I’d rather be interesting than happy

My friend M is one of the few people in my life who consistently challenges me to examine and articulate my thoughts, beliefs, and how I perceive the world around me. In fact, he inspires a lot of my blog posts and articles, which is one reason (among many others) that I am beyond blessed to have him in my life.

Recently, he asked me what I thought about life, which is a pretty loaded question. But in that conversation he said something that has since stuck with me. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “My goal in life isn’t to be happy. I just want to live. And whether that’s a good existence or a bad existence or a mixture of both, I don’t care. The only thing that matters to me is that I experienced as much as humanly possible in the one life I was given.”

He wasn’t saying he wouldn’t like to be happy. He just acknowledged that happiness doesn’t last forever because human emotions are temporary states of mind. Sadness, joy, grief, sorrow, envy, shame, doubt, disappointment, loneliness, petulance, wonderment, belonging, obsession, inspiration….

Whatever the emotion, we never fully settle into it. Because you know what? Life happens. So why, then, would our goal in life be to attain something that is essentially temporary?

M was the first person to introduce this idea to me and you guys, I love it. Truly, I do. It makes so much sense.

When I think about it, my goal in life isn’t to be happy either. I just want to be interesting.

I’m only 27, though, so really I’m not all that interesting yet. I have a lot of years left to live. But one thing I am confident in (and which maybe I didn’t realize until recently) is that I am persistent in my search for interesting.

When I got done with college and realized I didn’t know anything I started traveling the world so I could know more. I wanted to experience new people, places, and things. I wanted to understand how the world worked. I wanted to not be so freaking narrow-minded or wrapped up in my own small universe. And because of those desires, I’ve had a lot of interesting things happen to me.

I’ve seen the sunrise over Tikal. I was detained because I matched the description of a solo female terrorist traveling through Mexico. I bribed my way across the Guatemalan/Belize border. I sailed down the coast of Belize, camped on a deserted island, and saw (for probably the first and last time ever) the curvature of the earth in the night sky. I went boarding down a volcano. I met and became friends with Keith Colburn from Deadliest Catch. And, I have no doubt, there will be many more interesting things to come because I’m just getting started.

In recovery, you might think my goal is to be happy. I mean, that would make sense having lived in a perpetual state of depression for many years. But truthfully, happiness has never been my goal in recovery. I’ve just wanted to be healthy. To embrace what I was given with open arms and an open heart. To use my pain and experience for something good. To find meaning and purpose and commitment to something greater than myself. To see the grace in those impossible moments.

I have shared these tender, vulnerable moments with you and with the world through my writing. But I always wrote those pieces for me as a way to make sense of everything that has happened in my journey. My mental illness isn’t a burden. It’s a blessing. It makes my life interesting. It adds character and depth to my writing. It’s certainly inspired me. Out of that experience, I’ve had stories published. My pieces have prompted people to write me and thank me and say it has helped them in their own journey. I’ve also had people say they hate what I write and question it’s authenticity but you know what, that makes life interesting too.

Last weekend when my aunt was in town I took her to gallery night and the most interesting thing to come from that was my impromptu sign-up for a 7-week watercolor painting class. The only thing I was doing on Tuesday evenings was sitting on my couch and watching TV. Interesting wasn’t just going to happen to me; I had to make interesting happen. I have no idea how to paint. NO IDEA. But I think it would be kind of cool to learn. And learn I will!

I guess as I am getting older, I find the sort of people who only strive for happiness to be incredibly boring. And I mean no offense because I used to be one of those people. But really, can you not imagine a more remarkable, creative life than just happy?

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Filed under beliefs, friends, happiness, insight, life, self-introspection, values

Ireland and why you should throw away that guidebook

The guidebook – the all-encompassing bible for travel enthusiasts – is what has united travelers across the world in their search for adventure. Even though we travel to see new places and gain new experiences, we often find that our own experience mirrors many other travelers’ experiences.

This comes as no surprise with the plethora of guidebooks out there (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Rick Steves, to name a few), which means everyone ends up traveling the same roads, eating at the same restaurants, frequenting the same bars, and staying in the same hostels.

Our reliance on these guidebooks has contributed to a fundamental shift in the way we travel. Gone are the days where we fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of being open to the unexpected and the endless amount of possibilities at our fingertips, we’ve become what Hemingway calls “over-itinerized”, in which our main goal in travel is to mark off everything on the “Highlights” checklist. Thus, we spend our time running from one place to the next without fully experiencing the moment or our surroundings.

