1. Get help. I mean, if you need help. I personally like to ignore all the signs of this until it’s way too late, telling myself to tough it out, reminding myself that there was a time before therapists, asking myself who I think I am to deserve to pay someone hundreds of bucks to listen to my first world problems. This does not work.
Sure, there was a time before therapists. In that time, people had communities. They had churches, they had neighbours, they had big families. They had big families who were neighbours. They didn’t live in freakishly isolated box-lives like we do, sharing our deepest thoughts and fears with one, if we’re lucky two people.
photo via UnhappyHipsters.com, via Zubin Shroff for Dwell
And most of them could probably have used a therapist anyway.
Pain and fear and loss and confusion is normal, and not shameful. And if you do feel those things, and feel buried or suffocated under the weight of them, beg, borrow or steal, but get help. Go without new clothes for a while. Sell your car. Find a therapist who works on a sliding scale - many do. To have someone guide you, to point out things to you about yourself that might have taken you decades to realize or understand, and, most importantly, to help you use your brain as a tool rather than a weapon of self-harm: it’s worth its weight in gold. Or platinum. Whatever. We all need a place to air out the dark corners of our mind.
2. If accessing a therapist is simply financially or logistically impossible, there are millions of free resources of support out there! I subscribe to a podcast that is my line to sanity. There are library books and Youtube videos with really wise people who are sharing really amazing ideas. They can be your teachers, your guides, your ministers. And the more free help you find, the more you’ll find. You’ll never look back. Promise.
3. Dominos makes gluten-free pizza. Technically this fact came to my attention in 2013 but it’s too valuable to save until next year. It’s pretty good, and they’ll even go light on the cheese if you’re into that kind of thing.
4. You can’t change your parents.
Okay, that's kind of a cliche, but it's also really hard to accept. (Same goes for your siblings, or your spouse, even your friends.) If they do change, it’s not going to be because of the emails you wrote them, or the confrontations you carefully planned out, or that one comment you "let slip" at an opportune time. Yes, you’re probably right. It doesn’t matter.
The only exception to this rule MIGHT happen if you leave them the f*ck alone, and they take all the energy they’ve been using protecting themselves against your hounding and put it towards help themselves. It has happened, and it’s win-win – you find something better do with your time, and so do they.
This might mean accepting that you’re never going to get the love or approval or respect from them that you want. It’s not easy. I think that’s why we keep trying.
5. Watch Beginners.
6. And Moonrise Kingdom.
7. Your self-esteem isn’t going to arrive by email. (Thank you, Anne Lamott.)
8. Sometimes you have to cut someone off. Someone you love - someone, maybe, who helped make you. Despite everything Oprah or Cosmo or the church might tell you, sometimes it actually is the only sane thing to do. It doesn’t have to be forever. But if this person is hurting you and doesn’t seem to want to stop, by removing yourself from the situation, you will start to know yourself in a different way. With the extra oxygen and clean earth around you, you will flower. You will likely also have a lot of guilt. Shockingly, you will get through it. As with #4, this has the chance of actually helping them. But don’t count on it.
9. No matter how sweet or insightful or funny you are, not everyone is going to like you. This has nothing to do with you, but all the effort you’re putting into thinking about it, strategizing about it and feeling sorry for yourself because of it could be put to much better use. This is hard, because - this is only a guess - maybe you fear that they're right not to like you. That fear is an old, dried scab that has dried and caked onto the bottom of your soul. It will be there no matter what. But they don’t have to be. Move on and make space for people who think you’re the dog’s bullocks. They’re out there.
10. Being kind to yourself is not about writing gratitude lists or pondering your good qualities. It’s also not about getting massages or pedicures, or eating chocolate. Those things are all great, but they won’t keep the demons away.
Pardon me while I get granola on you, but this year I learned that being kind to oneself comes from an ethereal place. Some people call it God, or Mary, or Buddha. Some people get it from a pet, or the memory of a loving grandparent. Self-love comes from a place where we are accepted and cherished exactly as we are - warts, ticks, secrets, crimes, misdemeanors and all. Tap into that place once and you will find a well of it. Tap into it often and you’ll start to remember how to get to there without a map. It never runs out, and the more you use, the more there is.It will also make the chocolate and pedicure a lot more enjoyable.
11. Being kind to yourself can also mean staying away from people who drain your emotional energy. This is not because they’re bad people, but because you only have a finite amount of it. You are NOT helping them by being their punching bag/garbage dump/free therapist. Without you, they will get better, or they won’t. But you will get better. Guaranteed. (There will be guilt here, too. FYI.)
12. You will never, ever nag, criticize or judge someone into changing. If you’re tempted to believe otherwise, imagine someone doing the same to you.
13. The brain is a muscle. Work it out every day, like going to the gym, and you can shape and mold it, to worry less, to be kinder to yourself, to see the cheese instead of the holes. It’s possible! Don’t just listen to me – the science people have proved it.
14. That said, while you can control a lot of what happens in your brain, you can control almost NOTHING that happens outside of it. We live in a society where we are constantly fed the opposite message. I think that’s damaging beyond belief. Eating healthy and recycling and reading self-help books are all very important, but they’re not going to stop you from dying, or your family from dying, or your house from getting blown away.
15. Take photos of life's best moments with your mind.
16. Keeping the peace is overrated. I don’t mean actual Peacekeepers, or protesting against war. I mean trying to make nice-nice within your family or place of work by placating one party to appease another. Again, THIS DOESN’T HELP ANYONE. People will work their stuff out. They need to do it, and you’re actually just getting in the way. The boat will stay afloat without you doing all the rowing. If it doesn't, you'll find a way better boat.
17. If you do creative work, share it as much as possible. Blogs are great, but I mean with real people! Instant feedback, discussion, reflection and brainstorming make for ideas, stories and concepts that develop 50 times faster, and will probably be a lot better. Without them we are in a hall of mirrors.
Join a group. Take a class. START a group! It’s far too tempting to stay in our quiet, safe worlds – but if you’re making art for anyone other than yourself, people are gonna help you a lot. Plus, it’s a good excuse to eat chips.