Category Archives: Blog

A Beauty Revolution

Standard
A Beauty Revolution

Guest Blogger: Michelle Casey

There are so many reasons this world gives us for why we should constantly find ways to “fix” or change ourselves to become the ideal beautiful. I always equated beautiful with thinness: a tiny number on the scale, or a much smaller number on a tag in my ultra skinny jeans.

Since I have pin straight hair, I thought beauty meant having effortless beach waves or the kind of curls that only seem to be attainable on Oscars night. I spent so much money in the seventh grade on hair products, including beach spray for that “Yeah, I just went for a swim in the ocean even though we have a quiz in Pre-Algebra 6th period” look, only for those waves to fall out by homeroom. 

We get so many mixed messages these days. We are supposed to have the lips of Kylie Jenner, the butt of Kim Kardashian, the waist of Blake Lively, all while eating whatever we want and having the confidence of Jennifer Lawrence.

Then, there are other people telling us there is nothing wrong with being confident and we should participate in #NoMakeupMonday and #FreshFacedFridays . . . thanks Demi Lovato!

If it seems a little bit impossible to be this “perfect” person that the world is trying to tell us to be, you’re right. It’s impossible to feel beautiful, happy, and downright peaceful if you are constantly spending all of your time trying to be what your mind thinks is beautiful. So I challenge you to look around and look inside yourself.

It took me a little while to feel peaceful with the fact that I do not need to have the body of Blake Lively or Kylie Jenner’s full lips. It might have even taken me a little longer to come to terms with the fact that I will never have curly hair. But while I am finally confident with who I am on the outside, I would never have found peace if I did not realize what it is that actually makes me beautiful.

I think there are certain physical characteristics that do add to my beauty, but they do not define my worth. My faith in God, my love for others, my big heart, my ability to never give up, my intellect, my JOY . . . those things are what make me beautiful.

I believe beauty radiates outward. Our worth absolutely does not equate to beauty, but I think since our society focuses so much on what beauty is, it is up to us to redefine it, starting a revolution. 

So I challenge you today to think about what beauty is to YOU? What kind of beauty do you see around you in your family, friends, and in everyday life? There is beauty in the big and small. There is most definitely beauty inside of you. Keep your eyes open and experience it!

And at the end of it all, Don’t Forget to Love Yourself!

-Michelle

554953_527341453975816_820482026_n

Michelle Casey holds a Rutgers University College of Nursing, B.S.N. (class of 2015). She is a UMDNJ-NJMS Research Assistant, Rutgers University Peer Mental Health Educator, and a Dunkin’ Donuts enthusiast. She lost her mom to Anorexia when she was 14, and she herself recovered from Anorexia a few years later. She now shares her story of recovery, speaking to schools, universities, and groups in the tri-state area about eating disorders, suicide prevention, mental health, mental illnesses, and healthy body image. She has also done extensive blogging with her own website, Recovery Flight. www.recoveryflight.org

The Art of Loving the Single Life

Standard
The Art of Loving the Single Life

In my life, I have been single more often than not. And in my long-term relationship with Singledom, there are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me embrace and enjoy the solitude. They are things that I wish I could share with every teenager, or twenty-something girl, who finds herself feeling a little “less than” just because she has no one to tell her she’s beautiful every day or to call her every night before bed. So, for starters, let me be the one to remind you today: you are beautiful. With or without a hand to hold.

The first myth I need to debunk about single life is that just because I am alone means I am lonely. And immediately following, the second myth I need to debunk is the notion that I never get lonely.

While I am extremely comfortable being independent and on my own, occasionally I get caught up in wanting what others have: someone who is always on my side, someone to laugh at my jokes, someone to play with my hair while cuddling and binge watching episodes of New Girl . . . you get the idea.

So, what happens when you want to embrace your single status, but the loneliness starts to creep in? I have implemented a few tricks that I came up with right after my most recent breakup, and they’ve helped me become a master at celebrating my singleness.

This particular breakup was absolutely down-to-the-soul crushing, and I had to find ways to encourage myself daily to focus on other aspects of my life. The aspects of my life that would be there for me regardless of my relationship status.

I realized quickly that, just as John Mayer sings about in “Dreaming With A Broken Heart,” the waking up truly is the hardest part. So I made a plan to help get myself out of bed and start each day with much needed positive energy. On an index card, I wrote down three of my goals, with the one caveat being that those goals could have nothing to do with another person. This was about things that I, and only I, could control. My goals for my life.

Then, on the other side of the card, I wrote three things that I like about myself that have nothing to do with being in a relationship. Every night I would place this index card on my cell phone so that, when my alarm went off in the morning, I had to look at it in order to turn off the alarm. It was a daily reminder that I have things I am working towards and that I have a worth that is not contingent on another person being able to see it. That I have a future ahead of me and that if I want to bring that future into fruition, I had better drag my butt out of bed.

It got me through the hardest part of the breakup, and it’s something I still occasionally use today; usually when yet another friend asks to set me up on a blind date, or another family member asks if I’m seeing anyone special. Because yes, I am actually. It’s me. I’m the someone special. See, it’s even written on this index card as proof: an insurance policy for my own happiness and a reminder of my own significance, despite my lack of a significant other.

Another key that I’ve found to loving the single life is surrounding myself with copious amounts of non-romantic love. I may not currently be in love, but I never feel void of it. I spent Valentine’s weekend with two of my closest girl friends, as well as my family. I got to squeeze my niece and nephew, and I got to be around people who love me unconditionally. I felt loved, and I loved in return. I may not have gotten chocolates, but that’s actually a good thing because I gave up candy for Lent anyway. (There is always a silver lining, even in the life of a Singleton).

And then there is what I consider the most important thing on my list of why it’s OK to be single and loving it: an absolute refusal to settle. I’m gonna go ahead and repeat that statement for dramatic effect:

Refusal. To. Settle.

I have a lot of goals and dreams, and I am terrified that a relationship will deter me from the path to those goals. I have an intense fear of distraction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t found the right person yet.

I believe a healthy relationship will help you achieve your goals and will inspire you to be the best version of yourself; So until I find the person who truly makes me better, it’s just me and my guitars forever and ever, amen.

Because I am obsessed with the idea of bettering myself, which means I need to be with someone who is as into self-improvement as I am. I despise complacency, both in myself and in a potential partner.

I was in a relationship before where me being me made the guy feel bad about himself, and it took me well over a year to realize that that wasn’t my problem. I had tried to make myself smaller (not physically, although he did comment on my weight more than once) in order to try and help him feel better about himself, but I only ended up losing myself in the process. It also led to my resenting the relationship and ceasing to pursue my goals. At the end of the day, he clearly needed to work on his own self worth, and I needed to stop feeling bad about myself just because he couldn’t appreciate all of me.

There are a lot of aspects to my person that men find intimidating; but at the end of the day, I can’t change who I am in order to appease someone else’s ego. I honestly don’t care if the guy I’m with is shorter than me. I don’t care what his GPA was, or what his job is. I don’t care if he can’t sing or play an instrument. And I really don’t care if he sucks at sports. What I do care about is how my accomplishments and successes make him feel. Because if they make him feel inadequate, then the relationship will never last.

I want to be with someone who is proud of me, not someone who feels the need to cut and tear me down in order to make himself feel better. I am going to continue to try and become better in every aspect of my life, and I need to be with someone who admires, not fears, that. I also need to be with someone who is simultaneously trying to be the best version of himself.

So, until I find that mythical person, I am bound to a life of having no “plus one” at weddings. But all of the things I’ve mentioned in this post help me daily to enjoy my single status, and I’ve officially ceased fearing Spinsterhood. I very well may be single for an inordinately long time, but I don’t think that makes me less of an awesome person.

Being single doesn’t make me feel unworthy of love. It doesn’t make me feel unattractive or unwanted. In contrast, it makes me feel empowered because I am focusing on my future. A future that will eventually include the right person and be reflective of two individuals with adequate self worth and individual paths who have chosen to walk through life hand in hand as true partners. Him helping me achieve my goals, and me helping him achieve his in return. Mutual respect, mutual support, and neither party’s accomplishments detracting from the other’s sense of self pride or worth.

There is a country song called “Stand Beside Me” by Jo Dee Messina, who is one of the female vocal powerhouses that I grew up listening to, and when this song was released, I was just a seven year old kid with curly hair belting it out in my dad’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee, completely unaware that 18 years later, the chorus to that song would become my motto in love: “I want a man to stand beside me; not in front of or behind me.” That’s what I want. Someone to stand by my side. And I am content to wait as long as it takes to find him.

So, my advice to anyone who finds themselves perpetually labelled “the single friend” is this: don’t worry about it. Focus on you. Love you. Because you are the longest term relationship you will ever have. Do. Not. Settle. One day you will find someone who accepts and loves all parts of your being and inspires you to be better. Wait for that person. In the meantime, love yourself fiercely and unconditionally. Because you are beautiful, smart, funny, talented, and worthy of love. Especially your own. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that.

DFTLY,

Natalie

PS – here’s the link for “Stand Beside Me” if you’re interested in giving it a listen: Stand Beside Me by Jo Dee Messina

Trovare la Gioia (or, How to Train Your Brain to Be Happy)

Standard
Trovare la Gioia (or, How to Train Your Brain to Be Happy)

People are often surprised to find out I have tattoos. I’m not sure what makes it so surprising, but I have some theories: It might have something to do with the fact that a.) I look like I’m seventeen; b.) I dress like a modest kindergarten teacher; c.) I tend to spontaneously burst out in song and dance, like a child; due to factors a, b, and c, I give off a “sweet and innocent” vibe, which I tenderly refer to as “the polka-dots and glitter” phenomenon.

To exemplify this point, a few weeks after meeting me, one of my friends told me that she assumed I spent all of my free time chasing butterflies and picking flowers. I don’t, I promise; although I guess it proves that I tend to strike people as the skipping through fields type (ok, I do actually do that sometimes), and not the tattoo type. But hey, I am a millennial after all. And Generation Y tends to express itself by permanently scarring bodies with ink.

But this blog post is not about tattoos per se, rather the meaning behind the tattoo on my left wrist. In a fancy-ish script, it reads “Trovare la Gioia,” which in Italian translates to “Find the Joy.” And when people ask about it, that’s usually the extent of the explanation I give.

But that’s not the extent of the meaning. Because if I’m going to mark my body with something that will never come off, it sure as heck better be something that resonates so deeply within my soul that at age 83, when it’s all wrinkly and hard to read, I’m still glad I chose to get it.

Needless to say, “Trovare la Gioia” has that power. And because I’m a writer by nature, I of course have a story to explain why.

At age sixteen, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I don’t typically tell people this because, if someone has never experienced depression first hand, it is extremely difficult to understand exactly what it is or does. And trust me, I cannot over-exaggerate that statement.

There is such a stigma surrounding depression and so many unfair stereotypes revolving around it, that if I’m not careful I will end up writing a 20 page rant. So I’ll save that for another post, and just simply say this: depression sucks. 24/7.

But back to the story:

Depression defined my late teens and very early twenties, and like a hole that you cannot crawl out of, I honestly thought I would never be free.

When you are clinically (as opposed to situationally) depressed, you can’t see light or hope in anything. You become so haunted by the depression that life becomes this huge daunting picture in which you get lost in shades of grey.

Life is overwhelming. Life is terrifying. Life is exhausting. And so to cope with all of this, your brain numbs everything until you cease feeling at all. No highs. No lows. No joy. 

Luckily, my father is a wise man. Even though he couldn’t wholeheartedly understand what I was feeling, he wholeheartedly wanted me to feel. He knew I couldn’t find joy if I kept looking at the big picture. He knew I needed to start smaller. And so he used to tell me to take one day at a time and, each day, find one small minuscule thing that I could find joy in.

Now I am an extremely stubborn creature and I therefore do not heed my parents’ advice often, but places of desperation tend to make you try things you normally wouldn’t.

And so each day, I would force myself to be happy about one small thing. And then something strange happened.

One small thing turned into two. Two turned into four. And before I knew it, I was finding happiness in more and more things. I was by no means out of the hole, but at least I was climbing. I was feeling. I was finding the joy.

And so the “Trovare la Gioia” written in bold on my left wrist is a permanent reminder that no matter how bad things seem, no matter how dark things get, there is always something to find joy in, even if that something seems small and insignificant.

The reason I bring all of this up (other than I really wanted to get a second blog post in for January and this is the last day of the month, oh hey procrastination, we meet again) is because depression is as stubborn as I am. It is something that, while you can slowly crawl out of and learn to function with and beat down again and again and again, will never completely go away.

I would estimate that around four years ago is when I first started feeling like I had depression under control. But I have good days and I have bad days, and it’s going to be something I battle for the rest of my life. Luckily, I’m surrounded (mostly) by people who understand that.

But I have never been as low or as far down as I was in those first few years of the diagnoses. Until now.

This is not meant to be a pity-seeking post. This is meant to be a reality post. Because depression is a reality for a lot of people, and those people are misunderstood and name-called constantly. So no, I am not seeking attention. I am seeking to educate.

My brain does not work the way a “normal” (I hate that word) brain does. It will always be leaning towards depression, and if I’m not actively working against the gravitational pull, it will inevitably suck me back in. These past two months have proved that.

But while I am in a mental place similar to that of my sixteen year old self, I am lucky enough to have a little more maturity, wisdom, and life experience than she. I can look at things, including my mental state, more objectively.

Which brings me back to my left wrist and the message I paid someone to scar me with; It is now a precious tool that I am re-learning how to use. I am re-training my brain to find happiness.

Because happiness cannot be situational. It has to start from inside, where life circumstances can never touch or mar it. It’s not something you attain, rather something you grow.

So that is what I am doing: growing happiness by training my brain to find the joy in the smallest things.

For example:

Life Circumstance: crutches are really annoying and incredibly painful and extremely frustrating and just overall very time-consuming.

Trovare la Gioia: with crutches, I always know what to do with my hands (anyone who knows me knows that this is a really big pro).

I found the joy in something small. And tomorrow, I’ll find some more.

For anyone who’s going through a rough time, I empathize. And I truly hope you can find the joy in something small today and every day.

Because sometimes the small things can end up making the biggest impact.

Trovare la gioia (and DFTLY),

Natalie

What I Learned From the Worst New Year’s Eve of My Life

Standard
What I Learned From the Worst New Year’s Eve of My Life

“Never have I ever been high.”

It’s my go-to statement whenever I find myself caught in a game of “Never Have I Ever.” It’s always bound to get the majority of people to lower a finger, and it’s also true. Or at least it had been until now. I had basically been high as a kite since coming home from the hospital on December 28 (I had surgery done to fix a torn ligament in my right foot) and while the percocets were knocking out some of the pain, they were also knocking out my ability to think. This was a weird feeling. I didn’t like it. Seriously, why do people do drugs? Anyway . . .

Apparently my body hated it as much as my mind did because my relationship with narcotics came to a violent end on December 31, 2015. New Year’s Eve. I woke up to my alarm at 4am, the time I was supposed to take my next dose of Oxycodone. My head was pounding with a fierce, sharp pain that I wasn’t used to, but I was so concerned with doing every single thing right post-op that I ignored the pain, took the pill, and closed my eyes, ready to sleep until my next dose in 4 hours.

However, when I woke up again at 8, the pain in my head was excruciating. I’ve had migraines before, but this was ten times worse than anything I’d experienced. Forget the pain in my foot, I could barely see because of the intensity of the headache. I figured I’d just “wait it out” and see if skipping the dose would help: not really.

My dad, who’s been taking care of me while I’m on bed-rest and whose house I’ve been overtaking, came downstairs and could tell right away something was wrong. He suggested I eat something, but nothing sounded like a worse idea at that moment. He brought me a banana anyway. I took a tiny, minuscule bite (like the kind of bite a toddler takes when you tell him he has to finish his vegetables before dessert), and that was it. I grabbed the bowl next to me and, not to be graphic, but . . . it was graphic. I lost everything I had consumed since coming home from the hospital three days earlier.

I sat there getting pale and sweating profusely with my foot still propped up on my dad’s reclining chair, right next to his Christmas tree which was full of bright ornaments wishing me a season of “Joy” and “Peace,” while for the rest of the morning I got miserably and violently sick.

The pressure from getting sick was causing my head to throb even more and I went back and forth between leaning over the bowl, to leaning back, grasping at my head desperate for the pain to stop, to crying, to sobbing, to coughing, to gasping, to getting sick some more. Then it would subside for a half-hour or so and I would find a position that was semi-comfortable and just wait there until the process started all over again. My poor father.

Finally the nausea decreased, or maybe I had just finally emptied everything out of my system, and I was able to sit up again. I was able to slowly take sips of water, then try a bite of bread, and then some brown rice. Everything was staying down. My headache was still present but nowhere near what it had been. At least I could function again. At least now I could remember why I was in this situation in the first place: my foot. And at least now I knew for a fact that I really never should do drugs.

When I was finally able to think clearly again, I started thinking a little too much. So . . .  this is how I was saying goodbye to 2015: crying, throwing up, withdrawing from narcotics, in pain, confused, sad, lonely, and freaking bored from just sitting around all day. This was not the end to 2015 I had envisioned. And yet somehow, it fit. It was the culmination of a kind of not-so-great year. Here I thought the twelve months previous were rough, but this definitely took the new year’s eve cake.

