Monday, November 27, 2017

Why safe-spaces are essential to navigating bullsh*t

Everyone has their bad days and a couple of months ago I was having exactly one of those. I was procrastinating way more than I should have, my thoughts were flying around endlessly and I just couldn’t seem to concentrate. I was meant to go into work and at some point in the afternoon I decided that getting outside and getting some fresh air would be the best thing for me.
I unlocked my bike and got onto it. Literally about two seconds later this guy had appeared out of nowhere and was cycling next to me. He was speaking to me in Spanish, asking me if I spoke Spanish, asking me where I was from. I was sort of paralyzed by his creepy smile and his persistence. Had he approached me on a day where I had been feeling my usual self, I would have told him to fuck off and swerved the hell out of the way. Instead, I carried on cycling, not really sure what to do. I felt like I didn’t have the energy to speed up, and I was scared aggression might aggravate him and that he might get off his bike, had I got off mine. At some point, after his constant questioning I said ‘I’m from here’. He then continued to ask me why I was being so moody and why I wouldn’t talk to him. At this point we were at a supermarket and there were lots of people around, so I slowed down and told him bye. He cycled off.
I had trouble composing myself and had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. This had been a recurring feeling I’d been having recently. When I got to work I burst out into tears to my boss. She was super understanding and told me I should just go home and take a couple of days out.
So the question I’ve been pondering since this incident is: how do you navigate bullshit?
The incident that happened obviously was not the first time I’ve been harassed by a randomer on the street. As I sat on a curb trying to gather my thoughts, I had flashbacks to being 17 and being followed into the toilet by a bouncer. Nothing ‘happened’, but I remember crying my eyes out, because I was absolutely terrified. And I had flashbacks to a whole train ride in France I had being harassed by one guy, and when I eventually had the courage to get up and leave this other man approached me, totally invaded my privacy by kissing me on the cheek and when I told him I had a boyfriend (which I didn’t even have) he told me that that’s exactly why I should fuck him.
It’s all very tedious and tiring and most of the time I tell a friend about it, shrug it off and get on with my life. Apart from that I started realizing that I am not just shrugging it off. These incidents sit with me and eat at me until it just takes one creep on a bike to set me over the edge and really shake me up. It kind of feels like each incident piles up on top of each other until it just takes one more creep to leave you feeling paralyzed.
I actually wrote the above on the day it happened, cried my eyes out and left it at that. I was really lost for any answers and didn’t know what to write next.
Through all of this bullshit happening to me, I got to a really horrible place. I did not feel myself at all and because I am so extra I branded it my ‘existential crisis’. I knew it wasn’t me so I had to give it a big, dramatic name, so it would know that it eventually had to get the hell away from me. It was the first time in my life I’d really felt like this: I was so stuck. How am I going to live my life when my day-to-day life puts me in such unsafe situations that I can’t deal with?
I know that these feelings and frustrations and this existential feeling of hopelessness are not unique to me. We all have to navigate bullshit and we are all trying to find our own ways to cope with whatever is thrown at us. A new friend of mine started talking about the concept of safe spaces. I’d always just shrugged it off as not being particularly relevant for me, because a lot of these typical ‘safe spaces’ have felt very uncomfortable for me: for example the unease that often comes with being part of LGBTQ spaces as a bisexual person. That doesn’t mean that LGBTQ groups are not a safe-space for many people, which is so important to have, it just didn’t resonate with me personally.
For me, relationships to my family, friends and partners have always been my source of comfort: in the bonds that I forge with other people comes the ultimate space where I find safety. I have always found a lot of safety in my friendships and shout-out to all my friends and family who listened to me during this time and all the times I’ve been a wreck, because your kindness, your words, support and strength have always been the thing to encourage me to keep going.
Recently, an old friend told me that I was living my best life and she said that she would not say that to many people. I was thinking about what this means: living your best life is just you doing you. When one of my best friends at school said this phrase to me it really was a life changing moment. I’ve always loved it and I always hope to try and do myself, as well doing my best to pass on this wisdom to others. But you doing you also requires having to deal with the parts that aren’t you, to deal with those crises that come about in your life. If you’re acting false or pretending to be something you’re not then you’re not being true to yourself. The reason that you are wanting to avoid being yourself is because you’re probably ashamed of some part of yourself in a way. To be yourself therefore requires you to have to deal with those parts of you that aren’t really you, to face those things that have forced you to somehow feel the need too act differently. You doing you requires you to confront those things that have manifested themselves from your surroundings: i.e. your insecurities.
I really do think that people’s insecurities can’t be blamed on themselves. Let’s take for example my insecurity about my body image and weight. Most of the time I actually don’t care, cos dis who I am, but sometimes people’s comments or societal pressures make me feel uneasy. If I was living in a utopian world, where I had no idea about body ideals, Western beauty standards, pressure from advertising to spend money and change the way that I look in some kind of way, I would not be insecure about my body. It’d just be a body that is mine and part of me.
In this new group of friends that I have found/found me, we decided to call our group a safe-space and really acknowledge what the means. We encourage each other to be ourselves, that there’s no such thing as too much information, because we should just be honest and open, that there is absolutely zero judgment. At the point that they met me, I had been feeling peak existential crisis: I really felt like I was not doing a good job of doing myself. I was feeling really anti-social, I was feeling scared, I was feeling anxious and fearful about a lot of stuff. I was thinking about going to see a councilor, because I felt like I had so much on my chest. I felt like there was no space for me to explain myself and let it all my frustrations out. It’s especially hard to deal with these things when the people close to you are not physically present, and at that time a lot of my friends had moved away and I therefore felt a bit blank and lost. I was lucky enough to be intern partners with a massive babe, but I also did not want to burden the people around me too much with all my problems, hence why I thought seeing a councilor might be a good idea.
One of my biggest insecurities (and definitely an insecurity of many people) has been talking in public or in front of large groups of people. It got a lot better during my Undergrad, because I felt safe in my classes, around my teachers and my fellow students. But it has definitely always manifested itself in many ways through me not feeling adequate: I felt like I was bad at it, that I was inadequate, that through trying to articulate, explain and express myself on the spot that it would somehow come out wrong. I was scared that I would say the wrong thing and come across as stupid, ignorant or just weird. Anyways, I think most of us can relate to this feeling, because talking in front of a group of people is such an ‘unnatural’ thing to do: you literally have to do you in front of an audience and the prospect of that can be absolutely terrifying.
The speaking in front of people problem got really bad during my Masters: I wouldn’t have survived the year if it hadn’t been for some great people on my course, but because of the nature of the teaching and the dynamics of the class I felt like class was a complete unsafe space for me. I really felt like I lost my voice during this time. This was especially horrible, because I had picked a subject area that I was passionate about. I had hoped that further study would allow for me to grow and gain a voice in something I really believed in. I also felt very personally affected by a lot of the topics that we had to deal with on the course, and the feeling that I wasn’t able to share my stories and my experiences, because the space was not safe enough for me to have the confidence to do so, was really awful.
I got into a spiral where I compared myself to other people and their ability to articulate their opinions freely and when this was added with the fact that I also disagreed with what was said sometimes, I got into this horrible spiral of feeling really awful about myself, but not being able to do anything about it. I felt like I had a lot that I wanted to voice and that I could contribute, but I did not have the confidence in myself to be able to face my own fears. I therefore also felt like I was letting myself down, because I was letting these things be said, and instead of fighting against them I was just passive. I always feel like I actually regret the things more that I didn’t say than that I said, so I got into a horrible cycle of just being angry with myself.
That’s actually when I decided to write this blog and shed some skin through writing. At the point where I decided to start writing I just thought “screw this! I want to talk about how society has made me feel like shit and I honestly don’t really care who reads it.” The name take-your-skin-off is all about taking off a layer off of my own insecurity and dealing with it through writing: it’s why it deals with topics that are so personal to me, because I am trying to find ways to overcome my fears and my insecurities. It’s a safe-space for me to have a voice and express what I believe in. Of course it doesn’t mean that I think people should agree with what I say or the opinions I express, I’m just sharing my own personal story.
It’s been a really refreshing tool, and sometimes even having the courage to post something can take time, because I get scared and fearful about what people might think about me when they read it. But then at some point I just do it, because I always feel good about it: I always feel like I’ve shed a layer of unnecessary skin: a layer of insecure skin that isn’t mine, that’s grown on me thanks to the manifestations of my surroundings. I also feel like even if what I am saying is nonsense, at least I’m being heard and not just being passive, which is something I became fearful of. One interesting thing about the blog is that people have thanked me for being honest and having the courage to share my experience. It’s weird that people have to thank each other for being honest, because it implies that we aren’t being honest most of the time: that we are suppressing something.
For the first time last week, I actually decided to read over my blog posts. Up until this point I had been worried that I would be embarrassed about what I had said. When I read over them, I realised that whatever I had written at that point of time in my life still resonated with me, because I had tried to be as honest to how I was feeling at the time. And I’m so glad I overcome that fear, not just of writing them, but revisiting them also helped me re-celebrate parts of myself that I had definitely felt ashamed of: being bisexual, being a person of colour, being a woman: things that society has taught me somehow make me inadequate in many ways.
I really feel like writing and the blog allowed me to deal with so much. I don’t think everyone has to be so public about their issues, but I would definitely encourage writing as a way to process your thoughts. Or generally just finding other creative ways to express how it is you really feel about things, finding an outlet that makes you feel good about yourself and that allows for you to shed some skin, finding your own safe-space, whatever that may be.
During my studies I also had to deal with the issue of ‘objectivity’. We are always told to be ‘objective’ about how we deal with things, because with objectivity comes rationality and a distancing where you can think about things ‘properly’. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about the power of emotions and the importance of personal experience. If the stories we are sharing of our experiences from aren’t from our own personal perspectives, if they aren’t our own, if we are telling someone else’s story, then how will they ever really be real? It’s like the problem with a lot of history: a lot is only told from one perspective and through this so many voices and stories are lost.
Anyways, at my lowest point of my existential crisis, I was fortunate to meet someone who was definitely doing himself. We met at work and spent the evening together. We call it our 3 year catch up, because even though we’d just met everything felt so natural: it just felt like we hadn’t seen each other in a while and we just needed to update each other about what had happened in our lives. In hindsight, I realise now that the reason that I did feel this safety with him was because of the aura of security in himself that he just omitted. There was no pretence, no suppression of emotions, I felt like I could just be myself around him and that that was okay: no judgment, no such thing as too-much-information, someone who was just listening and understanding.
We spent the whole weekend together and suddenly I had this new friend.  Friends are there for many reasons, but for me, all the friendships that I have had are these beautiful spaces where we encourage each other to just be ourselves, if not in society, then at least with each other.
So the third time I met him we had this really intense chat about safe spaces. We talked about how we felt far away from safety in our own personal lives, but that the venue we were at (shout-out to Valby!) was a space that allows for people to be themselves. You have to sign-up on a guest list to get in, you’re not allowed to take pictures (no invasion of people’s privacy), racism, homophobia and sexism are not tolerated. The people that work there are super friendly, and the diverse range of people that come to this place is just wonderful. I feel like this space is formed of the outcasts and a weirdos in society, something I have always felt. And this space allows for all those outcasts to come together, celebrate their weirdness, shed some skin and to connect with each other. Of course it’s not perfect, because all those elements of insecurity manifested in the people who enter therefore also enter this space. But I really do feel like everyone is doing their best to just let everyone else live their best life.
The day after the safe-space chat I felt really awful. I realised that there was so much insecurity in my life and I was wondering how on earth I was going to continue like this. I felt really deep into my existential crisis and I felt broken and low. I was also feeling insecure about these new friendships, because of how I’d been treated in past friendships and relationship: what if they treat me badly and I end up getting hurt? Am I ready to open up to people at this point when I’m already feeling so terrible about myself?
What was also terrifying was that my new pal just understood me: he saw straight through what I was feeling and having someone do that to me was actually kind of horrifying. I felt like I had nothing to hide and that made me feel quite vulnerable. Yet I was both absolutely terrified and also really excited and about how it’d felt so real.
Shout-out to the amazing safe-space created by this circle of friends. I feel like within the last couple of months I have been through a bit of a spiritual journey in trying to understand what this safe-space means for me. Of course, I still have my inhibitions and my anxieties, but having these mantras and being able to remind yourself of them when we are together is really important: you do you, live your best life, there’s no such thing as too-much-information, this is a safe-space. This space has given me so much confidence in a time where I desperately needed it, in just embracing myself, having a voice and being me.
When there is a hurdle we have to overcome, we talk about it, we listen to each other, we hear each other out and we try our best to deal with it: everyone has legitimacy, agency and a purpose. Having a feeling of such security as well as love allowed me to start fighting off all that horrible sticky manifestations of insecurity that I call my existential crisis. What I needed during this time in my life was this group of people, this space that I could be in and revel in. They really saved me when I needed saving the most, and if that’s not what the safe-space is for then I don’t know what it is.
Last week I was put on the spot to talk about my work in front of 80 people. Had it been a couple of months ago I would have freaked out and probably gotten really nervous and then felt horrible about the whole thing. I was still nervous and I know that the journey that I have to go with this is one I will have to deal with my whole life. But I felt different about it, I felt like I gave less of a shit about what people might think of me, because I felt more confident about being myself. I also had a few other situations where I just spoke up in front of a group and had #noregrets about it, which is such a crazy point to come to. If someone had told me this a couple of months ago, I probably would have been like lol bullshit, and then hidden myself away into the depths of my existential crisis.
What is also interesting is that in dealing with navigating bullshit and my existential crisis is that I spent so much time thinking about has opened up the freedom for me to feel a lot more creative and less embarrassed generally about what is I say. That’s also such a nice feeling, because instead of spending so much time worrying about one specific thing, I felt like I was able to start dealing with other things that had been either bothering me, that I had put in a box to deal with at a later point, or just generally to get out and have fun and try and live my best life as best as I can.
I also know that maybe at some point my insecurities might get to me again real badly and I might find myself in the same ‘place’ that I was a couple of months ago, because dealing with life is fucking difficult and dealing with those exterior elements that bring us down is the biggest challenge of all. We have no control over what bullshit might be thrown at us next. But that’s also okay, there should be no pressure to feel, or think, or do anything that we don’t to, because if we did not embrace all our feels, then we would not be doing ourselves; we would not be living our best life. So the next time I tread in a massive pile of bullshit, I’ll just embrace it, but hopefully I might have a few more tools in my tool box to scrape that shit off my shoe.
I really do think that our insecurities are just a product of us being abused by our surroundings in some way. Even the word in[security] is just an antonym to safety and feeling safe. Mental health is such a prominent example of this, because I do think that the sickness that we often get in our brains can definitely be a symptom of a horrible insecurity that grows inside of us. Because of societal pressures we tell ourselves these things: we are not good enough, we are not beautiful enough, we are not slim enough, we won’t be able to live up to expectations, we are outcasts, we won’t be accepted.
If everyone just had a safe-space to allow themselves to try and be honest about what it is they are feeling: why it is that they feel like shit sometimes, and have the space to work through that, to shed some skin and to hopefully gain some understanding and confidence at some point, then the world would just be a happier, better place.
If I hadn’t been in such a hole when that creep on the bike approached me, I would have had much more confidence to react. If he came up to me on my bike today, I would probably question his behaviour and react in a way that I hope could somehow make him double-think about why he felt the need to act this way. Or even if I just responded by telling him to fuck off, at least I would feel like I used my tools from my box to scrape off and navigate away from his bullshit.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this amazing read and for sharing your vulnerable self with us... Once again, you inspire me and I'm feeling proud of you! Lots of love your way, Philipp