You Make Me A Better Person

A common sentiment about what one wants in a romantic relationship is that they want their partner to make them a better person. They want to be challenged and supported, and in some way asked to step up and be the best version of themselves that they can be.

I’ve always wanted this in my life, but “a better person” is a fairly vague phrase. It’s only recently that I’ve started to concretely see what this means simply by having someone who does it for me (not like that you perverts). The typical image of this is that your partner pushes you. They hear your hopes and dreams and they tell you to pursue them. They take care of you when you’re having a bad day and keep you positive when you’re down.

This is not what I mean when I say that I want my partner to make me a better person.

Until a couple of months ago I hadn’t written anything creative for years. I’d been fairly focused on blogs and essays, and hadn’t made time for short stories or longer fiction. Oddly, for most of my life previous to that I had always written creatively. From the time I was ten, I wanted to be an author and write fantasy novels. The drive to create is deeply important to me, and somewhere along the line I had forgotten that excitement and joy.

Until I met my current partner, who without knowing or intending, got me writing again simply by being excited about his own projects and interests. When I first met him, he started telling me about an audio theater project he was working on, and within a week I was writing again, inspired by his ideas. I become a better person when I’m around others who are engaged and excited about life, because they remind me of the things that I love and want to do with my life.  I’m happier when I’m with others who are doing what they love and when their loves remind me of mine.

For most of my life I haven’t been the best at communicating. I try to tell people what I’m thinking or feeling, but I second guess myself a lot and I’m a people pleaser, so I end up doing what I think other people want. My current partner doesn’t demand that I communicate with him or ask me to tell him what’s going on in my head when it seems like things are happening in there. He just communicates with me, and lets me know what he wants and needs. He clearly prioritizes a variety of relationships, not just ours, and lets me know that he cares about that. He models being a healthy human being.

And every time I see him communicating clearly or letting me know that he needs to spend time with his friends or doing something else that is emotionally healthy, I become more likely to do it myself. When I say that I want my partner to make me a better person, what I mean is that I want to surround myself with amazing people who remind me what it looks like to be awesome in all the ways that I want to be awesome. Of course I also want them to support me and challenge my ideas and talk to me about interesting things, but you don’t make your partner better by telling them what to do or simply saying words to them: you do it by being better yourself and challenging them to step up to your awesomeness.

And while some people love having a partner that exposes them to new things and gets them out of their comfort zone (and to some extent this is healthy for everyone), it’s also wonderful to have someone who reminds you of the things you love and why you love them. They make you more yourself by reminding you of those essential parts of yourself that you can’t live without: your loves and passions.

When I’m engaged creatively with the world, I’m simply a happier, more functional person, and it took my partner being his creative self to remind me of that. In all my relationships, I want people who remind me who I am in essential, lasting ways. This is what it means to me to make your partner better.

You’re Allowed To Be Influenced

For most of my life I have been vocal about not wanting to get married. Extremely vocal. Marriage is only what you make it, it’s unnecessary, it’s got too much history in patriarchal structures, it costs too much. I’ve never felt any particular need to announce to the world in general that I’m in love and want to be with my partner since the one who needs to know that is actually my partner not everybody else. I still believe most of these things. I still think that marriage is unnecessarily prioritized in America, and that defining a romantic relationship as the basis of family is unnecessary. I still think that weddings are a scam to cost lots of people too much money and that marriage makes straight monogamy the building block of society.

But I’ve realized that I want to get married anyway. Kind of a lot.

I’m not immune to culture. I’m not immune to the messages that paint your wedding day as the most romantic day of your life, and that illustrate marriage as a beautiful commitment between two people. I’m not immune to the excitement and joy that other people feel around weddings and marriage, and I’m not immune to wanting a pretty dress and good food and dancing.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty about the part of me that’s been influenced by culture, the part that wants to femme it up and be swept off my feet on my wedding day. But feeling guilt about the ways in which culture has influenced you doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t demolish the patriarchy, it’s just another way to tear yourself down for having feelings. Everyone has internalized things that they don’t necessarily believe logically. That does not make those things bad or wrong, just arbitrary. But not all arbitrary decisions are harmful. Sometimes you just have to pick between chocolate and vanilla without a logical reason except “I like chocolate”.

There are certainly problems with choice feminism, but as far as choices go, the decision to get married doesn’t have too many direct negative impacts and the choice to do what you think will make you happy as an individual is a pretty strong feminist choice when you’re a woman who spends too much time ignoring their own preferences and feelings.

There are absolutely contexts in which we need to question and challenge the cultural messages that we’ve internalized. But there are also circumstances where those messages are fairly harmless. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by external forces. It doesn’t make you a sheep or a bad skeptic or a horrible sexist. It means that you’re a normal human being who has grown up within a culture, just like everyone else. The place at which you need to make decisions is when you realize that one of your beliefs has come to you through culture. Once you’ve done so, you need to decide what the consequences of acting on that belief are, how much it will affect your happiness to try to leave that belief behind, and whether there are good reasons to believe what you do.

Sure, it’s never good to hold beliefs without any critical thought put into it, but sometimes we have to accept our arbitrary preferences. So yeah, I want to get married and I don’t need any more reason than that.

Confession Syndrome

There’s a tendency that I have when I’ve done something cruel to myself to want to blurt it out at the most inopportune moments. Sometimes when I first meet people I have to tell them about the times when I went a week without eating, or how it feels to bleed on every object you own because you can’t go a day without cutting yourself. It’s like some sort of disease. Last week at a party I blurted out the story of the most recent time I felt suicidal to a friend, describing the moment in gross detail.

Things are not real until they are witnessed, until they have been woven into words and placed in context. There’s something especially painful about living through trauma silently. You begin to doubt whether it was real, whether it was as bad as it seemed, whether it’s actually a part of you. Every tiny thing you do to yourself is somehow validated as acceptable when there is no one to contradict it. Self harm or restriction or purging is a cruel thing to do to yourself, and appropriately they often come with guilt. If you did these things to someone else, you would feel you needed forgiveness. And so when you do them to yourself, there’s a need to confess and have someone forgive you, let you know that you can continue on.

I’ve started to call it confession syndrome. It’s a way to validate yourself and quickly signal to someone else that you trust them. But it’s cheating. There are absolutely circumstances in which you need to share these stories. They need to be heard and incorporated into your identity and forgiven by you and with the support of the people you love. You need reminders that you are still loved even with the darkest moments of yourself in full view.

But the unthinking moments of blurting out disturbing stories are not the same as honest and open communication that creates a validating environment. Instead, it puts other people in a circumstance in which they have to validate you and have to witness something about you that isn’t necessarily appropriate to your relationship. It bypasses the hard work of actually getting to know someone and shorthands to “we’re close” by disclosing personal information. And because you’ve pushed an interaction into a personal context, you’ve pressured your conversation partner into accepting and being close with you as well: validating you.

Confession syndrome is a horrible way to build relationships. One of the most important elements of trust is seeing how someone behaves over time in a variety of circumstances. You get a feel for someone’s character by doing this. It gives both parties time to increase their vulnerability on a fairly even level: one person might share something slightly more personal, then the other will reciprocate. When you drop a bomb like “I cut myself”, you don’t give the other person the option to reciprocate in any reasonable fashion. It’s a kind of emotional hostage situation: be close to me or else.

Having people in your life that will listen to the times you need to rehash the stories is important. Sometimes they weigh on you and you can’t help but need to say them out loud so that they will stop circling your mind over and over again. But learning how to be a whole human even with all the broken bits is not something to do with that person you just met or at that party while slightly tipsy. It’s for the quiet moments with loved ones. It’s for the places you are wholly safe. It’s for the people that don’t have to prove they will love you through the ugliness.

I’m putting away my confession syndrome, as best I can, moving forward. I have safe spaces to share these stories. I have people that I should tell about the things I’ve done to myself, people who want to know me more fully and who have shown they are trustworthy. These are the relationships that need these stories. These are the people who help me create myself with their narratives and their care. These are the people who want my confessions.


But Really You’re Just Insecure

Recently I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my blog that include speculations and assertions about what I’m thinking and feeling. Things like “you’re just scared” or “you’re insecure” or “you want to control others”. For the most part these comments go in the trash because I love me some censorship, but it’s gotten me thinking about how useful it is to play armchair psychologist on the internet.
The answer is of course, not very, but some people are still fairly certain that if they can figure out the underlying psyche of the author of a post or article, they have the upper hand in some fashion. They believe that they can undermine the arguments by showing that they come from a place of insecurity or fear or anger. Sometimes people I like a lot do this: they talk about whining man children who are just afraid of having their power and privilege taken away. And while this can certainly be fun, it’s not an actual argument.
Diagnosing someone’s underlying emotions (particularly when painting them as childish or negative) is really just a sideways ad hominem attack. The implication is that because the person is being driven by their emotions, they are not being logical. What they are expressing is in some fashion selfish or immature because of the emotions that underly it. Unfortunately, that’s not how arguments actually work: the emotions that an individual is feeling don’t necessarily affect their arguments. Simply looking at emotions is a kind of tone policing that ignores the actual content.
Now it is possible that what someone is saying is just an expression of emotions and in that case it’s possible to discuss whether those emotions are appropriate or rational. But in the case of discussing a more general concept like whether quitting something is failure or whether monogamy is always unhealthy, the individual emotions of the author aren’t relevant to the points that they’re making.
Example: let’s say someone writes “I think men are superior to women because more men are CEOs than women.” Your response could be “you are just afraid of women getting more power.” Unfortunately that response doesn’t address any of the points that the person made. A more relevant response would be to bring up other factors that could lead to men being CEOs more often than women. It might also be true that the first speaker is afraid and insecure, but that doesn’t actually matter. What matters is whether or not we can look at the substance of an argument. The reasons someone is making that argument are a different question entirely, and while they can be addressed, they’re not the same as responding to someone’s points.
There’s no way to know what someone is thinking and feeling unless they tell you, especially on the internet. While claiming you can know someone’s insecurities and fears isn’t on par with internet diagnosis, it’s on the same spectrum and plays into the same assumptions that an individual is not the expert on their own mind. Not only does that mean it’s unhelpful to the larger conversations at play, it also means that it plays into dangerous assumptions about who gets to make claims about an individual’s inner state. No rando on the internet knows me better than I know myself, thanks very much, so unless you have concrete arguments to bring to the table, I don’t want to hear it.

Settling for Happiness

For most of my life, I was fairly certain that the worst thing that could happen to me was an average life. Settling. I would think about working an average job (even one that I enjoyed) and coming home to a normal house and it all sounded like stagnation. It was the worst thing I could imagine. Most millennials have been told that they could be the best, which often translates into the implication that you should be the best. For me, this was the conviction that unless there was something in this world that I accomplished that no one else could, I was not doing enough.

Perfectionism is a nasty curse. There is always more that you could be doing. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, you’re losing out on your ability to make music or research neuroscience or learn languages. Possibility is always a kind of pressure. One of the biggest problems of defining yourself by your achievements is that there are always more things to be achieved. You might reach one of your goals, but there are five more that you could complete today alone. “Average” tends to be defined by goals and accomplishments. You know someone is outstanding when you can point to their resume of accomplishments. Or so we’re taught to believe.

The problem with this model is that I know dozens of people who have done amazing things in their lives. All of them have found different ways to excel, and dedicated themselves to whatever their passion is. I hear news stories almost daily about people accomplishing things I could never hope to achieve. There’s no way to live up to all of these possibilities. What I don’t hear is stories of contentment. There are very few people in my life who seem to simply exist in the space that they’re in without any energy pushing them somewhere else, any driving need to be doing more or appearing better.

Contentment is not a competition. If all your friends are content with their lives, you don’t have to be more content in order to feel ok. In contrast, achievement and perfection are values that compare: the more your friends achieve, the more you have to achieve if you want your achievements to stand out.

So here’s a new goal: settling for happiness. Are you content with your job? Do you have a place to live and a regular income? Do you have people that you love? Do you get to see those people on a regular basis? Awesome. Settle for that. Relish it.

A few nights ago I got to see my friends for the first time in over a month. We didn’t do much. Ate some cookies, played Mario Kart, and just goofed around with each other. I laughed a lot. I smiled. I got hugged and teased and affirmed. It was hardly a mind-blowing experience, except that there was no anxiety, no worry, no desire to be anywhere but where I was.

Yesterday I went to the Renaissance Festival with some new friends and felt nothing but affection and excitement for who I was with. I was a little tired and didn’t have the money to spend on all the exciting things I saw, but again, there was no question in my mind that this was where I wanted to be and these were the people that I wanted to be with.

Tomorrow I’m starting a new job and I’m a little anxious, but I get to hang out with one of my best friends afterwards, and I know that no matter what happens or whether the job is a good fit or not, I get at least a few hours tomorrow of pure contentment. That’s more than some people can say in months. That’s amazing.

I’m not saving the world. I’m not making tons of money. I’m not living in the nicest house or recognized around the world as a world changing genius. But I like who I am and I like who I’m with. I will settle for that any day over saving the world, because I have saved my world. Somewhere along the way I hope to improve the lives of some people around me, but the best way to do that is by being happy and doing things I like to do. So I’m going to settle. I don’t necessarily need a high powered career or a book deal. I don’t necessarily need an excess of disposable income. I suppose if that’s settling, then I’m all for it, because I’d rather be happy than amazing.

Rejection and Bouncing Back

I used to be horrible at rejection. I’d get a rejection letter from a job or a scholarship and I’d spend the next few hours curled up in the fetal position feeling miserable, crying, beating myself up. I should have spent more time on the application, I should have been a better person, I should have been smarter, I should have gotten better grades. No one likes rejection, although some people handle it better than others. But it’s not uncommon for rejection of any kind to leave us questioning our worth as human beings.

In the last week, I’ve been rejected from two of the jobs that I applied to. That’s not that many, but both were things I was extremely interested in and sincerely hoped I’d at least get an interview for. And yet I find myself completely unconcerned. Of course I still would deeply like a job sooner rather than later, and I’m a bit worried about my finances, but I didn’t get that stomach dropping feeling that I screwed up and will never recover.


It’s easy to imagine that I just somehow calmed down. I grew out of some of my anxiety, my meds are working better. But I think that discounts the real work that anyone can do to limit the panic that often results from rejection. I have just lived what could be considered a worst case scenario. I don’t have enough money to live on my own, I don’t have a job. There are times in my past that this would lead to a full on “I’m going to end up selling drugs on a street corner and living in a cardboard box” meltdown. But I know how this is going to end: I’ll go home, move in with my parents for a bit, furiously apply to jobs, take what I can get, and move on with my life.

My friends will still be there for me. I won’t be miserable because I still have a safety net, I still have the things that I love. The bottom has fallen out and I’m still standing. Now for most people this is not the ideal way to get past the failure fear. But you can imagine it. If you were to lose your job and your savings right this minute, what would happen? If you were to not get the job that you absolutely want and had to take something you weren’t thrilled about, what would happen?

In all likelihood, you’d survive. You probably have people to support you. And if you did have to take a shitty job, you might have other things in your life that could balance it: friends, family, hobbies. The shift of focus from “finding perfect career” to “building a family and home that I love” has completely changed my sense of rejection. My friends aren’t going to reject me if I screw up once. My family will probably never reject me. These human relationships are a far more solid basis for an identity and a safety net than a career or an education that doesn’t have a personal relationship with you. Personal relationships are what create safety for us: they keep the bottom from falling out because we’ve got some extra people hanging out with us who can catch us.

This metaphor has become far too cheesy, but the point is that each individual rejection no longer becomes about the whole of your future or your identity. It’s simply one piece of a life that has other elements to balance it. I used to think that I was amazing at seeing the big picture. I got a B on a test in high school once, and my mind immediately started following all the links to a prediction of utter doom: I wouldn’t get a good enough grade in the class which meant that I wouldn’t get into a good college which meant that I wouldn’t get a good job which meant that I would be homeless and die alone. Big picture, right? Thinking in the long term?

What I missed was that the big picture has to include all the elements of the picture: the fact that schools look at more than just grades, that I am a hard and dedicated worker, that even if things did go poorly I knew people who would help me out. The big picture is more than just a series of links in a chain to doom. It’s all the mitigating factors, the people you know, the backups you have in place, your resources and your resourcefulness.

So I’m not worried. I’m not worried that I’ll end up stuck in a career I hate because I got a few rejections. I’m not worried I’ll be living with my parents for years and years and all my friends will abandon me and I’ll die of starvation. Because I can survive some temporary nastiness and find new ways into the careers that I want. There is no singular right way, and not getting one of the things that I thought could be a right way doesn’t mean dead end. It means try a different route.

Maybe this whole “focusing on relationships and my identity” rather than focusing on accomplishments business is actually fairly effective. Whoa.

Human Rights vs. Human Survival

I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica for the past few months (warning: some spoilers ahead), and generally deeply enjoying the show, particularly President Roslin. Until a few episodes ago when President Roslin decided to ban abortion on the fleet because they needed more babies for the continuation of the human species.

Some people (even those who otherwise approve of abortion) would suggest that the continuation of human life is inherently a good thing. There are a number of reasons they might give: life is a good thing, humans are uniquely capable of consciousness and awareness in a way that is joyful and appreciative of the universe, humans are uniquely moral, humans are better because we’re humans (ok that’s not a very good reason).

But it seems to me that there are some good reasons not to prioritize human life as an end to itself, but rather to prioritize the good human life. If we start removing rights and the ability for people to freely seek out the good life, simply being alive (surviving) without thriving is not worth it. It’s easy to imagine situations in which death would be preferable, and in which some people do in fact attempt or succeed at suicide in order to escape the situation. Certain illnesses, torture, or oppression might fall into this category. Obviously there are some people who would prefer to be alive no matter what, but these situations suggest that for many people, life in and of itself isn’t the most important thing.

This seems to be where we get the idea of basic human rights: these are the things that make life worth living. There is some debate over what would constitute a basic human right, but when we start stripping people of what we believe are rights for the sake of keeping our species alive, we are not only ignoring the fact that the universe can and perhaps should continue on without us quite successfully, but we are also degrading what our species could be simply for the sake of remaining around. On a smaller level, this is on par with a race compromising their ideals and beliefs in order to continue as a race…and while I don’t think banning abortion makes you Hitler, doing it for the sake of continuing the species certainly puts you on a spectrum that’s on par with all the other people who make bad choices in order to maintain an in group.

So what are the things that we shouldn’t compromise simply to keep ourselves safer and our race stronger? These are obviously contentious, but I’d posit a few basics like bodily autonomy, freedom of speech, freedom to organize, freedom of religion…some people might add freedom to own arms, or freedom to own property. It’s a much larger conversation to decide what constitutes the basic qualities of a livable human life, one that is not filled with pain and misery, but regardless of what we see as the basic rights, we should be willing to protect those over our species life in order to keep our species the best possible version of humanity we can. The species is not a living thing that deserves our respect and care. It is simply an organization of other lives, and those individual lives should always be prioritized.

Of course there’s a balance: there are situations where we might have to make some sacrifices in order to save more people. The trolley problem isn’t an insane question. But in this case, Roslin took away a right without a clear positive consequence. The babies not aborted won’t necessarily save the human race, and saving the human race is not necessarily the best thing ever. When we compromise things, we should have a clear image of the good that’s coming out of that compromise rather than a general idea that more people is better.


I have never been in a physically abusive relationship. Some people would say that I’ve never been in any abusive relationship. Sometimes things are fuzzy and there isn’t a clear line between “emotional abuse” and “unhealthy relationship”. I don’t think I would qualify myself as an abuse survivor. But here’s what I do know about my worst relationship:

I have been in situations in which my partner threatened suicide or self harm if I didn’t stay with them or acquiesce to their desires.

I have been told what to wear by my partner (as well as what is inappropriate to wear).

I have been told what activities I should and shouldn’t do by my partner.

I have been told who I should spend time with by my partner.

I have had partners whine, cry, pout, and otherwise emotionally manipulate me when I choose to do things that don’t involve them.

I have had partners try to initiate sex while I was crying and then get angry because I wasn’t enjoying it.

I haven’t felt comfortable contributing to the #whyIstayed hashtag on Tumblr, as most of the people there suffered a great deal more than I did, but there is a spectrum of bad relationships and mine was on it.

So why did I remain in a relationship like this? Why didn’t I just leave? Well, eventually I did. But it took breaking out of the isolation that I was in because somehow these things all could seem perfectly logical and warranted when the only perspective you hear is that of the person demanding and manipulating. It took seeking more help for my mental health problems, because when you’re incredibly depressed it only seems appropriate that someone else’s desires take precedence over your own. It took realizing that I might have some worth as a human being and that I didn’t need another person to demand/force/coerce me into eating and taking care of myself.

It’s easy to ask why someone doesn’t get out of a bad relationship when you assume that they have options, a strong sense of self separate from their partner, and that they haven’t come to believe that they deserve whatever is happening to them. In this particular instance, it’s easy to forget that mental illness can (and quite often does) intersect with abuse. On some level, telling an individual who is experiencing the emotional fallout of an abusive relationship that they should just leave is parallel to telling someone who is depressed that they should just cheer up or someone with an eating disorder that they should just eat. Obviously that is the solution, but that doesn’t provide them with any avenues to do it.

Just as insidious is the fact that society trains women to ignore their own needs and wants (particularly in favor of their romantic partner), so when women actually internalize those messages and suppress their own feelings in order to try to keep their partner happy (which often leads to abusive situations and someone staying when they should leave) they are rewarded in many ways. “Compromise” we’re told, which most often means “do what he wants”. And if he is kind in any way, at any time, he has earned whatever else he does.

I stayed because he was vulnerable and I had to be there for him. I stayed because he cared about me and taught me things and reminded me that the world could be fun. I stayed because his needs were just as important as my right to say no, weren’t they? I stayed because I had been told that relationships are sacrifice and a man’s jealousy is as important as a woman’s freedom. I stayed because there were still times when I smiled.

I left because feminism taught me that I deserved more. Shaming never did anything.

Quitting Is Not Failure

One of the things that is most obnoxious about American society is the tendency to equate quitting something with failing at that thing. No one wants to be called a quitter, and we’re often told we need to commit to things, follow through, finish what you started. When someone drops out of college or quits a job they’re generally perceived as lazy or a loser in some fashion. Quitting a hobby or volunteer position or other outside activity seems to imply to some people that you can’t handle whatever it is you’re doing.

Unfortunately these perceptions are utter bullshit. Failure is when you don’t achieve your goals, so there are probably some circumstances in which quitting something is failure. If you really, truly wanted to complete something and you don’t get to, then in some sense you’ve failed at it. But most of the time when we quit something we do so because we realize that our goals and priorities have changed in some way. In order to stay in line with our values as we now perceive them, we have to take a different set of actions. That is not failure, it’s actually incredibly successful.

But even beyond the fact that if we make the choice to change our life trajectory we’re often doing it for good reasons is the fact that quitting something often comes about after increased self knowledge. All of this is a not so thinly veiled comment on my recent decision to quit my Master’s program and move home. For some, this might seem like failure. However in a mere few weeks away from home my perspective on my life and my priorities has utterly shifted. I have realized the high importance of having a strong support system around me, the value I place on my friends (they are irreplaceable), and that I want to have a more solid plan for my future before committing to an advanced degree.

I have gained an immense feeling of gratitude to the people in my life that I love and a commitment to hold them tenderly. And I’ve also found a serious motivation to fully commit to recovery. Putting myself into a new situation made all of these things clear, but also made it clear where it was healthiest for me to be. Choosing to quit something because it is unhealthy, not what you love, or simply not what you want in your life is not only self-care, it is a commitment to treating yourself well.

Taking the time to check in with yourself, see whether a situation is working for you, and then prioritize your own needs is the exact opposite of failure: it is, especially for women, people of color, disabled people, queer people, or mentally ill people, making your life what you want it to be. This is the ultimate success for individuals who often feel they have to follow certain scripts and are pressured to ignore their own needs. Success is allowing yourself to live in a way that allows you to flourish, not simply survive. Keeping things in your life that are limiting you simply because you don’t want to be a quitter is basically the essence of failing at life.

All of this is to say: I feel so proud of myself for making what I believe to be the healthiest decision I could, for discovering where I feel safe and confident, and for recognizing the amazing progress I’ve made when I’m in a safe space. I’m quitting so that I can kick some ass.


Self Care is Safety

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about self care lately because I’ve been trying to practice it, and as part of that I’ve been trying to pin down what are effective self care techniques for me. Soft fabrics, cats, a good glass of wine, familiar smells, books, Netflix, going for a walk in a park, not having to cook…these are all things that I use to take care of myself. And as I’ve thought about many of the things that feel like self care to me, the more I’ve realized that the essence of self care is creating a space in which I can feel safe.

A great deal of this is physical pleasures: when you are experiencing something warm, soft, or comforting, you are more likely to feel safe. But beyond that, many of the things that are self care for me involve making things familiar and understandable. Books have always been a safe space for me because they are controlled. Nature, trees, green spaces, are essentially the same no matter where you go and will always feel like childhood and playing outside. Scents are memories for me, and the moments when I can recreate the smell of home is a moment when I temporarily am at home.

These familiar things remind me of the places that I know I am taken care of, the places I don’t have to worry. A lot of people imagine that self care is about what makes you feel good, but that’s a bit too simplistic. Often it involves things that soothe or calm, but underneath what makes most of my self care successful is that it helps me to feel safe in some fashion. It makes my space my own, it distracts me from things that scare me, or it reminds me that I am allowed to be vulnerable.

This is one of the reasons why familiarity is an important part of self care. Things that are the same as places or people that I trust are the fastest way that I can feel safe. Of course human beings like routine, and things that we’re used to are more comforting than things that are new, but on a deeper level than that, for someone who has a mental illness, familiarity means the places that we trust not to hurt us. It means the places where the anxiety might turn off for a while, or where we can escape from depression. “Home” is often our safe place, and the people we are familiar with are our support system. This isn’t true for everyone: sometimes the things we see every day are oppressive, boring, or painful. But more often than not the fact that they are familiar makes them easier to deal with, and thus safer. Even more than that, our safe places are generally those that represent family or friends, things that have kept us safe in the past, or other parts of our life that are integrally part of who we are. Familiarity.

This of course makes self care more challenging if you’re in a new place or around new people, but it does offer a helpful way to reframe self care so that it might be more effective. I feel safe when I feel competent, accomplished, and cared for. These might be hard feelings to capture in a new place, but I know that when I write I feel competent and accomplished, I know that when I have a to do list I feel better when I get things done, I know that hearing from people (even from a distance) makes me feel cared for. These are not things you might immediately think of when you hear “self care”, but reframing self care from “pampering” to “meeting my emotional needs” or “safety” can elucidate new things to try. Now I’m gonna go start my novel and feel accomplished.