Summer in New York City | August ’17

First of all, I am very well aware of the fact that I haven’t written anything of value on here in literally months. Ya know, just figured I’d acknowledge my complete lack of commitment and say that I HAVE THINGS TO WRITE ABOUT AND I WILL SHARE THEM SOON.

In the meantime, check out August’s vlog ft. my friends with video footage to prove that we do in fact watch sports occasionally.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Sammy

Today’s piece is written by one of my best friends, Sammy. My friendship with Sammy is the kind where I  can genuinely say we know each other to our cores and I really mean that. I can’t say that about very many other people.

With Sammy (and my other best friend from home, Gina) I feel so lucky. They are two of the only people I have ever met that can truly empathize with my feelings and emotions in their entirety. There is just some sort of unspoken connection we have – I can’t explain it, but I know it’s there. There’s just no other way to describe how well we understand and relate to each other. Without them, I would be lost. Without them, I would literally think I was broken. 

Sammy is always the first person I reach out to when it comes to my blogging ideas. For one, she inspires my creativity unlike anyone else – she’s always pushing me to try harder. For two though, I know she has amazing words that are worth sharing. I always want her thoughts and experiences to be part of my projects.

When Sammy sent me this piece, she said, and I quote, “I feel like a fraud, it’s not really about suicide.”

I want to stress that statement because I feel like it brings up such a great point. I feel like there are so many instances where we allow ourselves to belittle our own feelings, convincing ourselves that they’re not worthy of being acknowledged because they may not be the “norm” or the “extreme”.

Part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is acknowledging the fact that all experiences are different, but they are all equally as valid. Sammy’s experiences with suicidal thoughts are uniquely hers, as are everyone else’s. 

In my opinion, progress comes only after certain steps are taken. The first step is acknowledging that your feelings exist and are legitimate. The second step is voicing those feelings. Only after both of those steps, will you be able to accurately begin making positive change. 

It’s scary though! In most cases, it’s easier to brush off thoughts and emotions that we are struggling with. It’s easier to convince ourselves they’re not “bad enough” to be “real”. It’s easier to slide under the radar, silently grappling with our emotions, rather than acknowledging and vocalizing them. 

I can tell you from experience though, that the harder route brings so much more success and happiness. Your experiences and thoughts are so valid and they are so worth sharing. You are worth being cared for. You are worth progress and change. You deserve happiness.

Somehow, Sammy found the strength to share her words, regardless of the doubt and insecurity she initially expressed. I hope her words encourage some of you who may feel similarly to do the same. 

Check it out: 

I have this dream and it’s always the same. I’m in a mansion overlooking the ocean and the valleys of California. I walk through the french doors into the foyer, through the halls, until I’m standing where I can see the doors that lead to the back. The house is vacant and quiet but there is a woman outside in a long lace nightgown and long hair, both blowing in the wind. She’s standing on the balcony ready to leap into the unknown. I never see her face and I never try to save her, but I know who she is: she’s me. 

I need to emphasize something about this dream. It does not bring me satisfaction. It does not seem like an end to all my problems. It’s just one of many scenarios I craft up in my head when I want to end the thoughts and the sadness. 

I picture killing myself because it’s a way to picture killing the thoughts, but there is never a desire to kill me, the living human body form of me. I’ll keep the highs but I want to chuck the lows over a building, drown them in a tub, pour a bottle of pills down its throat until it is no more and I am left with only the positivity and the sanity that I know I am capable of. 

I was driving in the car the other day – the windows down, the music just right. It was one of those moments where I checked my surroundings and I felt the beauty of it all, this thing we called life. Fuck, I felt truly ALIVE. But then, the unsettling feeling came over me and my mind told me to cherish this moment for it would not be this way tomorrow. And guess what? My mind was right. The next day, I couldn’t look at myself. I felt ugly. I felt gross. I felt I couldn’t do anything right. I felt like a failure – living at home still, working the same job I told myself last year I’d get out of to find my dream job. I made all these promises to myself and where the fuck were they now? It didn’t matter yesterday that I hadn’t accomplished all my dreams yet, but my shortcomings sure as hell mattered the next morning, my mind said they did. So that is what I focused on all day. I sat in front of the TV smoking weed until I reached the kind of high where you just don’t: don’t think, don’t move, don’t talk. 

My depression is interesting. I know how loved I am, it never blocks that from me. Sometimes it will try but I am able to swat it away before it solidifies into an actual feeling. I know I am not a burden on others, and I know my passing would hurt many. I mean this, not because I think I’m the greatest human to walk this earth, but I have felt death and I have seen it break those who I love. I have watched and experienced the passing of others and that is partially the reason I battle depression in the first place. That and the fact that is has always lived in me in some way. 

