You might wake up one day in agony at the life that is now yours, thinking to yourself: How did I get here? How did one or two or several bad decisions lead to this? Will I ever feel the way I once did?
Us humans, we take things for granted. Although we try our best to savour the good times, it only takes a perspective shift a year later for us to compare every risk we’ve taken, every mistake we’ve made, every person we should’ve parted ways with, every conversation that should’ve ended earlier. And it’s normal to feel this way. Sometimes our struggles amplify and we aren’t equipped to deal with them because they shake us to our core.
Adulthood comes with its own sets of challenges and the reality is they can break us. And there will be many times you’re laying on your bedroom floor staring into space in disbelief that you’re living this way. You might dissociate as a coping mechanism when everything gets overwhelming.
But this sequence of events is not permanent.
You will adapt; you will grow. You will learn to manage your new normal and you will become stronger because of it. When it feels like everything has come crashing down, it’s because something better is coming and you are being prepared for this next stage of your life.
Allow yourself patience, understanding, and grace. Sit with your suffering until the rebirth ensues, because it will. Once you’ve experienced the lowest of emotions, there emerges a resilience that cannot be bought—a force so powerful it will set the tone moving forward for all the challenges life will bring in the future.
You’ll need to trust this process, as difficult as that could be. Believe that better things are coming and that everything is falling apart so better things can come into your life—so situations, people, and places that are aligned with your values can find you.
How often do we spend copious amounts of time on completing a certain task, bonding in a friendship, loving in a relationship, or living in a certain place, and when it ends on a note that we would have preferred it not to, our immediate reaction and thought is, “What a mistake, that was a waste of time.”
All the time spent, with millions of good moments peppered with a few bad ones, is erased in a single outcome—an outcome that either we had pre-empted and didn’t want or an outcome that we hadn’t even thought of. And with this outcome, a perceived ending takes place.
How often do we look back at something being a waste of time because we believe it was a mistake? We take a single moment and write off a 10-year friendship or 15-year relationship or 20-year job because it ended in a way that caused us pain. We look back and only see the peppered bad moments and never the sprinkles of joys that surrounded them—the sprinkles that kept us going all that time for all those years.
When we only focus on the perceived ending or the outcome, we forget about all the learnings along the way. We learn so much about ourselves—the darkest sides of ourselves, the lightest sides of ourselves—and the same of others during these times, and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter because it turned out in a way we didn’t want.
And maybe this is where we go wrong. We forget that we cannot control the future, and even if we follow a certain criterion of steps, it brings us closer to the wanted outcome but cannot guarantee it. There are always external factors that cannot be taken into account because they are unknown; then there are the internal factors (the way we allow life experiences to change our thinking, how we process our emotions, or how we show our feelings).
We fool ourselves into thinking that the way we are now is the same way we will be in 10 years. But the only constant is change, and in as much as our essence doesn’t change, the superficial parts of us do change—the parts that we are meant to outgrow, learn from, or adapt. And we sum all this up to a waste of time and it all being a mistake because we didn’t anticipate a particular outcome.
What we lose sight of is that the steps done during the time, the living we do, or the choices we make during the journey is where all the important stuff happens. If I didn’t have toxic friendships or perceived waste of time relationships, I would have missed out on all the learnings. I wouldn’t have learned how patient I can be, how cold my being goes when facing a difficult decision, or how much love exists within me. I wouldn’t have learned that no matter how much we may want to believe it, some people’s behaviour will never change; some people will surprise you for the better, and others will teach you the biggest lessons you’ll learn.
We also lose sight of the fact that when something ends, it’s an opportunity for the beginning of something else; and if we took the time to reflect on our learnings, we’d be able to use it to make the next thing, regardless of what it is—a job, a relationship, a friendship, a hobby, only that much more memorable.
The decision always lies in our view, our point of reference, and the way we react, not just at that moment but all the moments after.
