Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?

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‎I’ve recently been thinking a lot about ‎intelligence — smarts, talent, whatever you’d like to call it.

It’s interesting that no matter how intelligent you may be in reality, if you don’t believe or perceive that you are, ‎you’ll be stuck.

Stuck doing the minimum that you think you’re only worthy of doing — whether it’s the kind of job you go after, ‎pursuing certain interests you wish to develop, or anything else that requires self-belief.

I see someone I know going through this now and it breaks my heart knowing they are capable of so much more. ‎But somehow, over the years, they seem to have lost the confidence that this is the case. And so, they settle for less.

I’ve been there. And that’s why it distresses me to see her like this, because I know exactly how it feels to not believe in your own worth.

There’s been two main things in my younger years that led me to experience this same way of thinking about myself.

But before I get into that, I want to explain that I was always smart when I was very young. I did advanced math and was in my school’s gifted program. I was also very creative and read a lot of books and wrote stories and poems. ‎So objectively speaking, I was an intelligent kid.

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But the first thing that started me down the road to thinking less of myself was that I got into the cycle of working low-paying, survival jobs for many years.

I worked long, hard hours and usually multiple jobs at a time — but at the end of the day, I felt like I was working constantly around the clock towards a dead end as my destination.

It started when I was in high school and my family had to go on social assistance. Aside from attending school, I was also usually working a couple of part-time jobs to help out with the finances.

But if I thought that was hard, it got even more difficult when I moved out on my own, right after I graduated high school. At that point, I felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone else but myself.

There was never enough financial stability in my life to have the luxury of “taking time off” to gain experience towards some kind of meaningful career or to build up the skills I was lacking. Or to apply carefully to jobs and wait for the right one to come around.

It was “take what you could get” and, moreover, take it right away or you wouldn’t be able to pay rent the next month.

Living this kind of life meant constant physical and mental stress, and led me to feel a sense of hopelessness that would stomp down on my optimism. Even though I dreamed to have more for myself, that’s all I felt I could achieve because that was simply life as I knew it.

It was very difficult to fathom things like ever ‎making a certain salary (never mind actually working a salaried position with benefits and a pension plan), or becoming a manager, or running my own business.

Those things seemed to be meant for another type of person. Not me.

The second thing that got me to a point where I doubted my intelligence was that I was in a relationship for a period of time where — whenever he was mad — this guy would tell me that I was fucking stupid, an idiot, loser, retarded, pathetic, worthless.

Even if I objectively knew that he didn’t really think so when he wasn’t angry, it was hard not to internalize it after hearing it yelled at me again and again and again.

After a while, I seriously started questioning whether I was actually stupid. And it eventually got to the point where I felt so much hopelessness and despair when he’d yell those things at me, that I would punch my fist into my computer screen or bang my head against the wall.

I think it was the innate, visceral reaction of needing to fight back, except I had been so conditioned not to hurt him that I hurt myself instead.

I had come to feel very worthless — just like he said I was — and as though I was in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, unable to see a way out.

How could this be the rest of my life? I wondered.

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With all of the repeated instances where people put down your intelligence, and with all of the actions (or omissions) you make that reinforce the idea that you aren’t deserving of a better situation, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle where you stay stuck at the bottom.

‎And when I say “bottom”, I mean at the bottom of your potential. You never aim higher. You stay fearful. You don’t ask questions or reach out to people who could become your connection or knowledge base to “better” things.

And so, you never find out just what you’re capable of.

If you don’t believe something is possible and within your reach, why would you even try to take the steps to get there?

* * *

Since that time, I got accepted into a very competitive Master’s program and graduated with a 4.0 (out of 4.0) GPA. I have worked salaried positions. I have been a manager‎. I have proven to some of the most brilliant minds in my field of study that I am unequivocally deserving of their reference any time I’m applying for a new job.

I have also gone on three solo backcountry camping trips with zero fear and organized many group trips.‎ I have learned how to play the piano and guitar. I have composed my own songs.

I clearly am an intelligent person. ‎I always have been. It just took some time, a whole lot of sweat and tears, and an enormous amount of love and support to actually see it.

And now, I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.

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The road that led me down the deep, dark hole was long and complex. And thus, it was a long, complex process to get out of it.

One part of that journey was creating a new cycle in my life — one of continuous, positive reinforcement that told me: You are worthy to have better for yourself.

That positive reinforcement came in the same two ways that conditioned me to ‎grow my self-doubts:

In the same way as my ex continuously put me down with words to the point where I internalized his negative image of me, receiving constant messages of encouragement and belief in my talents ‎helped me to view myself in an alternative light.

Two further things on that: It meant choosing to surround myself with positive people who brought out and saw those good things in me. And while most of that validation came from others initially, I had to eventually find it in myself.

Secondly, just as fearing to aim higher resulted in me staying stuck in a cycle of insecurity, taking small (and eventually big) steps that resulted in personal successes gave me tangible proof that I could in fact accomplish things I once only wished for but never thought I could do.

The journey towards greater self-worth also involved a lot of other things, like going to counselling and finding ways to cope that were healthier than my defense mechanism of drinking.

It included building the social and human capital that we all need, but that I hadn’t learned to develop, in order to navigate the system.

It included finding a more stable living situation so that my mind could find greater stability. And it included having friends and family who gave me unconditional support through all the mistakes I made.

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It’s been a long road — it took many years — but it brings me an immense, unexplainable joy that I can now genuinely tell you how much I do truly believe in myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still and will always be a work-in-progress. But the distance I’ve come so far gives me hope that if I could get here, others who may not think it’s possible can too.

