Building on ruins

This is a piece I’ve deeply thought about writing, as I can’t tell myself that I’m a fan of cheesy writings. However, this is about me, about you, and everything in-between, a little longer Thank You note.

 I can recall starting this column in November 2019. It was a gloomy, cold day, and I was feeling low. I was trying to find something to do that would actually make sense, something that would help both me and others. So I thought that it would be a good time to actually put my Psychology knowledge and my personal background to good use. This is how Tuesday Conversations started: from the mix of the thought that I’m not able to write consistently, the need of finding meaning in my life, and the wish to tell my story.

This is how the blog column got to cover all kinds of topics, talking about feminism, suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, saying no, or creating boundaries for the interaction with other people. And I’ve been up for a pretty big surprise, have to say. Not only I have found that I actually can write about various topics consistently, but I have also discovered that there were people that needed these topics to be addressed.

It seemed like those were not just parts of my story, but parts of a whole bunch of other stories which have, by now, found their voice. It was like the tribe I didn’t know I was belonging to found me without me asking for it to happen.

And this brought me to one of the most surprising conclusions so far: something can be built from scratch, even if the foundation is a ruin. Ruins are not dead. Even if what you build is a narrative, a story having her focus on aspects that have been rather hidden than put on display your building has meaning and a purpose to serve.

I can’t help but remember a thing a friend told me when we were talking about writing, drawing, and letting our writings and drawings roam free on the internet: I have always wondered how it feels to write about things so intimate and to share them with the world. It was that moment when I understood that I don’t see the things I’ve faced or the things that hurt me in the past as a private area of my life. Not anymore. Once they stopped hurting, they turned into stories to be told about passing through dark places, as I believe that no one should ever pass through dark times alone.

For me, life means stories to be told, as they are the best way to actually put together a group. Because a problem that no one talks about is a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And mental health has been for too long an invisible problem to keep being ashamed of it, especially when that shame affects us all.

Obviously, it was and still is a process that leaves me speechless every now and then. I write, I post, and it happens to look at those materials and tell myself Did I really write that? Whoa. as my 16 years old self would rather have died than admit there’s something wrong with her. This column helped me not just bring some issues to light or help other people recover, but it has also given me a measure of my evolution. I’ve read the writings and seen how far I’ve come, sometimes without even noticing the evolution,  the direction of the process.

In the end, this is how we learn, by doing things and looking behind us every now and then. And this is how one gets to understand that healing is, indeed, a process. Something beautiful, something spectacular, something deep, unique, and extremely personal. At the end of the day, there is no actual recipe for fast healing and even the thought of a universal recipe to heal one’s wounds sounds like a fantasy plot.

Just like our traumas and our life history, our ways of healing are unique. There are no two individuals with the same way of healing their wounds or the same way of living through their suffering. Actually, the mere idea of it sounds absurd as one is reading this. But this doesn’t involve that there are no common points, as they certainly do. The beauty of it though is the fact that you can’t find those common points without being brave enough to step in the lights and tell your story. You don’t even have to tell the world all of it, or to use words. You can sing, dance, paint, act, sculpt, run, draw, photograph, even film your story, your way out of the hurting. You have total freedom when it comes to how much you’re feeling to express about your journey, and you have total freedom when it comes to the way you choose to do it.

Tuesday Conversations, my mental health column, will go on. I’m deeply thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, for their support and critics that helped me make it better, and I hope that more and more people will become brave enough to start telling their stories. Your stories matter, your feelings are valid, and your healing process is worth it. You, as individuals, are worth love, appreciation, respect, support, and help. Go into the world and allow yourself to get them.

The catch

For a few days, there’s a song stuck in my head. It is a man’s world, the voice sings over and over again. And I have to admit that, indeed, it is, still, a man’s world. However, this is not a title of pride, though, but a great responsibility.

Because, as a man’s world, the man also must help others. To protect them and ensure them that they can live safely on his watch. And this is a neverending task.

But there is, as always when it comes to sensitive matters, a catch. And here the catch is the fact that men are, in the beginning, boys. And boys have families. And this is the real catch: long before men have power and independence, they are boys that have families. And as a family member, you learn.

Because men and women don’t get born men and women. They become men and women as they grow up. What kind of men and what kind of women they become, that’s an answer to be found in their past as boys and girls. In their families and in the core values of those times when they were children learning.

I can’t stress enough how important family is in the journey of a boy towards manhood. It teaches him a lot. There’s a special kind of mission being a boy’s mom. You have to be always mindful of what you put on display. Of what you accept and you don’t, of what your boundaries are and how much of them are you respecting.

As a boy’s mother, you teach him how many things a girl or a woman should accept in the name of love. And that’s a terrific lesson to be taught, no matter what side of it are you.

Because there might be his father the one to teach him what you do and don’t do to a woman, but will always be the mom the one who teaches him what will a woman tolerate from a man’s actions. A woman will teach him that love can and must at times be tough, to remain healthy.

In my experience, the worst men have broken moms. Moms who were not able to do more for their sons than to reinforce old stereotypes about what a man does and, more important, what a man does not. These are the men who won’t talk about themselves. Won’t share feelings. The ones that will feel bad for seeing them crying. It is not because they don’t have any, or that they don’t care about you enough to share. It is because the little boy was punished for doing so, and after that was told that it is not manly to act that way.

There are a lot of men, of young, capable men, struggling. And they struggle hard with things they were taught that is not manly enough to talk about. Things like depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and pressure. A lot of pressure.

Because not only women have to face social pressure, it goes the same rocky way for men too. It only changes the narrative, that’s all.

If a girl is told that she has to have household skills, they’re asked to be good providers. If she has to be pretty, he has to be charismatic. And so on, until the great delusion and the burnout come to visit.

Then it comes the day when things get out of hand, and the man starts to see. He looks at himself and sees all the lies he took as truths. Every little flaw is now a sharp line, cutting his eyesight. Every little thing that pushed him further from being the man he hoped to be. Every moment when he felt like not being good enough, not man enough.

And every little thing is taken as a sign of failure. This is how, for most of them, unfolds the entry of delusion, burnout, and mental struggles. It really does not matter what is the starting point, as long as it has the speed of a forest fire.

There are other things that matter, though, and they also embody feminism. As a woman, you don’t have to be a boy’s mother to make a difference. You can be a lover, a friend, a sister, a woman that he’s trusting. We can and we have to help our men cut the struggle’s chord.

I’ve always told my male friends that being manly is just a  toxic illusion if the definition of it doesn’t match the definition of being human. That men are human beings, with human needs and feelings and they should accept and embrace them. That they don’t have to always be self-confident or to own the situations they find themselves in. That is wonderful that they are empathetic. That being insecure about your body, your skills, your career, your strong points is not something that depends on being a man or a woman, it is just part of what makes us human. All of us.

And it is also our shared responsibility to understand that, men and women as well, we’re being put in front of the same struggles. It is the time to make from this circle a safe space, where no man is bullied for being honest about how he really feels, and no woman is bullied for putting on display traits like ambition, determination, self-confidence, or other once-known-as-manly traits.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worthy because, at the end of the day, there is our shared territory, our common traits, the ground we build our foundation on. So let’s draw a circle around our people,  men or women, and allow them to feel their feelings, talk their minds, express their real selves, without fearing judgement. It is, after years and years of keeping harmful stereotypes for unwritten norms, the least we can do for their becoming. Maybe we did not, in the past, know better than this, but now we do. And we owe it to our childhood selves to do better. Because what we allow is what will continue, and what will continue will be our real legacy, not what we wished it would be.

Why are you such a feminist?

This week’s latest events have brought up to my mind a question I was put by one of my exes, in an obviously annoyed tone of voice.

The answer he got was just as obvious as his question: because I am. But today, there is needed a much wider answer than just that.

I’ve been a feminist way before I even knew that I was one, or that feminism even existed as a movement. Living mostly with mom and grandma into our village home, I’ve learned a lot about being strong on your own: dad was home too little to actually make a real difference when it came to the household’s chores, and grandma was a widow for too long. This was the first thing I’ve learned in my journey: that a woman can want a man by her side, but she will never really need him. Not for other than emotional comfort and accomplishment.

The women in my family, the close family, and the extended family as well, taught me this really valuable lesson that no matter what a man can do, a woman can do it just as fine. That independence is the shortcut to owning who you are, and that being owned by a man is, by no chance, a goal. Or, how grandma used to put it, If all you have is a man, you have too little.

I am a feminist because I believe in it. I believe in women’s power of being whoever they want to be, without needing to justify their choices. Because I like freedom, and feminism is about freedom. About being free to choose if you want to get a higher education, if you want to marry early or late, or maybe you don’t want it at all if you want to be a mom or you don’t. It’s about all these things, and many others, too.

But I also am a feminist because I’m sick and I got tired. I’m sick of being made to feel less than I am, based on my weight, my height, my age, my relationship, career status, my long term priorities. I’m sick of having to be on a constant guard so that I don’t get unwanted attention. Of not being able to walk out and explore cities at night, by myself. By having to explain whatever life choice I have that is not fitting the socially accepted behavioral box.

And I’ve met that box really early during this lifetime. A young lady doesn’t act like that. Don’t swear, you’re an educated young lady! You’d better pay more attention to the household chores, as a woman, they will be your job! have been heard really often, especially when dad came home from his job, or relatives came to visit.

I never cared, as I have always done things my way. But I know for a fact that for many young girls, sentences like these were axes cutting their wings. Their sense of self-worth. And that, too, is a form of abuse.

Talking about the abuse, that’s another topic that drives the feminist me mad. Because I know at least one woman, one young woman who can tell a story about: how she’s been harassed at her workplace, discriminated based on her aspect, catcalled, threatened, blackmailed, physically, emotionally, financially abused, raped. It happens online, it happens offline, it happens everywhere. Because a woman is not a man. Boys will be boys turn in Whores will be whores when it comes to women.

And injustice has never been something that I would tolerate. Not when I was a kid witnessing the rich kids bullying the poor, and either now, when I witness men telling women how to dress, eat, sleep, work, go out, have sex, have families, have babies, as they would know better.

I’m a feminist because I’ve managed to be the woman that I am now due to the women around me: mom, grandma, my first-grade teacher, my French teacher from the gymnasium, my doctors, every woman that had enough faith in me to recommend me for a project or job, or simply be my friend and listen to my dramas. I have nothing but respect and endless love for them, and for all the other women I’ve not met yet. And we all know that you can’t love women and hate them at the same time.

I’m a feminist because I can’t look at the way women try to tear each other down like they’re in some sort of competition without my heart breaking in million tiny pieces. Being solidary with other women will never take what’s yours. You won’t become ugly if you admit that another girl is prettier, nor will you become dumb if you admit that other girl is smarter than you are. Women, as men, are not supposed to be all the same. We’re only humans, after all, and that makes us different and special, why ruin it trying to be as similar as possible? Teaching girls to be united, to genuinely appreciate and defend each other, will lead them way further than knowing how to wing that eyeliner or walk on heels, as strong women nail all of these.

My feminism might not be radical, as I’m too shy for being a real activist. I believe in a feminism of the small yet kind gestures, as telling a strange girl that she is pretty while you two are waiting for the bus, or stepping up to defend a girl being bullied. It doesn’t matter that much what’s the gesture you’re doing, it will always brighten someone’s day.

I’m a feminist because I’m sick and tired. Because of the socially-agreed scenario, where a successful woman is a wife, mother, great employee, supportive friend, always happy and good looking, has led a lot of women to chronic burnout. And how on earth could a woman that is suffering from burnout be a good mother for her children? Let alone all of the things on that never-ending list.

This is why I am a feminist. Because the alternatives feel like prisons to me, and I still have faith. I have faith that the men of my generation know to appreciate and support the women around them to be whatever they want to be. It is what makes them be men, standing up for women’s and children’s rights and protection, standing up against the injustice manifested upon the vulnerable categories. And, in some of the countries, women still are a vulnerable category.

So, the next time when you will meet a feminist, don’t ask her why she is a feminist. Ask her how could you be genuinely supporting the women and young girls you know, in order to make their lives be better. And you will, I promise, have a conversation to remember for a long time after it’s done.