Caring Less

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Photo by Abigail Keenan

By Rachael Whitlock

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recall an article I wrote a few months back called “My Eating Disorder Doesn’t Define Me.” In that previous article, I spoke about an eating disorder that had consumed my life for the past five years. I recently decided to write this follow-up article because I’ve realized my problem wasn’t simply an eating disorder; in fact, it was much deeper than that. My real problem was my overwhelming fear of being judged negatively by others. The eating disorder was simply a symptom of my own insecurity. Many people experience this feeling of insecurity in their lives, and while I attempted suppress these feelings with unhealthy eating patterns, someone else may use a different method of control. I bring up my insecurity not to discuss repressing it, but instead to take the much healthier options and address them in order to correct the problem from where it begins. In other words, I’ve decided to care less.

Unfortunately, humans are a painfully social species, and it’s completely natural for us to care about what others think. If we didn’t have this empathy, we wouldn’t be able to form any healthy relationships or deep connections with others. In order to be happy, great relationships with others aren’t an option – they are a necessity. The fear of losing valuable relationships with people stems from the fear of other people’s opinions. And in some cases, this fear is useful. It can motivate us to behave in a way that makes more people like us. But in many circumstances this fear leads to anxiety, insecurity, and depression, which is counter-productive to creating relationships with others. The best way to overcome this is to simply not try so hard. Although it doesn’t sound very helpful, it works. Humans are drawn to others that seem confident and genuine, so the less we worry about others’ opinions, the more they will enjoy our company.

For me, caring less doesn’t mean being apathetic towards other people’s judgments of me, but simply not taking judgment from the wrong people to heart. Throughout middle and high school, I worried about what everyone thought: family, friends, acquaintances, even total strangers. But now, I can count on one hand the number of people whose opinions I let influence my life. I’ve found the importance in trusting a select few people who have your best interest at heart. Everyone else’s opinions should be ignored if they are not beneficial to you. This is probably the most difficult, and most useful, piece of advice I’ve ever been given. Even though I still have to consistently remind myself of my own advice, the advice itself has immensely helped my recovery.

Another way to care less about others’ judgments is to simply think of the absolute worst-case scenario if you ignore someone’s opinion. Chances are, whatever happens will not be anywhere close to how bad your imagination played it out to be. This tactic was extremely helpful to me because I realized that no scenario was worse than the one I was creating for myself by staying bulimic. I decided the best way to be happier was to think of how much worse off I would be if I didn’t recover. If I continued to let my insecurities rule my life, I would never get anywhere. Richard Branson, the well-known English philanthropist, perfectly summed up this notion when he said, “I’d rather look back on life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I did that.’”

I decided to write this follow-up article not for myself, but for everyone else who is struggling with their own fears and insecurities. After all, that’s what college is about: struggling to fit in, to make a name for yourself, to overcome your personal burdens. At some point in their lives, everyone worries that others think negatively of them, and this insecurity can manifest itself in devastating ways. But with a shift in your own thinking, you can overcome much of these feelings. I am concrete proof of this accomplishment. Although it’s not an easy or a quick fix, it is possible to become the best version of ourselves if we simply care less.

Planting Good Relationships

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Photo by Samuel Alvarado

By Samuel Alvarado

Relationships between people, whether platonic, romantic or even with oneself, are like plants. Relationships and plants both require care, maintenance, and space lest they stagnate and die. I have had a wonderful “garden” of relationships for a while, but it is no easy feat to maintain.

I find that relationships and plants share several key characteristics, and I have noticed these similarities throughout my life. A plant or relationship can grow only when it is properly taken care of with the necessary sustenance, room, and care. Our relationships provide us with the steady stream of care, love, and motivation needed for us to grow.

Plants need the right balance between rich soil, sunshine, and water as their primary sustenance. Relationships between people also require sustenance by having substance in shared experiences. The parallels are clearly seen when the sustenance of relationships and plants are taken away, as neither a relationship nor plant can last long without attention and care. Sustenance for a relationship comes from being rooted in the lives of others, just as sustenance for a plant comes from being rooted in the soil.  Just as plants need water regularly, relationships need regular attention to ensure their longevity. With sustained maintenance, relationships can last a lifetime.

Most plants need space to expand, or they will stagnate instead of growing as they should. Without space, plants may be forced to recede into corners or against walls while trying to grow in what little space they have. Relationships too need space, as every person needs the opportunity to grow personally and, by virtue, grow the relationship with deeper self-knowledge. Most people need some time alone to better understand themselves so they can better function with others. At times, a person may pull or push away from those closest to them, and this new space may make it easier to focus on deep personal issues. The time alone, however, should not be extended without purpose because the need for social engagement is just as important as the need for space and privacy. A little self-care can help a person thrive in relationships because better self-awareness can allow for greater contributions to the group of relationships.

Plants need care when they grow unevenly, have been hurt, or become diseased. By the same principle, a relationship needs care when it has been stressed, damaged, or unloved.  Care for a plant may involve adding more nitrogen, adding a splint, or transplanting it after its pot broke. For relationships, people need to communicate effectively about what has strained the relationship and what needs to be done to rectify any damage. It does not bode well when one friend pours out their heart to another with little reciprocation or recognition. This apathy, however, broadens a growing divide in a relationship. When trust is broken, promises are left unkept or feelings are hurt; these issues need to be remedied promptly for fear that they ruin both relationship and the person who had been cared for before. When properly implemented throughout the life of a plant or relationship, the effects of intentional care can be seen clearly. Intention care is a necessity to foster our health and the health of the natural specimens we foster.

Callous handling of plants and relationships leads to the ruin of each. Therefore, I hope people learn to treat their relationships as plants. A plant may provide fresh oxygen and fruit, just as a relationship may provide companionship and love that every person yearns for throughout this journey we call life.

I could say that my garden of relationships has always been calm and full, but that would be a lie. Coming to college, I came in knowing one person, and I felt more alone than ever. My garden was nearly empty from relationships falling into disrepair or being intentionally burned. Now, after a year in Pensacola, I have a garden of flowers, cacti, and herbs that I love to see grow as they have helped me grow.