Feeling bad doesn’t make you “bad.”

Sometimes it can be really hard to separate “I feel bad” from “I am bad.” 

Our culture often has very specific feelings about people who struggle emotionally or behaviorally. 

Emotional pain is seen by some as a sign of weakness. 

Struggling to manage our behavior is seen by some as lack of character. 

Often there is a superficial acknowledgment that emotional or behavioral struggles are “not your fault,” and people are encouraged to seek help when they need help…but just under the surface, it’s hard for many people to shake their belief that peoples’ emotional pain or behavioral problems are largely self-inflicted. 

People are often told to “choose’ to be happier. 

People are often told to “choose” to be more productive. 

And if people struggle to be happy or productive, it’s often assumed that they’ve been somehow doing life “wrong.” 

These attitudes are sometimes even held by people who should very much know better. 

And very often these attitudes sink into our own head and heart— leaving us with the conviction that we, ourselves, are “bad” because we struggle to be happy and productive. 

You are not “weak” because your brain isn’t wired to hang on to states of focus or happiness. 

You don’t lack “character” if you struggle to manage your behavior. 

The truth is, emotional and behavioral problems are usually complex and multi determined. 

That is: there are a LOT of things that feed into our difficulty getting and staying happy, and our difficulty managing or changing behavior— and many of those things are out of our control or awareness. 

It’s true that, in therapy and recovery, we can learn how to make personal happiness and productivity more likely for us— and because we can do things to be happier and more effective, some people leap to the conclusion that the only reason we WEREN’T those things in the first place is because we were making poor choices. 

It’s just not that simple. 

Genetics plays a big role. Our early home environment and our relationships with our early caretakers play a big role. Our peer group growing up plays a big role. A LOT of that is out of our hands. 

You are not “bad” just because you feel bad. 

We are not defined by things that happen TO us. 

It’s really important, in the course of therapy and recovery, that we constantly remember that we are not how we feel. 

Many of us experience mental and behavioral symptoms that can be overwhelming at times. 

But we are more than our symptoms. 

We’re more than the diagnosis that DESCRIBES our symptoms. 

Our most important characteristics, as people, are things we freely choose— not things that are handed to us by our genetics or early environment, and not choices where we feel we don’t have true options. 

There are AMAZING people who have struggled with their feelings and behavior. 

Kind people. Smart people. People who have made profound, lasting contributions to the world. People who have made the lives of the people around them significantly better. 

Don’t get sucked into thinking that you are broken or “bad” because you feel bad. 

In addition to the fact that it’s not true, the observation simply isn’t very useful. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t explain anything. 

Recovery isn’t about becoming a “better person.” 

It’s about learning and strengthening certain skills, gathering certain tools, and accessing certain supports. 

You are a perfectly good person just as you are. You, there, reading this. 

Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. 

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Kids are not adults. Even “old souls.”

Lots of people reading this were told they were “old souls” when they were kids. 

They were told they didn’t ACT like children. They were so much more mature. 

For a lot of us, it made us feel special. After all, when we’re kids, we really WANT to be more grown up, don’t we? A lot of us do, anyway. 

When we’re kids, we’re often reinforced for acting like grown ups. For reining in our big reactions. For using big words. For attempting to interact with adults like we, ourselves, were adults. 

Sometimes the adults around us thought it was cute or endearing. 

But some of the adults around us kind of let themselves forget that, no matter how grown up we acted or seemed, we were still kids. 

Some adults used the fact that we did’t seem like kids as an invitation or an excuse to relate to us in ways that adults shouldn’t relate to kids. 

No matter how mature a child is, kids are not wired to relate to adults in ways that adults should only relate to other adults. 

Kids are not psychologically or physiologically wired to engage with adults romantically or sexually. 

Kids are not wired to replace adults in family constellations. 

Kids are not wired to take on the emotional or relational burdens that adults take on in relationships. 

Kids cannot consent to adult roles and responsibilities in relationships with adults— even if a precocious kid says they can or they want to. 

There is a subset of adults who don’t understand or agree with this. 

They truly think that if a kid seems okay with something, or if a kid is resilient enough to endure something, then what’s the problem? 

Because a kid is resilient, because a kid has seemed to “grow up fast,” because a kid seems so much more like an adult than other kids their age, does not mean they’re ready or capable to “be” an adult in relationships. 

You should not have been put in that position. 

And it’s not your fault that you were put in that position— even if you went out of your way to act like an adult. 

Adults are responsible for understanding that kids are not— and cannot be— adults.

Adults are responsible for seeing past what a mature-for-their-age kid looks like or how a kid with an “old soul” acts— and remembering that children are children. 

It was not on you to remind the adults around you that you were just a kid. 

It was on them to understand and remember it. 

If the adults around you did not respect the fact that you were a kid, it’s likely you were put in positions you never should have been put in. 

That’s not your fault. 

Now that we’re adults, we have to sort through the ways our childhoods were not respected— and I don’t mean the “magic” of an “ideal” childhood. 

I mean adults around us who understood what kids need and what kids can and cannot do. 

I mean adults who did not push you into adult situations or roles for their own reasons. 

I mean adults who cared about you not being put into situations that you were not psychologically or physically equipped to handle. 

This is not about treating children with kid gloves. 

This is about treating children like children. 

You shouldn’t have had to worry about the adults around you forgetting or not respecting the fact that you were a child. 

It’s not your fault. 

Really. 

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Navigating “those” family relationships.

It’s not a character weakness in you, that certain people are able to push your buttons. 

We all have people in our lives who can push our buttons. 

Not coincidentally, they’re often the same people who installed those buttons in the first place. 

When we have complicated or painful relationships with certain family members, interacting with them can very much push our buttons. 

It doesn’t take too much to do it, either. 

Sometimes we think we can interact with certain family members and be “okay,’ because it’s not supposed to be a particularly emotional or deep conversation. 

Then, we’re surprised to find that we want to cry, minutes into the conversation. 

It’s not so much that whatever you were talking about was all that emotional or difficult in itself. 

It’s that interacting with certain people triggers certain memories and certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and reacting from years past. 

It’s amazing how easy it is to slip back into some of those old patterns. 

If we’re going to interact with family members with whom we have a complicated or painful history (or a complicated or painful present relationship), we have to be realistic about what’s likely to happen for us emotionally. 

It’s likely we’re going to get triggered. 

It’s likely we’ll be pulled back into old patterns— either a little or a lot. 

If our history with that person involves trauma or abuse, it’s likely that dissociative defenses might kick in, making it hard to stay oriented to where, when, and who we are. 

If we’ve struggled to cope with the trauma stemming from a relationship over years, it’s possible that interacting with certain people might trigger urges to harm ourselves or engage in self-defeating behaviors. 

None of that is about “weakness.” 

It’s about hour our nervous system reacts when it gets exposed to relationships that it has identified (often correctly so!) as dangerous. 

That doesn’t mean we can NEVER talk to certain people again— though I do think we have to devote a lot of realistic thought to whether certain relationships are worth continuing or resurrecting. 

It does, however, mean that we have to take reasonable precautions. 

I’ve injured myself running. It doesn’t mean I don’t get to run anymore. It means I have to wear a knee brace. Maybe some cushioning insoles. It means I have to change my running form to compensate for my injuries and avoid new injuries. 

The most important thing we can do when we are interacting with triggering family members is pay attention. 

Pay attention to how we feel— both in our mind and in our body. 

Pay attention to the images that are passing across our mental movie screens. 

Pay attention to the urges that are showing up. 

Pay attention to how and where our body is getting tense. 

And, it’s really, really important we provide ourselves with SOME means of escape from the conversation or interaction— and that we give ourselves emphatic permission to TAKE that escape route if we need to. 

If we don’t give our nervous system a realistic escape route from a dangerous interaction, it will create its own escape route via dissociation— and we won’t be able to control that escape plan, even if it creates different kinds of danger for us. 

Overall, now that you’re not “weak.” You’re not “immature.” You’re normal, and you’re trying to cope with what most people experience as a very difficult, painful situation. 

Cut yourself some slack. 

Give yourself some options. 

And, whatever happens: be cool to yourself and have your own back. 

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You and your anxiety: a love story?

Sometimes our anxiety is so used to playing tug of war with us, it takes awhile to convince it that it can drop the rope. 

Our anxiety pesters us because it TRULY thinks it has important information for us. 

Important information about what, it’s never quite sure. But our anxiety’s pretty convinced of how important is the stuff it wants us to know. 

We often have anxiety because a part of us really, really thinks we have to be aware of something. 

That part of us is often trying to protect us— to keep us safe. 

The part of us that is constantly ratcheting up anxiety might truly think that if it calmed down and DIDN’T torture us with anxiety, we would let our guard down…and that would be bad. 

We might not be ready to defend ourselves. We might get hurt. 

One of the physiological consequences of anxiety is, we feel that we are CONSTANTLY in fight or flight mode. Very often anxiety spikes our physical reactivity such that we CONSTANTLY feel on edge. 

That part of us thinks we NEED to be on edge. 

That part of us thinks that if we AREN’T on edge, we’re going to be hurt or worse. 

It’s not enough to tell this part of us that we’re safe— that we’re not in danger right now. The part of us that governs our anxiety simply doesn’t believe us. 

In fact, if we respond to that part of us screaming “WE’RE IN DANGER” with “SHUT UP NO WE’RE NOT,” that part ISN’T likely to say, “Oh…you’re right, my bad.” 

Rather, that part is likely to ratchet up our anxiety even more. Because OBVIOUSLY we haven’t gotten the message. 

If we’re gonna lower our anxiety so we can function, we can’t be constantly getting in a tug of war with the part of us that thinks we NEED to be anxious in order to be safe. 

We have to learn to work WITH that part of ourselves, not against it. 

We have to learn to listen to that part of ourselves in such a way that it actually feels heard. 

We have to learn to think of that part of ourselves as an advisor— maybe an advisor that’s a little biased and a little overzealous, but whose heart is in the right place and who does, in fairness, sometimes have a point. 

If we want our anxiety to leave us alone enough to function, it has to trust us. 

It has to trust that we will not take its advice or priorities for granted. 

It has to trust that we are doing what we need to do to be as safe as possible out there in the world. 

It has to trust that it doesn’t need to dominate our thinking and physiology for us to pay attention to it. 

I know, I know. We often don’t feel we have time to do stuff like self-talk and internal communication. 

But the truth is, if we don’t communicate effectively with ourselves— especially that part of us that spikes our anxiety— it’s going to be far more hassle and pain in the long run than just doing the self talk and internal communication. 

We can talk to ourselves in a journal. We can talk to ourselves in meditation. Sometimes effective internal communication can even be found in expressive arts like painting. 

The important thing that we actually LISTEN. 

Our anxiety WILL pester us until we acknowledge it. 

And the thing is, it SHOULD— because its point of view is valid. Maybe a little exaggerated because of our past experiences, but the truth is, we SHOULD pay attention to how safe we are in the world. 

Listen to yourself. Communicate with yourself. Invite all the parts of yourself, of which you are aware, to sit down at the table with you. 

Even the parts that are kind of a pain in the ass sometimes. 

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Movie magic in your mind.

Visualization is not about magic. 

It’s not about imagining that the things we see in our mind, are going to appear in reality through the power of our thoughts. 

It seems a lot of people who are interested in serious coping skills, kind of discount visualization, because it has a reputation as being somewhat oversold as magical or mystical in various self-improvement traditions. 

There are absolutely traditions that believe, literally, that the things we see in our mind’s eye, take shape in the external world. That our thoughts literally, physically create our reality. 

I have no idea if that’s true or not. I know that the “science” cited by some people who teach this, who often invoke terms like “quantum physics” to back up their assertion, has been publicly questioned and debunked by people who would actually know. 

I also know that concepts such as the Law of Attraction have been HEAVILY marketed to people who are enthusiastic about self improvement, and visualization is often taught as one of the core techniques of “harnessing” the Law of Attraction. 

All of that is above my pay grade. I’m not a quantum physicist or a metaphysician. I can’t tell you if your thoughts literally create your reality. 

As a psychologist, though, I CAN tell you that what we see on the movie screen in our mind, ABSOLUTELY impacts our mood, our motivation, our self-confidence, and our behavior. 

From a psychological point of view, visualization is not about magic. It’s about attention and self-concept. 

Movies are made the way they’re made because the people who make movies want us to think about certain things, believe certain things, and feel a certain kind of way. 

Movies are made to manipulate our attention and our emotions. 

To do this, movies choose what we’re gonna see, how we’re gonna see it, how bright or dark the image is, how loud or quiet a scene is, which characters get screen time, which characters get sympathetic portrayals…and that’s to say nothing of the music that’s always playing in the background. 

Movies are really good at getting us to feel exactly what they want us to feel. 

The same processes that make movies so emotionally effective, happens in our head. All day. 

We’re telling stories to ourselves all day. We’re paying attention to certain characters. We’re looking at and remembering things from certain angles. 

And we’re very often choosing music to go along with our narratives. 

A well made movie can be inspirational— or horrifying, depending on the goal of the director. 

Very often we have let OTHER people direct the movies that play in our head. 

People who may or may not share our goals or values. 

The skill of visualization is just about becoming the director of the movies that play in our head. No more, no less— and no magic. 

We can influence how we remember certain events. 

We can influence how we expect future events to occur. 

We can turn the brightness up. We can turn the volume down. We can flip from black and white to technicolor. 

It takes attention and practice, and it’s often very helpful to have coaching. But we are NOT at the mercy of how our brain chooses to remember something, and we’re NOT at the mercy of our brain’s default interoperation of our narratives.

Many of us have been told that we are basically helpless to influence how we experience the world. Most of the time we’re told that by people who very much want us to think that we CAN’T influence what we think, what we feel, or how we function, so THEY can exert more influence over us. 

We are not helpless. 

We are not masters of the universe, either. 

We have exactly as much influence over the movies that play in our head as we do— and, as it turns out, with practice, the skill of visualization can be dramatically improved. 

That’s why reading books can be so essential in recovery. 

Books get the machinery of our imagination turning again. Books kick open the door to different ways of constructing our narratives. Books free us from the perspectives we grew up with and remind us that WE can direct the movies in our mind. 

Yes, visualization can be oversold— just like any potential skill. 

Don’t toss it out. Take it and use it for the straightforward emotional management skill it can be. 

And practice, practice, practice. 

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It’s head, body, AND gut, not head OR body OR gut.

Listen to your gut, listen to your body. They have things to tell us that our brain can’t quite put into words. 

But remember, too: your gut and your body are meant to work together WITH your head…and sometimes any of the three can be manipulated. 

One of the reasons it’s important to check in with all three is BECAUSE any of the three can be manipulated. 

Checking in with your gut, your body, and your head can alert you to when something’s wonky with one or more of the other two. 

There have been times my body has tried to BS me. I run marathons. My body has told me PLENTY of times that I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT RUN ANOTHER STEP, that my legs are GONIG TO FALL RIGHT OFF. 

But my body was wrong in those moments. Turned out I just needed to slow my pace, hydrate a little, breathe correctly, and what do you know: there were a LOT of miles left in my legs. 

There have been times my head has tried to BS me. Sometimes something will shift, even slightly, in a relationship, and my brain will FLOOD me with thoughts about how this person no longer likes me, how this person is now mad at me, how the relationship is now OVER. 

But my brain was wrong in those moments. When I checked in with the other person, it turns out they had something else on their mind, that didn’t involve me at all. 

There have been times my gut instincts have tried to BS me. Some nights my gut will tell me something’s just not quite right out there, and what I really need to do is take my substance of abuse, that’ll make me feel better, that’ll make the WORLD feel better. 

But my gut was wrong in those in those moments. Turns out my addiction had manipulated my gut into trying to pull me into relapse. What I actually needed in that moment was to  ignore my gut (which was, at the moment, SCREAMING that I ABSOLUTELY NEEDED TO USE in those moments)— and the urge to relapse passed. 

The point is NOT that we “can’t trust” our head, our body, or our gut instincts. 

The point is that none of these systems are meant to function on their own. 

We’re not supposed to make decisions JUST with our head, or with our gut, or by listening to our body. 

I HATE when I see people encouraging others to ignore their head and “listen to their gut.” I HATE when I see people encouraging others to block out their body’s signals and go with what they “know” is true. I HATE when I see people encouraging others to “think, don’t feel.” 

I want us listening to each of these systems— and using each of these systems to conceptualize and reality check the others. 

A LOT of recover is about tuning back into ourselves. 

Depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma— they have a way of isolating ourselves, from ourselves. 

If we get into the habit of listening to one part of ourselves, but ignoring other parts of ourselves, we’re reinforcing that isolation. 

We’re not gonna heal while denying and disowning important aspects of who we are. 

We’re not gonna integrate by throwing up walls between parts of ourselves, between intellect and instinct, between body and mind. 

All of you is in recovery: head, body, gut. 

They’ve all taken hits, and they’re all in need of healing. 

Part of coming back to ourselves means learning to tune in to our head, body, and gut— and also to recognize when those systems are more or less trustworthy. 

There’s ABSOLUTELY wisdom in every dimension of who we are. 

But we humans are integrative, multidimensional creatures. 

The more we remember that, the more effectively we heal, the better we feel, and the better we function. 

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Recovery has levels.

What we need to feel and function better is often a little more complicated— and sometimes even contradictory— than we’d prefer. 

I know I, at least, would prefer that my struggles all fit neatly within one or two categories, so I could choose the most straightforward plan of action to deal with them, and not have to worry about, you know, all these NUANCES. 

Alas, nuances exist. 

Most of us have challenges that exist on multiple levels— and we have to figure out how to address them on multiple levels. 

Taking myself as an example: one level on which I struggle is my attention difficulties. I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, inattentive subtype, and so one of the levels on which I have to center my recovery is the fact that I struggle to follow through on tasks, I struggle with planning and thinking ahead, I don’t instinctively manage time well, and I often struggle to prioritize things when they’re not sufficiently stimulating. 

All that, in itself, could be the focus of an entire treatment plan. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

I also have a history of having been abused. This fuels issues with self-esteem and self-image, as well as difficulties with trust, boundaries, and intimacy— not to mention strong impulses toward self-destructive behavior when those symptoms are particularly inflamed. 

Again— enough there to build an entire treatment plan around. BUT WAIT!

On top of those struggles, I struggle with depression, which is probably fed by my genes, my biochemistry, and my history. 

Oh, and on top of THAT, over the years I developed chaotic patterns of addiction behavior that seemed to overwhelm anything ELSE I happened to be struggling with or trying to manage at the time. 

An effective recovery plan for ME needs to address, in some way, all of those areas: attention, trauma, mood, addiction. 

While entwined in multiple ways, those are four distinct levels on which a recovery plan needs to touch— or else the neglected levels will likely undermine the levels that ARE addressed. 

Thing is: I’m not particularly unusual. 

MOST of us have some variant of the situation I’ve just described: For most of us, our challenges exist on multiple levels, and need multiple types of interventions. 

We can’t just decide we’re going to ignore a major chunk of what’s f*cking up our life, and hope for the best. 

We need to be realistic. Our problems are usually more complex than we want to admit. I know mine are. 

It can be intimidating. It can be disheartening. Who wants to admit that they have complicated problems? 

The good news is: by getting clear about the various levels on which we struggle, we can actually design a recovery plan that has a chance in hell of working for us. 

Our complex problems will exist on all the levels they exist, whether we acknowledge their complexity or not. 

The only question is whether we’re gonna give ourselves a fighting chance to actually solve ‘em, or whether we’re going to let them get bigger and hairier by refusing to acknowledge they exist. 

We actually don’t have anything to fear by acknowledging how complicated our problems are. 

After all, for as complicated as they are: we’re managing them, somehow, some way, right now. 

The ONLY thing acknowledging our problems— complete with all their contradictions and complexity— will do is help us get clearer on what we need. 

I know for YEARS I tried to solve my addiction problem— while not realizing that I wasn’t gonna touch it without addressing my attention problem. 

For YEARS I tried to solve my depression problem— without realizing that it had a lot to do with the abuse stuff I wasn’t interested in looking at. 

By actually looking at our stuff and identifying their various levels, we can finally, FINALLY start to craft a life plan that WORKS. 

And we don’t have to deal with the anxiety of knowing we’re shoving part of our struggle in the closet— where it’s probably doing nothing but getting bigger, more painful, and less manageable, the longer we leave it there in the dark. 

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Don’t get up in your head about what the “experts”say.

Something I love about working with the overwhelming majority of people I work with is, they’re incredibly motivated. 

They WANT to understand what’s happening in their nervous system. They WANT to know what the research says about the best way to change. 

A lot of the people I’ve worked with have gone out of their way to do deep dives into both the research literature and the popular literature, including media coverage, related to what they’re struggling with— depression, trauma, ADHD, addiction. 

That level of motivation is awesome. 

I strongly believe that we don’t really get good at something unless we kind of make it our hobby. 

There is kind of a downside to doing that, though. 

When you go out of your way to read as much as you can about what you’re struggling with, particularly stuff written by “experts” on the subject, it’s easy to get certain ideas in your head that may or may not be helpful— but may be hard to shake. 

The reality is, no matter how many books by “experts” you read, most of them haven’t met you. 

They don’t know your history, they don’t know your learning style, they don’t know the progression of what you’re struggling with. 

They may have helpful things to say based on their years of experience…but we need to remember that doesn’t make what they say gospel truth for you. 

Research on a condition is necessarily impacted by the culture in which that research occurs and the demographics of both the researchers and the research subjects. 

Research is also impacted by the theoretical biases of the research team. 

Researchers very often tend to publish findings that both confirm their own biases, as well as conform to the conventional wisdom in the field. 

Keep in mind that research that is considered valid and valuable is what they call “peer reviewed;” that is, to get published, it has to be vetted and critiqued by others in the field. 

While that’s good for making sure that research is rigorous and thoughtful, it also means that research that bucks what most people in the field thinks, often has a harder time getting published. 

All of which is to say: yes, do your own research. Yes, read up on what’s happening to you. Yes, read up on what professionals and experts think is helpful for people in your position. 

But don’t let it get into your head. You’re you. The only “you” who has ever existed. Even if people have struggled with similar experiences, they’re STILL not you. 

In the end, we all have to craft our own recovery program. 

We can, and I believe should, listen to people who know more than we do, who have faced similar issues, who maybe have some credentials, and who are a little more objective than we are in our own head. 

But there’s no denying that we are the architect of our own recovery. 

It has to work for us. 

Not for the hundreds of people that may have participated in a research study with an expert. 

We shouldn’t be getting so invested in what “experts” have to say that we’re getting triggered or enraged by sentences in books. 

We need to always be ready to pivot to a different perspective or approach if something isn’t working— even if it used to work for us. 

We need to remember that as we recover, we change, our needs change, and very frequently that means we need to change how we’re approaching recovery. 

Yup, it can be complicated, and kinda messy, and it forces us to back the hell off of our confidence that “KNOW” much of anything for sure. 

I think we have to approach recovery with curiosity, and respect— and, God forbid, maybe even a little humor. 

It’s a long road. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

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There’s this thing called “quality of life.”

The things that create a high quality of life for you, specifically, may or may not be the same things that anyone else needs to create a high quality of life for them. 

But: others will try hard to convince you that you NEED to do the same stuff THEY need to do, in order to create a high quality of life. 

It can mess with our heads. 

I’ll be the first to admit, my priorities may be al little different than other mental health care providers, in that I’m not into “health” or “wellness,” in the abstract, being the primary aim of mental health care. 

I want people to have a subjectively positive QUALITY OF LIFE, regardless of how that measures up to what the rest of the world thinks is “healthy.” 

It’s not necessarily that I think the world is WRONG about what constitutes “mental health.” 

The truth is, I think the mental health community does some things right, some things less right, and a lot of things…um…a whole lot less right when it comes to actual “health.” 

But the thing is, I don’t get to tell anybody else that MY version of “mental health” “SHOULD” be THEIRS. 

I don’t get to tell YOU that MY version of “mental health” should be YOURS. 

Which is good, because I don’t particularly care if you, or anyone, agrees with what I think is “mentally healthy.” 

I want you to like your life. 

I want you to want to live your life. 

I want you to feel good about who you are, what you do, the opportunities you have available. 

I want you to feel those good things without hurting other people. 

Beyond that, who the hell am I, or anyone else, to tell you what’s “healthy?” 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to others’ opinions. There are often people who care about us, whose opinions matter. I personally get a lot of value out of listening to others’ viewpoints about what is or isn’t “healthy.” 

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that we cannot live our lives obsessed with what OTHER people think is “healthy.” 

We can’t live our lives chasing what OTHER people consider the “perfect” relationship. 

We can’t live our lives working toward what OTHER people consider a “successful” career. 

There are things that substantively improve the quality of YOUR life, that make YOUR life worth living. Other people may or may not agree or even UNDERSTAND why we like the stuff we like, or why what motivates us motivates us. 

Doesn’t matter if they get it or not. They don’t have to live our lives. We do. 

Keep what others think and say in perspective. 

We can listen to them or not, take what they say seriously or not; but in the end, we have to remember that our life is about what WE want. Experiences and feelings WE value. Goals WE find meaningful. 

We all know people who are virtual SLAVES to the opinions of others. 

They truly think that, if they do everything right, maybe they can earn EVERYBODY’S approval— and maybe THIS will make them happy. 

Hey, I like it when people approve of me, too. Who doesn’t? 

But if we make that our standard for when we’re “allowed” to be happy, we’re surrendering a vital piece of power and autonomy. Don’t do it. 

You’re allowed to find value EXACTLY where you find it. 

You’re allowed to create a high quality of life in EXACTLY the ways that come natural to you. 

Yes, we have responsibilities to other people— but we also have responsibilities to ourselves. 

And that’s not selfish. That’s reality. 

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I didn’t tell.

When I was a kid, I didn’t tell anyone I was being sexually abused until years after it had happened— because I didn’t think it was a big deal. 

To hear “sexual abuse” described, you’d think it was this overtly traumatic, painful thing— and what I was experiencing did not feel traumatic or painful at the time. 

BECAUSE I didn’t feel like it was a huge deal, I figured that the abuse I was experiencing wasn’t the same thing as this apparently awful “sexual abuse”…so I kept my mouth shut. 

I didn’t want to make waves. 

My parents and the other kids already thought I was weird and an attention seeker, so I figured they would’t believe me, anyway. 

Besides, most of the attention I got, certainly from my peers at school, was negative— the times when I was being sexually abused were among the few times that i was being paid non-painful attention. Why would I want to give that up? 

Not to mention, if I told somebody, I assumed everybody would then look at me differently— specifically, that they’d look at me as someone who had been sexual with a man, and who hadn’t reacted with revulsion. I assumed this would be the first thing everybody would think about, when they thought of me…and I knew I didn’t want THAT. 

So I didn’t tell. Not for years. 

At school, they’d tell us that no adults should be sexual with kids, and no adults should ask us kids to keep secrets from other adults. Whenever they would lecture us about how bad sexual abuse was, I remembered feeling both guilty and alone— as if I had this dirty secret that, the longer I held on to it, the heavier and dirtier it got. 

It’s hard to separate out the factors that contributed to how unhappy I was as a kid. 

A certain amount of it was biology, certainly. There is depression and addiction on both sides of my family tree. 

A certain amount of it was the fact that I was a kid who was more intelligent than average, but who had undiagnosed ADHD— thus I was always struggling to follow through on academic tasks and “not living up to my potential,” and the prevailing hypothesis was that I was “lazy.” 

A certain amount of it was the negative feedback I was receiving daily from my environment. I didn’t get along well with my peers— and after awhile I developed social defenses that specifically made it difficult TO get along with my peers. 

And, along with those factors and others, was this secret I was carrying, about having been sexually abused by a grown man when I was a young kid. 

The reason I’m writing about this today is because sometimes I hear people blame themselves for not having been happier, or better adjusted as kids— for not having “tried harder” to fit in, for not asking for help, and specifically for not telling anyone they were being abused. 

When we’re kids and we’re going through a lot, we often literally don’t know what to do, where to go, who to tell.

It wasn’t your fault, any more than it was my fault. 

We were kids. We were overwhelmed, and unhappy, and had no idea what our options even were. 

Even if we COULD muster whatever we needed to muster to tell someone: would help have even been available to us? Maybe not. 

Yet, we often wind up blaming ourselves. Angry at ourselves. Down on ourselves. 

In my case, it only made sense to blame myself, because I was getting blamed for my “irresponsible” behavior anyway (much of which I now understand to have been heavily influenced by my difficulties with attention and emotional regulation). 

When we’re kids, we don’t know what we don’t know. 

Maybe the adults around us were doing their best, maybe they weren’t— but regardless, it wasn’t on us to know what to do and how to do it. 

Blaming the kid we once were for the pain we endured isn’t fair. 

If I’d known what to do to feel and function differently, I would have done so in a heartbeat. They may have called me “attention seeking,” but believe me: I did NOT want the kind of attention I was getting. 

As I write this, I’m aware of the sadness of the kid I once was. 

Easy does it, little guy. 

I’m here now. 

It wasn’t your fault. 

And you’re not gonna be left out there on your own ever again. 

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