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Dear Self, “Don’t Be Hard on Yourself”

2019 was cathartic. I may have reconnected with the person I was before I lost myself. I kept feeling a tug in my gut about the same while experiencing the various things I experienced. For the first part of the year, I was mindlessly happy and busy rekindling with my younger self. It did not necessarily seem so bad. I was, in fact, very grateful to be regaining my curiosities, innocence, and my ability to welcome happiness into my life.

The latter part of the year though, I suppose I was put to a brutal test by life or perhaps, by myself. I had learned several lessons outside the safety net of my beautiful home until the latter part of 2019, I did not apply them all and at once.

I feel today like I am finally free of everything that hindered me for years, from being a complete person and by myself at that.

Growing up, once every often, I experienced something peculiar; something I did not know how to express. No words seemed to help me describe what I was feeling. My parents insisted time and again that they were like my friends and that I could tell them anything I wanted to without being afraid.

How could I talk about something I did not know how to talk about?

As a late teenager, I moved out of my parent’s home. I experienced an increase in the episodes of experiencing that strange feeling that I occasionally felt as a child. I had cultivated a habit by then, of calling a friend every time I felt that way. He would pick my call and hear through my panic, my anxiety, my tears, my chaos, and he would do everything he could to calm me down.

I may have spilt my confusion around my parents as well, but I did not make enough sense to anyone at all; not even to myself. It seemed thus, alright and continues to be alright that nobody could understand me.

I got fortunate though.

I walked into all the definitions, diagnoses, and coping mechanisms I needed without really knowing I would be. Studying psychology for college began rather mildly. The introduction to psychology was intriguing, to start with. Still, I hadn’t realised that I would be walking into the intricacies of myself along the way.

I finally had words to express the many odd experiences I had been experiencing. Once every while, just like my body developed a fever; I became mentally unwell. I had been slipping into episodes of anxiety, panic attacks, and bouts of acute depression. I learned that there were healing mechanisms to being mentally unwell, just like there were, for being physically ill.

As a student, though, I was too busy being a student. I had to submit assignments, give my exams that had been repeating questions for years, and feeling a little lost about how one can apply the lessons learned. By the end of my course, among other things like a degree, I had become entirely aware of my specific susceptibilities of being mentally unwell. I was made of a particular personality. I was vulnerable to specific diagnoses.

I had confronted my mental landscape.

While it was refreshing to finally know what ticked me mentally, it was intimidating. I hadn’t known any of this for the first eighteen years of my life, not in my conscious at least. I had sensed these shades in myself under experience. Still, I had no idea what they meant until one sudden day, I had a psychological history of my mental spectrum.

Over the next few years, I worked very consciously towards being mentally well. I made multiple blunders and walked into so many mistakes. I often look back at my young adult years, almost as if I were reading a dark comedy. I should have known what I was doing right and wrong, but I did what I did anyway.

I suppose everything is more accessible said than done.

On the new year’s eve of 2019, I finally felt traces of being somewhat equipped with a customised set of emotional tools that could help me manoeuvre and manage my psyche.

One of the recurrent reasons I panic called my friend revolved around being afraid of happiness. I called him after being a part of good days that genuinely made me happy, and I cried without any reason to complain. I do not know if it was fear or a certain sense of feeling unworthy of happiness, but I simply called him out of the blue. While in the middle of something to cherish, I split into a nervous train wreck.

January 2019 though, I did not harass myself for welcoming happiness. I did freeze. I did falter. I did cry. I did not, though, break down.

When I did wake up feeling worried, anxious, and sweaty from a sleep full of nightmares. I did not curl into a ball, believing that my day ahead would pan out as darkly as my night did. I learned by then, to wake up from my nightmares to drink a jug of water, call somebody to talk to them, and to get on with my day at my own pace.

I learned to forgive myself for not giving my best to everything that I hoped to give my best on the days I felt mentally unwell. I learned to mark points of discretion between my abilities to do well and my inability to do as well as I could on the days I may be dealing with anxiety, panic, and depression.

I developed a relationship with myself.

I turned twenty-five that year, and I had no idea that I would feel love like a teenager. I wasn’t a teenager. I was happy to, of course. I did not realise that I would meet with all my emotional demons along the way of love, loss, and while applying all the cognitive tools to healing that I had put together for myself.

2019 was overwhelmingly cathartic and as hard as it was; I am currently amidst coming to terms with how much I may have needed to pass those tests of life to get to where I eventually did.

Almost as if everything were aligned to make it happen, I met this man who I eventually seemed to love like I was feeling love for the first time; like a young confused child. I hadn’t seen it coming. I hadn’t imagined that I had it in me to open my arms to a human presence in my thought and heart.

All my prior experiences with men, love, and relationships seemed to be removed of innocence that attachment comprises of. Every single person I pledged my affections to, I did so genuinely. Almost always, I hoped to discover more love. Each time I did, I made beautiful memories; each experience, just another experience. I realised eventually though that almost all of these men did not really meet me with affections and some of them, very consciously so.

In 2019, my faith in love had gotten more potent, but my faith in people, peers, and men around me had been wiped off. I did not think that relationships the way I perceived and hoped for them to be would come my way. I could and did wait for love. As a result, the way a little girl would without really pinning a timeframe to it.

I was only twenty-five, I told myself. Meanwhile, I read my books and worked hard. I was happily single and happy, not in love.

When Tom came over, and we spent an evening talking with each other, I slept well that night for having a good evening after a very long time. If you were to run into Tom right now, you would see him quietly doing whatever he is doing with a singular focus. His only other focus would be to ensure he did not hurt anyone in the process of doing whatever he is quietly doing.

He is one of those men who respect other human beings and unthinkingly so. He is simply a kind of human being. Tom isn’t a saint of course, and I am glad he isn’t, but he is one of those genuinely lovely people.

Here is what happens when someone like me meets a genuinely lovely person, or so I soon realised. Among other things, I fell slowly in love with him. However, far more radically, I began to realise that I wasn’t foolish to expect people to be beautiful.

Over the years, I met a lot of friendly people. Still, I hadn’t met a nice person intimately and within experiences of love. I invested my full into work and love more than I did with anything else. Therefore, I identified very strongly with the hard truths that people I thought I loved or loved taught me when they weren’t helpful to me.

Eventually, I began wondering if I was perhaps wrong to expect niceness in people. I asked if something was wrong with me, after all. Was I asking too much from the world and from people I love and interact with?

I reached a point where I normalised painful people experiences.

If not for Tom, I probably would have learned to stay away from negative people energies; I had managed to teach myself that much before I met Tom. However, I wouldn’t have learned to normalise niceness again as quickly as I did. I realised that good men do exist and I realised that I wasn’t abnormal to expect to be smiled at when I smiled at someone.

It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? I was twenty-five. None of this should have been as traumatic as it sounds. None of these should have been slow lessons. I did not grow up in a dark room full of demons. I couldn’t ask for a more understanding family because I am privileged with one. I have had great people around me; amazing mentors and friends who invested time, effort, and love in me even as I did not ask them to. I was doing reasonably well and pursuing all my childhood dreams without really having to hear abuses for doing so.

I was though, a human disaster simply because I met a few people with misguided intentions. They did not have to love me to be kind to me, and it took me one evening spun into a few more with Tom to recognise the pent up demons in me. I needed to meet Tom to realise that there were more people like me, struggling to make sense of why they were allowing simulations of loves to walk all over them. I realised that I had built my life with lies and fancifully called them experiences of love.

Tom’s existence knocked some sense into me. I regained my ability to be human.

We spent some quality time together, and before quality turned to quantity, we stepped out of the rather closed echo chamber, we had seamlessly slipped into unbeknownst to us. We seemed to reach out to each other. Still, as a team, we were perhaps overly accustomed to our little cocoon to be able to translate the same outside of each other’s company where reality wasn’t as seamless.

At least, I felt that way.

I had too authentic a time with him to be able to function outside of his company without underplaying everything else. I was perhaps too much in love and too soon. All of this exactly when I did not think I could trust myself to sustain anything beyond my individual journey.

As soon as I realised I was becoming attached to Tom, I told him. I did not expect him or me to do anything about it, but I believed that he deserved to make an informed choice about being around me. Love was harmless, and I thought we both knew that. We had mainly been vocal about not seeking anything long term at that point. Still, I was open to anywhere life took me eventually.

I don’t know if it was intuition or if it was my encounters with brokenness, I saw the end coming even before it did. I knew we had snapped. My reality overwhelmed me, and I suppose his reality overwhelmed me too. I imagine something similar happened to him. We drifted apart, and our conversations which seemed aligned until then did not look like home anymore. At one point, I could speak my mind, and he understood me even before I got to what I am implying. Suddenly, I began adding disclaimers since it seemed like I was being misinterpreted. I may have misread him too, at that point.

The truth is,

I don’t know what happened.

Life simply happened while I was busy trying to figure out what it was. I had no plan, but I worked desperately towards good, maybe some too desperately.

I tried to communicate. I was as honest as I could be. I did not mind disagreeing with him, hoping he would understand that we are human beings; we would have to agree to disagree.

I don’t get very rattled by goodbyes. I used to be extremely petrified about losing friends, people, and bonds, but time had taught me that sometimes, I need to let go so that I can do my thing peacefully. Goodbyes, though, when messy, can trigger an entire process of reverse engineering an ancient map of pain.

Tom finally did tell me he had been having conversations with himself that demanded him to address his reality. Tom is a quiet guy, and I always liked and continue to, his ability to hold his composure but, sometimes, silence can be lethal.

Every single post online that promoted mental health and values through labels of positive influence drove me to misconstrue his silence. I was being given placards to hold him responsible for my frustrations. I felt torn apart between my need to understand the nuances of Tom, which I believed was the right thing to do and my own spiral of seeking a proper goodbye.

What I felt about Tom did not bother me.

The fact that we had to remove our shared space while I still felt emotionally attached to him did not bother me.

I was, though, extremely miserable at not being able to do it right.

Being mentally well is like every wellness regime; one has to contribute to one’s own mental wellness every single day. A few customised choices that contribute to sustaining wellness have to be administered regularly. It is essential to be mindful about one’s own mental equilibrium.

When one can avoid hurt from being piled into the psyche, one should do so and especially so, when one is aware. I was sure that missing Tom would inspire in me, loneliness. In my isolation, I would be pushed to confront my demons; anxieties, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, insecurities, people from the past and the imprinting wounds they left me behind with, and self-doubt.

Tom was perhaps caught up in his journey, so much so that, he couldn’t accommodate my spiralling chaos. I should have reached out to someone else; someone who had the time, but I did not until much after. I needed to buy time.

One thing I did right though, I stayed with myself.

As someone who had poured into psychology textbooks hoping to one day helps someone, I ran into examples and cases of mental pain that I haven’t experienced. While it allowed me to understand what it means to be mentally unwell, I took some time to realise that my anxiety is a pain too. Strain couldn’t be compared.

I remember asking myself a few questions I am ashamed of admitting to. Was my pain, painful enough? Do I deserve to sit with myself and work towards healing? Are a few months of happy memories any logical reason to fall apart? Can Tom, a right person, be demonised wrongly since I am as weak as I am? Isn’t it, my fault for being as sensitive and self-righteous as I was being? What kind of a person who hopes to help others heal falls apart the way I was? Am I worth my degree and worse, am I worth anything at all if I am being as selfish as I am? Tom had, after all, given me the time and attention on good days and so, why am I complaining about being unheard by him?

Overnight, Tom chose not to render me with patience and niceness after having given me time and attention for a brief period. I knew he was kind enough to do so if he tried, but he chose not to. He did have legitimate reasons for doing so, and I know some of them. He needed to give himself patience and niceness.

One part of me was thrilled that he was focusing on his betterment. He had not done so for a while, and I had been witness to it. When he did take a stand for himself, I was elated.

What about me, though?

What Tom did and did not do was far less significant when compared to what I was doing to myself. I refused to take my pain seriously because I believed I wasn’t worth it.

The lessons I learned and the privilege of being equipped with tools to help myself would be redundant if I did not listen to myself; if I did not give myself the niceness, I was obsessed with.

I had to listen to my chaos and address myself with kindness.

I told Tom every single day, and I meant it,

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I parroted this mantra to him while I did not apply it to myself.

I suppose I saw myself in Tom, and my love for Tom was deeply rooted in identifying with him rather personally. He seemed to be very much like me. He invested all his effort into being helpful to people, but, he was critical of himself. He forgave friends for being sly, but he did not forgive himself for hurting another. He reminded me multiple times that speaking with me while I loved and hurt simultaneously made him feel guilty.

I took my time but eventually, I listened to myself.

One morning, I woke up to a terrifying nightmare. I was bawling like a baby, and one of my pets who lay cuddled by my neck stared at me with panic-stricken eyes.

For a brief period in between, I felt dirty. Tom’s stubborn silence and refusal to make peace made me feel terrible for opening up to him. I felt a mountain of loathing for myself for exposing myself as intimately as I did to him. I tried to scrub myself off of myself, so I would be unrecognisable. I wanted to shed who I was so I wouldn’t be the same person who let him into her private space.

I graduated to a phase where I became irrational numb and silent. Mistrust and misanthropy clouded my worldview. I refused to scuttle out of my shell. I refused to exercise my interpersonal relationships. I did not pick phone calls and did not respond to messages. I wanted to disappear.

All along, I wrote to myself on the days I could. I reminded myself that this was just a phase. I told myself that Tom isn’t the one to blame as much as my demons were. I sat myself down and pushed myself to cry, to act on my negative impulses in the confines of my house. I allowed myself to experience my pain.

While Tom was an extremely crucial influence who in fact, pushed me to be nice to myself by being nice to me, he did push my triggers negatively months after. He asked me why I was blowing up something insignificant into the size I was. We were both on the same page about not seeking more after all. He believed that I was grieving for a relationship to happen. He thought that I couldn’t love him and wish him well simultaneously if he did not stick around.

My pain though had nothing to do with a relationship.

Tom disbelieved me and misunderstood me. In all honesty, I understand him. He was perhaps guilty. He might have hoped that his silence would help me. He was, of course, healing and growing in his life and at his own pace; all of which may not have been easy.

Being disbelieved by him, Tom of all people struck me like a bolt of lightning. Nobody else had listened to my honest emotions the way he did until he did, and after doing so, he stopped. I did not know anyone who would listen to me. I blamed myself. I may have been the one at fault.

He asked me questions that made me question what I felt.

I suppose I had begun to help myself by then. I tried to understand myself, and when I did, nobody mattered to me but I. Understanding myself, being considerate of Tom’s reasons, and contextualising what had happened may have put me in months of chaos. Still, eventually, I found my solace in the same.

Believing that Tom did not intend to hurt me along with my attachment to the love I felt became my anchors. Social media posts and people opinions misguiding me to make Tom look bad just to ease my pain did not affect me. Shifting blame to Tom would have misguided me to overlook the hard truth that I did not listen to myself for the many years that I let people trample over my ability to help myself.

Tom may have made choices that hurt me, and he most definitely hurt me with inaccurate expression, but the real problem was how easily I brushed my emotions aside in problem situations. I learned to finally practice mental wellness upon myself.

Tom distanced me far more furiously as I informed him that I did continue to feel love for him. I hurt as a result, and my loneliness increased tenfold. I cut off of friendships and moved away from everything. I couldn’t always perform as well as I hoped to with my work. I struggled with anxieties and pain that seemed to have no reason whatsoever.

I desperately hoped he would understand me and hold my extended hand of making peace, but he did not. Nothing hurt me more since I felt both of our pain in his silence blowing out of proportion. I felt guilty for allowing distaste cloud his memory momentarily. I felt misunderstood, and I couldn’t participate in friendships anymore.

I cried, and I couldn’t stop.

I turned numb and couldn’t converse even with myself while at it.

I burst into occasional bouts of energy that did not last and stubbornly.

Eventually, though, I realised that my grief did not have to fit the blueprint of pain. I did not have to experience love like the textbook described love to further experience loss and grief.

I did not have to heal bitterly simply because I did not have the right words or the entire world validating my pain for me.

I realised that being mentally well is profoundly personal. I understood that I had to make room for discomforting pills so that I could eventually get better. I met with an old friend who was a mental health professional herself. I watched her head a start-up which promoted health as she simultaneously battled mental health in herself. I realised that healing and growth could coexist; a concept I always believed but wasn’t believed for.

Tom, peer groups and everyone who crossed paths with me seemed to think that a new intimate relationship would help me let go off of Tom but letting go of Tom had never been my problem. My problem was deep-rooted in rekindling with my values. I needed to operate from niceness, and I needed to do so for my own sanity.

I had to customise a module that could help me, and I had to remove every single misguiding conversation about how love, relationships, grief, pain, and healing worked conventionally.

About an entire year after Tom became a stranger in my world, I can finally speak today, with a healed voice. He is a fond memory that I attach immense value with. Over the year, I have finally learned to apply upon myself, all the antidotes to being mentally unwell. It began with giving myself time and paying attention to myself even as I may have been unconventional.

How does one decide what the right kind of pain is? How does one settle for you, or for me what the right trigger to pain maybe? How does one compare degrees of pain to eventually dismiss one of the two? We are as individuals, different under being human. We experience pain differently. We need to heal in the way that works best for us. We need to stop feeling guilty for helping ourselves and the ones we can.

Dear self, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Remind yourself the same. You know yourself, and as long as you can confront with brutal honesty, your own heart and mind; you will find within you, the problem and the solution. Reach out if and when you need help. It is okay if your pain and your process aren’t widespread.

Mental wellness isn’t a fad, and it is, very personal. No popular module can help until you customise one for yourself with the help of those who give you time and attention, including yourself.

Being mentally unwell cannot and should not be compared. It is natural to feel mentally ill, and there are multiple ways to help yourself if need be. Be with yourself!

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