Feelings

Tonight I had to cancel a show that I had been preparing for — that I had pretty much revolved my whole life outside of work around — for the past two months.

For some reason — or reasons — this show meant the world to me. It held all of my passion and drive captive. It felt like I was taking the biggest leap to the moon because, for once, I was actually excited about performing in front of people. After so many years — a whole lifetime — of stage fright, I was excited.

And what I finally realized just last night, the biggest thing of all, is that it represented a moment where — before even stepping on stage, before I might receive any praise from anyone else — I completely believed that I would do an incredible job by my own standards. It was that self-validation, that I know I’m still in the process of working on, that I felt I was realizing.

I was working with two other singers on this show, as well as an event organizer who is a musician in his own right and had brought us together. He supported us, promoted us, put us on a pedestal. He was on the ball, so wonderfully communicative, making sure we were on the right track towards putting on a great night. He motivated me with our messages and conversations. He believed in us.

Him and I talked about our similar approach to putting on a show like this — that, while there was passion and fun involved, it was work. You put in the work and you get back so much more. And it wasn’t even about me hoping that “more” meant more performing opportunities. Whatever it led to might not even have to do with music.

But it was the lesson I have learned throughout my whole life, in which things have not been handed to me, that great opportunities that come along can and do lead to things that change your whole life around for the better, that change your perspectives for the better, that connect you to people who by virtue of knowing them make you better … if you put in the work.

So, I put in the work. I canceled plans when I felt even remotely exhausted because I didn’t want to get sick. Or I refused to make plans and explained that I need to stay home because I wanted to practice or rest. I drank almost nothing in the past month to preserve my voice. I studied my music, practiced my guitar playing.

But at the same time, I found myself going through continuous stress. Some of it related to the show. Some of it related to life. And I just kept telling myself that I needed to self-care. I needed to write about it. I needed to rest more. I needed to make healthy choices. I needed to meditate. I needed to let go of the frustration, bitterness, resentment and be accepting, adapting and compassionate.

I told myself that there were much bigger problems in life — like people getting their houses bombed in other countries — and that I had been through way worse in life, so I was going to be just fine.

And then, I got sick. And I have no issue saying that it was no fault of my own. But, wow, it was demoralizing. It was a slap in the face. It was a message from some asshole in the wings that it didn’t matter how hard I had tried, I was doomed to always get sick.

And yet, still, I told myself I had to stay positive. Because stressing would not help me get better, it would make me worse. And people would frown at me and wag their fingers if I didn’t do everything possible to be well for the show. And why was this such a big deal anyway? It. Was. Just. A. Show. Even if I couldn’t sing in it, I would be fine. Life would most definitely go on.

But I wasn’t fine. I was stressed. I was mad. I was disappointed.

It’s so ironic in a way, because while I have no real need to perform — like the kind of need I have to be in nature or to write music — I felt that my contribution to others in performing was to give them permission to feel.

I was willing to lay all of my emotions — pain, sadness, sensuality, despair, anger, hope — out on the table and through doing that, to let people know that it’s okay to feel these things.

I have always believed that one of the greatest, and most common, travesties in life is that people don’t let themselves feel. They bottle things up. They feel ashamed or scared of showing their emotions.

And here I was — after all that — not allowing myself to just feel. Why? Because I needed to be strong, be the “bigger person”, be there for others going through worse, be a “better me”.

I have cried non-stop the last two days. For so many reasons that go well beyond the unravelling of the show. As I was reminded today, in the past year I have checked off so many boxes on the Life Stressors list. And through it all, I don’t really know how much I have let myself truly grieve and accept that — while I’m stronger now — these things have still made their deep impact on me.

Crying has been exhausting. But it has been needed after so many self-denials to cry. Of course, I will pick myself up. I will do what I need to do to not spiral to a dangerous low. But in the meantime, I will cut myself some fricking slack and just let myself feel like the human being that I am.

~ Janice <3

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! :)

Let’s talk about suicide. Volunteers anyone?

I’d say most of us consider suicide a sensitive topic, and it’s rare to come across someone who’s outspoken about their suicidal experiences. But is suicide more prevalent in this day and age, or is it because of social media that makes it seem more common?

My name is Tai, and I would like to share my views and experiences on the choices of life and death. I’m recovering from substance addiction and depression, and I attend the CAMH addictions and mental health program.

In my group therapy sessions we often discuss emotional well-being and its effect on choice-making. During one of our sessions a particular member came out and admitted that he had attempted suicide. Not only did he surprise the entire group and myself, but also caught the counselor off guard because she didn’t quite know how to respond to him.

He recounted that fateful night with vivid description, where he went out and purchased what he needed to hang himself.

He said he survived only because someone found him hanging unconscious but just short of zero vital signs. He went on saying that he does not regret surviving, but he regrets that he botched his suicide because he now feels stigmatized as “the guy who tried to take the easy way out.”

Opinions aside, I just have to say I deeply admire his courage to speak up and share his darkest of experiences. I myself have had suicidal thoughts but even sharing my thoughts I find it difficult.

There’s a saying, “the will to live is great, but the will to die is greater.”

So, did he really take the easy way out?

* * *

I want to sincerely thank my friend Tai for writing this very honest post and sharing his personal experiences here. As he said, suicide is a very sensitive subject and maybe most people would prefer to avoid it altogether. However, I feel like there is just not enough attention brought to this problem which is much more widespread than most of us probably realize. In one of my recent posts, On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”, I talked about the stigma surrounding mental illness and the need to talk more openly about these issues and I appreciate Tai contributing to this discussion.

Since publishing this post, I’ve come across a couple of other posts on suicide that I think are worth a read and certainly got me thinking more about the question: Is suicide selfish?
A letter to my brother-in-law by Twindaddy (about suicide being a selfish act)
Suicide isn’t selfish, so why don’t we all quit saying that? by Sara (the title explains her take)

CAMH is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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