It Gets Better?

“Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better. While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year?”

So these words were tweeted by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. A great gesture from a character whose sole purpose in creation was to help boost morale with the suggestion that anything is possible. Captain America itself is about a bullied and unfairly treated youth who gets genetically experimented on with the results being that he comes out buff, chiselled and awesome. The origin story itself is the embodiment of the phrase “It Gets Better”.

I get that we have to be supportive and understanding. These are kids we are dealing with, the people that are told they are “too young to be depressed” because they haven’t reached that stagnant point in their life yet. As a child or teenager your everyday should be filled with possibilities and the future should be unknown to anyone and everyone. You haven’t reached your full potential, you’re still growing and you’re still coming to terms with everything. Both biologically and socially you still haven’t reached a stable point in your life and so there is forever the idea that it gets better. Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with telling this mantra to children because in a sense it’s true.

There is something bleak about life after your teenage years. This is because your transitional period stops. You are expected to get a job, to find a partner, to settle down, to have a family or to focus on your career. The whole idea of being an adult and living is rooted in the idea of stability, you need a stable job and life in order to earn the money to live. The first question people ask you when they meet you is “so, what do you do?” because everybody is supposed to be at least partially on their way to this long-term ambition.

The part I take exception with in the mantra “It Gets Better” is that it doesn’t address those of us for whom it didn’t get better. It doesn’t account for those us in a dead-end job with no future or career prospects who struggle to leave the house when they relive bullying from years ago in their minds every single day. It doesn’t understand that as a child you are encouraged to be your best and reach your pinnacle but as you grow up you’re expected to settle more and more with each passing year.

My job wasn’t supposed to be long-term. It was supposed to get me away from the job centre whilst also giving me time to focus on writing. As it happens I am coming up for three years at the job with a future that doesn’t seem to change. Why? It can get better, get another job. As a teenager I would have no problems with leaving the job in hopes of a better one, as an adult I know the realism. I know that I’ve spent three years unemployed before this job and who knows how long I’ll spend after it. I know I’m pushing thirty and still living with my parents with absolutely no financial future of moving out. In this instance it doesn’t get better. It either stays the same or it gets worse.

I also know I’m crippled mentally from school. The bullying I experienced didn’t go the way that they tell you in the story. Bullies are alone in dead-end jobs with dull and miserable lives while you skyrocket and become yourself to the fullest potential, surrounded by the best people life can give you. That’s not how it worked. That’s not how it works for ninety-nine percent of the people who experience bullying either. Instead I can’t form a relationship because I’m so paranoid about the way the other person perceives and treats me that it leaves me barely able to leave the house while one of my bullies just has to take his shirt off to make friends.

So what is in store for people like myself? For those that are old enough to understand how life works and know that life doesn’t always get better? Those of us that are realistic enough to know that the good-guy doesn’t always win and the bad-guy doesn’t always lose. Those of us for whom bullying has forced us into a corner and we’re being held there by societies expectations and the threat of joblessness, homelessness, bankruptcy, or a future forever alone. What pearl of wisdom do we get that encourages us to put down the knife or the bottle of pills and actually continue on with life?

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My Emotional Hangover

It was my first social outing in almost a year. I’m not counting work, gym visits or doctor/dentist appointment. Other than those things I haven’t actually socialised with anybody since I did a pub quiz on November 28th 2016 (I know this because I wrote about it in If I’m Not ____ Then Who Am I?). Now I remember why.

You know when you drink a load of alcohol and you have so much fun at the time but then the next morning you’ve got this pounding headache, a sense of regret and a deep hole of misery in your stomach? Yeah, that’s what I got right now but I haven’t had anything to drink.

Basically I’m led to believe my system doesn’t enjoy an overload of emotions. I adore Karaoke, like seriously love it, and so when work invited me to a leaving-do that involved Karaoke then how was I going to turn it down? I loved every blinking second of it. From the moment the Karaoke started to the moment I got into my car I had a smile on my face.

Then I got into my car and the smile faded. My head spun all the way home and I just wanted to pull my car over and cry. I had to select my music very carefully because I was at the very brink of breaking down and any song (even Rachel Bloom’s The Buzzing From The Bathroom) was at risk of seeing me in floods of tears.