There is nothing more obvious than burying your nose in a guidebook and following the tourist trail to show that you are, in fact, a tourist. And, there is nothing I despise more than looking like a tourist (even if I am one).

So I’ve thrown away the checklist because when it comes to exploring new places, I’ve found that less is more. It’s far more interesting to get to know the history of the town and talk with the people who live there than it is to figure out the most popular bar to go to or the best party hostel to stay at. These are the things that are important to me and it has always made my experiences more enriching.

So, I encourage you to stop treating your guidebook like the bible. Instead, devote your time to the one or two things you find most interesting about the country you are traveling to. In France, I would spend my time in the Loire Valley sampling their world-famous Valençay and Crottin de Chevignol cheeses and pairing them with local wines. For my friend who has a love of art, he might be content to stay in Paris and casually explore the Louvre over a full week so he can explore all of its treasures.

In Italy, I would savor the best pizza and pasta and pastries in the country. I would ask the locals what their recommendations are and that is where I would go, not even caring as I watched my waist line grow. For my parents who are wine lovers, they’d spend their time in Tuscany in a perpetual state of tipsy-ness.

In Spain, I would learn the Flamenco and eat tapas, then take a siesta and eat more tapas. My adventurous friend would run with the bulls and another who is deeply religious would hike the El Camino Santiago from beginning to end.

In Ireland, I would revel in Irish music and eat Irish food and drink Guinness and sit by the sea and explore the Irish countryside. And, when I actually went there this past month, this is all I did. I spent hours in pubs listening to Irish jam sessions. I ate beef and Guinness stew and bangers and mash and seafood chowder and Irish soda bread. I stayed in a cottage by the sea and collected sea shells. I hiked 14 miles through the country side and climbed the Connemara Mountains where I got to see the formation of a rainbow from start to finish.

I missed a lot. In particular all the popular and famous tourist attractions that every other traveler I met was going to or had already been there. I missed the Blarney Stone, New Grange, Dingle, the Burren, Cork, the Wicklow Mountains – pretty much everything the guidebook said I should do. And you know what? I had the best trip ever. I may not be able to relate to many other people’s experiences of Ireland but I did experience a part of the country that many of them didn’t, which I think is pretty unique and cool.

My point here is that you should do what interests you. And, if you stumble upon something that is completely different from what you set out to find or do, be willing to change it up. Because when you finally throw away that guidebook and itinerary, you will undoubtedly have a more authentic and rich experience.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He's crazy and fun.

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He’s crazy and fun.

Captaining a fishing boat, "The Happy Hooker".

Captaining a fishing boat, “The Happy Hooker”.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

Galway Bay.

Galway Bay.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had "Worm Hole" spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had “Worm Hole” spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

Keith and I.

Keith and I.

 

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An open letter to my future husband about my mental illness

I just spent the last three days getting trained by NAMI to be a Family-to-Family teacher, which is a free education program for family members who have a loved one living with a mental illness. Out of the 17 people in my training group, I was the only one who both lived with a mental illness and had family members with a mental illness.

It was an intensely emotional experience but more than anything it opened my eyes to the struggles my family have gone through in dealing with my mental illness, particularly for my parents. I was incredibly humbled to listen to other families’ experience and I had so much compassion for them. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own emotions that I forget they are going through their own turmoil. Recognizing that prompted me to write letters to some of the people who have played key roles in my recovery and who were there every step of the way during my last depressive episode – my worst one yet. I won’t share those letters here because they are personal and private, but I did write one to my future husband (I hope you exist) and thought I would share it here.

Dear Future Husband,

At some point in our life together you will have to play the role of caregiver. When you find yourself in this role, my emotional well-being may overshadow your own. I am truly sorry for this. Promise me when this happens, you will take time out for yourself. Do not feel guilty or ashamed to ask for help from our family and friends. If you need help cooking meals or cleaning the house or watching the kids, they will be there. They support you. They support me. Go to the movies. Get a massage. Go to a therapist and say all the things you are bottling up inside without guilt. Hell, take a mini-vacation and go to the beach. I know that as exhausting as handling a mental illness is for me, it is equally exhausting for you. Take care of your mind, body, and soul.

I promise to always be truthful with you and to communicate my concerns, feelings, and anxieties. We both know at this point that sometimes I struggle with paranoia and feel I cannot trust you. I may even believe that what you are telling me is a lie. Do not take it personally. It is the darkness telling me that and I know, deep down, it is not true. It is a scary and difficult emotion to handle when you believe the person you deeply love is deceiving you. Reassure me that I can trust you. Tell me that you love me.

