Isn’t it infuriating? Wide-eyed calls to arms to ‘fight negativity with love’, all unsettlingly shiny teeth and flower crowns just out of sight. Just be positive – your struggle will make you who you are so that one day you, too, can stand here patronising people while exuding the air of someone who has never so much as stubbed their toe in the dark. Revolutionary wisdom about happiness being a choice, cross-stitched and hung on a faded magnolia wall. It’s only inspirational if you have fought your way into that headspace already, and otherwise it can be nauseating.
And so, I would like to apologise in advance.
We’re nearing the end of 2016, a year in which – if you ask the internet, anyway – so many blows were cast to us as a society that I doubt many would object to foregoing the month of December in favour of getting the whole thing over with. At a more personal level, it would appear that few of us are having any easier a time. Those genuinely happy people, to whom we would look with a blend of admiration and bitter envy, are dwindling in their numbers. (I can’d admit to having gathered statistics on this one, but I see your nihilist status updates. And anyway, the ‘post-truth’ phenomenon has to be of use to more than the Daily Mail.)
Beyond graduation and making a handful of wonderful new friends, I have been experiencing a time which I shall conservatively denote as less-than-ideal. Much of what I’ve been struggling with myself is unremarkable and felt widely among my age group, and not actually what I have in mind when writing this.
I am unhappy about, though certain that, what I will remember most vividly from this year is hurt. There’s no shame in admitting this – anyone with a modicum of emotional intelligence will know that relationships, friendships, our interactions with other people, play a hugely significant role in what it is to be a person and live a life. Vulnerability is something to embrace out of principle, for it’s the only way to achieve fulfilment. It does, of course, also open you up to quite a bit of potential emotional distress. I stand by that as a risk worth taking.
However, I have felt that I’ve filled my quota for externally-inflicted-hurt several times over this year. Woe is me, I know, but I’ve been aware of upset as a fact of life since I was a young teen with too many Fall Out Boy shirts. 2016 took those shirts, used them to tie my wrists to a post, and screamed my insecurities at me until I believed that I would be a fool to ever trust my place in someone’s life again. The gradual growing apart of friends, the natural streamlining of social circles, is something I have made and can make peace with. What I have felt this year is the undignified, cold, sometimes callous loss of several of those most special to me, sometimes with less than a month in between for me to catch my breath, and it really knocked me for six.
I’ll never claim to be without my flaws (have you read any of my blogs?) but these were situations in which I did my very best to exhibit integrity, honesty, and a complete commitment to mending things with each person, all of whom I cared for deeply. So I, of suffering self esteem and a defence mechanism crafted out of humility, know that I deserved better treatment. More warmth, even if said relationships had very suddenly become beyond saving.
None of that helped or is helping me deal with it.
Please know, dear readers, that if you are a deeply-feeling, emotionally switched on person, finding yourself bizarrely unaffected by something which previously would have upset you to your core is not a sign of maturity. That feeling of concrete in your veins is not strength, it is avoidance and full-body determination to procrastinate on something overwhelming. Instead of consuming the pain like water to be processed, you’re standing with your nose pressed against it like a thin wooden sheet. It will be more stubborn than you and it will not go away. It will have you, months down the line, overcome by silent tears as you sell a middle-aged man a John Cena shirt, and not because of his poor pro-wrestling alliances.
What I did feel was a desire to turn my back on my life-long preoccupation with doing the right thing. It was a pouted and petulant feeling of ‘over and over again doing my very best means nothing, so why bother?’. It was reactionary and more self-indulgent than this piece of writing. Had I committed to that, it would have destroyed my self esteem and sense of identity, both of which are more important than ever when struggling with feelings of betrayal, abandonment and being taken for granted.
Which brings us to now. I have taken the bold decision to continue choosing not to be a dick.
It’s inevitable that losing people you love, as dictated by them, will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about that relationship. Your dynamic. Its authenticity. Their authenticity. And the only way I can discern to be a safety net for this is to amp up the one thing you know for sure: yourself.
Since I decided to be as me as I possibly can be, to take the faith I would normally place in others and invest it into myself instead, I have felt lighter. I still want to act out in retaliation at the injustice of it all, but it is just as satisfying to do so by loving the shit out of everyone. It’s not quite radiating positivity with a middle finger behind my back, because it’s more genuine than that and it’s not a ‘for now’. It’s painful to reach the stage of feeling so much hurt that you feel more determined than ever not to contribute to that kind of energy if you can possibly help it, but if you can harness it and let it spur you on then it will heal you. (I’m sorry. I’ll take my flower crown now.)
I have often been accused of being too soft, both within myself and towards others. But in being as patient, as honest, as accepting, and as warm as is within my power, it’s for me just as much as it is anyone else. Don’t be fooled into taking this as some declaration of selflessness. I feel better about myself when I embody these things, I feel stronger, and I sleep better at night. I don’t need to be more ruthless with the people around me, as I’ve regularly been told.
No matter how we conduct ourselves, we’ll never be able to control the behaviour of others. That realisation can feel both troublesome and empowering. Your only duty is to be happy with the person you choose to be, and ensure you’ll never look back wishing you’d done more.