Influential Loss

We must keep our greatest treasures safe, at least until 2017. I need not mention their names in fear of jinxing anything.

As I’ve already mentioned, 2016 has not been kind to well-known names. Nobody has been safe from untimely death. I expect every following year to look quite similar, as so many of the stars we know and love grow older, often with a history of heavy substance use.

This was the case with our two most recent deaths, so close to each other, it’s almost hard to process, and it certainly hasn’t gotten easier. Along with George Michael dying on Christmas Day, we also lost our “space mom” Carrie Fisher. Although both stars are best recognized for single roles and songs, their impact on the world has far surpassed that.

In the case of Carrie Fisher, I especially admire her openness about her personal struggles, ones that are very relatable. She was a strong mental health advocate long before people really knew how common mental illness can be. She herself facing bipolar disorder, she wasn’t afraid to have honest conversations about her faults and her too-often reliance on pills to ease her symptoms. This addiction most likely played a role in her shortened life span, but her time in the public light making a difference in others’ lives was time very well spent.

Especially in past decades, heck, even a few years ago, talking openly about mental health at all wasn’t heard of. We understood even less than we do now, and that’s saying something. Fisher helped make approaching mental health easier. She didn’t call it easy by any means. She was real about it. She didn’t hide it, but she took it in stride, and that is something I admire. I wouldn’t know how bipolar disorder feels, but I know when my own mental illness becomes overwhelming, it takes me down hard. You would think it would get easier over time, but that isn’t the case. Anybody who is willing to advocate for the priority we must set on seeing mental health in a more accepting light.

Her death has sparked such a wonderful movement, encouraging people to open up about their own struggles with mental illness, and I cannot think of any better way to honor Fisher. With such a powerful message of “I have mental illness, but it does not have me,” I can think of nothing but praise in this case.

The way she spoke about mental health is but one voice hoping to destigmatize it. Those of us struggling, sometimes all we can do is laugh. We can empower ourselves simply by saying something. Silence is where stigma thrives. I certainly don’t expect all of us to become outspoken advocates and dedicate our time entirely to mental health, but Fisher demonstrates a model where we aren’t afraid to admit that we face demons. There is no shame in it. The ultimate shame should be in society, that we feel uncomfortable in the first place, that we cannot always expect reliable treatment or acceptance of our illnesses from others. All we can do in that case is find support from somebody else.

The fact that Fisher is revolutionary in the first place, that we aren’t just talking about mental health to begin with, is disappointing. We cannot rely on a few voices to lead the charge. It’s a collective effort. Communication is a two-way street. Making change, change that lasts, is a conscious choice. And when we lose that single voice, where do we stand now? Reflecting back on her efforts and not doing anything from there? It’s like putting your eggs all in one basket.

We are and always losing people. That’s life. But the legacies we leave behind endure. And this is one legacy we need to honor. If we are so distraught by the people we have lost this year, it’s time that we really hear what these people had to say. What did they stand for? What did they believe in? These people are so much more than the work they accomplished. They were people like anybody else, in the public eye, but human. No matter our status in the world, we will all face the same fate. In this instance, metaphorical pedestals fade away, and we can truly understand the soul behind the face. That is how we honor others. We find depth in the obvious. Fisher was Princess Leia, but she did so much more. As did George Michael, much more than a hit singer. He too anonymously and publicly donated his time and money to those in need. He didn’t want or need the recognition. A new single or album released sure doesn’t illustrate that.

It’s something to go and make condolences to those who pass, but it’s something else to appreciate those people and the people we still have for who they truly are. They probably have some interesting things to share, a multifaceted personality longing to be heard in a world that is constantly follow their every move. That is how we reconnect to ourselves, we address those hidden passions and struggles. Especially things that can leave a truly lasting impact.

So let’s pay more attention, to the people around us, the situations we encounter, the stigmatized issues that too often fall beneath the shadows. Not only does it promote mindfulness, but also empathy and awareness. And please, for the love of all that is holy, let us not lose anybody else this year.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Where’s the Faith?

Look at me, watching more TED Talks. But they are very inspiring as to different topics that pique my interest, a new perspective on a issue I might haven’t considered before.

In this case, I’m going back to religion. Any and all religions. A traditional institution that is waning as the world continually seems to be darker, more violent, less hopeful. We fear bringing a future generation into this world.

And as this TED Talk points out, we’ve come to a point in religion where we go through the motions. We lose that actual spirit and faith required to inspire belief, to feel like we have a purpose, something we so desperately need right now. It leads people my age to lose touch with spirituality altogether or choose to forge their own path when they can’t rely on “outdated doctrine.”

In this doctrine is where we find conflict, wars fought and terrorists provoked toward making statements in the name of certain gods and beliefs, something that seems so backward from the practices they should follow. When we narrow our focus on just our own beliefs and don’t deviate much from the norm, the result is that we just get burned out. We see our world changing every day, but the institutions we rely upon to fulfill that need for something higher beyond ourselves stays stagnant. It loses its relevance to our lives and situations. Not necessarily the messages it promotes (or, most of them), but the way of going about it just doesn’t do much.

Admittedly, I have to agree with that mindset. I went to church for the first time a few weeks ago in a very long time. I have always been a very spiritual person, but I have grown to be less “religious.” In this, I mean that I see more flaws in the Bible. I’m more critical of the people who show up to church and order and purpose of going about the service. I think about how too often, people just go to church to keep the facade that they’re faithful, or I see the church pamphlet always having a section about its finances and debts to be paid. Rather than leaving the service feeling peaceful, I leave it questioning myself. Not exactly the best feeling.

But in this TED Talk, we are offered a way to invigorate what is outdated, what doesn’t seem to meld well with the world we live in. It’s less about the rituals we have to follow and more about the people involved. It’s about starting a dialogue that has us actively engaged in our beliefs, communicating with others about current topics and situations and applying religious principles to them. We don’t have to sit back idly and only stand up when we have a song to sing or Gospel to read. We learn how to find mightiness within ourselves to stand up for the core beliefs that got us faithful in the first place.

Right now, as we leave religion, the people being drawn to religion seem to be the ones misusing it. Taking it to the most extreme extent. It’s when we say there is only one way to believe, that everything else is wrong and is ruining the world, we lose sight of spirituality. Religion is not supposed to translate into the human sins of resorting to violence.

This world isn’t perfect by any means, nor will it ever be. We can’t pray away our problems. Reinvigorating religion means that we take action. We take our love and good will and help those in need. And that doesn’t mean we shove ideas down others’ throats. We make an active impact on the suffering surrounding us rather than sitting in a sanctuary, going through the motions. In this instance, actions speak much louder than words.

We cannot rely on outdated systems to help out. It’s our responsibility. I would rather not define religion as the source for chaos. Obviously it isn’t the only one, but the farther we veer from our roots in tradition, the more mistreatment from them occurs. We should not run away from what we disagree with, but face it head-on and change the way we go about it. We open our minds, take down unnecessary steps and barriers, and just talk and listen to each other.

Faith is not for appearances. It isn’t showing up at church every week, nor is it shooting others in the name of a certain god. Faith uplifts us. It strengthens us. It reminds us of our purpose. And we thus regain hope that despite suffering, there is light.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A Fresh Glass of…

I’ve gotten behind and confused on which day is which, a typical side effect of being on break for so long. But admittedly, it’s probably one of my better breaks I’ve had. Normally at home, I get ridiculously anxious about having less control over my meals when they are prepared for me and being less active in general.

The main obvious reason for this change in mindset is veganism, knowing that even if I’m indulging a little, it’s all food that is good for me. Except recent news I’ve seen is putting a damper on a transition I and many others are making to benefit themselves and other living organisms.

Sales from this year show that more people are buying nondairy milk, including soy, almond, and everything else (which, surprisingly, there are a ton of different options). This also means that sales for traditional dairy products are lower than usual. This change has the dairy industry fighting back. Even some politicians are calling out the nondairy companies to ask that they rename their products since, by definition, “milk” strictly comes from a cow. If you want the full story, which to me sounds like a classic morning news stint, check it out here.

The fact here is that a label isn’t going to change much. If people want a certain product, they will buy it, whether it’s called “milk” or just a “beverage.” I mean, Pringles cannot be called potato “chips” for the way they are produced, but people still buy them. (Random example, but I remember random facts from watching too much Food Network).

I think it’s great that more people are educating themselves about the many options available and the consequences of their choices. We are starting to see past the overwhelming adds for milk and its “abundance of nutrients” and figuring out what might actually be best.

I could easily go into a rant about how awful the dairy industry is, how the different additives and hormones given to cows makes their by-products addictive, how we’re the only species that drinks the milk from ANOTHER species, let alone one that is completely different from our own (because if we actually want to consume milk from another animal, we might as well take monkeys’ milk, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom). It just doesn’t make sense.

And like any other industry, dairy is a big business. It relies on us as consumers to continue. Its advertisements will never include the actual process going on from farm to carton. Sales would be even lower for them, then. If we want to become a healthier, more sustainable society, these are the changes we have to see. Certain industries will lose out, like dairy and meat and even big oil. This is necessary for us to be able to support ourselves on this planet, to be able to raise the next generation in a world that isn’t worse than it is right now.

When we look at the facts, we also have to look at the big picture here, something that dairy officials and others aren’t doing. They think that the primary reason for greater nondairy sales is the fact it’s also called “milk,” that changing the name will weaken the competition. Sounds like just some dirty capitalistic competition to me.

This isn’t a story that I expect to go away any time soon, either. While nondairy milk has been available for many years and has become much more accessible and actually tasty, I see the same transition for other nondairy products like cheese and yogurt. Those two are still in their infancy with quite limited options and universal acceptance. But give it time, and the dairy industry will probably continue to fight for sales. However, they will never be able to deny the fact that if people make the full change away from cow’s milk, they aren’t coming back. What’s the point? Nondairy milk is cheaper, it lasts longer, it’s healthier, and it just makes sense. There’s a reason why so many people are lactose intolerant and struggle with having dairy: we aren’t supposed to in the first place.

Just think if the rise in nondairy sales leads to higher sales in other plant-based products. Still only one percent of the population is actually vegan, but who knows what the future might bring. Personally, I started drinking soy milk long before I ever knew what veganism is just because it tastes better. But what if others also learned more and made the decision to go plant-based? Okay, I’m dreaming big, but I feel like I have to. Veganism is continually becoming less of an option and more of a necessity. You don’t see that as the headline, but maybe if it was, people might perk up and pay attention.

Even if you don’t even want to consider Meatless Monday, the least you can do is drink nondairy milk because you won’t even taste the difference. It’s a small step that is obviously making a bigger impact than we realize. It will probably help expand nondairy products even more. So rather than a nuisance that dairy officials are making a fuss over addressing the obvious, I see this as something hopeful. A future where we are conscious and mindful.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie