I’m going to do something a little bit different today.
You might or might not have heard that Shannon from It Starts at Midnight, Inge from Bookshelf Reflections and Kayla of The Thousand Lives are hosting an event called Shattering Stigmas at the moment. Shattering Stigmas is all about being open and honest about mental health issues, and each of these three have shared their respective stories.
If you want to take a look, here they are:
I’ll be honest with you guys. I wasn’t sure whether to write this post, because I use my real name on this blog and anyone can find it, whether I’m comfortable sharing or not, be it a potential employer or someone I know personally. However, I think it’s incredibly important to talk about these things more openly than we’re doing right now, because it’s not something to be ashamed of, and the one thing that always makes everything worse is thinking you’re alone with it. Since that’s the spirit of this event, it inspired me to share.
Quick disclaimer: I don’t really talk about this very much, because I always feel like it’s not THAT bad, and my life isn’t impacted THAT much and maybe I’m just being a drama queen, and so many people are dealing with so much worse, so I just feel like a bit of a hypochondriac, but fuck that for today. The strangest things have helped me in the past, so maybe someone will take something away from this. Or not, but that’s okay too.
The things I’m going to talk about more or less go hand in hand, but since this is such a long, rambly post, I decided to divide them into sections.
I never liked myself much growing up, but I figured that was just normal. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for being balanced, happy, and foaming with self-love, right? About two years ago something happened that made me feel very bad. I don’t want to share the details, but I felt that my reaction was disproportionate to the event. One day I Googled “why do I always feel like I’m not good enough” and I KNOW sob story much? But the thing is, this post came up: I’m Not Good Enough: The World Through a Low Self-Esteem Lens. You should check it out if you’re interested, but here’s a short quote:
When you don’t have good self-esteem it’s because in having conditional love for yourself, you try to get people (and sometimes objects and substances) to create feelings in you that you don’t feel yourself. You make external sources the solution to your internal problems, after all, if you don’t like and love you, why would you believe that you could entrust yourself with the responsibility of you?
If the only thing you’ve ever known is to not feel good enough, it’s hard to imagine even an entire day where you can genuinely like and love you. You’d be subconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That post was so, so helpful to me, because it was the first time I realized I actually HAD a problem. I mean it’s all good and fine to say I’ll work on it, but it’s kind of hard to work on it when you don’t even realize there’s something that needs to be worked on. I had incredibly low self-esteem. I was constantly insulting myself in my own head, and I thought that was normal.
My low self-esteem can’t be traced back to one single thing, but part of it comes from the fact that I was bullied a lot when I was younger. I’ve suppressed a lot of it, but there are some instances that are like sharp images in my mind – the time someone wrote “Vlora is fat” on the board and the teacher opened it in front of the whole class, the time I got a hateful anonymous letter with the letters cut out from magazines, the time a whole group of people waited for me when I went to take out the trash as a child and all sang something derogatory and put thistles in my hear – you know, the fun stuff. Even now that’s the hardest part of this post to share, because somehow I think people will see ME as something lesser for having experienced that. It’s kind of fucked up, really. The difference is, that now I DO share it. Well, I might. I still have to hit that publish button, but if you’re reading this GO ME.
I have been working on this. I have to make a conscious effort every day to be kind to myself, to not criticize myself too much, and to not over generalize (“I’m ALWAYS bad at stuff like this, I’ll NEVER be able to do that, everyone else does so much more than I do”). I believe that you have to be happy with yourself first and happy with everyone else second. I push myself to do things that I wouldn’t normally have done because of body image issues, or because I didn’t believe in myself. It’s incredibly hard sometimes, and I feel like I’m stagnating a little now, but I’m genuinely trying and I’m grateful for that. It’s a very long process, but I don’t want to miss more opportunities because I’m worried I’m not good enough. I am. And if I have to remind myself of that every day, I will continue to do that.
Again, I wasn’t really aware of this for a long time. Growing up and especially around the age of 18/19, I’ve had times where I felt disconnected, like I wasn’t feeling the things I was supposed to feel, and like nothing was worth doing. Even now I’m going through a “what’s the purpose of doing anything really?” phase. I’ve always found it hard to motivate myself for things that I don’t want to do, and I still do. To an extent that’s normal, but I have periods where I just don’t feel like anything is worth doing. It won’t necessarily mean I won’t do anything, but it’s not a great feeling.
The real problem, however, is that my part-time inability to DO stuff also pertains to things that I actually WANT to do. But sometimes I just wake up and I …can’t. I’ll feel bad for no reason, so there’s nothing I can do or fix. It hasn’t ruined my life (few things can ruin a life permanently, actually): I always do the bare minimum – if I have to be at work, I go. If I have to take an important test or else I won’t get my degree, I take the test. I’ll just tell myself to get through the day and do the absolute least I have to do before I can get back home. That’s not a fun way to live though.
If it’s one of those days, and it’s not absolutely vital that I actually show up at where I have to be (for example a lecture I can skip), then I won’t go. I remember a day last semester, where I just COULDN’T get myself to go to my seminar at noon. I just felt rotten for no reason. I spent the whole day not doing much of anything, but then I somehow got up to take a shower and go to the lecture in the evening. It’s something that’s not actually a huge achievement usually, but honestly? I was kind of proud. The same happened another day, where I didn’t leave the house, but managed to get up, get ready and film a video. I still didn’t feel great afterwards, but I felt slightly better. Actually DOING something usually helps at least a little; it’s just really hard to get that initial motivation to do so, and it won’t fix the issue.
I now usually recognize depression. There’s no real reason for feeling that way (which, I guess, makes it depression in the first place), but I’ve noticed that little sleep exacerbates it, so I try to get a decent amount, and I pretty much never go without no sleep at all anymore. The fact that I can set my own schedule at university helps with that, and when I have to get up early for work (or now the internship) I try going to bed earlier than I usually would. Often I just need to get through the day, and then it’ll be better the next day, and that thought helps. The worst thing is feeling like it won’t get better, but now that I know how this works, I’m able to feel a little more positive about it and realize that it probably will get better, even if it doesn’t feel like it. If it worked that way in the past, it will probably work that way again.
So in conclusion: I still struggle with it, but it’s been incredibly helpful for me to realize that it’s a process and that you won’t just get cured. There will be bad days, but I’ve more or less made my peace with it and just wait them out when they come. I try to do what I can to make it better – even if it just means being kind to myself when I don’t manage to get better. Also, this might sound worse than it is. I still have a milder form of depression, and I’m often okay. Just like with low self-esteem, I’ve been trying to actively focus on positive thoughts, and I think it has helped, but it’s a long process and it’s not really something that just stops. I have become a lot better at dealing with it though, I think.
EDIT: I’ve done some more research, and this actually describes it quite well. Not all symptoms apply exactly, but less severe than major depressive episodes and still usually able to master daily life, but very long lasting (chronic) symptoms that almost seem like a part of one’s personality describes it fairly adequately. As I haven’t talked to a professional, I’m not claiming I have dysthymia, but it’s a good description at least.
This is the only thing that I don’t really know how to handle. My depression isn’t that severe, so I can usually deal with it in some form or another, and I have developed some coping mechanisms to get through bad days. But there’s something that I don’t know how to fix and that’s panic attacks caused by fear of death. I know everyone has to die. I know I have to die. I can think about it in the abstract and I won’t panic at all. But sometimes at night (often I’m woken up again when I’m already half asleep), I realize that I’m actually, really, definitely going to die and there is absolutely nothing I can do. And I KNOW that’s true for everyone and it’s kind of ridiculous for me to feel that way, but my body doesn’t know that. My heart starts racing, and I feel actual terror.
I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I’ve been afraid, of course, but I haven’t felt real terror like that. I usually manage to snap out of the physical part by very, very consciously making an effort to push the thought away and go back to blissful (sort of) denial, so I’m not sure it’s an actual panic attack (can you snap out of those?), but it’s really, REALLY not fun, and I’ll feel shaken for a while afterwards and it can cause some underlying depression the next couple of days. I have only told this to very few people, but no one really feels the same way, and even Google didn’t deliver much. I guess most people have a belief system that gives them some comfort, but I’m not religious or spiritual, so that doesn’t really help.
Obviously, introversion isn’t a mental illness, but I wanted to talk about it anyway, because I feel like a lot of people don’t really know what it means exactly (I didn’t) and might not realize that some of their anxiety in certain situations can stem from it. Sometime around the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 I read a post about being an introvert while travelling (it’s in German, but I thought I’d link it anyway), and – once again – a light went off in my head. I had usually heard the word used interchangeably with “shy” and I think I had a bit of a wrong definition of it in my head. At its core, being an introvert simply means that you get your energy from within and not from your external environment. I always think of it as recharching my batteries when I’m alone and not when I’m with people.
That doesn’t mean I never want to be with people – in fact, I need good friends in my life in order to not feel alone and be happy – I just need alone time to recharge after meeting them. Social situations with a lot of people I don’t know (or even people I know) make me nervous. It doesn’t always suck of course; sometimes they’re fun. I just probably won’t enjoy it for as long as other people will, and I’ll need time by myself afterwards.
For example, I stayed at a hotel with my cousin for a week last year. After a while, I started realizing I was getting crabby and easily annoyed with her. Now I need to mention that it absolutely wasn’t her fault. We were both spending some time reading and relaxing, and she wasn’t doing anything to piss me off. The reason I felt that way was because I needed some time by myself – not to get away from her, but to get back to a better mindset myself. Sometimes just an hour makes a difference in whether I’m a great person to be around or a horrible one.
Some other “symptoms” of being an introvert: People I don’t know stress me out. I like making new friends, but I HATE the small talk phase. I’m usually much, MUCH better and more comfortable in smaller groups of friends than in larger ones. I’ll have a lot more fun going for drinks, or at a game night, or just hanging out with close friends than going to a huge social event. I’m happy to take a seminar with friends, but if there’s no one I know, I’m fine to sit by myself and read a book during lunch break instead of making new friends. I can spend days by myself immersed in some project or another and I’ll be fine. (I will go crazy if I don’t meet someone after a while though.)
It can be a struggle when you have a lot of extroverted friends who don’t understand (which happens, because all the other introverts are probably busy doing their thing). No matter how often I say I don’t really like clubbing to some people, they just literally do not understand it. And I get it – it can be hard to imagine how someone else feels when their feeling completely opposite about something, but GRRR.
It’s completely normal to be introverted, and I’ve read somewhere (Reviews and Cake, quoting reliable sources since 2014) that about half of humanity is introverted to some extent. It’s a lot more socially acceptable to be an extrovert, but it’s completely fine to be an introvert. It’s harder to make new friends when you move to a new place, and you might have to step out of your comfort zone a lot to achieve it, but that’s not always a bad thing. Okay, okay, sometimes it blows, but usually it helps you grow as a person.
novel post got a lot longer than I expected, so if you’re still reading this kudos to you. I want to mention that I’m mostly sharing this, because, as you can see above, some blog posts have helped me a lot, so if there’s ANY chance that this could help someone even the slightest bit, I’ll put it out there. Also, I wanted to show my support for Shattering Stigmas, because I think it’s an awesome idea, and I really do believe we should be talking about mental health more openly, because almost everyone I know has had some sort of experience with it in the past.
So while it’s incredibly hard for me to share this so openly, I’m doing it mainly just to show that it SHOULD be more acceptable to share things like this without being judged. Having some sort of mental health condition doesn’t mean being a lesser person, and a lot of the time we have the wrong impression of what something actually is and how it works. I know I do, so I look forward to learning more.
On a lighter note, here’s a buzzfeed post on introvert pickup lines I found while searching for gifs. Take a look, it’s hilarious.