My Confession

I have a confession to make…I am a perfectionist. This might surprise some people who know me because there are many aspects of my life where my perfectionism does not come up, such as being organized (you should see my house- seriously) or school assignments. When my perfectionism does come out, it is nasty. It is critical. It is mean. It is poison.

I sat down with my director over a month ago because I was really struggling at work. I hit that wall. In social work we call it compassion fatigue, but I called it “I just can’t handle other people’s stories right now.” It was incredibly hard for me to admit that I had gotten to this point. I know I have a tough job and I have never judged a coworker for hitting their limit, but I should be better. I need to be stronger than everyone else. I cannot show any weakness. I can look at those statements and logically think there is no weakness in admitting your vulnerabilities but do I feel that? Nope.

She asked if I was a perfectionist and was surprised to hear that I was. Because I care about what I do, I criticize myself every contact I have. I should have said something else. I should have asked about blank. I am not good enough to do this work. I finally said out loud that I have never left my job feeling like I did enough. It was becoming clear that my perfectionism was getting in the way of being able to have any self-love and resiliency to do the work I do.

I have, over the years, reaped the benefits of being a perfectionist. I have accomplished a lot in my life. The problem is, I have never been able to enjoy those accomplishments. My therapist asked me if I had a bar for myself and I said that I do and it is constantly rising. Even when I wrote my book, it was not good enough. I needed to be more successful with it. This is such a subjective goal that with every achievement, I expect more of myself. I am even so critical of myself that I have not read any of my book since publishing it because I am petrified that I will find faults and hate that I ever wrote it.

So here I am. I am finally acknowledging my perfectionist ways. I am hearing those criticisms and fully listening to them. I cannot ignore my vulnerabilities and self-doubt, but I can try to identify when the poisonous self-talk starts and replace it with positive affirmations. I have been seeing a therapist and reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown to continue to better understand my perfectionism. I feel more raw than ever and incredibly vulnerable. I am scared shitless. But this is probably the healthiest I have been in a very long time.

Photo by Eryn Lobsinger

Photo by Eryn Lobsinger

Supports

I have been thinking a lot about the supports in my life. I have been thinking about the fact that there were many years that my supports were able to keep me alive. Now, I don't say that lightly. I had times when the suicidal thoughts were becoming so overwhelming that I was seriously considering death. I remember one night I messaged a friend saying that I was done. I was at the point that I was ready to die. He asked me to call him. Since it was the middle of the night, I sneaked into the garage and sat in my mom's car. I don't even remember what he said to me when I called. But he was there. All I needed was for someone to be there.

Supporting someone with a mental illness can seem like such a daunting task. However, sometimes it is not always a complicated process. I had a time when I was feeling very low. A friend of mine asked how I was and I simply said "I'm having a sad week." Instead of feeling uncomfortable about this response or trying to come up with a way for me to not be sad, he asked "can I do anything to help?" I then said that I could use a hug. I didn't need a big intervention. I just wanted a hug from a friend.

So often I needed someone to just be with me. I didn't always need a major intervention and there are many times that I would not have accepted anyone's advice. I really just needed someone to be with me.

Photograph by Jordan Snobelen

Photograph by Jordan Snobelen

Puppy Love

I recently got a puppy who I am madly in love with. His name is Arrow and he is a Bulloxer (American Bulldog x Boxer). I have always believed that pets have so much therapeutic value. He gave me the reminder I need just the other night.

I have a very stressful job working on a Crisis Team. Some days, I deal with the stress of work quite well. Other days, I hear some really impactful things. I love my job, but it definitely wears on you. Recently, I had a really hard day. It was one of those days that make me question if anything I say will make the slightest difference. When you are working with people who are at their breaking point, this is not a good feeling to have.

There are a few moments in this job that really stick with you, and I had one of those that night. It was one of the heaviest contacts that I have had in a long time. They are the times when it is not so easy to switch from work mode into personal mode. I try to maintain that work-life balance that we in the helping professions try so hard to achieve. I especially try to not let it affect my relationships.

