Sunday, January 14, 2018

Yes, You Need Other People

This is something that I didn't grasp for a long time.

           These past few years, as I've worked through and come to some sort of decorum with issues related to low self-love and self-worth,  I've accepted that surviving and thriving in this world requires having others in my life. The love of other people, the support of other people, the sense of belonging to other people in a variety of capacities: these are all essential to our well being as humans.
           Despite having confidants, friends and family to support me many times I failed to understand that it was ok to rely on others when there were hard times that overwhelmed me.

So much of what I read, what I learned from media and the individualistic culture that dominates our world was that you could never rely on others. You always had to stand alone. You always had to be able to cope with what life gave you. You could never share dark times with others or expect others to help you. Perhaps the message I heard the most though was you had to be enough for you. Your own sense of self worth was what would carry you through.

These days, I tend to see this as misguided if not flat out wrong. None of us by ourselves are enough to sustain us through life. I mean that materially and emotionally.

Humans are highly social creatures. We are not solitary creatures like tigers and sharks. As Yuval Harari writes in Sapiens:

'A colt can trot, shortly after birth; a kitten leaves its mother to forage on its own when it is just a few weeks old. Human babies are helpless, dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.'

The term 'sink or swim' is applied to people striking out on their own to make it in life. Yet if our species was really geared towards that kind of existence, we would give our children up to nature like sharks do. We wouldn't bothered to raise our kids at all we'd leave them to forage on their own and they would thrive.

As we all know though, leave a human newborn alone by itself in the wild and it's almost certain to die.

We need our parents and are families to look after us. Sometimes that sustenance protection and education from our caregivers can go (to one extent to another) our whole lives.

But it's not just our parents or family we're dependent on. Most of you reading this have a smart phone, a device you probably had no part in manufacturing. You also didn't create it nor did you come with the idea for it the first place.

At a more basic level most of you reading this rely on a system of food distribution network to keep yourselves fed. You rely on electricity companies to keep your home powered and on government pipes to get clean water.

Sure there are some survivalists and hermits that go the extra step of withdrawing into the wilderness. But if humans beings were wired for that kind of existence there wouldn't be over seven billion of us and we wouldn't be living in towns or cities. In fact we probably wouldn't have the kinds of technology and innovations that allow us to live and thrive.

Humanity's strength has always been our capacity to cooperate with one another. We have built societies where we can work together and come up with solutions that are for the common good of our communities. Any time we've thrived its been because we were lifting others up.

It's ironic that we live in an age where so many (especially in the first world) are dependent on others materially yet expect our emotional and psychological needs to be met entirely by ourselves.

Again if that was the case we wouldn't socialize or bond nearly as much as we do. 

We wouldn't even need to confide in any friend or loved one about personal doubts and insecurities because...those insecurities just wouldn't be there.

 We wouldn't have the rich body of art and literature that comes from the disappointments, heartaches and tragedies that come when we fail at love, friendship or other relationships.

We wouldn't have record numbers of young people struggling with mental illnesses. We wouldn't have so many people in our rich first world societies struggling with a sense of loneliness and a lack of belonging.

Whether we really want to admit it or not (and mostly we don't) we are emotionally vulnerable at many, many points in our lives. Yes, we can learn to improve our sense of self-worth and self-love. I definitely have. But this doesn't mean that we can expect ourselves and others of ever reaching a point where we can be 100% secure 100% of the time.

Sometimes were all as weak as infants and the strong fronts, the ones we put up to others to make ourselves seem so inhuman, stop us from having the breakdowns we need in order to put ourselves back together in a better way. 

And as we put ourselves back together, often we'll need someone or many someones to help us know where to fit those pieces in. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

You Don't Have to Be Flawless to Be Loved

Love yourself. Before you can love another person you have to love yourself first. I’m sure most of us have heard one or both of these two bits of advice at some point.

Maybe we even gave it to someone else who was struggling.


Since I’m a person who’s usually very open about my personal struggles (depression, loneliness, dating, relationships etc.) I’ve heard the philosophy of self-love first, expressed to me many, many times. Friends, relatives and an ex-lover have all advised me to improve my self-love and self-confidence.


This is not, on the whole, bad advice. In fact it’s very truthful. Yes, a person needs to have a certain amount of self-assurance, confidence and love for themselves in order to be a good friend, coworker lover and human being. I certainly needed to improve my self-love. I still do. But in trying to understand how to better love myself I got a lot of things wrong as I think many others do too.


I’ve grown more certain of my own strength and value as a person. As that’s happened I’ve also come to realize that sometimes the ideas people have of what it really means to love themselves, can be pretty skewed and even counterproductive.


I think this is especially true when it comes to the idea of being able to love oneself before loving another person.


For a long time, I tried to achieve self-love by telling myself that I needed to eliminate all negative thoughts or forces in my life. Yet time and time again, life, depression and anxiety pushed negativity into me and I found myself despairing.


I told myself it was my fault, I didn’t love myself enough. If I only loved myself enough than I wouldn’t feel these dark emotions. If I only loved myself enough like everyone else around me than I wouldn’t have any of the struggles with self-hate I have.


‘Love yourself! Why can’t you love yourself!?’ I remember repeating this line in my head over and over again during my really dark depressive episodes. How could I possibly love myself if I couldn’t be 100% strong 100% of the time? Why couldn’t I achieve this level of perfect never ending self-esteem and love that people told me was out there if I only wanted it hard enough?


It was only after some CBT therapy, discovering the wonderful School of Life and some unusually frank and honest discussions with people I know that I realized my approach to self-love was all wrong. 


Self-love I came to realize, was not becoming a ‘perfect’ human being that never took a wrong step, experienced sadness, depression, self-loathing, anxiety or doubt. It wasn’t about being a person that never asked for help that never admitted their dark times.

 Self-love was about accepting your darkness as well as your light and realizing that despite your profound flaws you were still worthy of love and respect.


I didn’t have to be a demi-god with no weaknesses in order to love myself or for others to love me.


I didn’t have to be perfect and neither did anybody else. Many times the people I looked up to and thought could never experience the kind of doubt, loneliness and insecurity I did turned out to be struggling with that every day.


I was flawed and imperfect creature. I could and would fail. I could and would have days that would make me question my worth and my existence. This was all true and it was also true that I was still a worthy human being.

This is also true of every other human being on the planet and this has given me a lot of reassurance as I’ve begun exploring dating and relationships after a long hiatus.


I don’t have to be flawless and totally void of insecurity to be worthy of love and neither does anyone else. Everyone I know and you know is deeply, profoundly damaged in one way or another and that’s nothing we need to hide.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

When I Wish I Was Somebody Else



‘I wish I had your personality.’ This was the first time (at least that I can recall) saying that out loud. It was a thought that I had many times throughout my life in relation to myself and others.


My highly extroverted friend, who was sitting across from me in the Japanese restaurant, raised his eyes: ‘Don’t man. There’s nothing wrong with your personality.’

We talked a while after that. We caught up, discussed my recent breakup a little more and then went back to our homes. That part of our meal stuck with me though. It mirrored the internal debate I’ve had with myself off and on for most of my life.

Like many people, my confidence and self-assuredness has grown as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at managing my bouts of self-hatred, depression and checking my emotions in tough situations. I’ve come to better accept my sensitivity and my introversion for the gifts they provide as well as the handicaps.

Still, despite all the progress I’ve made, I’m not immune from deep self-doubt and insecurity. Nor will I ever be. I still struggle to accept myself. Yet I also have a hard time accepting the fact that the people I know (friends, colleagues and loved ones) are also battling their own inner demons. I struggle to see them as fallible people who can be just as unsure of themselves and their place in the world as I am. 


This is especially hard for me to accept when it comes to extroverts, people who I have envied and idolized in the past.


For a long time, I saw my introversion as something that made me inferior to the social colossi that I befriended or ran with. Sure, I had my own petty prejudices where extroverts were concerned. 


They were shallow, they were either afraid of or lacked they ability to have deeper emotions or thoughts, they never took the time to really know people etc.

Deep down though, in my awkward adolescent and college years, I felt deeply inferior to my extroverted friends. A large part of this was the (American) society I was exposed to for a good portion of my life. To quote Emma Watson: ‘If you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.’

That was my belief for a very long time. It was one I still haven’t completely shed. Many a time I’ve thought: ‘If I was a social butterfly my life would be better.’

In short, the grass often seemed greener in extrovert land. No one who lived there dealt with or could have possibility dealt with the problems and insecurities I did. 


Of course, that’s not true. The open conversations I’ve had with those people I unfairly held up on a pedestal made that very clear. Hearing my extroverted friends’ stories, realizing the social butterflies could struggle with social anxiety and self-loathing, realizing that they could be just as unsure of their own abilities, discovering that sometimes those bright (and genuine) veneers I so admired covered deep wounds and insecurities that were just as real as mine, humbled me.

Who I am is not inherently worse than those who have mastered strengths that I find more difficult to learn. That’s something that I and everyone else should take time to appreciate.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why I Share the Dark Times

My blog has been dormant for a while. My most recent post was in August of last year. Ever since coming to Korea, I haven’t written much new.

I’ve had a lot going on for sure. Great things have been happening since I got on that Delta Flight from Little Rock last October.

The past nine months have been some of the best of my life. I’ve enjoyed a very good year teaching elementary students in Korea. I’ve gotten to travel around this new country I live in and have made great new relationships.

It’s sometimes hard for me to think of how life could get much better. Yet even in the midst of my great new year, my acid shadows have followed me. The depression and mental health issues I’ve always struggled with continue to walk beside me. They have been quieter these past couples of months than at any other time in my life. Still, they are there and I am very aware that their words could, at any random moment, puncture my mind and send me spiraling.

My life has been great. That doesn’t mean though that the past nine months have been struggle free. I’ve had plenty of moments where I was deeply unhappy with myself. Even with all the progress I’ve made with therapy and even with all I’ve been able to achieve here in Korea, I’m still just as vulnerable to my dark moods.

I’ve shared my darker and depressive episodes online (especially on Facebook). It’s not a secret anymore that I struggle with mental health. In the past I wrote freely on my blog about my depression. Those posts were and remain some of the most viewed. More recently though I’ve stuck to quick Facebook posts.

Recently, a friend asked me how I was so comfortable being open with sharing my depression online?

In truth, I’m not always comfortable. I still worry about how others perceive me sometimes. This fear was a big one when I was younger but it diminishes every year. Much of that has to do with those people (friends and strangers) who have reached out after a FB or blogpost and expressed their gratitude or sympathy. Some have shared their own struggles with mental health.

Yes, there have been a few times where I’ve got negative feedback on what I’ve put out into cyberspace. The first comment on my coming out with depression blogpost was an anonymous person who told me to kill myself. I can count those instances on one hand though. The overwhelming majority of feedback from my posts has been positive and empathetic.

Letting others know they are not alone and knowing that I myself am not alone despite what my shadows tell me. These are the reasons I share my struggles. Sharing inner turmoil can, I think be a positive thing.

The longer I walk with depression the more I believe Henry David Thoreau’s quote that most of us are living lives of quiet desperation. In this age, social media feeds our desperation.

In an age where there’s a ton of pressure on people to share their accomplishments online and broadcast a rosy image of themselves that ignores our darkest times, we all suffer unnecessarily.  

Whether we like it or not, we are influenced deeply by what we see in our newsfeeds. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all compare ourselves to our peers’ social media highlight reels. (Even though we know we shouldn’t).

What we see impacts us and what we share impacts others. Throwing a few hardships out among a sea of filtered selfies, out of context accomplishments and incomplete life stories, would, I think, go a long way to helping people feel much less like islands of desperation.