Where We’ve Come

Today is nothing poignant necessarily. Nothing too crazy. It’s just crazy for me, and hopefully others can relate.

When you’ve been through a lot, have had a whirlwind of obstacles and challenges come across your path, it’s weird to even imagine a point where those obstacles become manageable. As if you just got a pair of glasses after years of blurry vision and finally seeing the world as it is for the first time.

That’s how I feel. This has been the longest period I have ever felt this…normal. At a mental state where I have some sense of stability. For me, that is something I honestly never thought I’d find.

Maybe it’s just me trying to block everything out of my memory, but it’s hard for me to go back and think about my past mental states, my self-destructive thoughts. So many days of my short life have been spent covered in a blindfold.

I realize that I’m now trudging in unfamiliar territory. I don’t know what life is like without extra weight dragging me down. It’s weird to not always feel dull, or not have my mind racing to different random scenarios in my head, or not counting every crumb I’ve consumed in a day. With all of the extra head space, I almost feel guilty for not immediately going to do more. Pursuing so many different things I would have never dreamed of before.

No matter how awful mental illness is, when you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, you almost feel naked. Mental illness has been an everyday battle for me, and even on days that I felt better than normal, it became an easy crutch and excuse to rely upon. If I’m nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone, even if I know deep down I can handle it, it’s too easy to just call out depression or anxiety and avoid it all.

But there’s no hiding now. I’m more aware of myself than I ever have been. In fact, it’s as if I am now truly embodying my personality. That can lead to new anxieties, of not being good enough even when I’m present. That I am a lost soul meandering into nothing, no end in sight, because my formative years were spent in fog. It’s scary to realize that vulnerability. It presents an unknown, a potential for relapsing back into my lower moods, a world that I don’t know I can fit into.

I also must realize that some aspects of myself are just me, not my mental illness. No amount of therapy or medication can make me care less about having my life especially clean and organized. I’m naturally very critical of myself. I still desire some sense of control over what I encounter in life. As I continue making progress, it’s all about learning about myself, finding out something new every day to better take care of myself.

Yes, the hesitations are real. I cannot deny those. However, with every fear that crosses my mind, an exponential number of benefits outnumber them all. They often arise in very mundane, normal situations, things that most other people wouldn’t think twice about. Like actually wearing shorts in the summer instead of hiding in long pants, even on the hottest of days. Like completing a school assignment without dazing off every few minutes. Like genuinely smiling and feeling emotions.

This journey is one I know I will travel the rest of my life. My genetics don’t allow for those dangerous tendencies to completely dissipate. But that realization doesn’t deter me from still working every day to be my best self, however that may look each passing day. Some mornings will be easier, and others not. If anything, knowing the potential of those easier mornings is more encouragement to remain hopeful and optimistic because normality and happiness are possible. They aren’t just cheesy motivational quotes.

My normal won’t look like yours or anybody else’s. What is a success for me might be a simple task for everybody else, and that is okay. And by no means am I saying that you can just put on a happy face when you’re depressed and you’ll be cured. Trust me, I know the burden of chronic mental illness.

I hope you realize that no matter your struggles in life, if you’ve come out the other side, you are strong. You are capable of facing anything thrown your way. And if you’re in the midst of the battle, keep going. The storm does pass. The rain and wind will batter against the windows and shake your foundation, but if you’re willing to weather it all, willing to accept help when necessary and patch up any damage, then you will be rewarded.

There’s point in not being hopeful. I know there have been times when I couldn’t imagine anything else or was so blind to my own suffering. But knowing that I am sitting here, feeling like I am, accomplishing all that I have thus far, it’s slightly unbelievable. I don’t know if it will ever really sink in, but if I can do anything with this present moment, I want to encourage others. I want to open the blinds so everyone can see the sunshine. Because the clouds cannot stick around forever.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Uncharitable Charity

I believe in giving. Whether that be in time, support, money, whatever else, our innate desire to charity is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. I will forever be in awe by the efforts of some people, past, present and future, who work hard to make the world a better place, starting with those who need it the most.

So when we think of volunteering or giving money to charity, it seems like an automatic response to do some good in the world. Plus, the “warm fuzzy” feeling of knowing you made even a small positive impact on others’ lives is enough incentive to give even a couple of extra cents to charity.

Except, although it’s not as widely known as it should be, not all charities are created equal. Not every feel-good organization is actually doing much good. The fact that the discrepancy exists in the first place is beyond frustrating. They are not only manipulating innocent people into funding selfish musings, but they are exploiting those in need as a business slogan. And when in 2014 alone, about $350 billion was donated to charity, we deserve to be informed as to where this money goes.

So what “charities” am I talking about here? What constitutes a bad charity? Well, these people know what they’re doing, that’s for sure. These deceptive organizations ask you for your financial support, many lie about where or to whom that money is allotted, sometimes paying themselves “multiple salaries” and “consulting fees.” Considering oneself a charity is simply a front to disguise greedy fundraising intentions, taking money away from reputable charities that actually make a difference and help others.

When a mere fraction of consumer payment is used as direct cash aid, then we have a clear problem on our hands. And disappointingly, many big names in the non-profit world are among some of the worst offenders.

