Turtles All the Way Down

I’ve been debating writing this post for a while because I actually don’t really want anyone to read it…so honestly not sure why I’m writing it right now except I haven’t written in a long time and this has been weighing on me pretty heavily lately. This topic involves some people in my life currently, and if for some reason they read this, it’s nothing to do with you! I promise. It’s just relevant right now.


(One other quick thought: I’ve been having hard time writing lately and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I still deal with anxiety just as badly as ever, but I can’t ever seem to find a way to talk about it this semester. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have so many different thoughts and feelings that I can’t sort them out well enough to make a competent post. So…working on that.)


Okay, back to my topic today: dating. 


Dating is something that has always been a huge anxiety-triggering point for me. Obviously I like the idea of having someone I love who I can be myself around, and I’d like to eventually find someone to spend the rest of my life with. But it’s the getting to the “couple” level that completely and utterly freaks me out. 


Let me interject with a paragraph from a book I just finished, “Turtles All The Way Down” by John Green. (By the way, every single person on the planet needs to read that book. So. Good.)

The main character, Aza, has pretty severe anxiety and OCD, and at this point she is beginning to get feelings for a boy who likes her as well. Here are her thoughts:


“I definitely felt attracted to some people, and I liked the idea of being with someone, but the actual mechanics of it didn’t much suit my talents. Like, parts of typical romantic relationships that made me anxious included 1. Kissing; 2. Having to say the right things to avoid hurt feelings; 3. Saying more wrong things while trying to apologize; 4 Being in a movie theater together and feeling obligated to hold hands even after your hands become sweaty and the sweat starts mixing together; and 5. The part where they say, “What are you thinking about?” And they want you to be, like, “I’m thinking about you darling,” but you’re actually thinking about how cows literally could not survive if it weren’t for the bacteria in their guts, and how that sort of means that cows do not exist as independent life-forms, but that’s not really something you can say out loud, so you’re ultimately forced to choose between lying and seeming weird.”
SPOT. ON. 

I also was writing in my journal a couple of days ago, and here is what I had to say about dating:


It’s so frustrating because it’s so hard for  me to tell what my actual feelings are, and what is my anxiety. Here are some of my worries:


1. I’m afraid no one will ever want to be with me because I have anxiety. I need alone time, I need constant assurance, I need stupid things like texts telling me is someone is going to be even five minutes late, and I’m going to be a lot to handle for someone. A lot of times I don’t even feel like I’m worth the effort, and I can’t imagine someone thinking I am.


2. I’ve never been in a serious relationship, so I”m afraid that when I do get into one, people are going to be judging me hardcore on the guy I’m with. I know it doesn’t matter as long as I like him, but I just keep picturing people saying “she could do better” or “she doesn’t deserve him” and I don’t know why that bothers me so much but it does. I also hate that I think about that because it’s very selfish and self-centered and unfair.


3. I’m a very, very slow mover, as I found out with the closest thing I’ve had to a real relationship. (Six dates and we still hadn’t held hands because I was too nervous.) And I’m worried no one is going to want to wait around for me. Also the longer I go without having a boyfriend or having even kissed someone, the more nervous and anxious I get about it happening and it throws me into this vicious cycle of anxiety that I’m afraid I’ll never get out of it.


4. On that same note, since I’ve never had a boyfriend, I’m worried I’ll like the idea of having one more than the actual guy. And I’m afraid that will wear off quickly and I’ll end up breaking someone’s heart because I never actually liked him and just drug him along.


5. I hate the idea of hurting someone. Even the hypothetical situation of me dating someone for six months and realizing we’re just not right for each other and having a mature talk about it and parting as acquaintances with no hatred towards each other makes me feel like a disgusting, vile person.


6. I also hate the idea of getting hurt, obviously. I’ve had enough crushes stomped out or rejected to believe it’s not even worth it to start something.


And on and on…but my hand is getting tired so I’ll stop there.”


 Obviously I know I’m overthinking this, but that is the curse of anxiety. So there yah go.

Why We Need to Talk to Teenagers About Mental Health

I graduated high school seven years ago. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago and sometimes it feels like I graduated last week, but there are a lot of memories from those four years still fresh in my mind. But what I remember most about high school isn’t prom or sports or assemblies — it’s the anxiety disorder I dealt with the entire time without ever knowing what it was.

While the stigma around mental health has been gradually chipped away over recent years (shoutout to people like Sophie Gray and Dani DiPirro for contributing to the conversation) it’s still is something adults and teens both neglect talking about regarding younger generations.

Teenagers experience so many changes and fears and stresses every day that it’s easy to think everything they’re going through is totally normal. And to be fair, a lot of the time it is. You can be anxious about a test without actually have an anxiety disorder. You can feel depressed about breaking up with your girlfriend without having depression.

However, it is still very possible (and common) to experience these feelings in the form of a real mental illness, and the key differences can’t be brushed over because “they’re going through a phase” or “it’s normal at their age.” That’s why it is so important that teenagers can recognize symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression and they know how to get help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 “an estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 13.3% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.” The NIMH defines a major depressive episode as “a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.”

The NIMH also reported that 31.9% of 13 to 18 year-olds suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 8.3% of 13 to 18 year-olds have a severe anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include not only general anxiety, but post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and different phobias. Only a fraction of teens with anxiety and/or depression are being treated for it.

There are plenty of reasons to talk to high school students about anxiety and depression, but the most alarming one is that mental illness is often linked with suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 10–18, and according to The Jason Foundation, there are an average of over 3,069 suicide attempts each day in the United States by young people grades 9–12.

I know that depression and anxiety do not always lead to suicide, nor are they always connected, but no one should feel lost and alone and miserable with no end in sight, regardless of the outcome.

My anxiety disorder never led to a suicide attempt, and I am very conscious and grateful for that. But it has led me to some terribly dark places and I know if I had been more educated about my situation as a teenager I wouldn’t have found myself carving X’s into my legs at 4:00 am during a miserable semester of college.

From ages 14–19 I just assumed that the way I felt almost all the time — worried, nervous, jumpy, sweaty, and unsettled — was normal. Everyone felt like that and I needed to suck it up and deal with it. The only concept I had of mental illness was from a single health class where I was left with the impression that someone who had depression or anxiety was certainly suicidal and belonged in a health institution because they couldn’t function in society.

I really enjoyed high school, all things considered. I had a great group of friends, I was relatively popular, I was active in sports, and I did well in all my classes. Any time I began to wonder if how I was feeling wasn’t normal, I brushed my doubts away because I was clearly functioning in society and therefore could not have a mental illness. Even as every night I’d struggle to fall asleep because I was so worried about things I had done that day and things I would do tomorrow. Even with the intense, vivid nightmares I experienced at least once a week. Even though I would be haunted for weeks by a stupid comment I made in class.

Even though every day I wondered if my best friends, people I had known and loved for years, still liked me.

Class presentations would make me sweat and shake, so much that once I had to physically hold my leg down because it was shaking so badly. Every single class period I’d wonder if we were going to get into partners or groups and I would frantically figure out who I could partner with, how to ask them, and what to do if they chose someone else. I could feel my entire high school staring at me as I walked down the hallway between classes because I knew everyone was staring at me and judging how I looked or walked. In sports competitions, I worried not only about how I performed, but what people would think of me if I didn’t do well in a race, and how they would compare me to my friends who ran faster or jumped further.

Looking back it’s very clear I had an anxiety disorder. It’s almost silly to think that I had no idea what I was going through. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had even assumed anxiety was a possible way to explain how I felt. Even after I read and learned a lot about the illness, I still didn’t think it could apply to me because I didn’t realize how common it was and the different forms it could take.

Doing this research on my own took years until I finally gathered enough information that I understood what next steps to take. It was lonely and difficult. I didn’t know what to call it and I didn’t know anyone else who had anxiety so it was hard to validate what I was feeling. It would have helped so much to hear just one other person say “this is normal and it’s okay.”

Why didn’t I look it up earlier? Why didn’t I do some research in high school?

I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where to begin or what to search for or where to look or who to talk to about it. I had no starting point. And that’s why I’m writing this. I want to make sure everyone has a starting point.

Talking to teenagers about anxiety and depression isn’t going to cure them immediately if they have it. But knowledge is so, so important. There are many outlets and options out there for people struggling with mental illness, from friends and therapists to online chat rooms and videos and everything in between.

Finally understanding what an anxiety disorder entails and how it directly applied to me was a major turning point in my life. Talking about it and working on what makes me feel better has drastically improved my mood and outlook. It’s still something I deal with every day, but it is manageable now. I feel so much better about my life, and I know I can keep finding new ways to be even happier.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. A couple of class periods in health or an assembly about anxiety and depression can significantly change someone’s life. It can even save someone’s life. Give those struggling in the dark a glimmer of light they can hold onto, and let them know things can and will get better. No one should feel like they have to work through something like this alone.

How to Take Care of Your Mental Health at Work

With the rise in mental health awareness in recent years and the abundance of self-care tips available to the general public, managing your mental health is more doable than ever. However, while putting yourself first at home can be an easy decision it can be much harder to stand up for your health in a work setting.

According to the CDC, mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment and negatively impact job performance. A study by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America found that over 50% of employees felt stress and anxiety impacted their workplace performance, relationship with coworkers and peers, and quality of work.

Prioritizing your mental health may feel counterproductive (especially if it means taking a day off or slowing things down) but it will save both you and your employer time and money in the long run.

So how can you take care of your mental health at work? Here are a few ways:

1. Understand What is Normal.

Stress is a very natural emotion that everyone will experience, and not all stress is bad. But when work stress becomes unmanageable, long-term, or overwhelming, it could mean a mental health disorder.

If you know your stress is not connected to an underlying issue but you feel it affecting your job performance, take some time to figure out where the stress is coming from and if there are any changes you can make to manage it. Everyday stress can also be soothed by establishing health boundaries at work, taking time to recharge at home, and even talking to a supervisor if necessary.

If your stress never seems to go away or is making it difficult to focus at work, you may be suffering from a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression. Always talk to a health care professional if you suspect anything unusual about your stress levels. They will be able to help you determine the best way to move forward and will make your life SO much better!

2. Take Advantage of Your Time

If you have some flexibility with your work schedule and can easily take a personal day when needed, get on that girl! Four productive days and one off-day are way better than five unproductive days, right?

If you don’t have the luxury of time off when you need it (I’ve been there and I see you), take advantage of the time you do have. Use your lunch break to go for a walk or call a friend while you eat. Offer to grab coffee for everyone so you can get out of the office for a few minutes. Clock out at 5:00 pm even if your co-worker is punching in overtime. Prioritize what you need, not what you think others expect of you.

3. Understand Your Rights

If you do have a diagnosed mental health condition, you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A huge right you can receive here is reasonable accommodation, which can mean anything from more breaks at the office to working from home a few days a week depending on your situation. If you feel yourself seriously struggling at work, talk to HR and see if you can find a better environment for yourself.

4. Add Personal Touches to Your Desk

Most people can’t afford to switch jobs or quit because of mental health issues, unfortunately. But even if you have to be at a job causing you distress, there are ways you can make your environment more welcoming and friendly.

A gray cubicle and empty desk aren’t going to do your mental health any favors. Adding some homey touches won’t magically make your stress disappear but they’ll help a little, which is sometimes the best we can do, right? Some family photos, a cute notepad, or a small plant can make your workplace feel less like a prison and more like home.

Bottom Line:

Your mental health should be one of the biggest priorities in life. After all, jobs come and go but at the end of the day your health is all you’ve got. If you can’t control your work environment (which most people can’t) take advantage of what you can control. Take care of yourself!

white privilege

i’ve never needed to imagine 

if a jog, without any warning, 

would become the chase of my life

and turn into a day of mourning

i’ve never needed to imagine 

if an unproven accusation

would strip the air from my lungs

and choose my burial or cremation

i’ve never needed to imagine

if the color of my skin 

would decide consequences of my actions

and stamp all my deeds with “sin”

i’ve never needed to imagine

the hurt and doubt and fear

of never knowing who was on my side

or if I really belonged here

because if I try to imagine

a country built not for me, but for you

where my cries for help were ridiculed

I’d want to burn it down too

but now I do need to imagine

a life of abandonment and neglect

how a country built on equal rights

can choose who it gets to reject

how tears of pain and call for change

so quickly become “too much”

and why those same calls in a softer form

are undoubtedly never enough 

silence still says something

and it’s time to choose where we stand

are we going to sit back and watch

or hold out a helping hand?

it’s time I look at my privilege

and accept what I’ve been to blind to see

the privilege to not need think about it

and not wonder “when will that happen to me”

no one should feel as if their life

is less important because of their skin

the America I want to be a part of

is a place where everyone wins

e

look, 

I spent twenty years seeing only the best you could bring

and we may have been going down a two-way street

but I was driving the car while you put your feet 

on my dashboard 

and spun the radio knob

to something you said I wanted to hear

so it’s my fault I guess

I was so focused on what you were doing

that I didn’t see what you weren’t

which was anything and everything and nothing at all

and when it came time for you to have my back

I learned it was there for another reason

another season

eh tu? this act of treason

came Caesar close to killing me

and I’m saying this 

because I still don’t know 

if you understand the unending and unenviable

and undeniable affliction

undertaken by you and yours truly

when you saw me on the ground

and walked away from me anyway

anyway

when you blamed me 

for getting dirt on your shoes

after you kicked up the dust 

around my face

I realized this love

had always been a chase

so did I catch up a little too late?

or were you purposefully always

changing your pace?

the whys and whens and 

how couldn’t I see’s 

have spent the last year 

devouring me

but hey, you got everything you wanted

edison-level recognition

while we were Tesla and Rontgen

rotting in our willing obligation

to please you at our expense

my two cents is we were left with two cents

while you took away the diamond

after you had to stand on us to reach it

I’ve tried to let it go

but I can feel the bitterness 

stretching its roots deeper inside me

and the only thing more painful

then you planting that seed

is that I don’t know how to stop it from growing

it’s both terrifying and numbing

to feel it tighten over my heart

when I see

when I hear

and when I think of you

like my heart is forming an armor

are more days like this always going to come?

can I ever move past the past?

is this vast black eye the absolute last I’ll remember you by?

they say a bruised apple still tastes sweet

but I don’t know if that’s about you or about me