How Your Surrounding Space Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

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Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Whenever there’s an opportunity to make yourself feel better, seize it! The world is a hectic place, but your life doesn’t have to be.

Therapy isn’t the only way to improve mental health. There are some things you can do on your own to make yourself feel better – the space around you plays a big role in that. 

Do you know that feeling after cleaning up the house or decluttering your desk? That’s exactly what we mean by making yourself feel better. That feeling of motivation and positivity proves to what extent our surrounding space impacts our mental health. 

Here are some tips that can inspire you to improve your well-being and make meaningful changes to your space (and hopefully your inner and outer peace). 

Declutter regularly

“When my house is not in order, I don’t feel in order.”

Clutter can feel like your worst enemy. Picture yourself at the happiest you’ve ever been. Now imagine entering into a cluttered apartment. That feeling of disappointment that you are feeling only at the thought of clutter is proof that your surroundings play an enormous role in your life. The good news is that it doesn’t take that much effort to bring a positive change and to make yourself feel better. Decluttering requires a little will power and a couple of hours of your life (weekly or monthly depending on your desired level of decluttering).

Redecorate

Everybody enjoys a change here and there. Redecorating and changing your space can have a positive impact on your mental health. Those changes don’t have to be immense. Even the slightest update in your living room can put a smile on your face.

Why don’t you consider adding more plants to your space? You probably already know how healthy they are for their air-purifying elements, but they have some healing powers too. Plants will create a more natural atmosphere that will be more pleasant to be in.

(Caitlin’s note: I recommend Wild Interiors and Just Add Ice for indoor plants!)

Apart from adding green to your surroundings, you can bring more colors to your life by painting the walls. Colors can influence moods, so you should choose them carefully. For example, the blue color is known for its calming and soothing power, while yellow can boost your energy and put you in a better mood. 

Rearrange the furniture

While redecorating might require some time and money investment, rearranging the furniture definitely takes less effort but has a big role in elevating your mood.

My mum used to do this a lot when I was a kid, especially when she was feeling blue. A different living room set-up would always brighten up the house. Since my childhood, this was my go-to method for making myself feel happier.

Eventually, which furniture set-up works the best for you and your family depends on, well, you and your family. Try more options until you settle for the one that fits you the most and supports your daily activities in the most productive way.

Spruce up your workplace

“We are defined by where we spend our time.”

For most of us, our workplace is where we spend the majority of our time. There’s no denying that our job and office highly impact our mental health. So how do we turn this to our advantage? 

1) Add more plants

Plants are a must-have for every office space for health reasons and productivity. Even if you’re not working from home, but in a shared office space, there’s no way your colleagues or managers will object to having plants in the office. 

2) Clean and organize your desk 

Your desk needs to be taken care of regularly. Try to tidy up your office desk as soon as you are done for the day. Avoid keeping unnecessary documents or paper on it, that’s what file cabinets are for. Your desk should be fully optimized and free of clutter. Office tools like binders can also be very practical and can help you keep your space organized.

3) Let there be light and air

Good lighting and fresh air are crucial for every workspace. Nothing like those sun rays to make you feel productive and alive! 

Bonus tip: Leave the window open while you are on your lunch break. There is less chance that you will feel sleepy after eating if your office is well-aired. High temperatures can also cause you to feel sleepy, hence not productive, which is another reason to let air circulate.

4) Get a pet

A pet-friendly atmosphere will lift the mood of any workplace. If you are working from home, why don’t you consider getting a pet? If you are managing a workplace, definitely consider getting a pet for your employees. Not only that you will have a beautiful distraction from work, but you will also give and receive so much love, which will eventually make your work blossom.

5) Get inspired

Different people get inspired by different things. Your office space should reflect your personality, your desires, and your goals. You’ve surely noticed how some parents put framed photos of their children on their desks. It is what keeps them going, what makes them feel good and productive. It can be anything, from photos of your close ones to vision boards, places you’d like to visit, anything. What makes you good at your job? What’s your goal? Feel free to frame it and put it in a visible place so that you can get daily reminders of your path.

6) Add some colors

You will hear quite often that employees complain about the lack of color in their workplace. If you are one of them, share this constructive feedback with your managers so that they can consider adding some colors to your office. 

If you are lucky enough to be working from home, you should definitely do some research on colors that would fit you the best – not only can the right colors do wonders for your productivity, they can also improve your well-being and lift your mood. No need to paint your home office walls if that’s not your cup of tea; there are other ways to add color – rugs, paintings, photos, ornaments, etc.

The most important advice I’ve ever received was to always listen to myself. You should do the same. If it makes you feel bad, get rid of it. Experiment with your home, office space, walls, and furniture as much as you want until you get it right. Create a space where you will feel peaceful and happy – what more could a person ask for?

About the author

tess

 

Tess Cain loves being organized. If she is not working at office.eco, then she’s dedicating her time to staying clean, clutter-free and organized. She also likes the outdoors, working out and volunteering.

