Growing up I heard the phrase “God won’t send you anything you can’t handle!” I’ve heard similar cliches along that same line of thought even outside of a religious context. The idea is the same: We’re supposedly capable of handling anything that life throws at us, if we just try hard enough.
Sometimes life throws more at us than we can possibly handle.
It’s why we sometimes curl up in a little ball, unable to function because what life has thrown our way is more than we can rationally deal with.
It’s why some turn to substance abuse or self harm.
It’s why some end their own lives.
It’s why people die of disease or injury. Can you honestly tell me that someone who died suddenly of a fatal disease or a violent crime was able to handle what life threw at them? They may have fought valiantly, but in the end the disease or their assailant won.
Life isn’t fair. It doesn’t look at our emotional or physical strengths and dole out just enough to mess us up without actually destroying us. Watch any nature documentary and you’ll see how insensitive life truly is to what an individual wants or needs. It CAN destroy us. And you don’t have to be six feet under for life to have destroyed you.
I’m not going to tell you that you can get through anything if you simply try hard enough or think lots of positive thoughts. Sometimes it’s just not enough. But I am going to tell you that you should never stop trying. Why? Because the moment we stop trying is the moment we lose any chance of getting through it.
If there’s even the slightest hope of reaching the light at the end of whatever dark tunnel we’re trudging through, we must do what all life has evolved to do- try our best to survive.
Sometimes we can’t see a light anywhere. It’s just darkness and pain. In those moments we may need the help of those we trust to help us see that there is still hope, that life is still worth fighting for. Other times, there truly isn’t a reasonable hope. When someone is undeniably at death’s door, there comes a point where it’s better to cherish those last moments in peace instead of pointlessly fighting the inevitable. But until then, hope is not lost. Even if it’s more than you can handle, as long as you’re still alive your story still has room for happier chapters.
I’m only 27, but I’ve already been through more life insanity than many people twice my age. Those who follow my blog know about a small portion of it. Though I certainly can’t pretend to understand everyone else’s life struggles, I do know what it’s like to have to face the unfaceable and somehow get up and keep going anyways. I know how it feels to be knocked flat on my back over and over, barely being able to catch my breath before another blow comes to knock me down again. But despite all of it, life is still worth fighting for. I know that as long as I’m still breathing there is hope for better days, even if I can’t see it in that exact moment. I know this because I’ve had beautiful moments in life too. In between the chaos and horror, life has shown me beauty and love and happiness too. They’re easily forgotten in the midst of an unbearable event, but that doesn’t mean they never happened or that they can’t ever happen again. And those glimpses of happiness and beauty remind me that life isn’t all bad; it’s still worth fighting for.
I’m not suicidal. Please don’t worry about that. But recently someone in my local community took their own life, and I know many others are dealing with unbearable life circumstances. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone who can help you.
When well-meaning people say that “There is no comfort or hope without Jesus” or “You can’t get through loss without faith” when addressing people who may not share those beliefs, what’s essentially happening is that they are putting down other people’s beliefs and methods of dealing with grief in order to promote their own. It’s exactly what a salesman does- they belittle their competition so their own product is more enticing.
You may personally need Jesus for comfort and hope. But I do not. And that’s ok.
As an atheist, I don’t need prayer or faith to get through sadness and loss. I’ve lived in both belief systems, and I can tell you from extensive personal experience as an ex-Christian that neither offers a superior method of comfort. They’re just different, and some people may do better with one method over another. We all grieve and find solace in different ways; what works for you may not work for me and vice versa. I acknowledge this, and I don’t tell religious people that prayer is useless as a comfort method just because I personally find no solace in it. That would be incredibly rude and hurtful, and also untrue since prayer is a great comfort to many. It used to be for me too, after all. But lately I have heard so many well meaning people say or imply that their faith and their beliefs are the only way to get through difficult life circumstances. And given recent events, it’s been incredibly frustrating- especially since these exact things were said at the funeral. I sat there, listening to people blatantly say that their method of hope and comfort is the only one that works. No hope without Jesus. No comfort without their religion. Anyone who isn’t a Christian must have hopeless, meaningless lives and couldn’t possibly get through this grief. But it’s not remotely true.
