Normalize It: Not Wanting Kids

Few things in life are certain. These things are death, taxes, garbage, and the fact that if I come over to your house and you have pets or kids, I will spend more time playing with them than having an adult conversation with you.

I suppose this is why people are so perplexed that I’ve never been too keen on having kids of my own. With my childlike demeanor, boundless energy, and over-the-top level of caring about people’s feelings and crap like that, I’ve been told that I would be an exemplary mother. Oddly enough, I know several other people who’ve been told the same thing, despite proudly aspiring towards a permanently childfree life.

Maybe we’re told it because it’s true. Maybe people tell it to us because they want us to join the (Pokémon or Avengers-themed) party. Some childfree people respond to this with respect, while others have developed a potty mouth specific to retaliating against people who dare suggest that they create another human life. Either way, I’m here to bridge both sides of the child-having vs. childfree argument so that we can all be happy and recognize that no side is better than the other.

Kids are awesome, so it’s no wonder why people want them

Having had significantly younger siblings for most of my life, along with a bevy of nieces, nephews, and cousins, I’m used to a life enriched by kids. Every holiday season, I put on at least one mini-play with them (last year it was a dramedy-biopic of my Stepdad’s life entitled Life of Guy)When I go over to my dad’s house, my nine-year-old brother and I play Wii and soccer till we drop. My fifteen-year-old sister is turning into an amazing young woman, but I still remember admiring her Webkinz collection and gossiping about her very first boyfriend. All of this is just plain fun. Seeing them grow is inspiring and fills me with pride as an aunt, cousin, and sister. Being surrounded by youth gives me life and serves as a means for me to be a better role model.

But there’s one key difference between being an aunt, cousin, or sister versus being a parent.

Parenting vs. Every Other Role

When your brother or sister screws up, you’re most likely going to worry and you might try and fix things to the best of your ability. But unless you legitimately raised that person, you’re not going to feel like you’re responsible for their mistakes. You can continue to live life independently, for you know that there’s only so much you can do. The same goes for your niece, nephew, or any other younger family member: do what you can, but it’s not actually your responsibility and it’s (usually) not your place to sacrifice your own life or goals to fix the problem.

When you become a parent, there is no longer just “you”. Your needs come secondary to those of your child(ren). Whatever they need is more important than what you need, and until they reach 18 (or much later for most people), whatever happens to them is your responsibility to at least some degree.

This is something that people often don’t think about before they have kids. But every person I know who has had kids has assured me that this shift in thinking is unavoidable in order to be a good parent.

What this means is that if you want to have kids, your dreams, future plans, and lifestyle need to be compatible with their well-being. You can’t backpack through Europe for two years when you have toddlers. You can’t buy a new sailboat when you have college tuition to pay. You can’t go out all night every Friday and be hungover every following Saturday anymore. You can’t just quite your job because you hate it when there are mouths to feed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but every decision you make has to be evaluated based on the impact it will have on your child(ren). For some people – nay, most – this is achievable.

Or maybe it’s not achievable for you and you start to realize that kids might not be an option.

Every Reason is a Legit Reason

Personally speaking, my first reason for not wanting kids is that I don’t foresee a tethered life for myself – at least not until I’m in my 40s or 50s. Even then, I’d like to have spurts of long-range travel and other acts of spontaneity. I want to be able and pick up and go somewhere any time I want with relative ease. While there are still considerations to be had when you’re in a partnership or even when you’re single, it’s a lot easier for two adults to sort out than to coordinate with two adults and a couple of kids.

My second reason is that I’m not working towards a life of great financial wealth. I want a nice life, I want to be healthy, and I want to travel – and that’s a lot easier to afford without children in the mix.

Lastly, I want to find a purpose I’m over-the-moon passionate about and dedicate my life to it, which might end up taking up the vast majority of my day-to-day life someday. If I had children, I would want to spend time with them and I probably couldn’t dedicate enough of my time to make the impact I want, get enough sleep, and have a life at the same time. I’m not saying that nobody can do it – I’m saying I probably can’t.

Other peoples’ reasons are just as valid: the population crisis, a lack of maternal instinct, the physical toll that pregnancy can take, etc. In fact, I have a little bit of those reasons in me too. Some people don’t have a reason. That’s valid, too. In fact, all of the reasons listed above are completely valid.

Let’s all Be Friends

I think the two communities could use a little etiquette guidance, but that’s just me…

People who don’t want kids: 

  1. Don’t tell people you want kids just to make them happy. You’re no better or worse than someone for wanting/not wanting kids.
  2. Don’t try and convince people not to have kids. You’re free to make your choice and they’re free to make theirs.
  3. Whether you like kids or not, be respectful. Nobody needs to hear that you “hate kids” – plus, that’s like saying you hate yourself in the past, dumb-dumb (okay, to be fair…I hate my fifteen-year-old self, so never mind).

People who do want/do have kids:

  1. Don’t try and pressure people to have kids. Don’t assume that everyone wants kids. People having kids or not doesn’t affect your life in any way.
  2. If someone tells you they don’t want kids, you don’t need to dig for a reason. If you do, be polite about it – and be okay if they don’t have a reason or don’t want to tell you their reason.
  3. Don’t take the reasons that people don’t have kids to heart. You’re probably an awesome parent and your life is no less awesome because you have kids.

If you guys read any of the above, at least read this section. I’ll be quite happy if you do.

