As a writer, I love words. I wasn’t an English major, so I’m not a walking dictionary or anything, but I still can’t help but get such a thrill when I find a world that perfectly captures an emotion or paints a vivid picture of something. But words can do so much more than that. I’m not the best writer, but I (finally) consider myself a writer because of the fact that I have such a deep appreciation for words and the gifts they can bring.
One of those gifts? Life.
OK, so it sounds totally dramatic, but it’s true. In an emotional moment, a friend who knows just the right words to say is often all we need to come down from that craziness — and that has as much to do with their words as it has to do with having a good support system.
Call me crazy, but I think words can be one hell of a support system.
Here are a few words that have been supporting me lately. I hope they help you.
I’m starting with this one because it’s probably the most cliche and the easiest to make fun of. (Seriously, everyone loves to make fun of white girls who get this tattooed — “OMG, do they actually, like, forget to do that? LAWL.”) But if you live with anxiety, you understand just how important it can be to focus on your breathing — sometimes, it’s the difference between a bad day and a breakdown. Keep this word in mind anytime you get overwhelmed — breathing exercises have been proven to have calming effects.
This one may seem counterintuitive because for those of us who live with mental illness — or anyone who’s experienced their share of struggles in life — feelings can be the main thing we wish we could avoid. But for me, this word is a reminder that, despite what may be causing or influencing my emotions and how they may manifest, my feelings are valid. And experiencing, managing and expressing my emotions in ways that are constructive, empowering and validating is a worthy use of my time. If I’ve done nothing else all day but feel — and whatever may go along with that — I’ve done enough.
This is something I’m still learning to do. Again, for people with mental health issues, sometimes it seems like there’s way too much stimulating us. From pressures from the outside world, to thoughts racing in our head, it can be hard to keep track of it all. But that’s just it — you don’t have to try to keep tabs on everything, and that’s why this word is so powerful to me. It’s not just about taking in whatever may cross your path, or your mind — though that kind of mindfulness can be helpful. Listening is more about paying attention to what really matters — for me, that means focusing on my deep values, my gut feelings and my higher power, and letting those things guide me. If you’re having a bad mental health day, that kind of thought management in itself can be life-saving. And on a good day, it can help you make important decisions that are right for you.
“Milk” is a sad movie, for obvious reasons, but the first time I saw it, the scene that made me really get emotional was at the end of the movie, when Sean Penn, in character as Harvey Milk, quotes the LGBT icon, “You can’t live on hope alone, but without hope, life is not worth living.” Sometimes, I get sad or frustrated when it feels like I’m running merely on the promise of a better future. And if that’s literally all you have going for you, that’s a problem — but it’s a fairly easy fix. It could be as easy as trying out a new hobby. Trying to restore your faith in the world, on the other hand, is definitely more of a challenge. That’s why it’s so important to believe — in yourself, in a higher power, in kindness. Because, it’s hard to hold onto your faith, but it’s harder to build it back up — and almost impossible to live without it.
So long as we’re talking about LGBT icons who’s words have changed my life, let me reference the seminal Andrea Gibson poem, “The Nutritionist.” I first heard this poem when my college’s LGBT student group brought the well-known poet to campus for our annual pride week. They closed out their performance with this piece and the way this word is used in it moved me to tears. That was the moment I realized what a strong word this is — and, more importantly, what a brave and radical act it is to simply exist, especially for LGBTQ people and people of color. So, on days when the pressures of the world feel like more than I can handle, I remember that surviving it all is all I need to do.