Stigma…A Letter to Escaping Elegance…

@Escaping Elegance,

I wanted to make a ‘brief’ comment on your blog…but ended up typing so much that I didn’t dare…!  So I will put my comment to you about your last excellent post on my own blog… which turned out to be a long letter…inspired by you and your courage.

Here goes…

Ah, stigma. Throughout the course of my life, I have witnessed so many people out there who are caught up in ‘stigma’. They are so worried about what others might think about them that they end up spending a lot of precious time and energy making sure that their lives appear as though absolutely perfect, when in fact, things couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ve found that our society seems to have an ever-changing ‘template’ of what is viewed as being ‘acceptable’ and ‘perfect’ vs. what is not: from the restaurants at which we eat, the food and beverages we consume, events we attend, charities we support, clothing we wear, music to which we listen, being single vs. married, or being gay vs. straight.  And as trends change, those who hope to be seen as popular, perfect and trendy – change along with them: not necessarily always doing the things they actually ‘like’ to do, but working hard to act as though they like the things that are, what, at the time, society deems/pushes (through media and popular culture) as ‘cool’ ‘now’ and ‘in’… to order to create an outwardly believable pretence of ‘perfect’. 

For those who cannot (or will not) try to be something other than themselves, looking in at what we think are the fabulous lives of others can sometimes be a bit depressing and/or contribute to making a person feel ‘hopeless’ or ‘less than’. In particular, when this happens during the teenage years, it can often contribute to feelings of isolation, inadequacy and possibly depression and/or suicide. I’m not saying that this would be the only reason for depression and/or suicide/suicidal thoughts, but from what I’ve seen and heard, that, along with being bullied, it appears to be a relevant factor.

For years, I had what I felt was an ‘imperfect’ life. Or, at least, what I thought was imperfect.  I had been bullied as a child and continued on to foolishly compare my life to the lives of others around me… I always felt that somehow I didn’t quite measure up to everyone else.  I was never smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, talented enough…  And a very long time ago, I realy felt like I was the only person who ever felt that way – because everyone else was better than me anyway…!  But it wasn’t true.  As human beings, we all often do this – compare ourselves to others. However, eventually, I (inadvertently) found out that things are rarely what they seem to be…  And while I worked out my self-esteem issues many, many years ago,  I still compared my life to that of others way too much.

Here are a few of some of my more shocking revelations from just over the past couple of years:

~I have experienced people who I thought were financially wealthy – ‘talking the talk’ and having huge homes, cars, travelling, etc… who actually turned out to be hiding the fact that they were up to their eyeballs in debt.
~I have also experienced people, who, to everyone who knew them, had a ‘perfect life & marriage’: being seen as ‘such a nice person’…attending all the right events, supporting all the right charities, speaking out about all the right social injustices…so sweet to talk to and who goes on and on about their wonderful spouse and marriage… Only to discover that that person cheats on their spouse (in their own home) every chance possible with no remorse whatsoever…yet, publicly, appears ‘perfect’.
~And I have known others, still, who for years I thought were truly happy, however were actually working very hard to hide the fact that they lived every day in the depths of despair for a variety of reasons (ie. various forms of abuse, guilt, clinical depression or a childhood trauma).
~Not to mention finding out  that several women I thought were ‘naturally’ beautiful-looking turned out to be shot full of Restylane and Botox, terrified of looking ‘imperfect’! 

I cannot imagine how much stress that the need to be publicly perceived as ‘cool’ or ‘perfect’, would put someone under!   (Sorry, world, but that bar was always set a bit too high for me, I’m afraid, and I just don’t have that kind of energy!)  And oddly enough, I believe that the facade of perfection that most people live under is, in itself, a form of mental illness – however, is rarely deemed by society as such. Given that, and the amount of actual diagnosed mental illness in our world, it’s surprising to me (and sad, really) that there is actually a stigma still attached, when I believe that it is highly likely that more people in this world have some form of mental illness, over those who do not.

Personally, I have always been someone who has just ‘put it all out there’ and have done so because it’s my goal (and choice) to live, what I call an ‘authentic life’ – what you see is what you get and I tell it like it is.  However, in this world of ‘stigma’ and the pressure that so many put upon themselves to have their lives seen as ‘perfect’, my candor about my own life (the good, the bad and the ugly) hasn’t always been well-received…I’ve been seen ‘weird’, giving others way too much information about myself and my life, or sometimes unfortunately, as just fodder for gossip! But, at the end of the day, like me or not, I am who I am and refuse to stop being authentic.  Years and years of feeling inadequate to those I thought had better lives combined with being bullied and bearing the criticism of others,  has served to grow me a much thicker skin. And if my ‘laying it all out there’ about one of my experiences has ever, in even some small way helped even one person, like letting them know they are not alone in an experience, or made them think twice about the real consequences of their actions, to me, it’s worth it.

And, ironically, as I’m finishing writing about all this, my phone just rang. It was my mother, crying. She just received a phone call that the body of a sweet, quiet, elderly lady in her building was just found…she had commit suicide.  Upon meeting the lady, my mom had always felt that something was ‘wrong’ and worried about the lady constantly.  But being respectful of the privacy of others, my mother hadn’t approached her, just worried from afar.  And as one can now imagine, my mother is simply heartbroken.  She  is left wondering how she could have done things differently to have maybe changed this tragic outcome.  But as is usually the way, when something of this magnitude happens, as humans, we will tend to grieve all the things we should have done or should have said.  And it’s normal to feel that way.  It’s called compassion.

Escaping Elegance…I just want to let you know that I commend you for and am honored by your authenticity and willingness to share your life experiences with others.  It is giving and it is brave.  For that is how, in this life, we work to try and help each other and build community and strength. Sometimes, we can’t prevent bad things from happening (like suicide).  For in the end, we each live lives that are solely our own.  We can feel bad or sad, but we shouldn’t try to take on responsibility and guilt for other people’s choices – (unless we specifically did something to hurt someone).  I think that all we can ever really do is just try:  and that can be in whatever way (big or small, quiet or loud, groups or one-on-one) that we feel comfortable with and healthy about.  By opening ourselves up so authentically to others…and letting them know that they are not alone… there is always a chance that it could help someone…anyone.  And a chance, no matter how small, is still something.


How To Make A Beautiful Life

I was going through some papers the other day, and happened to find a birthday card that was given to me by my mother a couple of years ago. She gave it to me at a point in my life where everything was generally chaotic and completely upside down. I had more questions than answers, and I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I was working full time, attending university part time, mom to a pre-schooler and my husband had just died.

That one little card helped to give me a better sense of perspective on things. It was so beautiful and inspirational, that I thought I would share it on my blog – along with a bit thanks to my wonderful Mom for that particular card and for all she has always done, and continues to do for me…

How to Make a Beautiful Life: Reflections for a Daughter on Her Birthday…

Love yourself.
Make peace with who you are
and where you are
at this moment in time.

Listen to your heart.
If you can’t hear what it’s saying in this noisy world,
make time for yourself.
Enjoy your own company.
Let your mind wander among the stars.

Take chances.
Make mistakes.
Life can be messy
and confusing at times,
but it’s also full of surprises.
The next rock in your path
might be a stepping stone.

Be happy.
When you don’t have what you want,
want what you have.
Make do.
That’s a well-kept secret of contentment.

There aren’t any shortcuts to tomorrow.
You have to make your own way.
To know where you’re going
is only part of it.
You need to know where you’ve been, too.
And if you ever get lost, don’t worry.
The people who love you will find you.
Count on it.

Life isn’t days and years.
It’s what you do with time
and with all the goodness and grace
that’s inside you.
Make a beautiful life…
The kind of life you deserve.