Instead of writing about myself I try to use this blog as a way to highlight the amazing people who make up Herd of Zebras. By now if you have been following our journey on Instagram and Facebook you know a few things about me already.
- I am a passionate person. Passionate about my animals, my family, and the people I love but also about building a brand for like-minded people.
- My sister in law, Liz, is the other half of Herd of Zebras; a creative mastermind and my best friend.
- I live for my horses. They are what keep me motivated and keep me, simply, me.
On May 7th I lost my Irish Sport Horse mare, Cupcake, during a lesson at the farm where I board my horses. This was just two days before we were to leave for our first show together. This may be graphic and I could go into far more detail about how this situation played out but I will keep it short. Cuppy had felt off that day. Not physically but just in her behavior and I could tell something was wrong. My instructor and I were trying to work through some things. When we both became uneasy I hopped off and put her on the line for a few minutes before we continued that day’s lesson. What happened, minutes later was nothing short of a nightmare. Once she was attached to the line she stopped, did not want to move forward then as if in slow motion reared straight in the air, and fell flat on her head/ back. It was that insane silence that hovered after the sound of her hitting the ground that will always make me feel physically sick. Once her body hit the ground blood starting coming out of her ears like someone turned on a sink and she began to seize. She died five minutes later.
I went back and forth about if I should describe what happened to her but in order to me to use this blog as a way to unpack my emotions, I found it necessary.
To say this was one of the worst days of my life seems like an understatement. It was clearly horrific and I pray that no one ever has to see their beloved pet leave this life the way I did. I have been struggling with the loss and all the emotions that come with it. I have lost many animals in my life time, including Bling, my big unicorn of a mare at the beginning of 2018 who I loved deeply. But this was so different than the peaceful way Bling left this world surrounded by love. This was one of my worst nightmares coming true right in front of my eyes and I could do NOTHING to help my mare.
Here are some truths I have learned since losing Cupcake. I hope that if you ever have to deal with this type of unexpected loss (I pray you don’t) these will help you.
Grief comes in waves that can knock you out for days at a time.
After the accident I slept for nearly a week. I did not want to get up out of bed. I did not eat to eat or talk to anyone. And I certainly did not want to go to the farm.
Your body can become exhausted in ways you didn’t know were possible.
You can cry so hard that your eye lids will chap and your body will stop producing tears until you least expect it. I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life as I did the week after losing Cupcake. Sometimes I would feel fine and others a total mess. For someone who does not cry a lot and doesn’t like to cry, this was exhausting. It is okay to spend days in your bed. But you have to get up at some point. Often times before you feel ready. But as the saying goes, life does in fact go on.
It is okay to be off social media and not respond to calls/ texts.
The people who love you will understand, or just show up at your house to make sure you are still breathing. Take time for you. As much time as you need. Sometimes you just need to put your phone away for a while.
It is okay to be angry.
Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve having all my hard work taken from me? Am I cursed? Why does something like this happen to such a young animal that was finally, after a year of struggles really coming along? Why don’t the horses that have “ghost” owners die instead of my horse I see nearly every day? What the F*@K.
Grief is not selfish.
I have felt so damn selfish through my grief and then have an overwhelming sense of guilt for feeling this way. I was days away from my first show with my mare when she was taken from me. I wanted to show again. I wanted a summer of clinics, trail rides, and bigger fences. There were so many things that I wanted to experience with this horse that now are simply day dreams of what was to happen.
You are allowed to be sad for yourself. This has been really hard for me to wrap my head around. But I am now able to identify that when Cupcake died so did a part of me… and it really sucks.
Trust your intuition.
If something doesn’t feel right with your horse GET OFF. This is something I normally do not do. I always try to work through an issue I am having but I can’t express how thankful I am that I trusted how I felt and that I listened to my instructor. Please, please, please, if you ever have any feeling something could go really wrong, don’t be a hero. Just get off the horse.
Being scared normal.
