Avoid movies about child prodigies!
I don’t resent anyone for being talented or having a big ol’ brain, and on a better day I would probably be delighted and even moved to learn about a baby whose first word was asymptote or watch a video of a preschool-age virtuoso playing “Stairway to Heaven” on her toy ukulele, but when I’m down on myself, these kids and their extraordinary DNA can be kind of a bummer (especially since I can barely do math, was fifth-chair flute in my eighth-grade band, and didn’t develop the fine motor skills that would allow me to be able to fold a piece of paper in half so that the corners matched up until I was almost in middle school). My rational mind tells me that I shouldn’t compare my life and achievements to anyone else’s, and that child prodigies are actually evidence that we all move through life at different speeds. But then there’s that other part of me that’s always not-so-secretly wanted to be one of those precocious wunderkinder that you often see in documentaries or on news-magazine shows, and watching those remarkable little kids when I’m not feeling very confident just forces me to face the fact that as I get closer to my 30th birthday, the chances of me becoming a baby genius are getting slimmer.
Hang out with your pets.
I was in a writing program a couple of years ago, and during a student critique of one of my short stories, two women totally savaged my work. I mean, they tore that story apart. They didn’t say anything helpful, they were just mean, and they smirked at each other as they pointed out sections that they thought were particularly shitty. I maintained my composure during the class and on the bus ride home but started bawling even as I unlocked my front door. Seeing this, my cat Schön immediately jumped up on the dining room table and stood on her hind legs while resting her front paws on my chest. She pressed her nose against mine and then started licking my face. Some might say that Schön was just parched and my tears were the most convenient water source, but I know that I have a bond with that cat, and licking the insides of my nostrils seemed like her way of saying, “I got you, girl.” It made me feel appreciated.
Pets don’t care if you’re a success, they don’t care about what you look like or whether you’ve showered or if you write a horrible short story. They don’t even know your name. You don’t have to put on airs or live up to anyone’s expectations when you’re with your pet, and that’s one of the things that makes them such great company when you’re hurting or just kind of listless. They’re also calming—animals are often used in therapeutic settings, to help people suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, and to comfort hospital patients and nursing-home residents. Running your hands through their fur, snuggling with them, or dancing around them seductively like Eva Longoria does in that one cat food commercial can ease some of that existential dread.
Be careful about whom you discuss your problems with.
You may be friends with or related to one of those easygoing, staggeringly confident folks who can brush failure right off their shoulders, someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to STILL feel a palpable sense of embarrassment about stupid crap they did in the third grade or to sometimes not have the emotional wherewithal to get out of bed and, like, do things. These sorts of people may respond to whatever turmoil you’re experiencing with something dismissive, along the lines of “Well, it’s not the end of the world,” or, worse, “Suck it up!” Or they might think they’re giving you “helpful” advice when they criticize your entire personality—they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that not everyone can cope with stress the same way that they do. These people could very well be amazing in a lot of different ways (maybe they’re hilarious, a hoot at parties, don’t judge you for waiting in line to see a midnight screening of The Smurfs 2), but if they’ve shown that they can’t accept or sympathize with you when you’re a nervous, unhappy mess, then obviously these aren’t the people to hang out with when you’re low. If you know someone like this and he or she begins to offer unsolicited opinions on your situation, SHUT IT DOWN—try to change the topic to something neutral (“George: Now that’s a name. Am I right?” or “So wait, how do you make chili?”) and then seek out the people in your life who won’t immediately write off your emotions, even if they know that you have a tendency to worry excessively about circumstances that eventually turn out OK. You can hit George up again when you’re feeling better.
Watch this video.
It’s normal to feel apprehensive about your future from time to time, and everyone has felt like a loser at some point in your life. It’s tempting at these moments to beat yourself up, but that’s not gonna do you any good. It’s gonna do you a lot of bad. To nip that cycle of negative self-talk in the bud, distract yourself with one of the above techniques, which, if they don’t alleviate your bad mood, at least won’t make it worse.
And if you’ve followed every tutorial on the whole internet and flossed your teeth till your gums bled and you still don’t feel any better? It’s probably time to tackle your problem head-on: Talk to a therapist or a school counselor. Call a hotline. It’s one of the ironic curses of depression and anxiety that they render you least able to ask for help right when you need it most, and I know it can be totally scary to reach out to other humans. But the good news is that you can take your time. Remember, baby steps. ♦