“Self-help has never been cool,” my friend bluntly replied after I admitted I’d been scrawling through every online blog about cheating, narcissism, relationships, depression, anxiety, trying to find some kind of answers to help me understand why my downright deceitful boyfriend had been living a double life—loving and living with one woman on the south side of the river and another on the north.
After I confessed that all those awfully optimistic, inspirational articles from people who spin yarns about compassion, forgiveness and self-love actually helped me, I felt like I’d just released my dirty little secret. It was as if I had let it out of the bag that when I’m alone in a cafe, I actually order an extra-hot, half strength, decaf, skinny, cappuccino (with no chocolate and two sweeteners).
Or, that I let my full-grown dog sleep under the covers with me and we spoon all night long; that the other day I walked face first into a tree, sober, in broad daylight; that not so long ago, I raced home from work every day to finish the entire series of Dawson’s Creek in a few short weeks; that I read my horoscopes religiously on a shitty app that is full of spelling and grammar mistakes or that when I was 15, hanging out with my boyfriend and all his mates, I laughed and blew a huge chunk of snot onto my lap in front of everyone.
All of a sudden, I felt a little embarrassed, slightly more vulnerable and realized that I’m that lady you see on the train reading a copy of How A Raw Food Diet Can Relieve Your Anxiety or Happiness in Three Easy Steps hidden strategically behind a copy of Time Magazine.
I’m that girl you know who went to India to “find herself” and considers replying to ads in the paper for a clairvoyant who can fix all your problems for $79.99.
I’m generally a pretty open person and don’t hide a lot about myself, but my tendency to seek refuge in the advice of strangers was something that I had never shared. Is it a bad thing though?
As far as I can tell, reading or hearing about other people’s problems does wonders for our sanity. Why do you think we want to watch Tyrion Lannister being constantly rejected by his family, or Joffrey Baratheon being a generally hideous human being? Why are there countless television shows about war, murder, rape, torture heartbreak, loss and grief?
Aside from the many factors influencing our mental health (a chemical imbalance, a traumatic experience or a million other things), what makes it all the more painful is feeling as if we are alone.
Facebook and Instagram and all the other brilliant social media devices that people use to glorify their lives don’t make it any easier. They are clogged with pictures of people with their partners (who would know they haven’t had sex in months?), pictures of puppies (not the diarrhea stained carpet due to their little one eating an entire packet of Gingko Biloba tablets) and families at Christmas (looking happy because everyone is too pissed to remember that Grandma doesn’t know any of their names). And so on.
Why do we get conned into believing that everyone else’s lives are so perfect? And better still, why do people feel the need to pretend like they are?
We need to get better at acknowledging our hurt and realize that it is normal and human and inevitable and believe it or not, good for us. My Dad (oh, wise one) sent me an email recently when I had just discovered my boyfriend’s infidelity while holidaying with him in Sri Lanka. “This has set you free”, he said, “I can’t do anything. It’s all up to you. There is no minister, psychologist or prophet who can do anything either. You can be strong, vulnerable, confused, weak and scared and take the actions you see fit. Do not try to erase the hurt. Sit with it. Something is waiting to be discovered.”
After spending 12 days at my parent’s house crying, eating nothing, not getting out of bed, chain smoking and drinking copious amounts of red wine, one day I woke up and the whole saga was just boring to me. I was tired of telling people why I was home early and I was emotionally exhausted from the self-perpetuated torment and misery I was allowing myself to experience.
So, I started writing again, doing yoga, I quit the job that I hated and decided to move out of the house I was no longer happy in.
The things that my Dad had said made a lot of sense; this painfully shitty experience had not only brought me out of the self-doubting state of inaction and indecision that I had been in, but had made me think a lot about self-sufficiency, trust and what I need and want.
I had spent so long waiting for a magical solution to my problems that I had consciously but hesitantly, dismissed anything productive, healthy or fulfilling. My depression and anxiety had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship or lack of, what I was studying, where I worked or anything else.
It had everything to do with my perspective, learned patterns of thinking and the way in which I relied on external things to make me happy.
Besides keeping his projector for my little brother, his heater, a hideously ugly teapot and getting whole lot of satisfaction from throwing all his belongings out on my front lawn like a movie star, I also gained some important wisdom from the man who hurt me.
1. Trust your gut feeling.
I felt painfully insecure throughout our relationship. No matter how many times he said he loved me, I didn’t believe it. He actually had me convinced that I had an anxiety disorder. Before I left for our holiday, I told my friend that I had an awful feeling things weren’t going to work out. She, having heard him say on numerous occasions how much he loved me, told me that I was just being insecure. But, as I realize now, I actually knew all along. Despite the words and the actions that went against my intuition, it was right.
2. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of others.
It’s quite easy to give yourself a nasty stab in the heart and cause worse damage than anyone else possibly could. There must be something fundamentally wrong with you because someone thinks you deserve to be hurt.
But, as I’m beginning to realize now, it’s usually them who is the one with the problem. Labeling my ex boyfriend with Narcissistic Personality Disorder helped me for some time to understand how someone could possibly be so deceitful, but no matter what his problem is, the point is that he was obviously scared, insecure and troubled.
Peaceful people do not hurt people; hurting people hurt people. When people’s actions are unexplainable and fall outside your moral code, it is not because you’re a bad person and you deserve it, it is because there is ultimately something wrong for them.
The only way to respond is to steer away from the tendency to self-blame and scrounge up any possible compassion and forgiveness.
3. “Love” often isn’t love.
What the fuck even is love? “You’ll know when you feel it,” my mum would say.
I think what the majority describe as “love,” is generally dependence, attachment, chemical addiction and desire, none of which comprise a very pretty picture of this illusive experience that is in such high demand.
I feel as though many relationships (all of mine, in fact) have not been true love, but rather an addiction to the feeling of being wanted (caused by chemicals in the brain), a dependence on another to fix/distract you from your problems, an attachment to the idea of companionship, and sexual desire.
What we describe as “love” can be painful, insecure and often uncomfortable, but the drama, games, lust and unpredictability keep us hooked in.
At least coming to some kind of understanding of what love isn’t can help to differentiate between love for the sake of desire and something more real.
4. Pain is equal to peace.
The clichés are absolutely spot-on in this one: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” “There’s no shortcut to any place worth going.”
Considering the usefulness of adversity can be a difficult thing to come to grips with when you are in a state of pain, as our parents and teachers have always said, “When you surface, you will be stronger, wiser and ultimately a better person for it.”
There are very rarely negative situations that don’t turn out better in the end or at least have a silver lining. They generally serve to teach you more about yourself, this insane world that we live in and how to live a happier, more fulfilling life.
In short, there is nothing wrong with helping yourself.
You are absolutely the only one who can do it and you will find your own way with or without a psychologist, medication, books or tapes, but, let go of the shame associated with asking for a hand.
Read all you can from other people who have experienced a similar situation, research ways to get through it, go see a bloody palm reader if you want to—whatever!
Don’t judge your own methods of coping, don’t regret your decisions even if they’ve landed you in a dark place—and be grateful for what you’re going through because it’s helping you develop your relationship with yourself.
That’s more important than all your Facebook friends put together.
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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Bryonie Wise