War on Bullying isn’t working; where do we go from here?

As a nation, we are all pretty aware of the bullying issue. There are anti-bullying campaigns on social media, through commercials, and even movies about it. It’s real, too. The numbers are extremely sobering; suicide is the third highest cause of death for teens.

While we’re all aware of this issue, we seem to all disagree on how to solve the problem. Not only does it lead to suicides, but school shootings seem to be happening almost daily now. This book  explores the connection between bullying and school shootings.

From my own experiences with bullying (you can read my post from 2011 here), I’ve come to realize that no administrative help was going to fix the problem. Because administrators did try to help me, and when they intervened, it just made things worse. Their intentions were in the right place, but unfortunately it just led to more issues.

The thing is, bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. If you are like me and watch 24 hours of the Christmas Story during Christmas, you know poor Ralphie and his brother were bullied. No, I am not suggesting that we retaliate by punching the shit out of the person (although it did seem to work for him…). But I think the main difference between bullying then and bullying now is the internet. Kids don’t get away from it when they go home at night. Ralphie wasn’t sitting on his cellphone watching his bullies have a fun night out via social media. Man, he was busy thinking about his Christmas gift.

Almost 10 years after my own struggle with being bullied, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to not go after the bullies necessarily, because in the end, it’s never going to stop. People will be assholes. Furthermore, I’d argue that the people who bully have their own issues they need to work out and that’s why they pry on the weaker. Hell, I’m almost 25 and I still know people who are bullies.

I think we need to teach kids better coping skills to deal with it when they do get bullied.

Really, although my experience was traumatic, it turns out that a lot of the emotional pain I felt was because I already had low self-esteem. So, basically, in my head, I sucked. Therefore, when I had 12 of my classmates telling me that I sucked, a red light started flashing in my brain that said, “They figured it out! They know you suck! Everything you’ve been thinking about yourself is real!”

In all reality, those kids knew nothing about me and didn’t need to affect me the way that they did. The problem, after all, was that I felt shitty about myself and gave in to the lies they were spitting at me.

Our generation has a problem sitting with feelings. We don’t like to feel things, mainly because we don’t have to. When we feel out of place, we go on our phones and check Facebook. When we are angry, we tweet about it. When we are sad, we watch a movie. We never learned how to sit with our feelings without taking action. Our society is so fast-paced that we have a reaction trigger. Something happens and we act quickly.

If you read my blog entry about my own experience, you’ll see that there were points that I wanted to die. I did not want to live. Now, almost 10 years later, I realize all the things I would have missed out on: two of my sisters’ weddings, the birth of three amazing cousins, college graduation, relationships, great times with great friends, a million laughs and smiles… I could go on forever.

We need to teach kids how to cope. How to stand up not only to their bullies, but to the personal voice inside their heads that are telling them they suck. It’s the only way we are going to save people from themselves.

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Cold Pastoral and Love on a Cold, Rainy Day

“I thought about the things he’d said about her in his journal. The morning after they first kissed, when he’d spent forty minutes writing her a three-line email. The game of bowling where they got high in the bathroom, the way he’d described her collarbone and her smile and the first time he saw her band play in the basement during the storm. The first time they had sex and didn’t use a condom and the first time he came home with her for Thanksgiving and met her alcoholic mother and the discussion they’d had about it afterward. How he’d said he held her and told her it’d be O.K. and that he’d always be there. The bad poem he wrote for her and the good song she’d written for him. The time they thought she was pregnant and the time his grandfather died. How they’d said how much they loved each other and how they always would. How he worried he loved her more than she loved him and that she had a crush on a boy named Emmanuel. And I thought then of how he’d described things growing old. Growing similar, habitual. How he’d begun to wake up in the morning without rolling over to kiss her. How he’d started to resent the time away from his friends, her nagging habits. How he’d begun to look at other girls and compare her to the hypothetical. How’d she’d begun to ignore him, too, and how they’d gone along anyway for another six months, another year. How it’d ended and how he’d felt free and young and energized. But then how he’d begun to miss her. And doubt himself. And worry that they’d screwed things up forever. How he’d loved her, still, whether or not he understood it, and how, when it came down to it, I could never really compare.”

The above excerpt comes from a fiction piece written by Marina Keegan that was published in The New Yorker. Many said Keegan would be the voice of our generation if she hadn’t died in a car accident first. After reading this, I believe them.

These words spoke to me on a rainy, cold day in October when I felt like the world was folding in front of me. Having just come home from work, I slipped under my covers, where I cried and cried. It was the kind of cry that just takes you over, the kind that doesn’t ask first, but instead comes accompanied with deep, gasping sobs that make you feel like you’ll never stop.

Alas, I did stop, I had to. I couldn’t spend the afternoon desperately crying in my bed, so I picked myself back up using all the strength I had, opened up my laptop, and happened across this excerpt.

Marina Keegan did in 311 words what I wish I could do for my entire life. She summed up the good, glorious, soul-calming beginning of any good relationship and explained the soul-wrenching, slow fall of it into a dust of heartbreak.

I just got it, because I had been there. I’d been that girl that experienced those things. I’ve been with the guy who did those things for me. And before it started it’s slow decent into a world full of nagging, jealousy, and ugliness, it was good. So good that once it ended – perhaps six months or a year later than it should have – there was nothing worth looking back on but the good times.

It made me wonder why relationships are so universal to so many people but so personal at the very same time. She crafted the template of so many relationships that came before her and would come after. The magic of it, the dullness of it, the heartbreak of it. There’s a hope that arose within me, because the beginning is so good; the exaggerated lengths we all go through to say the entirely right thing, the soul sharing way you open up to a person and feel so confident and safe about it. But then there was the sadness; the end of the excitement, of the newness and the creation of strain and boredom that wears the relationship down.

I think once everything is said and done, if the relationship was real and raw and intimate, we all look back and wonder what it was we ruined and if it was all worth it. Friends will tell us that we are better off, we weren’t that happy, it wasn’t as good as we thought. We know better, though, because for a few moments of our lives, it mattered.

For a few moments, we were able to go home to our beds and fall asleep knowing we had something to look forward to the next day, something to distract ourselves from the dullness of our own lives. We had a person to share things with, to laugh with, and to conquer the world with.

When we inevitably get comfortable and begin to stop conquering and instead start bickering, we take things for granted. We start to look to other places and we move on.

Why do we do this?

I’ve been telling myself lately that I don’t believe in love. I’m not sure if I don’t or I’m too scared to. I look at the couples around me and I see the dullness, the nagging, and I think to myself that these things are just not worth it. The thing is, I don’t get to see the moments of clarity, the closeness they feel when they open themselves up to the other person and are accepted for being exactly who they are—good and bad.

Until I read this, I forgot about those magical moments I’ve had in my life – and there’s only been a few. I’d rather not remember them, because then I start to miss the people with whom I’ve shared them, and that’s just too painful and scary.

However, I think there’s something to be said about finding another person to open up to and I think it’s this: It’s worth it. It means something. Regardless of how it may end, it’s what keeps us going, keeps us alive and saves us from the ugliness in life. So while you have it, cherish it.

–M

Even on Your Shittiest Days, You Don’t Need the Training Wheels

I’ll let you in on a little secret- the past few days I’ve just been… well, miserable. It’s just been one of those weeks where everything seems a little off. I’ve been so busy I feel like I haven’t had a moment to stop or breathe or organize.

It seems I haven’t organized at all because I’ve overbooked myself two weekends in a row, leading me to let down people I made plans with. Saturday I overcompensated for my stress by drinking a little bit too much, which lead me to start Sunday with the shittiest of hangovers. Sunday night I realized I definitely understudied for my upcoming A&P exam and panicked. Yesterday, I got a speeding ticket, developed a cold, took the test that was harder than I could have imagined. By the time I got home I just wanted to head to my bedroom and lock the world out.

Do you have days like this? Days when you just feel shitty and everything seems to go wrong?

