Friday Vibes

I don’t have anything too profound to say today, but I really wanted to share some positivity that maybe others, myself included, can look back on when in need of a little pick-me-up.

No matter our own situations, we all have those days of just not feeling great, when you feel like you’re just barely hanging on and basic functioning brings about challenges as big as Mt. Everest. We might not even have a real reason for feeling bad. We just do.

And that’s okay. Every single emotion that enters our mind is valid and is worthy of feeling and acknowledging. In those times, treat yourself to some self-care. Do whatever brings you joy, whether that’s a good book, a face mask, or a night out with friends.

If you’re searching for comfort, it’s probably not going to come straight from an inspirational quote on Pinterest. As great as those are, those don’t do too much to our mental state. You have to find what resonates with you.

Perhaps just make a list of whatever you’re grateful for and/or what brings you happiness. I know, cheesy, but in that list are all the reasons why life is worth living. Why we can and should carry on. For my list, I’m beyond grateful for my wonderful family and friends, for videos of baby animals, for my faith in God, for the beauty of nature, for books, for music, for coloring books, for blowing bubbles, for warm sweaters and blankets, for simply having modern amenities like fresh water and shelter, and for so much more.

I am also grateful for humanity’s potential. I wholeheartedly believe we are not just random organisms randomly existing. We each have the capacity to make a difference in the world. We are born with a natural curiosity, full of hopes and aspirations. Treasure those and hold them close. You are worthy and capable of making your dreams reality, of living a life that is nothing short of joyous.

If there’s something in your life you don’t like it, accept it or change it. Even if you’re not spiritual, I find great peace in the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Let us see our trials and tribulations as necessary lessons and stepping stones. Without them, we would not appreciate the beauty surrounding us, nor would we celebrate times of accomplishment or contentment. Through our pain, we can empathize with and help others. We can grow stronger and more resilient, teaching others to do the same, even in the darkest situations.

Even in the dark moments, they are only temporary. Just like life itself, nothing lasts forever. Impermanence reminds us negative emotions are fleeting and positive ones are all the more precious. We might as well smile and emphasize the good than dwell on the setbacks.

And you are so much more than a number, a label, a diagnosis, a single quality or trait. You are a plethora, a kaleidoscope encompassing an entire spectrum of knowledge and ability and love. Your physical embodiment determines nothing about yourself but serves the crucial purpose of protecting your soul. Your true appearance comes from your soul radiating a mind and spirit so valuable to this world.

No matter what, you are never alone. You are never so isolated or secluded that the world has left you behind. Maybe it’s just one person, or just your dog, but you make a positive impact on someone else. Their life is better simply because you exist. There is always somebody there to turn to.

Do what you need to take care of yourself, whether that’s putting on a face mask, reading a good book, or going out with friends. Allow yourself to rest. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions pass by. Make yourself and whatever speaks to depths of your soul a priority. And look beyond yourself to see all the people who care about you and love you.

If any of my rambling today made any sense, let it close on a wish that you are all reach a point where you’re not merely existing. You, created in the image of God. You, made with the same energy as that of the trees and stars. There is so much more to life than barely scraping by. I hope you thrive. I hope your life sees more up’s than down’s. I hope you hold on through seemingly impossible challenges in your way and find the dawn of a brighter day. I hope you think of at least one reason for getting out of bed every morning.

You are a gift. A member of the human race. A loved one and friend to many others. A source of inspiration. A teacher and a student. An organism ready to bloom and flourish. A unique individual. A warrior.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Triple Digits

Although this occurred last week, I still wanted to make sure I wrote a little bit about it, and that is me officially reaching one hundred followers on this blog.

It was a goal of mine this year to get into the triple digits and continue spreading my outreach, and I’m blessed enough to have the foundation already early in the year for me to jump from.

I write about this thought often, but I had never originally intended much for this blog. Honestly, I had to start it to write some posts for a social media marketing class, but it quickly became a new passion. I never went into blogging with the intention of gaining followers or having much of an online presence. I didn’t have much of a plan at all. I just found how much I really enjoyed writing posts about topics I care about and sharing my thoughts and experiences with others. I looked at the logistics every day and was so excited to even have just five people view my blog each day.

When I was in twice-a-week therapy sessions for anorexia, the therapist suggested that I begin devoting more time and energy toward passions and projects that really interested me, both to take my mind off of the excruciating process recovery is and seeing myself and my worth beyond my mind’s closed perception. Years earlier when first facing this demon, I kept it completely secret I even had a problem. But instead, I realized that I could not dwell inside this darkness alone, but speak out and stand up against it.

From there, I’ve talked about a plethora of topics. I’ve reignited my interests in so many areas and have found a greater purpose in helping others, especially by being direct and honest about mental health. My blog serves as everything from a prospective career opportunity to a public version of a journal. I love how versatile it is, how I could truly say that this is my own work. I have built up this blog from the ground up and strive to continuing improving with every word I type.

I have also come to love whenever I receive a comment on a blog. I am reminded that it isn’t just me talking to a brick wall; there are now at least one hundred people subscribed to what I have to say every weekday. How crazy is that? And then hearing your feedback and insights on certain issues and feelings I bring up, I feel so fulfilled. My ideas can turn into a conversation, an exchange of perspectives, and that is so beautiful.

And here I am, not even a year later, still writing five posts a week, still as motivated as ever. For someone who can struggle to keep the momentum going on a project, especially one this potentially time-consuming, that is an amazing feat for me. This place has become so much more to me than just a side hobby. I put my heart and soul into what I do, and I take this all very seriously. It has inspired me to not only write a book featuring many of my posts and ideas, but I also now have some sense of belonging, that all of my worries and doubts when it comes to “What are you going to do with your life?” can mean something. There’s a place for me in this big wide world. It might not have a cubicle desk or fancy job title, but it’s out there.

Even though all I do is write words, words themselves cannot describe how blessed and grateful I am for even writing this post, knowing that some random person has found others who want to stick around, who care about what I have to say. Every like and comment mean the world to me. And this is just an early stepping stone on the journey, my friends. I know there is so much more to come, and I hope you’ll be right beside me. Who knows what the future holds? I’m just hopeful, too optimistic to some, yes, but hopeful nonetheless.

If I can leave with anything today, let it be this: do what you love. Whatever it may be. Don’t let others tell you that it isn’t worth doing, that you must set aside your true passions and settle for what society expects of you, what makes the highest salary, what feels like an easier or simpler decision. Listen to what you crave and work toward it. Life is too precious not to even try following those instinctive aspirations because from there, everything just falls into place.

Take care, and keep the faith. Every single one of you. -Allie

Excuses, Excuses

I like to think of myself as a very open person. I love learning about new ideas and perspectives and making the most of my environment. But in the face of many new things or experiences, I start to overthink. Despite being an advocate for change, when I get myself into a routine and have a plan envisioned in my head, it’s hard for me to steer off that path.

A nice way to put it is that I’m just not spontaneous. I like plans. I like knowing what I’m doing now and throughout the day. And my go-to response to anything that doesn’t fall into the day’s designated schedule? An excuse.

Over the years, I’ve become quite good at making excuses, which I really see a downfall in myself. No matter how much I tote the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone, I’m very much a hypocrite. Whether it’s been new social situations where I knew it’d be crowded or loud, or places I knew I’d feel uncomfortable because food and eating would be involved, I shied away. I let fear and anxiety take over.

There have definitely been exceptions where I truly felt the urge to just go out and never want the night to end. To just get in a car, drive for hours and not care where the destination ended up being. I feel like that’s a normal desire, more common for some than others.

I both admire and am dumbfounded by spontaneous people. How they can volunteer themselves to an unfamiliar task without hesitation. How they can, at a moment’s notice, just go out and see where the night takes them. How they can meet someone new and immediately take them in their social life.

I often see my methodical thoughtfulness as a benefit. It’s my strength to not just blurt out the first thought that comes out of my head, but dwell on it enough to take in every detail and observation. In a fast-paced world, this quality doesn’t always end up feeling appreciated, but I use it to try and provide another perspective for those quick to decide.

This quality also leads me to overthink too often. Rather than just listening to immediately draws me in, I hesitate. I’m cautious, but maybe too cautious. I think of all of the possible repercussions before even saying yes or no. I over-complicate every decision to the point that I would just rather have someone else decide for me or at least narrow down my options.

No matter how much I talk about mental health, I even use my own struggles as an excuse. Kind of feeling depressed or anxious? There goes my day. It’s far too easy to dwell upon how restless or hopeless we feel to the point that we’re just asking for pity, or we put ourselves into a victim role, that we are slaves to our imbalanced neurotransmitters.

Just explaining my tendencies feels like a giant excuse. I know how I am, what I gravitate toward in everyday life, what I find as easy and comfortable, and I expect it for myself. I expect it so much, I forget the reason why I’d avoid certain situations in the first place. I have improved upon my “woe is me” mentality, but I still find myself sometimes just thinking and worrying and dwelling relentlessly. Maybe I am sometimes a helpless victim, but it’s my decision to empower myself and rise against it.

Admittedly, I enjoy when things like social events are cancelled just so I can spend more time reading or spending too much time online, but I can enjoy it too much. When you use excuses too often, as the automatic response to anything outside of the norm, they easily become missed opportunities. What seems like more time devoted to “self care” can turn detrimental to actually taking care of yourself.

Sometimes, self care doesn’t look like a face mask or evening reading a good book. Sometimes it looks like uncomfortable situations and being spontaneous. It’s not letting depression or anxiety get in the way of you having a great day, and putting yourself out there even when mood might usually vote against it. We cannot make the same choices for ourselves and expect the consequences to change. We cannot wish hard enough for something different in our lives if we don’t decide to act in a different way. This doesn’t mean changing ourselves into new people; it means that we are open to life’s twists and turns and not always let fear dictate each day.

I hope this year to feel empowered by a desire for something new. To not always read too much into every little detail. To take the unexpected path. To just live, no excuses.

“Cool Kid” Media

If you are a college student or have friends in college and a Facebook account, chances are you’ve seen at list one person promoting an article they’ve written for the site Odyssey Online. Essentially, the website says that it is the best place to freely share whatever is important to you without worrying about “what media sells.” It’s a publishing site written by millennials, for millennials.

Admittedly, I’ve been interested in the past to see what the hype was. I know of countless people even in my Facebook friend list who I see sharing their pieces with, most of which just look like blog posts to me. Every college has its own main editor, also a student, and writers send in their work, no matter the topic, and share it to everyone they can.

As a journalism student who also has this blog, the whole premise behind having the Odyssey Online baffles me to no end. I don’t see this as a replacement for other reputable sources to submit work. It’s a very grassroots system that doesn’t involve much rhyme or reason to content produced nor any major qualification from the editors running the show. I see the pieces published no different from just writing a blog, which you can easily do on your own time. The main difference is probably that you don’t have somebody working over you and probably keeping you accountable for turning in SOMETHING consistently. As you can see, I don’t have that problem here.

I feel like this site is what young people are considering professional journalism and media these days, that this is work worthy of sharing with employers to say yes, I’m a published writer. Depending on what you’re going into, having an online footprint is important, and yes, I have shared both my newspaper columns and blog posts with potential employers. I can also see where it might be helpful for students who might not have any other options at their school lacking a journalism program or newspaper, but this isn’t a true replacement nor will it ever compete with other places.

I see these types of sites like the Odyssey Online and Thought Catalog, those “relatable” posts about random subjects that people share and say, “This is SO me.” But again, how reputable is it? How is this benefiting others? Is your information credible, as that continues to be a major issue in the media world no matter the outlet. Because from what I’ve seen, they will publish basically anything. I mean, that’s “democratized content,” right? There might be some very good, informative work out there, but we’re treating every article as equal and promoting each as equal where everybody writes about similar topics…you just get lost in the fog. Unless you’re somehow breaking a major status quo, chances are you aren’t going to write much that somebody else has already done a whole article about.

Yes, you’ll get that phenomenon with anything you write. I’m writing this blog knowing that these aren’t necessarily out-of-the-ordinary ideas I’m sharing. I don’t pretend I’m some special case as a college student writing a blog about what I find passion in. I do this knowing that (at this point) this is unpaid, entirely independent from any news or media entity. I myself chose to do this and built it myself from the ground up, earning and reaching out the followers I have in under a year. That is something I’m very proud of.

The goal of the website seems more like making viral articles that spread across social media, even if there isn’t much substance there. They’re a lot of cliche posts trying to justify millennial problems and concerns. As a millennial, I don’t see why there needs to be a separate site JUST for millennials to talk about everything THEY care about is a reason why I see people criticize the millennial generation so much. Yes, we have made lots of progress for society, but what makes us entitled to need our own makeshift Huffington Post? I don’t see any major news or publishing outlets hunting down students from some viral fluff articles they’ve written on the Odyssey.

Not to mention that the site itself is not equipped to handle the mass amount of content produced every day. From looking online for any criticism about the Odyssey Online, I stumbled upon a former editor-in-chief talking about how easily anybody, no matter the technology experience, can hack into any writer’s account because the site’s password generator is not even sub-par. Not that the content is anything private or important, if it’s everything people are sharing online anyways, but I certainly wouldn’t want to devote my hard work and time into anything actively knowing that the system is so fragile.

