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.

Managing failure, the test we keep on taking

Failure is a heavy topic. It is hard to think about failure without remembering yours, and it is hard to look at the way others manage their failures without asking yourself how would’ve you done it. And, yet, it is a topic of major importance, its proper management being a never-ending test.

Failing is a part of our lives, even if we are not fond of it. We fail constantly, even if we talk about our personal lives, about our careers, or about our relationship with ourselves. We fail, and this is not bad at all, as failure is such a powerful tool for learning.

Because, yes, failure is, above anything else, a tool we’re handed. It is a mirror showing us what could’ve been done better, or at least in a different way. It brings along different perspectives, others than our common favorites. It helps us grow.

But this only becomes visible after the dramatic phase, after the why me, why again? moment. And, if you happen to be a perfectionist, like, getting through this phase is a challenge in itself, the learning part coming more as an extra task. As much as it is a tool and a way of learning, failure is also a test. The way someone manages their failures speaks volumes about that person. It is a good thing to pay attention to when you meet a new person, their attitude about failure.

Usually, there are three big types of approaches: Why me, I wasn’t worth it anyway, and It’s not the end of the world.

Why me? is the approach where the person, put in front of a failure, tries to find an external source. It is never about them, their failure is the consequence of other people’s actions, and they have nothing to think about. If you ask them what are they thinking they did wrong, will tell you there’s nothing wrong about their way of action, the other people or maybe the destiny didn’t want them to succeed. They were right, and would if they could turn back the time, do things the very same way.

The I wasn’t worth it anyway narrativeis the perfectly opposed approach. It is, just like the previous, strongly connected with one’s self-esteem. The person tried, hoped for success, but deep inside the feeling that they’re not good enough to make it persisted. They take their failure as something personal, that is way more about them- their interpersonal skills, their knowledge, their way of action than it is about others and their perception.

It is not the end of the world is, if you ask me, the only effective approach when it comes to managing failure. You try, you fail, you take some time to analyze and see what could’ve been made differently. Maybe you were not a good enough fit. Or maybe your knowledge of the subject was lacunary. Maybe you just tried at the wrong time, and the right moment for it would’ve been other.

It implies taking everything into consideration and then choosing up wisely. Maybe you will or will not try again, but what you learn from that attempt remains with you, shaping you into a different individual. Being aware of that keeps you committed to learning and without any bitter feelings long-term.

Naturally, the way one will approach a failure has other stuff in the background, besides of their maturity level: how important was for them to make it from the first attempt, how much work they’ve put into it, how many other chances to try again they have and the pressure of their close ones are also factors to consider when we talk about one’s attitude on failure.

My experience with this was, as expected, a tough one. Being a perfectionist with a low self-esteem level, the tendency was to assume that every failure was my fault. Other factors were always secondary and the“what could I have done better” list was a neverending one. Till one day, when I got to understand that, no matter how hard I want it to be that way, truth is that very little of the outcome was under my control. I could only control the way I act and talk, as well as my level of knowledge, but the perception of others about me will never be something I could control, so blaming myself for not being enough won’t lead me anywhere. And this was such a hard pill to swallow for an anxious girl like I am. However, it only made things easier, as it made me come to better terms with my failures.

Linking my self-worth on my success-failure rate was for a long time one of my most toxic behaviors. It made me think that to be worthy of respect, affection, and trust, I have to be successful constantly. But this is not how life works.

You are going to be successful at times and failing at times, but this won’t make you a failure as a person. You can be a good person and still fail at things. This doesn’t mean that your goals are unrealistic, or that you’re a fool for trying to make them happen. It only means that you’re human, and failure is a perfectly human trait. No one has it all together every second of their life. No one said that failure is something to be happy about, or that feeling sad about your failure is not a valid feeling. Yet here’s the catch: being a worthy human being is a constant, and linking it to something as fluctuant as the success will harm you. It is one of the things with the greatest impact on your mental health, as well as one of the biggest fears. Don’t let your failures mess up with your most important resource, you know better.

Failure is far beyond the good and the bad. It is a complex phenomenon, the beginning of a whole journey that has a unique purpose to help you learn about yourself. Looking back, there are moments when I’m happy things didn’t work out my way, as I can now see clearly what a disaster this would have been. But some failures were my fault, and that taught me how to act in future situations like that, which I’m grateful for.

So do yourself a favor, and stop trying to put all your failures in the same box. Keep in mind that you are a person who deserves love, appreciation, and good things, no matter your failures. Your failures don’t make you a bad person, even if the voice inside your head keeps nagging you with this idea. Instead, it makes you an apprentice, someone who has to keep on learning. And when it comes to dealing with life, we’re all apprentices here, so cherish every opportunity you get to discover more.

I’m fine

Not that long ago I’ve seen a post on Social Media asking ‘What’s your favorite lie?’ I did not answer at the moment, but I know that my favorite one has always been I’m fine. It is the lie I’m telling most of the time, and even if I know I should not, I keep telling it even when I’m anything but fine. Or especially then.

It is bad, yet a deeply rooted habit, and a costly one in terms of mental health and general well-being. But it is far from being something special. In fact, this is part of the factors leading towards what is known as The Caregiver’s Burnout. This is a common condition amongst the caregivers, manifesting as anxiety, depression, physical and emotional fatigue.

But here’s the catch: there are way more caregivers than we tend to admit. The caregivers are defined as persons caring usually for family members suffering from a disability or a chronic disease and are mostly associated with adults caring for their family’s elders. They are not.

A caregiver is also that friend who is always catching and trying to support and lift the others. That friend taking everyone else’s hand during their mentally challenging times and never talking openly about its own. It is that one person that always seems to have their life together, to know exactly where they’re going and what they have to do.

Because not every suffering is visible. Some of us face mental health challenges, others are facing losses, grieving times, there is a lot going on in every person’s life. And, every here and there, it is at least one person being the safety net of their social group. That one person who got the others coming to them for guidance in their tough times. They are caregivers as well, highly empathetic people that care and feel deeply responsible for those guided by them, even if not witnessed as caregivers by society.

And that leads them into a very dangerous trap. It makes them feel like the time for them to talk about their struggles is never now, always later. Now there are others that need their help and support, loved ones that need to receive their best in order to recover or get through the darkness. And this is how they get used to answering I’m fine when they’re asked about themselves. Because they are not a priority on their own list.

This also comes from a strong belief that places bad times as a thing to be kept private. As if, once admitted that you struggle as well, your ability of supporting others would vanish away, making you as weak as they are. Because the strong ones don’t make their dark times public while happen, but only talk about them later, when there are only the scars without the pain. However, truth is we all can struggle at the same time, but not in the same ways. We can (and we do) struggle in different ways, due to different reasons, and at very different intensities. That’s not what matters. What really matters is the ability to manage struggle, frustration and pressure. Because, as an informal caregiver, there’s a different kind of pressure on your shoulders: the thought that you’ve been trusted. That your close one, your friend, the person who asked you for help, did so because it knew you can deal with the situation without being overwhelmed. That you will lift them up, not that they would drag you down. When it comes to a family member that needs to be taken care of, there is a slightly easier burden to carry: you’ve had no actual choice, other than caring for them.

And just like that, the story of I’m fine begins to unfold: with the desire of not being a disappointment to the people which have seen the best in you, and with the belief that there will come a day when you will be free to talk openly about your struggles and allow yourself to ask for the help you need.

Because at the end of the day, what makes a caregiver fail those who trust them by failing themselves is the mix between empathy and fear. You know how it feels to be let down, so you fear that, by saying that you are struggling, you will let the ones that trusted you down. But you’re not. In fact, you would only be helping them more, as they see that it is fine to talk about your bad times. That you can only grow stronger when you learn to be honest. And, the most important lesson one could learn, that it is an act of self-care and self-respect, proof of generosity, as no one has ever been able to pour into other’s souls from an empty cup.