“Crazy” Criminals

As the story of the Pennsylvania young men murdered by a peer continues to develop, I wanted to point out an important aspect of the crime that may lead to more harm than good.

So the fact that somebody would even consider committing this crime is atrocious. It is a violent, cruel, and unnecessary act. Homicide, then body mutilation. What provokes people to do these things?

A common answer to that question is mental illness. People with severe cases of psychosis, schizophrenia, and other personality disorders are categorized by the select few who make national headlines. The more often we associate those with severe mental illness as criminals, people to be put away in prisons and institutions and pretend their lives don’t matter or, worse, cause nothing but harm to the rest of the population.

In lies where myths and misconceptions begin to bubble to the surface. We let our fears take control, assume a single face to a problem to make it easier to comprehend, and end up painting mental illness as a demon to slay. We cannot expect crime to disappear if we misattribute its cause.

So what are the real statistics associating mental illness with crime rates? According to the Washington Post, mentally ill people are actually disproportionately victimized by violent crime. But many complex factors play into how severe mental illness may develop and turn to crime. Substance abuse and unemployment are the top offenders, and when we leave mental illness untreated, each reason turns into a vicious cycle. Substance abuse is an illness in of itself, creating dependence upon alcohol and/or drugs, while mentally ill people often face difficulties keeping jobs and being hired in the first place.

TIME Magazine also found information about this subject. Only about 4% of interpersonal violence in the United States can be attributed to mental illness, yet close to 40% of news stories about mental illness connect it to violent behavior that harms other people. And while it is an honorable mission to improve the country’s mental health treatment sector, doing so with the intentions of lessening violence furthers the stigma.

The constant media attention mental illness receives is backed by our stigma, not evidence. And when we try to isolate mental illness as the sole reason for crime, we ignore the other areas of society that need improvement and provoke mental illness and the stigma to flourish in the first place. Schizophrenia and psychosis become the “others,” the ugly enemies that threaten our way of life. It’s an attribution bias that, from a psychological perspective, makes the world simplified.

The fact is, mental illness is complicated. It’s a messy topic for those discussing it and those that live with it every day. We cannot expect to lock every suspected mentally ill person in prison and expect them to magically heal. It’s just a more dangerous situation. With a stigma running rampant, the mentally ill are huge targets for discrimination, isolation and violence when incarcerated.

How can we break the bonds between mental illness and crime? It starts with compassion. Providing more mental health resources may look expensive, but in the long run, we would be saving lives in countless ways. We should not see problems solved from locking up mentally ill people for nonviolent crimes. Today, in 44 states and the District of Columbia, the largest prison or jail holds more people with serious mental illness than the largest psychiatric hospital.

Law enforcement is not healthcare. There’s a reason why they are separate. People simply cycled through the prison system miss the opportunity to receive actual treatment and support, limiting them from potentially setting themselves on the right path in life. There is already an overflow of people incarcerated, let alone conditions that might take care of people’s well-beings.

Now back to this particular headlining story of the four missing young men expecting to make a drug deal and ending up buried twelve feet underground in a mass grave. Reports say the perpetrator suffers from schizophrenia. Does that mean this disease directly leads to violence? NO. Most people with schizophrenia are not violent, and even if they do exude violent tendencies, they are more likely caused from childhood conduct problems and other disorders rather than schizophrenia itself. We must distinguish the clear differences between rage or aggression, and psychosis or an intense state of fear.

Hallucinations and delusions that come with psychosis and schizophrenia, whether they be visual and/or auditory, can be very scary for the one experiencing them. And they might go without medication or any treatment to avoid the stereotypes assumed from these symptoms, that they will become the monster news outlets paint them into. It is society’s responsibility to show compassion and empathy. We must separate what a criminal looks like from a person suffering from mental illness because chances are, they look very different. No longer can we clump together a hodgepodge of assumptions into a single prison system. We must put faces and lives behind the orange jumpsuits and help them in whatever way we can, whether that’s rehabilitation behind bars or treatment in a mental health facility.

Before we rely upon a single catchy headline to define what violence looks like in America, let’s educate ourselves as to what our words and actions mean and the repercussions they have on a significant portion of people. People deserving of love and respect.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Back Home

This is an exciting week to say the least.

If you’ve been on my blog long enough (which, if that’s the case, I appreciate you so much), you will know that when I say “home,” I don’t necessarily mean the house I live in with my parents over the summer and especially not the temporary college apartment blocks from campus. Home, as strange as it may sound, is a camp I attended for four years as a participant, twice as an alumni visiting, and once as a reporter discussing the camp and everything is encompasses for those involved.

What a mouthful, right? A camp that is apparently this great? Isn’t that what all kids say about the childhood summer camps they attended? I don’t have much comparison to draw from, but trust me when I say that this particular camp is top notch.

It starts out as Governors Camp for middle school students. Those considered gifted in academics or leadership come for a week to take very unique classes (everything from fencing to cake decorating) and have a various array of presenters and evening activities. As much we jokingly call it “nerd camp,” there is so much more going on. But the root of it all is to promote funding for gifted education.

Now the fun part of camp comes when you’re in high school, graduating onto the Ambassadors of Excellence. The single week expands into two weeks and final show presented at the end. As in everybody, regardless of your musical talents, puts on a performance similar to that of show choir, singing and dancing and all. And yet with days spent in rehearsal learning music and choreography, campers truly become family. As in once it hits our last year of camp, everybody is crying thinking of never coming back to this place as an ambassador.

And with everything else camp entails, anybody who has gone can tell you it is very hard to describe. People don’t understand what we do and why we do it, but maybe that’s the most interesting part of it. What gets a bunch of peers from around the area to come running back every year to dress up in costumes and learn over an hour’s worth of musical numbers? It’s the community. The people drawn to the same place that may never speak to each other otherwise can somehow find a common interest and perhaps even more. It’s the environment that encourages young minds to push outside of their comfort zones despite their unique circumstances, to not fear but embrace mistakes, to grow as individuals in ways we never expected. It’s the realization that once you leave, you still have the acceptance and support from over a hundred people going on their separate paths and yet always connected by a irreplaceable bond.

So why am I rambling onto today about this camp? Well, I will be spending the week as a team leader, working for the camp in a new way. I guess they can never shake me from leaving, huh? While I will be with the younger campers most of the time, I am still beyond excited to get back into that environment and support young people to love the place as much as I do. I have not been able to be a team leader before this summer since I am usually stuck working with no week vacation time available. But because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, despite the hardship getting here, I’d like to think the stars have aligned for me to finally fill the role. I mean, I have come back in some capacity even after leaving the program three summers ago. Crazy how fast time flies by.

You won’t see much difference on the blog this week even though I’ll be busier than usual. Of course I write everything ahead of time, so no surprises there. But I wanted to at least express my excitement about being a part of a program I hold so dearly. While I want to dedicate my time and energy toward helping others, I am especially passionate about instilling the values I learned from this camp that were so powerful in my formative years.

And from this camp, I am equipped to begin my senior year of undergrad studies and see where life takes me, hoping I can leave the world better than it was and make a positive impact however I can.

As generation after generation enters the world, the least we can do is lead a good example. Having resources like these camps and gifted education in general available as assets for growing minds is crucial in innovation and development. As cheesy as it sounds, young people are our future. The large responsibility of living with the decisions we’ve made and potential consequences fall into their hands. They deserve to learn in whatever capacity they can. They deserve to live in a world that wants them to reach their fullest potentials.

Being a summer camp counselor for a week might not be the change in perspective that makes these statements common mantras, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Just the Right Time

Here’s a quick little story for this end-of-the-week post.

As my mom and I were going on a walk along my city’s bike trail (which, might I add, they should have clear lanes of traffic or something), and since we were on a busier section of the trail, we came across many different people. With the townspeople as nice as they are, they often will greet us with a smile or a “good morning” as we pass.

However, one person we came across was more than a passing exchange of few words. Along the river, I saw coming up an older woman pushing a covered mesh stroller. I was slightly giddy wondering if she was pushing a dog in there. While there wasn’t a dog, she was actually pushing her cat.

The cat had apparently undergone some less than favorable experiences recently. She only had three legs because a cancer had spread through the fourth one and had to be amputated. The woman cares so much for this cat and knowing she liked to walk outside, she traded a leash for a stroller.

The woman, who happened to have a European accent I couldn’t quite place, asked my mom and I directions for a certain strip mall nearby. The woman didn’t seem to have a phone or anything else with her, so it made sense she needed some help.

It turned out that was she new to the city. She was originally living in Florida, but she didn’t say her reasons for moving north. My mom and I were probably with this woman for about ten minutes as she opened up to us about her struggles of being in a completely new environment. Besides her cat’s ailing health, she has been trying to find a job that would suit her credentials and has come up empty. Even with an advanced degree in cosmetology, younger and less qualified applicants had been chosen over her.