I was worried that night. I was worried that when my partner came home, I would be cold and distant. Then I saw Arrow. I saw his goofy face and his little eyebrow. I saw how happy he was to see me. As soon as I gave him the biggest hug I could, my stress melted away. He didn’t ask me how my day was because he knew. He brought me over his toys to play with him. I went from crying in my car on the way home to laughing my butt off at how silly Arrow can be. By the time my partner came home, I was back to my regular old self. I was genuinely happy to just be with my guys.

Arrow is only three months old and he already does my job better than I ever could.

Photo by Eryn Lobsinger

Photo by Eryn Lobsinger

My "Why"

It is the end of the year and like many others, I have decided to reflect on my last year. A lot of this year was spent working on Seeing Through The Label which involves getting my story out there. I have been reflecting on my “why”. I wanted to know more about what motivates me to channel so much of my time and energy into having people hear my life story.

At first, I thought about the reasons that had more of a negative connation because my illness is usually centred on fear and self-doubt. I was worried that I was doing this completely selfishly and wanted to find some kind of fame by telling people all about me. I was worried that I was using my illness and recovery to pat myself on the back and have people pay attention to me. Then I thought about something I’ve talked about in the past which is that it is okay to be selfish. It is okay that I gain something by sharing my story. I am able to have that outlet. I am able to connect with others to help remind myself that I am not as weird and messed up as I think I am.

I also like the fact that I can connect with others by sharing my story because I see the impact it has on their lives as well. I want to help others with those feelings of isolation that I have experienced myself. I think back to when I first started to experience odd thoughts. I did not want to share these thoughts because I thought that I was the only one. I did not want to seek help because I was so afraid that I was the only one who could possibly think that way.

Stigma is something that we still talk about as well. I share my story to try to outweigh some of the negative stereotypes. When all we hear about mental illness are the frontline news stories condemning people with mental illness, we as a society fear them. Statistics are great, but people resonate with real life stories. Some people need to see that the illness is only one part of a person. That is why it is important for people to talk about their lives and how they manage their illness. It makes it more normalized, and people see those frontline stories as what they are; anomalies to the norm.

Upon reflecting on my “why,” I have regained some of my drive to keep pushing forward which I had recently lost. New Years should not just be about wanting to lose weight or quit smoking. Take a moment to reflect on your passion and what makes you want to keep pushing forward.

Taken at the seminar in Thompson, MB.

Taken at the seminar in Thompson, MB.

Making the Tough Choice

I have always been afraid to try a medication. I have never thought negatively of people who do, but it was something I had always stayed away from.

I had convinced myself that I did not need to go on medication. I had convinced myself that I was coping well enough that I did not need to. When I went to a psychiatrist for the first time last week, I had no desire of going on medication. Doing mental health crisis work, I understand that psychiatric assessments take quite a while to get set up, so I made the appointment over a year ago. I went into the appointment planning on sharing my coping strategies and making it obvious that I did not need to be on medication.

I had my back up when I first went in. I had no idea what to expect from this psychiatrist and was horribly nervous. I ended up having a really good appointment with her. She introduced herself by her first name and immediately made me feel comfortable and on the same level as her. Once we finished talking for about two hours, she brought up the idea of medication. I started to get uncomfortable again because we had talked a lot about how my mental illnesses affect me.

The psychiatrist actually listened to my concerns. I talked about how I still want to feel things. I told her that I still want to have those typical good days and bad days outside of symptoms. I explained that I still want to be able to cry sometimes and get genuinely excited about things. She explained that her intention is to stop my mental illness from affecting my day to day life, not to stop me from feeling. To be honest, I had not even thought about how much it still affected me. I had become so busy that I stopped recognizing how much of a burden it is on me.

She also explained to me that for every episode I have, I further damage my brain which also makes me more susceptible for further episodes. We talked about starting at a very low dosage on a medication that is specifically designed for more of what I am looker for which is more manageable lows and highs that are capped so they do not become too dangerous or out of control.

Today I am going to get a prescription from my family doctor to finally start a psychiatric medication. I am still terrified of how it might affect me (thanks anxiety), but I am hopeful that it will make my life a little more manageable.

Photo by Jordan Snobelen

Photo by Jordan Snobelen

In that moment...

In that moment, I was so grateful to just be.

I was walking down an empty trail in the hills of Kentucky. My mind started to wander. I started to think about what I was going to do next. I started thinking about the rest of my day and what adventured I would be chasing after next. Then I stopped. I stopped moving, I stopped thinking, and I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and realized what I was doing. I was not truly embracing the moment. People talk a lot about dwelling in the past and letting that weigh them down. This is rarely my vice. My vice is constantly looking ahead. While it is nice to look forward to what I hope will be enjoyable experiences, I become too focused on what is next. I miss out on experiencing everything that is around me in that moment.

So I opened my eyes, put away my camera, and really focused on what I was seeing. I rested my hand on the old oak tree beside me. I felt the grooves of the bark and the coolness of the moss. I leaned into it and listened to the noises it made in the wind. I thought about that fresh smell that you only get while in the woods. Then I looked up the trail to see three beautiful deer just about fifteen feet away from me. I looked into their eyes as they continued to walk towards me. As they crossed the trail in front of me, a tear rolled down my cheek.

For in that moment, I was so grateful to just be.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and I have seen many statistics proving its worth. Proving that suicide is prevalent in Canada and the average person should be concerned about it. I am asking for each of you to do something completely self-centred for prevention. Whether you have thought about suicide in the past, are currently thinking about suicide, or may potentially think about suicide in the future (aka you are a human being), create your own plan for what you might do to PREVENT yourself from acting on these thoughts.

Creating our own individual plan is so important when it comes to mental health issues. There is no one solid plan of what to do when you are struggling. There is no online list of the “15 Things You Should Do When Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts” that fits each and every one of us. That is why we each need out own plan that we need to design ourselves. Professionals can be helpful for suggestions about what could be on the list, but it is up to you to determine which best suits you.

Now there are generally speaking two types of suicidal thoughts. These are active or passive. Most of us who have experienced them know the difference of how they feel. Active suicidal thoughts are when we have come up with a fairly immediate plan and are thinking of acting on that plan. Passive suicidal thoughts are more so when we start to consider suicide as a real option. They are the ones when we feel like dying might be or is the most beneficial option in our situation. Both of these types take very different plans.

Working on our own plan gives us the opportunity to think about ourselves and learn more about how we feel and what helps our mood. Self-discovery and self-reflection can be difficult, but lead to a much greater knowledge of ourselves and how to help ourselves. I have attached my own plan at the end of this for a vague idea of what it may look like. What works for me may not work for you. Keep trying new healthy coping strategies until you find your own Prevention Plan.

Active Suicidal Thoughts

-call my specific supports (listed in a private plan)

-attend the ER

-call my local crisis line or 911

Passive Suicidal Thoughts

-distractions techniques (focus on something else such as boxing techniques)

-being at the gym

-being around positive people

-journal

-take time off

-be in nature

Loss

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been dealing with a significant amount of loss. I found my dog who I loved very dearly after he had died in his sleep. This was a huge shock for me and I was absolutely distraught. My heart had never hurt so much and I could not stop crying. The next week was filled with sleepless nights and teary eyes, but I decided to try not to think about it when I went away for the weekend. On my way home, I found out that my grandmother had taken a turn for the worse. She died that night. I did not think that my heart could break anymore, but it did. I did not think that I could cry anymore, but I did. I shared so much love with both of them. It’s honestly still hard for me to process that both of them are gone let alone put into words the amount of pain I am feeling about it.

One positive aspect of this difficult time has been that I am reminded of how incredible my support system is. One of the biggest techniques that I preach for supporters is to simply ask what you can do and put out an open offer of help. I have had people contact me offering their support since my grief began. I have not taken up everyone on their offers to talk, but it is nice to know that if or when I need that, those people are there. My one friend called me when she found out about my grandmother. She gave her condolences and told me to let her know if I needed anything. As soon as I hung up I ended up calling her back and saying “I would really like to just go for lunch.” So we went to our favourite breakfast joint and had a great time together. We talked about my grandmother, but we also just chatted about life in general. In that moment, all I really needed was to spend some time with someone I love and eat bacon. I also had my boxing coach send me a message saying “let me know if you need to hit something today” to which I responded “yes please!”

That is what I always find interesting. During difficult times, most of us don’t need grand gestures or to have our friends and family say the right thing. Sometimes it is enough to simply know that there are people who love and support you. Sometimes I want to go out and spend time with friends, sometimes I want to just talk to one or two of my closest friends, and sometimes I want to be left alone. The beauty of having people ask me what I need or let me know that whatever I choose is okay, is that I get exactly what I need. It is not always easy to ask people for what I need, but I am getting better at it. One of my grandmother’s most memorable habits (which was even touched on in her eulogy) was that she would ask people to do things for her all the time with no guilt. Apparently she even got her doctor to end up fixing her dishwasher. So, I’m going to continue to take a page from Grandma and ask people for exactly what I need.

Responding to the Negative

I have recently started to receive negative feedback on Seeing Through The Label. Logically, I understand that negative feedback is a part of everything you do. I honestly believe that if you never receive negative feedback, then you're not pushing the boundaries of the status quo enough. You can never bring about change by doing what everyone agrees with. But again, that is me thinking logically. That is not to say that it does not affect me emotionally. The first email I opened that included feedback of this kind had me go through many different emotions. At first I was in complete shock, and then I became quite angry and vilified the person who wrote it. I was able to move from the anger, but I was still upset that someone had said something unkind about what I was trying to do. Eventually I was given another message of support. I received another donation. I got another pat on the back. Suddenly, I didn't need to focus on the negative feedback any more.

I don't like to consider myself as someone who needs constant validation. However, sometimes I need something positive to break that negative train of thought. At this moment, I needed that positive feedback to reroute that train of thought. It helped me to no longer focus on the negative long enough that I was able to put it all into perspective again.

I have recently developed more of an interest in neuroscience which shows that the more we focus on the negative, the stronger the neuropathway becomes that leads us to the negative. The more we focus on the positive, the stronger the neuropathway becomes that leads us to the positive. This means that if we spend more time complaining and focusing on issues, we actually train our brain to constantly go back to the negative. I was stuck in the negative feedback. I would have continued to build stronger neuropathways to all of the issues, if it wasn’t for the positive feedback. Instead I could then focus on all of the positives about what I am doing and continue to strengthen the neuropathway that leads me back to positivity. So thank you for helping me strengthen my neuropathway back to my happy thoughts.

Being Kind to Others Without Being Unkind to Yourself

I recently had a conversation with someone that was quite troubling. As always, I did some self-reflection on it and started to question how I reacted to it.

Because of the troubling nature of the messages I received, I chose to not react immediately. I knew that if I did so, it would have led to a "go f*** yourself" and here is why you should. The more I sat on it, the more I started to think about what this person's intentions were in sending these messages. I realized that this "friend" was actually hoping for an argument. I read them over and over again. The more I did so, the more I read the aggressive energy that was being directed at me. I could tell that there was a hope that I would react aggressively in turn.

Instead, I chose to be more kind with my responses than my original emotional reaction would have hoped for. I instead chose to be more accepting of the comments that were clearly meant to hurt me, because I was trying to deescalate the conflict. I was kind to this person even though this person was not kind to me. This is something that I thought would provide me with peace of mind. Why then am I still feeling distraught from this conversation?

In my effort to be kind to this person, I was unkind to myself. I allowed myself to be spoken to in such an insulting manner, that it continues to affect. I am glad that I did not feed into the conflict, but I should not have remained in such an offensive conversation. Looking back, I should have simply removed myself from the conversation all together. I allowed this person to put their negative energy on me in order for them to try and not carry so much of it. I let this conversation affect me for far longer than it should have as there ultimately should have never been a two-sided conversation.

Memories

As I stand here looking out at all of the beauty before me, I cannot help but think of the last time I was here. My mind goes back to when I was here almost four years ago with a man I was very much in love with. It is a strange mixture of joy and sadness that passes through me. I remember laughing with you. I remember how your smile warmed my heart. I remember the silly things you used to say to me. I remember the way it felt when you touched my hand. I can still to this day feel the spark going through me until I end up with a huge smile on my face. I was truly in love.

May, 2011

May, 2011

And now here I stand without you. I stand alone in the same spot where we both stood together while barely being able to stand two steps apart. That love still rings true in my heart, but now sorrow follows. The most devastating part is that you would have done anything for me, but in my youth, I threw it away. The idea of "the right person at the wrong time" does not bring me any comfort. If anything, I think it would have been easier if you were the wrong person. Had I met you now, I know things would have been different. I know that I would never have gone back to Canada. I know that I would have done anything to be with you. But now, almost three years since telling you how much I wanted to be with you, we speak for the first time in years. I want to tell you that I miss you and that I love you but I know that it is too late now. So I just wish you well instead, and hope to one day meet again.

March, 2015

March, 2015

Veering Off Course

With everything that I have been working on lately, I started to forget about what is most important; my wellness. I recently experienced a manic episode. during Instead of recognizing this at the start, as I usually would, I let the mania take over. I allowed myself to feel the rush of emotions. I allowed myself to use the energy and keep pushing forward.
Now as I feel myself crashing, I find myself looking back and recognizing all of the signs. I find myself wishing that I would have recognized what was going on. I was not able to do so because I was not checking in with myself. I stopped doing my self-reflection throughout the day. 
I cannot go back and prevent myself from managing my symptoms so poorly. I have to try to not feel guilty about it, or my depression will only become worse. I can only work on managing my depression better. I will allow myself to feel my emotions, but I will not allow my emotions to control me. Moving forward, I will me making my wellness a priority. As busy as I may get, I need to remember that I can only accomplish what I want to accomplish if I am well.

Clarity

The best time of my life was when I went to Ireland on my own with a real lack of planning. The first place I stayed was an amazing little hostel that was more of a farm house. Right across the street from this place was a little sign pointing to a beach. As I walked down the path, I started to breathe a little easier. The further I went, the more I felt both full of energy and completely serene. I walked down that path so many times during that week. I also spent hours sitting by the water thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. Even though it was a couple of years ago now, I still feel the same whenever I think about that place.

Finding a moment of total clarity can be rare. However it is impossible to achieve if you are constantly trying to make it happen. The best moments are when you feel the overwhelming sense of peace without even searching for it. Sometimes we find clarity because of where we are, who we are with, or just a feeling that comes to us.

Resilience

A lot of people have a hard time seeing the positive side of mental illness, especially those who have never struggled. For many of us who have come out the other side, we know that there are positive aspects. I do not think that I am quite at the point that I am thankful for everything that I have gone through, but I am at peace with it. There are positives and negatives in everything, and I choose to focus on the positives.

One of the greatest qualities that come from dealing with mental health issues is resilience. It is the ability to bounce back whenever life knocks you down. It is the ability to come across impossible situations and somehow make it through. It is the ability to conquer all of life’s struggles.

One of the reasons we find resilience when having gone through life’s challenges is simply believing that we can make it through. Because we have faced near defeat, we know that we can end up on top. There are times that I feel completely hopeless. Within these thoughts of hopelessness, I remember that I have been here before and made it through.

Another reason we find resilience is that we know how we made it through the last time. When I get stuck in that hopeless place, I not only remember that I made it through the last time but I remember how. I remember that I need to surround myself with positive people. I know that I need to ask for patience and hugs to make it through.

Things happen. Life happens. Thinks will go wrong. Life will feel wrong. I refuse to promise myself that I will never struggle again. I know that I will. I know that I struggled within the last month. I know that tomorrow could be a new battle. But I also know that I can take it all in stride. 

The Choice to be Alone

I am not an expert on relationships. If anything, I think I may be somewhat of an expert on dysfunctional ones. Recently I realized that in March, I will have been single for an entire year. A couple of years ago, the thought of being alone would have terrified me. I would have immediately thought that there was something wrong with me that made me unwanted. This is no longer the case. I have come to learn that being single can be an extremely liberating choice.

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know about myself. I am constantly discovering new things about myself. Whether it is about my emotional well-being or what my likes and dislikes are, there is a lot more I have yet to discover. I have also been trying to be more honest with myself. We lie to ourselves more than anyone else. We try to fool ourselves into thinking we are someone different than we actually are.

What worries me the most about being in a relationship is giving someone else the ability to influence my growth. A lot of times we do not realize how much we are adapting to fit with what someone else wants. We all do it. When we meet someone who we find ourselves interested in, we try and showcase what we believe to be our more desirable characteristics. We can become lost in between who we are and who our partner wants us to be.

I know that there is much more that I need to learn about myself before adding in someone else's influence. I know that I need to be more solidified in who I am and what I want for my life before entering a serious relationship. I want to be true to myself within all of my relationships. So until I feel more confident in knowing who I am, I will continue to discover myself while remaining on my own.

The Uniqueness of Depression

With the recent attention being given to mental health, there has been a lot of good but there have also been a lot of negatives. I, for one, have been getting extremely frustrated by some of what is getting put out there. First off, there are a lot of people who have been putting out articles saying what depression feels like. There is a difference between saying what depression feels like for everyone and what it feels like for the person writing the article. I'm not trying to sound hypocritical as I have put my experiences with depression out there. However, everyone's experience with depression is different. It's great to try and help others understand what depression is like, but we have to avoid speaking as if we know what everyone's depression feels like.

I was also frustrated when watching daytime TV and seeing someone talk about "choosing to be happy" and how we "can't blame our genes" for not being happy. He said that happiness is a choice. It is not a choice for someone who is depressed. It goes far beyond telling yourself to be happy. It is a gross oversimplification when someone has a mood disorder. There are chemical aspects to these disorders that cannot simply be wished away. It surprises me that there are still "experts" who claim that it is someone's choice to be depressed.

Ultimately, the best way to understand someone who has depression is to ask them. The best way to know how to help someone with depression, is to ask them. Everyone is different and experiences mental health differently.

Using Your Emotions

Emotions are scary. We constantly feel the need to avoid them in order to seem “strong”. What we forget about is how powerful our emotions can be. Not only do they allow us to truly feel and live, they can be channelled into something more. Emotions do not have to have a negative result. Managing them properly provides us with a more positive result. Emotions can become a powerful driving force in our lives. We just need to be aware of if we are letting our emotions do the steering. If we can choose what direction to give them, we can use that drive in very positive ways.

My trainer has been telling me for months to go to my “deep dark place” when attempting larger lifts. For the longest time, I had a lot of difficulty with this. I was trying to avoid my anger as I was afraid of going back to being a very angry person. Recently I have been experiencing a lot of stress which has been causing me to be quite angry in my day to day life. This is when I decided to start channelling my anger. I was used to boxing to get rid of my anger, but I never used it to improve my workout. It took me a couple of tries to really start to use it to my advantage, but once I did I felt completely different. I was able to take my anger and turn it into something positive. Instead of pretending that I was feeling fine, I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling. Emotions can lead to negative consequences if we allow them to control us. If we are able to direct our emotions, we can then experience positive consequences. It is not about avoiding our emotions, it is about channelling them.

Resolutions

 

With New Year’s Day soon approaching, many of us have resolutions for the next year. Some of us may be trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or change other habits. A new year brings hope for most. However, once the hope fades we become much more likely to find ourselves let down. Every year we end up being a little too hard on ourselves.

I used to come up with a new resolution every year. One year it was to stop smoking. Another year it was to exercise more. There was even a year where my resolution was to stop putting so much time and energy into my love life. No matter what the resolution was, I always found myself falling back into old habits. As soon as I did, I was horrible to myself. I would start saying terrible things to myself that I would never say about anyone else. I would start hating myself for breaking a resolution. Instead of being mindful of a slip-up and moving on from there, I would become consumed by self-loathing. This would cause me to become more depressed and sometimes even drive me to forget about the resolution all together.

