Embracing Things That Feel Cheesy

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I’m currently on a kick of goal planning and self-reflection. Typing those words makes me feel a little bit icky. They’re so Pinteresty. They’re so “Live laugh love”y. They’re so…earnest. It’s not that I’m not earnest. I can be to the point of it being a fault. But I’m not earnest in the way that thinks “wine time” is a good decor choice. I’m definitely too cynical for the type of lifestyle that looks polished and can be mapped out in a goal planner (only mild shade to those who do live their lives this way).

Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago I got distracted in my normal planner life (I keep a fairly involved planner and sometimes watch videos of other people doing their planning. I’m a nerd) by something called Powersheets, a goal planner. One of my favorite planner Youtubers was doing them, and I just felt drawn to it. I’m not sure why. It certainly wasn’t the slogan “cultivate what matters” which felt cheesy and exactly 0% like me. It wasn’t the light Jesus overtones of the whole company. In fact almost everything about it screamed “run for the hills this is some woo woo bullshit that is going to make you throw up in your mouth.”

And yet I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what it would be like. I’ve been feeling a bit uncertain about my life trajectory lately. I’ve hit a lot of exciting and cool landmarks in the last few years (found a job I love, gotten married, bought a house), and now I’m wondering…what’s next? How do I grow? Where am I going? Now that I’ve started to get my mental health chaos at least sorted into some messy piles, is it time to go a step further and actually sort through it all and put it away? That metaphor got away from me. The point is, I’ve made it out of crisis, which was how I lived for many years. That’s an amazing accomplishment and I feel like a badass. But I’ve developed a lot of behaviors that were coping strategies to escape crisis (see: I will eat whatever I want whenever I want because for a long time I didn’t eat at all), and now they’re just a bit too extreme.

So I’ve been a bit antsy of late, looking for purpose. You might say goals.

Which brings me back to the Powersheets, a planner made for setting and sticking to goals. A planner very much in the realm of “cutesy shit that too many people use for trite and inane bullshit like redecorating their home to look like it belongs to Joanna Gaines”. I don’t quite know how to put my finger on the things that turn me off so deeply. It’s the quotes you can find on Pinterest, or on inspirational images. It’s “clean” eating. It’s yoga. It’s anything with the word boho in it. It’s farmhouse style. It’s telling women they’re not doing enough or living their best life unless they’ve bought this product.

Maybe those things are your jam, but in so many cases I see capitalism masquerading as insight, and I get full on angry when I try to engage with it.

But I’m still a person who likes self-reflection and who wants some guidance to finding the life, values, goals, and STUFF that I want. Trying to plan out your life without any kind of steps or ideas to guide you (especially for this autistic brain) is awful. And there just aren’t very many resources that have the word “fuck” on every other page, which would be my preferred method of planning out my life.

And I think that’s why some of these cheesy weird tools were pulling me in. I think most people hit a bit of a quarter life crisis these days: if you manage to get a reasonable job post college and keep yourself from sinking into debt, you start to wonder where you’re supposed to go now. Millennials aren’t really doing “career” in the same way as our parents, which means a lot of work on our part to figure out what we want and how to get it. I’m not interested in the kids thing, I’m not interested in a traditional corporate career track. So what do I do?

So I decided to just buy the damn workbook and do the damn thing. So what if it was cheesy? So what if it seemed like someone was trying to sell me a lifestyle along with this 30 page planner? So what if I was worried the prompts would use phrases like “spark joy” and other BS that has little to no grounding in my life and experiences? I am powerful enough to take tools that weren’t made for me and bend them to my will.

Does that sound ridiculous? Sure. Is it also how I am going to allow myself to access resources that aren’t made for me and aren’t appealing to me when no one caters to autistic brains? Also yes.

One of the greatest tools that I have learned in my mental health journey is to steal. Do neurotypicals have a resource that is completely unrelated to my sensory needs but would still help? STEAL IT. Is there a resource that people use to organize kid schedules, and I don’t have kids? STEAL IT. And in this case, is there a resource that is in many ways built around capitalistic goals and fairly surface level self-reflection that doesn’t speak to me? STEAL IT. Take those questions and spring board off of them to create additional ideas and questions that make sense for you.

What do I mean?

Well one of the exercises that is in MANY goal planning workbooks is choosing a word of the year. I don’t get this practice. I don’t understand what you’re supposed to do with a word of the year, and so often having a word of the year feels limiting to me. But I decided not to skip that section because it asked me to look at all my priorities and decide which one is most important right now. Instead, I chose to give myself a question instead of a word. My word of the year is “huh?” I didn’t take the concept too seriously, because it’s incredibly easy to fall into something that feels cliche like “growth”, but that doesn’t really help guide me. I created something open that will push me to further reflection instead of something that closes me in. And I picked something that embraces a bit of my wackiness so that I didn’t feel like I was turning into someone who wasn’t me.

Throughout my use of the Powersheets I have sworn, crossed things out, questioned their premises, and in the end made some major progress in deciding what I want to do next in my life because I didn’t get too hung up on the prompts. I took them as suggestions, then focused on what was important for ME.

I’m never going to like things like “live, laugh, love” thanks to my cynicism and sarcasm. Gratitude journals make me want to puke. But my own approach to tools like this can make a huge difference. If I approach them as “this is a question that I will use to spur my own self-reflection about my own priorities, my own values, and my own interests” rather than something that I have to take particularly seriously, it’s far more effective. Being creative in how I interpret questions and respond to them makes them more useful.

While many reflection exercises want you to take them seriously, I’ve found that being weird and goofy about it is actually far more helpful. My life is weird and goofy. I often have to address difficult topics with levity in order to survive. So if I’m asking “what’s my ideal life look like?” the answer won’t be “not depressed anymore” it will be “Fuck Suicidal Ideation Pt II: Living and I guess liking it?”. I’m embracing that it feels uncomfortable, even while I’m holding on to the parts of me that find it not my personality.

It’s a balancing act: discomfort can be a good signal to stop doing something, or it can be a good signal that you’re in the process of growing. The challenge is discerning when it’s positive and when it’s not. But let me just recommend embracing things that feel a little bit cheesy, a little bit trite, a little bit empty; you can imbue them with the meaning you want and need. So go out my friends, and STEAL.

Suffering Doesn’t Create Meaning, You Do

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Normally I’m a huge fan of Offbeat Bride and its offshoots, like Offbeat Home. Generally they’re pretty quality at providing perspectives from people of all walks of life and promoting quality, healthy ideas like good boundaries and self care. Alas, they published something today that fell into one of the awful thinking patterns that irritates me more than almost anything else: suffering is good because it makes things MEAN something.

People like to say things like “To genuinely love or be passionate for something is to suffer.” or “Suffering gives you depth and compassion.” without providing any evidence of these statements, as if just saying it makes it true. These kinds of blanket statements give us reasons not to try to reduce suffering, and make it noble or good to push yourself past reasonable limits (this article was in the context of long distance running, which is great for some people but especially when it comes to exercise I’d really like to diminish the amount we praise suffering because that shit can go south real fast).

Let me be clear: there are people who go through painful experiences, who suffer, and who do not gain compassion from it. I promise. I’ve met them. I’ve lived through certain painful experiences that honestly just made me worse because I have come out hurting and sensitive.┬áSome people live through trauma and they end up hurt and angry, going on to hurt others. Sometimes we go through something hard and simply survive. We don’t always know how to process or create meaning out of difficult experiences, even if we want to or try to, because sometimes there is no meaning there. A bad thing just happened and that’s it.

On the other hand, sometimes we find meaning through positive experiences: some of the biggest growing moments of my life have come when I’ve been faced with compassion and kindness and felt comfortable, safe, and happy. I’ve found meaning by sitting in a room with a therapist and talking about what emotions are and what they mean. I’ve found meaning by sharing simply joys with my husband. Suffering is not REQUIRED to create meaning, nor does it necessarily create meaning.

What makes the difference is not the experience itself, but rather an individual’s response to it, which is affected by their history, the environment that they’re in now, the support they have to process the experience, and the depth of the suffering. There’s a huge difference between choosing to push your body to run a long distance and being emotionally abused for years at a time. These are both examples of suffering, but they come in completely different contexts. It concerns me deeply that people feel comfortable making blanket statements about suffering without differentiating suffering that you have decided to undergo from suffering that’s inflicted on you.

Why am I so frustrated about this? Well trite sayings about how suffering will give meaning to your life are often deployed when someone talks about their suffering and asks for help. It’s a way to ignore the responsibility we have to each other to reduce suffering. It’s a way to invalidate others when they say something sucks. This kind of logic allows us to ignore unhealthy behaviors, because suffering is good (see: eating disorders, excess exercise, etc). It’s the kind of thinking that doesn’t allow people to feel angry or hurt when others cause them suffering, instead promoting the idea that you should just grow from it, see the bright side. It’s a mentality that responds to a problem like “I’m miserable in the work that I’m doing” with “suffering gives you meaning”.

I have experienced some suffering that was under my control, the choice to push my body further or the choice to really challenge my mind, and in those cases it can be beneficial. I had support, I had the ability to end it if it became unhealthy. I have also experienced suffering that was overwhelming and outside of my control and what I learned is that I never want to experience that again and I will do everything in my power to reduce suffering.

We as humans get to choose what we do in response to suffering. Those choices are what help us to grow and create meaning. Sometimes we have the ability to choose meaning and sometimes we have to choose survival instead. But can we please, please stop glorifying suffering?