I take these thoughts seriously. I’ve never taken them as my desires or my truth but I do take them very seriously. Suicide is not selfish, not when you know what is truly going on inside someone, but that does not make suicide the answer. Please seek help if you are hurting, and fight with every ounce of you to stop the thoughts from becoming actions. It is easier said than done, I know. Suicide is not the action to take. Kill the thoughts, not yourself. Every living soul is different and every case of depression is different, but I believe that suicide is always the same in the sense that it does not solve anything. It only passes the hurt along. 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – LJ

The piece I am sharing today is written by the very talented, LJ. If you read my blog pretty frequently, you probably remember her post from Pride Month. Something about the way LJ writes is so captivating to me. 

As you will soon read, her piece is about her stepdad and his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I love the insight her story gives to this month’s topic. In my opinion, it’s easy to assume that suicidal thoughts have a direct correlation with mental illnesses like depression, but it’s easy to forget how many other factors can drive someone to want to take their own life as well.

The point of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is to share a variation of stories in an effort to shed light on such a taboo, stigmatized topic. This is LJ’s story.

As painful as it probably was for her to share these words, they are so important. More than 10 million people worldwide are currently living with Parkinson’s Disease. After doing some of my own research, I also learned that, although suicidal ideation is known to be a very serious issue in patients with Parkinson’s disease, there is a lot that is still unknown. Doctors are still trying to figure out a relationship between suicide, age, medical treatment and disease within patients with Parkinson’s.

Having said that, LJ captures his stepdad’s experiences, and how they impacted her family in her words below:

May 17, 2016.

If I had known on this day the events that would happen the next morning, I would have done things differently.

May 18th, 2016 at 8:39 am

I had just finished unpacking my work bag and was talking about my weekend plans with a coworker when I received a call from my mom.

Barely audible and between gasps of breath, my mom informed me that she had just found my step-dad, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

My step-dad’s name is Bob. He married my mom when I was ten. He is the love of her life and he seamlessly became another father figure for my brother and me.

A few years ago, Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. If you do not know, Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain – neurons. While many people associate Parkinson’s with shaky movements, not many realize that the disease also has a huge impact on mental health.

When I think about it now, I realize that I experienced the complete life cycle of Bob’s Parkinson’s. Before my very eyes, I watched this bubbly, adventurous, and energetic man transform into a mere shell of himself, full of anxiety and pain. Parkinson’s had won.

While learning about my step-dad’s suicide was devastating, what torments me still is the impact it’s had on my mom. Seeing the woman that has consistently been the force of strength in my life break down is heart-wrenching. Knowing that there is nothing I can do to fix it is debilitating.

A lot of people say that taking your own life is selfish, but I refuse to accept that dialogue. I know that my step-dad loved my mom more than anything in the world. He would have done anything in his power to ensure her happiness. Parkinson’s destroyed his mind and his will to live.

I strongly believe that if Parkinson’s stayed the fuck away from my family, things would have turned out differently. I wouldn’t be constantly wishing I had called home on May 17th 2016.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – Julie

Today’s piece is one I have been dying to share for a while now, well before I came up with the idea for this month’s collaborative project. 

This is a piece written by my aunt, Julie. In many ways, she has been someone I have idolized for so long. As I grew up, I was always so proud to have so many interests in common with her. To me, she was like the success story I wanted to one day become. 

I first read this piece a few years ago. I still remember how relieved I felt when I finished it. I remember feeling like “Oh…okay!  She’s not flawless, she’s human. Cool, I can be that. That’s attainable.” It was as if, in that moment, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I remember feeling this urge to share the story with everyone I knew, in hopes that they would feel the same. 

This was long before I started to go to therapy, mind you. This was well before I was comfortable admitting that I struggled with anxiety and depression. This piece was one of the first real eye-opening experiences I ever had with regards to anything involving mental health. It was one of the first times I realized that maybe I wasn’t okay, and if I wasn’t, that wasn’t wrong. It was one of the first times I didn’t feel alone. 

When I knew I wanted to share pieces for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this is the first one that came to mind. Not only is Julie an extremely talented (published) writer, but she’s also a volunteer counselor for the Crisis Text Line

In case you have never heard of it, the Crisis Text Line is a 24/7 support service for anyone, in any type of crisis, at any time. It is an AMAZING resource. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Although I could go on for hours, I don’t want to ramble too long before introducing Julie’s piece. I hope it touches you in some of the same ways it did for me. Here it is:

 

The Fall of Strangers
Julie Greicius

Sometimes I write that she runs to the edge of the rooftop. Fifteen stories below, I’m running uphill on the sidewalk. She speeds up for momentum, so that she’ll fly past the instant when she might change her mind. The park isn’t safe at this hour, so I’m under the streetlights. I feel strong, so I lengthen my stride and decide to run farther. She vaults out past the edge, and gives herself to gravity just as I’m fighting it. For a second, she’s in flight. Our hearts are pounding. A few more steps and I’ll catch up to her.

Other times I write it straight: In 1996 I witnessed a suicide in New York City. I abandon imaginary details. I don’t really think she was running. Not at her age, in her state, or in those shoes: sullen mauve pumps, one of which landed askew next to her. It would be wrong to say she launched like a diver, or dove like a bird of prey. For all I know she might have been pushed. I only know for sure what I finally saw: her body on the pavement, head smashed beyond recovery, brains fanned out across the sidewalk.

I was working that year as a biographer’s assistant, at a small desk built into the underside of a loft bed in a one-bedroom apartment. Those were the early days of telecommuting. The woman I worked for lived just across town on the Upper East Side. We’d check in by phone, but most of the time I worked alone, interrupted by field trips to public libraries or longer getaways to private archives to find letters and diaries that belonged to people I had never met, most of whom were already dead. When I worked at home, days often ended at five o’clock with me realizing I hadn’t spoken a word to another living person all day.

I loved my job, loved holding the aged, handwritten letters of strangers, examining the journals of others and exploring the idiosyncrasies of families that were impeccable on the outside and daft on the inside. They felt familiar. I grew fond of the people I researched, and they became my community by proxy. I had freedom to work when and where I pleased, and to disappear whenever I wanted to. I lived with my fiancé, who was finishing medical school and rarely at home. When he was, he was fitfully asleep, or a shadow of himself, consumed by work.

I was good at being alone, I thought, even though I was lonely some of the time and mildly depressed—a condition I dismissed as indigenous to New York, something I could handle.

At the end of the day, every day, I got out to run. Running in Manhattan put me back among people. And there were no people I would rather have mingled among more than the people of New York City. I would run from our apartment on 107th street through the neighborhoods on Amsterdam and Columbus, past the bodegas and towering apartment projects over to the giant hill at the upper western corner of Central Park. I’d run into the park and make a double loop around the reservoir. I’d pass people on rollerblades, lovers in arms, children with nannies. And by the time I got to the East Side the crowd was all Burberry and fine terriers on leashes. When I wanted a shorter run, I ran through Riverside Park along the Hudson, over broken crack vials and, further south, through the islands of flower gardens set in the cobblestone. I ran by people on park benches staring alone at the river, people with children and dogs, teenagers in tunnels. I ran in every kind of weather, from the worst heat to the heaviest snow. Running was my drug, my release, my state of grace.

By the time I left my apartment that afternoon the sun was setting. I ran down West Side Drive, from 107th down to 72nd Street and back again, and then on past my own block. A light rain started to fall. Ahead, I saw the lights of fire trucks in front of a building—maybe a fire alarm or a car accident. There were no police lines, up, and no one seemed distressed. So I kept to my path.

A group of people stood looking, their eyes all pointing to something on the ground. As I passed them, I suddenly saw her: a woman in her mid-fifties, curly hair, gray skirt, a single shoe on the ground near her foot. Cinderella. Her head had made a pit in the pavement. But there was no pit. The side of her skull was flattened against the ground. Her brain speckled the sidewalk all the way to the small bushes that bordered the building from which she had dropped. The same sidewalk where I suddenly realized my feet were falling. Now I was on tiptoe, horrified, leaping past what I had already disgraced.

Of all the thousands of ways we encounter strangers, meeting someone at the moment of their death is possibly second in intensity only to meeting them at the moment of their birth. Between those extremes, we pass by with indifference in grocery stores or airports, or confront with clear intention on battlefields or in bars. But to witness this woman alone on the pavement, destroyed, was more than I knew what to do with. I had no basis for processing it, no precedent for understanding the absurdity of how we had just made contact.  

A few minutes faster and I might have blocked her, stopped her, or obstructed her fall. Maybe just one person on the street below would have been enough to change her mind. Then again, she might have struck and killed me. But I wasn’t there when she fell. Should I have been? I was no one: a pedestrian, a jogger, a passerby. The cement was there to catch her.

I stopped running and sat on the curb. There were footsteps behind me, and then a hand on my shoulder.

*

Over the next several years, my fiancé, Mike, became my husband, and we moved to the suburbs of San Francisco to raise our two children. One afternoon my friend Stephanie called and asked if I would go to see Jason, a friend of hers whom I’d never met. She was traveling, and had received an email from him saying he was in trouble. He had stopped drinking a while ago, but was drunk today, far gone, and sounded like he might be thinking about taking his own life.

