Love on display

Time passed, a lot of things happened, and yet, February has arrived again. And, as in any other February, love statements are being shown off everywhere. I mean, if not during the love month, then…when?

My subjective answer to this question is daily. Because, if you love, if you really love somebody, then you love them daily. And you prove your life to them daily, not only a few days a year. That is anything but love, at least in my book.

I write this piece as V-Day’s approaching. The thing is that now, unlike a normal year, it hits different. Like anything else, love and dating have been tested a lot. And, if anything happened, it was a shift in the way we’re looking at our romantic ties.

We feel the need to be loved, appreciated, and held, now maybe more than ever. We need contact with others, physical affection, and emotional support. We’ve seen couples breaking up after years and years, and couples that have only grown stronger from this.

And we see our single friends doing their best to deal with the lack of romance in their lives. This meant going back on dating apps, talking to other people, thinking about how to merge dating and staying safe, working on themselves, or talking with their friends about it.

This also means that all the public display of perfect relationships affects them more than it would on a normal year. It does so because, unlike other years, they’re now finding themselves to be severely limited. They can’t go to singles parties, they can’t go on random dates with people they’ve chatted with for a week, or so, they can only sit there and watch.

And seeing everyone else posting their perfect, sweet, incredible relationship all over Social Media is harming their mental health more than usual. It brings up old feelings of inadequacy, of being unworthy, of being bad. These are some hard to cope with things, especially after a year of pandemic, constraints, anxiety, uncertainty, loss, grief, and burn-out. Because no one has enough mental energy to deal with all these things at once.

What should you keep in mind for this V-Day if you’re one of the single and struggling friends in your group?

No one has it all

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: not everything we see on Social Media is real. Most of the time we see just cut-outs of the reality. The highlights of the day, if you want.

This means that all those pretty flowers and cheesy gifts can be an expression of love, but can be as well an expression of fear and anxiety. Keep in mind that a lot of people have turned to buy stuff online as a distraction from their pandemic anxiety. Maybe you’ve done this yourself. There are always two sides to a story, regardless of what the story’s about.

The perfect relationship doesn’t exist in real life

The only place where relationships are perfect, with cute words, gifts,  and appreciation is the Internet. In real life, a relationship has also ups and downs, bad days, heated arguments, and partners asking themselves What was I thinking when I’ve picked you?

And these are the happy, ordinary cases. I am not going to talk about all the abusive, toxic relationships that are living hell in real life and all sugar and pink sequins online. Keep in mind that the number of partners reporting abuses from their significant others has severely increased during the pandemic, so most probably what you see is not what you get.

But none of these things are worth posting online, are they?

You’re not alone in this

This is not the problem of an individual, but of a big part of the population. And it’s okay, this year has wrecked us all, without any kind of discrimination. Our social interactions are being severely diminished, and we play by different rules. Even like that, it’s temporary, and we have to try our best to be patient and, you know, just hang in there.

You are worth it

Having to say this makes my heart sad, but I will do it anyway. You are worth it. Even if you’re single for a long time, or maybe your significant other and you have just split up, you’re worth it. You deserve kindness, respect, attention, care. You deserve to be supported, feeling understood, loved, important. appreciated. You deserve to have around people careful when it comes to your emotional needs, people who won’t belittle you for having a bad period or feeling low. And no one should ever have enough power to make you think otherwise about yourself.

You can still celebrate

Even if you’re single, you can still celebrate love. I mean, self-love is love, after all. So go ahead and treat yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to put on some make-up and nice clothes, take a loong bubble bath, cook something delicious, watch those cheesy movies you’ve always postponed, have a videogames night, or simply sleep in early. It’s your celebration, and you get to do it your way. What matters is reminding yourself that you can be single and still have a lovely time.

Stand your ground

In times like these it can be really tempting to go back to people we share memories with. Maybe our exes, maybe some close friends that proved themselves to be bad for us.Friendly advice: don’t. The reason is the fact that, usually, the mix between nostalgia and loneliness seems to erase the downsides of those relationships. You don’t need to bring back something harmful to your mental health and overall evolution. You know and deserve better. And you will get what you deserve when you’ll stop trying to open closed doors.

These are just a few things we could do to ease our passing through the month of love. Keep in mind that all the good love stories begin with people that have fallen in love with themselves in the first place, and find their way to it. It can be journaling, psychotherapy, Zoom calls with your best friends, whatever you feel might be helpful for you.

Don’t forget that some of the relationships you see might be actually tainted, despite all the pretty moments those involved choose to share. Or that everybody tries to do their best on days of celebration, like Valentine’s Day. And this implies buying pretty gifts, pretty clothes, setting up fancy dinners, and all the special things no one is making daily.

So take a deep breath, and look around. They are human, just like you are. So take advantage of this day and do more of what makes you happy. That will be more than good enough.

The agenda with empty pages

I wish I could say that I’m an activist, but I’m not. I don’t feel like I’d have what this needs. I am only someone with questions. I sit, observe, put things together, and then ask myself questions about this process. The same goes for the outer world. I sit, observe, gather information, and then try and make something coherent out of everything.

Or this is how it used to be, as 2020 came like a hurricane, shattering every single thing I thought it was already figured out. It brought a pandemic and a whole list of questions to be answered. It brought new issues to be addressed, and put some light on older issues, often left for later.

One of those issues to-be-addressed-later is the way we are looking at politics. I used to hear frequently that old line, I am not getting involved with politics, it is none of my business to do so! long before 2020. But then a pandemic came and made us ask ourselves Is this true, or just comfortable?

But let’s look a bit closer to it. When we talk about politics, we talk about agendas. About issues and core values that politicians find worthy of being prioritized. From women’s rights to migration and education, everything is or could be, a point on some political agenda. And I’ve managed to see a lot of issues being publicly addressed by politicians, real and heavy issues of the society. Excepting for one: the mental health state of the population.

Even when the environment is toxic, focused on competition and over-achievement and, constantly fearing that you might not be good enough, no politician or political party has made a statement about the mental health crisis. Because it is a crisis, and the pandemic is only putting it under the spotlights. And there are a lot of arguments as answers to any related questions.

It is a crisis because it does not provide any kind of recommendations on how to stay sane during these times. Our lives are nothing like before, we still have restrictions to face, dear ones that we can’t see, and are told to limit any unnecessary kind of interaction, for as long as it will be needed. We are being told to obey the rules, protect ourselves and the others, but no one tells us how to cope with all the anxiety and frustration that this situation has brought.

People have to deal with anxiety, grief, stress, and uncertainty on their own.

There is no real support system for psychological needs. Access to psychotherapy is a privilege and not a realistic possibility. I’ve heard a lot of I will start going to see a psychotherapist as soon as I will afford it from people perfectly aware of what they are facing.

There is no real support system for the children’s psychological needs either. They are also feeling anxiety, depression, pain, neglect. They are also feeling rejection and heartbreak. They are also needing help with learning to manage their feelings. They also need someone else to be there for them with empathy and objectivity. A bigger person, worthy of their trust and openness.

And I will not talk here about the lack of psychological support for the families having a member with disabilities or chronic conditions. I will not even open the subject.

Yet all these have a common root, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like it: the social stigma associated with the topic. Society doesn’t see mental health as actual health, but more as a trifle. It is optional, not vital. Public policies on mental health can wait, we have bigger things to focus on. Even if this might, to some extent, be true, there is just as true the fact that a bunch of individuals facing mental struggles all by themselves won’t form a thriving group.

The public agenda on mental health policies is empty. No words about deconstructing the social stigma surrounding the mental issues, no words about increasing the awareness about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and nothing to be said about the tendencies of romanticizing mental struggles. Silence and empty pages waiting to be written. People waiting to be seen, heard, and represented.

Nothing can be changed overnight, but this doesn’t mean that things have to stay the same forever. We need help, and we need it on an institutional level. Of course, the help given by the NGOs that advocate for mental healthcare is like a glass of water in the desert. Deeply needed, and definitely something to be grateful for. But it is not enough.

If we scream and brag about how much we care about people’s health, yet we won’t do a thing for their mental health, then our care for the overall health is just a lie. A lie we keep telling ourselves and others, without understanding that we can’t have a healthy individual with a struggling mind. Even this splitting between mental and physical health is artificial, therefore worrisome.

There is a lot to be built, but the good news is that it’s worth it. Because a society where you can afford seeking medical help when you have a broken bone, but not when you have a depressive episode, that is by no means a society that has any interest in her citizens’ health.

And that’s a society no one wants to live in.

The words that open doors

Photo by Annie Spratt

There are a lot of things going on, as the world as we used to know it fades away and our lives tend to be all over the place. It makes us feel bad about our journey so far, and become self-absorbed, very often in some toxic loops.

In times like these, extremely challenging for our mental well-being, the key to one’s soul is a simple phrase: What do you need right now?

There are six simple words, making a big statement. A common phrase, that doesn’t require you to have years of studying behind you or a specific social status to be successfully used. It requires a simple, yet efficient thing: to have a genuine interest for the other person.

We are forced into change. Changes that were not planned, that were not expected demand to be done. And this means that a lot of people struggle. They struggle with pain, anxiety, high-stress levels, and loss. They lose their jobs, homes, even loved people. It is a generally disturbing time, extended to a global scale. This can’t and won’t be easy to manage, and we can’t expect it to be.

This also means that the struggle can be made easier to go by. It only needs us to be kind. Kind with ourselves and with others around us.  In times of hardship, kindness becomes not a virtue, but a responsibility.

Of course, it takes courage and practice, as we’ve got so, so used to seeing other’s flaws and always have negative inner monologues. But this should change as well, if we want the damage made by a historical challenge to diminish. We can’t help people get back what they’ve lost, we can’t do this for ourselves either, but we can be the ones with kind words.

Today I won’t come and say that this or that should be different, or how to change things about yourselves. Today, instead, I come and tell you to get in the world and be kind.

Kindness has, unfairly and for too long, been mistaken for weakness. It’s not, and has never actually been. It is, somehow, a universal language, the key to any door, regardless of how guarded it would be. Kind people tend, because of their guarded doors, seem as strong too often and for too long. Today, this can do more harm than good, for their own mental health, to begin with.

Do you know those people that help everyone, and seem to have everything together all the time? Those people that walked with you on this path till you got where you are? The people that you keep saying that you’re so grateful to? Talk to them, and ask them that question. Then wait and see. Witness them blush, witness them getting shy, trying to put a reliable façade on, and, eventually, witness them telling you what’s missing from their bigger picture.

Because we all miss something and we all need something, but when you are so used to be the provider, it feels inappropriate to ask for things. Even if you offered support, been there for people when they’ve struggled, you feel like it’s an unnatural thing to do it yourself. Like that’s your job, to support and lift other people. How would you admit that you need, as well, to be lifted and supported? It is, by no means, an easy thing. But it is what one needs to remain able to keep going.

So go out there, and text or call the person that has always been there for you, the one that has already popped in your mind. Ask that person what it feels like it would make her journey easier, better.

The answer will rarely be materialistic. Instead, it will give you the chance to open a new door and see them blooming differently. And this will always be the kind of gift to remember, as our kindness and empathy remain, at the end of the day, signs of our adaptability. So let’s just try to be kinder, so we won’t turn bitter.