“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

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

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

How “To-Do”

In the past month, my mom and I have beginning to sporadically read a small devotional that somehow always seems relevant to the current situation. It’s crazy how much a few simple words can speak to you.

Last week, one little tidbit talked about the importance of slowing down and prioritizing what truly matters in life. Rather than feeling held down by a daily to-do list, we should spend our precious time appreciating each moment we have. After all, there’s a reason we only have twenty-four hours each day, and not each hour is meant to be used for productivity. Even robots have to recharge their batteries at some point.

However, I do want to make the distinction of the intentions behind completing certain tasks. Nothing can quite match that feeling of accomplishing a large task or something you’ve really been meaning to do. I don’t think we should feel guilty for having busier days that equate to an endlessly scurrying mouse. Or the other phrase involving a chicken with no head, but I like my chickens still clucking.

Anyways. As someone who prides herself on being hard-working and ambitious, I’m a huge proponent for having goals and constantly evolving yourself to meet them. I always want to feel like I’m moving forward at a decent pace and not slowed down for anything not for the greater good.

Obviously you cannot always be running at full speed. Whether it’s your body, mind, or circumstances, when we get too lost in the fog of work, sometimes we have to run into a wall to actually notice that we’re tired and require rest.

As much as I critique how society strives for instant gratification, quick perfection and benefits at every given moment, there is a very good aspect to finding joy in your work. After all, why would we want to get anything done if there wasn’t a purpose for doing so?

The devotion mentioned earlier was on that frame of mind. We shouldn’t feel compelled to have every inch of lives tidy for the sake of others’ approval. Peer pressure and social media shouldn’t be the driving force in getting us to go certain places or buy certain products just so you don’t feel left out or behind.

At the end of the day, we each are living our own individual lives. Nobody can accurately tell us how to reach a certain caliber or make it better than anybody else’s. We are in the driver’s seat, and only through our spiritual and emotional inquiries do we realize how to lead the best life for ourselves, regardless of how that looks to others.

There is a clear distinction between being young, not helping yourself to at least prepare for what tasks might come ahead, and being open to what life might bring while still doing the best you can at this present moment. The work you do should be to bring joy and fulfillment into your life so you can feel confident about utilizing each day.

And that work could just be taking care of yourself. It could be cleaning your living space for a (probably placebo) effect of feeling rejuvenated. It could be pursuing a passion, finishing a class assignment, or taking steps forward in a certain career. Whatever work may look like to you each day, I really value those who feel that inner drive to not just sit idly by or work simply for the facade of productivity, but to take charge of their own happiness.

College days, constantly changing majors and juggling multiple responsibilities at once like a sideshow carnival act, is certainly a setting that can turn work into a chore. Inevitably, we must all get chores done that we would much rather not be doing or we feel are required of us to do. But this also an ideal time to discover for yourself what work sparks satisfaction and doing it often.

The second we step outside of a college campus, are days will turn into ones devoted to the work force. So if young people aren’t going forward without some solid inclination of supporting themselves from one day to the next, where do they find any drive? How will they feed a hunger for more if they don’t know how to tap into it?

When in doubt, introspection. Ask yourself what makes you happy and how to incorporate that now for the future. Find appreciation in the little moments that we might overlook if it’s just a task to check off the list. Admittedly, I actually really enjoy doing errands, grocery shopping, and general cleaning. And I also enjoy writing for this blog five days a week. And I enjoy finding new opportunities to grow and expand my horizons in a way that can form the foundation for whatever the future might bring. And I enjoy making goals for myself that get me in the head space to prioritize and appreciate.

In having the goals I do, some might think I’m just speeding through life too quickly, and to that, I can occasionally agree that I can be hard on myself. But nonetheless, by leading the life I do, performing what might look like work, I feel I can attract more personal joy that translates into joy in everything else I do. I can be a nicer person. I can welcome people who value the same things with open arms and lots of love.

So if your daily tasks are just endless to-do lists that end up being just busy work, nothing listed that exercises your mind and passion, then it’s time to reevaluate. It’s time to look beyond just mundane and inject joy. While I don’t expect the normal, healthy population to walk as quickly as I do, I think we should adjust how we view productivity. It’s an individual analysis, not a group survey. We must pinpoint what is best for us, and that means not just seeing a future just beyond our sight, but in doing so, examining how to make the most of the present.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A Slippery Situation

Do you consider oil as slippery? Maybe? I try to keep up with these clever titles, but come on, give me a break here.

About a week or two ago, all over the morning news, the health gurus came out, as they routinely do, to give the world an update on whatever claims they’ve made in the past. This time it involved the “health food,” great choice of coconut oil. Turns out, it’s not as great of a choice as we once thought, at least for eating. Nobody can deny that using it as a body moisturizer is top notch.

Now this update should really come as no real surprise. Why? Because of the key word in the name: oil. I don’t necessarily want to be a stickler and be enough as a oddball out when it comes to eating with others who are not vegan, but the fact is, oil isn’t as great as we might assume it is. If you’re somebody who believes in the immense benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet, then oil is not your friend.

Using oil, whether that is roasting vegetables, having food not stick to its baking pan, or adding moisture to a baked good, is just something that has become second nature. Rarely do I think of many full-out recipes that don’t ask people to oil up a skillet or pan, or desserts that don’t need some sort of butter or oil to ensure a fluffy product. For those purposes, it’s obvious that oil does the job.

Not just from a restrictive dietary choice, but as a personal preference, I’m already not a big fan of oil. I don’t enjoy eating fast food or anything fried just because it makes me feel sluggish and throws off my digestion. I’m not a huge fan of feeling like my fingers or mouth are oily from eating. When you see food as a primary means of self-care, of maintaining a healthy body and mindset, then extra oil doesn’t fit into the equation.

But I’m not entirely off my rocker with my stance on oil. Despite claims promoting different types of oils as health foods, oils are the opposite. Oil is a refined product from a whole food, whether that’s a coconut, olive, or vegetable. Oil is stripped from the original source of all the other nutrients naturally found in whole foods, leaving a single macro-nutrient left: fat. Don’t get me wrong, we all need some fat in our diet, but it’s much better to consume that fat in its original form to also get the carbs, protein and micro-nutrients included in olives, nuts, and avocados. If there are any special nutrients you’re trying to obtain from using an oil, then the whole food will inevitably have the same benefits and then some. The nutrition from consuming an oil compared to a whole food really throws off the balance, as the fat content in one tablespoon of oil equates to twenty-four pitted olives.

So when isolated on its own, oil just seems pointless and unnecessary. However, when realizing how accustomed we are to using it every day, that’s when it gets tricky to change. How can we stick cook and bake like we always have without that “essential” ingredient?

When preparing food at home, the best first step is to equip yourself with the tools you need to reduce common situations that require oil. For example, nonstick dishes and silicone baking pans and mats work wonders for sauteing, roasting (just use the broil setting to make veggies extra crispy), and baking without worrying about a mess. When using a skillet and want extra moisture, water or vegetable stock work just as well as oil. Depending on the purpose of oil in a recipe, you can substitute plant-based milk, apple sauce, oil-free nut butters, and more for a desired texture. If you want a little more fluffiness in a baked good, adding a little apple cider vinegar or aquafaba (the liquid in a can of beans) works well.

Now admittedly, not every recipe is going to turn out the same or at all when experimenting with an oil-free lifestyle. The health benefits versus certain textures are pros and cons worth weighing out for yourself. Some recipes, unless you have a fancy air-frier, will just not happen without oil. Again, the choice is yours. And don’t think you have to be perfect about this. The most important thing is that you’re aware of what you’re eating. Don’t feel guilty for going out on occasion for some oily foods or having any food with oil. The goal with anything is life is moderation.

The point I especially wanted to get across today is that how scientific studies and news stories proclaim certain foods is not always the best source for information. You really need to do your own research to figure out what is best for you. As I frequently tote, health is wealth. We have one life, one body. While it’s great to enjoy the crazy dishes available out there, regardless of the nutrition facts, one of the most crucial factors affecting our overall well-being is the food we eat. It’s disheartening to know that marketing ploys and faulty experiments can spread like wildfire and really manipulate our views, but that’s an inevitable struggle that I alone have no ground to stand on preventing. All I can do is hope I make the best choices for myself, teach others the accurate information I know, and hope others also take care of themselves.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

 

Don’t Think, Just Go

Spontaneity comes easily to some, not so much for others. Some can just hop in a car at a second’s notice and are ready for any sort of possibility out there. Others need some pre-planning and a full-out schedule to put into their agendas.

I can easily admit I fall in the latter category. With anxiety, social and general, going with the flow at every moment can feel daunting. I get caught up in my head of what times and places and situations work best, regardless of how rational my reasoning is. I’m not keen on dropping everything I’m doing at a moment’s notice to go do something.

While a part of me is just generally aware of timing and wants to be as organized as possible, mental health can also be a valid aspect of myself that I fear can hold myself back. It’s a difficult line to cross. Certain things have gotten easier with time, but it’s not in my nature to go into a situation without a plan.

When you’re reading this, I will actually be preparing to leave on a weekend in Virginia to see my brother, a decision that truly was spontaneous, a quick question and online search for airline tickets. And, I must say, I am beyond excited for this little adventure.

As much as I love having a clear path of what I’m doing, I can see the thrilling appeal of just going out into the world without a distinct destination, just going and seeing what might happen. Of course you strive for some sense of balance between the two extremes, but you have to start somewhere, right?

Maybe I won’t be as spontaneous as some people are, and I cannot compare my personality with others. But as I make those baby steps to get just an inch outside of my comfort zone, I feel a sense of freedom and gratification that makes me proud of myself, of the progress I’ve made. Of course I still have a nature that gravitates toward a sense of structure and direction, but sometimes it’s important to go against your own grains for the sake of personal growth.

And, of course, life is not short of spontaneity. We cannot by our own limited knowledge predict and plan every detail of our lives, our next steps, the outcomes to our actions. We constantly must adapt to changes out of our control and refer back to the plans B-Z. It takes a degree of grace and understanding to fully accept that life is mysterious and complex, and too much time spent trying to envision it years or even months down the road deters from the now.

We must decide for ourselves what risks are worth taking. When we must really dig deep and research on what the best plan is to make. Or when we just need to take a moment’s notice of our gut instinct and roll with the punches. And somehow distinguishing one from the other is a whole other predicament that I by no means have mastered. I expect to continue trying to bob and weave my way through planning and risks for the rest of my time here on earth.

A big aspect that has helped me in accepting the spontaneous, especially when it comes to twisty turns of events (people who drop in at a moment’s notice still push my buttons), is faith. Personally, knowing that God is in the driver’s seat and I’m a passenger, having somewhat of a hold on what roads we travel but ultimately relying upon the knowledgeable driver to at least have a map or some GPS device handy. In many instances, I don’t know why things happen as they do. No matter how much I had a vision in my head and prepared accordingly, everything can completely fall through in the blink of an eye.

But what feels like a random occurrence, a spontaneous and unplanned phenomenon, is actually part of a larger plan, one that I don’t have right at my disposal. In my own free will, I choose to accept this lack of control in what my purpose is in life and how I get there. The fear I feel when thinking of going into a situation without a plan is, to an extent, a human instinct neglecting my trust and faith that God will take care of me, that things will work out as they should, no matter how shocking or difficult or crazy they feel right now.

So, long story short, I’m a work in progress. I know I could improve upon my willingness to try new experiences, even if I didn’t have it pictured out in advance. The same might go for someone who refuses to use an agenda or think ahead after they graduate from school or make a next step in their lives. As long as I have a foundation of a clear mindset, a healthy body, and an assurance that the universe will guide me if I stumble, I think I can do just fine. And if I can sneak in a quick trip to a new destination? That’s just icing on the cake.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie