It's Genesis. I think I may have sent you a letter before (scratch that, I know I sent you one, I just don't know what email or alias I may have used) and your response helped a lot. I'm glad to see you're still happy and healthy.
I come to you today with a bit of a vague question, but a question nonetheless. It deals with confidence, surprise, surprise. A furry? Not confident? Nonsense. This one's a little different though, I swear.
School season's in. I'm in all honors classes, passing them, but lately, school has been causing me a lot of trouble.
All of my friends appear to be getting straight A's, are going into IB (an even more rigorous course than honors), and it has begun to hurt my confidence. I'm in honors, yes, but I'm an A-B student (a lot more BS than I want), and I often slip up on tests.
So, I'm torn. I really don't like school. I hate the factory-line mentality, hate how I'm a sheep in a herd and I have to go through my day not questioning anything, but, on the other side of things, I feel like trying and devoting more time to school and getting those A's, therefore keeping up with my friends, would make me happier in the long run and improve my confidence.
Now, before you say that old “don't compare yourself to others” line, hear me out. I kinda have to compare myself. The education system is extremely competitive, I need to keep up with my peers or one little furry isn't getting into college.
I've always had confidence issues. I feel a constant need to prove myself. Lately, I hate when people call me smart, because I don't do anything smart, so I can't really agree with them on that. My intellect used to be the one thing I prided myself on. My appearance isn't that great, and indulging in hobbies that people often look down upon doesn't help. The one positive trait I assigned to myself was that I'm intelligent, so I cannot loose that trait. It may not seem like much, to doubt your intellect, but when it's all you have...
I know I would be without doubt if I did better in school. It would be an easy way to show I was, indeed, smart, but I just really don't want to put in the effort to something I see as minuscule in the grand scheme of things. I see it as wasted effort. Call me lazy, but...
Plus, if I did bump that up, would I really feel smart, or would I just find another thing to doubt myself on? (I might say something like, “I'm still only in Honors, if only I took IB like everyone else...”)
So, my question is, how do I regain confidence? Should I try harder in school? Is there something else I should do? Or should I just look for another positive trait to latch onto, since I don't feel smart anymore? Accepting the fact I'm not a bright bulb could help, if I can move on from that.
Thanks for reading my mess.
Your raven, Genesis (age 15)
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If I understand what you’re saying, you are not enjoying school because it is a machine for pumping out drones to enter the worker world. This is actually a brilliant observation and shows that you are actually smarter than your peers who are striving to do whatever they are told to make good grades, get into college, get a degree, and get some job as an attorney or accountant or doctor or some such thing.
Because you don’t enjoy the process, it makes it difficult for you to study (this isn’t being lazy, this is an intellectual conflict within you), and because you find it hard to study for an exercise in what you feel is futility, you don’t do a stellar job on tests. Understandable.
When Papabear was in college, he learned how to study for tests and get A’s and to write papers that also got A’s. You know what I remember from all that? Not very much. A teacher once told a class I was in that if, on her death bed, her students came up to her and could recite the basic principles of Existentialism, she would die content. Well, she probably won’t die content because of me.
Our formal education system, whether public or private, is designed to make us good American capitalist consumers—cogs in a huge wheel. History courses are the best examples of this. The text books are so full of half truths and downright lies that it is downright criminal (some states are worse than others, with Texas, for example, rewriting texts to say that slavery was not a reason for the Civil War and to include stuff from the Bible as if it were fact in science courses).
So, when you say you don’t feel “smart” because some of your peers make better grades, you need to realize that this is just one category of “smart.” You are measuring yourself based on a ruler designed to make you a materialistic conformist.
Let’s back up a bit and redefine “smart.”
There are three facets of the intellect:
The facet of intellect that is encouraged at schools is mostly knowledge (although problem-solving is sometimes also part of the lesson plan). I don’t believe I have ever heard an example coming from schools in which teachers tried to explain wisdom to their students, however. And they certainly don't teach young people to question authority or the American way of life.
You might get a bit of a self-esteem boost by recognizing that you have the wisdom to question how you are being educated rather than just going through the numbers to get the paper to get the job to make the money to pay the taxes and go into debt and become another wage slave.
I would suggest that you take a step back and reevaluate your goals in life. Perhaps you need to simply change your course of study to something you will enjoy more (my sister switched from business to biology and was much happier, for example). Perhaps you need to think much farther ahead and decide what you would like to do in life, realizing that if you are doing something you love you will never work a day in your life. And remember: money isn’t everything.
Did I avoid the “don’t compare yourself to others” cliché well enough for you? ;-)
The other thing you need to do is work on that self-esteem of yours. Why exactly are you so hard on yourself? Sounds like you are beating yourself up for qualities about yourself because they don’t fit the “norm.” Perhaps you are not “conventionally pretty” and perhaps your hobbies are likewise unconventional. This doesn’t make you inferior; it makes you unique. I’ve always found unique people a lot more interesting than the human drones who otherwise flood our population. Celebrate your individuality; don’t chastise yourself for it.
One more thing: you might also set yourself apart by practicing something rare in our world: kindness. There are many intelligent and knowledgeable and successful people in this world, but there are not very many kind ones.
Every time I think about my circumcision, I get mad. At first, I wanted to direct my anger at the "doctor" who cut off my foreskin, because I saw him as bearing the most blame/guilt. Since I was unable to find him, I thought of directing it toward my mom--at that time, I had thought "she's the one who signed the 'consent' form, without which the foreskin-ectomy would not have been done, so she's second-most responsible even if she did not give truly informed consent" and "my dad is just a victim, same as me; he's not responsible". Later, my mom apologized after she repeatedly saw me become upset whenever I thought about circumcision.
A few days ago, my dad agreed to read the anti-circumcision articles I had read (I haven't sent them to him yet). Yesterday, I realized that, beneath noble reasons for sending him the articles like "Dad's talked a lot about honestly examining why one wants something. I don't want him to be a hypocrite, so I'll have him honestly examine 'why did I want my son to not have a foreskin?'", there was "I see circumcision as a crime, and I want the guilty party—my dad, since he's likely the one who first proposed my foreskin be removed—to know the extent of the damages; I want whatever revenge I can get".
I’m /still/ bitter, even though I’ve made progress with foreskin restoration. I have two ideas for outlets (although they seem healthy to me, they might not be):
1) send my dad those articles.
2) play Skyrim, and role play my character as embittered by a bad experience he had; really get into the role (this is similar to my childhood tactic of “play violent videogame and pretend the enemies I’m brutally dismembering are the person I’m mad at IRL”, but with more immersion into the game world). I don’t remember how effective my childhood tactic was, so I’m not sure how effective this version will be.
Do you have any suggestions for healthy outlets?
Mitch (age 20)
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You may or may not have read this column in which the issue of circumcision is discussed in detail. So, I’m not going to go over circumcision again, and, instead, I am going to address the practice of letting go of one’s anger and resentment about things that happened in the past.
With regard to your particular experience, you should first recognize that your parents (and the doctor who performed the operation) were not doing it to hurt you. They did it because they felt it was the right thing to do for you at the time. Even just 20 years ago, attitudes about circumcision were still in the “it should be done as a matter of course” phase. That has changed a lot since then, but your parents (and the majority of people in the world) were pressured by society’s norms to do what they did. (Not to make light of what you are suffering, but it could have been worse: be glad your mother wasn’t pregnant with your at a time when thalidomide was prescribed for morning sickness).
I don’t think that either of your ideas is a good plan: both just continue to feed your anger and resentment. Your purpose of forcing your father to read articles about circumcision is a passive-aggressive act designed to hurt him (make him feel guilty) as a matter of revenge, and it won’t restore your foreskin. Hurting someone because you have been hurt results in an endless feedback loop of pain and suffering and only makes things worse, not better. Your mother already acknowledges what happened and, I believe, your father knows you’re upset, as well. That’s enough. (And, even if you found the doctor, what are you going to do? Yell at him? Try to hurt him, too? Pointless.)
Similarly, playing Skyrim as a way to express your anger and hurt will only make you feel more angry and more hurt.
Human beings have a tendency to respond to anger and pain with anger and pain. This, put simply, is why we have never-ending wars in the Middle East and Asia and it is why we have terrorists. I think you would agree that neither of these is a good thing, yet you are currently of the same mentality that leads to violence. It is the wise person (a rarity) who lets go of the past and looks, instead, toward the future.
Therefore, instead of trying to get back at people, focus your energies on doing something positive. The first thing you can do is join IntactAmerica’s efforts and help spread the word about the negative effects of circumcision. Do this as a matter of educating people, not striking back in anger.
But the other course I would recommend more highly is to do positive things in your life that have absolutely nothing to do with circumcision. Instead, they allow you to find something happy to do that gets your mind off of negative feelings. Join other organizations or causes and volunteer your services to make the world a better place. There are, quite literally, thousands of things you can do, depending on your interests. For example, I just read about the International Ocean Cleanup going on this September (and every year). Well, before I go into a long list of charitable and environmental exercises, I think you get the point.
In other words, to relieve yourself of your anger and bitterness, substitute it with positive and joyful activities and causes. Look forward, not backward.
Forgiveness is not an easy path. But you might start by buying your mother some flowers and giving both parents a hug. Tell them you understand they weren’t trying to hurt you and tell them you love them. You might be surprised how good this makes you feel.
Love, kindness, and forgiveness are the true cures for hatred and resentment.
It works. Trust me. Blessed Be,
Three Apparently Unrelated Letters Actually ARE Related and Reveal an Unhealthy Submissive Personality
[Papabear note: the following is a somewhat unusual situation in which I am replying to three letters as a combined issue.]
Dear Pappa Bear,
How do I figure out what signals I'm sending when I'm in public? I am perfectly happy being a straight guy, but some of the gay guys I know have recently started advancing on me, and I don't know why. I know one of them was hated by many people, so I tried to be friendly, but no more than I am to anyone else, but he wanted to go on dates and give...adult services shall we say, and this and that after I made no notion of wanting these things. I only know 5 gay guys total, 2 of which have acted strange around me, and I really want some help! ..........please.
Soren (age 18)
This isn't related to my previous question from earlier today, but a rather simple and silly plea for advice. Sorry for bugging you. :(
Let me start with a simple background. I am a slightly confused individual on a quest to discover myself. I have always found certain things to be a big turn-on, and I am always discovering more and more. There seems to be no end. My problem is this: even though some things turn me on to fantasize about, the thought of them in real life makes my stomach upset. I am actually, quite simply, and rather sadly, too much of a germ-o-phobe to enjoy sex. If I...have to give an example...
The fantasy of me laying between someone's legs and licking them out is hot, but the thought of what I might taste or smell is...well, revolting. I can find no balance, aside from straight up cock to c*nt action. Am I cursed to never enjoy my fantasies because of my fears, or are my fears rational and I have them for a reason?
Looking forward to your take on this, as I am on a quest to find myself and I will not give up. No matter what.
Soren (age 18)
Dear Papa Bear,
I know I write too much, but you have really helped others out and I need some serious help right now. For the sake of saving space, I've typed up everything that's going on in this article. http://www.furaffinity.net/journal/6982426/
I don't have money for any kind of therapist, I don't have time to meditate every day. And I'm not sure how else to get rid of my depression. I am beginning to question a lot about myself...Please help however you can. And thanks in advance.
-A needy, pathetic, depressed furry.
* * *
[And here is the FurAffinity post]
Dear readers, furries, friends, and others alike. I am sorry to say, I am in a low place right now, and I really need some comfort. I have done some stupid things recently, and it caused a backlash from my two closest friends who's names will be left out (my master and mistress). I don't want to make people worry, I'm not stupid enough to think about suicide or anything, just keep me in your hearts and on your minds if you can. I am starting to question my life choices, my fursona, my job...I want the pain to end, but maybe I'm meant to feel it for a while.
If you don't know, I am a pet fox. I act out the role of a sheltered, yet slightly perverted, noob who doesn't know much of anything and who gets by on nothing but his friends. Not entirely untrue...
Last night, (20/08/2015) I was playing with my mistress' coat, and accidentally hurt her. She beat me for it, and I deserved it. I tried to be quiet and let any wounds heal between us for a while, and the she started asking me if I was alright. I said I wasn't sure, cause I had a lot on my mind, and she said it was bound to happen because I was a pet, and I do things that get me beat. Now, it's important to note that I'm only a pet because they pet me and it feels really good. She hasn't pet me in two weeks, and for the first time in months she is saying I have to ask for it, which I'm not good at, and she knows it. I finally just said "screw this pet thing", and I left. Before I was gone I heard her say she would just pet someone who really wanted it.
That exchange nearly killed me on the inside...
I'm also tired of being a fox, for some stereotypical reasons. I think foxes are over-sexualized, and too horny for their own good. I used to be a wolf, but I got tired of that too for different reasons. Why can't I find a fursona to stick with? Why is it so hard? Why does my depression get me in so much trouble? When will I get over it? Can anyone help me? I want to make things right with my mistress, I want to get better at being a good pet, I want a fursona I can actually get used to and like. Please send all the help you can find, my emotional state is getting worse by the hour...
Soren Swifttail (for now)
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[And now my reply]
Thank you for your emails. I’m going to address them all at once because I believe they are related, really. I’m glad you shared that FurAffinity post, because it explains a lot.
It is evident to me that you have been suffering from a poor sense of self, which has resulted in your being overly subby (becoming a pet to a master and mistress). My bet is that your self-image was damaged early in life by a less-than-happy childhood and (probably) demanding and domineering parents. This led you to the world view that to be loved meant to be subjugated by more dominating personalities.
As to your first letter: because you are subby, you may easily be sending out signals of a somewhat effeminate personality which is then being misread by some gay guys as your being gay.
As to your second letter: your need to be subjugated and, hence, “loved,” is interpreted in your fantasy life as doing submissive things, such as performing oral sex or rimming the anus. When you fantasize of such things, in other words, your subconscious mind interprets it as love, which gives you a high. However, you wouldn’t do it in real life because those types of sexual acts are actually repugnant to you (by the way, the key to enjoying anal rimming is good hygiene, but that’s another letter).
As for your third letter: what you are experiencing that is leading to your depression is known as “cognitive dissonance.” This is the state of stress we experience when we have two sides of ourselves battling it out over opposing beliefs and feelings. You believe that in order to experience love you must be submissive, a good pet; but, on the other hand, your conscious self is rebelling against this. You don’t actually like being beaten and made to feel less than a person—a fox, if you will. The resulting conflict makes you miserable because you don't know how to resolve it.
What you are experiencing is an awakening, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of you right now that it is dawning on you that you are more than a pet fox.
First step: do not do not do not fool yourself into thinking you are “hurting” your mistress and master. Someone who physically or mentally abuses you is not a good person, and you should not feel ashamed, sad, or guilty for breaking away from them. Your mistress's snide remark that she'll just find a new pet is proof she is not worthy of your affection.