She also became teary eyed as she admitted how lonely she felt. As a single woman living in an apartment, she had not reached out much to anybody nearby and, in general, felt very lost. She was stressed, concerned about her and her cat’s well-being, and trying to find the determination to keep moving forward.

But let me tell you, being around her was a comforting experience. She discussed how much she loved being in nature. In fact, whenever she walks, she picks up pieces of littered plastic along the way, sticking it in a little compartment on the cat stroller. She had even stopped driving to pick up a littered street, warning others who planned to go in that direction. One time when picking up litter, she stopped to see a yellow-chested bird sitting calmly on a bench, seeming to be singing a sweet song to her before flying away, a little sign of hope.

While we weren’t able to exchange any names or phone numbers, my mom and I empathized and comforted this woman as she opened up, even suggesting calling the suicide hotline for some support. She refused to think about trying medication that might mess with her body, a completely understandable opinion, but we suggested the options that were available.

What was meant to be a simple walk through some city parks turned into an experience that felt almost surreal. When you feel like you were truly meant to be somewhere at that exact moment, to cross paths with certain people. It’s a reminder of how incredible life is and the impact we can each have, even if that impact is subtle.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been in this woman’s shoes. Obviously not the exact same situation, but there comes a time when we are overwhelmed, that we feel like we’re drowning in an endless sea. We ask God or the universe, “What more am I supposed to bear? What else can go wrong?”

No matter what we are facing, there always is and will be hope. And when we lose sight of that, we must rely upon our resources to revive our spirits and remind us of this simple fact. Amidst all of the cacophony, we are distracted from that little bird singing its sweet song. We should not feel ashamed for admitting when we need that push, whether that is self-care, reaching out to loved ones, or utilizing therapy and medication.

I don’t think I’ll ever see that woman again. And if I do, I know that it will again be for a reason. From simple moments come life’s greatest lessons. We reach out to those who may need our words and actions and vice versa. I will never doubt that there are some people in this world who angels without wings, bearing our souls and testing us in ways we might not expect.

If I can communicate just a smidgen of my experience on the bike trail last week, I want everyone to know that vulnerability can be a lifeline that we must cherish. We should view each person we may come across, whether that’s a best friend or stranger passing by, as an opportunity to spread love and compassion. We must realize our shared burden of hardship in life, a universal trait of humanity, and know that support is always within reach.

So life may be full of hardship, but it’s full of these tidbits that make every hardship worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Aid Comes First

How I stumbled upon this topic is an interesting tale in of itself. My family likes to watch Jeopardy! every afternoon, a little tradition of shouting answers at the TV.

But halfway through when Alex Trebek talks to each contestant, one person mentioned that wherever she travels, she takes along a stuffed koala bear. My gut reaction, as with most things, is to be critical of what sense that makes. At least until she explained what that koala bear represented.

His name is Algee, named after an acronym used for an action plan utilized in Mental Health First Aid training. For as much as I research about everything mental health-related, this is one program I had not heard about until then.

Mental Health First Aid was created in 2001 by Betty Kitchener, a nurse specializing in health education, and Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor. Kitchener and Jorm run Mental Health First Aid Australia, a national non-profit health promotion charity focused on training and research. The United States is just one of the many countries that have adapted the program from Australia.

The program consists of an eight-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. The target audience is more geared toward the common person with a basic understanding of mental health so everyone can have the skills necessary to help others.

According to its website, the premise behind the training is to make a mental health crisis equivalent to that of any other physical ailment. Most of us would know how to help if we saw someone having a heart attack—we’d start CPR, or at the very least, call 911. But too few of us would know how to respond if we saw someone having a panic attack or if we were concerned that a friend or co-worker might be showing signs of alcoholism. Mental Health First Aid takes the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and providing an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder.

The action plan mentioned above form that ALGEE. Assess the risk for suicide and/or harm. Listen nonjudgmentally. Give reassurance and information. Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other coping strategies.

While I see a tremendous benefit in educating people on the basics of mental illness, I do think that other sources of information are necessary for a fuller perspective of how to view mental illness. From the videos I’ve seen on the program’s website, the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, especially those labeled as “psychosis” tend to be very stereotyped in the typical behaviors to look out for and how to address them. I appreciate the goal to make the training as common as CPR training, but we have to realize that there’s a reason why we stigmatize mental illness: it’s very complex and hard to understand without doing so. Seeing someone having a heart attack is fairly straightforward. A panic attack or any other mental crisis could vary greatly from person to person.

But having a program like Mental Health First Aid is a great starting point, don’t get me wrong there. It’s a launchpad for so much more, especially when it’s targeted toward everybody, regardless of your background or education. And with the outreach it has already made, the website boasting over a million Americans certified, I think we could go the next step forward.

With the knowledge of how to address a mental illness crisis, how can we learn more about how a person might have a reached a point of concern? How can we prevent that from happening in the first place? Prevention should come from both the individuals who fall under the mental illness umbrella and those who are simply offering support. How does society’s view toward mental illness spur on more concerns? What subtle signs and symptoms might we overlook that lead up to needing first aid?

Inevitably, this is me trying to fit a very large problem into something reasonable and compact for anybody to consider. I feel that’s the only way we can actually approach it, as an “average joe.” But you shouldn’t have to be a psychological professional to at least care enough to inform yourself about mental health. We cannot downplay the potential of each of us to make a lasting difference in others’ lives.

Do I think you need a fancy class and certification to address mental illness? Certainly not. If that was the case, I’ve been wasting lots of time writing the past year. Our most powerful resources are not just trained instructors, but our neighbors and friends who have firsthand experience. It’s other advocacy organizations like NAMI dedicated to fighting the stigma. We should be equipping ourselves with as many tools as we can grasp. There is then no limit as to how much progress we could make.

And if a cute little koala gets to be a spokesperson for it all, that helps, too.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

How Fun is Fundraising?

I don’t know if I’ll ever be not uncomfortable when I hear the word “fundraising.” My mind immediately goes to selling cookie dough in elementary school, or selling food to help my high school’s band program. Which, in most cases, has been just family being the main contributors.

When you’re someone who doesn’t tend to deviate away from keeping to myself and not bothering others, fundraising feels like the exact opposite. The last thing I want to do is walk door-to-door and ask strangers for money. If those strangers are anything like me, they probably wouldn’t even answer the door anyways. They’d just duck under the windows until I go away. (Yes, I basically have a stop-drop-roll maneuver to avoid answering the door. Judge away.)

But inevitably, I cannot avoid this basic activity. In fact, for many of the groups and organizations I am and want to be involved in, fundraising is a major aspect of being a member. If I want to launch any of my own ideas and projects off the ground, I have to have the funds to do so, and I certainly cannot afford paying for things out-of-pocket. I am a college student, after all.

In fact, my current internship requires that I fundraise. Of course in the hiring process I was all up for the challenge and was more than eager to do my best work, but when stuck in my own thoughts, of course I psych myself out. Fundraising is a concept that is outside of my comfort zone of how I like to contribute to my work, so when it’s a requirement, I have no choice but to face it head-on.

So you may be expecting this self-proclaimed socially anxious introvert to have some magic solution to how to fulfill the protocol of fundraising without having a existential crisis in the process, and I wish I had a solid answer. Luckily there are online options available these days, but even then, people just won’t care or give anything unless they’re asked.

What seems fairly simple to do, make a mere request, can be very intimidating. I completely understand that. I live that. In our heads, we build up crazy scenarios and turn a little gesture into a life-or-death statement. Even for something like fundraising, an act that very few of us have never done before. We all get it. We’ve been there. So there’s no reason to isolate our own fears as something brand-new and foreign to human nature.

Let’s face it: any types of sales, whether that be fundraising or selling anything else, is a job dedicated to extroversion. The personalty type first became championed over introversion once the Western world exploded with consumerism and being a compelling salesperson became ideal. You have to be outgoing, outspoken, lively. How else are you supposed to rouse donors to support your cause?

But of course, what is necessary is balance. As much as it’s great to raise your voice loud enough for all to hear, people need someone who listen to their interests and concerns, and an introvert is a natural listener. We can pinpoint specific people and talk to them on a personal level that, in my opinion, is a better method than flashy advertising. We are purposeful with our words, honing in on the information that matters.

Inevitably, regardless of your personality and setbacks, we all must face a point where we must stretch from our comfort zones. The most effective means of fundraising at the end of the day is one-on-one and face-to-face. But once you recognize your strengths, you can choose the best method that works for you. Personally, this process will start with a progression from social media outreach directing people to an online fundraising page, to sending out letters, to going from there. It’s putting the time and thought into activities that are reasonable but potentially challenging for you. Maybe just target smaller groups of people at a time and focus on the relationships you can build versus the money you want to make.

With as many ideas and opportunities out there these days, the options for fundraising are limitless. If you have something important to say, then chances are, your own hesitancy will be your biggest obstacle. Introverts and extroverts alike will at some point “fake” being each other, forcing everyone out of their norms to either speak out or quiet down, respectively.

