Based on a True Sweater

Nov. 30, 2006

I Don't Lighten Up

It seems I'm going to follow my usual bloggng MO here: I do a bunch of stuff that I'm excited about and want to blog about; I get busy and procrastinate and don't write about it because I think I don't have time to write a good enough post. Time passes and I feel like hiding from my blog because I haven't written about whatever it was. Then, faithful reader, you get my random thoughts about whatever I feel compelled enough to write on a day when the stars and atoms align correctly for me to sit down and write. And so it goes.

I was blog-surfing during breakfast today, and landed at a blog I'd never read before. The current entry was the writer's announcement that she and her husband were splitting up. It was long and articulate. Near the end, she apologized for being so serious. What's wrong with this picture?

Obviously there's a discussion to be had here about relevant social phenomena, blogging culture, and on and on, but I'm not going to go there today. No, instead, it's going to be All About Me. (I need to start tagging these posts, like Jodi does.) I promise, though, I'll make it into something about not-just-me.

I got to thinking about a friend I used to have. Around the time Zak and I were preparing to get married, I had a very intense and damaging friendship with someone who used to tell me to lighten up all the time. I've been told to lighten up all my life, by many different people, and I've got to say, I hate it more than you can imagine.

On the whole, people don't tell you to lighten up because they're concerned for your emotional well-being. They do it because they are uncomfortable with your feelings, and because they don't really want to go where you are.

It's true that people don't all experience things the same way, and that's fine. I don't need everyone to process information and emotion the same way I do, and I don't think I should have to think and feel the same way someone else does. Because we all really only know what it's like inside our own heads, it can take a while to figure out how you are different from other people. (Think about colour-blindness. How do you know what colours other people see?) It's taken me a long time to realize that I am, to a larger degree than normal, serious, passionate, imaginative and emotionally intense. Why is this something I've been shamed for?

There is a balance to be found between wanting to improve yourself, and accepting who you are. There are certainly things about myself that I have worked concertedly to change, and things which I am still striving to change.

I think that too often, people are content to say "that's just who I am" about aspects of themselves which are damaging to themselves and those around them. (There's a lot of cultural reinforcement for this, too, but that's a tangent for another time.)

However, it's absolutely vital to recognize which of your qualities and characteristics are at the core of your being, and define who you are. Those things do not need to be "improved" away. They are aspects which need to be accepted and cared for, and if your environment and relationships are hostile to these parts of you, then they will be inimical to your soul.

The trick, of course, is in knowing how to differentiate between qualities to nurture, and qualities to work on. I'm afraid I don't have a clean answer for that. Being honest with yourself about this can be a terribly difficult, scary and slippery task.

The other trick is in not hating yourself for needing to improve. We are often so afraid to admit that we are flawed, that when we finally face this, we end up having self-loathing to deal with, too!

I've learned to choose better friends, and I'm much more comfortable with myself as a result. I feel like the people in my life now actually do accept me, and like me for who I am. They don't tell me to fucking lighten up.


At 7:31 p.m., Blogger Gingersnaps with Tea... said...

I love what you've said here. I've been told to lighten up a few times my self. It's more of an invalidation than anything else. Being a real friend is about accepting people as they are, if someone makes you feel bad about who you are (or guilty or ashamed) they aren't a friend and never were. JMHO.

At 10:36 p.m., Blogger Visa Lisa said...

Amen. One of the best blog posts EVER because it says exactly what I want to say about a lot of things. I just came to love you just a little bit more - again.

At 9:16 a.m., Blogger Steph said...

Amen, Mandy, Amen.

At 12:41 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just surfed in who knows how, but I just wanted to say thank you for articulating how I feel when I'm told to "lighten up" or "relax"

At 12:54 p.m., Blogger Brenda said...

another great post, mandy. i too have been told to lighten up, and i've tried my whole life to not feel every single emotion, goor or bad, to its fullest extent. truthfully, it can be exhausting to be passionate!

At 2:58 p.m., Blogger Miss Dottie said...

Nicely said.

