behind the facade

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It’s been mentioned, time and again, how social media can warp our perceptions of reality, in addition to increasing our anxiety and depression. But it is only a manifestation to a greater phenomenon: we often define ourselves by others’ actions and choices, based on where the herd walks.

Social comparison theory, formed by Leon Festinger, states that humans have an internal drive to evaluate their abilities and opinions, mainly through their comparison to others. Hence why it is not very surprising that social media becomes a means of ultimately evaluating ourselves and our lives, whether we realize it or not. We all want to know we are good in some way… whether it is a good person, a talented pianist, an attractive performer, an excellent engineer, a great writer.

For me, what is also wrapped up in appearing as if I have a good life, is the social expectation to be happy and positive all the time. I post pictures on Instagram of my delicious Italian dinner, or a selfie during a fun day out with friends. Yet again, my mind goes to the same bigger picture. I should be happy and positive and always good. Everyone around me comments on my wise words and my positive mindset, and gives me multiple likes for posts that show my rolling every setback off my back. Thus, the pressure builds and mounts, and soon I am burdened with the need to be a person I am not. Deep inside, I begin to cry out, why can’t I just be honest? Why must I pretend that I am okay when I know that in reality, I’m struggling to stay afloat?

And this is my reality: I’m not always okay. Perhaps I am strong, but I have my breakdowns when I feel quite the opposite. I have garnered many scars in my life, and they have made it difficult for me to overcome as I would like to. And honestly speaking, the setbacks are getting to me. Submitting my novel to multiple agents and receiving rejections one by one twist my insides with pain. I am discouraged and fearful, and losing touch with the passion others have frequently admired. The worst is when they say I should stay positive, not giving heed to the emotions and pain I express. The silent message is not lost on me: just get over it. The pain does not matter, just be happy and positive.

But it’s never that easy. If there is one thing I have learned in my work as a mental health therapist, it is that healing from pain is never as easy as “getting over it.” It’s okay to feel angry, sad, discouraged, fearful, anxious, nervous, etc. Those emotions matter too, just as much as the happy ones. Contrary to what we think, ignoring those emotions only make matters much, much worse. I have seen it too many times in others in order for me to say this with full certainty. It is the pressure, the facade that are now choking my passion, creativity and ability to overcome.

The herd has a tendency to lead people into a shallow, confined existence, one we never come to see until the nihilistic thoughts and empty feelings gnaw us from the inside out. Social expectations can silence us and severely restrict us from actualizing our true individuality and potential. But the antidote is this: we need to give ourselves permission to feel, to experience the full spectrum of emotions in this life. We need to allow ourselves to simply be who we are. We cannot live a whole-hearted life if we do not acknowledge our full humanity. We are wired to feel, and things won’t always be easy or good… so we don’t have to lie and pretend that it always is.

Sometimes putting down the facade, in whichever form we have, is what we need.

overcoming writer’s block

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From personal experience, it seems writer’s block can come about for multiple of reasons. Maybe you just feeling particularly uninspired, or maybe you’re hampered by the stresses of life, far too distracted to focus.

Recently, I have been struggling through my own writer’s block, whether through creative writing or even on this blog. As I explored it, I realized that my writer’s block was coming from my own internal fears. I want my voice to be heard. I want my words to mean something. Writing has always been a crucial means of expression for me, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to inspire or empower someone with the stories I create. My goal this year has been to attempt to publish my novel, and as I venture closer to that goal, my fears, like demons, are swooping in to sway me. What if agents/publishers think my writing is amateur and crap? What if I never get published? What if my writing means nothing?

It wasn’t until I processed my writer’s block with my therapist that I realized the power my fears were having over me. When I was telling her of my fear of being rejected by publishers or criticized by people (and having something I held very close to my heart disparaged), she pointed out to me, “You’re already operating as if your fear will come true, that you will be rejected.”

But who am I to predict the future, when none of us can’t? Isn’t that the whole point of trying?

It also hit me that I was putting too much weight and pressure on myself. I’m not seeing the reality for what it is: that this is only an attempt. It doesn’t mean my writing is or never will be good enough. My therapist told me, “You’re acting as if you don’t publish now, you will never publish. Maybe you’ll publish now, or later.” She also elaborated to me that I was making my attempt to publish as definitive proof that I am a good, or bad, writer, depending on how people will respond. But just because one, or even several people, do not like it, does not mean that I’m a bad writer. For example, one person might cite Metallica as the best band ever, while another may describe it as raucous and horrible.

I’m putting too much stock in other people’s thoughts, and it’s getting to a point that their hypothetical words are stunting me. And so I don’t try, because by not trying, I don’t have to face it. I can stay safe… but at the expense of never reaching my dream. That’s the high cost to pay. So I’m faced with a choice: to stay safe, but live ruled by fear, or to face my fears and likely criticism/rejection, but have the chance to bring my 19-year-old dream to life.