In the same regard, I promise to always listen to your concerns, feelings, and anxieties without judgment. Your feelings are valid and keeping our communication alive will create a safe space in our marriage for both of our voices to be heard.

When you witness one of my downward spirals, your first inclination will be to fix it for me. I know that because you would do anything to protect those you love. But honey, you cannot fix it for me. It is a brain disorder and it is something completely out of our control. There is no handbook on how to handle this but we are both handling it the best way we know how.

I imagine during those times you will also question if the darkness’s emergence is your fault. Maybe you feel guilty and question what you could have done differently to catch the signs earlier. Do not blame yourself and please don’t feel guilty. In all likelihood, I probably downplayed my feelings. Like you, I am a fierce protector and my first instinct is to shield you from any hurt and pain I may cause you.

I promise you I will make every effort to stay well and to take responsibility to get help when I am sick. I will take my medication religiously. I will see my therapist and exercise regularly. I will go to support groups. I will voluntarily go to the hospital if you, or I, feel like it is the best thing for me to get stable again. I will not fight you. I will do all this not just for you but for our children too because you are the most important people in my life.

I will take every chance I get to remind you that you are an incredible human being. I love your heart and your mind and your soul. I love that you accept me exactly as I am, even the things that drive you crazy. Like having to clean up after me because I am so messy or my over-obsessive tendencies or the fact I keep my enormous kayak in the living room.

If we ever reach that point where you find me slipping away, take comfort in knowing I will always come back to you. I am a fighter and my love for you is far stronger than the darkness.

Love,

Your future wife

 

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Inside the experience

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about mental health – my recovery process in particular. I think that is because my tendency towards perfectionism (be the perfect child, be the perfect friend, be the perfect employee) has meant I have also wanted to be perfect in my recovery. However, that is not the case.

Writing is a therapeutic tool for me and though what I am sharing in today’s post is a deeply vulnerable topic for me, I feel it is important to share. I know many of my followers and readers are people who struggle with similar mental health challenges and, like me, when you look to the online community for articles and stories to help you, they are few and far between. So I write this post not just for me, but for you too.


I recently got refitted for a bra and was politely informed my boobs had shrunk a full cup size. For a “barely B” you can imagine how horrified I was at the realization my body was reverting back to its preteen years. I mean seriously guys, MY BOOBS ARE SHRINKING. The same day, I reached my lowest weight of 114 lbs and though I didn’t make the connection at the time, it’s fairly obvious the shrinking boob epidemic is the result of losing weight.

More disturbingly, I failed to recognize that my weight was even an issue. The recommended weight for someone of my height is 120-155 lbs. From all outward appearances, I look normal and healthy even though the scale shows I am underweight. But if there is anything I’ve learned in working with my therapist over the last month on the whole ‘WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MY BODY’ thing, it’s that appearances can be deceiving, especially for people who struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders.

There were two frightening moments I encountered recently that made me pause and question my behavior and one revelation that prompted me to open up to my therapist about the extent of my disordered eating.

One of the frightening moments happened a few weeks ago when I weighed myself and saw the scale jump from 114 lbs to 117 lbs (the result of indulging in Irish food and Guinness). I had gained 3 lbs. You would have thought the world was ending. I was disgusted with myself and immediately put into action a plan to lose the weight, despite the fact I was still below the recommended weight range.

The second frightening moment happened just the other day when I got home from a three-hour workout and refused to eat because I had two cookies earlier in the day (it didn’t matter I had just burned 700 calories). My body was starving and screaming at me I NEED FOOD, I NEED FOOD yet I ignored those cries for nourishment and took a sleeping pill, hoping to sleep off the hunger.

At this moment, I knew my behavior and thinking was irrational. I was obsessively counting calories, restricting my diet, and over exercising. I kept telling myself to just stop it. Yet, I couldn’t. It was around that time I also began noticing that I was picking out my eyebrows more frequently – a habit I engage in when I feel anxious. It’s a disorder called trichotillomania, which leaves bald patches in my eyebrows. I’ve had it since I was about 14 years old and despite therapy it hasn’t ever gone away. With years of experience in dealing with the disorder, I know that when I engage in this behavior it’s a way of me dealing with stress. Having that understanding often makes me step back and look at why I’m anxious. And, this is where the big revelation occurred.