I don’t know what made her think I was qualified to give that kind of support. My husband said it might be safer—for Jason and maybe for me, too—to call 911. That might have been true.

“What am I going to find?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think he needs someone.”

I drove to his house. I didn’t find it easily, but soon realized that he lived in a house behind a house.

When I reached his door, I noticed the lights inside were off. Maybe I was already too late. I wondered if he was hurt or if I was going to get hurt. A small sign on the door read JASON—a note to help people find him. He wanted to be found.

I opened the screen door and rang the doorbell. I waited, then knocked. Still nothing. I opened the mail slot and yelled into it. “Hey Jason! Answer the door!”

Another minute passed, enough to scare me.

Finally I heard someone coming. He opened the door. His eyes were red and glassy. At the base of his bleached-blonde hair were black roots, tousled as if he’d been sleeping. He wore sweat pants and a T-shirt. “Hey,” he said. The apartment smelled like cigarettes and maybe pot. Definitely alcohol.

“I’m a friend of Stephanie’s,” I said. “She said you weren’t feeling so hot so I came over.”

“Stephanie,” he said slowly. “That girl. She’s good people.”

He opened the door wide and let me in.

“She was worried about you.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. I have a fever or something.”

His apartment was dark and stuffy. A small plant struggled on the kitchen table. He sat down on a small couch by sliding glass doors.

I sat down in a chair facing him. And there we were. I remembered once sitting in a therapist’s office back in New York. I was crying and crying—I couldn’t handle it after all—and she leaned down to the floor and pushed a box of tissues toward me without ever lifting her ass off her chair. I never went back.

I didn’t come there to sit back and stare at this man. I had nothing to say to him politely over a coffee table.

I said, “I’d rather sit on your side. I came here to make sure you’re okay.”

I stood up and climbed over the coffee table straight to him, sat next to him and took him in my arms. He fell into me and I squeezed him hard. He shifted and turned so he could fit more closely. He sighed. “Thank you,” he said. He pulled his legs close to his body and curled up. I think I said, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

He wasn’t crying. He breathed heavily in big sighs. Maybe he was relaxing, or just trying to breathe. I didn’t know how much he’d had to drink, but I guessed a lot.

We were quiet for a while. I had rushed over quickly after my friend called, right after a shower.

“Your hair is wet,” he said. “You smell so clean.”

“I think I know how you feel,” I told him. “I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling right now.”

“When?” he asked. “Tell me.”

But I couldn’t. The answer was “yesterday.” I thought it would terrify him.

*

Yesterday: I pulled the point of a razor across my skin and made a cut on the back of my left hand, on the flesh between my finger and thumb.

I wasn’t even close to admitting what I had been feeling in the previous weeks. I kept my life in a rush of accomplishment, so the empty spaces would blur, and was now at a halt, alone, leaning against a counter in my bathroom.

The pain stung, corrosive, but the color was rich and red—unmistakably healthy. The sight of it made me feel strangely robust, in spite of how I felt emotionally. Here was the blood that propelled me forward, the same blood that could tell me I was young and fertile, or mortally injured. I took my time, in no rush to see it end. Then I thought of my children and husband and job and responsibilities, covered the cut with a sober band-aid, and left the house.

I wondered, if someone was going to confront herself finally and truly, if it could only be done violently.

But that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to die. I want to look over the edge, to confront the stranger in myself, and stand my ground.

*

“A while ago,” I lied. “I cut myself to sort of punctuate what I was feeling. It was like this huge cavern of loneliness and despair opened up in me, and I could make it small and manageable and put a band-aid on it. I didn’t think anyone else would understand.”

“I know,” he said.

But he didn’t know, didn’t see that the band-aid was still on my hand.

“So I’m here and you don’t have to be alone,” I told him.

“You know, you sound like you’re good at this,” he said. “The way you just showed up and let me hold on to you. Like you know twelve-step programs.”

“I don’t know. I guess I think it’s something we all need at one time or another.”

“That’s how sponsors are supposed to be in AA. They’re supposed to be there for you.”

“I mostly know them from The Wire.”

“I love The Wire!”

“Yes, well, Bubs is all I know about AA.”

“Bubs!”

There was Jason, this stranger in my arms, suddenly very much alive. In that apartment, I might have found anything. Or he might have never even let me in the front door. He would need therapy from someone more professional than me, or an intervention, but at the moment, he just wanted to shoot the shit.

We talked about television, about his sponsor, and about differences between suburban and city life. I said it wasn’t as easy to walk outside and enjoy the anonymous comfort of humanity like you can in the city when you feel alone. Jason agreed, or nodded, or mmhmm’d.

“But do you do this a lot?”

“You mean show up at stranger’s homes when they’re sad and sit on the couch with them?”

He laughed.

“No, I don’t.”

“And Stephanie just asked you to come over?”

“Yeah.”

“Stephanie. Shit. You know when you let people lean on you, when you help people, you forget about your own problems.”

Stephanie had called more friends, people Jason knew, and in a little while they showed up with their baby and gave Jason more distraction, more love, held on to him when it was time for me to go home to my own family.

That night he called. He sounded happy, relieved—and maybe a little in disbelief that the world had come through for him, stood in his way of a path he didn’t really want to take at all. And I told him that he rescued me, too. Months later I told him that it really was the day before that I had been feeling the way that he had. That it was my own vulnerability that qualified me to hold him up, to really understand how he felt, to hold him like some kind of fragile scaffold.

*

One of the bystanders had come over to me. He must have seen me run straight through the crime scene (was it a crime?), and I was ashamed.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded. That anyone should be asking how I was doing when a woman lay dead twenty feet away astonished me.

But I wanted the comfort. I asked him what happened, who she was. He said no one knew.

“Did she live there?” I asked, indicating the building above her.

“I don’t know. If she did, nobody knew her,” he said. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes,” I said, and stood up. “Thank you.”

I couldn’t pick up where I left off. I walked home because it didn’t make sense to run. Nothing made sense. I had no idea how long that feeling would last.

At home, I turned on the television to keep me company. Four different channels had shows about suicide. They were melodramas, made-for-TV movies, a talk show, and stand-up comedy. I turned it off.

I walked back up to the scene. The entire block had been tied off with bright yellow tape and flares at 109th and Broadway to prevent cars from coming down the street. From a distance I could see the woman’s body was covered now, her shoe still lying next to her.

I wondered who she was, what had provoked her, what weight had brought her down. There was nothing in the papers the next day, nor any day after.

I called a friend and she came over. We put our feet up and had a drink. She spent the night and slept next to me in my bed like my sister used to. We talked in the dark and soon fell asleep.

** Originally published in the anthology Rumpus Women, Vol. 1, editing by Julie Greicius and Elissa Bassist **

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Are You All Really Happy and Successful, Tho? IDGI

I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts recently written by young people in the corporate world. I don’t know if I’m somehow subconsciously attracting articles like this or what, but posts by ~20-somethings in big cities looking for jobs~ are basically consistently begging me to view them these days.

A reoccurring theme I’ve noticed in all of these posts is that all of these people seem so hopeful??? The all seem fairly confident that they will find careers they want? They also all seem financially stable? Even though a lot of the people behind these posts are either currently unemployed or currently interning.

I finish reading these posts with the same frustrated feeling every time. First of all, I really thought I had the mindset of the majority on this? I thought that that’s why we all share those memes about how miserable it is to be a millennial? Did I miss the memo? I don’t know if it’s just me and my complete inability to “fake it”, or if it’s a little bit of that grass-is-always-greener effect happening, but you aren’t all actually happy, are you?

I’m not writing to pick people apart or to call some bloggers out on their shit. Quite the opposite actually. To me, blogging has always been about honesty. That was the entire intent of this blog from the start. I wanted to share my genuine experiences and opinions with the world to remind myself and others that no one is ever alone.

So like…..can we all agree that the working world in your 20’s (and even after) is scary AF? Yes, granted, I work in the Media Industry. And yes, ideally I would like to pursue a creative position in my future (ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaa). So that does play a part in my opinions on all of this. My college professors used to tell us weekly that the Media Industry was a “‘no’ business”. They would remind us daily that we will hear a hundred “no”s before a single “yes”. So yeah, maybe I hit the ground with some preconceived notions and a negative attitude, but I sure as hell am not alone.

I don’t think the struggles of finding a job in your 20s change that drastically from industry to industry either. Like, if we’re being honest with ourselves, can we admit that a good amount of a college graduate’s initial success on the job hunt is directly correlated to the connections they have off the bat?

Every. Single. Position. I had prior to my current job was because of a connection I had. When I was moving from DC to NYC, I applied to hundreds and hundreds of jobs over the course of 4-6 months until I landed an interview with the company I am at now.

My point in this is, it’s not unusual to feel discouraged and unwanted while trying to find your corporate niche. I don’t know if some people are just better at grinning and bearing it, but I personally think it’s extremely easy to feel lost and hopeless as a 20-something working professional, even with a job.

I literally wonder DAILY if I made the right decision by graduating college with a Media Arts degree. I have an internal battle with myself constantly over whether I should continue to choose a career path for the money, or attempt to look for something that I can put my passions into. I’m constantly terrified that I’m not making enough money to sustain my lifestyle, and I’m even more scared that a passion-driven position would make that problem worse.

When people tell you that you should follow your dreams and do what you love, they’re completely right, but they often forget to remind you that it going to be hard AF too. I love that our parent’s generation, for the most part, seems to have instilled the idea in all of us that happiness should come before money. What I don’t think anyone talks about though, is the fact that it’s almost impossible to measure and quantify “happiness”. In my opinion, this leaves our generation constantly wondering if we’re doing the right things, making the right decisions, and finding the “happiness” we’ve been working towards all this time.

This is basically the biggest ~first world problems~ post on the planet right now, and I get that. Especially given the recent horrific events in our country (and the world, i.e. Barcelona today), but it’s been on my mind for so long now. Plus, I just cannot even begin to articulate my feelings on all of those recent events – that’s for an entirely separate post.

It’s just so easy to feel lost in a world filled with so many talented people. I think we all deserve a little reminder that we’re still of worth, even though things aren’t always going to come easy.

I Have Left My Heart…

I have left my heart in so many places. 

A year ago, on my 24th birthday, I spent about 48 hours straight just crying. It was the lowest I think I’ve ever been in my life. I felt unstable, lost, lonely, broken, and hopeless.

This year, I have realized after a lot of thought, that I can genuinely say I am in such a different place. Of course, it took a year of hard work, therapy, change, and help from a lot of amazing people, but I’m here and I couldn’t be more grateful.

For the first time in so long, I feel both happy and optimistic.

I’ve recently realized that, although I may have lost my childhood home (and to some extent, one of my parents too) and a lot of the stability that comes with that safety net, I have gained so much in the process.

 

I have left a part of my heart in so many beautiful places.

I may not have my first house anymore, but I’m starting to understand that my real “home” is scattered all over the country, and that is even better.

Here’s to 25 and all that is to come

New Camera Vibes

Back in April I finally splurged (cough cough thanks mom) and got myself a new camera. I spent literally months researching and obsessing over a few different options before I figured out exactly which one I wanted to buy. I’ve always been accustom to Canon cameras. They’re what I grew up using, and I trust them, so my first instinct was to stick with that brand.

I was actually in the process of purchasing a Canon when I came across my new baby, the Sony A6500. I was hooked from the minute I saw it. It’s tiny but powerful beyond words. Not to mention the fact that its a mirrorless.

For the past few months I’ve been learning on it, vlogging with it, and treating it like my new bebe child.

In college I used to make these little, very amateur but fun, collage highlight reels of each semester. When I got this camera, I figured, what better way to learn on it than to create similar videos of my time in NYC? That’s how this project was born.

Basically for the entire weekend, this has been my view:

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*plz note the stray bobby pin in the bottom right*

Aside for the random white betch moments… cue picture here:

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…I’ve been editing nonstop. Which meeeeeans, I’m very close to being able to introduce my month by month New York City vlogs! (side note: plz take the word “vlog” very loosely)

I’ll be sharing the videos here, as well as on Youtube, Vimeo and all of my other social media. Keep an eye out!

x

MHAM Post #14: A Mentor

The writer of this piece is someone I consider to be not just a friend, but in many ways, a mentor as well.

I actually couldn’t even tell you when I first met this writer. I was probably like 8? I attended the same camp every summer throughout my childhood, and as a teenager I began working there too. That is when me and this writer became closer. 

Growing up, if you had asked me to describe him, I would say he was filled with nothing but love, positivity, and happiness. This writer literally made the kids at camp light up with joy every day. He seemed to be constantly be overflowing with energy and passion.

I know I’ve said it a million times before, but you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover. So many people you are surrounded by everyday are battling their inner demons in silence. 

It means so much to me that the writer of this piece was willing to share his words. I’m so happy to know that we are able to still connect now, years after working together, to share our experiences with mental health. 

As you will see in this piece, it is HARD to open up about what you’re going through. Mental health struggles are a catch-22 in that sense. Not only do they cause you to feel unstable, but they often also make you feel less capable of opening up about what you’re going through. Then, to top it off, the stigma surrounding mental health makes it, in many ways, even more difficult to share your experiences openly. It’s no surprise than so many people grapple with these issues silently. 

Having the courage to share your experiences is extremely commendable, so, without further ado, check it out: 

When I graduated from high school in 1997, I had the vaguest notion of what bipolar disorder was. I certainly did not understand its destructive power, its ability to tear away at the life one built with terrifying swiftness. I would not know that I was bipolar until August of 2009. What I do remember knowing without any doubt when I was seventeen, and entering my first year at Penn State, was that I did not feel emotionally well-balanced. I do not mean this in the sense that I was feeling down, or going through a transition in my life that made me feel more stressed and emotionally drained. I felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, hopelessness, and uselessness to such a degree that I would hide from the world for days at a time, which progressed to weeks, and eventually months. I eventually spent the better part of seven years locked away in a studio apartment with the blinds drawn, trapped in my own mind.

No family, friends, or medical professionals knew of the way I lived until March of 2008, when I hit a breaking point, but I was not properly diagnosed with cyclothymic bipolar disorder until August of 2009. It was only then that I allowed myself to begin healing. Until recently, I rarely spoke or wrote about my mental health condition for various reasons that were grounded in the shame that fueled my protracted silence, in addition to the pernicious stigma that unfortunately continues to surround mental health issues. My voicelessness, however, did not stop me from learning about my own condition. I read as much as I could in the scientific literature, in addition to memoirs about people’s experiences associated with being bipolar. I am finally able to share my story more readily; I hope it helps anyone who reads it.

Nearly everyone I have known has felt depressed at some point in their life, which is a normal phenomenon. They understand that depression tends to shut people down and draw them inward mentally. Most people, however, are fairly resilient and find that mental balance without any help, so they are soon back on their feet and functioning normally. This resiliency is the line in the sand where my diagnosis separates me from those who are able to bounce back. It is critical that I emphasize two points. First, this separation is not my choice. I would never choose to continue to be depressed. Second, the severity of the depression that I suffer from is far more serious than what most people have ever had to deal with.

Looking back, it makes sense that I was bipolar at Penn State. I loved learning, reading, hanging out with friends, and playing competitive sports. Yet, very soon after I started college, I began to withdraw. The life that I worked very hard to build throughout high school was fading as life started feeling less important to me, for reasons that I may never know. Feeling that depressed, my natural reaction was to hide, both physically and emotionally. As professors and friends told me, when they did happen to see me, it was as if I just fell off the face of the earth. From time to time I did leave my apartment, and some classes were able to motivate me enough to participate and do well. For the majority of the time, however, I was hiding in my apartment. I cried, read, and slept. A few times a week I would eat. I was fortunate to have loving parents who worked hard to put me through school, which made me more ashamed of my lack of attendance and participation in college. Until I spoke out years later, my parents paid my tuition, I tried to recover from my depression, and I would continue to fail most of the time. When I was not failing because of never attending class, I was withdrawing from a semester of courses that I never went to. I was not a party animal who blew off everything academic. I was a lost person hiding from the world, and trying to run from my mind and my pain. This was my life for many years. When I was supposed to have graduated from Penn State, I remained in my apartment and lived off of my own savings from high school. My sporadic academic victories against bipolar disorder were marked with As on my transcript. My academic shortcomings were not indicative of blowing off college; they were the markers of my suffering. Medical research strongly suggests that people with a bipolar disorder often lose social functioning that is so easy for others and do not recover it for many years. I am living proof of that.

Throughout those difficult years in my life, there were a few genuinely bright spots. I did have windows in my house of misery that brought rays of happiness into my life. I enjoyed photography, and I especially enjoyed working with children in the summer when I had to live at home. To be sure, my years working at a summer camp saved my life, and sparked my interest in education. I am certain of this, which makes me grateful for the happiness and sense of purpose the children brought into my life. I do not speak much about working with children in this particular summer camp beyond the superficial comments of how fun it was. The truth is, that summer camp holds such a special place in my heart that I find it hard to articulate how much it really means to me.

In early 2008, I finally hit bottom and broke down in front of my parents. The stress and emotional toll that the silence brought was starting to kill me. I was a shell of my former self. I told them everything. I explained how their son left his apartment once every few weeks to every two months, and learned to subsist by getting food delivered. I apologized for wasting their money, and for failing them. One of the most profound moments of my life came after I apologized. My father picked me up off the ground, wiped the tears from my eyes, and told me that the only thing lost was money and time, but that I was still here, still alive, and should be proud of that, not ashamed. From that moment on, I never allowed myself to feel like I was too weak to overcome this disorder.

It has not been an easy road, but the faith I placed in myself has helped me tremendously. I never completed my degree at Penn State, but I am proud to say that I am a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who is currently pursuing a masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. I am studying how institutions of higher education can do more to promote mental health awareness. I have a wonderful wife, and three beautiful children who have redefined what it means to be happy and to love unconditionally. There are indeed quite a few things in this world that are far more powerful than the destructive nature of bipolar disorder. Most of all, I have learned to stop hating who I am and what I suffer from, and began to love the face I see in the mirror, as well as the mind behind that face.

