Writing therapy

When I write personal pieces on my blog (which is the majority of my posts!), I don’t write with an audience in my mind. I couldn’t write if I did. It is intensely therapeutic to publish writings that are extremely personal to a potential audience who do not know me (there might be a few exceptions). It is safe precisely because of the anonymity, yet strangers can find something they can relate to in my words, because we are all humans, and similar experiences connect us.

I also keep a journal and write letters. In fact, all my writings are private in nature. For a long time, I thought I couldn’t call myself a writer unless I wrote in an established form of genre, such as fiction or essay. It still sounds pretentious to think I’m a writer, but I am one in the purest sense of the word. I am a person who writes.
I first started a voluntary diary when I was in the sixth grade, and for the next five and a half years, I wrote more or less regularly. I picked it up again after a year and a half, and have kept it up since then.
While journaling has been extremely helpful with keeping my emotions in check and voicing my innermost fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams, my blog was the place where I would gather my thoughts and try to construct a narrative of sorts. There are especially pieces that go back to my childhood, and today I am so glad that I took the time and often also the pain to deal with the part of my childhood that I’d rather bury and forget.

The past does not forget us, though. It haunts us until we dig it up from the depth of our consciousness, and deal with it in one way or another. Even so, even after a cleansing relief so sharp that it leaves you feeling empty, you will return to the site of digging years later only to find that the pain and the hurt is still partially there.
I have a driving instructor who sometimes reminds me of my father in the worst way possible. For weeks I hadn’t understood my reaction to his reprimands, to that critical tone of his voice. Then it hit me last week as I was doing dishes, just like that. His tone, coupled with his words and expressions sent me spinning back to my childhood and adolescence, and I was again a child or teenager bracing for the verbal blow, anticipating it and yet surprised anew at how deeply it sliced into my heart until I felt like it would stop beating.

I usually don’t advocate poking at old wounds again and again without giving it a chance to heal. Well, I still don’t. But it’s worth examining them just to see whether they are healing as they should, or whether they have become infested again.
My relationship with my father is still very complicated. It has gotten much smoother ever since I opened up a little last year. Since then, it has improved so much that I had forgotten that up until a year ago, I was still being smothered by the past and present hurts.
The incident with my driving instructor brought the past crashing down on my head, but thanks to having worked on the issue on many occasions in the past, I do not have to start from zero. I am not a victim of verbal abuse and parental neglect – not anymore. But it is scary, and quite frankly just plain sad how power the past traumas still can have over me. Maybe because I have never put my past experiences in those terms: traumas. Maybe I am giving my past more power than it deserves. All I can do right now is to validate my feelings of terror and pain, and let them stand for themselves.

I’d like to think that in many ways, writing has saved me. It has helped me to release unhealthy anger, and to bring reason and order to my whirlpool of emotions. However, it can do only so much. After draining the wound, I still have to find ways to treat it and dress it and look after it. But it’s better than letting the wound fester.

I am enough, not good

What does it mean to be a good person?

Twice in the last seven days I have heard that I am a “good person”. My first reaction in both instances was to deny it. Inside, I was screaming, You just don’t know all the selfish, indifferent, careless sides of me!

It is dangerous for me to get attached to other people’s evaluations of me. Their praises are like drugs – an instant reward to my system, and after the rush has abated, I crave another. Soon my “good deeds” turn into making other people approve of me by becoming whomever they want to see.

For a long time I thought being good was to be selflessness itself, to devote yourself to other people until your body, mind and soul broke. This was the model of goodness I picked up sub-consciously in my culture. During my teenage years and beyond, I would fall into bouts of deep-seated self-loathing because I couldn’t or wouldn’t be this kind of “good”. I felt inadequate, a waste of space and resources. I still fall back to feeling this way sometimes.

It is easier to hate myself than love myself. Easier to criticize than accept. Better to be miserable than happy and guilty.

Because all I had ever wanted was for my imperfect self to be picked up by other people, and soothed, accepted, and loved by them. By displaying a textbook attachment behavior, I was hoping to receive unconditional love. If I couldn’t get love, I wanted pity, or sympathy, or something. That’s a lot of burden to place on any human being, let alone on fellow thirteen-year-olds.

In the end, when I was swimming in the misery and drowning, I started accepting the idea of being enough. That I was enough, just the way I was right now. I picked up my own screaming inner child, soothed her, held her, and promised her I would be with her. I realized that I was the only one who was fully responsible for taking care of myself, and I was also the best candidate for the job, since the need to wear a mask was considerably weaker.

With this new resolution, the definition of being a “good person” also changed. Now the priority lay in taking care of myself first. If I didn’t, I’d be a burden to others, and it would be unfair of me to expect them to pick up the slack. What this “taking care of oneself” contains is different for everyone and you have to decide for yourself. For me, it translates into taking care of my physical needs – sleep, nutrition, exercise (although I am very flexible with this one, haha), health -, setting a boundary to other people’s needs, learning to recognize when I am stressed out and what to do about it, and forgiving myself for being a human.

I am not a good person. But I am enough the way I am.

I try to treat other people the way I want to be treated; I try to be open-minded and understanding; I remind myself that I can’t know what others are feeling or thinking since I haven’t been in their shoes; I try to be helpful where my help is wanted or welcome.

I think there is such a comfort in helping others. It feels good to be needed, because being needed somewhat confirms that our existence isn’t useless or meaningless. However, I don’t want to help others purely to feel good about myself. That’s a selfish ego-gratification. It’s also not true that some disasters will happen without my help. The only thing I want is to make the world a teeny tiny better place, or at least not to make it worse. But the moment my actions become all about pleasing others, I will lose myself.

I am not an emotional person – at least not anymore. I tend to panic and forget myself when I am overwhelmed by emotions. Maybe that’s why I am wary of human connections, although at the same time I crave it, because my need for connecting with other people is a very human one. Thankfully, I have met great people in my life with whom I can be open and vulnerable each time our paths cross. It’s like a series of connection/merging and disconnection/individualization, and it suits me just fine. A long-term connection is quite another matter, and I am not sure whether I can tolerate it.

First Year Is Over

I haven’t been blogging in the past six months or so. Every now and then, the desire to keep my life private creeps up on me and makes me hate the sight of my blog, which has been up and running for more than three years now (a fact that always manages to dumbfound me).

What happened in those six months is largely irrelevant now. I visited family, met old friends and made new ones. Learned a skill or two, forgot a thing or three or fifteen. I wrote diligently in my diary, re-read a lot of old favorites, watched TV series and movies whenever I could.

A semester has passed. Instead of feeling smarter, I am filled with a mixture of dread and indignation at the realization that I am very ignorant and there are so many things I don’t know about, and there won’t be enough time to learn about them all. (Also, my brain wouldn’t support me in this endeavor anyway.)

I think in the first semester I was filled with motivation and the self-conscious need to prove that I made the right choice. So I purposefully overbooked my schedule, struggled to keep up the course reading (at least 100 pages a week, which, admittedly, isn’t a lot), ended up skipping quite a few classes, and my attention was always trying to be everywhere when really, everyone knows I suck at multi-tasking.

I decided to try a different approach in the second semester. I cut my class load in half, made sure I had enough time to prepare classes and go to library and plan large assignments weeks ahead. This approach left me more relaxed and allowed me to go in-depth with the subjects. At least, it did in the first few weeks. Then life happened, my time and effort were needed elsewhere, too, and I ended up falling behind on the preparations, and the deadlines for the big assignments had already snuck up on me. So, re-prioritization happened, then exams happened, then the semester was over.

Mentally speaking, I had my annual winter blues in the first semester, but on the whole I was so happy to be alive and to be studying what I wanted.
How fast humans get used to being comfortable, and seek for more “comfort”! I am still happy to be alive and doing what interests me. But I am also filled with self-doubt even though external evidence suggests otherwise, and I have to think about what happens after my B.A. degree, and whether I want to have an exchange semester. This feeling of inadequacy is probably a universal human feature.

Of course, by writing only about my academic life, I am not telling the full story. Or at least a fuller story, for no one – not even me! – can tell everything about my life. I started growing my own herbs. I’ve been good at taking care of myself, and I am learning to be more accepting with self-care and self-love.
When it comes to other human beings, my growth undergoes more rollercoaster-like changes. I often find myself in loneliness. It is not a loneliness that seeks a specific role to be fulfilled. I am not aching for a concrete person, either. It is a more general loneliness, the kind we can rarely escape from. Even when we are connected with other people, there are parts of us that feel disconnected, estranged, neglected. This is of course totally normal since we are individuals and all differ from each other. This spot of loneliness becomes a danger zone when it begins to spread and take over our perception of everyone and us. Its toxins are uncertainties and crippling doubts. Is the person really with me because s_he wants to be? Are they tolerating my presence just because they are bound by social norms? Would they meet me on their own volition if all social duties were stripped away from them?
The “dangerous” part of deciding to be authentic is that you always run the risk of people glancing at the vulnerable, real you and carelessly moving on, because they decided you don’t look interesting. This isn’t really anyone’s fault. No one can force anyone to like or be interested in anyone. But especially when you are not sure who you are yet, when you find that you don’t have strong opinions about many things because you realized that you know so little and you want to be open-minded, having your plainness confirmed can be devastating. Even though you resolve not to let anyone’s opinion determine your self-worth, your wound still bleeds.

Maybe we all of us are lonely beings, and our imaginations of a tightly knit community of people who understand us perfectly and love us tenderly are just that – imaginations. Even if you were lucky lucky lucky enough to be part of such a group, sometimes time and distance place even the strongest bonds under strain. Maybe this is why we are so much more vocal on social media about our relationships with others. The photos, the updates, the comments, the tags – they all hint at such fun, heaps of intimacy, best friends foreva.
Have I become a cynic who doesn’t believe in any relationship anymore? Actually, if possible, I’d like to think I am developing a more positive attitude towards human relationships. Maybe the reason we focus so much on our relationships with others is to escape from the fact that we are lonely beings at core. As much as we might like someone, we cannot understand everything about them, or maybe even accept all of their faults. We’d like to believe our own pretty words when we tell someone that they will always be special to us. We take better care of others in hopes that they will in turn take care of us. At the end of a day, we simply might not have the energy to take care of anyone.

Does your heart grow with exertion or is a heart’s capacity more or less limited?