-H

p.s. This article represents my own views as a childfree person. I’m obviously not a parent. I’ve tried to avoid talking out of my butt while writing this article, but please point out to me if I still did. Remember, I’m a 25-year-old neophyte of life-slash-human being, so I’m prone to making mistakes.

p.p.s. I apologize for the lack of pictures in this article, but I think the featured pic makes up for it.

 

Normalize It: Atheism, Agnosticism, and Undefined Faith

Hilariously awesome featured pic aside, I can already feel a swell of apprehension from family, friends, and the readership at large in response to my writing about this topic. That’s okay. This is a touchy topic in its own league of touchiness.

And this, my friends, is exactly why I’m writing about it.

I’ve sought to write about the topic of irreligion for a while because, quite honestly, I don’t think being non-religious should be a big deal. Like the many legions who proudly proclaim adherence to the many religious schools of thought out there, I, an agnostic, am a human being who is hardly that different from any other human being out there, religious or otherwise. In fact, I have my own belief system, too – it just happens to a “belief in my own lack of brainpower”. Let me explain.

Being agnostic means that I neither confirm nor deny the existence of a higher power. I belong to no religion and have zero obligations in the name of religion. I can hope and wish that there is someone watching over me or that there’s life beyond this one, and even in recent times, there have been times that I have (“Alright, Tutu [my grandma’s lifelong nickname], promise me I WON’T DIE doing this pole trick. Or that I die instantly. Either way, make it not hurt. Thanks!”). But I have no idea for certain and I’ve had nothing happen to me to confirm any of these beliefs (aka, no miracles for Ms. Corners). In fact, I think that even if there IS a higher power – and I may never find out if there is or isn’t – I’m in no position to be privy to this information or even have the capacity to understand how this world was created, how it runs, who’s behind our universe, or what happens after I pass from life.

The fact that I feel this way is unimportant to most people. Some people find it weird. Occasionally, people are devastated.

And I get it. When you believe that you have something watching over you, that your good deeds will be rewarded, and that you’ll (hopefully) go to a better place someday, it’s probably a bummer when someone doesn’t feel the same way. Especially someone you love. You just want to reach out and help them. You hope that they have some type of value system in place. Perhaps, you wonder whether they are living their life in accordance with your religious value system.

I’m not here to disparage people for doing so. I, for one, love to be loved and cared for! I happen to have friends and family from a wide variety of religions, though most ascribe to the three primary Abrahamic ones of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This entry isn’t about bashing or disproving any religions, but about validating my own system.

Although there have been plenty of books, articles, TV shows, movies, and probably plays written in the name of this topic, I feel it may still be necessary to dispel common beliefs people may hold about those who are atheist, agnostic, or who have what I deemed an “undefined faith”. From here on out, I will refer to this group of three types as “non-religious people (NRP)” for simplicity’s sake. I also feel it necessary to explain a little about how NRP make good choices without the guidance of God or religion. Finally, I feel that it’s absolutely imperative for me to outlines ways in which we as the non-religious can be as respectful as possible, as I feel we are sorely in need of less vitriol in this day and age.

Alrighty then, let’s get started with:

A Primer on Non-Religious Belief Systems

Rather than run through a full history of this topic as I have in the past with others, I’ll be very brief here: irreligious thought has been around for a while. Today, the condition of not being religious is more common in certain places such as, say, China or the Czech Republic, where 47% and 30% of people, respectively, consider themselves a “convinced atheist”, according to the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism. This is in stark contrast to places like Ghana, where 96% of people consider themselves religious. For those curious, our good ol’ US of A has a religious population of about 60% as of 2012, with only 5% stating their status as a convinced atheist.

Speaking of atheism, let’s get something straight before we continue: there is a different between being atheist, agnostic, and “not religious”. Atheism is a firm belief that there is no high power. They have conviction and rely heavily on science to demonstrate that the existence of a higher power is illogical and unnecessary. Agnosticism is the assertion of a lack of knowledge of whether higher power(s) exists. In other words, it’s not really a “belief” at all. Agnostics have no proof either way, and aren’t going to assert to a higher power existing or not existing.

To make matters more confusing, there are people who consider themselves “agnostic atheists” or “agnostic theists”. The former is someone who doesn’t know that a higher power exists, but also doesn’t think it’s likely; I would consider myself to be in this category. An agnostic theist actually does believe there’s probably a higher power, but doesn’t want to assert the exact number/nature/history of this power (these powers).

Finally, those who describe themselves as not being particularly “religious” can fall into the agnostic theist category or any number of other categories that aren’t tied to one religion. They often believe in a higher power, but you won’t usually find them going to church, reading scriptures, or contemplating their decisions under a religious lens. For instance, my friend who was raised in a Muslim family doesn’t observe Ramadan or go to mosque, but she occasionally does pray and doesn’t necessarily deny a belief in a higher power. Another friend of mine believes in God and describes herself as “culturally Jewish”, immersing herself more in Jewish history rather than keeping shomer shabbos or keeping her milk and meat in separate fridges.

I hope I haven’t lost you yet, because now we’ve got to tackle:

The Many Assumptions about Atheists and Agnostics

A year’s worth of trolling on the internet would not suffice for gathering up the numerous assumptions people have about us non-religious folk. Allow me to debunk the big ones.