When it comes to fundraising, we aren’t all going to fall into the category that loves hosting events and going to parties. There are others to do that. You bring your own unique skills to the table, and that is the fuel driving a successful fundraising effort waiting to happen. We don’t have to fall into a stereotype of success to actually accomplish our goals. In fact, we should be admiring those who innovate, who challenge themselves and offer a fresh perspective on a timeless activity.

Yes, I’m still anxiety-ridden. But I know that if I can make the most of this opportunity, learn and grow from it, and do my part for my organization, then I know the effort will be worth it. And if I can do it, so can anybody else.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Dash from Dining

As is inevitable when it comes to social interaction is the situation that for those with a similar history as me might shudder: eating out, in restaurants, with others around.Let me tell you, I am currently writing this while sneakily eating a banana I had in my bag mid-flight. You know, because eating fruit is very tense and embarrassing, right?

As much as I am reminded that people don’t really care about what you’re doing (they’re often thinking the same fears from others, too), I cannot help but get anxious about something as simple as dining with others.

A peek inside my mind might make more sense. When I’m at home, knowing what, when, and how much I’m eating, I don’t feel the need to dwell on the little details. I can feel comfortable knowing it’s a “safe space.” It’s food I enjoy eating, and I can eat with my immediate family no sweat.

But start pulling in new factors. Different people with different eating patterns and appetites and diets as you. Going to different restaurants that, unless I’ve looked at the menu beforehand, is a shot in the dark of what I’ll have. And whatever ends up in front of me, how much do I eat? What is considered a normal portion? Are people looking at me or judging me?

Going vegan has helped tremendously in this struggle. If it’s vegan, it’s good to go. I can enjoy it without much other thought. But that still doesn’t necessarily prevent feeling self-conscious, especially if that means deviating from others, making different requests. And I still automatically think people are watching and judging me, that they can see me hesitate and overthink a function that should be innate but isn’t. Add more people, and the anxiety increases tenfold.

It’s as if there is a disconnect between my stomach and brain. They act independently and don’t understand each other often. So in a new dining situation, simple becomes complex. What is choosing an item from a menu or partaking in a buffet becomes endless questions and difficult decisions.

This comes back to my discussions regarding life as a constantly recovering individual in terms of my eating disorder. The network of nerves and signals in my brain will most likely always behave the same way, but from these patterns, I can address them accordingly. The fact that I don’t enjoy restaurant and large dining hall environments is not necessarily an out-right phobia. It’s definitely more anxiety-driven, making me on edge and uncomfortable.

I’m all about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s important to not always steer away from what scares you, especially if you feel held back. This pertains to truly anything, regardless of your mental health. But I also think there’s compromise out there. It goes back to my discussion and thoughts about triggering situations that provoke unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. It’s not like all social situations have to involve food. You should not feel guilty if you don’t want to eat out or eat in a certain situation if you don’t want to. And others should understand that it’s okay, that the presence of being close to others and the effort into taking the time and energy to see others is worth it.

Because yes, I would not feel sad if I never ate out again. If I have the choice and we have to order from a restaurant, I will always go for takeout so I can at least be in a comfortable environment. So that means that if I’m actually present in a restaurant, regardless if I’m eating or just sipping or drink or just hanging out, then kudos to me.

Chances are, this is will always be my normal. Just as I am always generally in a lower mood than most others, I have come to accept that I have to make adjustments to live a full life, and that’s okay. The people who are in my life will hopefully understand that, and anyone who enters my life will be people who will come to accept that, too. It doesn’t make the whole predicament less annoying, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I do hope I can continue becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of eating out with others.

Basically I’m here to voice my frustrations and let others know who might be in the same boat that it’s okay. It doesn’t make you broken. If it’s something that really bothers you and hinders your life, then it’s something to work through with yourself or a therapist. You do you. Either way, you are validated in your struggle.

Theme of today: keep on keeping on. Celebrate the little victories and be okay admitting if you need help or just need to leave a situation. Ultimately, if doing something like dining out in a busy place brings discomfort, there are always options and alternatives. It’s the awareness of your personal well-being that truly matters.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Vying for Victimhood

Poor me. Why me?! Woe is me.

Ah, the good ol’ pity game. I used to be a champion of that one. Seeing yourself as an isolated enemy that the world is entirely against. That nothing goes your way. That your own hardship is of a unique and extreme caliber compared to others. 

Sometimes we just like feeling the sense that we are taken care of. We don’t want to take responsibility of the struggles we go through. We look to outside sources that are throwing us off kilter. 

And since people are how they are, we respond to victimhood with pity. We pay special attention to those who face wrongdoing, give them a shoulder to cry on. We want the people we care about to feel loved and cared for.

But when looking at victimhood from that perspective, doesn’t it feel just a little manipulative? Like the boy who cried wolf. You keep playing the same cards, and the people who started out answering to your every beck and call now resent the relationship.

It’s draining having to reassure someone constantly if they sound like a broken record. I am more attentive to that in others now, especially when I know myself how the mindless game works. When in the thick depths of mental illness, I didn’t want to acknowledge that my own mental state was at fault. It must be something else, right? Bad luck? A curse on everything I do? A demon swinging my emotions around like a pendulum, surely.

As difficult as it may be, we cannot cower away from our problems and expect others to mediate everything for us. We have to face obstacles head-on and be responsible for our actions and emotions.

As cliche as the Pinterest-esque quotes sound, we truly as the protagonists of our own stories. We have to be our own hero. We cannot depend on others to do so for us. If we do not have the resilience and willpower to handle life as it is, then we need a reevaluation of ourselves.

Living as our own hero is a true form of self-care. Let me tell you, as someone who used to strictly be the world’s punching bag, knowing that I have led the life I have makes me proud. I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a warrior. And we are each warriors overcoming our own battles and, in one way or another, will end up victorious if we move forward with the right attitude.

As always, it is about our perspective. And others can only influence us so much. You shouldn’t expect others to do it, either. When you know what it’s like from both sides, you realize that in reality, all of our daily annoyances, our lifelong battles, and everything in between: they’re unavoidable. The least we can do is accept everything as it comes and move forward. Stopping to mope over regrets and what “could be” is just wasting precious time.

Regardless of what we see as our biggest problem, chances are that somebody will be facing worse circumstances. The world is full of hunger, poverty, disease, and disability. We cannot help but look at our own lives and be grateful. Feel blessed for the people in your life, the simple conveniences of living in a modern developed society, your health and body and capable mind.

Admittedly, I will still at some point fall into the self-pity trap. People I encounter will also speak of themselves and their own lives as a giant travesty. I mean, the internet is full of people ranting about their lives and “ironically” calling themselves out. It’s your choice if you want to partake. Just because everyone else lie on the floor after tripping, you can still get up and keep walking.

And if you feel like someone in your life is in this category of mentalities, let them know. Or, if you’re the rash type, let them go. You deserve to feel uplifted, not obligated to reassure and babysit somebody who is questioning and doubting everything. It definitely comes with time and it’s not always easy, but I can say it is well worth it. 

You capable of confidence and strong self-esteem. Maybe not right now, but soon. Keep moving forward. Find the light poking through the fog. Life is a lot of doubt, fear, discomfort, and stress. But nothing in life is too difficult to not overcome. So own up to it. Victomhood or victory: the choice is yours.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Photogratree: Virginia Ventures

Thought you saw the last of my photography-centered posts since leaving Canada? Think again!

I’m quite excited for the throwback because it means that I had an opportunity to travel and go somewhere new worthy of lots of pictures. When you have a decent phone, it makes the process pretty easy.

So while my trip this time was only a mere fraction of the last one length-wise, I am so blessed to have been able to do so. After about six months without seeing each other, I was able to fly out to Virginia where my brother is attending law school.

I don’t know about other siblings, but when it’s just the two of us, we’re pretty close. I could say he’s the best friend that has stuck around with me through it all. I mean, he didn’t really have a choice. But we’ve ended up just always talking and enjoying each other’s company. In that I’m very grateful.

So as a student at the University of Virginia, you’d think he would have lots of different places to visit, right? To an extent, at least. Charlottesville is still a college town on the east coast, so you have LOTS of trees. Everywhere. Winding roads that feel like lead to random 3-way intersections and dead ends. You see men walking around on a casual day wearing khakis and polos or at least spiffy button-downs. Stores downtown are basically either restaurants (especially chocolate shops for some reason) or boutiques selling preppy-style attire. Vineyards and taverns up the whazoo. People drive around in Mercedes, Audis, Porsches, and Jaguars. Whatever I pictured as the east coast, it was that.

But we did plenty of walking (enough to make one of my shoes start to fall apart) and went to two art museums, an art shop selling original prints from Warhol and Dali (to name a few), Monticello, the University of Virginia campus, and an Edgar Allan Poe museum in Richmond. Plus, we got to catch up, but when you talk every day, it feels like you just saw each other not too long ago.

So here (finally) are some snippets of my weekend getaway. I’ll include captions for clarity. (PS: Trader Joe’s is fantastic and I need one in my vicinity ASAP.)

Richmond, Virginia, has the largest collection of artifacts from the life of Edgar Allan Poe. As a ridiculously huge Poe fan myself, needless to say this was my favorite museum to visit.

Rather than a typical gallery, Graves International Art sells some amazing pieces. Warhol and Dali are just two of many names available for purchase. I mean, if you have that kind of money.

The University of Virginia, appropriately, has a LOT of Jefferson statues. Might as well pull an Oprah and give them out to everyone. This particular photo was in the UVA Rotunda.

Known as The Lawn, this a center spot for academics on campus. Along the edges are historical rooms that cost a pretty penny to live in despite the fact none of them have bathrooms.

This artwork is at the Fralin Museum of Art. I very much appreciate that UVA sponsors valuable spaces of artistic value.

Fun fact: We stumbled upon a KKK vs. Black Lives Matter rally over a park statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. With all of the history surrounding us, it was amazing to say we were immersed within history in the making.

Charlottesville’s downtown mall area is really quaint. Lots of boutiques, restaurants, and book stores while maintaining the integrity of classic East Coast culture.

Yup, another Jefferson statue. And a big letter Z on the staircase. If anybody can crack the code of the symbolism throughout the UVA campus, be my guest.

Did I feel like I was a cast member of Hamilton when visiting the famous Jefferson home Monticello? You bet I did. And the history of slavery on the property was also very enlightening.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Be All There

I want to make a general observation of certain behaviors I see in others. And, chances are, especially pertinent to what I’ll say, they might be things that they aren’t aware of. I know any of us can get into this sort of head space, but it’s all about realizing it.

I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t appreciate my life and the setting around me. While yes, I do move physically and mentally at a speedy pace, I never want to feel like I’m not looking around me and noticing what is going on beyond my own life. The world is just a big place. Things are always going on, and sometimes it’s the most obvious things that can go overlooked.

So I keep myself informed about current events. I make sure to reach out to people regularly to see how things are going in their lives. I try to live intentionally, making habit of activities that make me feel productive and fulfilled. That’s why I consistently come back here to write about the racing thoughts in my head, why I subject myself to online classes during the summer, why I seek out the opportunities that probably require extra work but that I feel will ultimately pay off.

I am by no means telling others how to live their lives. You do you. But I don’t think it’s healthy to live in such a way that is partly blind, or doesn’t put on glasses when they need them. This can be both intentional or not, but either way I find it very harmful to not only yourself but to everyone else around you.

Let’s see if I can actually explain what I mean. It’s living life without being in the present moment. Maybe your head is off somewhere else while you go about your daily tasks. You don’t notice how you’re treating your body. You neglect how the others around you are feeling. You lose touch with those who matter most. It’s gliding around on a cloud without paying attention to the people and landscape below. They look ant-like, too small to be concerned with.

And hey, I’ve been there. Anybody who has gone through a deep phase of depression or any other lower mood has been there, when life becomes a dull shade of some indeterminable color. Nothing much matters at all. I completely empathize with being stuck in a cloudy space without any light breaking through.

But this can even happen without mental illness in the way. Sometimes people just choose to ignore the obvious, especially if it’s uncomfortable. They focus upon certain things and end up forgetting other things. You have to judge what the difference for yourself.

Because ultimately, if you notice yourself in a daze, stuck in a rut of habitual functioning, then hey, that’s the first step. Now it’s time to address it.

Now if it’s mental health related, take care of yourself. Too often depression can turn into victim-hood, its sufferers as martyrs for some unknown cause. With all of the resources available, we don’t have to sit idly by and let ourselves completely succumb to unhealthy tendencies. We can seek help in others, in therapy, in medication, in just simple steps that can make a world of difference. Take the time to slow down and accept your mental health, but don’t let it become a security blanket. That’s a mistake I’ve made many a time, and it only ends up backfiring and losing precious moments. Progress may look like baby steps, but it’s at least getting somewhere.

If you’re in a general rut, try new things. Get outside of your comfort zone. Reach out to friends or family you might have lost touch with. Or even just reach out to people right beside you. Search out new information, challenge your body and mind and spirit. I could go on with vague advice for days, but I am a mere observer of what I see in others that bothers me. It bothers me that people don’t think about simple things like doing a task without being asked or talking to a loved one or not knowing what is happening in the world and, in knowing that much, not doing anything that particularly fuels their passions or somehow makes a difference in their life and that of others.