We come up with these ideas of who we want to be in the New Year. We think that we can suddenly flick a switch and change our behaviours. It is a wonderful idea to want to change ourselves for the better, but we have to be patient along the way. No one is able to change themselves in an instant and never revert back to their old ways.

So this year, whatever your resolution is, make sure to take it easy on yourself. You cannot be perfect every day. Maybe your resolution is to start going to the gym regularly. If you miss a workout, do not allow that voice to come on that calls you a failure. When you do that, you only end up tearing yourself down and making it more likely that you will not continue with your resolution. Instead, remind yourself that you are human and you are allowed to slip-up. Be kind to yourself.

Finding Purpose

I am lucky that my family has such a positive outlook on what to do with the rest of your life. Growing up, I was taught that it did not matter what you wanted to be, as long as you were the best you possibly could be. Over the years, I went through many different options of what job I wanted when I grew up. Some of these included a fashion designer, politician, retail manager, hair dresser, anthropologist, and more.

What I chose to focus on was whatever excited me. I only took courses that interested me. I only read books that drew me in. I kept allowing my future goals to be fluid enough that I could simply follow wherever my interests laid. We always have this desire to know where we are meant to end up. Often, we allow external forces to determine it for us. When looking for our purpose, we should always chase what excites us and see where it leads.

If something no longer excites you or makes you happy, move on. We should never settle for a life that has no purpose. Over the years our purpose may change, but it does not matter what your purpose is. All that matters is that you have one and that it invokes passion within you.

Purpose also helps my mental health because it keeps moving forward. And I need to be well in order to keep moving forward. If I do not have something that I am working towards, it is so much easier for me to ignore my wellness. I know that to do what I love I need to be mentally healthy. When I do not have a purpose, I allow myself to become lost and my mental wellbeing becomes a lower priority. During the times that my symptoms become more apparent, I use my purpose to not allow them to take control.

It does not matter what your purpose is as long as your purpose drives you to be the best possible you.

"A Real Woman"

I recently spoke at an event that had all female speakers. Because of the female presence, the host asked us all to share our idea of what is means to be “a real woman” at the end of our presentation. This idea was meant to challenge gender roles, but in my opinion lost its value by looking for one specific idea of what it means to be “a real woman.” My response at the end of my talk was simple and about as “ladylike” as one would expect from me. “Being a real woman means whatever the fuck you want it to mean.”

There has been so much attention on gender and its fluidity that I am concerned with how stuck we are on the concept of being “a real man” or “a real woman.” No answer is better than another. We all have an idea of our own gender. So often we see the photos on social media which talk about how “a real woman” will do something specific. There are then others showing how “a real man” does something specific as well. Sometimes these are meant to challenge gender roles, but in the end we are simply attaching a new role to that gender. These quotes can talk about how “a real woman” has strength and demands specific things from "her man.” Then there are ones that completely degrade women such as one that reads “A real woman never lets her man leave the house hungry or horny.” Why do we have to put rules on what “a real woman” does? Then we have quotes that talk about how “a real man” treats his woman with respect and/or shows "his woman" his emotional side. It is great that we are trying to enforce fair treatment of women and challenging men to be vulnerable, but why are we still putting specific characteristics on men? And why are we always talking about “his woman” as if women are still property.

Then we get into the issue of gender and sexuality. What if someone identifies as transgendered? The idea of "a real woman" or "a real man" causes even more difficulties for both binary and non-binary
trans-people. We also never see anything about same sex relationships. I have never seen anyone share a quote about how same sex partners should treat each other, but we seem to have plenty of ideas on how “a real woman” treats her man and “a real man” treats his woman.

Why in a society where we want gender equality do we continue to place gender roles on ourselves and others? Why are we even trying to show what “a real man” or “a real woman” means? Gender should be fluid. We should stop attaching characteristics to it, stop promoting gender roles, and stop placing expectations on others.