  • “Non-religious people hate religious people”. This one is sadly perpetuated by NRP who go around posting incendiary crap like this:

atheism

or this (note: you’ll probably have to double-click on the pic to zoom in):

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.03.22 PM

Atheists/agnostics: STOP DOING THIS. You’re not helping our case at all. Do we believe in religion? No. Do we need to openly be complete douchebags about it? Absolutely not. Our goal shouldn’t be to try and make other people non-religious, let alone to completely ridicule those who are. Our goal should be to live our life in peace, and let others live theirs. 

Fortunately, most non-religious people do not hate religious people at all. Are there a few non-religious assclowns out there who get a kick out of beating down believers? Yes, more than a few. But there are plenty of us out there, like myself, who not only respect religious people, but actively engage with and love them.

Unless you’re Kim Davis. I can’t say I respect her. She needs to just stop.

hate hags
Or have a revelation of this kind. Then I’ll reconsider.
  • “Non-religious people have no ethics or morals”. Okay, okay, I get it. When murderous villains like Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jong-il are history’s shining examples of atheistic thought, people are bound to think “Maybe these non-religious really are a bunch of douchcanoes, damn.” But conversely, look at people like Osama Bin Laden, the Westboro Bapist Church, or the ultra-orthodox Jewish man who stabbed several people at an Israeli pride festival – not once, but twice. All are or were deeply religious people who have irreparably harmed or killed people in the name of their belief. At the same time, we can each name many more decent folks on each side of the fence. Generalizations sweep everyone in a particular group into one unfortunate, messy dust pile. The fact is, most of us don’t belong anywhere near that pile.

As far as how we, as NRP, develop ethics and morals, we can develop them through a combination of (a) addressing our human needs for harmony and love, (b) observing laws and social mores and (c) gleaning life lessons from the family we are brought up in. Through doing this, I’d say that most of us turn out just as “good” as our religious counterparts, even if our motivations for being ethical and moral are a little different.

Philosophers, writers, and thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds including Immanuel Kant, Albert Camus, Greg Epstein, and Richard Dawkins have detailed thoughts about how we as humans can determine whether the decisions we make are good/evil. I would encourage anyone who wants to dig deeper into the topic of ethics without religion to check these guys out.

  • “Non-religious people are devil-worshippers.” No. Just…no.
devil worshipping
“Thanks for taking the time to meet tonight, everyone. As first order of business, let me remind everyone that the annual Thanksgiving potluck is next week. Let’s hope that Brenda brings her award-winning pies this year again!”

I’ve never met or seen a devil-worshipper, let alone one who describes themselves as an agnostic or atheist person. By our very definition, we don’t even believe in the devil, so how can we worship them?

  • “Non-religious people want to destroy Christmas.”
Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 3.49.47 PM
Forty. Six. Percent. -_-

If only for the epic family times and, admittedly, the vacation money I get around that time of year, I love Christmas. I don’t believe in the religious background of Christmas and I’m blasé towards the lights, the decorations, and the music, but seeing my family happy (and actually getting to see them, which I don’t as often as I’d like) is something I never want to stop doing. Most NRP actually do celebrate Christmas for this very reason!

For those who don’t, they’re probably too worried about other things to worry about destroying Christmas, don’t ya think? My guess is that on Christmas, a non-Christmas-celebrator’s to-do list might look something like this:

  1. Feed the cat
  2. Skype Grandma (she misses you!)
  3. Vacuum the living room
  4. Buy butter and apples at the store
  5. Write that one e-mail you’ve been putting off (yes…THAT one)
  6. Buy Judy’s baby shower gift
  7. Fix the dishwasher and then send the bill to the landlord wahahaha

To be fair, “Destroy Christmas” *might* be on there – but it’s usually a few thousand places down.

  • “Non-religious people are unhappy, jaded souls who’ve had a bad experience with religion and that’s why they don’t believe.”  People have often said things to me like, “Maybe you’re just turned off by all of the nuts out there? We’re not all like that, I swear”. Trust me, I know you’re not. When I see the Westboro Baptist people, Kim Davis, or Rick Santorum, I realize that they are the vast minority.
westboro baptist church
Thankfully, I’m aware that you’re not this girl.

The fact is, I’ve been questioning religion since I was 12 years old, after I had had nothing but good experiences in my Catholic school environment. Being part of a religion didn’t necessarily disturb or harm me, I just started to realize that I was blindly moving through it without actually believing a word they said in church. That’s when I knew I was had to respectfully bow out.

How to NOT be a Douche Towards Religious People 101

Obviously, there are plenty of militant atheists out there who have been giving us NRP a bad name. Here’s how to not be one of those people:

  • Don’t insult someone’s intelligence simply because they’re religious. Albert Einstein believed in a type of God. Wickedly smart actress/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik is a modern Orthodox Jew. One’s preferred faith doesn’t render them any less intelligent than you. They might even be a lot smarter than you.
  • Don’t try and convert people to atheism/agnosticism. You know how annoying (and futile) it is when people try and convert you to their belief system? Exactly. Stop.
  • Understand that religion is extremely beneficial for some people. Yes, religion is the cause of most of the major conflicts in this world, but many people really do turn their lives around when they find religion. Good on them. Celebrate their happiness and success, rather than focusing on the negatives.
  • Understand that many religious people could care less what religion you are. Most people aren’t trying to convert you. Calm down.
  • Take time to learn about other religions. Whether you believe in them or not, other religions are fascinating with their wide-ranging histories, accompanying cultures, and iconic figures. Learning about other religions will also help you answer questions or dispel myths you may have heard about them (e.g., no, Sikhs and Hindus are not the same at all; no, not all Mormons are polygamists).
  • Respect others’ religious beliefs. Don’t make your Jewish employees work on Yom Kippur. Don’t suggest a barbecue restaurant when having lunch with your friend who follows Jainism. Don’t drag your Jehovah’s witness mother-in-law to your Protestant church. Simply being cognizant of one’s religion is a sign of huge respect and really isn’t that hard.