Why you need to go to therapy, and why you probably can’t

therapy

In theory, every single person would benefit from regular therapy. Just like you get an annual physical to check your blood work for issues you can’t see, like cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, and more, a regular check-in with a therapist can help you maintain healthy levels of psychological self care.

When I meet with my psychiatrist, she goes through a depression and anxiety inventory and scores it. From the time I went on medication in December 2017 to my checkup in February 2019 (and quarterly follow-ups between), my scores consistently dropped. It was a quantitative way to check in and realize I was making strides in my mental health that could not have been noticed by just considering if I was feeling “less depressed.”

We developed a plan to wean off meds, and I’ve been off them entirely since May 2019 (the same month my book launched and I broke up with a boyfriend of over a year — it was a great time to go off meds! Sarcasm!) The moral of the meds story is that once I was out of an abusive marriage and actively working through my trauma in therapy, I was managing my mental health without the use of medication. If it turned out that I still needed it, I would have gone back on.

However, even if you don’t see a psychiatrist for a diagnosed mental illness like depression, anxiety, bipolar, borderline, OCD, C-PTSD, etc., and even if you don’t take meds, mental health care helps everyone.

You would benefit from therapy

Yeah, you. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, even if you think you’re fine.

We live in an extremely stressful society that is not set up for our well-being. We are over-worked, minimum wage doesn’t cover rent prices anywhere in the U.S., we’re drowning in student loans, and we have concentration camps. That’s just one country. Globally, there’s genocide and rampant homophobia/transphobia and the Amazon is burning and the ice caps are melting.

Watch the news for five minutes and you could benefit from a therapist.

Some of my readers who attend (or have attended) therapy said:

  • “My health insurance is good about covering therapy and visits to a CNP who can prescribe medication. I absolutely needed therapy almost three years ago and it’s led to me rising high above much of my depression and anxiety, and to just see more of my own worth. All of it was hard. Making appointments. Going to appointments. Having my therapist tell me things that were hard to hear. I don’t regret any of it.”
  • “For an hour I slow down. It isn’t deadlines and juggling, it’s take time, process, feel, reflect. As a single mom, there’s very little time for that. It’s always putting out fires and juggling other people’s needs. My therapy is my one self indulgence, the one thing I completely do for me. It’s like the bare minimum of self care and it still feel selfish for it when I’m doing the schedule shuffling to make our weeks work.”
  • “I have been going to therapy for three years now and it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done for myself. I went from being on 7 different medications and still unable to function as a human with C-PTSD and DID and now I take one medication and have a full time job with normal to low anxiety.”
  • “It’s been amazing for me and helped me leave my emotionally/psychologically abusive marriage, start healing the trauma from that and from my childhood, improve lots of areas of myself that also have helped improve my parenting. I recommend it to others every chance I get.”
  • “I go to therapy to find myself again. After so much abuse I’ve gone through I’ve lost the real me. My therapist has helped me so much. I’m so very grateful for him and would recommend therapy to everyone.”
  • “I used to go to therapy. It helped me process some stuff that I desperately needed to work through, like realizing just how abusive my parents truly were. I’m tempted to go again because I’m barely functioning again, but I worry they won’t help, just use me as a lab rat to satisfy their curiosity.”
  • “My therapist is always calling me out, and, don’t tell her, but I like it.”
  • “Finding the right therapist is key and worth being patient.”
  • “Without therapy I would never have identified I was being abused.”
  • “I have been to multiple therapists in the past. The only one I’d say had a real impact was my PTSD specialist (EMDR therapy). The others… by and large, I usually left sessions feeling more confused than I did when I went in.”
  • “I have been in and out of therapy since I was 5. I go because while I have figured out how to process and unpack my trauma on my own, I currently and desperately need to undo some learned behaviors and deal with my most recent bout of abuse and deal with my PTSD. It helps to have a space space to break down or soundboard once a week. I personally think everyone can benefit from therapy. EVERYONE.”

The key is that everyone would benefit from a therapist with absolutely no biases that preclude proper supportive care, and that’s not always possible.

When you can’t go to therapy

There is a huge problem with access to therapy. Many people are without insurance, transportation, or income to be able to access a therapist. More, it can be difficult and daunting to find an inclusive therapist who is open and accepting of all gender identities, sexualities, relationship styles, ability levels, etc. or who is informed in a specific need if you have one. As a result, marginalized people face even more hardship because they cannot even access the services and tools to help them cope.

I asked readers to chime in if they go to therapy or not and why. Here are some of the negative responses:

  • “I’ve been told by basically everyone I’m close to that I need to go to therapy, and I want to, but I can’t afford it and I’ll never be able to at this rate.”
  • “Every therapist seemed wholly overwhelmed and some cried”
  • “Not anymore. They spend more time studying me than helping me. ‘Oh you’re nonbinary, I have a lot of questions.’ While some of them never mention ‘the autism’ some brought it up to congratulate me for being so functional. And some were really helpful – that’s the bitter pill.”
  • “No insurance, so no. Probably not once we have insurance, because nothing I can find that we can afford covers it. When I did, I found it largely unhelpful due to the profession being dominated by people who don’t think people with breasts can possibly know their own mind. Never mind trauma-informed, educated on chronic illness, accepting of autism self-diagnosis, etc. When I’m having to educate my therapist constantly, it doesn’t make for a good relationship.”
  • “Even if I had insurance, it would be near impossible to find a non-racist, trans inclusive, queer positive, non Christian therapist with a good praxis on ableism here. When I have had therapy it was not helpful because the therapist could not understand my life experience and was not comprehending of the support I needed, which resulted in me being gaslit and given harmful advice that increased my abuser’s control over me.”
  • “I have insurance but I have phone anxiety and anxiety about not knowing how to set up appointments. I also have some trauma related to bad counseling I’ve had. That’s not getting into being a neurodivergent creative weirdo and also accidentally stunning them with my trauma. It honestly feels like having to translate a deeply personal internal language with other people outside myself for every basic communication.”
  • “No. Because the stigma means that if anyone knew, they would think less of me. Like there’s something wrong with me.”

Others who are able to go to therapy can only do so because of special access programs.

  • “The only way I can afford to go is because I signed up with Open Path. I go because I finally realized last year that I needed to talk to a professional about my past traumas and talk about my depression and anxiety issues that stemmed from them. My therapist has helped me totally reframe the way I think about my past and change the way I talk about it. It’s gonna be a long process, but I feel more optimistic now than I ever have before.
  • “The only reason I’m able to is because of a local organization of therapists who volunteer their time for the uninsured. I chose to go when I was having daily suicidal thoughts, but I should have been going for the last 20 years. I’ve been going for 8 months now and so far it’s been extremely helpful just to be able to talk without fear of judgment and without feedback or bias. The entire experience has been extremely validating and I think absolutely every person on this planet should see a therapist regularly.”

This system is letting people down

People don’t have access to safe, inclusive, reliable, affordable mental health care — and that means that people are not safe. We are letting down trans people, domestic violence survivors, veterans, and everyone else including people who just need a safe space to unload their mental burdens. We are mainlining stress and gating the resources to manage it in a healthy way.

In a new study published in 2018, researchers found that “mental health services in the US are insufficient despite more than half of Americans seeking help. Limited options and long waits are the norm, but some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”

Barriers cited in this study include:

  • High cost and insufficient insurance coverage
  • Limited options and long waits
  • Lack of awareness (not knowing where to go for service)
  • Social stigma

We’ve created a world that is too stressful to bear, limited the access to mental health care, and stigmatized those who seek or use it. Not to mention we raise boys to avoid emotional expression, thereby ensuring a huge chunk of each generation doesn’t even know how to express that they’re feeling stressed or angry or hurt without violence, lest they be seen as weak.

We need to do better.

Read more from me!

If you enjoyed this post (enjoy is a strong word, it was kind of a downer), you might also like my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

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There’s no timeline on healing or love

time

When I turned 25, I made a five year plan. Become debt free and a mother by 30, in April 2018.

I am now 31 and neither of those things happened.

In fact, as 30 approached, I was facing a lot of other huge life circumstances. In August 2016 I got married and immediately started trying to conceive a much wanted baby. In January 2017 I stopped speaking to my mother, until February 2018 when I unwittingly made contact with her through my stepdad’s phone. She tersely let me know he had cancer, and through speaking with my siblings I came to understand that she had deliberately kept the news from me to punish me for cutting her out of my life. (I wrote about this experience here).

Within a ten day span in March 2018, I left an abusive marriage, packed everything I owned and moved into a new apartment, endured transatlantic cyber bullying at the hands of my husband, and watched my stepfather die of lung cancer. Oh, and accepted a book deal.

Life did not give one iota of a shit about my five year plan. I still have student loans and I never did get pregnant (thank goodness).

The timeline of healing

After I left my abuser, I committed to only casual relationships on a non-monogamous basis for at least a year. And then I fell in love. And I fought it. I didn’t want to be in love, I wanted time to be single and to heal.

My sister gave me some sage advice: There’s no timeline on healing or love. You’re allowed to fall in love whenever you fall in love.

I decided I could work on healing from my abusive upbringing and marriage at the same time I was enjoying a relationship. I continued going to therapy and reading books that helped me process my trauma, and I had fewer panic attacks and C-PTSD episodes as time went on. I was healing.

And then our relationship imploded, as did another year-long relationship of mine, and I found myself newly single again.

But I noticed something important. While it had taken me years to realize my marriage was harmful, it took me only months with my boyfriend and mere weeks with my girlfriend. Of course, looking back, I can see that there were signs of the unhealthy patterns long before I realized them, but it was proof of my healing. I was doing the work. I wasn’t putting up with unhealthy behavior once I realized it was happening.

The timeline of love

Letting myself feel my feelings and fall in love was important. Fresh out of an abusive marriage, I really needed to feel loved again. I am a big fan of taking time to be single and focus on self-love, but I’m also not upset that I spent my first year away from my ex feeling loved and supported by two partners.

When those relationships ended, I was much more able to take time to be single. Seeing that I had fallen into similar behaviors (serving as one partner’s sole emotional support to my own detriment, allowing the other to continually violate my boundaries and forgiving them because each time seemed individually like an honest mistake) as I had in my marriage, because on some level I was still scared of being seen as too hard to love, was something I needed to realize. And now that I’ve had those experiences, I have realized them.

This has given me new targets for therapy.

Your responsibilities in a relationship

Some fundamental truths I’ve stumbled upon in therapy include the following:

  • I am not responsible for making my thoughts and emotions comfortable for other people. How many of us do this? We feel hurt or upset but keep our pain internalized until we’ve either ignored it or whittled it into something tiny and non-offensive that we can bring up to our partners apologetically and hope to stand up for ourselves about it. The trouble is, when we’ve been taught over and over again that our hurt feelings aren’t valid, we just start invalidating them ourselves. “I won’t talk about this with him, I’m probably just overreacting.” No, we’re not doing that anymore. If you feel hurt, tell your partner. The discomfort of this conversation is important: if the discomfort gives way to healing and repair, then that’s a sign of a healthy relationship. If it gives way to invalidating blame, then that’s a sign you aren’t with someone who values you and wants to treat you well.
  • Managing my partners’ behavior is not a normal part of a healthy relationship. I’ve always been the PR spinner in my relationships. With my abusive ex, I would post cute stories about our conversations on Facebook and my friends fawned over how sweet we were. “Get a man who makes coffee in the morning and does the dishes!” I’d say, to a chorus of “He should teach a class on being a husband!” and “Can I borrow him so he can teach mine??” But the man only had three regular chores and didn’t do any of them completely. If I wanted to continue getting coffee in the morning and have him washing dishes at 50% competency, I had to put on the happy face and brag about him in a public way so he rewarded me instead of punishing me. I also had a habit of staying mentally two steps ahead of partners’ behavior to make sure they didn’t do something problematic. I also did this with my parents: I’d have to watch to make sure dad didn’t harass a waitress with a sexist comment or keep an eye on mom’s mood to warn my sister to behave. I have always had to stay aware of everyone around me to reduce the risk of danger/abuse. Turns out this is not a normal part of a relationship.
  • I give my love away freely so people never feel like they have to earn it. Realizing this was hard. I have always felt like I had to behave properly in order to receive love – I had to earn it. If I was a bad kid, I didn’t get love. If I was a bad wife, I didn’t get love. Subsequently, I wanted to make sure no one ever felt like that’s what I was doing to them. I didn’t want to paywall my affections and make someone earn them… so I had no boundaries because I always wanted people to have access to my love. This is unsustainable. Love is unconditional, but access is not, and sometimes I have to say no to something or someone in order to take care of myself and avoid burning out. Boundaries are a form of love too.
  • I am not responsible for making other people love me and treat me with value; that is their job. Seriously. If you are in a relationship with me, I shouldn’t have to convince you I’m worth loving, appreciating, or being with. Having to perform at this level with so many partners has been exhausting, and I don’t do it anymore. If you don’t want to be with me, stop being with me. I should not have to earn your time and attention.

Single part two

As I mentioned, after these two breakups I’ve been spending time being single and casually dating, but I’m not in any serious relationships. I still consider myself single. But I’m also feeling like I may be ready to start dating a little more seriously soon. My plan is to stay single until the new year, but we all know that life laughs at my plans. And if I end up feeling ready before then, that’s okay too. Because I decide when I’m ready, and it doesn’t mean I can’t dial things back if I find I still need single time later.

The same is true for you. You can’t heal on a timeline and you can’t control when something happens off your plan. But you can choose to lean into your vulnerability and your love and let something wonderful happen. (And you can also choose to pull back and say no, I’m actually not ready yet. It is up to you!)

Read more from me

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

Breaking out of the binary 

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Source: Unsplash

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of what you could call “finding myself.” After serving as an ally member on the board of my college Gay Straight Alliance, I only realized I was bisexual in my early twenties. Even when my sister came out as bisexual and went to prom with a same sex date, I never questioned my own default straightness until I found myself surprisingly attracted to a woman. Rather than an “Aha!” moment, revealing my queerness was a series of “Huh” moments. 

And I guess I should not have been surprised when the same thing happened with my gender. It started with allyship and with friendship. One friend posted to “think outside the binary” and it changed my whole paradigm in an instant. I noticed when people said things like “I’m really nervous about my boyfriend not responding to me, I know I’m being such a girl!” and responded “That’s not a girl thing, that’s an anybody thing.” The more I tried to “think outside the binary” the more I saw how things are ascribed to gender that make no sense. 

As I made more trans and non-binary friends, I began sharing more posts and information about gender inclusivity as I learned from them.

I started using gender inclusive language. Spouse and partner instead of husband or girlfriend. Pregnant people instead of pregnant women. Parents instead of moms. Chestfeeding and nursing instead of breastfeeding. Menstrual products instead of feminine products. Reproductive healthcare instead of women’s healthcare. “Hello, friends!” instead of “Hello, ladies!” in Facebook groups. 