Ultimately, do and write wherever you desire if you enjoy doing so. I’m not judging anybody personally for being an Odyssey writer, I simply see problems with the entire concept, that media is so corrupt that millennials need to write blog posts with the “Odyssey” label attached. There are already plenty of great resources for blogging or writing articles out there, truly democratized for every single person. If I’m choosing to write about any topic that interests without any specific assignment, I’m going to do it on my own time, on my own site, and give myself that credit for being timely, hard-working, and self-dependent. And if I want great insight and professional experience, I will go to newspaper and online editors with academic and professional qualifications I can learn from, someone I respect as a mentor, supervisor, and authority-type figure. I cannot get that same knowledge from a peer in the same boat as me, not in that same way.

If this is where the future is going for publishing and writing in general, I don’t know how I feel about that. Maybe I’m just stubborn. But I still see a very high value in formal education and experience to really grow, learn, and develop as a writer. And if there truly is a problem with the media industry and being bias about what content is published, let’s fix that first before we invest into a cheaper, less established site.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Snow and Go

I write this as I spend my afternoon shuffling between lectures, the incoming snow clouding my vision and my feet nervous of the icy surface below the white fluff.

Not exactly the weather I was hoping for in mid-March. I’ve been braving my fair share of Canadian winter the past few months, and the couple of days of sunshine really get my hopes up, only to crash with freezing winds and/or snow the next day.

So with Winter Storm Stella, the last thing I planned to do the day after it began its downpour was to still have  class. In fact, every school and daycare in the area of Lennoxville closed last Wednesday. Except my college. In both of my classes, only a quarter to a third of students managed to make it. The snow plows were busy all night, I maybe had four solid hours of sleep. If today was supposed to be a productive one, the school has another thing coming.

I’m used to not having snow days when we really need them as a safety precaution. My hometown closed school maybe twice my entire thirteen years in the district. My home campus only canceled classes maybe once, but only in the evening when I had already half-slipped five times during the day.

College administrations seem to not know when to draw the line and make an executive decision on winter weather. If a significant portion of the student body and staff cannot and will not attend classes, it’s about as productive as having no class at all. I would think it causes more problems to have a couple of kids on pace, a majority not so much, and then having to either review or leave the rest in the dust.

We can’t control the weather. We also can’t force people to face possibly dangerous roads and zero visibility just so the college can tote about not having any days canceled. Because yes, it gets schedules behind, but if we’re adapting it anyways to fit with a select few individuals who maybe live on campus or happen to be in the building to attend class, then the schedule is still behind. It proves nothing but that risking people’s well-being is less of a priority. And that isn’t a mentality to have.

When you come from the Midwest or Canada, you know winter. You have a pretty high tolerance for frosted-over windshields and shoveling. If you go any further south, chances are a little drizzle will close everything down. We each have different ideas of what constitutes “too much.” But there’s a limit and a line we need to draw, a uniform standard for different geographical regions to follow that collectively says yes or no.

If we look at this situation, where schools and daycares are closed but a university is not, you have many parents and children worried about where to be and how to care for young ones while going to work or class. We’re adding stress onto an already stressful situation. And then if we end up opting out of leaving altogether, there’s a guilt knowing that you might be missing something, that you could make it work somehow.

In my hometown, for the rare occasions we did have the day off, the next day had much better weather than the evening everything was called off, when the situation was actually bad. This poor delay in responding ends up looking silly from all angles. If the forecast is coming and imminent, do something proactive.

I’m sure it’s not an easy call for administrators to make, and I wouldn’t know that pressure. I’m simply speaking as someone who has faced far too many days either as a passenger of car going at least ten mph below the speed limit, seeing many cars swerved into the ditch, and as a student stressed about walking across campus in time only to find a classroom half empty.

We aren’t all going to agree on the best way to handle a situation like this. We hope winter storms like Stella don’t come every year. However, we must plan and act accordingly, keeping in mind safety and practicality for all, a plan that should be universal for a particular district or area, so the last thing we have to worry about is trying to be in two places at once. Because when everyone is focused and concerned about everything other than the class at hand, productivity is a lost cause.

Driving or walking or doing anything during a dangerous weather condition doesn’t somehow make you braver or better than the one who chose to sit back and wait it out. We’re all reacting as we best see fit, and policies and decisions should respect that.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

I’m Dreaming of a Crow

Do you ever listen, read, or watch something that really hits you? Within an instant you get chills, a deep space in your soul shaken to its core? With the multitude of art and media released constantly, not everything can hit that part of yourself, a part so rarely reached that you’re thinking about that song/book/show for the next few days. The feeling reverberates into everything you do.

I haven’t explored or gotten into amy new music lately. I’ve kind of been stuck in a rut with either listening to the same things over and over again or just not listening to anything at all. For someone who loves music, I felt slightly defeated by that.

Until I stumbled upon one particular song that led me down a rabbit hole that has changed my entire perspective on how listen to and judge the depth and quality of music. You’re probably wondering what this song is, if it’s supposed to be so profound and revolutionary. Which, honestly, it really isn’t. 

The song is “Ravens” by Mount Eerie. And today the entire album “A Crow Looked at Me” comes out today, as the relevance for waiting to share this discovery, one I cannot take credit for since my brother and I typically bounce different music off each other. 

FYI, before you even attempt to listen, this stuff is sad. A ridiculously dark sadness that within the first few seconds, had me on the verge of tears. Mount Eerie is a single artist who wrote and made this album after the death of his young wife who succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He recorded the album on her instruments in the room where she died. Yeah, don’t expect happiness.

But this music has a refreshing honesty to it. One track, “Death is Real,” states it simply that singing and making art out of death is stupid. Trying to dance around death with flowery metaphors and deep messages with life lessons isn’t real nor helpful. Death happens. It hurts. It affects every aspect of life. It reminds us through subtle details and memories just how painful and unfair death can be. 

Mount Eerie sings with poetic lyrics and storytelling that illustrates those little details. His daughter dreaming about a crow. Dumping his wife’s ashes from a jar. Getting a backpack in the mail that his wife ordered earlier for when their daughter goes to school. This isn’t easy listening. It’s emotional. It’s raw. 

But ultimately, this is an album of memory and love, a hope that his wife’s death does not evaporate away without a trace. That the love of those left behind, continuing to live, have something to show for it. With new releases these days, nothing else compares. When I hear the entirety of this album, I have a feeling it will join the ranks of some of my favorite albums of all time. 

And alas, now I am judging and seeing all music from a new light, a more critical one. I now have two clear eras of enjoying music: BME and ME. Before Mount Eerie and Mount Eerie, that’s how drastic this feels. If anything sounds too empty or repetitive, even if I liked it before, it doesn’t feel the same. I keep searching for something that affects me as much as Mount Eerie has, music that has me dreaming about it. 

I compare this experience with Mount Eerie to that of the new songs Lorde has released recently. Now her first album, I actually bought the physical copy of the CD, a big testament to my commitment. I love her original work. And at first, I was still committed to enjoy her new songs, too, except once I actually listen to some of the current hits that my roommate plays on Spotify, it all sounds the same to me. A mass production of similar sounds and themes repeated through slightly different voices and faces. I can’t look at pop music the same way. I see how it lacks any real substance and emotion. It loses any artistic quality. Just singles released separately to rake up iTunes profits, then mismatched onto a random album that makes no real sense. 

So I’m open to new suggestions whenever. Chances are I’ll be extremely critical, but I will at least try. I’m excited this weekend to declutter and refresh my iTunes library and just see from here where my exploration takes me because I truly do see it as an exploration, a passionate hobby of hearing what makes others want to drop everything and write and make music.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

GP…eh?

From as long as I can remember, if I’ve been in school, I’ve been concerned about my grades. No matter how much I just love learning and discussing academic topics I care about, there is always a looming cloud of anxiety and stress hanging overhead.

Growing up, I was one of the “smart kids.” Or nerds, or teacher’s pets, depending on how you see it. I’ve always worked hard to earn the best grades possible. The pressure to do so has come from others and, ultimately, myself.

As if we needed any other arbitrary means for determining our value and self-worth, grades and GPAs and everything else are just another set of numbers and letters that somehow have the ability to make or break those who care enough about them. For those select few, grades can even become an obsession.

Of course stemming from my OCD, perfectionist tendencies, growing up when I had very little self-esteem to stand firm and believe in myself, I used whatever labels and numbers and scales out there to determine my value for me. As I’ve mentioned before, a big portion of my attention went to pounds, inches and calories, but it also dominated by grades. Earning all A’s for every assignment and test. Keeping a 4.0 GPA for my entire educational career, or I would be deemed a failure. I would let my family down who believed so wholeheartedly in me, I would lose any purpose, and I would no longer be good at the one thing I knew I could do.

So academics became a big part of my identity. High school was especially competitive as students in my quite small school fought for top ranks, taking as many AP classes as possible, joining as many clubs and getting leadership positions in those, and trying to outrank each other on our ACT scores. Okay, day-to-day activities were not as directly cut-throat as this, but in my mind, it was a battleground. And when I compared myself to my very intelligent and talented peers, I realized that I didn’t stand out. I wasn’t on top. I was lost in the crowd, a realization which further fueled anxiety and obsession and self-destructive thoughts.

A lot of the problems I saw in my academics stemmed from my own perception. I grew up with an older brother who didn’t have to work too hard to be the top of his class, to receive honors and awards in every activity he did. I couldn’t do that, and even though I love my brother as my best friend, I was ridiculously jealous of how highly others saw him, someone who doesn’t need to study much to ace the test, who just knows so much knowledge, I feel like a dud. To my family, I felt like a disappointment, and despite my hours of work and studying, I still couldn’t be good enough.

I never really opened up about my inner battles every day, and it helped finding and having a good support system in high school (to my high school pals, I cannot thank you enough). I even ended up as the class secretary and graduated high school with a 4.0. I walked out those doors happy to close off that chapter of life, promising myself I wouldn’t pressure myself to that same degree in college like I had for years.

I don’t tend to listen to my own advice. Because yes, thus far I still have a 4.0 in college, an achievement in of itself, with only two semesters left. But I still see the competition around and within me. I see people going and achieving amazing accomplishments and prestige. And I see myself lagging behind. I feel my test anxiety getting worse and worse with every exam. If I receive back anything less than an A, my mind still wanders to regrets of not doing enough, not being better. Getting some points off on an assignment can easily turn a good day into a terrible one in an instant.

In this semester abroad, I find my mindset evolving. I see the end of my education in sight. And while I still care about working my hardest and achieving all I can, I see a lower grade on a test and it doesn’t completely break me. I see the idea of getting a B in a class as less earth-shattering than before. I care more about learning and growing (and of course passing all of my classes) and less about how it translate onto a transcript. It may not seem too crazy, but to me, that is a huge difference. I place higher value on my own health and others than a number that will lose relevance the minute I receive my diploma. That piece of paper doesn’t show the GPA I received. It says I earned the same document as so many others who worked more or less hard than I did to achieve the same thing. Maybe if I was rushing off to graduate school afterwards I would still feel that same tightness in my chest, but for now, that isn’t in the plans, and I cannot begin to describe what a relief that is.

Whether you’re in college or not, we’re all in the same boat. We’re just trying to do the best we can, working hard, living life. I should just be grateful for my intelligence, curiosity, determination, and work ethic. I should applaud others for their own accomplishments and not see those lessening the value of my own hard work. I should do my best in the context of balanced wellness. I should not strive for a fleeting, impossible level that is perfection. And neither should you.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Inadequacy and Intelligence

As always, when I’m in a really difficult mindset, my instinct is to write about it, so here I am. I’d like to say I’ll wake up tomorrow morning feeling better, so all I can do right now is pray.

I’m very blessed to say that I know some amazingly intelligent people in my life. People who somehow have so much information stored up in their brains and can blow others away, myself included, with different facts and tidbits in mostly any situation. They are constantly reading or listening and remembering so much and have an endless capacity for more knowledge.

Because these people are, of course, ones I love and admire, I would much rather focus on their brilliance and achievements because I know that the second I turn anything back to myself, I honestly feel very disappointed.

That isn’t to say that I’m not capable of anything because that’s not the case. But I do see myself as below the high standards I see in others. Maybe they have immense vocabularies or speak very eloquently or throw trivia around like confetti, but all of those skills leave me feeling like I’m lacking.

I’m just not someone with book smarts, and I barely manage on streets smarts either, both of which I see in others and place high values on. We definitely focus more on the number of facts you can pull out of thin air, but there is such an importance in knowing how to deal with others and be in different situations where all you have is your gut, and you just act on that.

The main reason I’ve kept good grades throughout my education is that I genuinely love learning and I’m too hard on myself to let myself perform any less than what I expect of myself, ending up in a sometimes vicious cycle. Test anxiety doesn’t help. And on the other side of spectrum, social and general anxiety don’t help very often.

So especially when I see the relationships I have with very smart people, or simply see inspirational people my age accomplishing so much, I certainly feel inadequate. Undeserving of even being associated with intelligent people and wasteful in how I’m spending my time and energy.

Heck, the fact that I can repeatedly get stuck in this frame of mind questioning everything feels like I’m not smart enough to get out of it. Comparison is so addictive. When we measure ourselves and base our worth on its correlation with others, you’re in for disaster. In an academic setting, that’s unavoidable, but a lot of people don’t necessarily care either way. If only it were that simple.

I look back on my existence thus far and that can be hard because I automatically focus on the setbacks, the negatives. I see major holes of my past I for the life of me cannot remember. I am always appalled by people being able to share past stories and experiences so easily, and they ask me to share, and I have nothing to give. Even just day-to-day, I can be forgetful and have difficulties really retaining information. My boyfriend is constantly listening to podcasts and teaching me so much, and yet I try to listen to them and cannot retain a single thing past a day.

I always try to be open and friendly, but I know that I can be awkward, and it can take a very decent amount of time to actually form relationships with others. I’m just a quiet person, and sometimes that’s a curse for just not being able to talk loud enough to be taken seriously, hoping that my words make sense since I’m much better off writing. In any moments of tension or conflict, my go-to reactions are to completely clam up or let my emotions completely take over.

The main reason I’ve been recognized as smart is for my grades, but I’ve gotten to a point where the academic system feels so arbitrary (a topic I’ll discuss tomorrow, just you wait), using that word feels fake to me. I’m always observing others, and I see so much goodness and wisdom in them, it’s almost overwhelming. I want nothing more than to just support them and do everything I can to help them shine even more. But the second I return back to my own self, I’m overwhelmed with, honestly, disappointment. I’m just here existing with nothing to offer.

I wish I had a helpful answer here, something meaningful and insightful. While I don’t know how well I’ll listen to this, I hope others will remember that we are all in the same family of people. We each have a unique gift to give to the world, and that comes with a sense of wisdom and purpose. We’re all capable of so much, and we need to support each other in sharing that and making the world a brighter place.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Not Another Self-Help Book

When I read books, I tend to cruise through them pretty quickly. If it’s a good story, I will be glued to it and flip through the pages, determined to finish and start another.

The most recent book I have finished was a different story (pun intended). I went into it expecting to fall in love, but to not to the degree I actually have. And some people might cringe a little out there thinking it’s a self-help book. Admittedly, a lot of those “read this and your life will change forever” books might have some interesting ideas or inspiration, but they rarely make a difference in day-t0-day life. We’re creatures of habit, and unless we’re so profoundly taken aback and inspired to change, it can take a lot to live differently.

Instead I have another book here that is yes, here to help, but I see it very differently from others of a similar nature. The Book of Joy depicts a week spent with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa as they discuss how, despite their hardships, have led lives filled with not simply happiness, but true, sustaining joy. They discuss the limitations and difficulties achieving joy in today’s society as well as their “eight pillars of joy” and daily practices to incorporate those ideas into daily life.

The thing that I appreciate most about this book is how organic and down-to-earth it feels. You would think when talking with very prestigious spiritual figures, the dialogue would be formal and maybe a tad uptight. That couldn’t be the complete opposite of what these beautiful souls are like. They’re just people, just like us. They joke around with each other and have reached their state of wisdom through a life of tested strength and perseverance. And their friendship is as normal and fun as any other.

The ideas they present and talk about aren’t necessarily revolutionary or new. We live in a world full of suffering. If we change our perspective on it and live more compassionately and intentionally, the world will be a better place. That’s easy enough. For me, the message gains greater context when two very inspirational people whom I truly admire talk honestly about, at times, unapproachable large topics. Simply defining what “compassion” means isn’t easy.

Although the book isn’t just for those who are spiritually inclined, I really appreciate that element, especially when the two leaders come from very different religious backgrounds, one religion I practice and the other I also feel very inspired by. It’s so much easier to live in a world where we can look past our individual divisions and designations for ourselves, like religion or ethnicity, and see ourselves as fellow humans. We all face obstacles and negative emotions of anger and frustration, but we have the power to actively choose to not let those difficulties set us back. We don’t have to wander the earth carrying a heavy burden upon our backs. We can instead set it down, acknowledge its presence, and use it as a stepping stone to better things ahead.

Whether you’re a believer or not, we’re all sentient beings made in the image of God (and nature). Natural disasters are unavoidable, but human suffering doesn’t have to be. If we consider ourselves all in the same family, not divided as “us versus them,” it’s much easier for us to see the importance of looking beyond ourselves, our own needs and desires in competition with everybody else, and extend a helping hand to others. It’s one thing to assume others emotions and be empathetic toward them, but it’s another thing to use that empathy as a channel for compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and generosity.

From this book, I’d like to take away a reinvigorated desire to dedicate my life to helping others. I’ve never been one too concerned about money and fame, but I see even more now how important it is not only for others, but for myself to feel truly fulfilled and put my life toward others. When I get overwhelmed by the idea of others my age or even younger doing so much in this world and I feel like I am just wasting time, I’d like to change my perspective, not seeing that as competition but just fellow people finding their own joy, and that doesn’t interfere or degrade mine. This book is a reminder, as always, to prioritize my relationships with loved ones and myself and not be afraid to be the one walking to class smiling at anybody I make eye contact with. (Most people I do that with tend to be quite confused.) I can look at the world and the faces of others and just be grateful, and who can’t help smiling knowing just how blessed they are?