Normalization on the Horizon

Again, my hope is that we can move towards an era where NRP are seen as a completely accepted part of society. We don’t need to be “mainstream” or attract new NRPs in droves – in fact, we should resolve to not care what others’ views are at all, provided they are not harmful or infringing upon our health and safety.

I don’t know what’s out there. I don’t know what comes next. And I will never assert that I know anything until I see it with my own eyes. If religious people can accept this, and other non-religious assertions, then we’re already on track to having a more harmonious existence.

-H

Normalize It: Introversion

Skeptical as I am, I’ve always been pretty impressed with the Myers-Briggs test*. Mostly because everyone I know who’s taken it has received a scarily spot-on evaluation, myself included. According to the assessment, I fall into the INFP camp, or introverted-intuitive-feeling-perceiving, which means that I’m creative, sensitive, and bent on making the world a better place for people – yay! According to an MB knock-off test I took a while back, I am also doomed to be a writer. Also yay-worthy, because writing is, to put it mildly, my freakin’ GIG! On the flip side, I am socially reserved (unless I’m with people I know exceedingly well – then I’m just plain crazy), overly emotional, and prone to overthinking. This might explain the little discovery I recently made when I stumbled upon this article, which talks about the income levels of the various Myers-Briggs personality types.

Wouldn’t you know it, my personality comes dead last in earning power, at least according to this cute little study provided by the Career Assessment Site. I laughed out loud a bit when I saw this. But then I read the following section from the article, which goes into unnervingly accurate detail on people with my personality type:

“Individuals with the INFP personality type are introverts and they tend to be less comfortable with networking and ‘reaching out’ in general,” he says. “This may lead them to miss opportunities to make contacts that propel them to positions of higher income levels.”

Flickr/Wiertz Sébastien“Individuals with the INFP personality type are introverts and they tend to be less comfortable with networking and ‘reaching out’ in general.”

And in a world where “who you know” matters more than “what you know,” this can be detrimental.

These individuals also tend to be attracted to career paths that offer a lot of flexibility and freedom where their creative expression can manifest itself on their terms, Bollag says. “This is why you find that a lot of INFP’s go into fields like music, arts, and creative writing,” he explains. “Unfortunately for income statistics, there is a very good reason why we use the term ‘starving artists’ and the few examples of famous artists, novelists, and musicians that make it big are a very small percentage of the population.”

Finally, he says, these individuals tend to lean on subjective analysis of situations when making decisions. “They consider the impact their decisions have on other people and aim to have harmony in their environment. While there is nothing wrong with this perspective, it may lead them to shy away from positions that force them to make hard, logic-based decisions that effect others in a negative way.”

For example, an INFP may have a much harder time making a corporate level decision that lays off a thousand employees for the betterment of the company than someone who had a Thinking (“T”) based personality type. “A T-based personality type may be able to justify the action, but an F-based personality type, like the INFP, may have lingering issues with such a past decision long after it has been made.”

All I could let out after reading this was a succinct, powerful “damn”. The article is right. I’m super introverted and I loathe networking/”reaching out” (ugh, that phrase), to the point where I’ve probably missed out on a ton of opportunities because of it. I’m like that shy, aspiring model walking around the mall who’s silently shouting “Someone notice me! DISCOVER ME! HIRE ME!”, hoping to catch her big break because someone saw me eating a Big Mac in McDonalds. I want people to “stumble upon” my writing and be taken by it. I take admittedly passive steps to get my work out there. Not that I’ve never e-mailed my stuff or had it published elsewhere – I have – but every time I e-mailed those prospective curators with my ideas, my heart definitely did a few jumping jacks. And every time I send my work to someone, I have to suppress the urge to include a diatribe about how tired I was when I wrote it or how I’m more than happy to fix the flow or order of any paragraphs or sentences or words or syllables or letters if it’s not 100% perfect and to their liking.

The need for flexibility and freedom at my job and the gravitation towards the creative sector are also spot-on attributes. I’m a solitary worker who wants control of her own domain. I want to create something that shines a new light on the world, even if the light is a faint one and only a few can see it. I want to be involved in something with a greater purpose than my own interests or “hey, let’s make this entity more money”.

Lastly, the points about subjective analysis and involving emotion in business decisions are also extremely characteristic of me. One of my biggest fears is one day having to make a decision like the one mentioned above. I value being honest over saving peoples’ feelings in important situations, but having to tell a loyal group of people that I am letting them go for “business reasons” would be unbearable for me.

 

I suppose it makes sense that, given all of these facts about me, I’m not exactly on the high roller train. Most rich people are at least somewhat extroverted and charismatic, or are at least pragmatic enough to partner with people who are. Brilliant Steve Wozniak would probably not be worth $100 million today if it weren’t for the celestial persona that his Apple co-founder Steve Jobs possessed.