Not gonna lie, hearing those words in that context was so hurtful that I felt like punching a wall or leaving the room. Having the loss of my loved one be so blatantly used to push someone else’s belief system on me in my time of grief was nearly unbearable. But I don’t like making scenes and the focus of the day was supposed to be about our loved one, so I held my peace. Afterwards I went to the bathroom where I bawled my eyes out in a toilet stall because one again my beliefs had been belittled and put down so others could promote their own- and right when I most needed support and to feel emotionally safe and accepted. Once again it was made very clear to me that some Christians will never see my beliefs as worthy of recognition and respect and validation; I will always be their project in need of fixing, the heathen in need of conversion. The only beliefs that mattered were Christian ones.
It would have been far easier if all the many people who have said these things had bad intentions. I could have just written them off as rude, but they were well-intentioned people just trying to help. They genuinely thought this was the best way to act. I’ve always tried my best to give people the benefit of the doubt; that hasn’t changed.
I’m bringing this up now because the people who say these things usually don’t realize how hurtful it is to those who don’t share their beliefs. If nobody ever makes them aware of it in a way that fosters respectful conversation, how can we ever mend bridges and learn to get along better? How will they ever learn to stop pushing away the very people that they’re trying to win over?
I’m also sharing this because if I say nothing, people will assume that I’m perfectly fine with them assuming that it’s ok to act this way towards me. I’m not. I am just to polite to make a scene in the moment.
I don’t hate anyone for saying these things, and I won’t hold a grudge, but I’m really (really!) not ok with it. I waited so I could express my feelings without allowing too much hurt to affect my ability to address this without lashing out.
There is nothing wrong with finding comfort or hope in prayer or a religion or in spirituality. It really doesn’t bother me when I see people pray for their own comfort or when they pray for others who want to be included in that, or if they give thanks for their food without expecting me to join in. That’s fine! Go for it! However, the superiority and exclusionary ideology that puts certain Christians’ beliefs and methods on a pedestal above everybody else’s does bother me- especially when I’m grieving and would like for my beliefs to ALSO be respected and acknowledged as valid and important, even if it’s just done by keeping things more neutral when in potentially mixed company. I don’t expect religious people to do atheist things to make me feel comfortable. I want to make that very clear. I don’t need others to participate in my personal traditions in order to feel respected and validated. Honestly I’d much rather try to make everybody feel welcome and accepted no matter what their beliefs are, and to focus on the life of the person who has passed, rather than focusing on ideologies and people’s personal beliefs which people are surely going to disagree on. It’s the exclusion and the implication that my beliefs are inferior and useless that makes me angry and hurt, not the fact that others believe in God and pray.
Please, hear me. Do not ever tell a non-believer that they have no hope or comfort just because they don’t believe like you. It’s pretty much the most hurtful thing you could possibly say to an atheist when they are grieving. Your good intentions may help us look past it, but they don’t make the words any less hurtful or exclusionary.
Are you a believer who is unsure how to act around non-believers in these situations? Feel free to ask here. I promise I won’t bite. I’ll just be happy that you care enough to try to learn how to interact with us better. :) Are you an atheist or someone of another belief system who has experienced similar things? Share them if you wish. Everyone must be respectful, however. I wrote this to try to build a better understanding between those who so often just do not understand each other, not to facilitate pointless arguments. We can share our frustrations and grievances in a reasonable manner. Anyone who resorts to name calling or attacks other people personally will be banned.
So this huge loss has taught me a lot of lessons about grief and how people respond to it (or how they should respond to it). I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who recently lost a close loved one suddenly to illness, but this can also apply to people who have recently experienced other traumatic losses and life changes as well.
Have realistic expectations.
The people most affected by the loss are going to be stressed and grieving even if you don’t personally see it outwardly. It may go on for a very long time, depending on the cause and extent of the grief. A few of the many potential symptoms of stress and grief are:
* Loss of appetite
* Sleep disruption
* Fatigue even after a full night’s sleep
* Mood swings that may be extreme at times
* Symptoms similar to depression
* Feeling overwhelmed by large groups of people or specific social situations
* Sensory overload, such as bright lights and loud noises causing distress
* Memory triggers that can result in waves of emotion at the drop of a hat
* Denial or avoidance of reality
* Shutting down emotions to protect themselves (this may come in waves)
* Virtually any emotion you can think of accelerated far above normal levels for that person
* Memory and focus problems that may affect work, school, conversations, social situations, and so on.
* Wanting to be alone (or the exact opposite)
* Orgasms may be difficult or impossible for some people
* Interest in sex may diminish, increase, or change drastically
* Risky or harmful behavior may occur
You may be able to recognize some of these symptoms outwardly, but others often hide very well. You may never see the full effects of their grief; they may look like they’re back to normal. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone who just suffered a traumatic loss is now fine just because they start doing many of the things they used to do. For many people their old routines and favorite activities feel safe even whether they’re actually enjoying them or not. Or those moments of enjoyment may be merely spacers between periods of depression and emotional chaos.
Other things to remember:
They’re probably very behind on responding to all the various types of messages they’ve received and they likely have many unusual demands on their attention, time, and energy. Don’t take it personally if it takes them a while to reply to your message or if they miss it in the chaos.
There are always some people who have no respect for their loss and the trauma it involves. They might be pushy, demanding, belittle or invalidate their suffering, blame the person for not handling things their way or in their time frame, or use the situation to push their opinions or religion onto the grieving person. And there are always people who are trying to tell them how they should grieve and who may even chide them for it. This causes even more stress.
There are often unexpected costs involved after someone’s death so they might be having financial difficulties. They might also be doing just fine so giving them money may not be necessary or desired. It’s often best to ask them what they actually need.
Their grief and stress symptoms may be causing difficulties at school, work, in social situations, etc.
Don’t tell people how to grieve.
We’re all different. Some of us need space, others need people there to comfort them. Some won’t show many signs of grief outwardly and it can be easy to erroneously assume that they’re back to their normal selves. Or maybe they haven’t been able to process the loss yet. It can take time for it to really sink in. Others may cry at the drop of a hat anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Others might not be able to eat or sleep, whether they cry outwardly or not. Some rely on prayer and religion for comfort, others don’t. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Offer advice and help if they’re open to it, but don’t imply that your way is the only way to effectively manage grief. It isn’t.
The Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are great information tools, but as the original author later clarified, it’s not a series of linear steps for people to try to follow. They’re simply common experiences that might occur for us at any time or in any order, or even several at once. While acceptance is the goal for many, acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re ok with the loss. It might mean that we’ve simply accepted that it happened and we have to live with it now. Pushing people through these stages because you think they ought to be in a different one is not helpful.
Let people grieve.
It’s normal. And it’s actually very important to go through the grieving process. It may sound weird to some, but experiencing all these awful things is better than holding it in or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’ll just cause more problems in the long run.
If their more extreme symptoms of grief and stress continue for long periods of time and start to cause health problems or other damaging results such as potential job loss, or if you have concerns about suicidal thoughts or self harm, then it’s ok to get worried and to step in. But until then, let them grieve and don’t make them feel like they’re abnormal for it.
Accept people are they are.
This is not the time to try to change people. Accept them as they are, not as you’d like them to be.
For others who have experienced a traumatic loss or have seen people they know go through it, are there things you’d add to this? And for those who have little or no experience with this, do you have questions about how to support people dealing with grief? Since everyone grieves so differently, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say or what to do. I’ve been on the other end too so I know that feeling.
Pansexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a potential aesthetic attraction, romantic love and/or sexual desire for anybody, including people who do not fit into the gender binary of male/female implied by bisexual attraction.
The more I meet amazing gender non-binary people and understand more about the gender spectrum (I knew almost nothing about non-binary genders a year ago), the more I realize how little gender affects who I like to be around and who I could potentially fall in love with. Until recently I identified as bisexual because that’s what I felt best described my attractions, but now I think pansexual is more accurate. It’s interesting seeing how my understanding of myself has deepened and changed over the years; for most of my life I thought I was straight, then I was very tentatively bi-curious, then last year I came out officially as bi. Now I’ve been out as bi for almost a year, and I’m realizing it’s no longer the best fitting label.
I love finding out new things about myself. But coming to terms with changing my label yet again took me a little while. When my beliefs officially changed a few years ago, so many major labels changed for me in a seemingly short period of time- Christian to atheist, conservative to mostly liberal (in American politics), Pro Life to Pro Choice, Pro-Traditional Marriage to Pro-LGBTQ rights… People were confused and angry and hurt because I wasn’t the same person to them anymore. Labels meant everything to many of them, and they saw me as having changed “sides” in a culture war instead of simply growing and maturing as an adult. And since I hadn’t felt comfortable confiding these emerging changes to most people because I knew they’d react negatively, all they saw was the end result and not the process.
I was accused of being easily changeable and flighty, even though I had put much thought and time into every one of those changes. I’m not actually easily changeable at all; I’m just open to changing things as my knowledge and experience show me better ways to think or act or identify. But I think that negative association with changing labels stuck with me, and the idea of making yet another change made me hesitant to acknowledge it.
Plus, I’ve gone through SO many changes these past few years I was like “Really?! Another one already? Seriously, this self-growth stuff is exhausting…”
But as with all these many other changes, my curiosity and desire to be the best and most authentic version of myself made it impossible for me to ignore my changing mindset for long. So I’m making it official- I’m pan, not bi. And I’m feeling good about it.
But man, now I have to once again update my bio on my blog and on fet and on Facebook and Pinterest and likely several others too… Meh I’ll get to them all eventually. lol
This is a blog I wrote about a week ago when I was dealing with some really hard stuff. I’m feeling much better now, and I’m ready to share it here in hope that it’ll help someone else. For those who aren’t used to my occasional expressive language, I tend to be blunt when I’m expressing my deeper feelings, so if you want to know what goes on in my head you’ll just have to take me as I am. :)
Failure. Sometimes we’re just not able to complete a task that we started due to circumstances that are unfortunately out of our control, and that’s ok. Failure means we tried, and we can always try again until we get it right. Most people who accomplish great things have far more failures under their belts than successes. If we reach for the stars and fall short, we’ve still reached higher than those who never try at all. I understand the wisdom in all of this, and I know that I’ll always continue trying. However…
Fuck all that.
Failing at something I worked so hard on feels shitty as hell. Even if I know I did my best and can try again, the fact still remains that I wasn’t able to complete a goal that I set for myself. And it hurts.
I’ve never been a quitter. I usually latch on and keep going until there’s no possible way I can move forward any further. But given the insanity of this past year, I’m being forced to acknowledge that my current mental and emotional state means that I can’t have my usual high expectations of myself.
What I’m failing at is school. I already failed Spanish class this week, and sitting in Music Theory today I realized there’s no way I’m going to pass that class either. I may be able to salvage my Critical Thinking class because it’s very easy and my teacher is so chill, but that’s about it.
Normally being in school wouldn’t be a huge deal. It would be stressful at times, but I’m well versed in pushing through stress. This year, though, my goals were way too lofty. I started out the semester trying to manage a full time course load on top of working part time, dealing with untreated ADD (and who knows what else), enduring massive amounts of situational stress, and so on. I was attempting to learn two complicated languages at the same time (Spanish and Music Theory). I also wasn’t taking the time I needed to recharge and care for my mental health.
Because of this, I was unable to absorb a lot of the material in my classes early in the semester, and I’m still having trouble with it. I feel like I’ve been absent for most of my classes even though my attendance has been excellent. I should have mastered basic Music Theory by now, but I feel like I’ve barely learned anything.
My goal in taking classes isn’t to get marks on a paper, although I do value getting good grades. It was to learn new skills and improve on old ones. If I didn’t learn what I needed to this semester, then even if I somehow passed the class I should really retake it so I build the skills I need. What good is a grade if I still can’t read music afterwards?
And yet, the thought of failing not only one class but most of a semester rips my heart out. I value intelligence and knowledge, and feeling like I’m unable to pursue that side of myself the way I want to right now makes me very upset. I know in my head that focusing on building myself back up will result in a far better school year next year, and that I started the semester with very unrealistic goals, but at the moment it’s hard to see anything but failure.
It frustrates me because nothing I’m learning is beyond my comprehension normally- but this year hasn’t exactly been normal.
I hate the thought of giving up on something that I’ve put so much effort into. I feel like I ought to be able to just push a little harder, just focus a bit more, set aside a little more energy. But apparently I’ve already been giving everything I have, and it’s not enough.
But this isn’t the end. One way or another, I’m not giving up. This semester is a setback and it’s going to take a while for me to work through these emotions, but I won’t let it stop me from reaching my goal of getting into the advanced music program next fall. There’s a slower paced music theory class next semester that my teacher recommended. I think it would be a great option, as long as I only take that and violin lessons so I’m not overloaded. I’ll retake Music Theory as many times as I need to, and I’ll set more realistic goals of what I can handle. I’ll be fairer to myself in setting aside time and resources for things that recharge me.
My mental picture of the life I want to create for myself keeps me going. I’m a damn good musician and vocalist, and I know I’m cut out to make music my career. I’ll make it happen… even if it requires taking every fucking class twice to get there.
I kinda want to frame some of these. I was compiling this list for myself this week while processing stuff related to my ADD and mental health, and thought I’d share them since I know many of you are dealing with similar things or know people who are. What quotes encourage you?
Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.
Survival can be summed up in three words – never give up. That’s the heart of it really. Just keep trying.
There isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with relationships. Having OCD is not an embarrassment anymore – for me. Just know that there is help and your life could be better if you go out and seek the help.
The problem with the stigma around mental health is really about the stories that we tell ourselves as a society. What is normal? That’s just a story that we tell ourselves.
We take our kids for physical vaccinations, dental exams, eye checkups. When do we think to take our – our son or daughter for a mental health checkup?
If mental illness could be seen on a sufferer maybe society wouldn’t say “just get over it.”
When we deny the story, it define us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.
Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Just some people are better at hiding it than others.
Masquerading as a normal person, day after day, is just exhausting.
The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: ‘me too’.
(YES!! This has been so huge for me, knowing that I’m not the only person who deals with this stuff.)
When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.
I am the same person I was before you found out I have a mental disorder.
Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. from the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.
Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots.
Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. -Albert Camus
Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others.
No one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time about people with mental illness.
I think the stigma attached to mental illness will disappear just like it did for cancer years ago.
I fight for my health every day in ways most people don’t understand. I’m not lazy. I’m a warrior.
I am not a victim. No matter what I have been through, I’m still here. I have a history of victory.
The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.
“Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.”
― Shannon L. Alder
“i think the idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. the idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying ‘i don’t want to deal with things today’ and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or another, unless we choose to bring a gun to school or ruin the morning announcements with a suicide.”
― David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson
I really liked this one in particular.
People assume you aren’t sick
unless they see the sickness on your skin
like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting.
My heart is a prison of Have you tried?s
Have you tried exercising? Have you tried eating better?
Have you tried not being sad, not being sick?
Have you tried being more like me?
Have you tried shutting up?
Yes, I have tried. Yes, I am still trying,
and yes, I am still sick.
Sometimes monsters are invisible, and
sometimes demons attack you from the inside.
Just because you cannot see the claws and the teeth
does not mean they aren’t ripping through me.
Pain does not need to be seen to be felt.
Telling me there is no problem
won’t solve the problem.
This is not how miracles are born.
This is not how sickness works.”
― Emm Roy, The First Step