There is nothing wrong with taking your time to emotionally process things.

At 6:10 a.m., Blogger Susan said...

My husband has told me to lighten up so much it's become a trigger phrase for me. Trigge to instant rage. He's stopped doing it, for now.

I totally get what you mean. I've been told it a lot, too.

At 9:22 p.m., Blogger Deb said...

No need to lighten up, gain weight, lose weight, dry your hair a "normal" colour or tattoo my name on yer bicep. I loves ya no matter what. But you've been tagged.

Book Tag:
The rules are: Grab the book closest to you - Open to page 123 - Scroll down to the 5th sentence - Post the text of next three sentences on your blog - Name of the book and the author - Tag three people.

Yer loving OM

At 4:14 a.m., Blogger Sharon said...

I've been wondering what to say, your post is really helping me to cope with things at the mo. I am like a salmon swimming upstream against the constant negativity about my character and my problems from all angles.

I want to improve and I'm trying my hardest, but at the same time I feel like I'm losing myself and that the smallest decision is draining all of my energry. I agree that there needs to be a balance I can't give up everything that makes me, me!

I miss your hugs! XOXOX

At 5:02 p.m., Blogger That's so Twisted said...

I found your blog thru Knitty and keep reading it for stuff like this. I wish I could articulate these things. Even to myself. Your blog makes me me you as a realer person than most of the people I interact with in my life. Thank you.

"Thinking about Pretty" is still something I think about every day. I badly need to be able to express this idea.

I say it's time for some people to Deepen Up!

At 6:24 p.m., Blogger Fearlessly Female said...

What a pleasure to trip into your blog. I could not agree with you more. As soon as I read that the phrase "lighten up" bothered you I was practically clapping. I have come across this statement so many times lately in the cyber world. There is no greater trigger for me than when a stranger tells me to lighten up after sharing a heartfelt personal opinion, advice or story. It makes absolutely no sense to me accept that the "accuser" if you will is a control freak and needs to take us down a notch for themselves to feel better.

I applaud you and your stance to not change your passionate nature to please others. And btw, I love your blog name!

At 10:50 a.m., Blogger ladylinoleum said...

Well said!

At 6:16 p.m., Blogger knitty_kat said...

wow - this is a fabulous post.

I've had many people tell me to "relax" and I've learn that those people are the ones that did not understand me and never would. I no longer make time for people that treat me so indifferently or calously, without bothering to see what drives me to seem so "tense".

I am a good person, with many ideas and thoughts and I will not let someone mold me into their puppet again - if I can help it.

At 8:46 a.m., Blogger Leigh said...

I've never been told to 'lighten up' (it's not really a phrase that NZers or UKers seem to use), but have had an absolute guts full of being told not to take myself so seriously - same thing really, and just annoying!

At 3:34 a.m., Blogger wenchlette said...

excellent post.

At 1:51 p.m., Blogger jodi said...

Here I am, cruising in two months later to say something. But somehow your blog fell off my bloglines list, and here I've been thinking to myself, where the hell's Mandy? and finally thought to check if perhaps bloglines had stopped updating your feed, only to find that it had in fact taken your feed away from me. So I'm getting caught up and lamenting not checking sooner; I just figured you were too busy to write.

It bothers me a lot as well when people tell me to smile. There's an assumption out there that women should be constantly "on", always pleasant and friendly, and somehow people (total strangers, even) feel it is their right to demand this of us. I'm sure it occasionally happens to men as well but I'm positive it's worse for women, because the patriarchy demands we be willing and receptive at all times. Ugh. I can't even tell you how many strange men ON THE STREET have told me to smile. Let alone the question of what's happening in your life to make you look sad or angry or blissful or whatever, because I don't think that even matters; what matters is that it's none of their fucking business how we choose to arrange our facial muscles. It makes me wish I had sharply pointed ferrety teeth so that I could repel the bastards with a nasty grin.

At 4:25 p.m., Blogger Derek said...

I surfed in here and I'm glad I did. I shall be reading your blog more often!



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