A New Challenge

As my mind was wandering around today, I stumbled upon a great idea. An idea that I using as a test for myself. A good test.

Since tomorrow we will be seeing the beginning of a new month, I wanted to mix things up a bit. Usually with my blog thus far, I think of something I write plenty of opinionated words about and roll with it, no exact rhyme or reason for it. I find inspiration from things happening in the world around me and whatever is going on in my head.

But November is no ordinary month. Well, technically it is, but I feel it’s specifically set aside as the beginning of the winter holiday season. (You have not yet seen my hyped-up behavior over Christmas. Just you wait.) But before Christmas comes another one that tends to be taken over by food and football: Thanksgiving.

This month I’m taking that name seriously. We aren’t making hand turkeys every day, but I wouldn’t judge you if you did. No, I’m using every weekday blog post to give my thanks to something in my life. It could really be anything. I have a few ideas in mind already, but so far, I don’t have much planned out.

In general, I’m a pretty gracious person. I really make sure I take the time to show everybody how much I appreciate them and the things they do. But if it’s something that almost becomes an automatic response, it loses its genuine touch. Why not use some time this month to really devote my energy toward crafting words that express everything I feel?

On the other end of things, there are so many things I feel like we easily take for granted. Life is busy and chaotic at times, so much that we forget to slow down and really observe those little details in the world around us. Time isn’t slowing down for everything, and things are constantly changing. This will be a chance for me to slow down and open my eyes beyond my own tunnel vision. The little details can be the ones that really make life worth living.

In a way, this is also me taking a crack at a gratitude journal. I see it on Pinterest enough and even other bloggers who set aside time every day to make note of things they are grateful for each day. That discipline and thoughtfulness is admirable, and I’m slightly jealous. I’ve tried in the past to be consistent with a gratitude journal, even iPhone apps that are a simple list of a couple items each evening to mention. Even though I’m only planning for a month, maybe this will be the extra boost I need to motivate myself toward making this a lasting habit. I’m a true believer that we are all capable of creating the lives we want whenever we choose. If you see yourself as someone who meditates on gratitude every day, what’s stopping you from becoming that person?

Whoever is reading this, I challenge you to join me. You don’t necessarily have to write a thousand word blog post every day, but at least take a few seconds to think of someone or something that deserves some recognition. It could be as simple as few extra seconds lingering on the beauty of nature or sending a quick text message to someone you love. It’s the thought that counts. And before everyone gets busy again with final tests and projects and preparing for the December holidays, we should make the most out of our time by dedicating it toward the people and things that matter most.

I think of those who may be endearing some seasonal depression looking ahead at this long winter months. Take this challenge as a daily reminder of the sources of light present even on the dreariest of days. Even if you love this time of year like I do, thoughts of depression or anxiety don’t just disappear when you want them to. Even a quick positive thought can make a drastic difference in our daily outlooks.

While everyone is probably hyping themselves up over Halloween today and everything spooky, I’m looking forward to what this next month entails. I always like to see the beginning of a new month as a fresh start and welcome change, but I see this month as a potentially even more exciting change. I have no expectations yet of how this month will all go, but I am looking forward to what every day might bring. Who knows, maybe I’ll start doing more themed ideas more often. We’ll see what happens.

Maybe I’m already outdoing myself, but before the month even begins, I want to thank each and every one of you who are reading this for joining me on this journey, and I hope you will stop in each day as this month unfolds.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

College Venting

No, not the ventilation system. I can see how my titles can be quite vague.

I know I have already talked about my troubles with test anxiety. That is very mental and even though it sounds like I’m just complaining on both of them, I swear I’m not. The previous post was bringing to light the constant juggling involved with managing mental health and education. This post, on the other hand, I can wholeheartedly say is complaining.

Let me set the scene: for one of my required Honors courses, a major aspect of the class is writing a “mini-thesis.” That is, a fifteen-page research paper about a random topic. So technically not short enough to keep it straightforward and to the point, and not long enough to go in depth on the subject matter. It’s a very awkward spot to be in.

But I’ve written research before. I actually did quite well on a research paper in high school about children’s educational television. Admittedly it’s been awhile. I picked a topic I am interested in–how veganism affects mental health–and got crackin’. If you’ve read my blog more than today, you would know that the matter is complicated enough to write about consistently every week, so having to make a cohesive paper in 15 pages and still get my point across isn’t exactly easy.

Another challenge is the fact that neither topic has much research to go from. Both are surrounded by plenty of stigma. So a lot of my paper is having to draw my own conclusions and make these connections with any information I can find. It’s not like I have a multitude of astounding statistics to share. I love writing, but that kind of writing isn’t my cup of tea. Hello, I’m here rambling on about my own opinions and perspectives. Having to incorporate research in isn’t second nature.

With any assignment, and especially essay, I cannot tell you how much time I’ve spent on this. I would guess at least 24 hours expanding and writing and researching. That’s a low guess, too. I just know it was long enough for me to be sick of the whole thing and never wanting to look at that paper again. If only.

I received feedback last week for my latest draft. Side note, this “final” draft had approval from several very intelligent people, reassuring me that my argument makes sense and flows well. I knew coming into class that we would be receiving a mock grade and rubric for our essays, but I was certainly not expecting what I did.

If I had turned in my paper when I wanted to, I would have HOPEFULLY gotten a C. Translation: my professor was less than reasonable and I was about to have a mental breakdown. She told me my claims aren’t supported enough, that things don’t make sense, that I have to reorganize everything, that my writing has “significant flaws.” Even just thinking of it again, I want to curl up in a ball and just be done with everything.

Not to say I haven’t had some difficult professors. Going through school and striving for the best marks possible, you learn very quickly to pay attention to the teacher’s wishes and work accordingly. I had one of those last year. I went into his office every single week to have him look over my work and give me feedback. At least then I could figure out his style and by the end of the semester, I was his go-to student. Some people would probably say I’m a teacher’s pet. I would just say I know the value of building a relationship with the right people.

So even though my past professor’s wishes weren’t in my liking, I wrote to them anyways. And this is a very similar situation. Besides the fact that I have a week to turn everything around to respond to critiques that make very little sense. The assignment doesn’t lend itself to being easy as is, and my topic is one with very little research behind it. But I’ve never been one to shy away from an academic challenge.

In situations like these, I am disappointed in the education system. If you can get someone who loves learning and growing in the classroom setting to want to completely give up and lose all passion behind their work, I feel like that’s slightly counter-productive. Of course we always encounter those challenges in everyday life, when we work so hard on something just to receive a punch in the gut. And sometimes the response and solution to that just doesn’t make sense. They don’t have to make sense. That’s life. But in those cases, you don’t have to directly face the challenge. In similar cases, if I have to communicate with someone up front in a negative situation and I respect this person’s authority, admittedly, my first instinct is to cry. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know. In this instance, however, I was just bitter and frustrated, and I certainly didn’t hide it.

Today I just needed to rant. It’s been a long week, as every week feels. But I know others can relate to feeling so confident about a project or assignment or really anything, just to have someone else completely tear it down. It’s not fun. It’s very stressful. In the past, this could have easily driven me into skipping a few meals to rewrite the whole thing. That isn’t happening this time. With a solid foundation and resiliency, I know I can handle this. I wasn’t expected it in the slightest, but if I know I deserve an A, you bet your bottom dollar I will get that A. I work way too hard not to.

If you learn anything today, it’s that you are capable of proving others wrong. If you think you deserve something, work for it. Will there be plenty of obstacles in the way? Of course. But the end result will be worth it, whether you’re in school or not. Sometimes the things we’re good at and assume will be easy throw curve balls at us. When we take care of ourselves first and know our worth, we can take them in stride. That doesn’t mean I can’t still complain about them.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Follow Me?

I’m not the typical picture of a leader figure. I don’t know how to raise my voice. People usually assume I’m still in high school. I’m not intimidating or authoritative in any way. I avoid conflict at all costs. And when I try to verbally communicate, I pray I make sense. So when I find myself in a leadership or mentor position, I find myself very confused as to how to best fill that role.

I remember in high school, the big goal I and other over-achievers strived for us to have some sort of leadership position in every activity we were involved in. Even if it wasn’t your immediate interest, simply filling up your resume for college and scholarship applications was basically the whole point of high school. Which is probably why I didn’t like it because I felt obligated to compete with everybody else to point of stressing myself out. Yeah, not a big fan. The college environment of simply going about my day, trying my personal best and getting my education. The GPA aspect isn’t as heavy as just getting to the end goal of a degree.

But that doesn’t mean the competitive-perfectionist mentality is thrown out the window. I still feel like I need to do more, do better. Just being involved in an activity or club isn’t enough. Not having a full resume is not good enough. Probably not healthy, but the education system lends itself to those thoughts. So I’m still facing the problem of how to achieve higher, leadership roles and how to fill them effectively.

My favorite leadership position I’ve been in was as my high school newspaper’s editor-in-chief. Even though I’m not the exact personality type for asserting myself and my authority, I still feel more comfortable with the work involved and issues (pun intended) at hand. When the topics are 0nes that I’m passionate about, it makes everything that much easier and more rewarding. If I’m sitting in a position that I don’t particularly care much about or feel qualified enough to do, that’s when things get awkward.

This semester I am the opinion editor of my college’s newspaper. Last week I gave a little presentation to prospective freshmen interested in the journalism program with my adviser. In my head I was picturing myself in my element and these kids somehow awed by my wisdom and experience. But I’m still just me. I’m certainly not a journalism expert. I don’t have all the answers. This is only my second in college, period. I again felt out of place, thinking that somebody else should be standing in front of these people rather than me. And in comes the self-doubts, the anxieties, the awkwardness.

Now that I look back on that little experience, I’m glad I’m not a typical leader. I don’t think I’m a godlike figure that knows everything and is always right. I know what it’s like to be completely clueless and uneasy. I’ve been around a fair share of dominating personalities that wants to bulldoze over everybody’s opinions. I think leaders who have a more quiet, peaceful force are underestimated because they aren’t as outspoken. But if you find your groove and are still effective, I think you can be a true force to be reckoned with. It’s not automatically taking the driver’s seat, but observing the situation and the people involved and knowing when to take the reins or step aside for other voices to chime in.

I am a strong believer that a situation is only awkward if you make it awkward. That one phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” can be quite useful. It’s okay to admit that you aren’t perfect. You’re just somebody to offer guidance and ideas for others. You can come in with some ideas, but sometimes just brainstorming with others and listening to their ideas can bring about great things. Introverts like me can see a leadership position and scurry away, but we can offer some amazing insight and a different perspective that could otherwise be overlooked. And when we perhaps go against our instincts to step up and take on that role, it gets easier and less terrifying.

Especially in situations you feel strongly about. If you feel confident and passionate, it shows. People respect that. Don’t doubt your knowledge or opinion because you are worth listening to and following. Before you can lead others, you have to, I guess, lead yourself, or at least be comfortable with your position and ideas. You can balance between being aware of the tasks and topics at hand whilst still being willingly to know when to back off or admit when you don’t know something or make a mistake. A leader is still a human. And a leader is just one face in a group or project; everybody has a role to fill.

I don’t look like a leader. I’m as threatening as a baby koala. But I know that if I feel the pull and ambition to step up to the plate, I can handle it. I have skills and knowledge to offer others. It might not be delivered in a way people are used to in leaders, but I can still get the job done. Just don’t expect me to think of clever ideas on the spot or raising a ruckus. Leadership is a two-way street. A leader is nothing without people who believe in them. Believe in yourself, and the rest will surely follow.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

You Don’t Understand

What a tricky situation to be in. Life would be far too easy if we could just understand each other completely and genuinely empathize with any situation anybody is going through. I think we’ve all had at least one awkward moment trying to console a troubled friend, but feeling helpless to their particular situation, so all you can do is pat their back and hope things get better.

If comparing this feeling is like getting left out on an inside joke, this particular situation is a very sick joke.

It’s common for those who have or currently have an eating disorder to not talk about it. That’s usually the last instinct. Besides the fact it’s hard to even describe into words, but it really is one of those things that you have to deal with yourself before you can even imagine what it feels like. The closest I might say to compare the thoughts and behaviors to is any other addiction, drugs or alcohol or self-harm. That you know it’s wrong to give in to those temptations, that you would feel much better without them, but in the immediate moment, it feels like the only option.

I say all of this because I had a day last week I just did not feel good. Simply put, I felt like I gained weight. And I didn’t like that. That thought is undoubtedly the one that has triggered virtually all of my relapses into restriction. I’m unsatisfied with how I look, leading me to believe I’m a failure and have lost control, and of course, I know exactly how to “cure” it.

But I don’t tell other people if I ever come across these triggering moments. Probably only somebody I know I can talk about that with because they have had similar experiences in the past. Otherwise, it’s just really hard to understand. I have some amazing people in my life, but if they know I’m feeling down and explicitly ask me what they can do to help, I’m at a loss.

Ultimately, these thoughts are, indeed, thoughts. Nothing else. I probably hadn’t magically gained ten pounds that day. My brain just told me I did, and the brain is ridiculously powerful in how it perceives the world and ourselves. The only way I could stop myself from feeling so triggered was to wait it out. That’s it. Take care of myself and hope for a better tomorrow. People can say nice things to me, but that really doesn’t do much. I am the only one capable of coping with my disordered mind.

That doesn’t mean I am blown away by the people even willing to try, or at least listen to how I might describe myself in that moment. They might not understand, but they’re there. They want the best for me. Just having the reminder that I am not alone, that I am loved by many people, can do wonders. Because I really do need reminders sometimes. Something to pull myself out of the recesses of my mind and back into reality. A reality where people don’t care what I look like on the exterior, but how my interior shines through. A reality where the only person seeing and judging how big my thighs or love handles look on any given day is me.

I’ve recovered and relapsed several times, so I know the feelings of changing my ways but one off moment triggering the downward spiral all over again. For something that makes you feel like you are in complete control, what a grand illusion it plays. Might as well call it David Copperfield. I’m in such an amazing place right now and haven’t even had thoughts like that for many months. It was almost a cringe-worthy reminder that hey, that voice may have been quiet for awhile, but it’s not going away any time soon. Probably never, which I’ve come to accept. Not that it makes it any easier.