Does this sound like I’m being too critical? That I’m just complaining over nothing? Life is too short to let days pass by without feeling like you accomplished just one thing that is meaningful to you. We aren’t meant to be living in a senseless funk, but in a kaleidoscopic world full of vibrant colors and events. Especially in the things that are just under our noses, are right in our vicinity, we don’t have much of an excuse of seeing past it.

Maybe it’s uncomfortable, but we cannot leave on blinders and expect to live a full life, to be completely present. If you aren’t willing to change and take charge and responsibility for your life, actions and intentions, then realize that the sentiment isn’t isolated, but affects whoever wants nothing more than for you to be there and aware. It’s an observation that is made from a place of love. You do you, but I hope what you’re doing is rich and meaningful.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

So…Seminary?

As my senior year of college approaches, I reflect upon my summer of rediscovery. As with the multiple periods in my short life that have been a complete 180, a realization that life is out of my control to an extent, a reminder to keep moving forward, even if that means trudging on a new path.

In comes today’s ramblings. If you couldn’t tell by the title already, I am very much considering seminary as an option for my future. To be honest, this was never a path that really crossed my mind when considering what I wanted to do in life. I knew I wanted to write and somehow help people in the process. I had thought about graduate school at one time or another, but with studying Media & Journalism, that didn’t seem feasible.

And as much as it really tugged at my soul, someone is constantly striving toward the next goal and moving at a fast pace, I know that my pitfalls in the past months have been necessary. I don’t think I would have fully understood the reality of working in the ever-changing world of media without seeing its darker sides.

So why seminary? I’ve talked about spirituality occasionally here, but I’ve always avoided going too in-depth that might narrow my audience and alienate people who believe differently than me. I grew up going to church every so often. I was baptized as a baby and confirmed before entering high school. But I must admit, as open-minded as I consider myself to be, I can still be overly critical of how some people go about living their faith. I couldn’t understand why you’d share Bible verses on social media, why missionary groups saved up money to go to China or Mexico, why people openly admitted their beliefs without hesitating.

I have been at different stages where I was drawn to and away from spirituality. I thought spirituality was an important aspect to overall wellness, but I felt like I was walking on coals when trying to talk about it. Sometimes I got into a decent routine of prayer and devotional and Bible reading, but then I’d slip up one day and drift away. Like anything else, I was striving toward a level of perfection, an all-or-nothing mentality that dabbled in Christianity whenever I remembered or was in desperate need of help.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think that’s a common misconception of any religious person: you must do everything right. You need to read the Bible every day, go on a mission trip, attend church every Sunday to show yourself worthy. That’s probably why in recent years, I stepped away from straight-forward Christianity altogether and called myself, as many other young people do, “spiritual but not religious.” Trying to find a pull toward various Eastern beliefs that I’ve come to realize weren’t meant for me.

If they do for you, that’s awesome. If you are Jewish or Muslim, cool beans. Even if you’re agnostic or atheist, at least you know where you stand. But rather than rebelling from my roots and finding peace in ideas that somehow go against the grain, I’ve wandered through different challenges trying to find a home elsewhere, but at the end of the day, I have to go back to where I feel I belong. I am proud to say I am one of many people out there who believe in God and Jesus. I am willing to admit that I am sinful, that I’m not a perfect Christian who knows all the answers and does everything right. I am just a human like anybody else.

Would people associate me with ministry work? I don’t really know. Again, I’m still hesitant about being overly upfront because I know how uncomfortable it can feel when people shove their beliefs down others’ throats. But at the end of the day, the image of what it means to be “pastor material” or a “perfect Christian” are just man-made concepts. If we feel a calling toward a certain opportunity, regardless of what that may be, we don’t have to explain ourselves to others. Where the heart calls, we should follow. We are the sheep led by a shepherd toward our unique purposes on this planet.

I still hope to write and perhaps publish a book down the road, but when thinking of a place where I could be of help to others and feel passionate about my work, seminary is a real contender. We’ll see where my head’s at after figuring out my gap year of (fingers crossed) volunteering abroad, either teaching English or doing missionary work.

And, might I add, I am beyond excited for what the future brings. It can be scary to think of walking in a brand new direction you haven’t envisioned for yourself, unknown terrain. Change truly happens outside of your comfort zone, outside of what you assume is right for you. Life has a funny way of surprising us with things even better than expected.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie