Work hard, dream harder

I was reading an article in a magazine about the emotional work, and it remained with me. Even if the main ideas were about how women tend to do more emotional work, and for free, the simple thing of seeing the emotional help we tend to offer as work brought me an idea worth reflecting upon.

I have always been a giver. I tend to run away from my problems by helping others solve theirs. And I’ve never thought about what I was doing as if it was some kind of work.

Of course, I’ve always known that it is a kind of investment, that I give a part of my resources- time, energy, knowledge, kindness, patience- for another person’s well-being. But it felt more like an act of generosity, of friendship, rather than a service that I was making to those people.

I thought, for a very long time, that the only thing that I get in return should be the fact that I have a meaning that doesn’t allow me to fall apart in irreversible ways. That this should be enough to make me feel like I do the right thing.

And even if giving, if helping others is more of an inner calling than something I am doing for an outcome, trying to see this as work has forced me to shift the perspective for a bit.

It made me aware of the fact that not only I can, but I have to choose the people I would share some of my resources with. But it took me an eight-years-long friendship ending in not-that-friendly-terms, to learn how to distinguish between people who need attention and those who are looking for help.

Thinking about what I do provide for others made me aware of the fact that I don’t provide the same things, in the same ways, for myself. That during my quest of saving the world kindly, one person at a time, I was neglecting the only person I could save: myself.

But, first, I had to become empty. Before I’ve got to understand the importance of being selective and aware of what I bring to the table, I had to get to the point where I was talking myself out of panic attacks in the mirror, crying, somewhere at 2 a.m. or maybe in the afternoon.

And only when I’ve seen myself reaching a new level of low, I’ve understood that you can’t help others without taking care of yourself. If I want to be able to keep giving, I also have to allow people in, to let them see me struggling and fighting my demons. That I can be a friend just as much as I let others be my friends, as well.

And this was hard to admit. It was hard, as I’ve always valued the feeling of power that is usually brought by being independent and having your life together. I’ve always hated to appear in front of others as vulnerable, even if I am. I’ve never wanted my loved ones to see me crying, even if, so many times, I have had no control of it, and it just happened.

Somehow, being the strong one has always felt like it is the only option for me. Even if, in an almost ironical way, I’ve always encouraged people to be their own, real, authentic self. With good, bad, strong and vulnerable points.

Seeing written on paper about how emotional work is work, real work, made me ask myself questions. And the most painful one was Were all those people worth it, would they ever do the same for you?

It left me a bit bitter, to know that I need to choose with more care the people I get close to, that need my help. That I can’t fight any battle I feel to. That I have to think twice before deciding to put in the work and resources for somebody.

Because emotional work, like any other type of work, is tricky, as it can be meaningless, as it fills you up with frustration and exhaustion when it turns out wrong, or, contrary, to bring you purpose and enlightenment.

This happens because emotional work, more than any other kind of work, involves care. Authentic, genuine care and openness established between two people. An exchange of vulnerabilities, experiences and, why not, information. This is why it is almost always seen as a feminine kind of thing, even though, the truth be told, I’ve also met a lot of wonderful men doing it, and I am grateful for all the things I’ve learned from them and stayed with me.

Because emotional work is not about a schedule. It is about seeing the good in the other person, and help it see that good, too. And this is one of the most beautiful parts of being human, a type of work as stunning and glowy as a dream, but as challenging as the real existence at the same time.

You’re only owing to yourself

We live, as mom once said, interesting times. In today’s fast and furious world, one can do with less sleep, but not with less social-media. We talk with our loved ones, read, share photos, music, thoughts with others, and, when we put things this way, social media seems to be an inoffensive, happy place. But this is also the problem.

As going through my own recovery journey, I’ve became fully aware of something that I used to know only as a theory: social media is doing more harm than good in the process.

This happens because no one on social media is really honest. We share the bits that we love from our lives, the highlights, and this is how the fraud begins. We are creating a perfect image for the others, but, in exchange, we tend to forget that they’re doing the same thing. We tend to forget that, for some people, social media is a career, what they do for a living.

And that’s how the harm is done. By comparing our raw, unfiltered real life, with the fake, perfect lives of the social media people. We look up to them, take them as standards, and then we’ll look back at ours and see the huge differences between them.

This is how any progress gets lost in the long run, just because we tend to forget the essential: there are no two recovery journeys alike. Every single one is unique, intimate and special. Share yours if you feel like it, but don’t take other people’s perfect social media lives as goal or comparison terms.

Because, if there’s something worth saying about it, then would be the fact that social media is a very, very powerful tool. It connects different people, different stories, different images form all over the world, in no time. This can make or break any kind of mental progress a person’s trying to achieve, being the main reason why social media should be used wisely.

I don’t say that being active on social media is bad. Actually, I spend a lot of time online. But, as I’ve started this rather uncalled for mental health journey, as old scars have opened again in front of me, hurting, I became more aware of the social media influence on me.

Social media, with all the perfect photographs, fueled my body insecurities. I know, it sounds childish, but being overexposed to so many images of perfect bodies constantly has only made me feel worse about mine. Even if, in the back of my mind, I was totally understanding that some of those perfect bodies are the byproducts of a whole team, usually consisting in fitness trainer, dietician, make-up artist, hairstylist, photographer, and the almighty Photoshop.

Even so, I couldn’t help, but ask myself Why am I not looking like that, or even close, at least? and fantasizing about how my life would be better if I’d be prettier- the social media kind of prettier. That was my revelation moment, when I’ve started to unfollow the accounts that were making me feel bad with the way I look.

And that was also the point where I’ve decided that it’d be a good move to unfollow all the accounts that I recognize having harmful potential. It might not be the easiest decision, but it was one of the best taken on this: to unfollow, unfriend and block every single one that made me feel less than enough.

Because, one of the social media’s wonders is that, even though you’re surrounded by content all the time, you choose what kind of content will surround you. And understanding this was a total game-changer. My feed started to look different: more young artists, more mental-health-supportive, more visual (and in a very, very good way, as I’ve discovered a whole world of photographers and illustrators hidden by all those IG models), and, generally, much more uplifting.

Of course, social media connected me with people that helped me become the individual I am today, awesome people I couldn’t see myself without, but I’ve also met people that, by  having contact with them or simply seeing their posts, were awakening my, so-thought, long time burried unworthiness feelings. But, at the end of the day, when I’ve acknowledged for real what it means that my mental health an well-being are at stake, I’ve managed to understand things at a deeper level. To take them more serious.

By continuously looking for answers, as my mental state was worse, I found some, not only about body image, on my relationship with social media. I’ve discovered that social media has a serious impact. More than I’ve thought before it could have. It brought up strange, yet common mix between addiction, exhaustion and not feeling good enough.

It is easy, when you’re a perfectionist nature, to mix all these things up. You want to get that perfection that seems so achievable  in the online.

Because, if you’d ask me, I’d say that is the biggest problem with social media: that it makes perfection look ordinary. It makes you believe that having the perfect job, perfect body, perfect relationship, perfect outfit, perfect house or vacation is not only something that everyone could reach, but that it is so common, that you must do something wrong somewhere if your life ain’t perfect.

And this could be seriously draining for one’s emotions and psychic, even if that individual faces a mental condition or not. It could, if used carelessly, make the individual develop some sort of condition, in time. This is why we have to change the approach. To post relevant content for who we are, regardless if it is matching the trend or not, and be careful about what messages we receive from the accounts that we decide to follow. Also, there is this little thing that, kept in mind, will certainly do the difference.

The truth is, again, that nothing will ever be perfect. Not in the real, daily life. Here everything has ups, downs and stopping points. We have normal bodies, each of them special and beautiful in its very own way, and lives that can be just as pretty as we allow them to be.

Because, if you get out of the social media thing for a second, you’ll see that the world is still a pretty place, and life is still beautiful. That there are people who genuinely love you and care about you, even if they don’t tag you everywhere, spend every free minute of their lives with you or shower you with gifts. That your followers are not a way to measure your worth as a human. And, generally, that there is life outside the social media, too, and we have to live that.

We have to live it unapologetically, without any kind of filters. To stop trying to please everybody, to speak more of our minds, to share our feelings and thoughts more. Because a life doesn’t  have to be picture-perfect to be worth enjoying it.

Actually, what we see on social media is not a life. Is a collage made of cut-outs. A big painting made of the tiny detalis that used to be the highlights of every day, week, month, year, but arranged in such a way that they’d eventually fit.  Everyone out there is building a social narrative of their lives, based on the moments that made them feel and look good.

Even if they don’t put it on display, people still have bad days, periods when everything seems to be wrong. And it’s ok to be like this, as long as the bad times are part of what it means to be human.

Of course, talking on social media about the struggles of existence is a wonderful trend, that I really hope it would last a lifetime. But, in the meantime, things tend to remain the same as they were when, talking to a friend about what made me write this articles series I’ve told her that I do it because I have nothing to lose anymore. If I’d have the smallest thought that I could lose something, that I would be judged, or that my loved ones or the people whose opinions matter to me would look at me differently, I wouldn’t write a line.

But I have nothing left to lose anymore, so I keep writing, hoping that these pieces of text help. Live the life your own way, and, when you’ll have your next scroll, keep always in mind that what you see on social media and what you get in real life can be two really, really different things. No one has it all, and for sure not all the time, but getting guilt trips over not being able to reach social media’s ideals of living is not a thing we should let happen any sooner.

Scroll down wisely, and keep in mind that the reality happens always offline, what we get on social media are just some beautifully crafted postcards from it.

Why 2020 won’t be your year either, and why you shouldn’t regret it

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…part two. Now, with retrospectives in the past year, accomplishments and failures. And, of course, goal-setting for the next year. Because, of course, a new year brings a new me, ain’t it? A new and better version of one’s self, a version which is, in the first place, balanced.

And this is where everything starts to go down,  the moment that we tend to see reaching a mental state of balance in the same way we see obtaining some material thing: a clear path to follow, with a finish line to be reached and the object in our possession A one time thing. This is how another not-so-great year begins. By living trapped with a wrong mindset.

If you scroll around Social Media in this period, you’ll see that there’s an epidemic of posts about how the next year will be about myself. About becoming a better version of whoever posted that. And it’s a wonderful thing, but  this is not just theory.

Apparently small things, like going to bed earlier, procrastinating less, living a healthier and more meaningful life are all transformed into glittery goals. Which is a good, a wonderful thing, but it’s not making it past the first week of the new year. And there’s a good reason why.

Most of us live chaotic, fast-forward lives. We are constantly under pressure, constantly trying to achieve more and more in every sphere of our lives. We try to have both the perfect career and the perfect personal life, the perfect body and the delicious meals with our loved ones. And this, sooner or later, brings everyone into a state pretty close to survival mode. Or, if you’re not that lucky, burnout.

This is where the so-called failure begins. Do you know that Internet saying You can’t do epic things with basic people? Well, the same thing applies to life changes. You can’t evolve into a better person if you’re all caught up into survival mode. Because becoming a better person, even if that means that you’ll cut the junk food and sleep earlier, requires time, effort put into it and consistency. Or, if you have a bad time, if your resources are channeled into survival this period with minimum damage, evolution becomes a glittery dream.

Even if it’s uncomfortable, it is also true. But even if it’s true, this should not be an excuse for having bad behaviors that keep us from becoming the better versions which we know are possible.

Yes, we don’t have to give up trying to achieve something we know would be helpful, but we should not give into the social pressure of having a resolutions list either. We should, instead, try to be more introspective, to find out more about ourselves, and to gain a better understanding of how the  human mind and emotions work.

We should begin this and every year with the understanding of the fact that balance can be solid this week, and to vanish away the next one. And, above all, we shouldn’t judge anyone.

If your only goal for the next year is to know more about yourself, it’s great. If your biggest accomplishment of the last year was to discover coping mechanisms that don’t involve self-destructive behaviours and are really effective, you’re doing a fabulous job. If your goal is getting professional care for your mental health, this is absolutely wonderful as well.

As long as they make sense to you, your achievements and your goals should not be explained to anyone else. Somehow, though, if you really, really want to see those goals becoming reality, you should begin by breaking them into tiny pieces. This is one effective way of getting things done, as I will have  some veggies instead of fries for lunch today is way less scarier than Since today, I’m gonna have a healthy diet. And also far easier to accomplish.

Another thing to be considered is the fact that life ain’t linear. Neither life or progress are. There will be periods when everything will go according to plan, and periods when you couldn’t seem to be at greater distance of your goals. But this is part of the journey called life as well.

Even if the self-help literature and speakers tend to make individual evolution seem to be a piece of cake, it is, actually, more like building a house. It takes a huge amount of resources, time, patience and resilience. And, mostly, a very good memory, to remember the ups of the process and why have you started to do that in the first place.

But one of the most important reasons of not meeting the goals, is not the lack of consistency, or of discipline, or the desire of meeting them. No. One of the main reasons is that, often enough, evolution requires outside help. It might be a teacher, a mentor, a therapist or somebody that you genuinely and deeply admire. It might be your mom, or your little brother, this is not important. What matters, instead, is that some people do have this power, of making us trust ourselves a little more and judge ourselves a little less at the end of the day. These are our everyday heroes, which keep us going, and for which we should all be grateful.

And, no, you’re not a failure if you didn’t achieve all of your goals at the end of the year. As big or as small, progress is progress, and every step taken in the right direction matters. Make this journey feel as personal as it actually is, and do your best, daily, without emotional charge such as guilt, shame or envy.

The shortest recipe for a good year will always begin with a day, so find beauty in every day the little things to be grateful about. Because, at the end of the day, what fuels growth is the smile and the goodness that we manage to find in every day, day after day.