Although my own struggles with bipolar disorder prevented me from actively raising awareness over the years, I truly believe that my academic and professional work regarding mental health conditions, combined with my efforts to raise my voice and share my story, are in themselves forms of activism and resistance to the stigma associated with living with bipolar disorder. I learned that my lived experience, combined with what I learned throughout the past 20 years, can effectively be used toward making the lives of others like me thrive. No one should ever make others feel like they are not worthy of love or acceptance, or loving and accepting themselves. Loving oneself is a radical act. Loving oneself is an act of resistance in a world where so many forces seek to make groups of people feel lesser. There is much work to do….

MHAM Post #12: Gina

Like Sammy (who wrote the first piece), Gina has been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember. It’s honestly difficult for me to even put into words how lucky I am to have known both of them all of this time. 

Growing up, I always had an issue with feeling secure in my friendships. I always believed every friendship I made had an expiration date. Either a time, an experience, an argument, etc that would make us grow apart. 

Gina (and Sammy) have genuinely taught me that I am so delusional for ever thinking that way. We have each had some very difficult, defining moments in our lives, but as cliche as it sounds, we’ve been there for each other through all of it. 


Gina wears a tough exterior that not many see at first glance, and she is often too good at hiding what is going on in her mind at any given time. 

In my opinion, Gina is one of the most intelligent and well-spoken people I know. She doesn’t always take the opportunity to make that known though, which is why I’m so glad she agreed to write this piece. 

Her story is about something a bit different than just generalized anxiety or depression, but it’s just as valid. 

Here it is!!!:


When Krump asked me to do this, I thought it’d make the most sense to write about my experience with an eating disorder. I’ve been hesitant because I [personally] know quite a few people who deal with some type of food/body issue and it’s different for everyone. So i feel like writing about something so specific to me and my body might not be something the majority can relate to. But I guess that’s not the point of this; this is about accepting other people’s struggles and trying to understand someone else’s perspective. My eating disorder might not look like yours. 

I remember people suggesting books to me about other girls who had struggled with eating disorders. I remember feeling frustrated with these books because they portrayed the most extreme examples. Girls who became bone thin and required hospitalization. Girls who only ate carrots and then threw them up (If you know me at all, you know I’m extremely emetophobic!!). I wasn’t that girl and I couldn’t relate to that girl. Since I couldn’t relate to something that I was already resistant to solving, it was easy to dismiss it as not being applicable to me. I would finish the book, the warning, and say “but i’m not that bad”. And I really wasn’t. Something I’ve learned with time is that doesn’t make it okay. I didn’t need to be the worst case scenario to need help. Dealing with the mental issues that surround wanting to starve yourself is still not okay! No matter how much you weigh. I would look at photos of anorexic girls but I didn’t feel like I wanted to look like them. I was slightly underweight and that was enough for me. People told me I was skinny constantly and that was enough for me to stay motivated in my pursuits.  

I eat fairly normally right now, so I feel uncomfortable talking about the “worst” of it. I also don’t think it’s beneficial to anyone to write out the details – especially when it comes to something like losing weight. I did have GERD for 2 straight years, and I want to acknowledge the role my eating disorder played in that. Both in the cause and perpetuating it. A diet of predominantly vodka and tabasco sauce and a need for a real excuse not to eat, respectively.
One aspect of my struggle, that’s remained consistent throughout the past 12 years, is that I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable eating meals around new people. I started a new job in January and I could only eat sliced vegetables for lunch for the first few weeks. I worry people are judging me for eating, noticing how fattening it is. I worry I’ll gain weight and people I barely know will be like “well yeah, she eats pasta for lunch”. It took me over 2 years to eat a full meal in front of my boyfriend’s family. I dread when I’m able to eat guilt-free and someone ruins it by making a comment. It’s often in jest and I recognize that outwardly, but it sticks with me. On a contradictory note, I can easily lie about my food intake to make myself seem more relatable. I’ve found that my food issues alienate other young women. I remember new friends being excited to see me binging on junk food, like it made them feel comfortable, and I replicated that in the form of.. lying? To make them feel better about themselves and me. It’s an extremely nuanced set of issues. 

I’ve dealt with this for over a decade and sometimes I don’t think I ever won’t. It comes in waves and I can’t explain them. Sometimes it’s too easy for me to restrict myself to an extreme and sometimes i desperately want to go back to the comfort that comes with that kind of control but I can’t and I give in to food.