A side effect of using gender neutral language is that you start undoing a lot of bias in your own head about highly charged gender assumptions in society. Should your spouse do an equal share of housework? When you stop saying, “Oh men are just like that, women have to pick up after them!” and swap it for “Spouses are just like that, the other spouse has to pick up after them!” you see really glaring holes in logic. Operating a broom or dishwasher is not a gendered task. 

I started learning that trans people don’t owe the world “passing.” It’s not any person’s job to look like what you expect their gender to look like. Men can wear dresses and makeup, women can have facial hair, and non-binary people aren’t androgynous mixes of feminine and masculine features that leave you wondering what type of ethereal fae forest they crawled out of. (The answer is that they probably would actually tell you they crawled out of an ethereal fae forest). Two trans friends independently told me their gender was “angry bees” in a 48 hour period. 

I learned that saying “Male to Female” is outdated and harmful language. A trans woman has always been a woman, she was just labeled incorrectly at birth because we assign gender to genitals instead of allowing people to self identify. (Note: If she uses this term for herself, it’s okay, but she’s the only authority on what phrases and labels should be used to describe her). 

I learned that dysphoria isn’t necessary to be transgender. You don’t have to hate your body or feel like it’s wrong to be trans. 

Once you start realizing that gender is a collection of societal expectations and that genitals don’t have anything to do with it and hobbies, interests, voices, career goals, leg hair, etc. don’t have anything to do with it, you’re left questioning what the point of gender even is. 

I gave myself a mental prompt and discussed it with a few friends: What if we were all raised as “they/them” in gender neutral ways, with no leaning toward dolls or trucks, dirt or cooking, dresses or pants? What if literally every option was available to every child and they just got to pick the things they like without redirection to an “appropriate” interest? What if we supported every crying child the same? If we were all raised the same and there was no difference between genders except the fact that each person decided on their own, how many would just stay neutral because it doesn’t matter?

The more I circled down this thought experiment around why the gender binary is a thing… the more I realized I didn’t like participating in it. My gender has nothing to do with my interests or my career or my wardrobe. I love femininity and my presentation is very femme. But does that necessarily make me a woman? 

People have already decided for me what it means to be a woman. It’s supposed to mean a hairless body and performative diet culture and being humble so that men can be the source of my confidence and validation. It means being talked over in meetings at work and apologizing for having an opinion. But I’ve already stopped doing all of those things. So if I’m not performing womanhood the way society wants anyway, what’s the point of “being a woman”? 

And this slow unraveling of the yarn-ball of gender expectations is how I decided the gender binary was not something I wanted to participate in, so I’m starting to explore neutral pronouns and a non-binary approach to life. 

Huh. 

 

Read more from me

Curious about gender issues? There’s a full glossary of gender-related terms and important information we should all know about what it means to be transgender in America in 2019 in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I also have a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

How to ask for the love you need

 

worthy

I recently did something that I thought would be silly, or selfish, or outlandish.

I wrote a manual on how to love me.

It gives the basics about me and my background, includes a list of my favorite things, discusses how to best communicate with me, describes how I interact within each of the five love languages, and has links to blog posts and book recommendations to help understand my trauma and triggers. It even has tips on how to help me through a panic attack.

I posted about it on my personal Facebook page and I expected some laughs and comments about how I was being super type-A.

But the response was nothing short of love and encouragement.

It’s okay to ask for love

It’s okay to ask for love in the ways you need it. It’s okay to say, “Hey could you love me this way instead?”

For me, one of the worst things is to ignore me or make me do all the work of initiating conversation or contact. Feeling like I have to chase affection is deeply painful. I am still learning that love is abundant and available, that I don’t have to earn it, and that I certainly don’t have to beg for it.

An unexpected message from a loved one can light up my whole day, reassure me that they are thinking of me, and show me that they care.

When I shared my manual about how to love me, people thanked me.

The next day, I posted a status to “love me louder,” and I got some people sending gifs and hugs… but I also noticed several friends leaving comments about how great a friend I am, how they’ve been inspired by me, how proud they are of my writing and my work. And that small shift in the way I asked for love felt really good.

It can be scary to ask for love

When I was in sixth grade, I was living with my dad after my parents divorced. I told him “I love you” multiple times a day. It was an easy way to check in, to receive that “I love you too” back. I was trying to ask for love. And one day his response was not, “I love you too.”

It was “You say that a lot. Seems like you might be trying to convince yourself.”

It has never really felt safe to ask since then.

It’s been twenty years since I felt safe asking for love.

When I check in with someone to ask for something they aren’t giving me automatically, my heart pounds. Tears prick my eyes. My whole body feels hot. I want to be anywhere but vulnerably in front of them showing the truth of what I need. Risking myself like that is physically painful.

I learned as a child that love can be faked.

Every time I ask someone to change the way they love me, it feels like I’m being ungrateful and selfish. Like I should change the way I need to feel loved rather than ask them to speak my native tongue.

It feels like I am flinging myself off a cliff and hoping they might catch me.

Sometimes it feels easier to sit around wondering why someone doesn’t love me than to say what I need to feel loved. Vulnerability is scary, but it’s where we get our needs met. It’s where we find resolve in our worth and value.

It’s where we remember who the fuck we are.

Vulnerability at work can look like asking for a raise or promotion. You’re risking a no. If your boss says no, you might feel unimportant or not valued. If your boss reassures you that you’re doing great and puts together a six month plan for you to be in a place where they can offer that raise when they have the next budget meeting — that’s a reward for your vulnerability, even though it initially feels like rejection.

Vulnerability with a partner can look like saying, “I feel like I’m chasing you down for affection and I want to hear from you more during the day.” This feels scary, because they could say no. They could say that’s not how they operate their love languages and they aren’t willing to learn yours. They could say this feels like a lot of work.

Or they could say, “I’m sorry that I’ve been loving you in a way you weren’t receiving, and I will remember that you need loved this way. It is safe to remind me, and please do until I make it a habit.”

Being told I’m hard work is one of my top triggers. It’s something that has been said by a parent and by a partner, and its message is clear: My love for you is conditional on how easy you make my life.

Relationships take work, but people are not hard work

It’s rare for two people to connect in a way that is 100% flawless all of the time. But if you are important to each other and there is mutual trust, respect, and caring, asking for what you need is a blessing. It’s a road map and a manual. It’s cheat codes to making sure you feel loved.

Interpersonal communication takes practice, and this can feel like a tough job.

But if people didn’t want to do the work of learning how to best love me, they wouldn’t be out here loving me.

Tell your partner your love languages and be specific

Your partner can reference your top love languages for a reminder that you really get a boost from a love note in the middle of the day or them offering to pick up dinner on the way home so you don’t have to. Maybe they buy you an awesome gift because you feel loved when you receive a thoughtful present.

Whatever your love language, it is okay to communicate it to your friends, family, and partners. In fact, it should be a regular part of interpersonal relationships.

Not sure what your love language is? Take the quiz here to find out and learn about all five languages, which are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts

The hidden benefit of telling people how to love you

When you tell people how to love you, and especially when you tell people what makes you feel downright unloved or unappreciated, you have a measuring stick for people’s respect for you.

Once you’ve told someone several times what you need to feel loved and they repeatedly ignore it, it can help you see who doesn’t belong so close to you. You deserve an inner circle of people willing and eager to speak your language.

It doesn’t make people inherently toxic or bad for you if they don’t speak your language, but it is okay to place distance between yourself and them.

Normalize love

Normalize talking about love languages.

Normalize telling friends you love them.

Normalize asking for what you need, without apology.

Read more from me!

If you dig my brand of encouragement, you might like my Patreon page, where supporters receive a weekly pep talk post! You can sign up at varying levels for different content access, starting at just $1 per month.

You can also support my work by purchasing my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a five star review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

 

 

 

 

The healing power of non-monogamy

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I couldn’t find a good image so I created this one.

In March 2018 I left an abusive marriage and entered into a new phase of life: the casually slutty phase. My dating app profile included the line, “I am dedicating 2018 to non-monogamous exploration.” I had my first one time hookups, met my first friend with benefits, and soon met my first long-term partner after the split. 

Me and this guy couldn’t get enough of each other, and I stopped putting energy into other dates because I was excited to see him again and again. (Real talk: Dating is hard work and takes a lot of energy). We dated a few weeks before he asked if I wanted to be monogamous. “No,” I said, “Staying non-monogamous is really important to me after leaving my marriage.” He said, “Okay, it just seems like a lot to balance, I thought maybe monogamy would feel safer.”

In retrospect, this was a yikes, but at the time I did not realize that. We continued dating and I met another long-term partner; both relationships lasted a little over a year each. 

A little background 

This was not my first non-monogamous rodeo. In 2010, my first husband and I opened our marriage at my request. It was definitely uncharted territory, as he was my first partner ever and he had only had one or two serious partners before me. Neither of us even knew non-monogamy was an option, but I had been researching online to try and figure out why I felt so unfulfilled in our marriage and thought that perhaps adding other partners was a great idea and would help me feel more worthy of love. My entire first 28 or so years of life were plagued with terrible self esteem and emotional abuse that led me to seek fulfillment and validation from others to feel good about myself.

I reached out while writing this blog to ask him what his thoughts were when I asked to open our marriage. He said he felt defeated overall that our marriage was so unhappy and he was willing to try anything to make it work. (PS. this is a bad reason to open a marriage, and I definitely made a mistake opening my marriage this way). 

We made some of your typical new-to-polyamory mistakes. First of all, we opened from a place of fear and desperation to make things work, rather than getting our relationship on solid ground first. We had lots of rules, lots of possessiveness, lots of “well you got to do it so now I get to do it too” tit for tat behavior. 

I made mistakes. I treated my partners like they were beholden to my expectations without treating them with the same respect. I treated other people like they were pawns I could move around my relationship chess-board, trying to find the configuration that would fulfill what I felt like I was missing. Maybe dating another couple would work better, maybe this, maybe that. 

By 2018 when I sought out to be my authentically non-monogamous self, I had learned much more by following polyamory-positive accounts on social media (like Poly.Land), learning about relationship constructs like relationship anarchy, seeing my own friends in my social circles practice healthy polyamorous relationships, reading books like More than Two, etc. 

When I left my abuser, non-monogamy the right way was my goal. Because monogamy had trapped me in a cycle of making my partner the most important thing in my life. More important even than myself. 

Weaponizing monogamy

When people say “toxic monogamy,” it might offend you as a monogamous person. You might think I’m saying that your way of living life in your romantic relationships is toxic or bad. That’s not what I’m saying. 

Similar to toxic masculinity, which is “masculinity that is toxic,” toxic monogamy is “monogamy that is toxic.” Examples of toxic monogamy include creepy wedding decorations with a ball and chain or handcuffs, not allowing your spouse to have friends outside of your marriage, expecting your partner to be your “one and only” person in life, being possessive of your partner, going through your partner’s phone to see if they are talking to other people or following accounts on social media you don’t approve of, threatening to harm other people who you perceive to come between you and your partner, etc. 

My mom and stepdad had a couple they were friends with whose origin story went like this: He beat up her boyfriend, so she went out with him instead because he proved how much he wanted her with physical violence. And they’re still together decades later. Aww, sweet. (No, not sweet). 

Toxic masculinity and toxic monogamy go hand in hand, but that’s a blog post for another day. 

My abuser had weaponized monogamy in our relationship. We met when I was in my first marriage, as was he. I had a girlfriend at the time, whom he was also seeing. He met with her for a dinner date, she talked about me on their date, and he then connected with me and feigned surprise when I asked if he was in fact the gentleman who was seeing my girlfriend. (Read: He lied about not knowing who I was when he made contact). He dated us both until he decided which of us was easier, and it became apparent when she started calling out his possessive behavior that he needed to get her out of the picture. 

He convinced me she was too jealous and unstable for us to attempt a polyamorous triad, which had been our initial hope as three people who were dating each other. I broke things off with her and he did soon after. Once I filed for divorce, my abuser suggested that we be monogamous with each other, because non-monogamy was clearly too hurtful and too complicated. I readily agreed, because I had just had such a bad experience with that “crazy girlfriend!” I didn’t want to have to guard myself against that again. It really was better to just be monogamous so I couldn’t get hurt again. I was enthusiastically in agreement. 

I was happily monogamous, so long as I accepted whatever treatment he gave me. He was in charge of the love, affection, and sex I received, and I had no leg to stand on to ask for more. 

Bisexual erasure in a straight-presenting relationship

I am bisexual: attracted to people of similar and different genders than myself. As a bisexual person in a relationship with a straight cisgender man, I was subject to some of your typical bi erasure tropes. His erasure took one of three forms depending on my behavior, confidence, doubts, etc. and the result he needed to achieve to maintain control in our abuse cycle. 

  1. You’re not really bi, you’re just narcissistic. Any time I looked upon myself favorably in the mirror, he’d say I was preening like a bird and joke that I wasn’t actually bisexual, I was just really into myself. Looking back, I now see that this was meant to poke holes in my confidence by judging how “into myself” I was. 
  2. If you need to explore your bisexuality, that’s fine… in a threesome. My husband routinely told me that he wanted to be monogamous, but if I felt the desire to explore my sexuality with a woman, he was open to that. All I had to do was ask! So once, I did ask. I asked if I could have sex with a close female friend of mine. My husband was livid. I called him a liar, because he said that I could explore if I wanted to, and I was communicating that desire with him. He then explained that what he meant was I could be with a woman if it was a threesome with him. 
  3. Your bisexuality means you’re twice as likely to leave me. If I had managed to get through the first two layers of bi erasure from my esteemed life partner, this was always an option for him to bring out. When we talked about my sexuality, he’d say “I take your bisexuality very seriously. It means twice the people you could leave me for.” I honestly can’t even begin to unpack this nonsense. I guess he was implying that any attraction I felt for not-him meant a risk of me leaving him, but it didn’t occur to him to maybe not be a shitty partner.

In his mind, bisexuality was a threat to him and therefore he did everything he could to reduce its importance in my identity. If I wanted him to feel reassured that I wouldn’t leave him, I talked less about my sexuality. If the only acceptable way for him to accept my bisexuality was in a threesome I was unwilling to have, then I just didn’t bring it up. What seems obvious in retrospect as psychological abuse was, at the time, just what I needed to do to keep my husband happy and reassured of my commitment to him. 

His undermining of my sexuality tied back into his skewed expectation of monogamy: that he and he alone should have been all I needed. 

Relationship orientation

Again, I am not saying that monogamy is unhealthy or toxic. It can be extremely healthy and fulfilling. Just like polyamory or other forms of non-monogamy can be healthy or unhealthy. I’ve had healthy and unhealthy friendships, I’ve cut toxic and abusive family members from my life, and I’ve quit jobs with toxic bosses — any relationship has the potential to be healthy or unhealthy. 

I’ve found that there’s a spectrum of identifying as polyamorous, non-monogamous, etc. similar to sexual orientation. This doesn’t mean straight polyamorous people should have a unique space at Pride or that they remotely face the same struggles as queer people. Polyamory is not a sexual orientation, but it is a relationship orientation. 

You can feel called to a polyamorous relationship orientation as a very important part of your identity. You definitely need access to multiple relationships to feel romantically fulfilled, and it’s a non-negotiable aspect of your dating life. 

Or maybe you enjoy non-monogamy and don’t feel that monogamy is an inherent default, but if you connected with a partner who preferred to be monogamous you could enjoy monogamy as well. 

Whether you are non-monogamous by necessity and identity or you simply don’t default to monogamy, your relationship structure outside the norm of monogamy is valid. 

The healing power of non-monogamy

For me personally, being non-monogamous has been a critical piece of my recovery from abuse and trauma. Being ethically polyamorous is part of who I am now, and I won’t be changing that. Dating multiple people helps me level set the bar for behavior and treatment I accept, helps me stay true to my boundaries, and just feels really good because I’m allowed to make connections with whomever I want. 

I clearly communicate my expectations, desires, and limits with partners, and because I know love and affection is plentiful and available to me, I don’t settle for poor treatment or someone repeatedly ignoring my boundaries. To me, polyamory means that there are infinite opportunities to make loving connections. I no longer feel like I have to “lock somebody down” to make sure they stay interested in me,  or that I have to be everything my partner wants or needs, or that I have to limit myself to avoid making people lose interest in me. More love is around the corner, and if somebody doesn’t love me the way I like to be loved, I don’t have to change the way I need to be loved, I need to change who is doing the loving. 

Read more from me

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a whole chapter on relationship structures including polyamory and relationship anarchy in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. Millennials didn’t invent these relationship types but we are fairly noisy about normalizing them. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I’ve also just set up a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

How to Simplify Your Life Right Now (And Make Room For What Matters Most)

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Image Source: Unsplash

Life can get overwhelming at times. We all have our own struggles that we deal with on a daily basis. We tend to waste a lot of stress and energy on things that don’t really matter. 

When you lose sight of what’s truly important, life can feel more hectic than it needs to be. Once you simplify your life, you will feel rejuvenated and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way. Simplify your life right now by following these life tips:

“Disconnect” to Connect

Living in the digital age brings many distractions. It’s easy to get sidetracked with social media and all the pressures that come with it. These anxieties can make your life much more complicated than it needs to be. 

It sounds cliche, but disconnecting from the online world will allow you to focus on real-life connections. Start by limiting your internet time each week, especially when you’re at home with family. Challenge yourself to be in the moment without your phone by your side. Once you re-evaluate how you spend your time, you can focus on what really matters.

Spend Time Alone

Spending time alone can do wonders for your mental health and well-being. Having “me time” allows you to focus on yourself completely, without being concerned with other people. Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your own needs, wants and passions. If that means saying no to people more often, then that’s okay too. 

Spend your “me time” doing whatever makes you happy. Find a hobby that has meaning to you, whether that be visiting an art gallery, doing charity work, or reading a good book. It doesn’t matter what the activity is – as long as it adds value to your life then it’s worth spending time on. Having this time away from others will encourage you to self—reflect, de-stress and clear your head.

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Image Source: Unsplash

Re-evaluate Your Relationships

The people you surround yourself with makes all the difference to your happiness. It’s important to invest your time with people who make you truly happy.  If someone is bringing unnecessary negativity into your life, it may be time to rethink what that relationship means to you. Your life will feel a whole less complicated once you cut the toxicity out of your life.

Eliminate Unhealthy Habits

A healthy body equals a healthier mind. When you feel good physically, everything else in your life will start to feel a little clearer. Pay closer attention to what you eat and drink on a daily basis. Try to cut out any unhealthy habits that are draining your energy and mood. (Caitlin’s note: for me, these habits include drinking more soda than water, and staying up too late). 

In addition to eating a variety of fruits and veggies for a balanced diet, make an effort to exercise more often in a way that makes your body feel joyful. The goal here is not to punish yourself or burn calories, it’s just to keep your body feeling good. Go for a hike, head to the gym or take up a new sport. If you’re into yoga or pilates or enjoy walking on the beach, try and go barefoot. Going barefoot has been found to have added health benefits such as boosting your immune system. So, if the environment permits, why not try it! Integrating exercise into your daily routine will boost your energy levels, mentally and physically. 

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Image Source: Unsplash

Set Clear Goals 

Setting goals for yourself is a great way to simplify your life. Goal setting helps you release what you truly want, what you need to change, and what’s most important to you. It also helps to bring structure into your life. Take a moment to write down just a few achievable goals for yourself, whether it be career-oriented or personal. Having these goals written down on paper will give you a clear path to focus on. 

When life gets hectic, the key is to stop and reassess your priorities. Remember that it’s okay to put yourself first and focus on what makes you happiest. Once you cut out all the unnecessary distractions in your life, you can make room for what matters most.

Johanna is a free-spirited creative writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. She likes escaping to nature to take a break from the daily hustle and bustle of city life. Read more about her work on Musings of Johanna.