The source of my anxiety – and thus the eyebrow picking – was food.

It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. During the day, I count down the hours and minutes until the next “snack” because I can’t eat a minute sooner. Every night, I plan out my meals for the following day, record the calories, and determine how much I need to exercise to stay at just 900 calories a day. I take in 1200-1300 calories and burn between 500-700 calories. Any deviation from that plan immediately makes me anxious.

For example, on my coworker’s last day in the office we went to our favorite burger joint. I couldn’t not go so I made a deal with myself. I would order a cheeseburger but I would absolutely not eat the bun AND I would work out an extra 30 minutes on the elliptical that evening. To counteract the fries I would eat, I decided I would only have vegetables for dinner that way I could still remain within my daily caloric goal. The entire time I ate, I only thought of the calories I was putting into my mouth. I didn’t even savor the food. I stuck to my end of the deal, though, and my anxiety quickly subsided.

I described similar scenarios to my therapist (like the fact I skipped out on a happy hour last week because I knew I would drink a beer full of empty calories) and all I wanted to know is WHY the hell my mind was thinking this way. She drew me this:

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Food is my trigger. When I have to eat, my anxiety skyrockets. The eating disorder yells at me and says things like, “What are you doing!? You’re going to get fat if you eat that!” or, “That’s disgusting! Stop eating!” So, I make a deal with the eating disorder. If I eat this cookie, I will do XX amount of additional exercise. Or, if I eat this burger I won’t eat dinner. The eating disorder says OK and my anxiety plummets. Thus, “the deal” becomes a powerful reinforcer for the eating disorder to continue. It’s the coping mechanism for my anxiety.

I have not been diagnosed with an eating disorder. Partly because the primary diagnostic tool used is whether or not your period has gone away. I have an IUD, which means I don’t have my period at all. But I do have disordered eating, which is dangerous because it can easily lead into an eating disorder – whether that’s anorexia or bulimia. Not everyone who has disordered eating will develop an eating disorder, but everyone who has had an eating disorder started with disordered eating. This scares me and I do not want that to happen.

The most important thing to me right now is recognizing I need help and getting it before it gets out of control. I am going in for weekly metabolic screenings. I have scheduled more frequent therapy visits. I’m working with my psychiatrist to re-address my medications. We’ve made goals to incrementally decrease the amount of exercise I do and increase my calories to at least 1500 a day. I know it won’t be easy, especially since I’m already fighting it.

To the family and friends I have talked about this struggle with, it’s difficult to grasp. As they say, I’m the sanest person they know and when I feel that kind of anxiety, it doesn’t visibly show to them. They don’t know I need help because I hide it well. Though I may look healthy on the outside, my thinking and behavior to maintain that image is not.

Of course, there are deeper seated issues behind the behavior besides anxiety. As my therapist pointed out, the emotional and mental abuse I went through in the last four years by the hands of someone else seems to have been replaced with emotional and mental abuse at my own hands. I have a lot to work through still. Thus is the wild ride of recovery for me.

 

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Filed under anxiety, depression, eating disorder, Food, health, mental health, mental illness, pefectionism, recovery, therapy, vulnerability

Mutual respect or shared values?

I just spent a week and a half in Ireland (I promise a post is forthcoming) and it reminded me that what I love most about traveling is the people I meet along the way and the conversations we have. One conversation in particular has stuck with me since returning home, when on a bus traveling north to the Antrim Coast I sat next to a 24 year-old Romanian. We talked about family, why we were traveling, how hilarious it was to watch Trump in the GOP debates, and inevitably our conversations turned to relationships (just like they always do no matter where you go).

What I particularly loved about this part of our conversation is that his questions were thought provoking. Usually I just get the “Do you have a boyfriend?” to which I respond “No” followed by “Well, why not?” and “How old are you again?” I remind them I am 27 and they balk “Better get a move on it, honey.” I hate these conversations. So, much to my chagrin, I was relieved when he asked me, “Which is more important – mutual respect for your partner or having shared values?”

To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him what his definition of mutual respect and values were. They matched my own; mutual respect being that we appreciate how our values, beliefs, and the way we live our lives may differ from someone we care about and want to be with. We don’t try to change our partners because we love them perfectly as they are no matter how different they may be from us.

Values, on the other hand, are the fundamental beliefs we hold about life and the world. They guide the choices we make in our life, from what we do in our free time to the career we choose to the religion we practice (or choose not to practice) to sex and everything in between.

