To The Pain That Made Me Grow
There will be crises and moments of doubt. The key is learning to use them to your advantage.
When talking about mental health, it almost seems natural to connect the concept of health to illness. While this is true to some extent, let's not forget that mental health is so much more.
Being mentally healthy means: evolving, winning personal challenges, and growing into a better version of yourself. It also means learning from hard times and turning those lessons into opportunities for growth.
For example, growing up, I couldn't stand family jokes. So how is it that years later, I’ve performed as a stand-up comedian?
Well, the journey has been far from easy.
I remember how my uncle would never miss the opportunity to make a joke and would always choose the most inappropriate times to do so. He knew that I took his jokes personally because I felt hurt by comments about my personality or physical aspect.
I still remember an episode that occurred at my brother's 3rd birthday: we were all out in the garden, enjoying our cake, when he arrived. I don't even remember what he told me. All I know is that I went straight back home. I still have a picture of him holding me while I covered my eyes in shame.
I had this habit of carrying the weight of shame even when I had nothing to be ashamed of. And this was the case, as I was living with a codependent parent.
It took me a long time to realize this and choose to walk free, and not to respond to the pain others felt, like my uncle, and were projecting through their actions.
Because hurt people hurt people, even when they don't want to, even when all they want is love, they hurt. Though my uncle may not have meant it to have affected me the way it did, it didn't change the hurt I felt.
Middle school was another battlefield for me, and it was more complex than home since I couldn't just "escape" from my classroom. At school, I chose not to react against those who hurt me, as Gandhi did in his "non-violent movement." I don’t know how he did it, but I was not Gandhi. I was suffering like hell for all the bullying I endured, and I never had the strength to tell anyone at home about what was happening.
Later on, I realized that those boys who bullied me (and many other kids) were trapped in ignorance.
To grow from painful experiences, it is essential to realize that other realities outside pain are possible.
I couldn't wait to finish middle school. High school was my chance to start all over again. I was never bullied, and though I wasn't a popular girl, I made friends I still see today. Seeing that I was not the target of bullies anymore slowly gave me my confidence back.
That doesn't mean I haven’t had any problems.
During my teenage years, I struggled with my body image. I dreamed of being super skinny, and I had to start wearing braces at 16, which I hated. At home, even as a joke, people would remind me to eat less, and that hurt.
It's important to confront pain and see the reactions we have to it.
I was 17, and one day I looked at my body in front of the mirror. I looked at myself analytically and without judgment. I wasn’t bad-looking. However, after having stopped ice-skating, I turned less active and just more lazy, and I wanted to change that. I decided to start doing sports, which made me like myself more and proved to be my personal cure. Because I liked my body more, jokes could no longer hurt me.
But even during that time of growth, anxiety and insomnia struck. On the outside, I seemed like a smiling and confident girl. On the inside, though, I was full of doubts.
I realized that being mentally healthy is more challenging than I thought, and it requires being gentle with myself and taking care of myself. I saw a therapist, and I’ve even started meditation. As a result, my mental health has improved massively.
Moving out of my house also helped me improve my mental health. It helped me not think about my past self as a "victim" anymore. Whenever I came back home and visited my family, I came back to every jab they threw at me (and the number of jokes decreased because I learned how to respond to them).
I was becoming more confident also with myself, which led me to become more ironic and not take myself seriously all the time. I literally came to stand-up comedy randomly, watching YouTube videos suggestions. Only after noticing that the more I watched, the more I wanted to watch, I decided to explore the stand-up comedy scene in my city.
The first time I went to a show, as a spectator, I had a wonderful feeling. I couldn’t stop thinking, “This could be me!”. Gathering the courage to try it was not easy, but I knew that I just had to go for it without overthinking.
Stand-up comedy gave me a way to recognize the strength and confidence that I already had. It even helped soothe my anxiety!
Sometimes I still doubt myself, but that’s normal. I think doubt can be an excellent tool to step back and assess who we are and our abilities.
Now, when I receive digs, I use them to my advantage to prove my own growth. Instead of reacting, I respond.
I encourage you to do the same: challenge your flaws and insecurities, ask yourself how they make you feel. Perhaps there is a more significant reason behind your reactions. And if the cause is outside your control, try your best not to worry about it.
Remember that growth doesn't happen overnight (my personal journey involved all of my teenage years and it’s still not finished!). Cherish your successes and surround yourself with a safe environment.
Embrace the small achievements. Don't expect to move mountains right from the beginning, but don't lose hope before starting either.
There will be crises and moments of doubt, but the key is learning to use them to your advantage.
You are definitely not alone in your struggles. Turn to people that have won their battles already, and don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
Everything unfamiliar is a reason to grow!