The Christmas Weakness

Yesterday, I read an old post by Andreas Moser about how he used to hate Christmas. It emphasized the point that this thoroughly Christian ritual is forever being rammed down everybody’s throat, no matter what religious beliefs they hold or do not hold.

And that’s true. But for many non-Christians, and I dare say for some Christians as well, the religious aspect is irrelevant; what matters is that Christmas is stable and recurrent, and that it gives you an opportunity to connect with the people you trust more than other people (it doesn’t have to be family), and also to rest.

With the stability and recurrence of any ritual, it makes those of us who always hurry to achieve more stop and consider what we have now. It makes us remember about those special people I mentioned – yes, we have forgotten about them again! It makes us consider the people that are missing, too. And other things.

Some of us don’t like to stop in our hurry, and for those, Christmas comes to unwanted rescue. Because sometimes, you just need to stop and think – about the life you’ve been living, about your relationships, about your problems and plans for the future.

And even if that moment when you stand alone by the window – if there’s anyone else, they’re busy talking, staring at the TV in a food coma or they’ve already gone to bed… Even if that moment is a dark one, difficult to bear and you don’t want it, I really think that the essence of Christmas is in there, too. Paradoxically, in the stability and recurrence of those solitary moments, you can learn a lot of new things.

And if churches benefit from our weakness for ritual? If they gather many more people than they usually do, and kindly, in a Christmas spirit, force their ideology upon them? Even if, in the end, they cash in on the fact that we want to feel connected, and need the stability and recurrence that religious ritual gives?

Well, that part sucks.

Of course, we could be stronger, and reject the religious aspect of Christmas. We could just focus on what’s more important for us: connecting with people, rest, self-reflection, the stability and recurrence of it. A ritual can do without a religious back story.

But I guess most people won’t do that even if they don’t like the religious aspect of Christmas. Perhaps they’re too attached to the Christmas they know from childhood, and in their minds it seems criminal to alter it in any way. Isn’t that so?

We follow in the old footsteps… whose footsteps these are, we don’t know. They’re old, so they must be right. We will continue in this way for a long time.

…But who can blame us for being weak?*

* In Poland, people say that one’s point of view depends on the point where one sits. So just to explain mine: I was raised Catholic in this very Catholic country but later lost personal interest in religion, and now I’m just watching how the church here piles up reasons to be rejected by the people but nevertheless remains privileged and strong.

Learning Not to Take Chances Away

You know what I like about therapy?

The fact that the therapist I go to does not judge me. And even more than that: she does a thingy thing that makes me forget the concept of judging people as such. It makes me stop being hard on myself and, at the same time, stop worrying about how other people judge me.

How does she do that? No idea. It’s probably a professional secret.

The kind of judging I have in mind here is the negative one – one that takes something away from its object. When we say to ourselves “I’m hopeless”, “I’m good for nothing”, or “I will never succeed at anything”, we take away from ourselves the chance to prove ourselves wrong. All said and done, no point in trying any harder and searching for new paths towards self-realization if the current ones indeed do not seem to lead anywhere.

I am giving examples of self-judgement here on purpose, because I know that many people judge themselves harshly and nullify their chances for improvement all the time.

Do they do that to other people as well? I don’t know – I probably belong to the lucky few who do not have to face such shitty behaviour. If they do, that’s too bad. What I do know, though, is that we should not readily assume that other people keep judging us negatively in their minds. Without getting us any closer to any kind of truth, it may only make us nervous…

There is another, positive kind of judging, though – one that gives us something. In our interactions, we do that all the time: we judge whether the person we just met is worthy of our trust; whether we want to talk to them, find out more about them, hang around with them some more. This is normal; were it not for this kind of judging, we would probably drown in all this wide inter-human sea…

But what am I driving at? I am definitely driving at something.

Here is the thing: if you already know the difference between the positive and negative kind of judging, give up on the latter. Don’t take chances away from yourself. Don’t take them away from others.

