful and whom I admire greatly. I always wanted him to give me answers because, well, he looked like someone who would have the answers. He had everything that I thought I wanted or needed to be striving for, so of course he could tell me how to get there, right? I always asked him what I should be doing, I always told him that I felt lost and that I was at a standstill. His advice was always to keep moving, to take a step in any and despite its direction, to just go and see where life takes you. That advice used to infuriate me. I thought it was some cruel and cryptic joke or riddle that I needed to solve before I could get an answer. I remember thinking to myself, with a huge lump of anxiety just sitting on my chest to a point where sometimes I felt like I couldn't breathe, "What if the way that life takes me is not where I want to go?". It's so ridiculous to me now to recall that, but what I realize now is that I didn't want to have to take control of my life. The thing about being in control and making decisions, is that if something went wrong I considered that to be failure. Then I would have to admit that it was my fault that my life wasn't where I wanted it to be. I wasn't asking my dad for advice because I wanted not to be lost, I was essentially asking for a time machine. I was asking him to make my world appear differently. I didn't want to do the work, I didn't want to have to fail and make mistakes, I didn't want to have to take the blame. I just wanted the world to feel okay to be in. At the time, it was a dark world inside my head. I was discovering who I was and the implications that that had for my life and the vision that I had for my life. I felt like being myself meant that I was going to lose everything. I felt like I was destined for failure no matter what I did. I felt like the world would forever hate and persecute me for who I am. So naturally, I asked the person I love the most to get me out of my own head. I'm not sure how aware my father is of how much of a cry for help that was - I'm not sure if he knows how hurt I felt when I couldn't understand his advice, or just how grateful I am now because I have finally allowed myself to understand it.
I was so caught up in my idea of my destination, that I couldn't understand that my father wasn't trying to assist my disillusionment. He was trying to shift my focus. Here's the cheesy part: It's about the journey, not the destination. I was so worried about having to change this destination that I had been clutching to for so long that I wasn't allowing myself to take in my experiences, to relish in my epiphanies of self, to follow my father's advice. I've seen now that the journey, if you are conscious of it, will always change the destination in some way. That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are goals that I am slowly working towards now, that were in no way even on my radar a few years ago. The journey is filled with moments that are filled with experiences and with people which are, in turn, filled with lessons. What sense is there in allowing your idea of your future to prohibit you from truly living? There is no finite end to growing up. There is always another turn to make. Keep moving.
"Growth is the only evidence of life." - John Henry Newman