I know what does it too. It’s the emptiness. It’s the feeling of going from a room full of people who actually want to see you to sitting in a car on your own driving home where you’ll get a microwave meal and go to sleep by yourself in a double bed. (The double bed is important because it makes you feel more lonely than before, so I tend to avoid sleeping when I come home). But this isn’t helped by the constant loneliness I feel whenever I see somebody I’m attracted to. There were guys I saw tonight that just sent my heart into a tailspin because they’re straight and it’ll never happen between us.

This isn’t even limited to social events. My mood often skyrockets when a cute guy comes into work (there’s one, his name is Charlie and he sends my heart twisting) but then when they leave my mood takes the slippery slid all the way down to rock bottom where it looks around and notices how forever alone it will be.

And that’s a big crux of my personality and paranoia. I feel I will be forever alone. I’m twenty-eight years old and I’ve never had a boyfriend (I had a girlfriend but that was for a week when I was nine and I’m not hugely keen on having another). This might seem very shallow and self-centred but it just means I’ve never had anybody who wants to spend their free time with me. I’ve never had anybody who feels better just by me being around. I’ve never felt anybody sleeping next to me and felt safe. It’s little things that add up to a huge factor of misery in my life.

But I don’t know why either. People say stop looking for it and I do. I go out with nothing else in mind but to enjoy myself and then a cute guy comes alone and BAM! my emotions do the same gymnastic routine they practice every time I leave the house.

This loneliness has actually crippled me to the point where I don’t think I will ever be in a relationship. I just don’t know how one begins naturally. Short of the playground “I like this boy but don’t tell him” whilst secretly hoping she tells him method, I don’t know how relationships begin. I can’t tell a guy he’s good looking. In my head these are the scenarios that go through my head when I tell a guy he’s good looking;

  • “Thanks?” With an awkward smile from them and then they leave ASAP.
  • “Not interested.” Followed by being ignored.
  • “Yeah, too good for you.” Which is fairly obvious in my head.
  • They’re straight which leads to anything from violence to crushing disappointment.

I just don’t know how to handle it. What do you do? Like this guy Charlie. I know he’s gay and he’s hella cute but I can’t talk to him. My brain feels like it disappears when he’s around. I can’t even do my job properly and have to try deep breathing exercises just to get my brain back to function. But I’m crippled by that playground fear of (mainly) schoolgirls who rush around going “she likes you” and then when you ask them out it’s all been a lie and they giggle at your humiliation. That’s sort of what I feel will happen if I like a guy.

Let’s not get started on the straight guys I crush on. I can’t help crushing on straight guys (not all straight guys, let’s clear that up). It’s not that they’re straight that makes me crush on them but the ones I do find myself enamoured with is never going to happen. In my logical and rational head I know that but my heart still tells my brain of a future of when we’re a loving and happy couple.

I gave up alcohol because I didn’t like what it was doing to me. I can’t give up attractive guys because they are all around. People are attractive. Even if you’re in a relationship you can admit that a guy or a girl is attractive. Some people just are. And they are my alcohol. They send my emotions into a whirlwind that I don’t know how to stop. The fallout from the storm can take an age to get over and ultimately it just cripples my self-confidence even more.

And so a life of singledom, loneliness and seeing other couples happy just makes you wonder if life is even worth living sometimes. If you’re going to be alone forever then why prolong the misery?

13 Reasons Why

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

The last day and a half have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me because I felt it necessary to binge-watch the entire first season of 13 Reasons Why. This show has hit me more emotionally than a lot of other shows because of the subject matter regarding suicide, bullying, friendship and helplessness.

I had avoided watching this show for fear that reports of it glamorising suicide may have been true. But that’s not what I got from this show. Unfortunately the show does seem to perceive suicide as a justice-bringer and enforce the idea that everybody will miss you and rethink what they did when you die (as long as you leave them tapes explaining what they did and threaten them with police action) and it also seems to treat suicide in a similar way to playing a game (especially with the thirteen tapes and the map around town). But it doesn’t glamorise the actual mindset or frame of mind that a person has to be in to commit suicide.

There’s a heavy bullying tone going on throughout 13 Reasons Why, what with the bullying being the main speculation of why Hannah Baker has killed herself. Her parents have started a lawsuit claiming neglect on the part of the school and it’s actually quite interesting to see what the school does and doesn’t do in regards to emotional traumas.

One of the first things I really want to talk about is rumours. Hannah Baker’s life goes downhill very quickly because of one picture and a rumour. Now with rumours we tend to only place blame on those that started it, believing that if they hadn’t started it then it wouldn’t have happened. It’s true, it wouldn’t, but the blame is on everybody who shares the rumour, believes it to be true or lets it influence their opinion of a person without once consulting the person who is the subject of the rumour. I may be slightly biased with this but the first few episodes were very tough viewing for me because it took me back to a similar place where my own mental health was completely messed around by a group of people and some malicious rumours/gossip. Some viewers may just say that it’s not enough to want to kill yourself but as somebody who has been in that position, it’s a lot worse than you can possibly imagine. It’s not something that can just be forgotten about easily and you can’t just “move on” when a rumour has completely changed people’s perceptions of you.

We also have to talk about objectification. There’s a huge, huge amount of objectification in this series and it’s very well tackled actually. Hannah Baker feels objectified when she finds herself on a list of “best and worst” physical assets of girls in the school. Despite the fact that she’s on the “best” section of the list, it’s not something we can just dismiss as acceptable. Many people in the show pretend that it’s a compliment but it’s objectification and it’s horrific to think that people are treated like that. We’re all guilty of objectification, I’m not going to pretend we don’t all look at somebody and think “they’re hot”, but it’s when they stop being a person and just become an object that things get into a risky area. To treat somebody like they should be grateful to have men leering at them is a ridiculous idea and a horrible reflection of a sexist bygone era. People are people, regardless of what you think of them, and their feelings should always be taken into consideration. My advice is that if you are going to objectify people (because I believe it’s fantasy to pretend it won’t ever happen) is to do it in your head. Don’t single people down to being anything less than human, don’t ever pretend a person is just made up of one single asset or should be grateful for your attention. That’s not how people work.

One of the more complex issues is the way the school handles everything. Children, in particular teenagers, often pass off like they are fine and dandy with everything going on in the world. When somebody is killed via a drink driving incident then the school puts up posters to encourage people not to drink and drive. Suicide is seen to be prevented via more posters going up and urging people they are important. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, as such, there is definitely more that needs to be done. One good thing I saw in this series and I know they don’t have it at many schools in the UK is the idea of a communications class. Getting people to deal with how they communicate and interact is an integral part of life as a teenager and schools don’t seem to put a focus on that. They’ll hand out punishments but they won’t actually try and educate the children in the ways of acceptable behaviour. Knowing people commit suicide, teaching people about bullying and suicide statistics would be a hundred percent more beneficial than just throwing down a detention whenever you see a fight.

I did notice, from my own experience of counselling, that the show promotes a very disjointed view of counselling. School counselling currently is awful in most schools. We had one and she did nothing. Like, honestly, absolutely nothing. 13 Reasons Why seems to suggest a need for counselling but then doesn’t acknowledge that the one attending needs to want help. I personally didn’t know whether I blamed the counsellor for Hannah Baker’s death or not. Towards the end of the series she seems beyond help, like she has already made up her mind, and she wants other people to sort her problems rather than work with her to sort them. I know the feelings and I don’t blame her, but to blame the counsellor for not following her after a counselling session is a grey area in my books. Granted some of the things he said in the session were questionably unhelpful but it’s his job to offer help and whether she takes it or not isn’t his fault. It made me realise the necessity for mandatory counselling or counselling-like classes at school. People sometimes need help and are too afraid to seek it out, thinking they are beyond help, but mandatory counselling sessions would help to ensure people don’t get to this point and that they receive the help they do need. It would make sure that kids like Hannah Baker don’t get pushed and pushed right to the edge before they finally make that decision.

The show gave me something that I wished would work in the real world. An anonymous compliment bag. Each student had one and you could write a compliment to a person, pop it into their bag and you wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of saying it to their face. It was a refreshing idea to help those who might be too afraid to show their emotions. Granted this system gets abused and it has it’s flaws but it’s just an improvement on the way people currently interact. I, like Hannah Baker, need compliments to make me feel better – no matter how anonymous. Even if you think the compliments are stupid or just rubbish little things, they are important to some people and they make some people feel better. It’s a good idea that I wish could be in place in a lot more schools around the world. It promotes a healthy positivity that is lacking in the world.

It is worth emphasising that suicide does not bring justice. If you are feeling suicidal and want people to listen then you need to find somebody to talk to. Somebody will listen, I promise. Maybe not the ones you want to listen, but somebody will. Professionals will. Suicide is not a way to get revenge on those that hurt you. Unfortunately that’s the message that some people have taken away from 13 Reasons Why, which is definitely not the message it was trying to convey.

The show 13 Reasons Why can be very triggering to somebody with a preexisting mental health issue and so I recommend it only if you feel strong and comfortable enough in your mental state. If you do suffer from suicidal thoughts then it’s very important that you talk to somebody open and honestly about your thoughts.

“It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

The Things We Don’t Say

Today was my grandmother’s funeral.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer and then it was only a week or two before she could barely lift her head and wasn’t eating or drinking anything. My dad would tell me that when he went down to visit her all she would have would be three half tablespoons of tomato soup and a sip or two of water to keep her going for the entire day. Despite having spent a couple of years on an oxygen tank I didn’t expect her to go so quickly after her diagnosis.

I had never doubted that my grandmother loved me. I never for a moment believed that she thought anything but positive thoughts about me and the rest of my family. She was a woman who would fight staunchly for her family and loved us with all of her heart. This was no secret and we all knew how proud she was of us. She never played favourites and made sure that everybody was always treated equally and fairly. She is actually one of the few people I can say that I felt never judged me. I knew she would accept me regardless of who I turned out to be. If I succeeded she would always be there with a congratulations and if I failed she would always be there with helpful words to try and pick me up out of the funk. To me she didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

But over the majority of my life I have been struggling with unemployment, depression, anxiety, trust and acceptance issues and my motivation to leave the house had slowly been dwindling to almost non-existent quantities. When my parents and I moved away in 2012 it became increasingly difficult for me to spend time with those people I cared for because now they lived so far away. For these reasons I didn’t get back to my old hometown as much as I would have liked. I didn’t get to visit my grandmother as much as I wanted because my brain wouldn’t allow me to make the two and a half hour drive (including motorway driving) down to my old hometown.

Now I bring this to light because of something somebody said to me at the wake. I hadn’t visited my grandmother for a few years and simply remarked that a picture on the front of the Order of Service book didn’t look like the grandmother I knew. She had gained weight from inactivity and I simply remarked that I never saw her like that. This prompted somebody else to comment “You didn’t visit her? That’s awkward. You probably don’t want to be saying that too loud around here.” This simple comment hit me harder than a full-speed truck.

I suddenly felt like I had let her down. This was woman who had shown nothing but unconditional love for me and now I felt like I didn’t deserve to be called her grandson. I felt like a fraud, a failure and a horrible human being. I still do. But that’s why I write this, because I missed my opportunity to tell her how much she meant to me.

This was the third funeral in my lifetime and I have never felt emotion like this before. The other two funerals I had been to – my grandfather and my other grandmother’s – didn’t leave me devastated like this one because I had no doubt that they both knew how much I loved them. Even if we didn’t always agree on things, even if we argued, there was no doubt that they knew I loved them and I knew they loved me too. This one doesn’t feel the same. This funeral felt like I didn’t belong because I felt like she didn’t know I loved her. I feel like she left this world thinking me ungrateful and disrespectful and she won’t ever know how far from the truth that is.

I am currently a mess of tears and tissues because I’m trying to find the words to explain why I didn’t visit her. Some people don’t understand the crippling pain of anxiety or the inability to do anything when faced with depression. It’s paralysing. I didn’t want to visit her because in my mind I thought she didn’t want to see me. On clearer days I could see how stupid this was but in the midst of depression you don’t see or think clearly. I also thought I had more time with her. She wasn’t seriously ill until she was and then she very quickly deteriorated until we got the phone call telling us she had died.

But there’s nothing I can do anymore. I understand the ultimate-ness that is death. I know that however much I cry or pray she isn’t going to come back just so I can tell her all the things I wish I had told her. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. It doesn’t stop me from finally understanding all those songs where people wish for just another day or just another hour, or even just a minute. I finally get it. Because now I feel like she won’t ever know.

I don’t often find myself looking for solace in religion. I have never considered myself a man who would turn to religion for anything. But during the service the Reverend would talk about a day when my grandmother would be reunited with everybody once again. I don’t know if I believe it but I know I want to believe it. I want to have another chance to apologise to her. I want to have a chance to tell her all the things I wish I could have told her and how much I respected her both as a person, a woman, a mother and a grandmother.

I also want her to be reunited with my grandfather in whatever afterlife there may be because I know how badly she hurt when he died.

One of the last things I remember my mum telling me my grandmother had said was how she wished she could see the sky and the trees again before she died because from her hospital bed she couldn’t see anything. The bed she died in had a clear view of both the sky and the trees.