My glass is half empty more often than it is half full. I probably need a life outlook and/or attitude adjustment. Cynicism is one of my “character deficits,” as Andrea would say.
She’d always preface her use of psychological vocabulary around me by saying, “my people [referring to her colleagues and clinical psychologists at large], say X.”
After 8 years of therapy she’d caught on to the fact that if she didn’t explain herself first, I’d take matters into my own hands and probably scurry down a psychoanalytical rabbit hole after our session.
That is one of the many reasons I adored her. She knew me better than I knew myself sometimes.
Anyway, yes it is true that I am cynical or sarcastic when it comes to pretty much everything. Everything except people.
While I believe there’s some truth in the saying you can’t change a person, I also think that statement is misleading, because it assumes that people can’t change. Or don’t need to change.
People are changeable. As long as they are the ones doing the changing. In order to change, heal, or grow, we must first replace reluctance with resolve.
We are malleable beings with indefinite potential. That’s the beauty of being human. But we are also the key holders to our own potential, and that’s often times where we get tripped up.
Every day you wake up in the morning you are gifted another chance to get things right. A chance to be better than you were the day before. Or worse. But hopefully you orient towards self-improvement more often than self-sabotage.
It’s kind of funny, all the sugarcoated spinoffs we’ve developed to make ourselves feel better about those character deficits or avoid having to a good hard look at the man in the mirror — and adjust accordingly.
“You’re beautiful just the way you are.”
“You are not your mistakes.”
“New year new you.”
While all of those things may be kind and uplifting, they can also be avoidant depending on the circumstances.
What I mean by that is this; you can be beautiful and still need changing. You may not be your mistakes, but they may reflect parts of your character that really do need work. And you don’t need to wait until next year to start doing that work.
There’s never going to be a perfect, easier time. Might as well start now.
Since the point of this blog is to be candid, here’s a truth for ya; I’ve seen the inside of a psych ward firsthand. Either that makes me neurotic, a victim of the overmedicalization of America, or cool, because Eminem—one of the greatest rappers of our time—has too. Unfortunately a statement like that in today’s society will be met with concern and taboo, no matter how cool or uncool you are. But the shock value of my suffering and experiences is beside the point.
Point is, I think that this particular experience is the reason why the subject of people and humanity lends me an optimism and fascination that I have trouble finding elsewhere. That hospital stay was humbling to the nth degree.
It lent me a look into a handful of people who had hit their rock bottom and survived the blow. Myself included.
See, there is something extremely endearing about watching a person save themselves, from themselves. And something even more special about quietly walking beside them as they do it.
If your path requires you to walk through hell, walk as if you own the place.
That’s what I was doing, I was walking through hell. Walking alongside a number of addicts, abusers, victims, disabled, mentally ill, chronically ill, impoverished, homeless, wealthy, elderly, young… the list goes on. I’ve seen it all, and it’s all relative and as far as I’m concerned. No category of people or struggling or suffering is superior to the others.
Now for the record, I’m not denying that there are still probably inherently bad people out there. People who may fall into one of the above categories AND they’ve already used up their share of get out of jail free cards. People who are out of chances and deserve none other than to rot where the sun don’t shine for the rest of their days.
This is not meant to be a comparison of bad to good, nor a mutually exclusive list of ‘types’.
This is more so just a contemplation on humanity and a questioning of why we prize normalcy and perfection over anything else, and anything that falls outside of a ‘normal realm’ is accompanied by taboo. Normal isn’t even real. Normal is a myth, one of our most whimsical illusions. And healthcare in America is a business before all else.
I stumbled upon the work of Phil Hickey, a licensed psychologist, presently retired — who dedicated the majority of his life to clinical and managerial work in the mental health, corrections, and addictions fields in the United States and England. He writes:
Mental illness is a man-made concept that has no objective reference – it corresponds to nothing real. An artifactual tribute to human self-deception, ambition, and greed, it is a wrong turning in the history of human development.Behaviorism and Mental Health
Alternative perspective on psychiatry’s so-called mental disorders | PHILIP HICKEY, PH.D.
Like Phil, I’d challenge; if normal is real, then we all are normal. At the end of the day, we are all just REGULAR people, mad or not. (Except for the evil ones).
Let’s say I was a Jesus person, this is the time that I would get on my soapbox and preach to you how we are all sinners, but God believes we deserve grace and forgiveness anyway.
I’m not all that Jesus-y right now so I’ll hit you with this instead. No matter how low, defeated or broken you may feel, there is inherent hope and purpose and light to be found in your existence alone.
And when we are forced to look inward and fix our broken, dysfunctional, ugly parts, we are choosing to pursue that indefinite human potential. That light.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you there is nothing like the adrenaline rush you get when you finish a race you’ve been training for for months. That feeling of confidence, achievement, renewal.. it’s like you’re standing on top of the world.
And speaking from experience, I think the same can be true at ‘rock bottom’. While far more uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is sometimes in our weakest hours where we realize the true magnitude of our strength.
It is through times like these that we meet ourselves. Maybe even for the first time.
One of my old managers gave me a book written by an author named Steve Elder. It’s called More Beautiful Than Before (highly HIGHLY recommend). His whole book is about how everyone of us, sooner or later walks through hell. The hell of being hurt, hurting another, the list goes on and on.
He says the point of walking through hell though, is not to come out of it empty-handed.
There is a real and profound power in the pain we endure if we transform our suffering into a more authentic, meaningful life.
He is right. And for the first time after reading this book, I realized that it is our stories of suffering and triumph that bind us together as human beings. These are common, shared experiences. Whether you are a fan of the person sitting next to you or not.
And because we all go through suffering, we all deserve empathy and humility.
Speaking of the world’s best manager and my time in the world of retail, I remember one day early on in my shop girl career when I was entrusted to train in our newest employee.
Her and I got to chatting because the foot traffic was usually low during closing shifts, and as soon as I knew it, this woman was graciously pouring out her heart and soul to me. Her story and the fact that she immediately trusted me enough to share it, brought tears to my eyes.
(Clearly I shouldn’t be left alone with new hires).
She told me about her childhood, and what it was like to grow up in rural America, with siblings who were more or less left to fend for themselves due to a responsibility-averse, sometimes manipulative and manic parental upbringing. I learned of her young adult years, how she’d shaved her head once and met the love of her life. How she, too, had seen her share of mental health struggles and still managed to put herself through law school. How she was a proponent of feminism and currently serving as a judge on one of our state courts.
This woman fascinated me. She had one of the most intelligent minds I’d ever come across, and a fucking incredible life story. Still, she was spending her Friday night standing next to me at the shop, there to work this job just for the hell of it.
Um, I’ll have what she’s having.
I later learned that to-date, in her 30 years of life, she hadn’t shared with anyone many of the things she shared with me that night. And that she was completely baffled as to why she felt safe or compelled to do so in the first place.
I on the other hand was humbled, flattered and arrived at the conclusion that to be trusted with one’s heart, soul and secrets is one of the most special unspoken compliments you will ever receive. To be confided in is a precious, priceless gift.
You never know what someone has been through or where they are on their path. And you never will know if you don’t give them the time of day. Every person you meet has something to share that may help you orient yourself towards indefinite potential. It’s up to you to give them that time of day, because you can never be certain you’ll get the chance again.