I know this is all very whiny, but I’m getting somewhere with this.

When I have these off days, I get really scared. No, I’m not scared about how I will afford my speeding ticket or if I will pass my test… I’m scared of the darkness creeping back in.

The thing about recovering from depression or an ED is that you know you can go back and not even realize it’s happening. In the past, I’ve just woken up one day and realized I was in the thickest, darkest place I’ve ever been in and had no idea how I got there.

Now that I’m in a better place, I’m hypersensitive to my surroundings. I look for every possible trigger and try to avoid it. However, sometimes life happens and you just can’t avoid it. Sometimes you get sick and you can’t bring yourself to run three miles. Sometimes you go too fast and get pulled over.

I wish I could put into words the anxiety I feel because I know that I need to rest because I have a cold, but my irrational thoughts are telling me if I don’t go for a run I’ll gain all this weight. It would be great if I could accurately describe how it feels to get a speeding ticket, cry about it, and then wonder if your crying is an indication of your depression.

When it comes down to it, I guess normal doesn’t feel so normal to me. It feels scary. Almost like the first time you ride your bike with the training wheels off and you don’t fall – you see your dad getting smaller and smaller in the distance and you get a little scared. Although you can do it on your own now and make it, it would still be nice to have that security net just in case.

I’ve been working really hard on staying out of relationships, simply because I need to learn to do this thing on my own. I hate it. It’s scary. When I have a rough week, trust me when I say that I wish there was someone I could call up to say, “Hey, this fucking sucks, come cuddle with me.”

Then I realize that this is the exact reason I can’t be in a relationship – the relationship would be my training wheels. Of course it’s nice to have a shoulder to cry on when the world gets overwhelming, but I think there’s something to be said about the people who figure it out on their own.

No, I couldn’t go home and cuddle with anyone, but I did go home to my parents. I wanted nothing to do with them because although I could whine to them about my bad day, I kept telling myself it’s not the same.

A weird thing happened, though: my dad made me laugh. I was aggravated because I wanted to throw myself the “I’m single and my life sucks” pity party and here he was making me laugh. Instead, I went in my room, lay down in my bed, and thought about how great my life really was regardless of the past few shitty days. I went out to the living room, gave my dad a hug, went back to bed and thanked God for the crappy few days I just had. Because crappy days are better than depressed days and figuring it out on my own is better than having a guy figure it out for me. I think that’s a good enough reason to feel blessed.

–M

Can we curb obesity without promoting restrictive diets?

I came across an article from TIME.com today which speaks about a new method that is “proven to stop teens from drinking soda.” The article and research argues that if teens knew how much they’d have to walk in order to burn off the caloric content of a soda, they are more likely to pass up on soda or drink less.

Coming from a person who has had problems with restrictive eating in the past, this was a red flag for me. I understand just as much as anyone that we need to work on the sky-rocketing obesity rate in the United States, as obesity had once (and still kind of is) my biggest fear. However, I think this tactic is extremely dangerous and can lead teens down a path that would point directly towards eating restrictions and eventually eating disorders. I mean, really, that’s a huge problem already.

See, part of my unhealthy thinking about food was that I felt like the least amount of calories I got in a day, the better. Makes sense, right? Aren’t calories these big, scary numbers? Can’t we just avoid them all together – or at least, restrict them?

The answer is simply no. We need calories to survive, to think, for energy, etc.

While I do not think that we should all just say, “Let’s consume as many calories as possible!” I do not think comparing your caloric intake to the energy you would need to exert to get rid of calories is dangerous. Here’s why.

When I was going through the scariest part of my eating disorder (ED), I believed that the amount of energy I needed to exert had to be more or at least equal to the amount of calories I consumed in a day.

To reinforce this way of thinking, I was surrounded by people that would constantly remind me how many calories were in certain types of food and I was well aware of how many calories I would burn working out.

Because I could not burn that many calories working out, I decreased my caloric intake drastically. I felt it was the only way to maintain a healthy weight.

For  example, I knew that croutons had about 25 calories in them so I never ate them because I knew the work it would take to make up for it, even though I liked them. (Seriously… a fucking crouton gave me anxiety.) That is just one simple example. My rules included cutting out anything food that would bring me any amount of joy from taste.

The problem is, this spins out of control very easily. Eventually, I basically felt uncomfortable eating anything that was not a vegetable.

Everything has calories (okay, most things). At the end of the day, it’s just energy. Everyone’s body is different – which means that calories are a very vague indication of the weight you will gain by consuming them. Because roughly 3,500 calories equals about one pound of body weight, I think we need to stop with all this calorie stuff. It’s just creating a crazy anxiety and promoting unhealthiness.

Why don’t we just teach teens how to take care of their bodies without giving them strict rules for their diets?

It turns out that once my body bounced back to it’s normal weight, it has stayed there. See, when I started eating normally again, I cut all my rules. Advised by nutritionist, I started “intuitive eating” which is a method that promotes listening to your body (I know, sounds so philosophical and “out there”). She promised me that if I used this method, I would not keep putting on weight. I was so skeptical at first because I’ve been taught all these crazy restrictive rules, and it’s still a struggle to trust this, but I’ve found that so far, she’s right.

This is my own opinion, but I found it’s true: Do you know how the minute parents tell teens not to do something, it suddenly sets off an alarm in their head that makes them want to do it even more? I’ve found that when I set rules for myself, the rebel in me wants to break them. That’s perhaps why I have been into guys that are so unhealthy for me and why I kept going back to the guy my family disliked so much. Well, I think this behavior applies to food, too. The more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more you will want it. When you finally give into the craving, you’ll know you are breaking a rule. What happens when we break rules? We go all out. We eat 2 pieces of cake instead of one because we know that we can’t always break the rules, so while we’re breaking them we mind as well make it worth it, right?

I exercise but I don’t pay attention to calories. I eat but I don’t pay attention to calories. Basically, I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am satisfied. I do not overeat. If I want to drink a goddamned soda I will, as should teens. Perhaps if we teach teens to recognize how drinking too much soda will affect the way their bodies feel, they’d be able to know when enough is enough.

From my experience, I’ve found that over-eating is perhaps the biggest problem and the reason most people gain weight.

I use a hunger scale from 1 to 10. When my hunger drops to a 3, I eat until it is between an 8 and a 10. If I am just eating a snack to hold me over, I eat until I’m around a 6 or a 7. Sometimes, if I’m really enjoying my food I’ll eat past a 10 because that’s what people do. It’s not every meal, though. I’ve found that I feel shitty when I eat more than I need to eat, so I really don’t do it often.

Anyway, my “method” won’t work for everyone and I understand that. I’m in no way a nutritionist, but from my past experiences, restrictive diets seems to either lead to an ED or lead to people just throwing in the bag and going on a binge where they eat whatever the hell they want.

I just think there’s a better way that people can maintain healthy weight and enjoy the foods they love. I wish we could promote that way instead.

Nursing and the Art of Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable

A few years ago, someone close to me became very sick. I won’t go into the details of it, but I will say that it made a huge impact on my life. Those few weeks were terrifying and filled with breakdowns in the hallway of cold hospitals and the feeling of utter disbelief that someone’s body could attack itself the way it did.

I bring this up is because it affected me; it mattered. While I stood in the hospital and saw the people around me in so much pain, I also noticed the kindness and hard work of the nurses. The family came to get to know them pretty well. During their long hours they kept smiling and they were there at the blink of an eye if they were needed.

I was amazed not only by the nurses, but by the doctors in the ICU. I was amazed by the technology, the quick decisions that needed to be made immediately to save this person’s life, and when her life was saved, I was amazed by that as well. In short, this tragic incident opened my eyes to something I never experienced before.

So, now, two years later and countless hours of consideration later, I find myself taking the steps necessary to get into a nursing program.

This decision has been huge for me for so many reasons—I think the biggest reason is because for so long I have had zero confidence in my ability to do anything worthwhile.

I’ve always known that writing was a skill of mine, but with that, my ability to excel in math and science has been doubted time and time again. I made fun of myself for doing poorly and ‘hating’ these subjects. Eventually the jokes became reality — this behavior led to me selling myself short.

When I finished my dual-undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Public Relations, I was happy, but in the back of my mind I felt like I wasted time. I watched as my friends worked towards their graduate degrees and found myself becoming increasingly jealous. Why were they able to land jobs and finish degrees that hold so much importance in the world while my job consisted of posting to social media?

While this may be an enjoyable job for some people—and, admittedly, it can be a fun, stress-free, and social job at points—I just continued to get this sinking feeling that I had more potential. Because I was both incredibly happy for my friends while being jealous, I finally tuned into the feelings I had about my friends’ careers and realized the reason behind them; I did not feel good about my career choice. I was not proud of it and I did not feel fulfilled. I felt like I could have done better.

When this first became a goal of mine, I would toy with it and bring it up occasionally to others. No one took me seriously which angered me and in turn lead me to not take myself seriously. Actually, I don’t know if it was that no one took me seriously or I just perceived it that way due to my own insecurities.  I spent so much time building this image of myself as a writer and an artist – how could I trade that part of me in? Did I really want to abandon the arts for the sciences? Isn’t this an age-old dilemma?

Yes, yes, and yes. Well, I should say, kind of. It took me a while to realize that I was not trading in any particular part of me, I was simply just growing as a person and learning a new skill. The decision to go into nursing had no bearing on the spiritual side of me other than expanding it.

My main goal this year has been becoming more in tune with my own thoughts and perceptions of the world, rather than everyone else’s. It’s been difficult. However, I finally tuned in enough to realize that I’ve been thinking about this path for myself for two years now. If I did not take the plunge now, when would I? Would it be worth it to continue down a career path that I did not love and did not fulfill me just so I could feel comfortable in my own skin?

I decided it isn’t worth it. Comfort is our biggest enemy in life. The best advice I have ever received is to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s hard. I am so uncomfortable right now and I am so scared. There is this chance I could fail and not get into nursing. I could get in and have a hard time with it. I could change my mind. All these things are possible, and yet, if I don’t give it a shot I have nothing. Fear of failure has kept me from so many things in life and I realize now that it’s time to put an end to that.

Science might take me a little longer to understand than I would like and my anxiety may work against me during my time in school – but I understand now that I’m not the only one with these fears and misconceptions. I think the difference between my behaviors and others are they keep going regardless of the fear, while I have let it paralyze me. In short, no one has a clue what they are doing; some just hide it better.

I realize now that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this thing again. I’m fortunate in this aspect. It’s nice to look around and realize that there is not one thing another person has that I don’t. My brain and my work ethic are just as capable as anyone else’s, but others have committed to a set path while I have had trouble with that. For so long I felt directionless, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life. This made me angry – what was wrong with me? I’ve come to find that since I’ve worked on my self-esteem and own self-image, it’s been falling into place. I couldn’t make a choice before now because I wasn’t emotionally able to. I didn’t believe in myself enough.

But here I am — wish me luck!

Facebook and the Happiness Dilemma

If there is one idea that I wish I could wipe clear from people’s minds, it would be this idealized obsession with “happiness.” We blog about it, we read articles about achieving it, and we create Facebook profiles that mirror the “happy” sides of ourselves; leaving people with an image that just shouts “I’m happy!”

After recently reading an article by the New York Times that explores the idea that social media allows us to have a tiny bit of “fame” in our lives, I started to think more and more about what this meant. It’s no secret that Facebook has become a playground of bragging children who impulsively post about their latest accomplishment or gloat about how well their relationship appears to be doing. Don’t get me wrong, I am one of these children.

While the baby boomers will be quick to point a figure at the millennials and call us out for being the “me” generation, I disagree. I see this type of behavior across all age groups.

In a conversation with a close friend, we were discussing the definition of success. We looked at how people our age are dying to be successful and while most of the people we know are successful, no one really feels like they are, which leads to depression and anxiety among our peers. Why is this? What’s going on?

The thing is, when we do something exciting, we post it on Facebook – whether it’s running a marathon or just going out to eat with friends. Recently, I was so ecstatic from passing my nursing exam that I immediately wanted to share with the world the good news. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t know exactly how many people liked that status, because I do.

So, when my friend and I were discussing the obsession people have with sharing good news on Facebook, I had to share that I understood why people do it. It feels good to have good news that you can share with people. We were raised to believe that bragging is rude, but finally we have an outlet where bragging is not only the norm, but is readily accepted. Instead of people coming straight out and saying, “Hey, I’m awesome. I did it. I got engaged. My search is over. Phew.” with their noses in the air, they can now passively post a picture of their ring and their “best friend” and it all becomes very heartwarming.

On a smaller scale, the best thing that ever happened to Dunkin’ Donuts is the emotion I get when someone Instagrams a photo of a pumpkin coffee and I think to myself, “Man, this average day would be so much better with a pumpkin coffee.” It’s ridiculous!

It all becomes very… happy.

Which brings me back to my first point; our society is obsessed with the idea of happiness. Most people create a goal of happiness for their lives and they take steps to achieve that goal. One person might work at their relationship, knowing that if it ends in marriage, they’ll be happy. Another might work longer hours for a promotion, knowing when they get it, they’ll then be happy.

They will be happy – but what seems to be overlooked is the fact that this is fleeting. They’ll be happy for a while and then they’ll move on to the next thing that they believe will make them happy.

I want to argue that happiness needs to be more flexible, more fluid; maybe happiness can be a spectrum. That way, people do not have to feel so defeated when they get the thing they want and they still are not living their life in infinite bliss. Here’s a quick secret: there is no infinite bliss.

Life sucks sometimes and most days are mundane and boring and filled with humans doing tasks that do not make them very happy. Here’s another secret: This is okay.

If you feel shitty one day and look at your Facebook feed filled with engagements and vacation photos and people bragging about passing tests, please take it at face value. These shiny, happy people have marketed themselves to appear that way. Everyone wants to post the selfie of them and their significant other at a fancy restaurant in France, but no one likes to disclose the details; they fought all the way to the airport, nearly missed their flight, their hotel reservation was lost, and they wanted to go to a nicer restaurant that was filled with reservations.  Let’s be honest, too: no one wants to read that shit either.

Nope, the couple just wants you to know that they are at a restaurant, together, and they are happy.

This constant image of happiness being shoved in our faces can be difficult. For example, when I was depressed not too long ago, I deleted my Facebook page for a while. I just did not want to see the shiny happy people, and I certainly couldn’t force myself to pretend I was happy.

I think the biggest problem this creates is that we lose the ability to reach out to others when we aren’t so happy. It’s a big secret we don’t want people to know.

If I were to fail my nursing exam, not only would I be letting myself down, but I’d be letting down the 67 people who liked my mom’s status that wished me good luck. In short, people would know I failed. It’s a little taste of 2007 Britney Spears and her meltdown.

We all want to appear strong and we want to appear like we have our shit together. We don’t want people to know that we had a meltdown about the scary idea of getting into or not getting into nursing school. We want people to know about how much fun we have on a Saturday night, but we don’t want people to know that we rely on drugs and alcohol to deal with our problems. We want people to know we ran the race, but we don’t want people to know that the reason we started running is because our heart was completely broken and we had nothing else to do with our time but run.

My final takeaway: Facebook away. Share your accomplishments and rejoice on your good days. But don’t look at other people’s pages and think that they never cry in their beds by themselves. Don’t think that the blissfully engaged couple never fights. Don’t think that the person who posted pictures of their ultrasound isn’t desperately anxious about whether they will be a great mother or not.

We choose what we want to share with the world, so we choose the good. It’s important to know that when your life seems a little less than good, you didn’t fail at your goal of happiness. It means you had a rough day or week or month or year. It doesn’t mean you aren’t happy or can’t be happy. It means life is just life.