Not too long ago, news broke that the Wounded Warrior Project fired many of its executive members because about half of donations go toward having extravagant events and bigger paychecks for the board directors. Even former employees, as told by CBS News, saw the ridiculous amount of spending on parties, fraud waste and abuse. This is money advertised as going to recovering veterans injured in war. But for some, living a lavish lifestyle is a higher priority.

Another charity I’ve recently gotten word of suspicious work is another familiar one: Locks of Love. I cannot think of the number of times I’ve heard of classmates and peers cutting off significant inches of hair knowing that it will go toward free wigs for cancer patients. Forbes reported that over $6 million in hair donations to the organization are unaccounted for. Compared to other hair donation organizations, it takes Locks of Love seventeen times as many hair donations to make each hairpiece. And many of the hairpieces are not necessarily free to cancer patients, but they must pay for them from their own pockets.

One more charity I’d really like to mention because even a sorority on my home campus supports it, but they definitely don’t deserve any extra funding. That charity is Autism Speaks. According to Autistic Advocacy, less than 4% of Autism Speaks’s budget goes towards the “Family Service” grants that are the organization’s means of funding services. While 32% of its budget goes toward research, only a small percentage of this research is aimed at improving the quality of life of autistic people. Although Autism Speaks has not prioritized services with a practical impact for families and individuals in its budget, its rates of executive pay are the highest in the autism world, with some salaries exceed $395,000 a year. On top of that corruption, Autism Speaks uses damaging and offensive fundraising tactics which rely on fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum.

Enough of the negative. Obviously there are millions of charities out there, so the chances that all of them are entirely good or bad is not realistic. However, it’s important to be aware of where your dollar, essentially your consumer vote, is going. The people are the ones deciding what issues are important and what organizations are at the forefront of those issues. We need to choose the best options possible if we truly want to feel good about charity.

Here are my thoughts on choosing your charity. I would say the best options out there are either choosing local organizations that you can consciously know and see the difference its making in the community. No matter how much I care about world issues and want to help every single person on the planet, some of the most overlooked groups are the ones right next door. Even better, if you have the chance, go out yourself and volunteer for the causes you believe in. You can embody the change you want to see, and the personal and collective benefits from that are astounding.

But if you’re still drawn to the larger national and international charities out there, do your research. Educate yourself on how these organizations divide up the income they receive. Know what they stand for. Learn about their history and the impact they’ve made and are currently making.

It’s easy to slap a charitable name onto a business and entice people in. And that’s when pessimism sneaks into our thoughts, darkening our view of the world and our humanity. But we still want to help others. We still act out of goodness. We still have heart at our core. Now it’s just time to have both our brains and hearts at their peaks to make true progress.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Speak Out

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment, a statement plastered throughout the building I have grown quite accustomed to over my college education.

So with all I have learned and experienced, it’s my right to express it. I’m not one to sit idly by while the world spins without me. I won’t accept defeat if I see discrepancy for not only me, but others who may feel helpless in a similar position. We all deserve a voice.

Unlike previous times I’ve felt the need to speak out on my own behalf, to tell my side of a story, I left plenty of holes for outside opinions to pick apart. That wide margin of criticism was my own fault, but it’s not like I had practice doing so. Today, clear facts are dictating my actions and words. There is little room to nitpick this time. I have a valid reason to be speaking out today. This is not only for myself, but for anybody else that may have been down a similar road. Hopefully, this will prevent anybody else from enduring the same frustration.

My entire college education, I have worked for my college’s independently run student newspaper. It has been one of my favorite aspects of being at college. I’ve met great people through the newspaper and have been able to find a passion in opinion writing and editing. I even continued writing columns for the paper while in another country. I have been dedicated to preserving the paper’s integrity and high standards, its reputation as a very professional setting and publication. With every column and editorial I have written, my hard work shows.

After my one misattributed source at my previous internship, leading to the removal of every story and public scrutiny, I received an email from my editor-in-chief. Although no article I wrote as an intern directly involved my work as an opinion writer nor my position for the student newspaper or the college, it’s still fair to ask questions. She understandably looked into two past columns that I quoted students, all of which I could easily refer back to word-for-word emails. From there, I heard nothing until receiving a one-sentence email saying that my work was no longer needed. I respect her position of authority to make such a decision, but to truly learn and move forward from that, I asked her for any sort of explanation. She replied saying, “The decision has been made. I don’t think any further discussion is necessary.”

I have emailed, texted, called, and messaged both the editor-in-chief or the managing editor. I have received no response from either person. I got in touch with former and current staff members. Most have no idea what is going on, but once hearing me out and knowing my character, they stand behind me with full confidence. Upon hearing that my exit from the newspaper comes without even mentioning any sort of context to the decision, staff members have all responded with similar comments, calling the limited interaction “unprofessional.”

I’m not hiding anything I wrote because besides the one piece I wrote, every other piece was accurately attributed to credible sources. Every piece of news reporting and opinion writing has been credible, well-researched and meticulously edited. 

I have received messages from six different sources I’ve quoted in my internship articles, all of which have affirmed their accuracy. Hypothesizing this as a valid reason for my termination, I tried sending those to my editor for greater clarity beyond what has been published by other news sources, but she ultimately blocked me on social media.

At first I thought I was the only one who has faced troubles with professionally resolving concerns with the paper’s current student editors. Again, upon recently talking to former and current staff members, I now see that my semester abroad has left me in the dark to the reality of the situation. My successor as opinion editor was also let go weeks into her work, being told, “Some people aren’t made for journalism.” She ended up changing her major altogether. Another freshman and sophomore dropped their prestigious journalism scholarships. Another columnist who worked under me wrote a detailed account of why, based on my experience, he no longer will write for them. He received a single sentence: “Thank you for letting me know.”

Trying to pursue any avenue I could, I was encouraged to contact department professors for any suggestions to move forward and find some sense of justice. However, because the newspaper is independent and entirely student-run, professors really have no control over it, nor have most shown interest in getting involved. They know of what has been published, as unflattering as it has been for me, and in this smaller scale case, it’s a “personnel issue.”

I know I did all I could as an intern for a larger organization, some of it backfiring on me, but for those directly affected, I made sure to resolve anything I caused based on my actions. I’m willing to admit that yes, one of my published articles had a fault, but I stand behind the integrity of every word I write. 

However, this decision is one meant to be pushed under a rug, expecting me to remain quiet and move on. This newspaper is highly regarded on my campus and beyond. But if current leaders are not supporting their writers and treating them with respect, I do not recommend other students to get involved. If a high-contributing staff member receives not even a chance to communicate to fellow peers nor a reason for those peers’ decisions, what lesson does that teach? How does one truly move on from a situation that could and should have explanation and closure.

I do not want to associate myself with an organization that won’t stand by its members, that won’t take the time to hear those members out and receive every piece of evidence at their disposal. That in of itself demonstrates integrity, maturity, and credible journalism. I’m not willing to settle and accept a flimsy decision and general disrespect toward myself and some of the most honorable, hard-working people I’ve come across.

People deserve to know every side of any story. This is no exception. Students should especially know about the organization that is representing their voice on campus. Students of any major, especially journalism, should be able to express concern and maturely resolve conflict within student-run organizations. How they may find a resolution is a work in progress, but as with anything, awareness is key. It’s our right to learn the truth and speak out for it. If journalism itself won’t do it, then we the people will.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

(Fit)Bits and Bobs

Since the dawn of society, humans have been conscious of their well-beings. Through different methods of tracking and calculation, people labeled and numbered their health. As time progressed, these modes of monitoring became more accurate and scientific through the growing use of technology. Today, society continues to expand health tracking opportunities, even stemming into user-friendly devices available to all consumers. These devices, commonly known as fitness data trackers, calculate a person’s daily steps, calorie intake, heart rate, and sleep pattern, all from the comfort of the user’s wrist. While the implications of these devices are noteworthy, allowing anybody to become more aware of their personal well-being, the technology’s influence through major scopes of life may reveal some flaws. Using the context of medical, professional, and ethical standards, fitness data trackers are still new devices that require improvement and are not best for all people.

From a medical standpoint, fitness data trackers encourage a healthier society, but the methods of doing so are not best for the majority. With the devices’ rise in popularity and other medical advances, the digital health care sector has seen a forty percent growth in recent years. Since the technology is still very recent in its fruition, the concept behind the trackers could expand even more to become more personalized for individual needs. Those who rely solely on their fitness trackers to measure their overall wellness may not be gaining the best perspective on their health. These people could also develop an unhealthy relationship with their tracker, obsessing over achieving certain numbers. Medically, fitness trackers measure everyday physical signs of a healthy life, but they cannot measure mental and emotional well-being, both of which are crucial aspects of a truly well-rounded state. To achieve optimal health, medical professionals must advise patients to not only wear a fitness tracker, but to also learn how to pay attention to their individual bodily cues and needs that a wearable tracker cannot provide. People focused entirely on a device for medical information can lose trust in their own bodies, if they may not function best according to a tracker’s standards, and in turn lose touch with their well-being over a piece of technology. In order to avoid abuse of a fitness tracker, individuals must set guidelines for themselves that place emphasis on traditional forms of health care, including annual physicals and potentially psychological therapy, and utilize a tracker not as a primary source of information. Health is not cookie-cutter, and through medical support, society can learn to both appreciate and criticize fitness data trackers, balancing both physical vital signs but also an immeasurable healthy mental state.

For some professional settings, the fitness data tracker has become a new staple incentive, but relying on collected numbers to provide employees with different benefits is unfair to those not using the trackers or not accurately representing their overall health, potentially affecting workplace morale. For many people—over sixty percent in one survey asking about the interest in wearing a fitness tracker to earn health care benefits—the chance to receive insurance premium discounts whilst providing employers their fitness information is very enticing. Companies can also keep track of how their employees might use a provided wellness program. Without proper consideration of those against fitness trackers, however, the devices bring about consequences hindering the workplace and relationships between employers and employees. Fitness trackers cannot identify specific medical conditions, and employers may easily disregard those situations if their sole goal in using fitness trackers is to lessen company insurance costs. Employers also need to provide participants with privacy rights and legal protections to prevent misusing data and overstepping (ha, puns) boundaries, potentially losing their employees trust and affecting their work ethics. Again, because fitness trackers do not determine overall well-being, employers should not use them as the only measure of their employees’ health. Employers providing wellness programs also need to prioritize giving workers other health care services beyond fitness trackers for the best service possible. Fitness data trackers have the capabilities to allow employers a greater insight into their workers’ livelihoods in and out of the office, but such capabilities come a greater need to redefine legal boundaries and accurate factors of optimal wellness.

Fitness data trackers encounter several instances of ethical questioning, especially regarding the accuracy of calculations and privacy of information. Technology is as flawed as the people creating it, so people must recognize that mistakes in the system are unavoidable. Most fitness trackers on the market are fairly accurate, but the numbers are not specific enough for the devices to give users an overall accurate portrayal of health. For example, if a device measures daily calorie intake without considering the type of calories consumed, such as those from nutritious foods compared to processed foods, the device may be painting a picture of external health while disregarding internal upset. From a utilitarian perspective, each individual must make their own decision to decide whether a tracker’s benefits outweigh its harms. Additionally, even consumers purchasing a fitness tracker outside of the professional sector may still be subjected to privacy violations. As with most software today, companies are constantly taking anonymous information to assess their products, but this fact may make many people feel paranoid, especially when that data pertains to their personal health. A fitness tracker, without any moral virtues, is very honest with the data it collects, and people who desire to keep their daily physical activities private cannot seek refuge. By choosing perhaps to wear the tracker occasionally rather than on a daily basis might alleviate some of this uneasiness, but fitness tracker companies do not endorse this practice, leaving consumers at an ethical dilemma. While every person is different, from an ethical perspective, the choice to support fitness data trackers or not is dependent upon an individual’s values of privacy and honesty, all of which are sensitive topics when involving personal health.

Indeed, from examining fitness data trackers using various scopes of everyday life, such as medical, professional, and ethical perspectives, this new technology is one that requires further innovation and consideration of individual needs. Technology continues to delve into different parts of society, but humans must still maintain their traditional values and practices for achieving wellness. Like any facet of life, balance is key. A fitness tracker is a great tool for mindful awareness of physical health, but other tools should also be utilized to remain mindful of emotional and mental health. Medical professionals, employers, individuals alike must remember to trust their own instincts and best judgments to create guidelines keeping technical and human qualities in mind. Fitness data trackers will not be leaving the marketplace any time soon, so consumers must gain a proactive attitude for deciding their own personal measures of health because wellness has no price tag.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Aim and Ignore?

Every single year of my public educational career, my classmates and I always knew what was coming. Not the subject material, nor the amount of homework some teachers may give, but the drills the school would perform to practice our safety quota.

Fire drills. Tornado drills. Lock-in drills. Evacuation drills. Rarely, if at all, were any of these drills ever held for real situations. Unless you count a college freshman cooking Easy Mac in the dorm microwave without adding water.

It’s smart to know what to do if anything bad were to happen, to be prepared in where to go and do when fear could so easily take over and completely numb us. If we were ever to be in danger, we must be informed as to how to best protect ourselves and others.

Except there is now a huge discrepancy in the effectiveness in these regularly scheduled practice drills. And it’s not just that when people know it’s for practice, they don’t actually take it seriously. That’s a whole problem of its own, one I’m guilty of myself and wouldn’t know the answer to without leaving everybody paranoid and panicky.

No, the problem here is that our traditional drills do not address a growing occurrence becoming far too common: active shooters. Gun violence of any kind. The fact that I cannot count the number of gun-related crimes and terrorist acts I’ve heard about in this past month alone is scary. With all that our society has endured, with all of the information we receive, we are no longer fazed by a shooting in a public space.

I am lucky enough to have never considered how to handle such a risk, but that is enough to scare me. To think if I was caught in the line of a gun and would have no idea how to safely react is scary, especially if the risk affects other innocent lives. Not once have I been in a public space, whether that’s a school, church or wherever else, and someone mentioned how to handle an active shooter.

I mean, ideally, we shouldn’t even have to face this problem. We should have gun laws that prevent deadly weapons falling into the wrong hands. But the issue of gun violence is not a new phenomenon. Ever since Columbine, gun violence hit the forefront of our lives, a possibility that may strike anywhere and affect anybody at any time.

So it only makes sense that we prepare ourselves and others about how to respond, the lessen the initial frenzied panic that may ensue at the sound of a gunshot. No matter where we may be, we can know we’re doing the best we can to stay safe. Rather than paranoia from including the drill into the swing of the routine, it should provide greater comfort knowing that you’re educated and aware.

Because not having this education available and required for people to learn is a crime in of itself. We should know by now that ignoring our problems do not make them disappear. They only allow those problems to flourish further. If we are at a standstill creating policies that decrease overall gun use and ownership, then the least we can do is prepare our lives accordingly. Having a gun-filled country leads to a greater risk for misuse. The more often we see gun-related crimes, the less we respond to them and the more approachable they are for those wanting to wreak havoc.

Luckily, Homeland Security does have information regarding this topic available. Unlike other dangers, active shootings are quick, only ten to fifteen minutes. That means that whoever is nearby must think and act quickly, and the best way to do so is to have the procedures and drills as common knowledge.

Evacuate. If you can’t, hide out somewhere. If you can’t hide, then take action, at least until law enforcement arrives. The police are the only ones who can effectively stop the situation, leaving victims vulnerable for those precious minutes. Just like any other dangerous situation, no active shooting will look exactly the same, but relying upon history and patterned behavior is a starting point.

I cannot predict the future, but if it looks anything like present day, then gun-related violence is an epidemic here to stay. We must adjust our safety precautions and priorities to fit this growing problem, a problem that has become a prominent thread in the fabric of American society. But the most powerful we should have is our knowledge. Our instinctual drive to protect each other. Our desire to know about the world around us.

Drills or gun restrictions. One or the other is necessary, unless we want to continue down the downhill spiral we’ve been seeing exponentially growing for years. We must pause and think for just a moment and realize this reality, the lives already lost, passing tragedies we have yet to learn from. So let’s learn. Let’s do something. I don’t want to be a sitting duck for the next violent incident. Of course we cannot prevent all violence, but ignorance will certainly fire back against us.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Lord, Why am I Depressed?

Ironically (or maybe not) enough, spirituality and mental health can often go hand-in-hand. When we reach emotional lows and struggle to find a reason to continue on this roller-coaster life, turning to faith and spirituality can be a powerful force in keeping us grounded. Having our focus shifted away from ourselves toward a higher purpose helps us gain a better perspective of how our personal obstacles might lead to greater clarity and strength.

Except, even as someone who considers herself both spiritual and mentally ill, I have not stepped foot into a church setting in quite a while, much longer than I’d care to admit. There are many aspects of what I’ve grown up knowing about church services and communities that weren’t my cup of tea. I don’t want to hear about any political or financial issues in my sermons, nor am I a fan of mindless greeting and handshaking (especially if I forgot the hand sanitizer).

Those reasons may sound very superficial, I know. And I would love to hunt for a church family that I really identify and feel comfortable with. However, I do think places of worship can be often overlooked as to how they acknowledge and treat mental illness. Understanding mental health from a spiritual perspective can be tricky, but boy is it necessary.

Especially when historically, mental illness was met with claims of satanic influence, treatment involving exorcisms and church mediation. Demons are the ones clouding our judgment and changing our emotions to “become completely different people.” Unholy. Tainted. Sinful, surely.

Opening up about mental illness doesn’t feel like an ideal conversation starter in many cases, and Bible studies and Sunday services are no exception. Stepping into a confession booth with a priest isn’t an ideal form of therapy. But churchgoers and workers must realize that with the prevalence of mental illness among the population, we are always crossing paths with those waging wars we’ll never see. Just as many congregations have lists of people to pray for in times of need, why not include mental illness on that list?

Because the stigma surrounding mental illness has subsided unevenly. Certain settings are more accepting than others. For so many, their spirituality is an important aspect to their life that should complement their daily thoughts and actions, not clash with it, leading to guilt and doubt. To me, that’s not the point of having faith and believing in a higher purpose. People should not feel driven to pray and worship as a means to right all of their wrongs and feel like they are forced to do so. We should be called to faith however it speaks to us individually, that it may inspire hope and instill stability.

Many people question spirituality, especially when tragedy and violence constantly strike the world. Why would a loving, good God allow these bad things to happen to us? Why do we lose loved ones and face difficult tribulations if we’re doing all we can? Why would God have so many people live each day with handicapping mental illness in the first place?

Call me naive, but I truly believe that our struggles are just part of the game that is life. They are unavoidable, and the purpose of faith is not to solve every little problem as we see fit. We’re ultimately not the ones in control, after all. We face obstacles because we can handle them. They shape us into stronger people who can better embody their truest forms.

There’s that one saying about how there are three answers to our prayers: yes, not yet, and I have something better. We cannot expect our hardships to make sense in the thick of their influence. However, believing in the beauty right around the corner keeps us going. Realizing how beautiful life already is despite the inevitable hardships keeps us going, too. Our perception of the situation can turn an awful experience into an opportunity for learning and growth, a greater awareness of God’s complexities and spirit within humanity.

So that’s where I stand with spiritual followers. But spiritual leaders must also emphasize this lesson. We should have to sit silently in our guilt and shame, fearful of the answer we might receive. Churches must be welcoming communities exuding the compassion required to accept each others’ challenges and remind us of our roots. Remind us that mental illness is not a sin, but a test of our will and faith. That we do not become mentally ill from our sinful natures, but from genetics and our circumstances. That we cannot pray away our problems, but we must face them and treat them accordingly. That the resources are out there, resources provided to us through God’s creation and knowledge to take care of our spirits and bodily temples.

We cannot turn a blind eye to mental illness in any setting. The church is often seen as an outdated place, one that is slow to progress with the rest of society. I see mental illness as no exception to this. Obviously it depends on the church and denomination and religion, but if we want to attract people back to these spiritual congregations (since battles are much more manageable with an army backing you up), we have to educate ourselves. We must face what might be uncomfortable but very necessary.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

 

Is Knowledge Power?

I’ve had this particular post stuck as a titled, empty draft for quite awhile. I knew I wanted to discuss the ever-evolving topic of knowledge, but it’s something I feel is over my head (word play slightly intended).

It first began with a TED Talk by Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings. My family is a big fan of the show. I like being home from work every day to hopefully answer a question or two correct.

The people on that show and many people in my life are so incredibly knowledgeable. They can pull facts and information at will. Somehow they’ve soaked up a bunch of subjects and can often rely on their own intellect when the appropriate situation arises. Maybe not always practical, but when there’s a random trivia question? Sure, why not?

But the need to have this type of knowledge seems to be dwindling. Instead of memorizing dates and facts and statistics, technology does the hard work for us. We can Google anything in seconds. The vast amount of information at our disposal is the largest it has ever been, and it continues to grow. And with our limited capabilities as human beings, we can only handle so much.

So that’s where technology shines. There is essentially no limit to what a supercomputer like IBM’s Watson can handle. We have reached a point where we ask the question, why try and compete? If a genius like Ken Jennings cannot even beat Watson, then why try and memorize anything?

For me, I struggle remembering anything that I don’t use on a daily basis. I know I memorized many different equations in algebra and calculus that, at this point, I cannot remember a lick of. Which honestly bums me out. This knowledge we pull out of nowhere is not necessarily beneficial on a day-to-day basis, and as we keep trying to push ourselves to work harder and be more efficient, it’s knowledge that we see as decreasingly necessary.

I’m not the only person talking about this. A recent column with the New York Times also discussed the debate of whether we really need our brains or not. If you have a resource like Google available, why use anything else? We have become dependent on keyboards and touch screens. And with that, we have allowed technology control over our own knowledge base. That’s scary. Not just because I’ve read multiple books about technology and robots taking over, but because that could easily become reality. Technology is being developed so quickly, we have yet to know of what repercussions might follow.

But humans aren’t robots, and that is where we shine. We may not have every answer to aggregate on a tidy web page, but a computer cannot understand the underlying context of your words and questions. It lacks emotion and passion when listing off related sites. Looking something up at a moment’s notice doesn’t allow the time to actually think critically. Having to look up every single question we have online is actually less efficient if it’s disrupting the task at hand, whether it’s solving a math problem or reading a book with a complex vocabulary.

Yes, those situations are generally in an educational setting, but inevitably, that’s where we have to start. College tuition prices continue to rise, drawing many more people to online classes to earn equivalent degrees. It’s easier and cheaper. But how much do people actually learn from hours spent in front of a screen? If Google is at your fingertips, chances are, that’s what’ll use for everything.

Our brains are organs capable of memorizing and learning. Heck, that’s how we evolved to our current state, with reasoning and curiosity. Every time you retrieve information from memory, it becomes a bit easier to find it the next time. True education comes from applying information to real-life settings. That’s why students studying for a test actually remember more if they quiz themselves than if they reread their textbook. That parades the right ideas before the mind, but doesn’t make them stick, just like when we read search engine results. You won’t learn your way around a city if you always use your GPS, but you will if you reason out your location based on memory of past experiences and routes.

Research is important. The resources we have are valuable. But they shouldn’t become the go-to for learning and growth. No matter your age, elementary school or college or beyond, we can’t learn that way long-term. Technology is a complement to what we already possess. Yes, it takes more work and effort to learn information for ourselves, especially depending on how strong your memory is, but education is one of our most important assets and basic human rights we have. Learning requires determination, patience, and perseverance, but learning is something we should be doing every day. We cannot allow technology to advance and let ourselves fade away.

Technology can never replace nor surpass human experience and wisdom. We are beacons of knowledge. We offer our own unique information to the world. And that information is not from a Google search.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Show Your Pride

The rainbow flags are flying high this month, so any support and awareness I can spread, the better.

June marks LGBT Pride Month to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.

Originally considering this post idea, I didn’t know if it was necessary. LGBTQ awareness has become much more prevalent in such a short amount of time. So many people feel empowered to step forward to fully embody themselves, however that may look. We’re shedding more light on what gender and sexuality truly are. We’re seeing far more representation of LGBTQ characters and figures everywhere we turn, and these changes are so heartwarming to me.

Except not everybody is following suit. The sheer fact that once Trump was inaugurated, the White House’s LGBTQ page was removed. As if an entire population just doesn’t exist. Going back to a time where not only was the community invisible, but any sight of it was shameful.

I even still see it in the everyday microaggressions around me. People making snide remarks, using slurs, considering violence against innocent people just living their lives. Not to mention the vast expanse of places where homosexuality is illegal, worthy of death. I don’t care who you are, but if you don’t have the heart to support a fellow human being, trying to reach the same goals as anybody else, to find happiness in their short lifespans, then I just hope you eventually will find some empathy and understanding.

Our way of thinking about gender and sexuality has transformed completely. I grew up never knowing people weren’t just heterosexual. I only knew the binary colors and activities of boys and girls. I didn’t know there was any difference between sex and gender. But as I’ve watched the LGBTQ community evolve and feel more welcome into the public setting, I am so grateful for everything I’ve learned.

Some of the best people I’ve met and friends I’ve made are members of this community. I love being able to better understand them and myself when it comes to perceiving the world, from feeling dejected and nonexistent and irrelevant. To fighting the stigmas and stereotypes we assume of those who identify in the LGBTQ community and realize the many ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, shapes and sizes that people can come in.

We’re all on a spectrum. Gender and sexuality are not stagnant, but fluid preferences that can fluctuate. People can enter the world knowing immediately that they love the same or both genders, that they don’t identify with their sex, that they’re different. To think of how many people, in the past, present and future, that may know themselves but never feel comfortable enough to share it with others, to always feel trapped in a dark corner, my heart aches. Or when loved ones completely denounce their children, friends or siblings, just for who they are. That’s not love.

And when we deny people their basic human rights, their freedoms and nonviolent desires to live a full life, that’s when people come desperate. We see skyrocketing rates of mental illness and substance abuse and suicide. Life is already hard, but to feel trampled upon by others, mocked for an aspect of yourself you have no control over? Nobody deserves that. If we don’t have access to stable means of support, if we don’t feel welcome leading a full life, it’s inevitable to feel hopeless, inadequate, a burden to others.

As with any other subject matter, our best form of defense against hate is education. An open mind willing to learn will always endure over a closed mind that may know “everything.” We keep growing every day in how we can create a society that promotes equality, and people will still try to fight back. It’s hard to change what we have always known, to allow marriage between the same genders, to have gender neutral bathrooms, to clarify in our policies that LGBTQ-identifying individuals are welcome and maintain the same rights as everybody else. We are creating new norms, accepting that asexuality is indeed a thing and not just in budding plants (an opinion I feel particularly strong about, might I add), using “they” as a singular pronoun for those who identify with both or neither gender.

With all of the supposed letters that can sometimes encompass the LGBTQ community, the actual labels of the people involved are of a lesser concern. The real purpose to focus on is a group of humans, coming together to fight for what’s right. A work in progress, but work that is well worth everything. The deaths of so many are not ideal, of course not, but it’s a part of our history, a history so many of us know only surface-level details about.

Regardless how you identify yourself, take this month to learn something new. Reach out to those who may be struggling. Celebrate our differences. The only way we can continue moving forward is to continue that essential dialogue, to remind ourselves of our humanity, an essence we all share. LGBTQ may feel very foreign, so different from what we’ve grown up knowing about how the world works, but guess what? Everything is more complicated than it seems. And the differences that we see dividing us by no means invalidate the similarities that thread us all together.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Page(s) a Day: Halfway There

I didn’t technically make this year one devoted to reading, but it sure seems like it. Some unconscious resolution to come back to a hobby I have always loved? Maybe.

I don’t consider myself a classy reader or a qualified literary critic, so I’m not about to give book reviews today. I simply want to acknowledge the difference reading has made on my year, starting in December 2016.

As of today, I have read through 28 books. Definitely not the most or least, but for me, that’s an accomplishment. I guess I never tracked my books like I am now, writing down the titles and authors to reflect upon and tally up, but it certainly helps in this example.

One disclaimer to get out of the way: I don’t have a specific number in mind for how much I want to read. Obviously I don’t have any place marker to compare to, so I’m just going at my normal pace and seeing what happens. If I read another 28 books by this December, great. If not, no biggie. I don’t want to restrain or pressure myself in the confines of a number to strive for.

I also think just making the goal for a certain number of books read per year defeats the purpose of reading altogether. Reading like I am is for pleasure only. For getting lost in stories and hearing new narrators and their unique voices in my mind guiding me along. New characters to become emotionally attached to. New plot lines that consume lazy evenings rather than mindlessly watching TV reruns or refreshing social media feeds.

No, what I read isn’t necessarily more productive than those last two pastimes. It’s not like I pick up nonfiction, biographies of interesting people or in-depth history lessons or just useful topics. I just cannot get myself to hold my attention long enough to enjoy that type of literature. And you shouldn’t force yourself to read or do anything you don’t genuinely enjoy. What’s the point of a hobby if it’s not worth your time and energy?

So I say any reading, fiction or nonfiction, is better than nothing. Call me a nerd or whatever you want, but I don’t understand people who hate reading, who didn’t read assigned books in English classes and avoid paperbacks like the plague. Maybe it’s just the English major in me that could easily spend my days locked in a room if a stack of novels is beside me.

I have mentioned it before, but I took quite a long gap of time in there where I never read. I just had no clue what to read or the motivation to find out. I occupied my time mainly with binge-watching television instead, but I was still quite consumed by my own thoughts to really distract myself without looking at a screen. We all go through those phases of picking up different interests and returning to old ones. Especially if you have the attention span of a squirrel, always bouncing around to whatever sounds best to you at the given moment.

Reading was my go-to while abroad in Canada. I filled my extra moments that may have resulted in unease with an escape somewhere else. I haven’t stopped since, probably because I remember how much I missed it. How often I used to read years before, the typical Twilight and Hunger Games series that made me feel like I was a part of something even just sitting on my couch, eyes dancing across the pages. My eyes feel at home resting upon paper rather than a screen, something I’ve come to realize about myself.

Again, I didn’t mean to read as many books as I have, but once I start a good book, I have a hard time putting it down. And I’m not picky when it comes to finding my next read. Sure, I should get to picking up classic titles that are of a “read this before you die” status, but new releases and provoking cover art calls my name.

So if anybody is interested, I can keep you updated on how my reading goes. Let you in on whatever my next title is, what I think about the latest story, whatever else you’d like to hear. I’m by no means a professional critic. But trust me, if I have something from a book to rant about, you bet your bottom dollar I will.

But if anything, whether you enjoy reading or running or movies or rock-climbing or whatever else, make time to do the things you love. A little something every day. You deserve it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Immediate Relief

Sometimes emotions just rise up within me without a forewarning. A sudden rush that overtakes me, blurring my logic, dizzying the world around me as if I truly am underwater.

In most cases, I’m using this metaphorical terms to describe anxiety. I’m very lucky that mine is kept at bay the majority of the time. I don’t reach a panic-attack level too often, at least I don’t think so. My everyday anxiety, a condition that is still very high functioning, comes out in my acute sense for detail and order, my constant restlessness in my extremities, and a racing mind that doesn’t want to settle into decisions or plans very easily. I mean, it’s not normal to become completely flustered over something simple as what to have for breakfast.

So it makes sense that I have some sort of medication that can help calm me down when a very panicky moment arises. After a year of taking a daily antidepressant for my everyday symptoms, mostly geared toward my chronic depression, I was recently prescribed a short-term, fast-acting medication to soothe panic attacks.

As a side note, I’ve become much more comfortable with the fact I’m on medication. Originally, when first learning of my mental health, I didn’t want to go down the route. Maybe out of shame for thinking I needed that much help or just a distrust in its capabilities, it took far too long for me to actually ask for medication.

But this medication is a little different. I have different fears about this as I learn more about the different mental health medications out there. Whether it’s Ativan or Xanax, the short-acting anxiety relief medications have a tendency to be addictive. That doctors might have to sit down with patients who keep asking to refill their prescriptions far too often. While I know I have the self-control and discipline of a monastery monk (that’s the nicest way to put it), I still fear a dependency on a pill to handle my own emotions. That instead of just breathing through a wave of panic, I turn to outside means to cope.

There’s nothing shameful about that. Not at all. I just believe that medication can and should only go so far. Medication is a valuable technology we capitalize on, but we begin to doubt our own strength to take on the tougher moments. We can not swallow down some pills and assume life will suddenly become a lovely stroll through the park. Handling anxiety should be a combination of techniques. Or maybe even one works just fine. But there’s no hurt in exploring your options.

I don’t only hesitate taking anxiety medication for the sheer fact it’s in a little pill. I just don’t know how I feel about the mentality behind it. By immediately feeling panic and popping a pill, am I avoiding my own problems? Will I self-medicate to know I’ll immediately feel differently versus me working it out on my own, more time-consuming but maybe more rewarding? It’s undoubtedly a tough line to walk along. I cannot speak for anybody else, but I don’t know if I’m willing to sacrifice feeling like myself, even in a frantic mood, for calmed nerves within ten minutes. I guess I’ll try.

So that’s what I did. Since it’s recommended to try the anxiety medication at home before actually needing it to see how you react to it, I did just that. I definitely felt a difference. A slightly uplifted feeling, but not necessarily high. I could see how that might alleviate that immediate breathlessness and calm people down. Except I don’t know if it’s just me getting used to how that feels or my reaction to most medications, it was accompanied with a dull headache and not-too happy stomach.

Will I immediately pull it out whenever I’m overwhelmed by a crowd of people or social situation? Maybe. It, like anything else, is a learning process. Heck, I’m still learning about how to best treat my depression, let alone the anxiety. Would it be much easier for me to just automatically click into an action plan to perfectly handles every symptom I may face? Of course, but life doesn’t work that way. I wouldn’t want it to either.

I cannot tell you how much I’ve learned since first realizing my own situation and the large-scale reality of mental health. It has become a new project and passion of mine that I know I will carry with me in everything I do. Without my years of trial and error, what would I have to talk about every week? And even with all of the work and effort I’ve already put into taking care of myself, I don’t even know if I will find that “perfect recipe.” We cannot set expectations for ourselves and our treatments, whatever they may be, to be an end-all key.

Yes, capitalist society is known for promoting constant productivity and progress and instant gratification for minimal effort. Relying on a strong, fast-acting medication has the same expectations. We expect some magical experience partying on cloud nine. But that isn’t life. That isn’t human. With medication that brings on a high, to breathing techniques meant to ground, where are we supposed to find a happy medium?

So the journey continues. Maybe Ativan isn’t really for me. But I’d like to think something out there is, in pill form or otherwise. With each step I take, I know I’m slowly getting closer to my personal “normal.”

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie