Flowers in a Jar

When I was little, two of my favorite shows were Dragon Tales and Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. Dragon Tales was this show about these two little kids who wish upon a dragon scale and get whisked away to dragon land and go on adventures, and in the process learn values like patience (or something). Maggie and the Ferocious beast was about a little girl who befriends a “beast” (very cleverly named Beast) who kind of looked like a yellow triceratops with big red spots. I’m pretty sure that show taught about discrimination but I really can’t remember. Needless to say, these shows weren’t much more than fluff, probably torture for whatever adult had to watch them with me. They were full of bright colors and fun music and exciting shapes, and watching TV as a toddler is probably about as close to high as I’ve ever gotten.

As you can see, I didn’t really carry much from those TV shows with me. I only remember a very select few episodes. But one of them has stuck with me to this very day and I still reference it as one of the reasons that I am the way I am. And I can not, for the life of me, remember which show it’s from.

Either Beast or one of the dragons was given this magical curse where every one of his emotions turned into flowers. The flowers were very beautiful, but he thought that they were rather strange-looking. So he put them away in a jar and didn’t let anybody see his flowers. With each flower he kept hidden, he also kept an emotion inside. Until one day, the jar, and his feelings, were full to bursting, and all the flowers spilled out everywhere. He had the dinosaur/dragon equivalent of a nervous breakdown, wondering why everyone was being so mean to him. But in truth, they thought the flowers were beautiful, and his negative emotions were clouding his thoughts. They encouraged him to put his flowers in a vase so everyone could see their beauty, until finally he recognized their beauty as well. But some of the flowers got damaged from being in the jar for so long, just as he was hurt by keeping his emotions inside.

I don’t know why, but that story has stuck with me to this very day. I might be getting some (or all) of the details wrong, but the general message of it is right–if you keep you emotions inside you all the time, you’re going to get hurt. And instead of being something beautiful and natural, your emotions become damaged and twisted and something quite unlike their original selves. So as a kid, I always talked about my feelings with my parents in a healthy way. I talked about them, thought about them, and then let them go.

And the letting go was, and is, the most important part.

When I was struggling with my (mild) anxiety issues toward the beginning of this year, I felt so alone. I wondered how it was possible that nobody could see that I was hurting. I wondered how everyone could be so insensitive. I wondered why nothing made any sense anymore. I had forgotten the story of the flowers; I had forgotten how to understand myself.

Once I talked about it with my mom, and she helped me to eat better and get the vitamins I needed, it was like a huge dark cloud had suddenly lifted. And after I had talked about it–after I had trusted someone to see the parts of me that I didn’t think were all that pretty–it was easy to let the bad feeling go. And even though it still stayed with me in a sense, even though the flowers in my vase were damaged from being in the jar for so long, the rest of my flowers were beautiful and in full bloom. And I was so, so much happier.

I’ve talked before about how I sort of think of myself as “everybody’s therapist.” My friends come to me with their problems and I try my hardest to listen, and to give the best advice that I can. And I think it’s healthy for my friends to talk to me about these things–sometimes, you just need someone to vent to. I’m always happy to listen. But if you talk about your emotions and all you do is talk? Then all you’re going to do is talk yourself in circles and you’ll never, ever open your jar all the way.

There are so many people who refuse to accept compliments. “Thank you for saying I’m pretty/smart/a good writer/funny/etc,” they answer “but I could never think of myself that way.” And I always want to ask, why could you never think of yourself that way? Why are you so adverse to loving yourself when it’s the only thing you truly want?

People, in my experience, are usually willing to acknowledge that a problem is there. Nobody seems to have any problem pointing out their flaws. A friend will say they are mean, or lazy, or obnoxious, and to them, these words of self-loathing and disgust are the absolute truth. But nobody, nobody ever acknowledges the root of their problems. They’re content to sit there hating themselves to no end.

And I can understand the feeling. I can understand it far too well. I know what it’s like to sit there and really, truly despise every aspect of yourself. But I can guarantee you that as mean, or lazy, or obnoxious as you think you are, there are countless people out there who think you are just as kind, or just as hardworking, or just as brilliant.

Sometimes, I think my efforts are entirely in vain. My friends and I, we talk ourselves in circles. I start to sound like a broken record: “You’re beautiful, you’re kind, you’re brilliant, I love you.” And I’m starting to think that my words don’t have any meaning anymore, because nobody ever wants to accept them.

It’s healthy to talk about your feelings to somebody you trust. This isn’t the moral of some preachy kids’ show–this is what I honestly believe. If you don’t let anybody see the deepest parts of you, then how can you ever do anything to help yourself? If you lock your feelings away in a jar, then over time you’ll forget what they even look like. Embarrassment or anger or frustration or sadness will fester and rot until they become something entirely different, something that feels so, so insurmountable.

Don’t lock away your negative emotions, because some day, you won’t even remember what they were. You will only remember the feeling of powerlessness–the feeling that your jar is about to burst open and you won’t know what to do about it when it does.

But punishing yourself for your emotions doesn’t help. Lying awake at night and hating yourself doesn’t help. Carving your sorrows out on your skin doesn’t help. Starving yourself doesn’t help. And even though it might feel like it helps, talking yourself in circles doesn’t help.

In the end, the only way to really help yourself is to understand yourself. And it could take years. It could take a lot of support. It could take a lot of hard work. And of course, it is far easier said than done. But once it’s done?

God, it feels so damn good.

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