1000 Reasons to be happy

This week my blog reached its 1000th view of the year! I’m absolutely elated. I started this blog one night out of rage. I read something that made my blood boil, as much of an activists reading tends to do; and so I wrote about it. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loathed social inequality. During school I always had an outlet for this. I used essays as a space to vent my rage about the world. When I finished my degree I no longer had a space to do that and so Bearcat Boo was born. When I started this I never could have imagined what it would bring me! This is my catharsis, for anyone who knows me well knows I hold a lot of anger. This stems from injustice, from standing in a space that is both disadvantaged and privileged, from caring so much and from knowing that I still have so much to learn. I never imagined I would have have people sharing what I wrote, or that people in the Netherlands, Uganda and South Korea would be reading my work.

The support I have gotten has been incredible. This has spanned from kind comments on WordPress and Facebook and told to me in person, to friends sharing my work with others, to people sending me articles saying they want my view on them. It has been an incredible journey so far and I can’t wait to see what more is in store for me. I’ve been reminded again and again how important it is to have a strong network. I couldn’t be more thankful for the group of people I have surrounding me and caring about me and my work. There have been periods of time since I started my blog where activism has been hard. Burn out is something that people in these circles don’t talk about enough. There are day where the rage is too deep to wade through, or where there is so much else going on that I get lost on negative thoughts. When I first started blogging I told myself I was going to post every week. I learned pretty quickly that this isn’t how I work best. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and started only publishing work I was proud of.

While this blog has brought me some stress, the support and the catharsis it has brought me far out-weights any negative energy it has brought. The articles I’ve written, but more importantly the responses I’ve gotten are always high on my lists of reasons to be happy and things I do to care for myself. I found myself giving advice to a student the other day. She was beyond stressed in a way that was all too familiar to me. I told her what I wish I had been told years ago. You are enough, you are capable, you are worth it, you are loved and you are not alone in the way you feel. I’d like to share with you a few of the ways, beside this blog, that I have reminded myself of these things over the last few months. Because as much as this blog has been incredible for me, it is but one of many ways I take care of myself.

First and most importantly in my head, you have to be all there. You have to pay attention to the little things. Remind yourself of all the ways your life is amazing. Count them in your head, write them down, whatever you need to do. Stop thinking about the hard things and the bad things and focus on what is going well instead. You’ll be amazed at how long the list becomes when you actually give yourself a chance to think it through. Some days its going to be too hard to fight the good fight. Taking a break doesn’t make you a bad person, if anything it makes you a stronger person for being able to say ‘I need a break today.’ Take the break you deserve, buy yourself a $5 latte and try not to think about the working conditions of the farmer or the how sustainable the farming practices are or the fact that its probably not fair trade even though its from Starbucks and they claim to do all these things.

Let yourself cry. Do some kick boxing to get the rage out. Stand on your roof and yell at the world. There is nothing shameful about your feelings. They are natural and expected and valid. You can’t tell yourself you shouldn’t feel them because that isn’t going to make them go away. You have to give yourself space to have feelings, because we are unfortunately horrible at compartmentalizing them and dissociating them from our life. If you are one of those people who is really good at that, they you probably have a whole other host of problems that you should be worrying about. I sometimes find it helpful to remind myself that my feelings are caused by a bunch of neuro chemicals and as much as I can’t completely control them, they are mine and only mind. If you try hard enough, you can turn even the nastiest feelings into positive, productive ones.

If none of that works, which someday’s it wont, then you move on to external support. Reach out to a friend, I can guarantee you there is at least one person out there who wants an honest answer when they ask you ‘how are you doing?’ Give them the honest answer. If you are as lucky as me then you have friends who will Skype you even with the shitty train WiFi just to talk because they can tell you need to hear a friendly voice. Call your parents, or your sibling, or your best friend who is basically family. They want to be there for you because they will need you someday soon, networks work best when there is mutual support. They will probably tell you when you get off the phone with them to make tea or go for a walk or listen to your favourite song. It sounds cliché but its good advice. Go for a run, or a walk, or a bike ride. Do some yoga or have a dance party. Sit in the bottom of your shower with the water on the back of your neck, have a bath, make a grilled cheese, eat Nutella straight from the jar.

If the stress still hasn’t lifted and you’ve exhausted your list of people to call and you’ve taken their advice to heart, this is where you get creative. Make a mind map, draw, paint, make a collage, write about your feelings. You don’t have to share it if you don’t want to, or you can share it with the world. It’s all up to you. If you’ve gotten this far without turning to destructive vices good for you. If you haven’t, there is no shame in having a drink or a smoke. Sometimes its the only thing that works. It’s not something I would suggest because usually it makes you feel worse, but sometimes two fingers of scotch and a cigar are the things you need. Many of the most impressive people on this planet had some kind of destructive vice. This doesn’t mean you have to, but if you do you shouldn’t let it add to the list of things that are getting you down.

All of these ideas are just that, ideas. I could make a list a mile long of pick me ups. Taking a long drive with a friend, the smell of rain, the sound of the river near your house, the birds chirping outside your window. The point is that you are surrounded by amazing little things that out-weigh the big bad scary things by a landslide. If you paid attention of every sucky thing then you would be long dead. Some of the best advice I ever got, and that I’ve relaid a bunch of times is this “take lots of little breaks, it will stop you from having to have to take a big one.” You have to make space for your feelings, you have to take care of yourself. You are the only one who knows how best to do this, and you are the only one who will can commit to doing it consistently.

I am so thankful to be surrounded by such an amazing network of creative, intelligent, caring and inspiring folks. These people are in my life because I chose to have them there. I have burned plenty of bridges but I have also constructed and tended to plenty of fantastic bonds. The people I keep around are the ones who will commiserate with me, but only long enough to make me feel heard. Sometimes you need tough love, or someone who is eternally optimistic. Keep around the people who make you feel loved and supported. I find it incredibly hard to create things when I’m not in a mildly negative head space. The awful stuff in life gives birth to some of the most beautiful things in existence. Without the bad you have no way of understanding how good things can be. But as my mother has always told me, you can’t let it consume you.