So for those in my situation, don’t automatically go silent when the moment arises. You’ll never know how your loved ones will help and support you, even if none of them have had an eating disorder. Their presence and existence alone is a blessing. Whether they are a nice distraction or a shoulder to lean on, let them. Don’t push them away. They can be the ones to help you find that inner strength you need to save yourself.

And for those in the opposite situation, don’t expect to be able to directly fix the problem. It’s not that easy and it’s not your job. Just be a steady support system, tell the person you’re always there, to provide that stagnant and steady control that they feel is slipping away. Let them cope how they do best, but simply keep them afloat. Don’t force them to things you think would help, just make them feel secure and comfortable. It really can be that simple.

You don’t have to understand. You just have to care.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A New Project

So as I’ve mentioned previously, I have to complete an Honors thesis project over the next year. I am happy to tell you that I’m starting to put a plan into motion. It’s so nice to have some sort of idea of what I’m doing. Key words: sort of.

My professor/Honors program director approved of my tentative plan for a thesis, all I have to do is write up a little abstract summary, get a few signatures, and get crackin’. And luckily, the project I have visualized is one that should be very motivating.

Here comes in the new category on my blog. It’s that big of a deal. I want to write a book. Creative nonfiction. The idea first came from this very place, from finding so much fulfillment and joy from writing these weekday blogs and talking about the things I care about. Well, now I’m putting it on another page. A sheet of paper. I want to have the put organized by short, easy-to-read essays/chapters, very much like the format I use on this blog. If I’m whipping out 800-1000 words every day, why not make good use out of it?

This project is one that will be very different from others Honors students. Most of them are medical biology majors anyway, but most people at least do long research projects and papers. While I don’t mind writing a research paper, it’s not what is calling to me. Having to research one very specific topic for an entire year could be daunting if I lose motivation. Which, knowing me, I would. I did this summer when I tried to write a sample thesis about social media in this year’s presidential campaign. On paper, that sounds very interesting. But I just couldn’t get into it.

I work in a very specific way. Some people are appalled by the sheer fact that I write five blog posts a week. I don’t even think about how much work that probably seems. Probably because it doesn’t feel like work to me. It fits my working style very well. As a creative person with a few loose bolts upstairs (I don’t mind making fun of myself), I get really random spurts of energy and inspiration and I just roll with it. That usually means that I don’t write anything for several days, and then write up multiple posts in one day. It’s hard to predict when those moments might arise, so I rarely sit down without a specific idea in mind and expect myself to do work.

Not only my creative work style, I have always had the goal of publishing a book one day. I’m studying journalism, but my heart is always in creative literature.  Journalism is just a more practical degree. There’s a reason I love editing my newspaper’s opinion section and have not once considered doing any besides that. Writing hard news and for certain media platforms require adherence to certain guidelines and ideals, but I’m not one to put myself into a box. I’d much rather see my name on the sleeve of a hardcover. I want my voice to shine.

You may be wondering: what the heck is this book even about? If you couldn’t guess already, the tentative title is Finding My Happy. The inspiration came from a text I received from my mom recently about how despite the challenges I’ve faced, I have found myself in my own place, stronger and more vibrant than ever before. I want the collection of personal essays to range in similar topics I discuss on my blog, very centered on mental health and everything that entails.

It’s not like I’ll have some new profound information to add to the conversation. It’s not like I’m a special case unique from anybody else encountering similar problems. But I find that a point in of itself. That we somewhat expect very distinguishing characteristics of those with mental illness, or we only pay attention if a celebrity or someone influential mentions it. Everybody else is just white noise. I would like to dispel that notion. Only when every single person can feel empowered to break that stigma and shame. When we realize that every voice does matter and to actually listen.

Will my plans change somehow over the course of my project? Inevitably. But at this very moment, I am beyond excited for what the future may hold with this. It’s like I had this dream pushed far back from my immediate attention, and just the thought of turning it into a reality, or at least being able to say that I wrote an entire book on my own, is so gratifying. Is it a project directly related to my field of study? Not necessarily. Call me a dreamer, but if I could, I would want to do this for the rest of my life. Let my fingers dance along the keyboard or scratch words onto a piece of paper and see where the journey takes me. The fact that I might have some readers out there seeing the work in real-time progress is also something new and exciting. We’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed.

I’m not one to stick to new habits or self-directed projects for very long. This is different. This is a passion. This is my book to write. This is my story to tell.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

No (Test) Pressure

You would think that someone like me who has been in the education system for plenty of years, is two semesters ahead in college credits, and still potentially plans to attend graduate school, would be able to manage the typical situations involved in the classroom setting. What a funny joke.

Just because I haven’t been officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s most definitely present. If I’m not slightly depressed, chances are that I’m anxious. They flip-flop between each other, a see-saw in my mind, never able to rest in the middle until something heavy gets dropped on one side. If only my mind was a playground. Then I could at least try out the swing sets.

Totally off topic with that metaphor. But when it comes to school, I have never been the best test-taker. Luckily I won’t have to face any standardized tests any time soon. Taking the ACT in high school three times is enough for me. Those situations themselves are basically designed to invoke stress. It’s not like the information on the test itself is difficult, it’s the time management skills that are truly tested. Everyday tests still have time restraints, they’re just much more realistic.

So if time isn’t the problem here, why do I get so ridiculously anxious about taking any tests? It doesn’t matter if it’s a bulky midterm full of short answer questions or a simple 10 question vocabulary quiz, I still feel like I’m about to pass out. I can’t stop fidgeting, my heart pounds, my stomach is in knots, and any amount of adrenaline in my body kicks into high gear.

Even though I have a solid GPA and I love learning, I always grew up with a mentality to put out my best work. Knowing that if I work to fullest potential I can earn top marks, that’s what I expect of myself every single time. Of course that isn’t possible. That’s just another perfectionist fantasy. And yet every test of my knowledge has me crossing my fingers and hyperventilating in fear of the worse. As if I’ll end up with a failing grade or something goes wrong and my entire educational career is ruined. Even just writing it all out helps me visualize how nonsensical it is, but I overthink everything too much to not jump to those conclusions every test day.

And this anxiety is really exclusive to assessments. I used to be a little uneasy about in-class presentations or speeches, but I got over that quickly. Heck, when I took my freshmen speech class last fall, my professor asked if I was interested in joining the school’s speech team. I can practice and prepare for those situations until I feel comfortable and confident. There’s a lesser chance for surprises. Unlike tests, where hopefully teachers give out some sort of study guide or direction, but you still don’t get to see test until that very moment. In that way, it’s out of my control. I fear questions I have no inkling on how to answer. Or trick questions that leave me between two answers, and I’m someone that usually picks the wrong one in that 50/50 shot.

You probably can already guess how I feel about writing essays. I would take an essay over a test any day. Except really long research papers. I’ve been finishing one of those up over the past month, and that’s been slightly grueling. But I still have plenty of time to devote toward producing the best work possible. On test day, you just go in and hope for the best. You can only prepare and study so much until you reach the point that you just want to take the test and be done. You know you’ve done all you can, and now it’s time to put that knowledge…to the test. (Yay, puns).

I wish I could offer some advice for those who face the same feelings that I do when it comes to tests. Just having good study habits in general helps in preparing for that test, but the day of, it’s all about pulling out that coping toolbox to calm and ground yourself. Or even include some positive affirmations that you can handle anything that is thrown your way. Treat yourself for handling the situation and knowing that whatever happens, you did your best. Even if that best means a lower grade than you were expecting. It’s not the end of the world. (And if you could get me to listen to these words myself, that would be nice).

Ideally, I would want an education system that prides itself on just learning. You go at your own pace, learn what you want and need, and apply to everyday situations for future reference in a workplace setting. Outside of education, the specific skills required to take tests probably won’t be needed after graduation. Test-taking skills themselves don’t even measure your ability or intelligence. It’s just a matter of practice.

I would probably handle the situation better if my mental illness didn’t get in the way, but I can’t plan it all on anxiety. It’s just a fact of life that I’ve come to accept and work with. Is it an extra obstacle I wish I didn’t have to encounter? Of course. But I know it doesn’t define my life or academic performance. I’m in ultimate control. Anxiety can just be pretty loud when it feels like it.

As the saying goes, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Things don’t necessarily get easier. I get the same amount of test anxiety that I always have. I just get stronger and more capable of handling it. Do I get a gold sticker for that?

Balancing Act

Look at me, I’m overthinking again. What’s new?

I’ve had several weekends in a row where I’ve been on the go and traveling, which have been very exciting and fun. But I am beyond grateful I am taking time for myself to just relax and enjoy some quiet solitude. At least until I stop thinking about how I should best spend my time.

Innately, especially at college, weekends are my time to do absolutely nothing. I get lazy about doing my homework, I spend most of the time on the computer, and allow myself to take a breath after not really letting myself relax all week. But then I hear from or see others out doing exciting things. Even when I know I crave this downtime, I feel guilty.

I think this comes from a worry about balancing my priorities right. I love the people in my life, family and friends alike. I’ve found a great support system. But then I also dedicate a lot of my time and energy toward academics and my goals. Both are very important to me. Simply put, I’m a workaholic. And it’s almost easier that way for me, which kind of bothers me.

Call it irrational, but I feel like if I didn’t check myself, I could easily end up as a crazy dog lady working constantly and never keeping any relationships. I know I wouldn’t let myself get to that point, especially when I’m consciously aware of it, but when I do come to these weekends where communicating with others like a normal human being feels impossible.

Which I probably am using up too much energy on school, but I can’t see myself doing it any other way. Heck, I’m taking 19-20 credits this semester alone. I plan to graduate a year early and probably go on to do more school or whatever I see fit. Even in middle and high school, I never gave myself a study hall or an open period until senior year, which even then, I was drowning in stress. I know if I gave myself more free time, I would just get bored. I always need something to think about and be doing. Otherwise I feel like I’m not doing enough and just worry about another problem. What a vicious cycle.

And in those times where I do go out, in the back of my head, I’m still tethering on the thought of what task I need to accomplish next and homework I have left to do. Rarely do I give myself a true break during the school year. Heck, I started this blog this past summer so I would still have something to work on and think about rather than feel like I’m wasting my life away binge-watching TV.

I feel like such a hypocrite when I say how much I treasure and value the great people in my life, yet simultaneously avoid everyone to finish that one paper my depression allowed me to procrastinate but my anxiety is panicking now for me to finish it.

I love that I have these big goals in my head, knowing what I want and working toward it. My work ethic is something I pride myself on. I just can’t let it overcome me. My head is already thinking years in advance of how I want my life to be, that I can easily disregard the present moment.

That’s why I admire the mindful mentality so much. It’s what I strive to be. To ground myself in the present moment of what is happening and who I am. Sometimes the schoolwork can wait. I won’t be in school forever. I’ll get to a point where it’s just me, living life, and at that point, I’ll need those great people around me the most. But if I forget about them now, they’ll easily forget about me then. One of my biggest fears is being alone forever. Very irrational, but it’s true. Someone who is constantly searching for a moment alone can’t stand the thought of going home every evening to an empty home. Because craving alone time and feeling lonely are two completely different concepts.

Last year, my goal was to socialize with others once a month. It’s already been two months into this semester and I’ve already surpassed that immensely. But that doesn’t mean I feel like I can’t do better somehow. What I really need the most is people who accept the fact I’m probably busy 99% of the time, but still keep in touch and are there when I need them. And I need to realize how important they are and show it, even if that means going out sometimes when my instinct is to sit down and multitask between writing up an assignment or blog post whilst watching another TV episode. I’ll have all the time in the world at some point to do that. The work and the TV isn’t going away any time soon. But my college years won’t last forever, and these people presently here with me may come and go. I might as well cherish them while I can.

I don’t know if I’ll ever really master that balance, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. I know my limits when it comes to seeing others, even in low-key, relaxed situations. If I can set my mind to any goal I conjure up, I don’t see why I can’t make a goal of balancing my priorities and seeing everything I can accomplish. Right after I finish this next episode.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Sense of Self-ie

We’ve seen a fair share of selfie puns. The word itself makes me slightly cringe, but it’s a cringe you get used to.

As the rise of social media and its effects on culture have progressed in recent years, thus have the various trends and fads that pop up. One in particular that hasn’t left, and probably won’t any time soon, are selfies. It’s not like they never existed prior to this, but with those front-facing cameras with much higher quality than just a computer webcam, they have become synonymous with virtually every social media platform and website.

I mean, taking pictures of yourself has been around for quite some time. It just now seems to be an issue to some people about the number of these pictures others want to take, or what is “the norm” before you look conceited or full of yourself. Others assume those who take selfies just want attention and only care about their appearance.

I know people on every end of the spectrum. Some people will never post a picture of themselves in that context even if the world was ending. Other people just don’t really care and post selfies frequently. Heck, for some classmates from back home, that’s all they post online. And either way, I’m not about to judge them for their preferences.

Personally, I’m at a middle ground. I definitely have to be in the right mood and frame of mind to feel like taking a picture. Admittedly, I feel a tinge of satisfaction when other people like or comment nice things. I don’t rely on that completely, but it’s a nice little boost.

And this is coming from someone that has always loathed other people taking pictures of me. Why that is, I really don’t know because I’ve been hiding away from cameras my whole life. In recent years, I would say it’s more that seeing myself feels…weird. It’s hard to describe. I think we all wonder how other people see us, when our vision of ourselves can be so inaccurate. When the only time you see yourself is in a mirror or picture, how can it not be?

But this blindness to my own self of course goes back to body dysmorphia. I feel like I’m looking at a slightly familiar stranger. With a selfie, at least I can control how I want to look, even it takes twenty-million tries to find one picture I’m okay with. Key word: control. When somebody else is taking the shot, I have no idea how I might look or what angle it is or whatever else. Something so simple (and in the retrospect of everything, pointless) gives me an excessive amount of anxiety. I have this ideal image in my mind of how I want to look, and if any image goes against that, I really have to watch myself and my thoughts.

Selfies can easily become damaging. In my worst of times, I would rely on pictures of myself to try and judge how my body looked at that moment compared to previous times. Have I lost weight? Gained weight? Do I need to exercise or restrict? Even in middle school, I would take pictures of my face for the sheer opportunity to bash myself. It’s not like I even believed if others said my face wasn’t chubby or ugly. I was doing myself no favors. I was kicking myself when I was already down.

So I now tread a fine line, coming from the mindset I do. Is it still uncomfortable to ever think of accepting a compliment like a normal person? Absolutely. But I at least accept myself and am okay with how I look. I don’t put as much intense thought into it, and that in of itself is very freeing. And if I have the urge to switch to the front-facing camera, it’s because I’m having a good day and want to share it. That’s how it should be.

I think that if you have the self-love and confidence to share how great you look or feel with the world, go for it. That takes some guts. Just make sure your intentions are good. It should be for you, not to seek attention, whether it be positive or negative. Other people just don’t see the point in selfies at all, and that’s dandy, too. But don’t judge others who post them. Just let people live their lives and however they choose and whatever makes them happy.

You’ll never see me buying a selfie stick or even taking a selfie very often, but you will see me comment often on others’ selfies on how wonderful they look. Because everybody deserves that short moment of happiness. Instant gratification, sure, but gratification nonetheless. Might as well promote spread some support and positivity when I can, right?

Side note: please be cautious if you’re one to use editing software to manipulate your pictures. And for everybody else, just don’t take things too seriously. Social media is driven by the need to create the most desirable image possible, which is so surface-level. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but those thousand words don’t say much about what’s going on behind the scenes. Your thoughts create your perception which creates your reality. Choose those thoughts wisely.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Only So Far

This week (and by this week, I mean last week, according to when I actually write and post) has been very difficult for me. Simply put, I am a depressed and anxious mess as I simultaneously worry about doing well on my midterms and possess almost zero motivation or energy to focus on it. The only energy comes when I’m freaking out over getting everything done, except my rational mind tells me that I can easily accomplish everything.

These are the kinds of days when I just want to take a few sick days off and just let myself take a breath, except that isn’t a very reasonable option in college, let alone finals week. I have to remember that this situation and feeling is temporary and that everything will get better with time. If you know the feeling, however, that eventual light at the end of the tunnel seems nonexistent through the haze of mental illness.

One thought that crosses my mind is the medication I take. I began a daily antidepressant earlier this year, which luckily I only had to make one adjustment to the prescription was to go up a dosage. That didn’t necessarily make the side effects any easier, which mainly consisted of a pounding headache whilst feeling like my head was floating above my body, along with a woozy stomach. Not too fun.

One major note I need to make is that there is absolutely no shame in wanting or needing medication for your mental health. You wouldn’t want to bear the burden of allergies, flu, or a cold without any form of health, and mental illness is no different.

The results I have received from them are worth those few days of annoying symptoms. From first starting the medication, I was appalled by how different the world felt, as if I was seeing colors for the first time. It made me feel so hopeful and encouraged me further to work on myself. Sadly, that initial dosage, which was quite low to see how it might effect me, worked for only about a month before I felt myself not feeling any of those benefits anymore. That’s when I decided to double my dosage.

My family was understandably worried if that was the best option to take, but if I already felt positive effects before, a little more medication might do the trick. Which, since then, has been a wonderful decision. I have felt even better than before, but less of that “brand new world” feeling, and more of a greater appreciation for life and newly found resiliency to combat any negative thoughts that cross my path.

Well, for the most part. I do still have my moments, like this week, when life is very very tough. When getting out of a bed is one the hardest decisions to make. When I want to be focused on my schoolwork and activities, but all I can manage is staring blankly off into the distance. At the same time, every little moment out of my limited mindset provokes intense anxiety where it’s hard to breathe, my heart pounds, and I feel like I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It’s as if there are two forces in my head fighting against each other, one wanting me to do absolutely nothing, the other refusing to let me sit still even for a second.

When I first began medication, in the back of my head, I knew it wasn’t an end-all solution. I’ve read plenty of resources telling me that it took a combination of treatments to actually feel better, but the medication would make it easier. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish for such a simple way that I never have to face those demons again, especially as regularly as I do. The drug makes it easier to fight back against them, but I want them to destroy them altogether. It’s not realistic, but especially for those just beginning antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, a common assumption is that it truly is that easy. Which, depending on the severity of your case, it really can be. Heck, eventually you can probably go off the drugs and continue living normally.

Those medications only go so far. You are not just a sponge soaking in certain chemicals that fix every single problem. We are much more complex than that. With those with more severe cases that are fairly genetic, the battle never ends. It’s always there, perhaps in the background, but still there. My gut reaction to feeling this way is to continue upping my medication, mainly because I have an addictive type of personality, but because I want all of those emotions to disappear and never return. I just want to feel sane more often than not, preferably all the time.