DO stop being a pet.
DO stop being so subby.
DO stop feeling like you have to perform sex acts or be petted etc. to be loved. (The position of lying on the back, belly exposed, is the ultimate expression of animal submission).
DO start finding out who you really are and that you are a person who deserves to be treated as an equal before the eyes of all people.
So, when you conclude in your last letter that you want to make up with your mistress and be a good pet, Papabear’s advice to you is that is the absolute last thing you should do. You need to get away from that lifestyle and that culture because it will swallow you whole.
You need to surround yourself with people who care about you and who don’t use you. You need a much better self-image than what you have currently, and it looks like that is beginning to dawn on you.
I hope this helps, and I feel I’ll be hearing from you again, so don’t be afraid to write.
P.S. Papabear is aware that there is a community out there who are into the master-pet thing. You might believe that, by the above, I’m against such practices. Allow me to correct you: I am against the practice in this particular case; I do understand, though, that it works for some people. Thanks.
Dear Papa Bear,
After spending the last few days reading you advice to others, I've decided to try this.
For quite a number of years now, people tend to think I'm being rude/angry, especially when I'm trying my hardest NOT to be. I worked at Walmart for a while a few years ago and had had customers who specifically looked for me for help, and thought I'd fixed it, but I recently learned there had been numerous complaints against me.
I didn't think much of it (I had been sick at the time, and had many days where I couldn't even speak), but at my current job, all of my coworkers have said I have a bad attitude. They also tend to make me the butt of the joke, so whatever. However, a few customers have said things like "you don't need to be rude" and "why are you angry", and many more are just nasty and snotty to me and I can only guess they think I'm doing it to them. Even my roommates and my boyfriend can't always tell when I'm not being rude.
I have no idea how to fix this. I'm already doing everything I though was polite! I smile, ask "how can I help you", apologize a lot, be quick to assemble the order, say "have a nice day", etc. It's very frustrating. How can I not be rude, when in my head, I'm already the most polite I can be?
Anonymous (age 21, female)
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There are several ways that people might misread you other than by what you say or do. It might be the tone of your voice, your body language, your facial expressions, or even the way you dress. For example, if you, say, have eyebrows that naturally slant downward or the corners of your mouth slant downwards, even slightly, when your face is relaxed, you might be perceived as being angry or scowling. A heavy brow or forehead that is too pronounced may also be seen as having a harsher appearance. If you stand with your arms crossed or tap your foot nervously, this could signal you’re impatient. Sometimes, believe it or not, women who dress very nicely and professionally in the workplace (or, say, put their hair up in a tight bun rather than letting it hang loosely) can come off to some people as being “bitchy” (I know, unfair, right?) If you speak with a monotone voice (or, as when you were sick, your voice sounds a bit gravely), you could sound indifferent or mad, too.
What you need to do is take some time to be more aware of how you look. At home, spend time examining yourself in the mirror. This article shows how even subtle changes in how your face looks can send positive or negative signals http://www.today.com/health/do-you-have-happy-or-angry-resting-face-it-may-1D80234661. As an exercise, try emulating the more positive features; be conscious of what your mouth looks like (upward- vs downward-turned corners), how you stand, and so forth.
You can also try dressing in cheerful, even silly clothing. As an extreme example, if you wore a T-shirt with a big yellow happy face on it, people would be less inclined to think you were an angry person. Or wearing a floral pattern vs. a sharply geometric one. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow, pink) come off as being more uplifting that drabs (brown, grey, khaki) or cool colors (blue, purple). Makeup that brightens the face may also help (http://makeup.allwomenstalk.com/makeup-tips-to-brighten-your-face).
Culturally, Americans are rather an anomaly in that we expect people to be chipper, smile a lot, be happy. This is very different from countries from Japan to Europe to the Middle East, where overly happy people (people who are upbeat and smile for no apparent reason) are often looked at as either being insincere or possibly crazy.
You live in a crazy place (and the South is especially noted for people often being exceedingly nice and hospitable [Northerners are seen as a bit more cold and deliberate, often]), so this is even more true in a place like Texas than, say, Minnesota or New Hampshire.
This all might seem rather shallow because, well, it is, but it might actually help you reverse the incorrect opinion people have of you.
Dear Papa Bear,
Um, well, I guess I'll open with my question how do you make friends in this community? As in the furry community. I've been on FurAffinity for a while now, but I'm still at a loss on what to do. I have no idea how to approach people online, get to know them, and all that stuff
I have met a few people, but that’s because they approached talked to me first, and when I talk to them, I feel like I'm boring them. Mainly because I can't seem to get a good conversation going. I can do it in real life but that's because I feel like I can get to know the person easier. And that says a lot because I'm a very shy person and I have a hard time approaching people in real life as it is. Even when I try to get a conversation going the other person doesn't seem to try and keep it going. they always seem like they're half there. They're a good person and considerate, but I just feel like a burden. I feel like I'm just the one asking the questions, trying to get to know them, even though I don't know what to ask, and they don't really ask me much. When I tell them that I feel like I'm doing all the talking they tell me I'm wrong and I shouldn't worry. I'm at a complete loss as to what to do.
As for meeting furries in real life through my local group, I'm scared to do so. The FA page they have isn't very active and what I've seen of the people there, they all seem to be 19 and up already. No one really around my age. Furcons are out of the question because I don't have anyone who I would feel comfortable asking to take me.
I have no clue what I should do anymore. I feel like I'm just screwing everything up. For a fandom that's supposed to be so friendly and inviting, I feel so alone, like an outsider. Not just here but everywhere. I'm sick and tired of feeling alone. I just wanna feel like I belong to something. I hope this wasn't too all over the place
Thank you for your time.
Thomas (age 16)
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Greetings Fellow Southern Californian :-3
Yours is a pretty common problem; many furries are very shy people. One reason they become furries, I believe, is because they have a hard time with mundanes and can relate a bit better to the furry community. Of course, being shy makes it more difficult to find friends, so here’s what you do.
The first part of your letter is about having trouble initiating and maintaining a conversation. The trouble here is that you are trying to have a dialogue spontaneously generate out of the ether of the Internet. Some people are actually good at this, but when that doesn’t work for you, what you need to do is start a joint activity. Gaming is one popular way to do this. When you get involved in a multiplayer game, for example, teaming up with people to fight a digitized foe, you will actually have to talk to them about the game, strategy, etc. This becomes your seed of conversation because you have something in common to talk about, especially after playing a few games together.
Another strategy is to join an online forum about a topic that interests you. While the conversation isn’t in real time, often you will come across people whose comments you find interesting, and then you might contact them in an IM and strike up a further conversation.
I actually met one of my dearest, best friends online while talking about the bear community and about coming out gay in midlife. This lead to private online conversations, then phone calls, and finally to in-person meetings.
And, I agree, in-person interactions are best. But if you’re shy and afraid...?
Shyness is a learned habit. It’s what happens when, for some reason, we become insecure about ourselves and try to hide from interactions in order not to get hurt. One reason this can happen to us is when, as a child, our family moves to another neighborhood and we have to go to a new school. The friends and social structures that were once familiar to us in our early childhood (when people tend to be fearless) are gone and suddenly we are unsure how to start over. That lack of confidence makes it more likely we will be socially awkward and make a mistake that can be embarrassing. Then, to avoid that happening again, we retreat into ourselves and a pattern emerges. Other types of life changes can lead to this pattern, too, such as an illness, disability, or death in the family. For instance, people with a stuttering problem can be very shy; even people with, say, a severe acne problem or who are not good at sports. Sometimes, people who lose their parents or whose parents divorce become very unshy because their lives have been turned upside down. That sort of thing.
An internal voice begins to emerge where we start to put ourselves down in our minds: “I’m stupid,” “I’m not attractive,” “I’m awkward,” “I’m boring,” etc. etc.
What you must do is break this negative-reinforcement pattern. You have to learn to love yourself. Here is a wonderful article from my favorite spiritual site about that: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/21-tips-to-release-self-neglect-and-love-yourself-in-action/.
Learning to love yourself isn’t easy. I’m still working on that myself :-P Sometimes the progress can be slow, but keep at it.
Remember, you have to meet people halfway and not expect them to do all the work. To imply that the fandom is not as friendly because you have a problem approaching people to make friends really isn’t fair, is it? I mean, turn the situation around. If you were at a furmeet and someone was hiding in a corner not talking to others, wouldn’t you have a hard time making friends with that person? You would probably assume he or she wanted to be left alone. In another scenario, someone approaching you who is an extremely awkward conversationalist tends to make one uncomfortable. (Actually, another strategy, if you are up for it, is to deliberately approach furries you see are shy and awkward and try to make them feel more welcome).
That said, some words of advice on interacting with people at a party or other social function. 1) Smile; 2) Be aware of your body language (http://www.study-body-language.com/Positive-body-language.html); 3) Don’t think you have to do all the talking; being a good listener is very appealing to other people; 4) Related to #3, listen carefully to what others say and then, without interrupting them, react and ask them questions; this is a great way to initiate conversations; don’t worry about talking about yourself, especially when you are first meeting someone; if they ask you, then answer, but otherwise lean in and show interest in their stories.
Finally, don’t worry about being an “outsider.” Until very recently, I tried like the devil to be “part of a group,” but I’ve been unsuccessful, even with furries and local bears. But I have been quite successful with being friends with others on an individual basis, and that is actually better than being part of a group or clique. Slowly, over the years, I have built up a surrogate family of furries and bears whom I would not trade for the world.
Hope this helps! Stay Furry!
The ultimate question to the whole email is, "How do I forgive myself? How do I improve myself for the future? Finding answers on my own is feeling overwhelming." I suppose my story is nothing new, but I'll just rehash it anyway.
My (now ex) boyfriend of 6 months dumped me. To me, it was all of a sudden.
He and I went out to lunch together 5 days a week. He regularly talked to me on the phone/Skype/text. He introduced me to his family and friends. He took interest in my life and future. He took me on adventures he knew I would enjoy. He tried making me happy when I was down.
But I think this is where I went wrong. I was down, anxious, or beating myself up too much. He once told me that he felt hurt when I didn't take his compliments. So I tried to improve on that. Yet he also mentioned he didn't want me to give up on finding internships/jobs so easily. He told me to stop being so hard on myself. Stop sweating the small stuff—people don't always know what they are saying. The list goes on.
I realize now I wasn't really making a conscious effort on improving myself in such areas. I'd even (probably in his eyes) spontaneously cry in situations that were just too overwhelming for me.
When he did break up with me, he said he felt like he would be taking care of me all the time. I never really understood the importance of having good self esteem in order to sustain a healthy relationship until now... I must have been stressing him out so much, not bringing him joy or making him feel good like I thought I was.
He knew how much I adored him, but he said he thinks I was only infatuated with him. He didn't think we were compatible. No amount of cuddles, hand made gifts, words of affirmation, me trying to counsel him through his (fewer) worries were going to make him love me. My issues were just to present, and must have been haunting him.
My friends and family tell me I just have to focus on myself now, take a break from dating, and move forward. They also tell me to stop blaming myself so much. But it's so hard to see how it isn't my fault.
So, as much as I don't want to hear it... I shouldn't try crawling back to him asking for a second chance. Although that's what I want to do more than anything in the world right now.
In the meantime, how do I actually improve myself for my future (with or without relationship)?
I've been reading things online... I don't know if this has been helping me or making me more confused. I feel like I'm guilty of exhibiting clingy behaviors... such as "Thinking about your mate, difficulty concentrating on other things. Remembering only their good qualities. Putting them on a pedestal: underestimating your talents and abilities and over estimating theirs. An anxious feeling that goes away only when you are in contact with them. Believing this is your only chance for love".
I've had one other relationship in the past (other than the primary one in question). I became very unhappy in that relationship, and felt these sorts of things, "Believing that even though you’re unhappy, you’d better not let go, as in: 'If he leaves me, he’ll turn into a great person—for someone else.' 'He can change.' 'All couples have problems—we’re not special in that regard.’”
And I remember being resentful because in that relationship, I felt like I was giving him all the love, and he was trying to love me back.
I feel like solutions online are just so vague and broad. I don't know where to start. Am I even supposed to be thinking about these things while I'm still hurting?
Thanks for all your time!
Renei (age 22)
* * *
I'm sorry, hon, but could you be specific as to what your question is? Can you, in one sentence, ask me a concise question? Your letter just gives me a general feeling of your problem, and, as you said, I don't want to give you a vague answer.
* * *
Thank you for taking the time to read. It's greatly appreciated!
I was hoping I could open with a general set of questions to be answered, but I'll try to make it more concise now. Maybe a good way to phrase my question would be, "I'm having trouble discerning what mistakes are mine to own, and what things that happened were outside my control."
I hope that offers a little bit of clarity.
* * *
It’s pretty much impossible for me—without listening to both sides of the relationship and hearing hours of testimony—to determine whose mistakes were whose. I’m sure your former boyfriend would have a different take on things. The only reason to enumerate what went wrong on your part would be so that you could learn from your mistakes, if any. But it sounds to this ol’ bear’s ears like you already know what areas might need some improvement, especially in the self-esteem area (one symptom of low self-esteem is always looking for ways to blame yourself, which you have in spades).
The other problem you have is looking to others—specifically, boyfriends—to make you happy. One thing I’ve learned in my nearly 50 years here is that the only person who can make you happy is you. You do this by:
You are asking Papabear the wrong question, Renei. “I'm having trouble discerning what mistakes are mine to own, and what things that happened were outside my control” is a fruitless effort to assign blame, and that is an unhealthy pursuit. So is the question, “How do I forgive myself?” That also assumes blame. What you need to do, simply, is work on that low self-esteem, which, in turn, will alleviate any clingy behavior you might have (when we are confident of our own worth, we don’t feel like we have to define ourselves by the relationships we are in).
I hope that makes sense. Write again if it doesn’t and you need more input.
First off, I wanted to tell you that I really like your work, you're awesome for taking the time to talk to people who feel lost and trying to help them.
While I don't really feel lost, I'm here asking you for your opinion.
I'm living like the perfect life at the moment. I'm studying in a field that interests me (I'll be changing soon but more on that later) but lots of free time to enjoy other things, I live at my parents house to not be too much of a burden economically but I perfectly autonomous, I have a girlfriend that loves me (maybe too much but again more on that later) and I have lots of acquaintances and some close friends that I can talk to and who are willing to help me.
The thing is: I don't enjoy life on Earth at all. Since I was able to I've always been consuming lots and lots of culture (books music videogames movies/shows comics and drawings). The "problem" with books, videogames etc. is that they depict amazing adventures in more or less fantastic universes full of interesting things to do, and now because I'm used to those stories I don't find any joy in life. On top of that I'm constantly thinking about all the problems going on in the world and in our society, making me miserable whenever I'm not occupied.
It's been 3 years now that the same thing is going on: I get really depressed, I plan my suicide, all the friends who hear about it tell me I shouldn't, I explain them why I want to, they get sad because of me, which makes me even more depressed making me unable to have enough strength in me to kill myself, I get used to the feeling making me able to go on but lose my best friends because they can't put up with a suicidal close friend (which I totally understand). After that I make some new friends ... and the cycle starts again...
The only things able to help me are videogames and music who help me don't think about it and drawing and reading poems that make me happy for a little while.
That's why I wanted to study in cinema, because making videos is a hobby not a passion like the 4 above, that way I could have a job I enjoy while not tainting my passions with the "work feeling.”
But now, I've hit like the 5th cycle, and I can't put up with anything anymore. I'm changing my studies to "Game Art," which involves lots of drawing hopefully making me able to bear life long enough so my girlfriend won't love me as much as she does atm, because I've talked to her about all that, and she said that if I do kill myself she'll follow me, and I don't want everyone to blame me for "taking" her life when I spent ALL my life trying to make everyone around me happy.
So yeah, I can't live like a normal human because I wish I were some kind of wolf with wings who's life would consist of exploring fantastic universes and battling with dragons or some other mystical creatures. I wouldn't care if I were to get killed/hurt like that, because it would be for something interesting. In real life you'll get killed because of sad and boring things (diseases, mad psychos, etc.), and while doing meaningless things (my ideal goal IRL would be to make people realize we have to act to make this world better, but I wasn't even able to make my friends do small changes in the way they act for objective goodness, imagine how that would go if I were to try on 7 billion strangers...).
I'm sorry this was really long, hopefully not too long and not too boring so you'll take some time to tell me how you feel about that. I'm not seeking for an answer on "how can I stay alive?" I just want to know what do you think of my way of thinking considering the life I have. Maybe you'll think I'm a spoiled brat that should enjoy life considering how easy I have it but hopefully you won't stop at that.
Thanks in advance Papabear!
Wirinel' DuSaule (age 18, France)
PS: Sorry if I made typos/mistakes. English's not my native language.
* * *
Whenever I get a letter from a reader and it concerns suicide, that letter gets moved to the top of the pile. I will reply to your letter by tomorrow. In the meantime, please consider contacting one of the following hotlines to talk to a professional.
I think I see what your problem may be, so I will get to that soon.
Boite Postale 43,
Contact by: - Phone
Hotline: 01 46 21 46 46
Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun: 15:00 - 23:00
Contact by: - Phone
Hotline: 01 45 39 40 00
Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun: 00:00 - 23:00
E.P.E. idF. Fil Sante Jeunes
Contact by: - Phone - E-mail:
Hotline: 0800 235 236
Fédération S.O.S Amitié France
11, rue des Immeubles industriels
Contact by: - Phone
Hotline: (+33) (0)1 40 09 15 22
* * *
It's very kind of you to put the letters about suicide on top of the pile!
And don't worry, I promised myself to not commit suicide too soon, I don't find joy in life but I'm trying my best to resist and first let my girlfriend pass her important exams.
Also I've already contacted my family doctor and a psychologist but they weren't able to help me. I've contacted you more because I'm curious of what you'll say considering you have a good experience with this kind of things than because I'm looking for a solution.
* * *
There’s no such thing as committing suicide “too soon”; any time someone commits suicide is an inappropriate time. As someone who attempted the deed at your exact age, I can tell you if you go that far you will absolutely devastate everyone in your life who cares about you; suicide is the ultimate, supremely selfish act and is like giving a big middle finger to everyone you love. You say you spent all your life trying to make others happy, yet with one blow—killing yourself—you will erase any and all of that happiness you might have accomplished. The teen years are the most likely time that a suicide will occur, so it is a critical period in your life to get through. If you are entertaining the idea even in the slightest, please call one of those hotlines I gave you.
I’m sorry that the psychologist you spoke to did not help. Since I have your attention, I will try to help here.
What you are experiencing is classically defined in the German tongue as “Weltschmerz.” That is, becoming depressed because the real world doesn’t compare favorably to a hypothetical, idealized world you find in art and literary fiction and video games that you would prefer. A lot of people have this condition—probably a lot of furries, especially, because we like to imagine ourselves as anthros living in fantastical worlds. We look at ourselves in the mirror and wish we could have wings or snouts or fur or tails.
As Spock once noted in the original Star Trek series, having is not always so pleasant as wanting. This was also pointed out to me in a forum led by Uncle Kage at MFF in which he talked about the consequences of what would happen if furries really were possible. The gist of his talk was that the physical and social aspects of being a true furry would likely be devastatingly disappointing. The same is true of your fantasy world. Fighting a dragon might seem glamorous, but you would likely be toasted or crushed or eaten alive, and that wouldn’t be too pleasant. If you were an anthro wolf, your anatomy would make it impossible to speak English (or any human tongue); and if you had wings they would likely be just for show, not functional, because having six limbs just doesn’t work anatomically, and even if it did it would be very hard for you to get off the ground.
Basically, you are desiring something that, even if it could become true, would likely not meet up with your high expectations.
Now let’s look at reality. You are, as they say, looking at the glass half empty. Yes, the world is troubled by disease, war, Rush Limbaugh, etc., but what about the amazing aspects of our real-life world? And I’m not just talking about the games and poetry into which you escape. Life is amazing! Nature is incredible! Quantum physics! Astronomy! The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly! The mind-warping possibilities of alternate universes, other dimensions, dark matter worlds, instantaneous particle communications through entanglement, and, more humbly but still incredible, the advances in medical science—why, we are getting really close to healing paralysis, making the blind see, the deaf hear, and integrating human biology with nanotechnology. There are advances in communications and transportation and environmental technology that are showing great promise in resolving problems with pollution and human interactions. People are developing clothes that can make you invisible; physicists have figured out how to freeze light in time! We’re very very close to discovering extrasolar planets that include liquid water and life! AND, it now seems possible that warp drive is a feasible mode of propulsion to get us to those planets. You, my furiend, are living in what is possibly the most remarkable era of human history—EVER!
Open your eyes and see around you, really see, and you will discover a world that’s really not hum-drum at all.
And that’s why I would recommend to you that you do not pursue a career in Game Art. Why? Because then you would just be reinforcing your conviction that it is only the worlds of fantasy that have validity and excitement. You would be creating an infinite loop that would trap you into your current mind-set, which is depressing you and making you consider suicide.
Instead, explore the possibilities and wonder of the real world. For instance, if you have any aptitude in it, I would say you should look into astronomy. What’s going on in that field is truly mind-blowing. Or, closer to home, medical technology, or perhaps focus on the planet and the wonders of natural plant and animal life. I know that when I was a zoo docent, I was constantly amazed by what animals can do to survive and thrive in the wild.
My Papabear sense is telling me that you only find the real world dull and uninspiring because you haven’t made the effort to truly familiarize yourself with it. Therefore, that would be my recommendation. I know you said you weren’t looking for a solution, but I’m giving you one anyway.
So far, dear furiend, you have been a sleepwalker through a magnificent, lush jungle full of life and possibilities. But you have been walking only on a cleared, dirt path, unable to even touch the life around you. My wish for you is that you open your eyes, step off the path, and lose yourself in the forest.
* * *
I'm following up on my letter to you. What do you think of it?
* * *
First I want to say that I'm really sorry I wasn't able to answer your mail earlier. I fortunately could catch and read your mail on my phone about the day you sent it to me but, while it proved to be a good thing in the end (you'll see why later), I am terribly sorry for making you wait.
When I first read your mail, I felt like once again the person I tried to explain my problem too didn't fully understand (which would've been totally OK, by the way; I had to cut a bit "short" my first mail to not make it overwhelming, and if you don't know the full story it's not possible to fully understand), but 3 hours ago I talked again with my mom about the reasons I'm feeling down. I thought about what you said in your first answer to me while talking with her, and it really helped me. My decision is to now try to compensate my lack of knowledge in the scientific field (I studied engineering because I didn't--and still don't but I'm trying to work on that--feel like I would be able to remember all the things I needed for scientific studies) by going through "catch up" studies via the CNED (a French organization for at-home schooling. My goal is to develop skills in Math, Physics and what we call "Earth and :ife Science" in France htrough those studies to enter a school in the same field while developing my creativity in my spare time tjrough online tutorials to how to use 3D software and learn how to draw better.
One thing my mother helped me with is by making me remember how people like Stephen Hawking went through and are still going through huge difficutlies in life but still continue to help other people in their fields with their discoveries; it was to make me realize than I can get over my lack of long term memory (I tried multiple methods to help against that but I still can't live without technology keeping important information for me). Another thing she told me is to stop paying attention to the "crowd": a huge thing that makes me absolutely desperate is how I see that too many people keep believing (not talking about religious beliefs here) and doing objectively stupid things even if they have evidence that it would be far better to not do them/do them in another way. So I'll now try to stop looking at comments on YouTube and other social medias (or just post my opinion and don't care about the answers, that will be tough though...). Finally, she said that because I've always been moderate about the money I spend I should not hesitate to ask her and my dad to buy me things that would help me express myself (such as canvas, paint and graphic tablets).
While I still feel down (and I thing that something that'll stay a long time for the better as much as for the worse), I at least feel like I have a goal in my life, things to do and wake up for besides just living to not make my girlfriend and family sad.
I have something to tell you about your answer, though, about the fantasy thing. It's really not helping at all to tell people like me (or at least me) that if our fantasy were to realise it wouldn't be as good as we think because of real world laws. It was a bit cliche and mostly there to explain my point of view but heck if I were to be a goddamn wolf with wings I'd live my fantasy to the fullest and speak English and fly! That's the point of fantasy, to get rid of what's making real life boring, and while I still desperately need to live in a fantasy world to be truly happy, my goal here is to make real life less boring, interesting enough so that I can keep on staying alive for a long enough time to feel like my life on earth was spent well.
If you didn't answer me, my talk with my mother would've been far less productive, and sending you those mails was a relief (I try to not talk to my surroundings about my problems except when absolutely needed). I'd like to thank you. Not as far as from the bottom of my heart because in a way you're making me live while I kind of don't want to, but you tried to and did help me.
Because I can't help you in another way than with money and because I don't really feel like wearing your design, would you mind giving me a PayPal link or something I'd be able to give you a donation trough? I like to help people who helped me, most of the time they're artists but being that much kind deserves some sort of reward (a medal would be cool but I don't have that kind of power hehe).
Thanks again Papabear,
* * *
Thank you for your reply, and I am very happy that you had such a great talk with your mother and that she and your father are supportive. That's wonderful! I'm also relieved that you have--I hope!--put aside any ideas of suicide. It sounds like you're a tad resentful of me for "making" you live, but I can live with that. If it took making you hate me in order to convince you of the folly of suicide, I would have done my best to make you despise me.
I think you're right that there was a little miscommunication here and, perhaps, I didn't get exactly what you were saying. It sounded to my ears that, in the original letter, you wanted to die and hoped that would somehow achieve your dreams of going to your fantasy life and living as a winged wolf. This is why I tried to bring you down to reality because I feel that if I encouraged you in your fantasy life it would encourage you to kill yourself.
I wish to make clear that I have no objections to mental play and an interior fantasy life. After all, I have one as well in which I exist as a bear. And if you wish to fantasize about being a flying wolf, that's fine--as long as you acknowledge it as a fantasy only.
The other thing I wish to clarify is that I may have overemphasized science too much in my reply as a way to see that the universe is not dull. There's a lot to be said for the arts, as well--the celebration of beauty and truth through painting, music, writing, and other arts. You can find a lot of joy in these things, as well.
Now, about your struggles with memory. There are actually things you can do to improve your long-term memory, including exercise, meditation, and getting a good night's sleep. In this fascinating article, there are some unexpected tricks you can practice, too. In addition to the suggestions you see there, I would also recommend you do puzzle games (anything from jigsaw puzzles and scrabble to math games), and do things such as learn a new language or study how to play an instrument. Your brain is like your muscles: if you don't exercise, your muscles turn to flab; likewise, if you don't exercise your brain, it turns to mush (this is why watching a lot of TV is really bad for your brain). Here is a CNN article about apps you can get for brain training, too, if you're interested. You've learned English very well; and if you can do that (which involves long-term memory), I am confident you can improve your memory in other areas, too.
I am not telling you to give up your fantasy life (I should have been more clear on that). I think, though, thanks to your talk with your mother (and with me?), that you are on a path toward balance. Balance science and fantasy, the real world and the imaginary, and I think you will be happier. These two sides are not opposites; rather, they complement each other.
I have another suggestion for you: some of the greatest science fiction writers of the Golden Age were also scientists. If you have never done so before, pick up some books by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein, for example. I think they might inspire you.
Thank you for offering to send me a donation, but I must decline. Because I'm not a professional in this field, I don't feel right taking money for offering advice (that's different from selling a shirt or a mug). If you wish to repay me, please tell other people about this column if you feel it truly helped, and thanks for your kind words.
I guess I should keep this nice and to the point. I'm on a collision course with my own future, and it's terrifying me beyond belief. My future has always been a topic I dwell over in my own head—will I be successful? Am I too lazy or stubborn to make it out there?
With the pressure of high school and growing up slamming down on me full force, I guess I'm becoming more self aware. With that self awareness comes a lowered self-esteem, and with that lowered self-esteem comes doubt. I don't do too hot in school to be honest. Sure, I mostly get A's and B's, but I did slip up and get a C. This slip-up made me take a step back and think about myself and my personality. Can I succeed? I have no way to dab my toes in the waters of the future except stay in school (the education system's crap, so I still don't feel prepared. They just wanna make you into good little patriotic citizens, ah, No ranting, no ranting...) so I have no idea what I should do to feel more certain that I'll make it when I'm all grown.
I've been trying to work towards my dream (I've always wanted to be a writer and get a job in the ever-growing field of technology. TMI? Probably. Cliché? Yep), but all the work just makes me feel more discouraged. The truth is, the product I produce isn't as good as my aspirations. I just look at myself and what I do, and I can't help but doubt that I'll go anywhere.
Well, I should also clarify one thing. You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, what does she mean by successful?" My answer is simple. I want to be happy, and I want my family to be proud of who I become.
So, I'll sum up this tiny essay. I don't think I'll make it in the future, and it's scaring me. Papa, did you have these same doubts when you were little? Is there any way I can ensure I'll have a bright future? Should I just wait and see what happens? Should I try improving my grades? Wow, ignoring that one question rule, aren't I? I really don't know how to cut it down, though.
Thanks for reading the ramble, Papa.
Your bumbling squirrel,
Oliver (age 14)
* * *
You sound like quite a bright little furry. You’ve already figured out that the modern American educational system is garbage designed to turn people into good citizen consumers and to believe the hokum of the “official history” of our country. Society wants you to go to school, get a job, buy stuff (especially stuff you don’t need, which is why Christmas and other holidays have become consumer frenzies), and pay taxes (unless you’re mega rich, in which case you are encouraged to hide your assets overseas and betray your country by not paying taxes).
Hey, you had a rant, so indulge me LOL.
You say you wish to be happy and please your family. Everyone wants to be happy, Oliver, but how do you define happiness? Is it being successful in a career? Is it having lots of money and material stuff? Is it being a good spouse and parent? Is it finding something to do that you enjoy and excelling at it? You need to be more specific there.
When I was your age (since you asked) I definitely was terrified about growing up, going to college, getting a job, etc. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I thought school was all about getting A’s. So, that’s what I strove to do. In middle school, I was kind of an average student, but by high school and college I had upped my game to get a 4.0 and graduate at the top of my class. Know what? I was so busy getting A’s that I didn’t actually learn anything. I would study my ass off, belch out the answers on the test, and then forget the material by the next month.
Conclusion: Getting A’s is no guarantee of success. There are brilliant people who live in poverty (many stories of people with advanced degrees working at McDonald’s), and there are also people who dropped out of high school who are now highly successful (there’s the famous story of Einstein whose math teacher thought he was a dunce.)
Soon after college, I got married and my first job was working in a factory while my wife was an admissions counselor at a small college. Together, we managed to pay the bills, and then I got my first job as an editor and I was very excited. We moved to a suburb and I began my career in reference publishing, working my way up to senior editor in the young adult and children’s literature division of my company. I really loved my first few years there because it was a passion, but then the corporate atmosphere changed. No longer were we producing “books,” but, rather, “products.” We became all about making profits, and the staff got pressured more and more to make more and more products and increase the profits for the shareholders. The soul of the company was gone, and I grew to hate it so much that I left. I worked for a small company producing educational material for a while, and then went freelance. I couldn’t take all the emphasis on money. Money is not the key to happiness. Sure, it can make you comfortable—and I wouldn’t mind not worrying about bills—but it’s not the same as being happy.
Conclusion: working for a big corporation will likely not make you happy; most of the time, you are seen as a tool (and many managers actually see employees as a drain and an enemy, rather than an asset). Corporations have no compunctions about firing even the most loyal and dedicated employees. Happens all the time. Don’t expect a large company job to bring you happiness.
I, like you, also had dreams of being a writer. I, like you, was very self-critical of my writing. Most people don’t really appreciate that good writing is a skill like any other. Believe me, it is the most undervalued skill in this country. A good writer works at his or her craft, and it takes years to produce something decent. Don’t be too hard on yourself there; at 14, you have a long way to go. Be patient and work at it; also, read the books of other authors and soak in how they put words together.
If writing is something you really love, then you should practice it whether or not you actually sell your stories or articles. I became very discouraged in my efforts to publish. I’ve published a fantasy novel and ten nonfiction works, none of which have earned me any money. The publishing world is really hellish (be warned). It is cut-throat. Rare are the people like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling; common are those who sell nothing or don’t earn enough to make a living at it. It’s kind of like all the kids out there who want to be famous musicians or athletes. The wannabes are a dime a dozen; stardom is rare. What I’m saying is, if you want to be a writer be a writer because you love to write and tell stories, not because you want to be rich or famous.
Now, that aside, it sounds like you might like to combine writing with an interest in technology. If that’s the case, I recommend you look into becoming a technical writer. This is a profession that is in high demand and you could probably make a very good living at it.
Conclusion: if you have a dream, don’t corrupt it with the demand that it make you money. But if you can combine your dream with a practical application, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Back to your question of how to be happy and make your family proud. First of all, remember that life and happiness are journeys, not goals. Too often we are so focused on what is ahead of us that we fail to appreciate what is happening right here and now. You’ll only be 14 once, Oliver. Spend some time enjoying your youth by doing fun things and also spending time with family. In a few years you’ll be moving out and won’t see them nearly as often.
The teen years should also be a time for self-exploration. Looking back, my time would have been far better spent at your age trying new things and finding out what I was capable of, rather than studying so hard that I had no social life. If I had it to do all over again, I would have studied music and art. I also would have studied wildlife management rather than English literature. Don’t miss out on the things you should be exploring because you’re so afraid of the future and doing what you think others want you to do so you can make them proud.
I’m sure your parents and other family members will be proud of you if you strive to do one thing: be a good person. Be kind and giving and loyal and loving, and there’s no way they could be disappointed in you (unless they are misguided, too, about what a “success” is).
Relax and enjoy your life, enjoy your youth. Because, as you can see now, worrying about the future is making you a nervous wreck. And what fun is that? Live for now. Life is brief and is gone in the wink of an eye. Learn to appreciate your loved ones, nature, all the world has to offer you. Keep in mind, too, your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. These are all important parts of happiness (kinda hard to be happy if you’re sick, emotionally numb, and/or have no sense of the spiritual side of life).
I could write more, but I hope you see where I am going with this: learn the difference between “success” as it is defined by society and the real success of leading a fulfilling and joyous life free of the narrow pursuit of fame and fortune. Instead, focus on personal relationships and discovering what you love to do with your time, whether or not that is something that is a prestigious career. Take care of your body, mind, and spirit, and you will find contentment and happiness.
There are no guarantees in life, Oliver, so put that notion aside. The only thing you can control is you, so find happiness by doing what you can to make a better you—a better person. The world needs more good people, not millionaires.
Hope that helps.
Big Bear Hugs,
The Shit Factors
I feel like I'm trapped in an uninteresting life. I'm living somewhere where I feel rather isolated, I have “friends” but they're mostly just family friends, I have very few people who I feel truly close to, and they are almost all online. I feel like I'm uninteresting, both socially and sexually. I have kinks, but no way to really practice them. I have an unsatisfying sex life, but I'm not sure how to resolve that. I feel like I'm unhappy with my love life, but I'm not sure if the problem is the relationship, or me. I feel like I'm just drifting through life, not accomplishing anything, and I have no idea how to change that. People make it all sound so easy—go somewhere else, figure out what you love and do it, and things like that—but I'm not sure where to start with any of that. What am I supposed to do?
Bear (age 22, Canada)
* * *
While the advice of moving or finding your passion can be true for many people, the particulars on how to do it can be problematic. Your friends are trying to point out that you are in a rut and need to shake things up, but unless you know where you are going this might not work. For example, if you move from Canada to New York City, it might be an exciting new environment, but you can’t run away from your problems or lack of ambition or lack of goals. Those things follow you. Likewise, you can’t just snap your fingers and say, “I summon my passion!” Many people, frankly, go through their entire lives without finding their passions.
Why is that?
There are several things that stop us from doing what we really want to do. I call these “The Shit Factors” (it sounds better in French: “les facteurs de merde”) and they are:
The Shit Factors are not established in us from birth. When we are little kids we do things because we love it, even if we are terrible at it (e.g., drawing people as crayon stick figures). It isn’t long, though, before we start to “learn” that such joys are not valued by our parents and peers. Parents tell us we must get an education and get a degree so we can find a job and make money; peers will take the first opportunity to make fun of and mock us at almost anything we attempt so that they can feel better about themselves. These two outside forces squash the joy out of most people, effectively turning them into boring drones who do all that is expected of them: go to school, work, raise a family, pay taxes, and die.
One of the saddest lines ever penned was by Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
My passion when I was younger was to be a writer. I struggled a lot with this, and my early stories were, well, awful (SF #1). I remember submitting a bunch of them to the creative writing program at Bowling Green State University, where I was considering going for a master’s degree (MFA). They gently suggested I just register for their standard MA. I was crushed. Slowly, though, I began work on my fantasy novel. Took years, got hundreds of rejection letters, and then I got “the call.” A publisher liked it! So, spent a year in contract negotiations, after which the publisher changed her mind, postponing publication indefinitely. Another year wasted (SF #5). I then submitted it to a small press in Canada (Double Dragon) that was having a writing contest judged by Piers Anthony (“Xanth” series), and I won! The book, The Steel of Enadia, was published, but didn’t sell worth a damn. I made no money off it (SF #2 and #4). The book got some online reviews that were pretty upsetting, too (SF #3).
Afterwards, I was pretty sad. I continued to write, though, publishing a number of nonfiction titles for young adults until finding my next passion: writing a history about Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. This was a labor of love. The zoo, the oldest in the state that was accredited, had never been written about, so I dove in. This took a couple of years of research, interviews, and writing. I then submitted it to the Michigan State University Press (MSU’s vet school had a long history of working with the zoo and so it was a good fit). The editor loved the book, but they didn’t have a budget to publish it and kept delaying (see, all the money from sport programs never goes toward anything academic or artsy, or else they would have had the money in spades). Soooooo, I found a place that, basically, was a vanity press and got it published. However, I got absolutely NO support, either from the publisher, or, frustratingly, from the zoo itself, which refused to sell the book in its gift store (“We don’t sell books” and “You only want us to do that because you want to make money off of us” were two reasons I got). Although the people I know who read the book loved it, I couldn’t sell it and it is now out of print (thanks a lot, Potter Park Zoo, you putzes).
I stopped writing after that for a long time. Then, I found the furry fandom, which has now led me to writing this column. I make no money from it. None. Zilch. But I love doing it. I am grateful to those who write in and who read this column because it gives my life a sense of purpose, and it would not have happened if I had given up on writing because of the five Shit Factors.
My success with this column has also inspired me to begin research on my next project: The Furry Book: The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the Furry Fandom, which I hope to complete by the end of this year.
Not to make this a column about me, but I offer you my experience here as an example of how dangerous the Shit Factors are and because I suspect that you may be in your current rut because you are being stopped by one, some, or all of these factors. To find personal satisfaction in your life (note I am not saying “to find money” or “to get a career” or even "to find love," although these things can happen, too) you must break through all five factors and then ask yourself this question: If your doctor gave you one year to live, what would you do with your time?
This is not a frivolous question. We all die, of course. Any one of us could die tomorrow, could die later today. I just got an email from a friend of mine who is 56 and a bit shaken up by the fact that a cousin of his who is his age went to bed last night and never woke up.
The future is never certain. Live your life for today. Do not be complacent, content to sit on the couch watching “Survivor” or playing “Final Fantasy.” Live.
As for the Shit Factors, let’s look at them again:
Much of what I have above here is about your vocation or avocation, it seems, but it can actually apply to your love life, as well. Why do you suppose your sex life is unsatisfying? Could it be due to a Shit Factor? Such as you are afraid to tell your lover what you really want (related to SF #3)? Why did you choose this particular mate? Was it because they were low-hanging fruit (related to SF #5)? Because they have a good-paying job (related to SF #2)? Think about it....
I hope this helps. Please write again if it doesn’t and we can continue the conversation.
Hey there, Papabear,
First, I'd like to throw some well deserved admiration your way. I think what you've got running here and what you do for so many people is wonderful. It's comforting to know there's a place where furries can ask their questions without being judged. So thank you for all the help you've given people.
Okay now onto the question. I've been with my mate for about 6 months now, and I'm under the impression that our relationship has nowhere to go but up. Not to say that there aren't problems. Every relationship has them, but we're willing to talk through them, and try to avoid sweeping problems under the rug... Unfortunately I have this tendency to bite my tongue whenever I feel there's a problem that I think will escalate poorly. It's not because I don't want to deal with them. Mentally I can handle myself, or at least I think I can. I don't lose myself in streams of madness and make connections that don't make sense.
The problem is the physical aspect. Inside I know I should speak my mind. I've been working on breaking out of this habit with mixed results since before my mate and I even met. But when the time comes my throat clams up really, really tightly. I lose my ability to speak and I shake and start to cry. I know it's not needed, and I don't want to do it, but it always happens. The closer I am to the person emotionally, the stronger it is. So with my mate it's agony.
It's been a problem since I was a wee kitten, and Since I've had so much time to analyze it I'm pretty sure I know where it stemmed from. When my parents divorced I was left the oldest of three siblings, and as such It became my job to fill as kind of a half parent for my brothers. I kinda took on the role of protecting them from certain things. One of these things was the anger issues my father had. Lots of getting yelled at, harshly punished for being a child, and feeling emotionally held hostage. I loved him and bit my tongue and was afraid to make waves lest I be punished again. It has done a deal of damage to my emotional growth. But I have acknowledged that it was wrong for him to treat me that way, It was not my fault, things have gotten better, and my father and I have a healthy relationship now. I don't let him bully me anymore and I can stand up for myself.
So Knowing all this, Why do I still have so much trouble with this physical reaction? I can't be clamming up like this forever. What if it happens in a professional situation or in front of someone where it would be costly to my future. How can I train myself to calmly and collectively speak up when we need to speak seriously?
Hope this wasn't too all over the place. Thanks!
Bloo (age 22)
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Sounds like you’ve come a long way and have done very well. You know what your problem is and even understand its root cause. You’ve also developed excellent relationship skills with both your mate and the cause of your issues: your father. Good for you! Outstanding, really!
What you have left over is a bad habit. When you do something long enough, physically or mentally, it becomes ingrained in you, a part of you. So, this choking back of your ability to speak is really a learned behavior, almost an addiction, and can be treated as such.
One way to break bad behavior is redirection. For example, when someone is a smoker, a large part of their bad habit may be the simple physical motion of having something in their hand and putting it between their lips and taking it out again, etc. That motion can be very comforting. So, for some people, they can break their smoking habit by substituting a lollipop for the cigarette. I have known people for whom this works.
At times, when the behavior is really bad, hypnotists do a redirection, too. I’ve heard of hypnotists treating suicidal people by implanting the thought in their head that whenever they feel like killing themselves they should instead snap their fingers or sing a song. This, though, is really just a patch until the real psychological trauma can be treated.
With you, the psychological aspect has already been addressed. Again, it is merely the behavior that has to be retrained.
You need to redirect the anxious energy you experience when you are engaged in a verbal confrontation. You might try putting a worry stone in your pocket—one of those smooth stones with an indentation that your rub with your thumb when you feel anxious. Squeeze and stress balls work similarly.
The other exercise you can practice is having a dialog with your boyfriend under controlled conditions. That is, the two of you go to a calm, quiet place where there are no loud noises or distractions. Plan this ahead of time and agree on some things you will discuss. They don’t have to be serious issues, but just things that you might have different opinions about. Agree ahead of time that during your conversation no one will be forced to agree with the other person. You are just talking. There is no pressure to come to a conclusion. Agree on one to three topics ahead of time and have your talk at a scheduled time. The purpose of this is to create a situation where you are not faced with a sudden, unexpected confrontation. This will, in turn, prevent what is really a reflexive action in your throat to constrict and be silent. It will also train your mind to understand that there will be no harsh repercussions for expressing a contrary point of view the way you experienced it as a young person with your father. Do these sessions once or twice a week until you feel comfortable with expressing your opinions. Combine them, if necessary, with the worry stone or stress ball.
Be patient. Unlearning a behavior can take weeks, even months or more. As long as you see progress, you’ll eventually unlearn the bad behavior and feel much less stressed out in the future.
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