Did you know that every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere in their world takes their own life? Count that. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10 . . . . . . . . . . . . .40.
In recent years, I have thought a great deal about how little I was taught about living a fulfilling life. There was a lot of love in my childhood, and yet, except for the repetitive reminders of how to catch and keep a husband, I cant remember being taught how to be fulfilled. Like finding and keeping the husband would be fulfillment in itself.
Credit to my mom, she did teach us to have our own income, bank accounts and separate financial plan. She ensured that we understood that financial freedom can be the defining factor between life and death. Between your children having dinner and your children sleeping hungry. The difference between you sleeping in the sofa, or in the children’s room or in a hotel – when he eventually brought another woman home to your bed. Beat fear and submission into you, so you finally accept that the other woman can sleep in your bed.
However, mom’s financial freedom was not presented as a way of fulfillment, it was a way to survive. A coping mechanism, to avoid worst case scenario.
My dad told me: Do not marry the first person you fall in love with. It is the easiest way to get stuck in the road of least resistance. And never finding out who else you could have lived with makes you fearful that there is no one else out there for you. Which in turn can be used against you. If you fall in love, and want to marry him anyway, take time and meet other people. So you can learn exactly why you choose that person, over another person, to spend your entire life with.
Poor daddy didn’t know I would be an adult in a world where you can marry in the morning and apply for divorce in the afternoon.
Most of what I was taught was in the region defined as How to reduce yourself so you are lovable.
1. Be Brave but not Vulnerable
We are taught to be brave. Lions and lionesses without ever getting space to be vulnerable, weak and lick our wounds after a brave-spurt. This touches on all the below points too. To ask for help, you need to be brave, whereas to define yourself outside of gender, you have to be braver than brave. Imagine how much courage it takes to be a man, or a woman, waiting for a partner to choose you over and over again for a lifetime? While all you want is to spend a lifetime with this person.
However, while you wait, you are not supposed to be vulnerable. In the gender-roles, a man should not cry in despair while waiting. And a woman should not be vulnerable and God forbid, give up. She cannot nag, demand anything or loose her temper. Leaving her husband to live alone is out of the question. If she should break down mentally, and leave her children because she is not feeling like the best mother for them at the moment, she is the worst mother in all universes, all lifetimes. Some people will loose their minds completely, and give it all up, just to find solace in madness where no one can come in with expectations.
Imagine the guts it takes to disappear from expectations, and choose a path no one in your village has walked before? To be nobody and be like nobody? Or the energy and resolve to stay sane, and find some fulfillment in life, even when all you’ve been taught is fear and survival.
I keep referring to Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability and courage because I know nothing that speaks on the topic of mental health in the same way.
Were you taught to wait for life to happen to you too? God has a plan and fate is already in motion, so if you just trust and wait, the pieces of our life will fall into place? If we plan, strategize and dream big, we are told that we are too big for our boots. Setting ourselves up for failure. We are defined as ungrateful and unsatisfied. Especially for women! I remember when I said I would never be a teacher or a nurse, I would something else entirely. The auntie brigade came out to inform me why teacher and nurse are best wives ever. Because I am not even supposed to dream about my life if I am not dreaming a space for a husband in that life. Even if no husband is in sight, or maybe you are homosexual and no husband is coming into your life.
The phrase high maintenance has been used to close that coffin for women.
For men, the wait is for the perfect wife. The encouragement to dream big, so you can support a family. The wife of a successful man does not need to work. So wait till you succeed, then find a wife worth of your success. She does not have to love you, she just has to submit and appreciate the things you do for her. Like pay her bills.
So, we are advised to wait for childhood to end, for marriage to start, wait for people to treat us right. Wait is often called patience.
3. Disappear. Be nothing.
After waiting, we are taught to disappear. If you watched Game of Thrones, you know about the girl who has no name. Not think for herself, not question, not hesitate and absolutely not have any visibility. Those who are a little different from the surroundings, are smart to hide those sides of you that are different. Hide them when you speak, and even better, hide them when you act.
You are gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, asexual, confused about sexuality? Pretend you are straight! Only then can you be acceptable. Even Lovable. Are you straight and your marriage is falling apart and taking you with it? Lower you expectations. By all means do not demand or expect more. Higher expectations may make your spouse leave you. It is better to patiently stay in a bad marriage than leave the marriage and disappoint the society.
If you can wait and disappear at the same time, then you are a perfect person.
3. Your Gender Defines your life
Our society has had defined gender-roles for as long as it has existed. Men do that and women do the other. With the onset of feminism, sexuality, intersectionality etc the gender question has become a mental-health trigger for most of us. If you fit in a gender-role perfectly, this life works well for you. Almost perfectly. We all work hard to fit perfectly in gender-roles to avoid the permanent struggle of not belonging, and therefore being unlovable.
Be a Man has killed more men than it has saved lives. What does being a man even mean in your day-to-day life? Paying rent, school fees, building a house up-country, financially caring for your siblings and aging parents etc For what? What happens if you are unable to be a man? What happens if you do not understand what being a man means?
Act like a Woman is another aspect of mental health and well being. Wife material vs slay queens? What if you are not capable of acting like a woman? If you are something in-between being a woman and being a person? A human being?
4. Don’t be a burden
We are supportive and helpful in the short-term because of fear that people will use and misuse us if we keep giving. People will be lazy and will never get on their own two feet. So we tell people “I have helped, supported, been-there-for-you long enough! You need to get on your own feet.”
Secondly, we cannot afford to be supportive for ever. Most of us do not have the mental-emotional-psychological energy-reserves needed to be receptive of other’s pain without damaging ourselves. And we all know, most of us don’t have the material reserves. To support a person, we are denying ourselves.
I was once going through the worst year of my life and my broken heart needed me narrating, embellishing, crying rivers, sorrow, pain – on repeat. People can listen to pain and sorrow for a certain period of time. We are capable of sympathy and empathy, but in limited doses. After a few months of grief, a friend kindly asked me to move on. To stop spreading the sorrow. Other people had their own problems, she said. You cannot burden people with your pain, because they have their own pain.
So, what do you do with sorrow and pain, if there is no one to tell about it? Obviously, you keep it inside.
When you kill yourself, people say: you could have talked to me. Which is a total lie. Because people don’t want to listen to pain. Pain, even in it’s silence is a disturbing scream.
What if you need other types of help? Money? School fees? Somewhere to live? Bus fare? Hospital bills?
Is there someone you can go to where you don’t feel like “a burden”? Most of us have no-one. Not even I can be supportive for long periods of time, without doing or saying something that makes the other person feel like a burden.
5. Hard work always pays off
But it doesn’t, does it? Working like donkeys doesn’t always pay off. I remember the first time I realized hard work doesn’t always pay off. I had been working for this Indian as a secretary for 3 years in Industrial area. He was a terror – insulting, demeaning, disrespectful – name it. But, I needed the job, so I stuck with it and did the best I could to make myself useful. I was there at 7am, before him, and left at 6pm, after him. I learnt to type as he talked. To save things he said in my mind so I could remind him of his meetings, of his wife’s calls, of his children’s birthdays.
The only thing I didn’t do is give in to his sexual-advances.
Then one 17th of the month, he came in, paid me wages for half the month and told me not to come in the next day. He had found a woman willing to be his secretary and sex-partner, he said.
My pride was my downfall, he said.
Did I want to re-consider my no-sex-with-employer stand, he asked.
I packed and left the same afternoon. My lesson learnt. It is not hard work that pays off in the end. It is luck, combined with competence, add principles and values to that and you may succeed. Still, there is no guarantee.
In my future professional life, people have laughed when I have clearly stated that I want a female boss. A female employer. Or a boss or employer who will not think for a second that sex is on the table when they hire me.
That has been a success factor for me. It has paid off. I just have to do my job well, and be a good colleague to my co-workers.
So, friends, find something you are good at. Something you love doing. Do it everyday, and do it well and make it pay to do it well. Rest from it sometimes, take a vacation, sleep a whole day if you need to, reward yourself for passion and faith. Work with the Law of Attraction – want it so much, it cannot avoid you.
And then work some more.
7. Success is Material and Financial
Have you heard the stories of success? Even in church, they tell you to believe in God and he will make you rich. Money. A big house. I once heard an entire bishop give testimony about how he started life walking barefoot in his parent’s village – but God had blessed him with 5 cars and drivers for each car because he had given his entire life to God. That makes other believers felt like they have not believed enough? Like they don’t have the same access to this rewarding God because they are not worthy?
People who already feel like shit are told to believe and pray some more.
I define success as the ability to choose my life – my next move. Having the luxury of choice, the freedom to say no. Or yes. I know nothing that is so successful as that.
Imagine being able to to be brave,and vulnerable at the same time and at different times. How about you could afford to wait, while disregarding gender-roles. To never need to burden anyone with your troubles as you worked as much as you wanted to, and to take breaks and vacations when you needed them the most. Believing in God not because he could make you rich, or do anything for you, but simply because you felt spiritually inclined.
Imagine a world where people are so brave AND so vulnerable, they dare share their pains and sorrows with other people, instead of killing themselves.