I’m also humble enough to admit that I would probably be incapable of making harsh decisions at the expense of others who were just trying to feed their family and live a good life. The revelation of my earning potential that this study purports to provide doesn’t particularly bother me, since (a) the study obviously doesn’t account for individual people’s circumstances and idiosyncrasies and (b) money in and of itself is not something I need to accumulate a lot of.

But you know what does bother me, just a tad? The fact that people like me – introverted, emotional, and not really invested in the “social scene” – are so frequently misunderstood. The fact that we are often seen as having a weakness for being the way we are. If my traits were truly a weakness, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

It’s true: I’m not out every weekend; I’m not even out MOST weekends. I have far from 500 followers on Instagram. My circle of friends is small. I spend half my income on rent/utilities because I need to live alone and I want absolutely nothing to do with anyone when I come home or wake up in the morning. I have had legitimate panic attacks in front of my partner when I thought I wouldn’t fit in with his friends during the beginning our relationship. When I attend pole practice, I am utterly focused on becoming better and thinking of combos, tricks, and routines in my head rather than talking to people around me. I would rather pee my pants in public than “work a room”. I run away if I think people are going to try and make small talk with me. I cry a lot. I intensely analyze everything I do with my life and question my validity as a human to the point of detriment. My preferred hobbies (outside of pole) are reading, drawing, and writing – all solitary activities.

At the same time, I’m the girl who will happily serve as the designated driver for a night out with my friends. I choose to limit my social time to people who inspire good thoughts within me and, to them, I strive to deliver the utmost attention and support. To my partner, I am overwhelmingly supportive, loving, and motivating. Even though I don’t frequently feel like being social, I will come out of my house when I’m ready and enjoy a hilariously fun night with my neighbors a couple times a week. In pole class, I help teach the newer girls and seek help from the more experienced ones. Despite my bookworm tendencies, I am also crazy adventurous and will be the first the first to raise my hand to go on a trek through the Himalayas or dance on a table at the bar – no alcohol needed. I am caring, kind, and compassionate, and your well-being is just as important to me as my own.

I’m also not the only introvert out there. As one of my favorite books, Susan Cain’s Quietdescribes, there are as many types of introverts as there are people. Moreover, there are plenty of people who may “seem” extroverted to you, but are actually introverted and vice versa. Despite the myriad studies that have been completed on personality theory, we still tend to think that introverts are boring, shy losers and extroverts are super-social and adventurous. Indeed, Western culture values and rewards the extrovert, but introverts have just as much to offer and are an essential part of society, too.

So, please: try and understand introverts and realize the enrichment we can bring to your workplace, your community, and your life. We are the listeners, the artists, the bastions of imagination. We are the shoulders to cry on, the hug when you need it the most. We are the optimists, the idealists, the dreamers. Sometimes, we dream so hard that our dreams spill into our reality without us even knowing it. We are everywhere. And we’re not going anywhere, either.

-H

Notes:

*Yes, I am totally aware that the Myers-Briggs test limits its determinants of intro/extraversion to whether people are, essentially, socially outgoing or not. It somewhat ignores the original Jungian definitions of the terms, making it a somewhat one-dimensional way to look at intro/extraversion. Still, my own MB description was pretty uncanny and I identify with it for the most part. It’s not the end-all-be-all of who I am – but it’s a good “roadmap” to understanding who I am as a person, I guess.

Normalize It: Mental Illness in the Workplace

This entry is part of a spiffy little four-part series I’ve developed called “Normalize It”. Each week, I’ll explore a different socioeconomic phenomenon which, in my opinion, needs to be better understood or recognized as a natural part of our society. I will provide as much detail and support as I can without putting my dear readership to sleep. The series will continue indefinitely if new topics arise, but I’m going to stick with four for now. If you have an idea for something that you believe should be part of “the new normal”, please e-mail me at obryanh1@me.com and we will discuss it.

In light of my earlier post as well as the many conversations that followed, I became inspired to write about something that I’ve thought about ever since I entered the professional workforce in 2013. If you read that post, you’ll learn that I suffer from an anxiety disorder. If you read almost any of my other posts, you may also be able to infer that I have invariably suffered from depression as well.

Let me first start out by saying something simple regarding these facts: this isn’t a “poor me” trope that I’m riding the coattails of; it’s okay that I suffer from those things. I’m not defective, broken, or tainted – I’m a generally happy human being who is open enough to share her struggles. More importantly, I’m not alone. Bombarded with statistics as you might be, it’s worth mentioning that about 1 in 4 adults suffer from some type of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This means that, yes, every fourth person in your life likely suffers from at least some type of mild mental illness, even if it’s latent or temporary. Regardless of this, many people will deny that they have these problems and many of them don’t even know that they’re there.

Unsurprisingly, these behaviors are caused by two things: first, the history of mental illness, including the persistent and gross misunderstanding that surrounds it, and second, its persistent stigma within modern-day society, especially within the increasingly competitive environment of the U.S. workplace. Let’s examine both.

Note: As I live in the United States, my analysis will be limited to the history and modern-day perception of mental illness within the U.S. Apologies for the myopia in advance.

Lunatics, Looney Bins, Lobotomies, and Lithium

Our understanding of mental illness has been largely shaped by public attitudes and beliefs of the day, however disconnected from science and reason they were. In colonial times, a person acting a little koo-koo was thought to have derived their behavior from being born under a full moon. These “lunatics” were then subject to such super-comfortable treatments as ice baths and bloodletting, with little regard for their own dignity or what was actually happening inside their brains. To the abusers, it had nothing to do with “brain chemistry”. It was that evil moon’s fault. And probably the devil’s. He was responsible for a lot back then.

ice bath
Overit.com

By the late 18th century, things weren’t much better. Those with mental illness were kept away from the rest of society in crammed, public hospitals rather than actually treated. You would think things would have improved over the next hundred years, but they probably made some people wax nostalgic about the old days. By the mid 19th century, these dirty, overstuffed hospitals were outfitted with virtual torture devices like shock machines and restraints, which were designed to “reform” patients. Much like in the colonial days, the patients were treated at best like cattle and at worst like worthless inanimate objects that could be shoved and crammed and prodded with no consequence. Whether you had mild depression or severe schizophrenia, life was unequivocally no-bueno for those with mental illness at this time.

That's okay. I'll take the ice bath.
That’s okay. I’ll take the ice bath.

At the turn of the 20th century, the dude who finally helped the U.S. pull their noggins out of their nether-regions with regards to mental illness was Clifford Whittingham Beers, who chronicled his struggle with mental illness–and the abuses he faced in his own hospital–in his book, A Mind that Found Itself. He’s seen as the founder of the American mental hygiene movement and formed the first committee to continue reform for the mentally ill. Indeed, this was a start for our starry, stripey country. But it wasn’t the end of the struggle.

Ol' Cliff. Sadly, he ended up shaving the mustache.
Ol’ Cliff. Sadly, he ended up shaving the mustache.

In order to try and “re-wire” people struggling with mental health issues, doctors began performing lobotomies in Portugal and the U.S. in the mid-1930s. The procedure, which involves severing the connections to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, often left patients either more mentally unstable than before or throughly incapacitated. A famous example of this was the first sister of former president John F. Kennedy, Rosemary, who became a vegetable after her operation at age 23. Despite this, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the U.S. in the 1940s alone, with many thousands more performed in other countries. Even as hospitals continued to expand with mental health units, humane treatment of patients increased only marginally.

100_0270
I don’t even want to know who had this idea originally.

The late 40s through 70s provided a glimmer of hope as antipsychotic drugs such as lithium and thorazine became available. Millions of dollars were allocated to furthering psychopharmacological research. Community health centers popped up left and right. Research was presented to Congress that advised mental health issues to be more thoroughly examined and considered. By the late 1970s, lobotomies were virtually out of practice.

The ads were a lot funnier back then.
The ads were a lot funnier back then.

Just when things seemed to be going really well in the 1980s with then-President Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act being signed, the voting of actor-turned-president Ronald Reagan into office dashed those dreams as quickly as they materialized. His strengths and daddish demeanor aside, the new President understood little about mental illness and acted according to his lack of understanding. And so, gone were the budding initiatives, the community health centers, and, most unfortunately, the Mental Health Systems Act.

Na-na-na-na-na-na! You guys can't get me! I make all the rules now!
Na-na-na-na-na-na! You guys can’t get me! I make all the rules now!

As the 90s swept in, though, the cause took another great leap forward, returning to its roots with the community health centers and yielding great advances in the field of mental health. Brain imaging was now being used to diagnose and better understand those with mental illness. HIPAA brought about regulations for privacy and security of mental health information. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was also signed in 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities–including those with mental illness–provided that they can otherwise perform the duties required of them. Reports and research on mental illnesses abound, bringing greater awareness to both the White House and the general public. At last, the mental health crusade had ostensibly won a long-standing battle and had taken great steps towards being understood.

ADA-Accessibility
Fun fact: the Act is as old as I am!

And yet, the world retained the bitter taste in its mouth with regards to mental illness. Though we’ve come a long way from making people bleed and severing their brains out of fear of their illness, we still don’t see mental illness on the same playing field as physical illness. But just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. So, where exactly do we stand now, in 2015?

Stealthy Sorrows Lead to More Wallows

Even today, people don’t particularly want to admit that they or their loved one are dealing with a mental illness, largely because they don’t really understand what “mental illness” means. When people think of “mental illness”, they often conjure up images up insane asylums, criminals, and violent behavior just to name a few. They see the condition of having depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder as a permanent cross to bear, a life-ruiner that will prevent them from living a normal life and make them unlovable. It’s a shame, because although there are plenty of serious cases out there (about 6% of mentally ill people are “seriously mentally ill”), most people dealing with mental illness are otherwise balanced and experience little-to-no outward manifestation of their illness.

This Dude: NOT a typical mentally ill person.
This Dude: NOT a typical mentally ill person.

And I suppose that’s the problem.

Mental illness is an already silent battle that is further silenced by those who want to hide it from the world. People who haven’t personally dealt with it are only exposed to the really bad cases and start to assume that anyone with mental illness is, deep down, a really bad case. Those who have the ability to hide their mild-to-moderate condition think that they have it in the bag until it all comes crashing down internally. From there, you either pick up the pieces and get help, or you keep crashing down.

Mental Illness in the Office

Due to the fact that most of my readership spends the majority of their waking hours working, I decided that it would be best to zero in on the workplace’s attitude towards the mentally ill. I can clearly remember the nights I lay in bed, wondering whether to come clean to my team–or even my company as a whole–about my own issues. It shouldn’t be such an overwhelming deliberation, but for those of us who silently suffer, that seems to be the only choice we have.

Sure, there are laws in place that prevent our discrimination, which can and will prevent the vast majority of people being fired expressly for having a mental illness. But this does nothing to stop rampant discrimination from happening that effectively forces us out, which, in my opinion, is even worse than being fired.

During my internet scour for stories, I came across people who were passed up for promotions and projects galore. I came across people who took the leave necessary for their life, only to come back to a radically changed–and thoroughly unwelcoming–workplace. I came across people who’s bosses made a complete 180 on their treatment of them after finding out, despite the employee putting out consistently good work. For many who choose to “come out” to their workplace, their days become an agonizing stretch of loneliness and perceived uselessness.

p01j42tf

Similarly, I personally know people who keep tight-lipped about their own issues, silently crumbling in the exact same way. They hold out fiercely, tricking themselves into thinking that their jobs require from them a robot-like stoicism. Their job depends on their not letting their mental illness get in the way, they say, so they pretend like it’s not there. Only when they lay down to sleep do they realize that the overlapping bandages they put on their mind are coming off, revealing the problems underneath.

 

These two situations, different as they are, are just two different rooms in a house of hell.

How do We Help?

Lobbying for laws that protect people with mental health is great. But what the movement needs even more is greater awareness and greater debunking of myths and the negative views that cause the scenarios above. For those of us afflicted with mental illness, it’s also our duty to be as out and proud as we can, edging the world toward the idea that, yes, we are depressed, or anxiety-ridden, or borderline-personality-stricken, but we are worth it. We do great work for this world. we are awesome.

Writing this was a form of “coming out” for me that also serves to make people aware that this is an issue. If you don’t deal with mental illness, you probably don’t give it much thought. But the truth is, you probably know someone in your personal life or at work who thinks about this a lot. For those who are lucky enough to not have to deal with it, perhaps this can help you help others who are.

Life is hard, but it’s also beautiful. We can make it more beautiful by coming to terms with our flaws and learning that, no matter how much grief they cause us, they can also inspire us to learn and become better versions of ourselves. We are all dealing with something and nobody should be treated negatively for that. So I’ll repeat what I said above: we are worth it. We do great work for this world. We are awesome.

You are worth it. You do great work for this world. You are awesome.

 

Surviving Life as an Extremely Sensitive, Anxiety-Ridden, and Self-Critical Person

Up until age 12, I went to Catholic school. I don’t understand the lies the media tells people about Catholic school being austere or disciplinary – we had and did the coolest stuff. Even as a budding baby atheist, I was loathe to leave the catechismal system that afforded us a clothing system for lazy people (i.e., uniforms) and a get-out-of-school-free card that included a free cracker after 2nd grade (mass).  Among the other cool things we had were after-school class parties. These usually coincided with the end of the year and were a great opportunity to eat stuff like pizza and do cartwheels, since we could wear pants instead of jumpers and skirts.

The end-of-the-year party for fourth grade took place at an arcade, which in my mind was the best possible way to celebrate our ascent into the last year of elementary school. In attendance was the very first boy I had a crush on. I knew this was my chance to show off my best gaming skills and, by natural progression, become his girlfriend due to how awesome he would think I was. Plus, I was wearing my rainbow heart girly-girl shirt and had my hair done in two buns. My braces, freckles, huge ears, and spindly limbs would be hardly noticeable under all that hotness, baby.

I set out to win a funny-looking stuffed animal from a claw machine to give to my crush. In fact, I succeeded, and proceeded to seek out a suitable friend who would make the delivery and perhaps slip in the message of my admiration (obviously, I wasn’t going to give it to him myself – that was just crazy talk).

When I approached my most gregarious friend, whom I swore would be up to the task, she looked at me disconcertedly. She pulled me aside – in that we both walked towards the DDR machine, where others would be too distracted to hear what we were talking about:

“Ummm…Haley…I feel bad about this, but um, I saw Spongebob* holding hands with Sandy*. Then they went over to the basketball machine and he had his hands on her waist while she played.”

In an instant, my throat closed up and a searing warmth coursed through my blood.

“I think they’re dating. Like, boyfriend-girlfriend. I’m sorry, Haley.”

It was all too much for my ten-year-old self to bear. I started tearing up and walked outside, my friend following me. She continued trying to talk me down, telling me that it was okay, that he was stupid and dumb anyways (accurate, at the time). I started to feel okay, ish.

Then she said something else to me, something that solidified my growing knowledge that I was different from everyone else.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…some people say you cry easily”.

She was right. I did. So I reinforced my own stereotype and cried some more.

My bout of sadness over Spongebob was neither the first nor the last example of my sensitivity rearing its ugly head. But the day I was told I cried easily is indelibly printed in my mind. My unrequited “like” for Spongebob faded, but I was left with the reminder that I’m an overreactor, a weakling, and a cryer.

The truth is, I’ve always been sensitive and although I handle things in a much more balanced way as an adult, I am still prone to being extremely sensitive. I still cry more than the average young adult female, for sure. Crying, contrary to what criticism others might have of it, is extremely therapeutic for me. It’s like the negative emotions are riding a waterslide out of my mind.

Others, though, have different thoughts. To many, my sensitivity – and crying – are not only disadvantageous to my development, but a clear sign of unprofessionalism. As a 25-year-old professional woman, I’m expected to be calm, cool, and emotionally collected at all times. Even in my personal life, I’m bombarded by statements that “big girls don’t cry” unless something emotionally devastating happens, like a death in the family. Or even more appropriately, when a movie like The Notebook comes on.

(I thoroughly despise such hokey nonsense as The Notebook and all similar films, and only cry when that movie comes on because it exists.)

When I was assigned to a different department within my old company a short while back, I found myself crying in the bathroom and/or my car for nearly an hour at a time, closing my eyes and wishing I could be transported away. Despite my best efforts to learn the (temporary) new job and put out as much work as I can, I was utterly dismissed by my team, who saw me only as a nuisance who got to leave earlier than they did. Since I was coming in more as a “reinforcement”, I was technically restricted to an 8-hour day, and only permitted to work more if I expressly stated a desire to. I never did. I hated that I had been pulled in against my will, I hated the way I was treated, and I absolutely despised the work. Crying in that gross bathroom was the only thing that got me through each day.

To add special flavor to my cocktail of dysfunction, I happen to be a particularly over-analytical person about both myself and the world. This is because I have the gift of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which I was diagnosed with in college and take no medicine for. When others ask me why I don’t take medicine for it, I have a painfully simple reason: I want to take care of it my damn self. Also, the potential side effects scare the crap out of me. Let me be as honest as possible, though, and say that I would probably benefit greatly from medicine, as many people would.

I do this through dedication to exercise, avoidance of (most) mass media other than truly good movies and documentaries, and dedication to making my dreams happen. These, as general as they seem, are things I recommend to absolutely anyone struggling with anxiety or depression. Largely because they are 100% in your control. They’re not a panacea, and some people may truly need medicine. But that’s a choice you can make after your own research.

(I’ll go into detail in my next post about why it’s important that we normalize mental illness in the workplace, and why taking medicine is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.)

Going back to the dysfunction, though, since that’s juicier: I hold myself to a ridiculously high standard – especially now, as an adult. When I devote myself to something, I have to be incredible, or at least have the knowledge that I will be incredible someday. I don’t have to be the best at everything, but I always make sure I’m the best at something. But oddly, I’m hardest on myself about how I treat those closest to me.

If I fail to make a family member, friend, or partner happy, I see it as a black mark against myself. I rail on myself, insisting that I’m a failure and a fraud. I look in the mirror and see a deplorable person, even if my offense was minor. I often make it worse by nagging the individual, asking repeatedly if things are okay, if they’re okay, if we’re good, if there’s anything I can do better. Understandably, this drives people nuts.

If I know this person less well than a longtime good friend, family member, or partner, I might go the other extreme and stop talking to them altogether, for fear of being reprimanded or told I was terrible. My lack of knowledge on how they will react paralyzes me. I actually did this recently, to someone who had become a very good friend. But I’m afraid of what she thinks about me now, so I don’t dare reach out to me first. The truth is, I know I acted terribly, and I’m sitting here, silently giving myself hell for it.

If you’re bored with this diary-like diatribe, I understand. But this entry isn’t meant to be (entirely) self-serving.

At minimum, I’m writing to anyone else who feels like I do. To anyone who’s dictatorial hippocampus (just real quick – that word is super hilarious, don’t you agree?) rules their entire brain. To anyone who feels like they’re alone with their horrific thoughts, even in the midst of a face-to-face conversation with someone they love. To anyone who takes their Spongebob going off with another girl as hard as I did.

At best, I want to save someone from certain thoughts, if only by asserting, “I exist. I’m here, and I’m a lot like you. Let’s talk.”

If you’re like me, you’re not too sensitive. You are just sensitive. That is okay, and is often wonderful. You are more susceptible to hurt, perhaps, but you are infinitely more susceptible to love, to understand, and to forgive. If you have anxiety, that’s okay, too, because you will do whatever you can to manage it. Even if you improve 1% a day, it’s a huge gain.

As far as how I survive personally, there’s a whole lot that I have to keep in line. For my sensitivity, I always endeavor to understand other peoples’ point of view to keep myself in check and make sure I’m not overreacting. I also let people know that I’m sensitive, so that they understand the ins and outs of it. The great upside to being sensitive is that I am sensitive to other feelings just as much as my own, and am an amazing listening ear. Not to toot my own horn, but…naw, I’ll totally toot my own horn. 😉

For my anxiety, I keep myself busy, always making sure that I’m part of a project or undertaking in addition to work. I make art. I occasionally play music and sing. Since I’m highly introverted, I balance time with the few but incredibly meaningful people in my life with my alone time. As much as I like this alone time, though, I cannot stress enough how instrumental others are in helping me accept my sensitivity and manage my over-anxious brain, provided they are a positive influence.

I mean it when I say that I am 100% here for anyone who wants to talk to me. Seriously. I have never shied away from internet companions; you guys were the ones reading my online GameFAQs walkthroughs 10-15 years ago, after all!

This entry was but a sliver from my struggle oeuvre. I have plenty more I can share to anyone who reaches out. Hearing how others deal with life in general is always helpful, so feel free to comment and share this freely.

Well, you can do this with all of my entries, but do it for this one especially. Someone might really need it.

Oh, and I don’t say this enough, but…thank you for reading this.

– H

*Note: Spongebob and Sandy are, regrettably, not the real names of those involved. But that would be awesome.