But I also realize that without those uglier parts of me, I wouldn’t be me. They might not be my complete self, but they are certainly still there. If I was just stuffing myself with drugs, I wouldn’t think the same way I do, or even be able to talk about these struggles and help others who might be feeling the same way. I wouldn’t have a random burst of inspiration like I do right now from my empty pain. These overwhelming emotions may feel very foggy and grey, but the light still pokes through.

So yes, I am very thankful for my prescription reuniting me with my true, vibrant self. But I can’t rely on it completely as some miracle worker. It does it’s job as it should, and I also have a job to partake in. I am the one in charge of my life, not my medication. I choose to still get out of bed each morning and live each day, even if my sole accomplishment for the day is in fact just living. The medication strengthens my foundation to handle life, but then I have to take over. And that’s what I continue to do and will do every single day. Life is too precious to do otherwise.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Whose Got Spirit? Not Me.

Yup, you heard it here first, folks. Except that “breaking news” sure isn’t new. It’s basically common knowledge.

No matter what school I’ve been to throughout my education, the energy I put into school pride and spirit has been zero to none. You’ll never see me rooting for my school’s athletic teams or dressing up during homecoming week. You’re more likely to see me secretly supporting the opposing team, if anything. Not to mention that dressed up mascots make me a little uneasy.

I try to understand why people enjoy it so much, why people feel such a burning passion for sports and school activities. Besides the fact I know nothing about sports to know when to jump up and down, if I’m ever forced to attend an athletic event, I will be the one dazing out whilst everybody else is screaming at the top of their lungs, faces painted in school colors. These moments outside of education just do not attract my attention.

And funny enough, the schools I’ve attended have been very focused on these aspects of education and community. Well, not necessarily education. That just ends up in the background. My hometown thrives off of high school athletics, putting virtually all of their money and attention on the teams and athletes. As a student who spent most of her time in the band, choir, and theatre, hopefully you can hear my implied bitter tone.

My tone is especially bitter when thinking about the countless times I’ve had coaches as teachers. Now there is a key difference between teachers who coach and coaches who teach. The former actually knows their stuff in the classroom. The latter, not so much. But those flaws are usually tossed aside on game day. Personally, I go to school for academic aspect. That’s what the institutions are there for. I want to learn something new. I could care less about the name and pride of my school.

Having school spirit does have some benefits, like creating a sense of community and uplifting morale. But for students like me, I don’t need those things to convince me to come to school and get involved. I have enough motivation in my education to really find a benefit in those activities. Heck, they can even be distracting at times.

I thought after leaving high school, I wouldn’t really have to worry about not having school spirit. I went to a small enough school with a large enough majority of students with at least a sliver of school spirit that my lack of any made me a misfit. Obviously having a larger population of people and greater freedom, the problem is undoubtedly lessened. But when paying my tuition and housing, a certain added expense always makes me slightly cringe: the activity fee. Which is usually for those campus-wide activities and sporting events. Of which, in my two years at college, I have attended a whopping zero.

It would be different if the school was transparent in what they spent the money on, as I would be more than happy to support the fine arts programs. I’m a tad biased, but I find way more value in these activities versus passing a ball across a field for a stadium of screaming fans. Even if students could choose the areas they wanted to support, I would be all for it. Chances are, a majority would choose athletics and spirit activities anyways.

So if you wonder why I specifically choose to not wear school colors on certain days, own no piece of school-branded merchandise, or hide in my dorm room during games, I don’t have a clear answer besides angst. I know I’m not alone in my distaste for over-hyped school spirit, but us folks tend to get pushed to the sidelines (no pun intended).

It can even be overwhelming to me at times seeing how passionate and emotional people get over certain schools and sports. How they can start a screaming match with each other or disrespect opposing teams. How normally decent and courteous people can turn those traits on their heads in the name of athletics. Perhaps I’m dramatizing things a little, but not much. It makes me both confused and taken aback.

Even though they aren’t as exciting, I still wish there was more excitement surrounding new theatre productions or academic research. I’m simple in that I don’t need flashy activities to draw me in, but I much prefer activities that can make me think. It’s not like smart people can’t enjoy sports. My family is an obvious example. But they aren’t for me, and I shouldn’t feel any sense of guilt for not participating. And I shouldn’t be forced to spend my money on these activities, especially when people like me make up a small minority.

And school shouldn’t have to be super flashy and have special themed days and decorations to draw students in. Education is exciting. Learning new information is exciting. Answering a question right in class or leading a discussion doesn’t need a winning touchdown to get people hyped up. Well, at least to me.

Call me a party-pooper all you want. Maybe if I understood all the rules of sports, I’d have a different opinion, but I doubt it. And I’m not changing any time soon. Would it be cool to have more emphasis on the joy of academics or even music and art? Sure, but I don’t expect it any time soon. Just as nobody should hold their breath waiting for when I start screaming at a referee.