So which is more important to me? Well, I suppose if I had to choose one or the other it would be shared values. Why? The simple answer is because shared values can coexist with mutual respect while mutual respect will unlikely lead to shared values.

We form our beliefs at a young age and they rarely change over time. Or, if they do, they don’t change all that much. That isn’t to say there can’t be differences in interests or the way we perceive the world, but at the end of the day, if you and your partner don’t share similar values it’s unlikely the relationship will be successful in the long-term.

When I reflect on my past relationships I see how differences in our core values were often the root cause of some of the ongoing frustrations I had with my significant other. I respected and appreciated our differences because it meant we were both being authentic to our wants, desires, and expectations in life and the world. However, in my experiences, the core values which guided those differences were so disparaging it was a constant struggle to find common ground.

Take my last relationship, for instance. Something just didn’t feel ‘right’ in my gut. It was an inner feeling I had almost from the beginning of our nearly 4 year relationship, yet I went along with it anyways. We had similar interests, of course, but I observed over time the fundamental differences in our values. For example, because he had two children, I was able to see how he parented and though he was an exceptional Dad, I often disagreed with his choices. Not to say he was wrong in how he chose to raise his kids, just that it was different from how I would raise mine, which surely would be a point of contention if we were to get married and have kids of our own.

When it came to religion, he was a devout Catholic. His relationship with God was a priority in his life and though I also grew up Catholic and frequently attended church with him, I knew my relationship with Him would never quite measure up to his own. Moreover, I didn’t want to send my kids to Catholic school and that, absolutely, was where his kids would go, no question.

When it came to our careers, I worked to live. He lived to work. It was an ongoing argument between the two of us because I wanted to spend quality time together and for our relationship to be a priority in his life. Of course, there were more differences than just those I listed here (like the fact I’m a Libertarian and he is extremely Conservative), but the point is that because of the fundamental differences in our values, I was always uncomfortable and unhappy.

When I was recently asked what the longest amount of time I spent in a depressive episode was, I thought back to this period of my life and, sadly, I believe it was the 4 years I spent with him. In hindsight, I see how I tried to change my values to align with his and along the way I lost who I was. This is the stage I am at in life right now. Wondering how much of who I am is because of him and how much is authentically me. The silver lining is that I gained a deeper understanding of myself, although that didn’t necessarily happen until after the break up.

I certainly don’t believe my values have to perfectly align with my partner’s. I just believe that the most important ones should. The longevity of a relationship is tested during those big life-altering decisions we have to make and if compatibility doesn’t extend beyond shared interests, mutual respect, and passion, we will never be in tune with one another.

I’m curious what other people think. Do you agree? Disagree?

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The absurdity of friends with benefits

B is a good friend and co-worker of mine. We walk every day during our work breaks and more often than not we spend our 15 minutes making obscene jokes and coming up with absurd “life is like” metaphors. For example, “Life is like a bump in the road. Everything is going fine and then BAM! And you’re freaking the fuck out, but really it’s nothing.” On a rare occasion, though, we actually have insightful and thought-provoking conversations and today was one of those days when I read an article about how awesome friends with benefits relationships are and it pissed me the fuck off. So thank you, B, for listening to my rant this morning and for challenging me to examine my own beliefs about the subject. Here it is, folks.

Friends with benefits – aka FWB – is not black and white. It occupies a gray area that extends beyond casual sex, yet lacks the explicit commitment of monogamy in a long-term, serious relationship.

A common misconception about FWB relationships is that it is usually with someone you barely know. In reality, though, the likelihood that this person is someone we know fairly well and with whom we share some level of emotional intimacy is high. It is not impossible to find success in a FWB relationship but it does require a separation between love and sex, which for many of us can be hard to sustain.

I don’t know what it is about us as a species that sharing our bodies with another person evokes a sense of ownership over them but undoubtedly most of us will experience a sense of jealousy when we see our FWB flirting and talking with other people or if we see someone else pursuing them. Yet, we also don’t feel like we have the “right” to be jealous given the sense of casualness and detachment a FWB relationship implies.

When we fully realize the other person isn’t bothered by us being with someone else and in fact may even encourage it, we can’t help but feel like they don’t care. Though s/he may try to convince you it doesn’t change the way they feel towards you or that you share something special together, their lackadaisical attitude makes us question if we are just a muse – a “placeholder” until something better comes along.

What is even more aggravating is the set of rules we must abide by. Do not fall in love. Do not introduce them to your friends or family. Be sure to go out with other people. Do not get jealous. Do not cuddle.

This is the absurdity of friends with benefits. We are human beings. We are not devoid of emotional attachments. Part of our attraction to someone is not just their appearance but their brains and their heart and their soul. They hold some sort of significance in our lives. It is foolish to think otherwise.

We can argue that any amount of genuine feelings for another human being is worth any future pain and disappointment we may feel but the only thing I see at the end of a friends with benefits relationship is hurt and the fact that I would inevitably resent and possibly even hate the other person.

Plus, that sort of arrangement – when one person starts to develop deeper feelings for the other – only serves to fuel our sense of inadequacy. What is it about me that makes me not good enough? Why doesn’t the person I am falling for find it worthy of their time to actually be with me? Am I that unlovable?

You are good enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. But if there is one absolute when it comes to relationships, it’s that no one will ever love you because you demand it. It must be given of their own free will.

We can justify sacrificing our desire for something more for the fun we are having now, but ask yourself if that fun is worth the emotional fallout in the end. If you have been in a friends with benefits relationship and found it unfulfilling after a certain period of time, did you not know in your gut that continuing that arrangement was the wrong thing to do?

I’ve asked myself if it is possible for the friendship to still be in tact even after the “benefits” are over. Depending on who you ask, some may say yes and others will say it is unrealistic. I don’t think either answer is wrong and I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. But I do know that we all deserve love and if the person you are falling for tells you they cannot – or do not want to – offer you what you ultimately desire, believe them. But do not fault them for that either.

From personal experience, I know it is difficult to change the circumstances of a friends with benefits relationship in order to preserve the actual friendship but be brave enough to do it anyways. In the end, really good friends who have sex – while it sounds ideal – is a lonely place to be.

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Too damaged to love?

It is difficult to look at someone who seemingly has it all on the outside and imagine they are damaged and broken on the inside. These are the people who expertly hide their realities; the ones who quietly suffer from life experiences of abandonment and disappointment from the most important relationships in their lives.

I find myself seeking these people out. I suppose it is because I find an odd beauty in something that seems so wrecked. Perhaps that is because I see a mirror image of myself in them.

I know that I am screwed up and that I am damaged and broken from past relationships. Someone shattered my heart to pieces. My spirit was destroyed. There was a fundamental shift in my soul. After that experience I never thought I could open my heart to another. I was perfectly content to walk this earth alone. So when I met someone I found myself sharing a deep connection with it completely caught me off guard.

Sometimes, the emotions are so intense I feel the internal struggle of wanting to build an impenetrable wall and surrendering myself to genuine love. It is difficult to ask myself to be open to the possibility of loving someone again. It is even more difficult to ask another individual who is equally (or perhaps more so) damaged and broken to let themselves love me.

When we reach that point in a relationship, there are a myriad of thoughts running through our minds. If I couldn’t make it with the last person I dated, then who can I make it with? Am I the right person for them? Am I the right person for anyone? I know I will never be able to give them what they want and I never want to be the cause of hurt or disappointment in their lives.

It is unfortunate that we let our past experiences dictate the value we believe we can bring to a relationship. We do not desire to hurt someone else or disappoint them but that is an impossible expectation. No matter how hard we try to be the perfect version of ourselves we are bound to disappoint. Will we fail in our attempts at love? It’s possible, sure. Even likely. But if you continue to doubt your ability to be in a successful relationship and to give it your best effort you will never succeed.

I believe people come in and out of our lives at the right times. Whether it is to teach us something about ourselves or for us to help them heal. We cannot predict how it will turn out in the end. I know for me, though, that the relationship I am building now is exactly what I need at this moment in time, even if it is just to show me that I am capable of loving again.

The lesson I have learned in all this is that we are all damaged. There is not a human on this earth who has not hurt or has not felt pain. We don’t hurt in the same way, of course. I look at myself and the people I have met in my life. Some of the traumas they have experienced in their lives are hard to fathom. It is understandable why they feel broken. Why they feel like their presence in someone else’s life can only bring sorrow and disappointment. The danger, though, is in letting it dictate our future and in letting it close ourselves off to the possibility of finding a forever with someone. The only thing it really does is give us the permission we need to stay single.

We are given one life to live and if we can experience a minute of genuine, pure love – the kind of love without any expectation of something in return – then it is worth any amount of pain we may feel in the future.

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Filed under lessons learned, love, relationships, vulnerability