Of Struggling with Emotional and Mental Turmoil

The Lady of the Manners is going to be completely honest here, Snarklings: occasionally there are heartfelt, heartsore, and utterly brave people who write to Gothic Charm School, and the Lady of the Manners worries about how to answer, because what if she says the wrong things, or gives the wrong sort of advice? Because wanting to help people and be kind to them doesn’t change the fact that the Lady of the Manners is a well-intentioned auntie-by-proxy, and in no way a professional therapist.

But. BUT. The Lady of the Manners does want to help, and is humbled by the bravery shown by the readers who reach out to her. Because reaching out to anyone, even an auntie-by-proxy, about emotional and mental turmoil IS an act of bravery. Please never doubt that.

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

I’m terribly sorry for the long message. I’ve been perusing your articles related to age and wearing gothic fashion, but for some reason — despite being a longtime reader of Gothic Charm School and understanding full well what is in most of said articles relating to age — I’m not finding the reassurance I feel compelled to find. Your response to Shawn in your May article touches on it, but still doesn’t feel quite right. (Perhaps this is just my anxiety overworking itself, or the tendency my brain has to overthink things. I’m not really sure…)

For several years I struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, and, while I’ve started feeling much more stable again this year (many thanks to my ever-supportive partner for that!), I feel like I’ve lost those years of my life. I’m nearing my 30s yet feel more like I should still be in my early 20s. I can barely remember anything of what’s happened except for the wearying monotony of it all being pierced by meltdowns and suicidal urges. I feel like I’m starting over leaving high school again, trying to find my feet in the world (which is ironic, considering I knew myself fairly well in high school itself, which greatly helped settling in at university and later working and traveling) when so many people are instead expecting me to be “maturing” with the rest of my Millennial group, getting ahead in a job, etc. like most people seem to do (when they’re not snarking that Millennials are the scourge of the earth and equivalent to overgrown children, that is). While I once understood and accepted that I could never function as well as many other people in life, and had the confidence in myself to wear what I like and like what I like, I now feel disconnected from all of it. Like I’m trying to be a Me That’s Not Me even thought it is… or was? me. Like looking into a mirror, seeing who I know I am, but not understanding why I’m not them again? (I know I’ll never be that exact same Me again. But when they still feel like the True Me — how can I be true to myself when I can’t even touch that person behind that piece of glass?)

How does a person cope with that disconnect between their perception of everything and, well, everything? But especially regarding feeling too young for the body I’m in yet too old for things I still like doing and wearing?

How can I repair my confidence to something like how it was before this major episode sucked me under?

Thank you and best wishes to you,
Still Struggling

The Lady of the Manners wonders if “repair” is perhaps not the way to approach your confidence. You’re at least a slightly different person than you once were, so instead of thinking in terms of repairing, think of this in terms of rebuilding. The meltdowns and suicidal urges were things that, unfortunately, tore apart your foundations and sense of self. There are almost certainly parts of those things left, but they may not be enough to repair; however, they’d probably be good starting points to rebuild your confidence.

You probably will never be the person you were before, and that’s okay. Upheavals, especially the serious and harrowing ones you’ve been through, change a person. For that matter, even if someone miraculously doesn’t have those experiences, everyone changes. It’s part of evolving and growing as a person.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be similar to the person you were before! Instead of looking at the You that’s behind the pane of glass as a reflection in a mirror, look at that version of yourself as a template. You don’t have to match exactly, but that version is someone you can build from. What are some of the things from that previous version of yourself that you like? Things that you want to give to the you that exists now? The True You still exists, and is probably different from the True You that previously existed. Change happens. It’s okay to not be the person you once were, even if you really liked parts of that person. No one stays the same, and being true to yourself isn’t the same as not changing.

One of the great benefits to choosing a subculture-related appearance is that it’s something you choose. Personal style can be a way of reminding yourself that you’re stronger than you thought, that you survived. Personal style can be armor, too. It can be armor to keep your happiness safe, and to shelter your psyche from the glances of strangers. The Lady of the Manners has always believed very fiercely in two things that seem contradictory:

  1. People are going to look at you no matter what. It’s part of life.
  2. So what? It doesn’t really matter.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the micro-and-macro aggressions that are often tied to people’s race or gender. In those cases, what other people think about you can be a matter of life or death. But that’s not what the Lady of the Manners is directly talking about in this case; this is about having the confidence to wear or do something, anything, that makes you happy. So what if someone thinks you’re weird or you look odd? As the Lady of the Manners’ dad always told her, it’s okay to be weird. It really is. The Lady of the Manners isn’t saying don’t care about other people or be unkind. What she is saying is that the start of rebuilding your confidence is to give equal weight to your own opinions and choices.

Also, you’re not too old for the things you still like doing and wearing. Not in the slightest. There is no such thing as being “too old” for anything you like, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is wrong. In addition, there are very, very few people who feel like they’re functioning as well as everyone else is. In the Lady of the Manners’ experience, everyone has some level of impostor syndrome about at least one part of their life. (If not multiple parts!) The myth that everyone else is capable of doing all the things you feel you’re not is just that — a myth. A myth that leads many people into staring at their ceiling in the middle of the night, comparing themselves to “everyone else” and falling into despair. Feeling like you’re back to finding your feet in the world just means that you’re looking to what paths might be open to you. You haven’t failed, and you aren’t failing.

The Lady of the Manners is worried that this post is the equivalent of flailing her hands and going “Um …” a lot, but hopes that at least part of this was helpful. Please be kind and gentle with yourself. And finally: if any of you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, please, please talk to someone. There is nothing to be ashamed of about needing help, or talking to a therapist. For the U.S. readers, NAMI.org is a good starting place. For U.K. readers, time-to-change.org looks to be a good resource. If anyone knows of other similar mental health resource sites, please post a comment with a link.

Do any of you have helpful suggestions or words of encouragement? The comments are open. (The comments are going to be even more carefully moderated than on other posts, but the Lady of the Manners trusts all of you will be kind and friendly.)

11 Responses to “Of Struggling with Emotional and Mental Turmoil”

  1. Lupa Says:

    Dear Struggling,

    It sounds like you’re trying to reconcile the person that you were before with the person that you are now. The answer (at least in my experience) is that the person you were is gone, and maybe you need to grieve a bit for that. You also should do the things you want, and dress the way you want, because the “too old” thing is really just your own belief. I find if you present yourself as you see fit others are really much more likely to take you at face value than you might expect.

    I spent most of my 20’s doing a demanding university degree, and it was not a fun student days experience. When I wasn’t at school I was working a job in order to keep myself fed and housed. When I eventually emerged I felt like I had totally missed out on that carefree, partying time of life.

    So I partied a bit (as much as my new demanding job allowed anyway) and eventually I got over the regret of all the things I missed out on, and it’s now limited to the occasional nostalgia I think everyone feels when they look back at all the paths they didn’t take.

    And I’m sure lots of older folks are going to say this, but I’ll say it too anyway. Your late 20’s is really still very young in the greater scheme of things. You still have so much time ahead of you to do whatever you want with your life.

    This reminds me of a quote I love when I’m feeling too much fomo
    “Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living” We all feel it, sometimes.

  2. Jessa Says:

    Oh, Still Struggling; you and I have a lot in common. Don’t worry, there’s never going to be a You-That’s-Not-You. There’s simply a You-That’s-Being-Squished. Squished by a mold that doesn’t fit your lovely You-Shape.

    You feel like you’ve just left high school again is because you’re in a similar place. That place where you can reach out, explore, and try new things. And do so! Try new things, new feels, and new experiences. Some will click. Some won’t. But the experiences of kind both will chip away at that mold that’s squishing you.

    Don’t worry about the appearance of maturity — often “maturity” is simply a weasel word for “stagnate.” Stagnation is where life stops; expand, contract, wiggle around, and grow! You’ve got a lifetime to mature, and I suggest aiming for a “maturity date” of around 99 years old.

  3. Annabel Says:

    The US National Suicide Hotline was always backed up when I tried calling, so I wanted to add this https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-crisis-centers/. At the bottom of that page is a search function to find your local crisis center.

    Local crisis centers are run by trained volunteers, the three times I’ve called my local one (and the once I tapped on their number in my contacts by accident instead of the one below) they’ve picked up. Because they serve a smaller area, there’s usually someone around.

    They’re anonymous, free, and they know what they’re doing.

    For those looking for a therapist, there are a lot of community counseling centers that offer discounted or free help to those who need it, and MANY places offer different rates based on your income (“sliding scale” is what it’ll say on their website). Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to find someone, or if you don’t click with your first couple of therapists, you’ll find one eventually. Again this is US based, but here (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us) you can go to the “Find a Therapist” tab and use options to find help in your area. You can even specify that you want a male or female therapist, or if you want one that specializes in working with the LGBTQ+ community.

  4. Liz Alexander Says:

    I think I needed this. I’ve felt somewhat similar to Still Struggling, except I’m rapidly approaching 40.

    I think you’re advice is excellent. It’s something we all need reminding of now and again.

    As for my own advice, I saw that S. S. has done some traveling. I don’t know in what capacity or for how long, but I *do* know that re-entry shock can be harsh (If it was something international for a few months to a few years). I recently read an article that helped with my own re-entry coping called “8 Things I wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Moved back to the US”. It might be completely inapplicable, but thought I would offer it regardless. <3

  5. Abigail Says:

    I turned 40 this year and although I don’t consider myself a goth (or very adult), I am alternative and Darkly inclined. I’ve found that to make myself happy it’s about balance, I wear normal office clothes for work with subtle nods to my own style. Outside of work I wear what ever I like including my cat ear head band or bat wings on my boots. I live with depression and anxiety but I find as long as I’m not hurting anyone or having a negative impact on someone else I do what makes me happy even if it seems odd or childish to other people. It’s my life and the whole point of being in a subculture is not fitting in with other people’s normal. There is nothing wrong with refinding yourself.

  6. Ashley Says:

    Honey let me just let you know I’m nearing 28 and still full blown goth since 13. Full blown. xD let that feeling of it being you just radiate from you and be proud of it and everyone accepts it.

  7. Daisy Says:

    I’m in kind of a similar spot. I lost most of my teens and the beginning of my 20’s to a difficult home life and mental illness. I only ever got tastes of what i was “supposed” to do and while I enjoyed those little bits, the rest was pretty unhappy so at one point I thought “fuck it, clearly I can’t have those things, so I’ll start the next part of my life.” and by start, I mean rush. Now I’m almost 25, married and have a baby. I was depressed and thought these things would make me happy but obviously thats not how depression works.

    I love my husband and my baby but I heavily regret pushing myself into this because in a bad place I thought there was no point in trying to do any of the other things I’d always wanted to do. (my husband wanted to wait several years before doing any of this) It’s especially hard to think and feel this way when mom culture is so heavily entrenched in the “my kids are the best thing to ever happen to me! nothing will ever measure up to having children! kids are the best decision I’ve ever made!” attitude.

    My advice would be kind to yourself. Give yourself room to grow and try new things. Don’t rush into what you’re “supposed” to be.

  8. Wraith Says:

    I feel that I can really empathize with what you’re going through, S.S…. I too “lost” a good portion of my late teens/early twenties to anxiety and related issues. When life finally starts coming back together, it can seem like you’re just waking up after a long, strange nightmare.

    It can be hard to start “being yourself” again, I know. However, if you truly love something—be it fashion or other interests—I believe it’s worth making the effort to reclaim those parts of yourself. I know that my feelings towards myself and life in general have brightened tremendously since I started becoming reinvested in the things I love. Wearing my dramatic, flowing, ruffly skirts made me feel like ME again… and after sleepwalking through life for so long, that’s an AMAZING feeling.

    As for your age—give it no regard! Not long ago, I went out thrifting and met a lovely lady clad in extravagant, head-to-toe Vampire Goth—fangs and all (they may have been actual body mods). She was the clerk at the shop, and she and I had a wonderful chat about fashion and the importance of individuality. She was probably in her early fifties… and as splendidly gothic as ever. 🙂

  9. Kara Says:

    Dear Struggling
    I recognize so many of the feelings you are describing. After much reflection and hard work (aren’t supportive partners just the best!), I’ve come to realize many of the restrictions we face we put on ourselves. “I am to old to wear short skirts.” “I am a goth, and therefore I like wearing big lace skirts.” “As a teenager I promised myself I would never wear boring jeans.” Over the years I have learned that we don’t have to fit ourselves into a small box. I can be a goth without wearing velvet and pvc. I can wear comfortable clothing, and still be true to myself. That being said, it feels great to dress up and look your absolutely best, wearing the clothes you always dreamed of wearing. You just need to also realize that you don’t need to look like that every day, if you don’t feel like it.
    Accepting that it’s OK to change is hard. As teenagers we tend to see things as black and white. “Boring people read the news. I am not boring, therefore I will not read the news.” Realizing that you actually like to read the news, can make you feel disconnected with who you thought you were (and loads of examples the other way too). I for one have come to the realisation that I don’t actually like wearing make-up outside of clubs (oh the shock and horror! I must hand back my goth card!). But growing up means realising that there is not only greyscale out there, but lots of interesting colours too! And you don’t have to choose just one. You are not the labels you have chosen for yourself (or that have been chosen for you), but you are a complex person. You do not have one defining trait that if you don’t follow that you are not being your true self. Who you are changes over time, and that is at is should be, even if it isn’t easy.
    I suggest you experiment, and find out what you truly like, and why. Go to clubs, wear different clothing, go the sophisticated wine bars followed by a poetry reading (or whatever “mature” people do in your area), watch a children’s show or a documentary. After each experience, try to reflect on how this made you feel, and why you felt that way. After a while you will start to se patterns, and somewhere in that pattern you will find your true self. Not the person you are trying to portray to the world, but the person that actually resides within you.

  10. S. S. Says:

    I’m so sorry for only responding to this post now! I’ve been unsure what to say because I feel like it’s difficult to express what I feel with words alone.

    Lady of the Manners, everyone, thank you so much for your help! I’ve had my struggles since writing in–I’m not sure if that’s ever going to completely change–but overall I’ve been doing much better thanks to the advice here. It feels like it’s been such a short space of time, but I’m already feeling more comfortable with things. More…”me”. (Even with the parts I never knew existed!)

    Thank you so much! ♡

  11. Lady of the Manners Says:

    I’m so glad to hear you’re doing better! No, the struggles will never entirely go away, but feeling more like yourself makes it less arduous to deal with them.

    Thank you so much for commenting and letting me know how you’re doing! <3

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