The Concept of Destiny

To those of you who do not believe in destiny, please take a moment and turn your attention to what you are grateful for. Grateful for a friend in your life? Think about the fact that you met this person, remember that there is literally an infinite amount of circumstances in the universe that could have prevented you two from meeting. You could go on forever and still never compile a complete list of all potential occurrences that could have happened to prevent the occurrence that you are grateful for. The fact that your life has unfolded in the way that it has is truly remarkable beyond anything you’ll ever be able to wholly fathom. How could you not believe you were meant to be here? How could you not believe that your story was meant to transpire exactly as it has? You are miraculous, and everything wonderful in your life is miraculous.

– Valerie Parente (8-4-2019)

Feelings Are Not Facts

Feelings are not facts.

I have always had an obsession with “staying true to myself” (a fixation inevitably misguided through that tumultuous identity crisis phase of life called adolescence). To bolster that very egocentric obsession I made it my goal to identify each and every one of my current feelings. Sometimes a simple mental identification was not enough to satiate the irksome “who am I?” question scratching at my conscience, so I would try to preserve my emotional experience through art. As a young girl this meant poetry and diary entries. This meant falling prone to the vice of greed and using written word to further intensify feelings that, through hindsight and therapy, turned out to be not as idiosyncratic as I had liked to believe. This also meant wallowing in certain songs, scribbling lyrics out on lacerated notebook pages in class, impulsively imagining them tattooed one day. This meant drawing and painting and photographing anything and everything that felt like an expression of how I currently felt. Identifying feelings might be healthy in moderate doses, but being somebody with obsessive compulsive disorder I tend to gravitate towards all-or-nothing thinking. Moderation does not come easily. So, to no surprise, I overdid it when it came to treating feelings like end-all-be-all factual information.

Feelings can sometimes be factual, but this is certainly not always the case. In my experience I have found two major contradictions which highlight the underlying truth that feelings are not the same thing as facts.

First, feelings are transient. Feelings come and go just as our circumstances come and go. Any and every emotional state is fleeting, and to treat a mood such as outrage or excitement like a veridical truth that can substitute as an all-encompassing proverb would do a disservice to anybody undergoing either a positive or negative mood.
For example, if I am depressed about a literary rejection, feeling discouraged and dry on hope, I have every right to feel that way- but to mistake that feeling with a fact like “I am unworthy of publication” could lead to an unfair condemnation of “I do not deserve to live my dream as a published author” and end with “I have no rational choice but to give up on my dream.” Another, more relatable example is how, in our self-consciousness, we sometimes “guess” others’ opinions of us. If you have a bad hair day and feel insecure, you might distribute that feeling of insecurity outwards and let it pollute your perception of the world. One moment of eye contact with a peer in the hallway and you assume that they think you are ugly or unattractive. Just because you feel a certain way inside, does not mean you can mindread other people and say, for a fact, what an individual might think of you. This way of thinking could easily lead to many missed opportunities, unfair judgments, and unnecessary travesties.

The second contradiction in equating feelings to facts derives from the very human quality that you are capable of feeling more than one emotion at once, including ones that are polar opposite to each other.
We have more than one situation going for us in our every day lives, some bad, some good. For a long time I would undergo a sort of existential confusion when relaying information about my moods to therapists. For instance, I could not understand why I felt very confident and optimistic about the future while also feeling frustrated and sad about certain problem areas in my life. It took a simple “a-ha” moment of realizing that feelings are not facts to accept that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with me for feeling more than one contradictory emotion at once. It is possible to feel enthusiastic about a promotion and also deeply hurt about a strained relationship. It is possible to love and care about your well-being while still feeling shame over your imperfections. It is possible to be in a very grateful mood for all the laughs and joys of life while experiencing simultaneous bitterness around the shortcomings in your life. Humans are sentient beings capable of feeling more than one emotion at a time. That is a fact.

stitch myself up

To clarify, I am not saying that I no longer acknowledge or draw inspiration from my emotions- what I am saying is that I am no longer going to be a slave to my emotions and the muses that spawn from them. I will always love expressing myself artistically, and I will always tune into my emotions to be the aesthete I thrive in being- but I will be damned if I let a creative drive knock me down a peg in all of my social and spiritual growth. It has taken me a decade of mental health struggles to realize that wallowing in melancholy and solitude (at the expense of my youth and my relationships) is not the right path to go down. I say this as somebody who struggles with extremist tendencies- staying “true to yourself” does not mean focus all your energy into present emotions. Moderate that energy into feelings, thoughts, and instincts. I know we hear it all the time between culture to culture, but life really is better with balance.

So by all means feel, emote, and if you so desire then preserve a feeling in artwork, but give yourself the compassion you deserve and recognize when you are inflicting more harm than good by dwelling on past pains or nostalgia.

Feelings are not facts. That, is a fact.

– Valerie Parente (3-9-17)

Acceptance

This is the time of year where many of us look back and realize what does and does not matter in this crazy yet incredible paradox called existence. It is baffling and beautiful when you really take an introspective moment to sit down and recollect the path your life has taken so far. In hindsight you can realize which seemingly insignificant experiences had significant impacts and, knowing their outcome thus far, accept them for exactly what they were.

In your life you strive to be something, you strive to get something. When reminiscing about even the most mundane events we are able to notice that the necessary things we needed to make the most of those experiences, bad or good, could always be found somewhere in the memory. (When I say “make the most”, I mean “benefit to the psychological and spiritual growth of our being”). Even your most loathsome situations had some component that helped you get through and, as a result, become the wiser and mentally richer person you are today. The proof is in the fact that- guess what?- you survived.

A major turning point for me this past year was during the past summer when I sought out a different obsessive compulsive disorder treatment.
The treatment shook my idea of individualism. I am proud to say that I did not go into panic mode, like I have in the past, and irrationally attempted to compensate for my lack of certainty with anorexic “solutions” (eating disorders never pose real solutions, they only tangle you in further problems. This is a topic for another time, though). When I think back about how I handled the identity crisis I realize that what I did was, first, recognized my confusion; and second, accepted my confusion. I did not know who I was, what I was about, and how I was going to tackle the grand scheme of my life- and I was content with that. I wrote about it in a poem called “Novelty” (“Novelty” by Valerie Parente) not with the intent to find some external solution out of the thin air, but to find and uproot the solace already dwelling within my current state. And what I found in accepting my state of mind was the miracle of acceptance itself.

The greatest revelation I have come to this past year is the power of acceptance. Acceptance is something we hear about all time. Psychologists, gurus, even religions have long emphasized the importance of accepting our circumstances. I don’t think people understand how this feels until they really experience the ineffable, unwavering, natural phenomena of acceptance firsthand. Acceptance brings a veridical peace that I honestly cannot describe through linguistics, nor can I force on anybody else.
That being said, I can bring light to what acceptance is NOT.

Acceptance is not a peace of mind that can be feigned. Often people mistake peace of mind with being unaffected by life, but this is false. Pretending not to care, pretending that the things bothering you don’t really matter to you, and pretending that life has no effect on you has a tragic outcome… it undermines the greater moments of life. If you are so busy being unaffected all the time you will never feel the depth of positive notions like gratitude, awe, joy, excitement, humor, or love.

Acceptance is also not “doing nothing”. If you are not content with your situation you should still make an effort to overcome obstacles, injustices, and hardships- but you should do so with a mind that reasonably acknowledges the reality that you will have to work through, not around, your dilemmas. To acknowledge a problem for what it is while acknowledging the extra exertion that will be necessary to tackle the problem is to have a mentality that is balanced. Be determined enough to face challenges while compassionate enough to recognize your limits and give yourself a break when you need to replenish your energy. This kind of mental equilibrium is the type of acceptance I saw in myself when thinking back about my identity crisis induced by alternate OCD treatment this summer.

recognize-and-accept

There is great freedom in accepting yourself, others, and anything or everything that unfolds. Let yourself feel what you feel. Understand that everything is fleeting, including your mental state. And be as you are. When you look back you will always realize that you survived, and that nothing can devalue you… you can only be made richer.

 – Valerie Parnete (12-18-2016)

Better Lost Than Found

Writer’s block has forced me to address a narcissistic quandary I have been able to avoid under the influence of inspiration.

Do you deliver halfhearted writing piece after writing piece just for the temporary gratification of seeing your name in print, only to find that none of those writing pieces hold any true value to the world? Or do you take your hands off the keyboard, sicken yourself with self-doubt, face unedited introspection, and feel indescribably lost?

identity crisis

When I realized that the scarier reality was giving no value to this world versus being lost from my own mental limelight it became clear that this heartache, confusion, and serious self-doubting induced by writer’s block offered me the perfect opportunity to reach a new milestone.

My greatest breakthrough against narcissism came from the humbling realization that I would rather lose touch with myself than ultimately find out I have nothing to offer the world.

I would not have come to such a comforting revelation without the discomfort of writer’s block.

– Valerie Parente (7-22-16)