This is what I keep telling myself, and therapy helps me maintain this attitude of not taking chances away, watching myself and others with interest, and learning something new about ourselves every day.

And you know what? It is much more interesting this way.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

This Is Going to Be a Good Autumn

For a couple of years now, the coming of autumn always meant trouble for me: won’t a rainy October deject me? Will I have gathered enough strength to be able to get up from the bed every morning? Won’t the persistent thoughts that I’m worthless and should’ve died long ago come back? Oh, those regular autumnal thoughts; moods quite fitting for the unfriendly autumnal weather.

“This autumn, though, is going to be a good one,” I’m thinking now, even when the wind is raging all around me, all I can see in the darkness is some lights reflected in the wet asphalt under my feet, and all I’m dreaming about is to finally stop this trudge-along and fall asleep in the warmth and quite of home.

This autumn is going to be a good one because this autumn I let myself do just this: take care of myself when I’m feeling so bad, and cold, and gloomy. It doesn’t mean that every time I get back home from work, I hit the bed right away. Sometimes it means that when I’m irritated, I turn on Yukari’s “Echo”. When I feel lonely, I reach out to a friend, or just think about the few I have. When I haven’t slept well at night, I put off this damned difficult task I’ve planned to finish today until a better time.

There’s no point in nurturing irritation; that parasite will devour the greater part of your energy with much enthusiasm if you let it do so. I won’t do myself a favour if I go on pondering the loneliness of my existence, either. It’s better to go back a couple of days or weeks, and recall that it doesn’t always feel this way. And what about work, what about sacrifice? I value both very much, but not more than my own well-being. The world needs me? Well, it probably does, but probably not too much; not to the extent where I’d have to carry on all stressed out and exhausted.

But what about autumn, and the wayward thoughts it will bring me all the same? …I can tell you that this year is the first one when I feel that I don’t have to yield to them. I already know those thoughts well enough to be able to stop the one that, running at full speed, would hit me and send me flying downwards a murky autumnal depression. They are my thoughts, and I can do with them whatever I want to — not the other way round.

So this autumn, instead of picking up all the fatigue and dejection that autumn will inevitably bring me as if it was the greatest of gifts, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m strong enough now to make it a plan, and I think I’m strong enough to keep to it, too.

And that is all. But this little is enough to say that this is going to be a good autumn.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What It’s Like to Have a Rat

I have a rat. It’s been sitting on my desktop for a few days now. Like all rats, it has the tendency to reappear in bad times.

It appears whenever I’m sad for a period of time longer than a few days.

I won’t show it to you because it’s a very private rat, just like my sadness is a private business, most of the time.

But I can talk about it if I want to. I wasn’t able to do this when I was younger. The rat had to stay somewhere out of sight, in the basement, I think (I was never quite sure of its whereabouts back then).

Under no circumstances did I want to see it, let alone let anyone else see it. Rats aren’t nice animals, you know.

But amid all this maturing, thinking and rethinking, I discovered that you can make friends with your rat even if it’s not nice.

Perhaps you’ll also be able to tame it so that it doesn’t eat you from the inside anymore. I haven’t yet convinced mine to stop doing that.

But I’m trying. When times are bad, I’m putting it on my desktop and say hello to it every time I switch on my laptop so that it feels accepted, and appreciated, too.

Nothing to be scared of — I tell myself, and it gives me that serious, reassuring look.

szczurek
This isn’t the one from my desktop. This one was drawn by lotny.

Have a great day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What Would You Like?

The question that our title
has cast in deathless bronze
is painful yet so vital,
we owe it a response.

~ K.I. Gałczyński, trans. S. Barańczak and C. Cavanagh

We all have dreams – I could start by saying this if I didn’t know better. Dreams never come true – I could also start by saying this if I wanted to discourage you from reading my blog. This post is going to be about dreams and disappointment – I start by saying this because I don’t feel like trying to sound clever.

It would be nice to believe in what we get from films, books, and people who are perhaps too lazy to think over the old truths that they repeat: that all of us have dreams. But unfortunately, not all of us, and not in all circumstances, can keep up enough hope to sustain a dream.

All it takes is to face a terminal disease, extreme poverty or violence. In other words, if your life falls apart, you may become temporarily unable to dream.

A tragedy is not always the case, though. Some people, at certain points in their lives, simply don’t have dreams. And I’d think it’s perfectly all right if only I couldn’t be bothered to think about the reasons. But I am bothered, I am indeed very much bothered by the reasons.

There might be a multiplicity of them, and I might not be able to account for all of them here. All right, all right: I’m actually able to account for only two reasons, namely that:

  1. We’re happy with our lives as they are, and at this particular moment we just want to enjoy it, and dreams get kind of sidelined, or…
  2. We’re afraid of disappointment… which is completely understandable because disappointment is unpleasant. If it felt pleasant or neutral, I guess it wouldn’t be called disappointment anymore.

Well then, let’s be afraid of it, I’d say if I didn’t know that this fear might become unhealthy and lead us to give up on dreams.

It’s a very simple mechanism. If, as children, we were repeatedly told that we can’t disappoint other people because we hurt them by doing so; if, all too often, we saw other people being unable to cope with disappointment; if we experienced disappointment ourselves and couldn’t cope with it – we’re almost sure to be afraid of disappointment later on.

But there’s nothing to be afraid of… or at least there shouldn’t be, don’t you think? Disappointment is part of life and, in most cases, the human psyche is strong enough to cope with the pain it brings.

However, that is not enough for us to stop being afraid. Perhaps those of us who are will never stop being afraid. So, perhaps it’s worthwhile to learn how to cope with it? Learning a few coping methods should help to relieve anxiety, no matter the cause of it.

But who are we supposed to learn from if so many of the people around us are so clearly not good at handling their own disappointments? So many of them, resenting life that it’s not as good as they expected it to be, obstinately offended, neglect their own, and sometimes also their loved ones’ well-being.

I don’t know. I don’t know who to learn it from and, as you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t come up with any tricks of my own either. So far, I don’t think I have answered a single question I asked myself on this blog – I just write them down as homework to be done in the future.

But I already know one thing: I don’t want to give up on dreams for reason number two. I don’t want to forget how to dream just because I am afraid of disappointment. I don’t want to linger in this special kind of apathy which prevents us not only from making our dreams come true, but in the long run, also from knowing what they are.

That’s why, for a start, I suggest pulling your old dreams out of the waste bin and examining them closely – perhaps they still fit? And if not, I suggest asking yourself once again, bravely, in a demanding tone, this one important question: what would you like?

It’s painful yet so vital – you owe it a response.

Have a good day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

Ugly Emotions

“I hit you in my sleep.”

“What have I done?” he asks jokingly.

“Nothing, I wanted to hit somebody from my dream but I hit you in reality,” I say, all brimming with guilt.

“Doesn’t matter. Come here.”

***

One of the most important lessons I’m taking in therapy continually is about accepting my emotions as they are. High or low, strong or weak, nice or… ugly.

Before I began therapy, it seemed kind of natural to dismiss all kinds of emotions that I didn’t experience as “nice”. I just wanted to see myself as a nice person, you know? And nice people don’t hate others or feel angry at them. Nice people, you know – they forgive.

Or whatever it was they taught me in religion classes. Did  you have religion classes, too? Doesn’t matter. I’m sure there are plenty of us out there – people who would prefer to be incapable of anger, hate, jealousy, reluctance, or spite. Because then, in the end, we could be sure we are the perfectly acceptable “nice” people we want to be.

I guess we could all blame our pushing the “ugly” emotions away from ourselves on religious teaching, on the expectation that every girl should be a nice little angel, on our failing parents… you name it. But the origins of this habit matter very little once you realize that it is doing you harm.

Suppressing emotions is bad for you, we all know it. You may, for example, end up having terrible dreams where you fight someone who made you angry ten years back, and be hitting your significant other in the present. Or you feel tense all the time for no apparent reason, or your body eventually says “no more of this” and falls ill. But if we all know the consequences of suppressing unwanted emotions, why don’t we stop suppressing them if we know it?

Because it’s not so easy. You probably already know that, too. It’s not easy to admit to emotions that you have been denying for a long time. Because, in a sense, you have been acting rationally – you have been denying them for a reason, and with a purpose.

Why, then? Why do we deny the existence of the “ugly” creatures that inhabit our minds – the snakes, the rats, the lizards? We do that precisely because we think of them as “ugly”. Cumbersome. Undeserving. We don’t like to burden ourselves with the difficulty of facing them and owning them.

And what for do we suppress those lovely – “ugly”, you probably still think – creatures of our minds? Quite simply, we do that to feel better about ourselves. It may also help you to avoid conflict with other people; but above all, it allows you to avoid conflict with yourself: you are now, without any doubt, the “nice” person you wanted to be, so everything must be okay.

It works so well that you may not even notice it that it has become your way of being. You don’t pay attention to feelings of frustration or jealousy when they appear around the corner; you tell your feelings to shut up when you’re angry at someone; you keep all the “ugly” stuff neatly hidden under the carpet. It makes you a super-nice person…

…who sacrificed an important part of themselves to achieve that goal. And if you think about it – was it worth it?

In my case, I think it wasn’t. Sure, this habit of keeping “the ugly” out of sight has been making my life a lot easier by providing me with a sense of security. I always knew what to do when an “ugly” emotion crept out of the dark: shove it back there! But you know what? I like to think of myself as an animal preserve. In that preserve, each animal has its own niche, and each should be fed and taken care of so that the ecosystem is – well, preserved, because that’s what preserves are for.

And each animal, including the “ugly” ones – my hate, my anger, my sadness – should be there, not out. Otherwise, I’d lose something very important. I think I don’t have to explain what it is.

So, what do I do to stop suppressing my emotions? What have I learned in therapy so far? Admittedly, no more than I what I have ranted here about up until now: that the “ugly” emotions that I’m afraid of, and that I would rather keep in a very dark, forgotten place, are just as good as the “nice” ones, and that all emotions need to be experienced.

And what do I do with that knowledge? Well, I just repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it until I’m completely bored with myself talking. In this way, I’m coming to believe in this simple fact of life more and more…

I’m a slow learner, that I must admit. But even if you are a slow learner, there are lessons out there really worth learning no matter how much time it takes – and worth sharing, too. If you want to share what you’ve learned, or any other thoughts, you know where the comments section is.

Have a good day!
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

 

Finding A Voice

I haven’t been posting regularly for quite a while because I’ve been having difficulties with finding a voice that suits me. It seems that when you lose focus on your writing, it’s getting harder and harder to later figure out what you want to write about, and how to do it. That’s what happened in my case, and the dull-edged character my writing acquired as of late has been annoying me to the point where…

…I decided to change some things.

First of all, I’m considering switching to my native language. Writing in English is super-cool because you can reach a bigger audience, plus if writing in a foreign language makes you feel less exposed, as is does to me, you don’t have to struggle. But I guess I’m ready to take on the struggle now.

Also, some of the things that I want to write about, I want to write about them specifically for a Polish audience. I feel like matters of mental health are rarely approached with a healthy attitude around me so I decided to do a little something to maybe change this a bit. I know I won’t change much; I know I’ll still be hearing, or reading on the internet, the same old shit about the scary, dangerous, inhuman mentally ill people; but I really want to try and change this a little.

…So now you also know what the main topic will be. I decided to cut on other topics, though, so that my blog is less of a dump and more of a blog.

Expect some update about the Polish version of the blog some time soon, then.

***

Finding a voice is important, not only for blogging, but in all kinds of communication. You probably know that you won’t get very far if what you say, and how you say it, doesn’t quite fit with what you think and care about. So you need a voice for that. I’m not writing about any voice, but neither am I writing about “your own, unique voice” – just one that suits you better. Go and find it, and so will I.