Solutions to decision-making

Dear quarter lives,

As a young child, we were taught at school to follow the rules and do as told. Free-thinkers and rebellious children who feel called to act differently to the rest of the group are deemed troublesome. They are told to behave and do as told and not what they feel. They are told to stop thinking for themselves. Flash forward 10-15 years later, when these very kids enter university and the work force, and all of a sudden they are expected to make big life decisions themselves. Now, they do not have someone telling them what the “right” thing to do is. Now, they must think, feel, and decide for themselves. Sadly, now, after all these years of being trained out of thinking for themselves, they cannot. Now, we have young adults who were taught to disconnect from their natural instincts and inclinations, they were trained to distrust all the signals telling them to do what felt right to them. Now, as grown ups, they cannot decide for themselves. They are so disconnected from that internal source that used to tell them as a child what to do but it is too the very thing they were told was trouble. Now, we have young people who fear their own internal voice because they were told it was bad. No wonder so many of us are afraid to just be ourselves, because our whole lives, ourselves were deemed unacceptable if we deviated from the “norm”.

The reality of the matter is that most of us will fall outside of that box of norms because what are norms really but a random set of silently agreed upon rules and codes of conduct that are specific to a particular group of people, and what is normal somewhere might be completely unacceptable somewhere else just because that’s how the story of those people evolved, and not because there is a singular “best” or “true” version of the human being we must all aspire to become. There are endless possibilities to how a human being can be, but we have limited ourselves to only allowing a select few to express themselves. For authentic humans to exist again, we need to make room for them, not only in our minds but in our societies. We need to encourage differences, instead of condemning them. For our true voices to reveal themselves to us, they need to feel safe to come out. Until they do, they will remain hidden and so long as our voices remain hidden, we will remain hidden. So it is absolutely necessary for us to find our voices if we are to ever find our authentic selves again.

Cultivating that connection with our internal voices is definitely no easy task, but without it, I don’t see how we can ever come to peace with ourselves again. Now whenever you feel daunted by any decision you have to make, reassure yourself that it is not your fault, reassure yourself that it is perfectly normal after all those years of militarised standardised education we were subjected to as young children with very malleable minds to grow up to be adults that struggle deeply with decision-making. Remind yourself that your voice is not lost, even if you can’t hear it clearly right now, you will again someday. That is why we meditate, to cultivate enough stillness, enough silence, to be able to hear that voice we lost so long ago.

Without our own voice guiding us, we shall remain lost, we shall remain afraid, and we will always feel torn apart because we actually were. So to myself, to all the young souls searching for their voice, may you meet again with that sweet beloved you lost. Do not give up on your Self; do not let the silence scare you away. Believe me – you are already living your worst nightmare because there is no greater loss, no greater trauma than to be severed from our Selves. So find your stillness to find your voice and come to peace again.

Love+Light,

S.A.

December 6, 2020 — Sakkara, Egypt

On Suicide & Our Ailing Minds

Dear quarter lives,

Do you know we are more likely to kill ourselves than anyone else is? Suicide kills almost one million people every year, more than twice as much as homicide*. Yet we spend more money and resources on protecting our homes with locks and security systems, our societies’ with policemen and women, but what do we do to protect ourselves from our own hands?

It is outrageous that despite all the social and technological progress we are witnessing in the world today, our humanity is still stuck in a place where suicide remains a taboo. We owe it to our communities to ask questions. We owe it to our youth to listen without judgement. We owe it to ourselves, because it could be us and if it is not us, it is a family member and if not a family member, then it is a friend and if it is not a friend, it’ll be a neighbour or colleague. We owe it to our mind to learn more about its ailments. There is no pain more dangerous than the one we cannot see. We cannot say it is this organ that is sick; it is that tissue that is dying. With emotional pain, you don’t know what exactly is dying but it certainly feels like you are. You feel the pain but cannot point at it. You know it is there but can’t show it to a doctor on an x-ray. You know you are broken but not the kind requiring surgery. You know you need help, but you don’t know how to ask for it, because you don’t know what to ask for. I believe though that we can learn how to see it, but only if we educate ourselves. It is our ignorance that prevents us from recognising when the mind falls sick.

And the only way we can tackle these ailments of the mind is together, as a society. We must find a way to cooperate. We must believe that it is a worthy enterprise to design support systems that can stop these invisible diseases from spreading. And to do that, we must believe in the value of every human life. Unfortunately, we live in a world where war remains legal and its media coverage a profitable enterprise. So it is expected that people don’t believe they are valuable because they observe it. Young people live in a constant fear of not being special enough in a time that is constantly hurrying them to achieve more so that they can become special enough. And if you don’t prove you are valuable, you risk being replaced by another. And it is precisely this realisation that we might actually be insignificant that wrecks havoc in our minds. If  I am insignificant and all roads lead to insignificance, then what’s the point in carrying on? And in this dangerous chain of thoughts, people forget they have focused on the destination instead of the journey itself. It is true we might be born insignificant and die insignificant but there is much that happens on the way that is significant. So as a society we must adjust our expectations of each other and what it means to be “significant”.

The problem they keep on saying is disconnection, isolation, and loneliness. The solution they postulate is supposedly simple — Connection. “People need to connect to each other more deeply”, they say. “They need friends.”, they add. “They should form bonds.”, they insist.  

But have you not thought that if the solution is so simple, why aren’t people doing it? What if this disconnection is a choice? Perhaps one might not choose consciously to be depressed, or anxious, or hopeless to the point of suicide. But perhaps we choose to do so unconsciously. If we are avoiding connection on an unconscious level, why are we doing so? What is it about connection that we unconsciously perceive as harmful? Why is it that the act of disconnection is unconsciously perceived as more advantageous than the act of connection? I think we are missing the point by focusing on telling people to connect more without understanding why they have abandoned it in the first place. Why is it safer to be disconnected than connected? What is so dangerous and harmful about connection? These are the questions we should be trying to answer if we are ever to tackle depression, anxiety and suicide head on. The problem is not technology, the problem is that we are afraid of true human connection. The problem is that it is easier and safer for us to hide behind our screens, tricking our systems into thinking they’re connecting. But our system is no fool. If anything, we are the fools. 

So why are we so afraid of connecting? Connection, like everything else in life, has its downside. When we form attachments to other people, there is a lot we risk. We risk our hearts being broken. We risk pain. The more real the bond, the more real the risk of pain is. We learn this from such as young age when acts of kindness were often perceived as acts of weakness. In school, the more fear a bully induced, the more power they had. And you didn’t even have to be a receiver of bullying to witness that “nice” humans are less powerful, less popular (which translated to a child means “less lovable”), and weak. So you grow up believing that humans are a possible source of pain. And in no time at all, this belief forms into a full blown fear. And the result: a whole generation of young people who fear fellow humans now on an unconscious level. We fear being made fun of, we fear being vulnerable as it is mistaken for weakness rather than its true strength. And so, it becomes that just existing around real people causes hardship. There is a real price to pay for connecting, and because we are a society that seeks comfort now in everything, there has become a more comfortable version to real people — virtual people. People prefer connecting online whether via games or social media. Even friends sometimes would rather confront each other online than face to face. I mean it’s easier so why not do it? People dump each other via text message all the time, why? Because it’s more comfortable; it’s easier. We live in a world now where there are comfortable options for everything that is uncomfortable, so any behavioral economist would tell you that it makes perfect sense that people are choosing to connect in the more comfortable virtual world. It is absolutely the rational choice to choose the less painful virtual bond. The opportunity cost of the comfortable choice is now much higher than it ever was before. Only a mad person would choose discomfort. Only a mad person would willingly choose to risk so much pain instead of the almost assured safety from pain of the ‘no real friends, only virtual friends‘ choice.

Only through understanding why people are so afraid of attachment and connection can we even begin to comprehend their ailing minds. Many young people today are making the conscious choice to stay single; some do it for their career, others just like it better that way. But regardless of the specific reason, it is fair to say that the comfortable preference now is to be alone, the logical choice is to avoid an experience of deep connection because it comes at a very high price. People are afraid to get hurt now. They think their hearts won’t survive it. It’s too painful compared to the alternative now. Comfort has become the villain; the cure has become the poison. Too much of anything, even of comfort, can kill us. So to tackle depression, anxiety and suicide, we must tackle our fear of discomfort. We must encourage people that it is in fact desirable to feel discomfort, that there is growth to be made in discomfort, that actual discomfort is not as bad as the fear of it. We should encourage children and adults that a regular practice of leaving their comfort zones is necessary if they are to keep their minds healthy, just as it is necessary to regularly exercise if they are to keep their bodies healthy. This is not an option anymore. If we want to live a long and healthy life, this is a necessary exercise for our psychological wellbeing and resilience. There is more than just a healthy body that is needed to stay alive, and this is no more evident than in those aged 15-29 years, where suicide is the second leading cause of death**. So the real choice now is: Leave your comfort zones regularly, or leave life early. I find it extremely sad that people have become more afraid of each other than of death. Doesn’t that make you sad? It makes my heart break when I realise just how much we have turned into monsters in each others’ eyes. And that is exactly why we need to be very conscious in our interactions with each other. Kindness and love are needed more than ever before. ‘Love thy neighbour’ used to be enough. Today, we must add: Love thy stranger. It’s no longer enough just for adults to be aware of the acts of kindness or unkindness they inflict upon other people, children should be too. Both children and adults should be aware of their responsibility and the impact they have on the wellbeing of their community. It is no longer adequate for the depressed person alone to be held responsible for their own mental state and to lift themselves out of it alone. We are all responsible for the mental health of our communities, and so it is only appropriate to act accordingly.  ‘Be kind’, ‘Love one another’, ‘Keep each other safe’ — these are the solutions. These are the acts that will dissolve our fear of connection. These are the acts that will help achieve mass connection. These are the acts that will save lives. You need not be a hero or a doctor to save a life, you need just to be kind. 

Love,
S.A.

* Hannah Ritchie, Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2020) - "Suicide". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/suicide' [Online Resource]
** Silva, Lucía. (2019). Suicide among children and adolescents: a warning to accomplish a global imperative. Acta Paulista de Enfermagem32(3), III-IVI. Epub July 29, 2019.https://doi.org/10.1590/1982-0194201900033

A story about mothers and dinner tables

“ They always told us to eat slowly at dinner, to eat with our mouths closed, no elbows at the table, and finally they told us not to eat too much. But they never told us about emotions, what do we do with them at the dinner table? Do we share our tears or conceal them, if we show up with sadness tonight? Or do we tell the jokes exploding in our brain with laughter making us grin ever so slyly at the dinner table? Or do we remove ourselves from the table ever so absolutely when fury paints our cheeks red radiating colour and heat across the dinner table tonight? What should we do with our emotions at the dinner table? You never told us. But if we were to infer the rules from observing your behaviour than I suppose we must conceal it all, the sadness, the laughter and the anger. But mother, did you know that we could see through it all? All of us, father, sister, and brother. Perhaps it wasn’t us you were concealing it from, but yourself. I suppose it is hard to see oneself sad, foolish, or angry. I wonder if you succeeded. Because if you failed to hide your feelings away, if you still felt that you were all those things, sad, foolish and angry, sometimes even simultaneously, we would have loved it if you had shared it with us. Isn’t that after all what dinner tables are for? For sharing things? Both tangible and intangible? Perhaps that is why we never left the dinner table satiated, and not because you told us not to eat too much, but because we were never fed the intangible, we were always hungry but never knew why, for after all it was your responsibility to make sure we left the dinner table feeling full, feeling satisfied. Instead you watched us starve, knowing that there was something else you needed to offer us. All dinner table menus are the responsibility of the mother. Or did you not know that? Did your mother not tell you what to do at the dinner table as you have so clearly outlined for us what not to do at the dinner table, restricting our diet to mere food? Or was she like you too? Do you know it today at least? After all those years? Or are you still hiding things from yourself? Is it not a difficult endeavor to pretend oneself is blind forever? Do you not miss seeing how you look in the mirror? Do you not miss running? Are you not tired of tiptoeing making sure you do not trip or walk straight into a wall? What if you opened only one eye today? If only you could see that the light is not too bright, but just right. If only you could see my face, do you not miss it? Or are you so scared of seeing anything else, that you have chosen to sacrifice our faces too? Remember though we still have our eyes mother, have you not thought that we can see you? Have you not thought how painful it must be to watch you try to hide from yourself, to hide from us, your children, to hide from the world all together? Do you know the pain of mourning a mother that is still alive? Have you not thought that our pain might be great too? Have you not thought you could spare us it? Do you ever think of us? Do you love us? Have you ever loved us? Tell me, mother, do you even know how to love?”

It is true that mothers face the great pressure of obligatory love. Why is it that a mother must love her child? Why is it assumed? Why compulsory? Why if a mother is strong enough and honest enough to recognise that perhaps her heart is too broken to love another, even herself, is she deemed a monster, unworthy of any goodness or kindness to come her way? It is for that reason that mothers all over feel such shame to seek help when they realise they do not love their kids. It is not their fault, and neither is it the fault of their kids, but we must help them repair their hearts, repair themselves, only then can they love again, only then can the children of the world again feel love. Children know unconsciously the truth; there are superficial actions of love, but they cannot mask the real thing, no matter how well the mother tries to hide it. This piece of writing was written for the mothers of the world whose hearts are too broken to even love their children, and for all those children of the broken-hearted mothers who are starving for love and affection. If we do not have these kinds of conversations, things will never get better, things will never change. Society too likes to hide from its own shortcomings, but today perhaps we can face them together. We can offer an ear or lend a hand to a mother or a child in need of love. There is no shame in being unable to love. There is no shame either in needing love. It is often difficult for us to ask for love or help, so if you recognise someone in your life who could use some compassion, do not shy away from giving it to them. Give the gift of love and compassion to those mothers and children once more. It is for our children now who will become mothers and fathers for their children in the future, that we must have these bold conversations. 

S.A.