I suppose the moral of this post is twofold. 1 – It’s very helpful to have a good therapist.  2 – Other people do not define your writing. Just as with any other mode of expression, your vision is purely yours and yours alone. It was through my processing that I saw that I was giving too much power to other people, of something that is 100% me. People may have varying opinions on what I have to say, but that doesn’t de-validate my voice, or the experiences and feelings I used to inspire me. All of that is and stays valid.

I think that’s a part of my journey as a writer… learning to let go of people’s thoughts and opinions, and their power over my writing. No one defines my writing, except for me. Of course there is always a time and place for constructive criticism, but it is important to also stay true to your vision and passion. I can’t let anyone compromise my vision. Not even myself.

words are things

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Maya Angelou once said, “Words are things, I’m convinced. You must be careful about the words you use.”

When I heard this, I sat on it for days and weeks, until I understood the power of that statement. The true power of words. Sometimes we throw words around as if they mean nothing, assuming that they are small and insignificant. And perhaps when we think of power, we think instead of sabers, kings, land, money… yet completely ignore the way that words have perpetuated these very things and concepts through time and space.

Words have the power to build someone up, or crush someone’s spirit. They can be fertilizer for our souls, inspiring us to grow and aspire. They can also wound us like long, shiny knives, lodging themselves into our hearts, shaped in the form of “bitch,” “ugly” or others… and stay with us and pass on, generation to generation. Words can awaken our slumbering minds like coffee, push us to see a new way, to dream as big as Martin Luther King, Jr. once dreamed.

And now I am convinced too. Words are things. They are versatile, shifting in shape and form. We carry them with us, and they bleed through our skin, the way we dress and wear our make-up. They form our body and how we walk. They are tools that mold our minds, and give us the means to mold others. We can do so much good with them, yet in that vein, so much evil. It is up to us how we choose to use words. With all that they can do, Maya Angelou speaks wisdom as she urges us to use their power carefully.

But there is so much beauty in words. It becomes clearer to me as I write this, that even when we have absolutely nothing, even if we may feel oppressed and lack money or privilege, we are never powerless. We will always have words; they cannot be taken away. People so easily dismiss them in favor of higher status things in this world, but we must be careful not to deny the power of words. They live as we use them in our minds, through our mouths, though our pens or the keyboard of our computer. We may be completely naked and without a single material possession to our name, and still have the power to effect great change in the world, with the most simplest of instruments.

But there is nothing simple about words. I believe this to my very core. We can paint, draw, stick, crumple, or weave them together, and create something quite extraordinary.

moving past realism

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Many people say in argument for pessimism that it is “realistic.” Or in other words, “I’m not pessimistic. I’m just a realist.”

In one respect, I see where people are coming from when they say this. I’ve said it before myself. Perhaps they are trying to point out the fact that real life is not like a Disney movie, that simply, shit happens. Things don’t work out sometimes (or many times). There are moments when we will be sad, mad, upset, or lonely, no matter how hard we try to deny them.

BUT. To use this argument as an all-encompassing view of how one perceives every aspect of life is, I would argue, also not realistic. That only shit happens. If you believe that, then it is either confirmation bias, or self-fulfilling prophecy hard at work in you. What we believe, we make things come true for ourselves. Or we only remember events that confirm our views, and pay no heed to contradictory information. Research heavily backs these two viable options up. The truth of the matter is though, life holds both bad and good experiences. Not everything will match or meet our expectations. But there may be occasions when it will, if we actively seek them and let them happen.

I suppose the reason why I am waxing lyrical on this subject is because for the past few months, I have been in a pessimistic mode. It was not until recently I realized how much my so-called “realistic” view was limiting me in my perception, in my writing, in every way, really. As I was working on my novel, I found the same thought sneaking its way through, “This is so not realistic. None of this would really happen. My reality attests to this. Why am I writing this?” Little did I know how that contributed to my writer’s block and kept me from seeing beyond the wall of my experiences. One of the many, many wonderful things about writing is how it yields so much freedom for the writer, to imagine the most fantastical things, to go beyond reality into the infinite spaces of what could be. With that, you can re-imagine, create, discover, open your and your readers’ minds to new ideas and perspectives. You travel to new heights, ones you would never be able to in a confining, physical reality. There is, after all, more to life than your five senses.

I broke free from my writer’s block when I realized how I was constricting myself by not allowing myself to dream past my known experiences and reality. There is more to life than what I know. I should’ve known better. But it was a valuable lesson for me. Life is not just about disappointment, pain and hurt. Although those are there and so important, and certainly needing to be attended to, there is also so much good. And the possibility for good. Such as: through my suffering, I gain my strength and resilience. Instead of re-creating the same “woe is me” story, we should instead ask ourselves, what is the story I want to have? What is holding me back from creating it?

“Reality” only holds you back when you allow it to. With the pen in our hands, we are writing the story of our lives. We always have a choice. And we have the power to lead it elsewhere, if we so chose.