I’m so tired of constantly worrying about all of these little details in life that, in the retrospect of everything, are so minuscule and insignificant. After I’m done with school, who cares what grade I got in that one class? Who cares about that one social event I didn’t go to? In light of earth’s evolution, we are technically about halfway through evolving. And in the history of the earth and humanity itself, my life is just one little thread woven in the fabric. I want to define that thread with love, hope, and, of course, joy.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Scaling True Health

As the weather warms up, so do local gyms as people rush in to achieve their summer “swim suit body.” It’s a time to reinvigorate those lost hopes of New Year’s resolutions to prepare for shorts, t-shirts, and not having to wear a parka everywhere.

However, when it comes to measuring progress, people persistently rely on outdated, inaccurate means of determining their true health. That’s why one Canadian university tried something different. Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario has recently replaced traditional body-weight scales in its gym with another kind: Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs and self-actualization. Signs in the building ask gym-goers to focus on health metrics that don’t pertain to their weight.

This decision didn’t come without some backlash. Some critics see the change as one not promoting body acceptance, but one that ignores objective facts. The underlying message to take away from this change is to see health beyond physical appearance, and body-weight scales and BMI charts aren’t accurate representations of true health and well-being.

Traditional means of measuring our health often fall back to our weight. Studies consistently show, like one from the Center of Disease Control, that maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and can help prevent and control many ailments like heart disease and high blood pressure. Long-term weight control comes from healthy eating and regular exercise.

If health professionals and patients strictly look at the number on a scale, they only see one side of the story. Using a scale and Body Mass Index chart to determine what weight is appropriate for one’s height disregards factors that could illustrate an entirely different idea of health for up to twenty percent of people. An article from Time magazine  says that scientists cannot use a BMI number to distinguish fat from muscle, nor can the number understand different types of fat that each have different metabolic effects on health.

Someone who is at a “healthy weight” can be less healthy than someone considered “overweight” and even “obese.” These designations thus lose any sense of reliability or purpose for everyday wellness. In fact, according to Live Science, some studies suggest being overweight can improve survival of chronic diseases. A single number, although easy to rely on, doesn’t take into account someone’s everyday habits, body composition, nor their mental health.

When it comes to true health, perhaps psychologist Abraham Maslow had a good idea when studying the concept “self-actualization.” This term refers to an individual’s growth toward fulfillment of the highest of needs. Website Simple Psychology breaks down the five-stage model as humanity’s needs for basic survival, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment. The pyramid has the largest portions dedicated to physiological and safety needs for security, food, water, and shelter. From there, humans desire feeling love and esteem that come from relationships and accomplishments. With all of these needs in balance, one can achieve their full potential and purpose in life.

If people simply focus on one area of life, such as physical appearance and achieving their “goal body,” other innate needs get pushed aside and disregarded. People push themselves so much to be more productive and become better versions of themselves, but rarely do they step back to consider how the rest of their lives might be affected. Deprioritizing less visible signs of wellness leads to further stigmatization of mental health problems that equally determine our well-being.

Measuring health is not a one-size-fits-all system, but an individual analysis of genetic and environmental circumstances. Studies show significant evidence that each body has a biological control of body weight at a given set point. With Western culture’s fascination with fad diets and overexercising, bodies replace their set points with various “settling points” that disregard biological signals throw people off-balance in a limbo that cannot endure in the long run. Rather than focusing on others bodies and numbers on a scale, individuals must understand their own body’s needs and natural resting point where they will truly thrive.

Even if people still want to take physical measurements of their patients, there are still better options out there. For example, gaining strength and endurance, wherever the starting point may be, shows progress and comes from consistent physical activity. Also, measuring one’s resting heart rate will show if the cardiovascular system is working efficiently to maintain good heart health, along with measuring blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic promotes a heart rate around 60-100 beats per minute and a blood pressure in the 120/80 range are normal and healthy.

Rather than going to the gym and working out for the external desires that seem to sporadically trend, people should focus instead on the internal and overall benefits. Regular exercise can reduce stress, improve sleep, keep skin looking younger longer, increase everyday energy, and improves productivity. Seeing exercise as an activity that works from the inside out can, in turn, improve the relationship individuals have with it, seeing it less as a obligation and more as an enjoyable pastime.

Canada’s Carleton University has certainly made a significant step toward seeing health as more than a number, and other gyms and universities should follow suit. Judging one’s lifestyle and health based off of a single glance is both unrealistic and damaging, leading to even greater health concerns like eating disorders and exercise addictions. Something as simple as gravitational pull with the earth should not have such a strong hold on society as it currently does. The human body is an amazing thing capable of fantastic feats. The best way to appreciate that is to listen to and care of it, accepting however it looks and building a loving relationship with it that goes beyond skin-deep.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie