Guess What: You Don't Have to "Embrace Your Struggle"

Yes, ideally I would love my whole self, 100%, but I can accept my anxiety (and her bitch-ass cousin depression) without fixing them a seat at the table and feeding them every day.
Publish date:
December 8, 2015
mental health, happiness, Personal Struggle

I tend to reject certain platitudes, like "leap and the net will appear." Do you know how many leaps of faith I've taken that have resulted in me snapping my metaphorical ankles and having to simply bandage them myself and hobble on to the next challenge?

I can’t even count the number of figurative nets I would be owed by the universe if I were keeping score, and the irony is that I happen to be a person of faith. My faith is tempered with reason and rationality, though, which is a necessity of my life that I don't think lessens it.

For example; faith, prayer, and hope for a better existence carried me through my difficult teen years with a single mother who would routinely go off of her psychiatric medication and beat the brakes off me. And it was Western medicine and psychiatric treatment for her, and secular therapy for me, that were most tangibly effective during her severe episodes.

I prayed for my mother to do better with this burden, the true horrors of which her own mind concealed from her. I prayed for help in the form of medical professionals consulted and social workers called. I prayed that I could protect my little brother and make it through.

And sometimes those prayers didn't work. Things got worse instead of better. Treatments and tactics had to be reevaluated and altered and sometimes they still didn't work.

Or did they? I'm alive and well today, and although I understand the sentiment behind sayings like "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "God [or the universe] doesn't give you more than you can handle," I have to push back against them because they excuse so much horrific shit as part of some ultimately noble struggle.

If you never got more than you could handle, you would never have the feeling of "I can't handle this." Let’s take a poll: everyone who has never said or felt "I can't handle this,” I want you to raise your hand.

I can't see you right now, but I'm guessing there aren't too many hands in the air.

The intended meaning of that banality is that even when we feel that we can’t handle all that’s on our plate at any given moment, deep down we can, via some wells of strength operating below our own consciousness level; I get it.

But if we’re all secretly so strong, why does the struggle hurt so much? What part of the divine plan is it to keep the thing we need in that very moment secret, even from ourselves? Why wouldn’t the magical force within us rise up, immediately alleviating the pain with a seamless transition and eradicate the feeling that we can’t handle what’s going on?

It’s just more struggle propaganda that posits weakness as sin and strife as glory, when really it’s OK to say you’ve reached a breaking point or that you need help. I’m dedicated to breaking down the stigma surrounding “admissions” of weakness that are actually strong declarations of personal truth and reality.

That stigma, the teaching that we should embrace every challenge and keep quiet with our complaints, often manifested in the avoidance of mental health treatment or medication because we're afraid that means something is wrong with us, is what keeps so many people (like my mother) from doing whatever is absolutely necessary to live their best life.

Tough love time: if you’re in crisis, maybe there is something "wrong" with you, and maybe that's OK. Maybe we’re each a glorious collection of “right” and “wrong” that makes us all perfectly imperfect in our own unique way. And if one of your “wrong” parts is currently demanding too much of the spotlight, or blocking all of the greatness in you, I think it’s OK to confront it head-on, no embrace in sight.

Speaking for myself, I have a flaw in brain chemistry that can make anxiety my first response to things when no one invited anxiety into the building. However, as far as Pia the person goes, a flaw in brain chemistry is not a flaw in character, and I am still a good person who is highly capable and worthy of love.

My point is that I don't choose to "embrace" my anxiety as some worthwhile struggle that I need to love. Yes, ideally I would love my whole self, 100%, but I can accept my anxiety (and her bitch-ass cousin depression) without fixing them a seat at the table and feeding them every day.

Instead, I side-eye those bitches as I actively work through them, which for me includes both prayer and action.

I think it's easier for secular folks to reject certain clichés, but even they are confronted with ideas like "no one wants to see your complaining on social media." I'm not endorsing full-tilt pity parties that might lead down a road of destructiveness or self-harm, but a complete moratorium on complaining is neither realistic nor helpful. If you interact with someone on social media who is non-stop negativity, you have every right to respond, mute, block, unfollow, etc.

You could also reach out more directly if you're actually concerned. And even though a constant barrage of complaints can seem overboard when read as words on a screen that are separated from the human behind them, that human has a right to go through it, and they matter.

Even the Bible has Lamentations, and I think that whether we subscribe to religious philosophies or not, more of us need the space to cry or wail or kick our struggles in the teeth and feel just fine about that.

My childhood would have been better without the abuse, and my adulthood would be better without anxiety and depression. Those are things that I believe, and it's OK for me to say them, and they’re not automatically to be heard as whiny iterations of "Woe is me, poor me."

It is precisely my unshakable belief that a great and beautiful life is possible and deserved that leads me to say "hang on, abuse is shitty and I didn't deserve that." It can be hard to process that clash between our hopes and our actuality, so we try to tuck it away as part of the almighty "struggle." Not I.

Of course we as humans are the sum total of our parts and our experiences, so many argue that loving myself means loving my anxiety, since it's a part of me, but for me, that simplistic transitive equation only keeps negative cycles in play. Some people who preach Radical Acceptance would fight me on that to the pain, but in my experience, efforts at radical acceptance in the realm of things that inhibit my best life have been more of a hamster wheel than a launching pad, or even just a stop along my journey.

For me, the more I give the pain power and gratitude, and thank it for making me who I am today, the more I invite it to stick around. How can I simultaneously reward something and want it out of my life?

I recently had something great happen. And my glorious, creative mind went into full Apocalypse mode, both my anxious wiring and past experiences acting in collusion to brainstorm ways that it could go wrong. Whole scenarios were concocted in my head and my chest got tight. I had to yoke that nasty anxiety up and say, "Obviously you're still here, but you're unwelcome, and I'm doing everything in my power to get you gone for good!"

Maybe it’ll never be gone for good, but I’m not grateful for my anxiety because we are not friends. My anxiety (and her bitch-ass cousin depression) don't have my best interests at heart, and they don't love me, so I'll be damned if I love them back or give them one iota of credit for my flyness.

I want a fantastic, struggle-free life, and I believe that is possible. I'm a strong survivor in spite of the struggle, not because of it. Some people would say those statements are synonymous, but to me, the difference is a healthy awareness that things would be better without the struggle in the first place.

You might think that "you have to go through the bad to appreciate the good," and while that statement is certainly valid as it applies to shifting and maintaining perspective, you don't actually have to. IF you do, it can HELP you appreciate the good, but there are plenty of people born into joyful situations and prosperity who appreciate it every moment of their lives.

We don't hear about them much because being happy and functional doesn't make for good headlines or entertainment, but it's true, and gratitude doesn't have to be sorrow that has been repurposed for survival.

It can simply be gratitude, because you can simply... be happy. I promise. Block, mute, unfriend and unfollow your sorrow. Report it as spam. That doesn't mean denial, that doesn't mean it won't be a long road toward eradication, or that full eradication is even possible. It means that you deserve joy. Full stop.

Embrace that.