This whole situation has me really freaked out. This was the first time in my life with horses (27 crazy years of riding) that I know if I would have not gotten off the horse, I would be dead. There is no way I could have lived (or worse been left paralyzed) with the impact of her weight on my body. That realization is terrifying.
You don’t have to do anything you are not ready to do.
About ten days after Cupcake died, I forced myself to get on my 24-year-old retired jumper, Rudolf, and go for a hack. I didn’t want to ride. I am still not wanting to ride, but I know I have to get on or I will stop riding completely. I stood on the mounting block for what felt like hours before hopping down and walking Dolf around the outdoor for a while. I cried. I wanted to go home. But I got on and rode.
Lean on your loved ones. You would do the same for them.
If I have learned anything through this it has been that I am so amazingly #blessed with the amount of people in my life who love me. My barn family has been supportive to the point I still can’t wrap my head around. I am so so lucky to have my horses in a place where everyone supports, loves, and lifts each other up; especially when tragedy hits. I will always be grateful to the people who were at the barn when this happened and took care of things for me when I was in shock. They made a horrible day a bit more bearable by being there.
Family is always there.
After the accident happened, I called my mom, who was just about to leave with my father for NYC for the week. They dropped all their plans and my mom got to the barn in record time. My dad came over when I got home and let me hug him while I sobbed and helped me with every step of dealing with the insurance claim.
Terri, the breeder of Cupcake and Bindi, has become a family member. I called her right after my mom arrived. All I could do was say I am sorry over and over to her. She was with Cupcake when she took her first breaths and loved that little mare like crazy. I thought for sure she was going to want nothing to do with me after this but once again her kindness and love showed through.
Liz and her 14-year-old daughter, Bryn (who deeply in loved Cuppy), showed up for me when I needed them the most. Liz and Bryn intervened when I said I wanted to sell Bindi (my three-year-old ISH who is a half sibling to Cupcake) and be done. They came over even though I told them to stay home because I wanted to be alone.
You know you have a good man when he understands your love of horses.
I called Dan moments after sobbing and hysterical. This is now the second horse I have lost during our time together and in both situations, he has been my rock. His calm energy and support have reaffirmed why I love this man (among many other reasons) and shows how genuine his feelings for me are. Although, after this, I am sure I really will never get him on a horse.
There is no timeline for grief.
I am not done mourning Cupcake or the dreams I had for us. I do not think I ever will be. But I do know that I have a wonderful support system, animals that I need to show up for now, and the will to keep moving forward with my riding.
I am so grateful for the time I had with Cupcake. She taught me so much about patience, love, and hard work. She always tried for me. I will miss (and do, so damn bad) her deeply.
Thank you for warning me something was wrong, Cup. I am so glad I listened to you and so grateful for the time we had together although it was far too short. I will always love you.
Hug your animals (and humans) today.
Hello everyone, my name is Gemini. I’m a 30-year-old horse lover that is owned by a bay horse named Luna. Luna certainly has her stripes - both physically and mentally, but today I want to bring up what herd of zebras means to me.
When I first heard of Herd of Zebra’s, when Forest first started the company, I honestly wasn’t sure what it was all about. I have known Forest for a few years, and always knew her to be a strong individual. Hearing about what she struggled with was almost a form of relief - not because she struggled, but because I was not alone with the struggles that are hard to talk about. I understand the idea of being in physical or mental pain and not feeling like there is a soul out there that understands you, and just how hard it is to bring it up.
My stripes were given to me at the age of 10 when I was sexually assaulted by my mother’s boyfriend. She did not know that it was happening, until I was finally brave enough to tell her one day after it had been going on for a few months. At the age of 10 I was forced to grow up. I was a child still, but I had to learn to start standing up for myself. Because of having to grow up fast I grew to be very independent, but I was also really holding a lot of things in. How does one talk about why you’re having a hard time, when it’s something like sexual abuse? So, I held it all in.
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I really couldn’t be around horses. Finally, after I turned 18, I was able to get more involved with them. The equestrian lifestyle quickly turned into my comfort zone, like it does for many others. I was able to buy my first horse when I was about 22, and I kept him for four years. I sold him in 2015, and then I bought the love of my life- Luna.
Having Luna has been my way to help see the world in a completely different way. She had an ovarian tumor that had been growing for many years, but her previous owner couldn’t figure out her issues. I kept on trying diagnosis after diagnosis to figure out what was going on, and finally we found a vet willing to listen and she was able to figure out that it was a tumor. That moment helped strengthened our bond, and from there my confidence soared.
In 2018 I made a conscience decision to finally uncover all the issues that I had buried from the abuse. It was a rough year involving a lot of firsts, including meeting with my abuser for the first time in almost 20 years. I felt like I earned those stripes when I met with him. I was able to take that power back that he had held over me for 20 years. I stood up to him and took control of my life. Since then my life has been evolving almost faster than I can keep up with, but it’s all been positive changes.
I would never say that the abuse was a good thing, but I know that despite it (let me rephrase that: because of it) I know I am a stronger woman than I think I would’ve been. It forced me to realize that being a damsel in distress wasn’t who I was supposed to be. I’ve worked so hard to become who I wanted to be, with horses helping me along the way. Then I decided in 2018 that I finally was ready to go back to college. It’s been a struggle for me but I know that once I get my degree in professional counseling, and be able to help others that have suffered from abuse, I know it will finally come full circle.
I write this to show that I am proud of the stripes I’ve earned, and have learned to not be ashamed of them. The stripes show who I am as a person, and that’s OK with me. April is sexual abuse awareness month, and I think it was important for me to share my story. I know how hard it is to hold the shame in, and not feel like you can talk about it. I hope by sharing my story that maybe it can help someone else, and see that having stripes just makes you the person that you are.
The Fox Cities Sexual Assault Crisis Center is located in central Wisconsin, and are a small advocacy center for survivors of sexual assault. They offer a 24/7 hotline number, along with trained volunteer advocates, support groups and trained counselors, all at no cost for survivors. They are a huge part of who I am today. They are a non-profit agency, supported by the United Way Fox Cities and many other community organizations and foundations. They also accept donations to help those that are in need of their services. Donations can be done through Paypal through their website.
If you do not live in Wisconsin, please take a peek at this site to see how you can help stop sexual abuse on a national level: https://nomore.org/campaigns/sexual-assault-awareness-month/
There are many other organizations that can use your support as well. One last thing I wanted to add, is please learn to recognize the many different signs of abuse, and talk to your friend, or family member if you suspect something isn't quite right. Also, if you're a victim, please reach out to someone. The choices are yours when it comes to deciding if you want to report or not. I can say that in my personal experience, true healing comes for acknowledging that it happened, and seeking help. I truly believe that sexual abuse can be stopped if we can learn to educate people, and to make sure when someone comes forward, that we support them fully.
Thanks for reading,
Hey there Herd! My name is Rae, also known as @easternequestrian on Instagram and YouTube! I live in Upstate NY with my two paints, Bug and Jazz. We do a little bit of everything and love being well rounded individuals, though we’re definitely not your typical horse and rider combos, which is exactly what I wanted to chat with you all about today.
Horses have always been in my blood, regardless of the fact that I didn’t get to start riding until I was eleven, I was that stereotypical “horse-crazy” child. I wore various pink shirts with galloping horses outlined in glitter, I watched The Saddle Club and Horseland faithfully every Saturday, I had (and still possess) a comforter with various horses in a meadow on it, and I had an army of plush horses to top it all off. You can imagine my excitement when my mom told me that she signed me up for horseback riding lessons, it was like a dream come true! But upon starting lessons, I began to see a new side of the horse world: I saw the “horse-crazy kid 2.0”. I saw the kids with shiny new helmets and actual riding pants, kids who could tack their horse up without assistance and could canter around and pop over cross-rails with ease. Then there was me: I rode in Walmart jeans and hiking boots, in an old borrowed helmet from the communal lesson cabinet, I could just handle the posting trot but never got to canter before I quit. After riding for roughly 8 months, I told my mom I didn’t want to ride anymore because I felt like I didn’t belong. I saw what everyone else looked like and what they were doing and felt that just because I wasn’t doing the same things or looked like them that I wasn’t made for the equestrian sport.
One thing that young me failed to realize that I say to myself on the daily now is that everybody has to start somewhere. Some are born into this sport and have the opportunity to begin riding before they can walk, while others may not start until later in life. Some can have the fancy helmets and breeches and tack, while others ride in leggings or jeans and cheap Troxel helmets. I’ve even come to find though, that this image of a “perfect equestrian” is something found heavily across social media. We see all the guys and girls with their rose gold accented helmets, tall boots so shiny they could blind you, fancy-schmancy breeches, and their shirts perfectly tucked in behind a subtly glamorous belt. I don’t want to come across sounding as if I’m saying that there’s anything wrong with these types of equestrians, because there absolutely isn’t! What is wrong is when we compare ourselves to them and look down on our own styles and abilities because of what we see publicized on social media.
After quitting riding in 2012, I made the dive back into the equestrian world four years later at the age of 16. I rode western for a little while before switching back to English a few months later after finding a new lesson barn. I finally got myself an actual pair of breeches and had proper paddock boots complete with half chaps, I documented my riding progress on my YouTube channel and I felt like a “real” equestrian now… until I looked around me and saw what other riders who were my age were doing both in real life and online. I was struggling to sit the canter and was afraid to jump. I felt left behind and once again felt like I wasn’t good enough. Contrary to when I first rode years ago, I wasn’t going to quit this time. I was going to try harder than ever before. But this drive to better myself and be like other riders my age began to cloud over my love for the sport, and I began to tear myself apart more than I had in the past. It was a vicious cycle, and when I ran out of things to nitpick myself on I’d find something new that I could stress over. As someone who fights with severe anxiety and depression on the daily, this became toxic to me.
Then I got my first horse, Bug, and as soon as he came into my life it was like something changed. I stopped stressing and obsessing about something that would come with time, well, not completely stopped but it did decrease. He taught me that while it’s okay and perfectly normal to want to better myself, it’s not healthy to obsessively chase after an unrealistic image of myself. I now know that not fitting in that “perfect equestrian” mold is fine, because it’s not me. In fact, I think it’s way cooler to go against the current and not look exactly like everyone else! I now sometimes prefer to ride in leggings or other non-riding pants over my nice breeches, I use obnoxiously bright colors on my horse that I’m sure would make more old-school, traditional riders cringe, I’m doing all the things that younger me thought didn’t fit in with that “equestrian image”.
Why must we define equestrianism by a certain way of dressing? Or the thought that all riders have to jump (trust me, that’s something I used to hear alllllllll the time)? Why don’t we more often praise those who go their own direction and at their own pace for doing so, instead of pulling them down? Too often I read comments on the Instagram posts and YouTube videos of people sharing their riding journey and see the holier-than-thou internet trainers tearing them apart for doing something that we are all doing: learning. As equestrians, we are all constantly learning and should aim to do so. We all have a common goal don’t we? To be the best we can be for our horses? If someone is trying to learn how to achieve that goal, why must we tear them apart for it?
When I first got Bug, I was nervous riding at the canter, and so I only did walk-trot lessons with him for a while. I would get daily comments on videos on both my Instagram and YouTube of people ridiculing me for “never cantering”, saying how pathetic it was and that because I was only comfortable riding at the walk and trot, albeit only for a couple of months, that I didn’t deserve to have my own horse. That cut deep. Of course one should take what is said on the internet with a grain of salt, but sometimes when such statements are directed at you it’s hard not to take them personally.
I felt like I just couldn’t win at this point; people had something to say when I didn’t canter my horse, they had something to say when I did, and then the harshest comment I got to date came a week after I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I wrote a long post on Instagram about the life changing diagnosis and was open about what I was going through. As someone who values honesty and transparency in others, I wanted to be the same for my followers. This was met with encouragement and positivity, with the exception of one commenter. This particular individual spoke of how I’m lucky to have been diagnosed with T1D instead of something worse like family members of theirs have been, how I shouldn’t speak of my sadness over my new reality, among other things. The comment went on for longer than I could handle, and all I could bear to do was delete it and try to forget what I had read. Once again I had something that was different about me that didn’t fit in that normal, perfect equestrian mold. But unlike the other qualities of myself that only pertained to riding, my diagnosis was something that followed me everywhere. It’s there when I wake up, it’s there when I’m at work, it’s there when I ride, and it’s here right now as I write this article. My T1D is something that will be with me until the day I leave this Earth, or until someone hopefully finds a cure.
These are my stripes, this is all what makes me unique and what makes me break that traditional equestrian mold. Things that used to make me uncomfortable about myself are now the stripes that I wear proudly. The younger version of myself was so wildly desperate to fit into a mold that wasn’t meant to be and I’m glad I never fit into it. It may sound cliché but it’s so much better to be yourself than to be just like everyone else, though it is hard. We all have things that we dislike about ourselves, that’s only human of us. But when we see someone who we deem better than ourselves or think has nicer clothes or fancier tack than us we all need to take a step back and focus more on how far we’ve come as equestrians. Look back at where you were one year ago, you’ve likely come leaps and bounds since then! Think of the last time you were scared to try something new and how amazing it felt when you overcame that fear. If you still can’t think of anything to praise yourself about, just think about what you do: you ride horses! You ride 1,200lb creatures with minds of their own and make them your teammate, no matter what you do! Whether you’re out hitting the trails or chasing cows or cans or jumping ditches or oxers, no matter what, you’re absolutely amazing and a total badass too! Never be afraid to break the equestrian mold and show your stripes proudly.
Hello Zebras! My name is Emily Black and I’m a stay at home mom living in South Carolina. I have two fabulous geldings, a New Forest Pony named Wishbone and a Dutch Warmblood named Pavarotti. I am a dressage enthusiast and an over grown barn rat, always looking for extra saddle time, which is how I got to ride the horse I will tell you about today.
Herd of Zebras is a company whose mission is to bring together a community of warriors. The zebra represents what makes us unique, our scars if you will, that make us who we are today. I know many people who inspire me by what they have overcome, but I also know some horses that have similar stories to share. When I heard what the company stood for, I immediately thought of Will.
Faulkner, best known as ‘Will’, is a 14 year old Oldenburg gelding who lives at the barn where I board. He belongs to my trainer, Jill Allard, and I have had the pleasure of riding him for the past year or so. He definitely has some stripes. We don’t fully know his background but Will came with some issues, both mental and physical. He struggles with a mild case of kissing spine and did not trust humans very much. He may have been pushed too hard when he was younger, his physical issues not yet figured out, or maybe he was roughly handled, but whatever it was, his past still haunts him.
Will’s life changed when he was blessed to get into the hands of the most loving, caring owner named Elizabeth. She loved him so much and he was the center of her universe. In return, Will began to blossom. Elizabeth, together with my trainer Jill, slowly transformed him, both undersaddle and on the ground. Elizabeth showed him through Second Level and had many scores over 70%.
This time period was when I first met Will. I knew Elizabeth when I was child because we rode at the same stables. She was older than me but I remember looking up to her. She was always quick to help and I thought she was just so cool. A decade later and not much had changed. I had just left my hunter/jumper barn, a barn that was like family to me after being with them for many years, to pursue my interest in Dressage. Elizabeth took me under her wing and really made me feel at home at my new barn. I can completely understand why Will transformed under Elizabeth’s care.
I could tell so many stories about Will and Elizabeth. She was devoted to him and him to her. She actually bought a car for him because the miles and gas were too much for her truck but moving him to a closer barn with lesser standards was not an option for her. When I think of Will’s happiest times, I think of them at shows together. Elizabeth would take him out to graze and spend hours being gone. She would stand around and chat to everyone that passed by, that was just her friendly personality, while Will grazed calmly next to her. I don’t think there was any other place he would rather be.
Tragedy struck not long after that and Elizabeth passed away. My heart still breaks for Will that he lost her. She was just so special. In true Elizabeth style, she had Will’s best interests in mind even in the middle of battling cancer, and left him in the care of Jill. This is where he remains to this day.
It has been a joy getting to know Will. While he still struggles with his physical limits and has moments of panic, he gets past them every day to work for us. To comfort us. To bring us joy. Will has a kind soul and is the gentlest horse in the barn. He is the one I trust to take treats from my kids and not also take a finger!
We hope one day to find someone to lease him but I know it will take a special human to be a good match for this special horse. I know how much he would love having his own person again. He may be a Zebra but he has found his herd with us, no matter what.
If you want to see more of Will and my other horses, you can find me on Instagram at @emilyblackdressage.
I’d love to have you follow along!
Hi dazzle! (Read til the end, sparkly zebra friends)
I’m Lauren, a 26 year old adult ammy living near Boston. I’m a copywriter for a fashion company by day and an eventer/wannabe DQ by night and weekends. Or as I joke, my other full-time job is keeping my horse alive and happy.
Today, February 28, is Rare Disease Day, and this post is about mine.
"When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras."
This quote is often taught to medical students to remind them not to jump to a rare condition when a common explanation is most likely. Basically, another version of “if it walks like a duck…”
But sometimes, it really is a zebra. And I’m one of them.
The story of my stripes begins around age 8. It was then that I started my battle with depression, which I hid until the end of high school. I had the whole nine yards: I was suicidal, self-harmed, had anxiety and panic attacks, and developed disordered eating. Although I saw a therapist and tried different medications, it wasn’t until midway through my sophomore year of college that I found the right medication. From there, I was able to truly start the road to recovery.
Three years later, I walked out of CVS clutching a prescription bag, and sat in my car crying tears of happiness looking at the ‘50 mg’ on the bottle—my psychiatrist and I had decided that I was stable and recovered enough to no longer need a 100 mg dose. I thought, I beat it. I really beat my depression. I don’t have a monster controlling my life anymore.
So it felt like a cruel joke when I heard the words “you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome” in late 2017.
This wasn’t something that would go away. I had had it since I was born, and I would have it for the rest of my life.
But at the same time, I was relieved. I wasn’t crazy. Years of doctors brushing off my concerns, like my extreme ankle pain as “just flat feet” or debilitating digestive problems as “just IBS,” made me doubt I’d ever have an answer. You know when Ariel goes “I've got whozits and whatzits galore?” I was like that. But instead of thingamabobs, I had symptoms. Symptoms on symptoms on symptoms. And I hadn’t even considered that they were related until I had surgery for pelvic organ prolapse in 2015. Honestly, I was so used to them and to having doctors downplay their severity that I thought it was normal... because it was my normal. (True story: before I got glasses when I was younger, I thought everyone saw like I did. My mind was blown when I realized that the world was not actually made up of blurry blobs.)
My surgeons suspected there was an underlying condition that caused my organ prolapse (in non-medicinal terms, my organs weren’t in the right places/trying to fall out of my body. Fun times.) as it’s very rare in younger women. It wasn’t until post-op, however, that my PT would scribble down a condition’s name on a piece of paper and send me down the path to having my life turned upside-down.
I remember googling that name, ‘Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome,’ thinking it would be another dead end. Instead, I found my eyes widening in disbelief as I kept reading. It was describing me, explaining everything. But I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and put off seeing a doctor, because 1. Who really wants to be diagnosed with a genetic disorder and 2. I had been down the promising-but-ultimately-fruitless diagnosis road before.
I wish I could say I was smart and pursued further, but I was stubborn and put it off. It wasn’t until I fainted at work over a year later and got diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) that I said OK. I should prooobably make that appointment with the geneticist. Because guess what’s a common comorbidity (disorders that occur together) with POTS? EDS. And surprise! Veins are made of connective tissue, and thus people with EDS often have blood pressure issues... like POTS.
And that’s how finally, at age 25, I got formally diagnosed with my second ‘big’ health condition, just as I had put the first behind me. I got one answer only to simultaneously be deprived of others: there is no treatment for EDS, only management. And that management is largely a guessing game for doctors, as it’s a relatively rare disorder. But, having that one answer, having my symptoms and pain and struggles validated with the addition of “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome” to my medical file, meant the world to me.
If there’s anything living through depression and living with EDS taught me, it’s to be an advocate—not just for yourself pursuing treatment and answers, but to break down stigmas and be a voice for those still struggling. Don’t let circumstances or conditions beyond your control define you, but let them shape you. Let them make you stronger. Besides, didn’t you know that a group of zebras is called a dazzle? We shine pretty damn bright.
Ps. If you’re curious about EDS or have questions about mental health, I’m an open book! Shoot me a DM on Instagram or Twitter at @eventingenzo, where I chronicle the misadventures of my drama llama/Thoroughbred (who coincidentally also has a rare condition).
Hello, Zebras! I’m Jess. I’m the director of podcasting for The Plaid Horse, an event rider, and a very gay nerd.
I’ve come a long way in my journey (I’m 37), and even thinking about where to start with this is hard. I’ve been through eating disorders; abusive relationships; struggles with PTSD, depression, and anxiety; coming out as queer.
Instead of going into the dreary details of all of it, I’d like to share with you some of the things that I have learned. And because I just squeak in under the line of millennial and love a listicle, here you go:
No One Can Complete You Except You
Ah yes, codependency, the hallmark of abuse victims everywhere. I see you, thinking that you can find another person to make you feel like a whole, valid human being. I see you, believing that you’re someone else’s missing piece. I hate to tell you this, but: it’s not true. You can be enormously happy with a partner who brings joy to you every day, but you are a whole person on your own. Until you believe that, you can get yourself into some bad situations trying to make an unhealthy relationship work. I have BEEN THERE.
It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Had it Worse--It Matters That We Support Healing
I hear some version of this every single time I’m talking with another person about their struggles: “I shouldn’t complain; other people have had it worse.”
Whatever. Everyone’s story is different, but everyone can suffer. It doesn’t matter if other people are “worse off” than you. What matters is that you are doing the work to heal and supporting others in their journeys too. Don’t let yourself get sucked into, “I’m a self-pitying loser who can’t cope with XYZ because other people have had it worse.” That doesn’t help you or those “other people.”
You Have Choices
When you’re feeling miserable or going through something that feels impossibly difficult, as hard as it is to believe, you do have choices. There are people who can help, even if that help is just listening and validating. I’m so lucky to have good listeners in my life.
Of course, refusing to get help in the form of shooting down every option is also a choice. Sometimes we might feel like we’re getting something from the misery or the unhealthy relationship. But honestly, from my own experience, I think people who insist on staying stuck are afraid. It can be hard to let go of the things we need to let go of (people, habits, addictions) to get better. It’s up to you. I’m glad I chose to get un-stuck.
But Some People Are More Marginalized Than Others
All of that said, accessing help of any kind is absolutely easier for some people than others. People who are in poverty, who don’t have health insurance, who have language or mobility challenges that make it difficult to connect--it’s harder.
Also, some people are institutionally marginalized. We live in a country that still makes accessing what we need to be healthy harder for people of color, people in poverty, people who aren’t straight and cis (identify as the gender they were assigned at birth). So recognize with compassion that if you see people struggling harder than you are to make their lives work, there might be structural reasons for that beyond their control. Ask them what you can do.
Your Job is Not to be Perfect; Your Job is to Grow
I think perfect people are really boring and I’m not interested in being friends with them (except you, my friend who is reading this right now and is obviously perfect). And they’re not perfect anyway, they’re just not willing to show the weird or flawed side of themselves, which means I don’t know what to latch onto. I can’t relate.
You don’t have to already know everything, either. Despite what Canceled Culture says, you don’t have to be perfect and never mess up a pronoun or have an awkward conversation or say something you wish you could take back but it’s too late. It’s really easy to beat ourselves up for that stuff (ask me how I know, as I lie awake at 1:30 in the morning wondering if I really said that).
What you can do instead is commit to working on understanding other people and their experiences so that you don’t hurt others with your words and actions. You can realize that awkward conversations are adorable. You can, perhaps most importantly, work to ensure that you have very good boundaries, neither porous nor impossibly rigid, so that you treat others with respect and insist on the same from them.
You Can’t Shame Yourself into Being a Better Person
Along these lines: look, we all have shame. Anyone who doesn’t is a dangerous sociopath. But beating yourself up over your mistakes or your secret desires or whatever little weirdsies are floating around in your brain isn’t going to help. Are you hurting others? No? Then there’s no need for shame. Yes? Well, see above, and learn what you need to do to grow.
You have to love yourself. How gross is that? I really resent it, but it’s the truth. As my friends in recovery say, the way to develop self esteem is to do esteemable acts. You will not improve via self-loathing, because once you’ve started down that path, it’s never enough. We can always find reasons to hate ourselves, but honestly, it’s not getting us anywhere good.
Start small--spend extra time loving on your horse, call your grandma to say hi, adopt a shelter cat. Whatever you need to do to feel your light getting brighter. Self-hate doesn’t help with that at all.
Have Compassion for Others, but Not at the Expense of Compassion For Yourself
But while we’re doing esteemable acts, let’s not loop ourselves back around to that codependent place. Your job is to take care of you. What do you need to be a happy, settled person? Not in terms of financial or career achievements, but internally?
I need a lot of time to myself. I need to be in mostly quiet places. I need to ride my horse. So if a friend is having people over but I’m tapped out emotionally, I will stay home. My friend may be disappointed, but I have to look out for myself first. Then when I do choose to go out another evening, I don’t feel as run down and am able to engage with my friends much more sincerely. And by the same token, if a friend cancels with me, I thank them for trusting me to understand and wish them a peaceful evening. Just this little adjustment to my life has made a big difference.
Embrace Medication and Therapy if You Need It
Okay y’all, listen. I’ve been through hell and back, and it was a whole heck ton of work. I don’t know where I’d be without my Zoloft and my therapist. My abuser didn’t want me to get therapy, of course, because she knew it would end up the way it did: with me walking away and never looking back. I am so glad I didn’t let her stop me.
Before I went to therapy, I really believed that I was not capable of making healthy connections with other people. I thought I was too flawed to ever have a healthy attachment. And before I started taking medication, even though I never wanted to hurt myself, my brain wouldn’t give me any relief from constant thoughts of suicide. As soon as I started taking it, those thoughts went away and I could focus on getting stronger with therapy and not spinning my wheels. You can pry my Zoloft out of my cold dead hands now. I never plan to stop taking it. Why risk it?
If we need medication, it’s because our brain chemistry isn’t doing what it needs to do, and as the Facebook meme says, if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is fine. All the medications do is ensure that you’re not also fighting against your brain slurping up all the serotonin that you need to function.
To those who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety but don’t want to take medication for it because of the side effects, I would ask you: what are the side effects of not taking the medication? Probably not good.
And therapy, like, I know it sounds indulgent to go talk about yourself for an hour a week, but don’t we all do that anyway when we vent to our friends? A therapist is a trained professional who isn’t going to shame you, interrupt you to change the subject, make it about them, tell you to just get over it, make you feel like a loser, whatever. The therapist has skills to help you learn how to cope better, that’s all.
Okay, I think that’s enough of my opinions. If anyone needs help and doesn’t know where to look, please reach out to me, I’m easy to find on Instagram (@ravenclawson81) or email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help you find what you need.
Hello Herd, my name is Amy and I joined the herd early on. Forest, the leader of the herd is a great friend. We met while working on the same team at a large CPG company. Her honest, hardworking, fun approach to life and work made us fast friends. She has been incredibly supportive of professional and personal events in my life over the past few years.