The Magician, The Enemy & The Warrior

My mind is a magician, a wizard if you will. But not the kind like Harry Potter, if that were the case then perhaps I would enjoy the curses I have been afflicted with. My mind is well versed in tricks and spells alike, it has no problem keeping me up at night. 

My thoughts are my enemies, they pit me against myself and seem to enjoy watching the chaos that ensues. My thoughts are not always my choosing, sometimes I wish I could just turn them off. 

My body is a warrior, and sometimes it feels like I am fighting a losing battle. I take up proverbial swords and weapons, trying to ward off the thoughts that my mind conjures up; but to what avail? Because, even when I successfully fight off these thoughts, they always manage to come back again. 

I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of fifteen, generalized anxiety at seventeen and developed an eating disorder at nineteen. This is what my life has felt like since then. I feel that I am constantly afraid of the things my mind can do to me, the thoughts it can produce and the horrors it can wreak on my body and my life. Living with multiple mental illnesses is a daily struggle, and I wish I could say that I’ve come up with all the answers, but I have not. I am learning things about myself day by day, and I am hoping that these sometimes small lessons are enough to continue fighting my battle.

My mind is skilled at casting spells and controlling the thoughts that flood it. There are days when my mind is the scariest place on earth, so I sleep to avoid confronting it. I am never sure of what version of myself is going to wake up; this is a fear that is so paralyzing that staying in bed all day out of fear has at times become the easier option.

My body tries to fight against my mind and thoughts. There are days where this fight seems totally doable; like I am Harry Potter, I am the chosen one and I can take on anything life throws my way. But there are also days where the fight seems like I am a single feather in the direct path of a tornado; a fight that is over before it starts. On these days my body feels like a shell of which the contents are completely detached.

Everything is impossible to explain, so I don’t even try to understand. Nothing seems reparable, so my toolbox collects dust.
On these days, I feel like a stranger to myself.
On the good days, I know and understand every last bit of myself.
On the good days, I am Harry Potter. On the good days, I win.
On the good days, I fight hard enough to accept the bad days where
even the idea of 
fighting is too much.
I have accept that my life is about give, and take.
I have accepted that there are times that the hand I have
been dealt seems like it is the worst possible hand.
But I have learned to make daring plays,
I have learned to cast counter spells,
I have learned to combat my enemies,
and I have learned that this battle is mine to win. 

 

You Are a Candle

You’ve pushed yourself to the point of breaking. You’ve put your blinders on and you can’t see anything other than your pain. You told yourself it would be different this time and that never again would you allow yourself to get to this point; yet here you are.

Burnt out.

When we push ourselves over and over again and we refuse to listen to our bodies, the only possible outcome is burn out. We crash and burn and we think that it is the end. We get to the point of breaking and we break and once we are broken we fear that we will never be put back together again.

There are two things that I have learned about burn out over the years, and honestly, I have found them to be quite helpful.

The first thing I have learned is that burn out is avoidable. When we learn to listen to our bodies and our minds and the cues that they give us, we can learn how to notice when a burn out might be coming. When we know the cues and the signs to look for, we can notice them, and adjust our lives accordingly. Let me give you an example. Something that I know about myself is that when I am close to a burn out I have absolutely no creativity. Now I’m no Picasso to begin with, but I love to write and read and let that side of my brain get some exercise. However, if I am close to a burn out, that side of my brain, and the interest I have in those things completely shuts down. I have no desire to write or create, nor do I have the ability to focus on something long enough to read it. Historically, I would notice these things and I would shrug it off and attribute it to being tired and needing some sleep and nothing more than that. Now I know that those things are ways of my brain telling me to slow down because it can’t take anymore. I don’t always life recognizing these things, because it can cause me to feel like I’ve failed or to think that I should be able to do better. But now that I am more aware of these signs and what they are a precursor of, I am more likely to head the warnings. I would much rather be forced to take a single mental health day than find myself out of work for months (yeah, I’ve been there). There are other ways that both my body and mind can indicate to me that a burn out is coming and if I don’t do something soon I’m going to break, and I am learning how to recognize these things every single day. The more I listen to my body, the more avoidable burn outs will become.

The second thing I have learned is that a burn out is not the end. Candles can be blown out, but they can also be reignited. Humans are no different. Sometimes we need a break, that is completely normal. We need to give ourselves breaks, and if we happen to need a break because of a burn out, then so be it. There is no shame in your mind or body needing a break from the struggles of life. We live in a world that tells us that we have to be on our A Game every second of the day, but that’s simply impossible. We will have times that we need to step back from things and recharge our batteries, and there is not a single ounce of shame in needing to do that. Please remember that we blow candles out before we go to sleep, but we can always light them again in the mornings. We, as humans, are the same. We can allow ourselves to rest and it is not the end.

Burn out can happen. It is just a part of the fast-paced world we live in. But if we learn to listen to the cues that our minds and bodies can give us, we can learn to pre-emptively combat burn outs. But, sometimes we will fail to catch a burn out, and that is okay too. Humans are candles, we will need breaks sometimes, but we can also always be reignited.

You Can’t Love Yourself Until You Like Yourself

Over the past four months, I have been on a journey to self love. I am sort of considering this to be an extension/the next chapter of my eating disorder recovery, and let me tell you it has been anything but easy. I’ve engaged in some wonderful communities through social media and I have found such positivity, I have challenged myself to look at my body in ways I hadn’t previously, I have examined the thought processes I engage in and challenged them, and I have been working to see positivity in all things about me.

But recently I have had a thought. When you’re starting to date someone, you almost never truly love them right away, you like them first. Perhaps a journey to self love is not so different from the journey of engaging in a romantic relationship. I can pinpoint a few specific parts of myself that I love: I love my legs, my sense of humour, my ability to empathize with people, and my smile. But when I look back on my life, I didn’t wake up one day and immediately love these things. I remember when I discovered that I was funny. I had always like to joke around in school, I enjoyed it and I liked it. I was never the smartest kid in the class, but I knew I could tell jokes and be funny. I liked this about myself. I was in the second grade and there was a girl in my class named Gabrielle. We weren’t great friends by any means, but we did happen to be the two tallest people in our class. It was our school picture day and our class was being organized by height to take a class picture. We were waiting for our class’s turn to go up for the picture and Gabrielle and I were joking around, something I did regularly, and she told me she thought I was funny. She said this while laughing and with a smile on her face. I realized that my humour had the ability to make people happy, and I liked that. I realized that this was something positive about myself. I may not have been very smart, but this was something I was good at, and I realized then that I loved that. This whole scenario led to me loving my sense of humour.

When I look back on my life with regards to the things I love about myself, each of these loves has their own origin story. My legs, smile and ability to empathize with people each started out as something about myself that I liked, and then they each had their own defining moment and grew into something I loved about myself.

So I’ve been thinking about all of this lately. There is a lot of talk on social media these days about self love. There are amazing social media campaigns encouraging people to embrace the parts of their minds and bodies that have been deemed by society to be unworthy; and I think that’s great. But the thing that people don’t seem to talk about as much, is the fact achieving self love is not something easy.

We live in a world that is constantly telling us that so many parts of us aren’t worthy of love, and that is harmful and it is detrimental to our mental and physical health. But what if we looked at self love from a simpler lens, what if we changes the way we looked at it? What if we started out with liking things about ourselves? If you go out on a first date, and you like the person by the end of it then there is much more of a chance that you could one day grow to love this person. In my opinion, the relationship we have with ourselves is the exact same.

Let me give you an example. Throughout my life (this was heightened during and after my eating disorder), I have really hated my stomach. I remember being maybe 10 years old and thinking to myself that if my t-shirts were tight that I had to suck my stomach in all day because it was too big. This has followed me throughout my life and when I developed my eating disorder my stomach was the part of me I hated the most. I would search Youtube endlessly for videos of ab workouts and I would work out until I could not stand. Now that I am in recovery I have gained a fair bit of weight, and (lucky for me) most of it went to my stomach. Despite this new weight being a symbol of my recovery and a symbol of being healthier, I still could not embrace it. I couldn’t even fathom loving this part of myself that I viewed as disgusting. I decided recently that I did not want to live a life where I am constantly hating myself and constantly putting myself down. I thought that self love was something I could just jump head first into. I saw all of these beautiful women on social media of all different body types and they were embracing every part of their bodies- even their stomachs. I thought that I could be like that too. So I sat in the bath tub and I just stared at my stomach, waiting for that light to go off that would make me love this part of me. Spoiler alert: The light never went off. I felt so discouraged, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t love myself. Then a little over a month ago, I was shopping and as is normal when clothes shopping, some items I tried on didn’t fit right or didn’t fit at all. The thing that surprised me, was that I was okay with this. If this had been even a couple months earlier, I would have immediately engaged in extremely negative thoughts about myself, but I just shrugged it off. It was that moment when I started to like my stomach.

I don’t love my stomach yet, but we’re still in the dating phase. We’re getting to know each other, and we like each other right now. Things are going well, and I think one day we’ll fall in love. I know that that day won’t happen right away, we’ll have to court each other for a while, wine and dine each other. But one day in the future, I will fall madly in love with my stomach, and I can’t wait for that day.

Surf’s Up

“Ride the wave. One day it will be over.”

The world is an ocean. It is wide, vast, and infinite. Sometimes I feel like we get thrown into this ocean of a world with no tools, no lessons, and no metaphoric flotation devices. Just like an ocean, the world has incoming and outgoing tides. There are times when the waves seem insurmountable, and there are times when they seem small enough to walk over; but the one constant is that life will have its waves.

People tell us about the waves that life can throw at us. They have no problem explaining the potential difficulties we may encounter, but they neglect to tell us what to do when we encounter them. They tell us that all of life’s waves will one day end, and to simply ride the wave until its end.

Which, for me, begs the question: How can I ride the wave if I was never taught to swim?

Before parents let their children swim in the deep end by themselves, they enroll them in swimming lessons. They prepare them for the dangers that the deep end can possess. I think there is something to be said for preparedness. I think that it makes logical sense that people are better equipped to swim through the deep ends of life when they have been given the proper tools and training to do so.

Like the ocean, life is an unpredictable beast. It can throw things at us that we never even thought possible, it will try to drown us. But would we not be better suited to handle these challenges if we were given proper tools? I understand, the unpredictable nature of life makes it hard to prepare for the unknown. I don’t even think that’s what I’m suggesting. It’s impossible to prepare for the unknown, that’s the very premise of unknown things. But when it comes to things like death, and grieving, why are we never taught how to cope? Why are we never taught to swim?

I look at my life and there are times when I would love nothing more than to simply ride the wave. The problem is that the world never taught me how. They never gave me floaties, swimming lessons, or a fludder board. They sent me into the world’s ocean and told me to ride the wave. But I never learned how to swim.

 

Where is the Light on Men’s Mental Health?

“Be a man.”
“Men don’t cry.”
“Men are strong.”
“A man does what he must- in spite of personal consequences.”

Why do we tell men that feelings are these awful things and that crying is bad? Why do we teach young boys to shut their feelings out and ignore them in the spirit of “being a man”? We live in a world that values braun and bravery over sensitivity and emotional intelligence and it is an extremely harmful way of thinking.

The world has made great strides with regards to the conversations surrounding mental health, but I believe that there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to men’s mental health. We have come a long way in terms of our thinking surrounding mental health, it is not always looked at as a weakness or something made up. But there are still some really negative thoughts and voices out there in the world.

Something I have noticed is the drastic differences in the ways women’s and men’s mental health are looked at. Women are typically seen as fragile, or delicate (I don’t agree with this but that’s for another time and place), and it’s almost like these stereotypes make it easier for people to hear about women living with mental illnesses.  Men are typically seen as strong, brave, and without emotions. They grow up being told to “be a man” and that “men don’t cry.” What kind of people does this breed? This teaches young men that their feelings and emotions are things to push away and that they are bad. This teaches young men that they have nowhere to go to ask for help if they need it because they will be seen as weak, or scared. It’s stereotypes like these that seem to make it difficult for people to understand that men can and do struggle with mental illnesses.

Why do we send children into the world thinking that they will be looked down upon or seen as less than for reaching out for help? Why do we do this and then wonder why they encounter problems?

This is something that I struggle to grasp. Mental illness does not discriminate when it comes to the people it affects, men and women can and do both suffer from all mental illnesses- and we know this. We have been shown the statistics, and we have heard people speak out. So why do we continue to perpetuate stereotypes that encourage men to hide their problems in secret?

In recent years, there has been an onslaught of women of notoriety coming forward with their stories of living with mental illness. While there have been a few men of similar statuses to share their own stories, there seems to be a far smaller amount. Where is the voice for men’s mental health? Where is the voice telling men that feelings are okay and that it’s okay to cry or ask for help? Where is the voice telling them that those stereotypes, and those moulds they were told to fit into are wrong? Where is the voice telling them that their feelings are valid and that they are just as worthy of support as anyone else and that if they reach out for support it doesn’t make them less of a man?

I don’t know where the voice is that can give us an updated definition of a man, but for the world’s sake, I hope we find it soon.

The Queen of the Castle

I sat in my tower, 
way up high
and I watched the scene
with a smile on my face. 

I watched the bridges 
of our past
go up in flames. 

I smiled because
even though you lit
the matches and started 
the fires all those
years ago, 
I threw gas on our fucking 
bridges, and I was happy
to watch them burn
worse than the hell
they were made of.

The Self Care Paradigm

Have you heard the term self care? What does it mean to you? Do you think of face masks, shopping, pedicures, and bubble baths? Do you think of seemingly simple things, like brushing your hair, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, going to the doctor, or doing laundry? Chances are, when you hear the term self care you think of the former as opposed to the latter, but what if I were to tell you that the latter is in fact sometimes more important than the former?

When I was in school for my undergrad in social service work, I had many professors talk to us about the concept of self care, and usually to them it included things like watching a movie, eating their favourite snack, or having a glass of wine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things, but hearing this from so many people caused me to buy into the notion that self care is glamorous and fun. I love a bubble bath and a face mask as much (probably more) than the next person, but what I have learned in recent months is that sometimes self care is so much more than that.

In recent months, my definition of self care has drastically changed. I now consider my self care to be things that are bettering me and my life, and that truly benefit me. I used to think that self care had to be fun and a treat, but I’ve learned recently that the stuff that really matters for my self care usually is not fun. For me now, self care is things like trying to wash my hair more than once a week, brushing my teeth twice a day, keeping my room clean(ish), doing laundry on a regular basis, going to therapy, going to doctor’s appointments, and yes… even the occasional bubble bath.

To sum it up, my definition of self care has now grown to mean that I do things that I need to do but that my depression/anxiety/body image issues make it hard for me to do. I push myself to do the things that my mind tries to tell me aren’t worth it or are too hard to get done. I still like to treat myself to things every once in a while, but I now feel that for me, self care goes a bit deeper than that.

Self care isn’t glamorous. To put it simply, it is taking care of yourself, and if that means doing the bare minimum when it comes to some things (like cleaning, or exercising or hygiene) but pushing myself to do that bare minimum, then you bet your ass I’m going to be proud of myself for pushing to get there.

Self care looks different to everyone, but I urge you to not get caught up in the notion that you have to treat yourself like a movie star in order to achieve it. Sometimes you just need to make sure you treat yourself like a human; and not only is that good enough, it’s pretty damn great.