This moment seems impossible. You’re in the thick of your anxieties and don’t know where a solution will come from. Frankly, some days you don’t know how you’ll make it. This is your reminder that you’ve survived 100% of the moments you thought you’d never get through.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t hurting. This doesn’t mean that most days you can’t see the way forward. It simply means that you did exactly what you were supposed to do: Survive.
It doesn’t matter how messy it was. You survived beautifully. We don’t celebrate that enough. We’re told that survival mode isn’t enough, and yes, while we want to thrive, this also takes time and healing. Have you ever stepped back and said, “Wow, look at how far I’ve come”? And I don’t mean in a hurried, dismissive way, but in a way that wrenches your gut, drops you to your knees, and breaks down the pain? In a way that melts the resistance, and allows you to say with pride, “Yes, I did that.” You did exactly what you were supposed to: survive any means necessary.
Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with me?” know that everything is right. You were looking for connection. As humans, that’s what we’re supposed to do. You survived, and now it’s time to work through the process of untangling those survival pathways. Gently. Sometimes we get stuck along the way because we think that we’re not doing or being enough. We tell ourselves that we’re not making any progress. We get discouraged, but please remember that you can have feelings of despair and still be on the right path. You can change your thoughts. You can change moods. You can recover from any circumstance and take control of your life.
I know at times it feels like you’re not making any progress. I know at times you feel utterly alone, but please remember that you survived 100% of the moments you thought you’d never get through.
Those who have been on their healing journey for years now would tell you that they have tried it all: moving to a new city, seeking therapy, reading all the self-help books, getting over their own fears, taking risks, moving out, leaving that toxic relationship, quitting their jobs… and the list goes on. They would tell you that they have followed every rule in the book and added their own spin on it, but those who have truly conquered the healing journey will tell you that the most important rule is to keep fighting for yourself. That is the winning rule, everything else is just secondary.
You can change everything in your life and go to the best therapists, but there will be times when you will have to face your biggest fears alone. There will be times when you have to fight the toughest battles alone. There will be bad days when you don’t have anyone to call and you’ll only have yourself. There will be times when everyone in your life has done their job and it will be time to do yours because your main job begins, not when everything is going right, but when everything goes wrong and you’ve used up all the tools that could help you. Your main job begins when you’ve studied the whole book and now it’s time to take the test.
Healing doesn’t mean that everything in your life will magically start to go right, it means that you’ll have to learn how to fight for yourself when everything is going wrong. When you’ve tried so hard for something that fell apart. When you’ve invested so much time in something that didn’t work out. When you gave too much to someone who ended up using you. When you’ve trusted someone with all your heart and they thanked you by breaking every promise. These are the moments when everything you’ve tried so hard to heal from comes crashing down on you. These are the moments when you question everything you’ve worked on and believed in. These are the moments that have the power to paralyse you when you are so close to the finish line.
Healing doesn’t mean anything when you don’t practice it during hard times. It doesn’t mean anything when you don’t fight against the same things that broke you in the first place. It doesn’t mean anything when you don’t counteract all the triggers that evoke your self-destructive behaviors. It only counts when you are faced with the worst and you handle it differently this time around. When you choose to fight for yourself instead of giving up and going back to the person you used to be.
Because it’s easy to fight for yourself when you’re happy, when you’re winning, or when you’re being loved or praised for your success, but it’s hard when you’re beating yourself up or when you’ve messed up something good or when you’ve let yourself down, because trust me, nothing will heal you during these moments but yourself. No one will be able to stop your limiting beliefs or negative thoughts from permeating your mind except for you. No one will understand the magnitude of your worries or fears or pain like you do. So you can only heal by fighting for yourself over and over again, especially when it’s the hardest thing to do. You have to be the only one cheering yourself on, especially when you’re losing.
You may not carry that self-help book everywhere you go and you can’t always call your therapist anytime. You may not always have supportive friends or parents who can guide you, and this is why you have to learn how to fight for yourself so you can heal on your own, and if you do it right, your life will drastically change.
Sometimes you have to let go. Let go of expectations and dreams. Sometimes you have to let go of plans and hopes. Sometimes you have to let go of the things you thought you wanted. Sometimes you have to let go of people you wanted so bad to be around forever.
Why is that? Well, two reasons come to mind. The first reason is that sometimes you have to let things fall apart in order to let better things fall into place. Sometimes you have to let go of expectations so that something better can happen instead. They say everything happens for a reason. What if it’s all leading somewhere great? What if you have to get through the bad so that you can find the great? Maybe it’s all a plan. Maybe the universe has a plan for us.
And sometimes, unfortunately, we have to have our hearts shattered—and when I say shattered, I mean it. I mean so broken you can’t even breathe. Sometimes we have to fall on our knees under the weight of heartbreak in order to find someone who truly loves us. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why can’t I just have the good that I deserve? Why do I have to hurt? Why do I have to have my heart broken into 10,000 pieces? Well, there’s a concept called balance. We have to have some bad in order for good to happen. We have to understand that’s how the universe works. See, the universe has 12 Laws. We have to understand and follow those Laws. These laws exist to give us balance.
We have to understand that. Sometimes it’s hard, believe me. I know how difficult it can be. Sometimes I wish I could look into a crystal ball and see my future and plan accordingly. But unfortunately, I cannot. I have to live out the story that’s been written for me.
God has a bigger reward for your pain, but you don’t always see it immediately. Sometimes it could take a few months or a few years, but the way the dots eventually connect in your favour is the biggest proof that God has a bigger reward for your pain. As years go by, you even realize that the things that made you suffer at one point were blessings in disguise, and sometimes you realize that what was once a dream of yours is now becoming your reality because that’s how life works—you never know when your time will come and you never know how things will happen, but they’re all being orchestrated behind the scenes to eventually reward you with what you want or something way better.
Sometimes the reward may not even feel like a reward at first. It may feel like a burden or a chore, but time will always reveal to you how something you didn’t want at first could be the best thing that ever happened to you, and it will always reveal to you how God saved you from something that could have caused you even more pain. You won’t always have these answers immediately, but you will know exactly why you had to suffer when you see either the blessing it brought you or the lesson it taught you.
The moment you get over your pain is the moment you will thank God for putting you through it because of how it shaped you or how much stronger you had to be because of it. You will thank him that your heart was broken because that’s how you found your self-worth. You will thank him that he put you through so many tests and challenges because it made you unafraid of the future or the unknown. You will thank him for removing some people from your life because it taught you that losing people is not always a bad thing. You will thank him for all the lows that taught you how to be independent or self-sufficient or confident because these are the tools you needed to survive.
God has a bigger reward for your pain, and it can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, because God can also make miracles happen. He can change your life overnight. He can give you that big break you needed and he can always turn your pain into ultimate joy. If you’re too focused on timing and when it will happen, you may miss the lessons and the blessings in the journey. You may think that God is too late and your time is up, but in his plans, you’re just getting started.
If you have a mental illness or are in recovery, you’re likely not a stranger to unsolicited advice. I know it’s something I hear a lot, so I get how overwhelming and frustrating it is, which is why before I go any further, I want to ask you a question. Why is unsolicited advice unhelpful to someone with a mental illness or a person with substance abuse challenges?
Unsolicited advice is more for the person advising the person needing support for their mental health, according to Verywell Mind.
Unsolicited advice oversimplifies complex conditions like trauma, addiction, and a mental health diagnosis.
Unsolicited advice is patronizing, invalidating, and can be traumatic, making a person feel worse and ashamed of themselves.
As you can tell from the above points, unsolicited advice is more harmful than helpful. A big reason is unless a person has lived experiences with things like a mental health diagnosis or an education in psychology, understands trauma-informed care, or has experienced adverse childhood experiences. It isn’t easy to understand how complex these challenges and similar ones are. It takes years to understand mental illness, substance abuse, or anything related to psychology or mental health, for that matter.
I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t support a person; I’m trying to say you first need to learn how to support someone, and even though supporting a person can be tricky, it is possible. A great way to start is by keeping the following questions and tips in mind when supporting someone.
Why does a person’s language and beliefs around mental health and substance abuse matter when giving advice?
The average person doesn’t realize the complexities of living with a mental health condition or substance abuse issues. Otherwise, I hope they wouldn’t be telling people things like “Why can’t you just quit?” or “Go for a walk” and other helpful statements. Like my favourite one: “Isn’t everyone a little ADHD?” Those forms of advice and microaggressions are toxic and cause a person to feel things like shame and disempower a person.
When you speak like this, you’re telling a person who is likely already nervous and hesitant about doing things like taking medications or seeing a therapist and other forms of support that those options aren’t helpful. You’re also invalidating their experiences when you downplay or mock a person. I get how everyone has an opinion, but it’s time people realize opinions aren’t facts. Those stigmatized opinions negatively impact the person on the receiving end more than you realize.
Instead of focusing on unhelpful opinions and beliefs, my best advice is to try focusing on educating yourself with the help of peer-reviewed sources and asking questions to people like doctors, pharmacists and therapists, and other professionals. Otherwise, your inaccurate beliefs and opinions can stop or scare a person from receiving much-needed medical care, dramatically decreasing their quality of life.
How can you make a person feel validated and that you care about their issues, challenges, and diagnosis?
You can start by advocating for a person who wants to see a psychiatrist or takes medications instead of making them feel bad for seeking professional help. While telling them things like there’s no shame in taking medication or seeking professional help and respecting their boundaries around getting treatment, seeing a therapist, or going to a 12-step program.
You can also own your incorrect words, attitudes, and behaviours. Yup, that’s right—owning those things and learning healthier, more medically accurate beliefs. I know admitting you’re wrong isn’t fun, but it shows you care and respect that person enough to properly educate yourself and take a better approach to support them.
When you do things like this, you’re telling someone they matter, and as a person with mental health challenges, I can tell you this simple step can mean the world to someone. Another thing you can do is advocate for them to get treatment and positively talk about seeking professional help instead of saying things like it’s a weakness or makes you a burden.
That’s why it’s important to realize what we say and even what we post, share, and like on social media can send a message to someone that you think they matter. But unfortunately, it can also indirectly send a message that you don’t think mental health challenges are valid, making a person feel even worse causing them to suffer in silence instead of getting the help they deserve.
It’s time people started focusing on building others up instead of tearing them down before they don’t understand what certain people have been through in their life. Lastly, below are a few ways advocating for seeking help for mental health professionals is beneficial to someone from Healthline and my personal experiences.
Just because you’re a parent or friend doesn’t mean you know more than a mental health professional trained in CBT, ACT, medications and medication adherence, and other helpful interventions. Professionals also have in-depth education in diagnosing mental illness, trauma, and other healthcare resources.
Don’t shove their past challenges or mistakes in their face because doing so does nothing but shame a person and make them feel worse. Also, if a person is getting annoyed at you for disrespecting their boundaries around seeking help for their mental health, that doesn’t mean you’re a snowflake or overly sensitive. It means that you’re putting your message. It means that you’re interfering in something that you have no right to interfere with, plain and simple.
Seeing a mental health professional is great for empowering us to gain a healthy understanding of our emotions and reframing our inner dialogue.
Just because a celebrity, health guru, or influencer posts something about mental health doesn’t mean that that advice should be taken over the advice of a qualified mental health professional.
It’s better to be non-judgmental and compassionate and give us a safe place to share our thoughts, feelings, and struggles instead of judging us for those things.
The topic of mental health and its importance is becoming more and more pervasive these days, which is a much-needed development for humanity, even though we still have plenty of work to do around it. Along with the rise in ubiquity of mental health awareness has also come the carved out, specialized spaces that address intersectionality and the mental health needs of those whose identities incorporate several overlapping groups, i.e. lesbian women of color, trans men of color, etc. This development is also worth celebrating – people who have been historically marginalized and silenced are being seen and heard from in new ways now, allowing the people of those communities better access to the care, treatment, and healing they need. People outside of these groups are also given more opportunities to better understand these perspectives as the mental health work of these communities is shared.
But if you’re not already accustomed to the maintenance that nurturing positive mental health requires, you could miss out on completing the process in a healthy way – that is, to 1) take the pain of your trauma, 2) decode it, 3) write honest, healthy meanings around it, then 4) heal.
That last part is one I didn’t recognize I was keeping myself from until a licensed mental health practitioner I follow on social media announced that she was opening a healing program for her patients and those who enjoy her videos. I think that if positive mental health habits weren’t modeled to you when you were young, but instead were habits you started learning in adulthood, it can be easy to get caught up in the catharsis of finally feeling seen and heard. For some of us, it’s the first time in our lives we can actually make sense of why we’ve always felt or behaved in certain ways around specific topics or situations. It’s a relief to learn what the term “gaslighting” means and being able to comfort a younger version of yourself who you and everyone else assumed had just gone crazy. It can be fun to have that revenge conversation in your brain where you go, “See, Dad/Mom/Uncle Tim? You WERE wrong about that!” and revel in finally claiming victory over a decades old back and forth between you and them, even if it’s just an imaginary conversation. But that phase is no place to stop (drop) and open up shop. That place only leaves you spending energy on being angry, energy that is put to better use living the beautiful life you’re creating by learning to nurture your mental health.
If we imagine the brain functioning like a home, we can start to see the importance of confronting, dealing with, and moving on from obstacles and hurdles as the entirety of the process factors into an overall well-functioning structure. When the garbage can is full, we empty it. When dust and dirt start to build up, we sweep, mop, and polish it away. If the electricity stops working, we diagnose the problem and solve it, else we go without lights. Regardless of if you’re a carnivore or a vegan, if you don’t clean your fridge and freezer out regularly, mold will build up inside them. You will also need to routinely make room for your new groceries. Hopefully you’re seeing the picture I’m trying to paint with words and metaphor: cleanup and disposal is part of what keeps a home functional.
Refusing to move onto healing after you’ve done the work around identifying your trauma and being honest about it is a lot like calling a plumber to fix your toilet but keeping the toilet waste around in a bucket afterward. It’s like collecting the dust and dirt into a pile in the middle of the floor instead of disposing of it. Gross, right? Choosing not to heal is kind of gross, too. Because truthfully, once you’ve identified the source of your pain and chosen the new set of habits you will adopt to create a fresh start for yourself (which often includes setting boundaries), you don’t need to hold on to the ugly pieces any longer. Doing so opens you up to being further harmed by them. Remember my metaphor of the home? This is exactly why we don’t keep buckets of sewage sitting around in our homes – it’s a health hazard! Choosing not to heal from your pain is hazardous to your health, too. But the healing part is more than just doing the work – healing is a choice we make. Healing is an act of personal responsibility.
If you’re not convinced yet, consider the person you want to be. You are in competition with only yourself, so I hope that your ideal self is an actualized, authentic version of you and not a comparison to someone else. Assuming they are, I’d be willing to bet that the person you wanted to become when you embarked on your mental health journey was not an angry, bitter, easily triggered person. It was someone who could be relied on by their loved ones. It’s someone who is well-adjusted, who can handle life’s hiccups with composure. It’s someone who people enjoy being around.
You become that person when you heal, not when you stay angry or victimized.
Someone wise once told me, “You know you’ve healed when you have a scar.”
If you’re still picking at scabs, you have not yet healed.