As much as I resented having to go down this road at times, I’m truly grateful for all that I’ve learned and for all of the people who stuck by me.

Because if it wasn’t for them, I would’ve likely stayed stuck at the bottom of my potential.

I would have likely never contributed my skills and talents to the places I’ve worked at or the groups I’ve volunteered for that serve to help others through their challenges.

I might have lost all hope in finding my spirit and struggled to pass on the positive messages and energy every person should strive to add to this world.

And that would have been a serious waste of intelligence.

~ Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

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On mental health awareness and stigma: I think as a collective, we really need to open up more about mental health and talk about the hard issues we all face. Too many people feel alone and ashamed about their mental health issues. Let’s change this.

The discussion that happened on this past post I wrote really gave me hope that people want to talk about mental health. And that no one is alone in their struggles!: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”.

As I said then, thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

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Photo #3 Credit: Sad woman
Photo #4 Credit: Storm clouds gathering
Photo #5 Credit: Thanks, Amy! :)

On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”

While going on trips and posting photos of the great times I had has been fun, I need to bring it back to something a little more serious.

Something that’s been brewing in my mind and in my heart for quite some time now. Brewing like some good coffee. Okay, sorry …

On October 10th, I discovered that it was World Mental Health Day and since then have come across numerous stories about people’s struggles with their mental health.

Actually, since starting here on WordPress, I’ve come across many blogs that serve as outlets for people’s experiences with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, drug addiction, and so on.

As I learn more and more about other people’s struggles with achieving good mental health — including people in my everyday life — I realize that it’s more rare to find someone who really has it all together than someone who feels like they’re nowhere near society’s standard of “normal.”

I didn’t feel this way for a long time though. I really felt like I was one of the few in life who wasn’t normal. Ever since I could remember, as a young girl, I would get into frequent spells of feeling down and depressed and wouldn’t know why.

It never turned into anything where I couldn’t get myself out of bed or thought of hurting myself, but it was a constant cycle of sadness, loneliness and anger that went on for years.

And maybe that’s why I was even more confused about whether I had a problem and if so, what that problem was.

It seems that so many people go through their days feeling down about life, feeling like they’re not good enough, feeling angry, feeling misunderstood. And many don’t know how to deal with that in a healthy way.

It’s so easy to push those awful feelings deep down inside where we don’t have to face them, or turn to things like drinking or drugs to escape.

I found myself doing just that — using alcohol as my security blanket to hide from my problems and all of the anger, sadness and insecurity that was making me feel like a complete wreck during my younger years.

At first, it seemed as though I was just drinking to be social — I probably told myself that “everyone’s doing it.” But at some point, it appeared that I could no longer have any fun on the weekend, and sometimes even during the week, without alcohol — and usually, a lot of it.

Then, I started drinking at home by myself. I also first justified this as simply “taking the edge off” after a long day at work. But eventually, I had to face the fact that it had become my immediate “go-to” solution whenever I started feeling depressed or cycling in overwhelmingly negative thoughts.

All I wanted to do was numb myself in those moments when I felt like a war was raging in my own head. And so, I would instinctively pour myself another and another until I felt that numbness sink in.

Of course, I never felt better about my problems — but I didn’t know what the alternative answer was.

My thoughts from various journal entries over the years.

I can’t tell you the number of times I said I would never drink again — or at least not let it get out of hand. And the number of times I broke that promise.

There was one time I got to “5 months of (drinking) soberdom”, but during that period I just found myself experimenting with other drugs instead. Anything to escape life as I knew it.

I don’t think I would have met the criteria for physical addiction to alcohol (although perhaps I was psychologically dependent on it). And I don’t say that in an attempt to avoid shame — rather, to explain that you don’t need to be at the extreme end and wearing a label in order to know that your drinking is a problem.

During part of that tumultuous time, I was also in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship, which obviously didn’t help in getting me to a healthy place where I could start dealing with the issues I already had.

My mental health was hurt badly through that experience, to the point where I felt very worthless as a person. It took a long time before I could get it to a state where I felt safe and good about myself. But perhaps more on that another time.

Part of a poem I wrote during my struggle to get my mental health to a better place.

I can write about all of this now because I’ve come such a long way in my thinking since then. And because I realize now that so many others go through the same thing.

I am by no means alone in feeling like I am not perfect and have a lot of things I need to work on.

The impression I give on this blog as a positive, life-loving person is genuine. But I want you to realize that I’ve gotten here through mistakes, lessons learned, and many ups-and-downs that make me appreciate life and the positive influences I now have around me so much more than I would have otherwise.

And it still, and always will be, a work in progress.

I encourage you to understand that everyone is different and that we’ve all had our share of life experiences that have impacted on us negatively and led to our own individual mental health issues, no matter how big or small.

Whether you are diagnosed with a mental illness or just have a feeling that things aren’t completely okay in your head, remember that no one is “perfect” and no one feels like they’re society’s unattainable standard of “normal” all, or even any, of the time.

And that’s totally okay.

The more we talk about our own mental health challenges, issues, fears, insecurities, and imperfections with those around us, the more it will become normalized and the less afraid people will be of just being themselves.

Thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

– Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

Blog post: October 10th, 2012 — World Mental Health Day by littleburstsofinspiration
Blog Post: Perfectly Imperfect by vinnylanni
Blog Post: Stop hating yourself for everything that you are not and start Loving yourself for everything you are. by sexandmiami
Blog Post: I am not a loser by bipolarblogging
Photo Credits: We all got issues, Normal is boring

*This post was edited on January 20, 2016