Why is it that we were taught to make ourselves small for the sake of fitting in? I wonder why we grew up believing that commemorating our wins was boastful or that announcing good things was bragging.
I wish we weren’t told to keep our successes hidden to avoid being overbearing. And I wish we weren’t hushed the moment our accomplishments were heard out loud. Because how sad it is that you wanted to celebrate feeling fulfilled, only to be taken down by being told not to be full of yourself?
I remember getting an answer right and then instinctually making my body small so no one would notice where the answer came from. I remember trying to dim down my light anytime it got too bright. And I remember how when I found myself in adulthood, negotiating for what I was worth was so difficult because I had spent years trying to hide what made me worthy.
I remember how walking through offices felt like walking through the halls of high school—do good without attracting too much attention. Smile, but not too much. Laugh, but not too loud. Ask, but not too often. And so isn’t it ironic that we all grew up so desperate to be seen?
So, beginning now, I am turning my brightness all the way up, raising my hand for all to see, making noise, and celebrating every step of the way without being told to lower my voice. I want to make up for lost time and take up space for every time I didn’t. And I want to show others that it’s okay to do this without feeling yourself instantly get smaller.
And should I be lucky enough to have a daughter, I want to teach her that self-esteem isn’t self-conceit, that celebrating isn’t boasting, and that taking up room isn’t pretentious. I want to teach her that she owes it to the world to show her full potential.
Because wouldn’t it be nice to raise a new generation that grows up being seen? If we did that, imagine what changes we would see.
You are told that you’re an individual when in reality everything around you and inside you screams of other people’s expectations and desires.
The minute we are born, parents subconsciously attach their happiness to us. They pick up outfits for us since we’re too young to even know what to wear or how to socialize. They raise us and teach us to adapt to the society, norms and culture that surrounds us. We give in. That’s how it is.
We are born with genes that determine a lot about our physical and sometimes even behavioural characteristics. What’s so original about being born out of centuries of handed-down genes? It’s not like I’m one of a kind, mutated human like the X-men. Even being a mutant comes with a lot of pressure for societal conformity. So I’m rather comfortable being a human, but sometimes I start to wonder: Does that spark of individuality truly exist within all of us, or is everything just a manifestation and effect of things around us.
After all that conditioning, what is actually left of us? Are we truly as individualistic as we like to think we are?
Go to college. Get a degree. Look for a job. Find your soul mate. Get married.
These are all meaningful steps in our lives, but it’s frightening how much of other’s aspirations are invested in us. Our lives are already engineered in advance by society; we are already working our way to that degree or that entry-level job. That’s how life works. It isn’t necessarily a dreary and wearisome journey; in fact it could be rather enjoyable depending on circumstances and personal preferences.
Many of us are studying for degrees not because it’s what we truly want, but merely because there might be a slight chance that our resume will stand out more in the near future when we are hunting jobs. A good handful of us are pursuing a job or degree we don’t want, primarily because it puts food on the table or because our parents might experience that joyous moment when we graduate with a post-graduate degree. We are not as separate as we think we are, our goals and professions are at times attached to other people and their well-being, joy or expectations.
But you know what?
There are rare occasions where we have the ability to tune into our individual being and soul. Some find it through meditation, music or joy in pursuing a hobby no one else knows about.
Others find it in that tiny moment where you’re standing in a crowd of friends and a single thought in your mind knocks down every argument they have to present in the ongoing debate about politics, culture or the economy.
Children who are too young to be aware of morals and consequences stand stubborn as stone against their well-informed parents about something they believe in. That is individuality.
Being put in social conditions and realizing what you feel or think stands apart from any expectation, conditioning or external factor. Experiencing a short moment of self-realization where what you think or feel holds more value than any economic, social or moral standard is being an individual. These tiny moments build up inside us every single day and help morph us into the person we are today or will be tomorrow.
It’s these glimpses within ourselves that allow us to realize we are alone and have the ability to retain our own mind and soul despite everything that is around us.