Everything changed in a split-second, during an insignificant play in an early-December college basketball game. I went from being an athlete, and defining myself as such, to being sidelined and reminded 24/7 of my life-long struggle with body image issues and the issues I have with controlling food, counting calories, hating myself, and treating my body and mind unhealthily.

It took just that one brief moment, three minutes into the second half, for all of my trust issues to resurface, anxiety issues to resurface, and the depression that I thought I had beaten to resurface. This was the hardest thing I had faced in 2015, and it was coming in right at the buzzer. So close to the new year in fact that it was, inevitably, going to transfer over into 2016.

But did it have to transfer? I mean, obviously my foot was still going to be a bummer in the new year. Obviously I was still going to be on bed-rest for at least another week and a half in January. And obviously I wouldn’t be able to run or participate in sports for months. But, the depression? The obsession with counting calories? The negative body image, the fixation with control, the self-loathing, the anxiety? Did that all really have to transfer?

When you’re forced to sit in a chair all day, there’s really not a whole lot to do other than think. Eventually you get tired of scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and so you log off. You put away the electronics and you’re left with . . . your own thoughts. Terrifying.

When I flashback to new year’s eve 2014, I think about the optimism I had. I had just broken up with “the love of my life” (spoiler: turns out, not actually the love of my life) and I was devastated, but I was hopeful. My gosh, was I hopeful. Although kind of nervous about it, I was excited about being single and learning to love myself again after a relationship that had left me insecure and lost.

I was getting asked to speak and sing for middle and high schoolers about mental health issues, and I was damn excited about it. It was everything I had ever wanted to do with music: help others heal.

And musically, I was on cloud nine. I was set to go into the studio the first week of January with a producer I admired, a band I was excited to work with, and songs I was so ready to release. Music was going great, and I was elated.

Flash-forward a year later and I’ve never been so confused about music or its role in my life. The new songs are still out there somewhere, wherever unfinished songs go to rest. Maybe an unfinished song limbo of sorts, probably providing the soundtrack for all the socks that go missing when you do laundry. Who knows if they’ll ever be seen again, and honestly I’m not even sure at this point if I want to see them again.

My identity as a musician has dwindled to the point that I don’t even consider myself a musician anymore. Once wildly in love with music and how it made me feel, I’ve found that in 365 days music turned drastically from being my biggest outlet and source of comfort to being my greatest source of anxiety, and I’m ending 2015 on the lowest musical note (not really trying to make a pun, but I’ll go with it) in recent memory.

I am still single 365 days later, although I’m incredibly happy about it and much healthier (emotionally) this year. I’ve re-learned how to love myself and have stopped searching for romance. I have become maybe a little too independent (another life lesson I’m learning from this whole foot thing) and I’ve adopted the infamous Taylor Swift attitude circa 2014 when she was all “I’m never dating again and I’m done with men and it’s just gonna be me and my cats in NYC forevs.” Except I’m allergic to cats. And NYC drives me crazy. But other than that, basically the same thing.

A year later, and I’ve lost my identity as an athlete. I won’t be able to participate in sports until after months of rehab. But then again, as I’m sitting here having my little new year’s eve pity party, I realize that maybe I missed the key word in that statement . . . “until.” I can’t participate in sports until . . . Until. The word itself inspires hope.

It means that this is not forever. It means that I am lucky. This was not a career-ending injury. I will be able to run again. I will be able to play soccer again. I will be able to shower standing up again (although let’s be real for a sec, seated showers are kind of amazing and why aren’t they more of a thing?).

So, there I have it. Temporary. This situation is temporary. 2015, although kind of shitty, was temporary. And a lot of good did happen in the year. I met a lot of amazing people that I want to be in my life for a very long time.

I learned to let go of dreams, and people, that maybe were just not meant to be in my life at all. I learned that some people may say they believe in you, but that’s only because it sounds nice in the moment; that words and actions are two magnificently different things, and that I’m tired of people who say one thing and do another. And I consequently learned to stand up for myself, and for others, and to walk away when necessary from the people who are unable to support their words with appropriate actions.

Maybe this is all a gift, then. One big ugly beautiful gift. Because while I might be sitting here in pain, isn’t it the most painful moments that inspire the most healing? I mean, I could have opted to avoid getting the surgery but it would have left me with a semi-functioning, highly arthritic foot, and in my twenties I would have been done with athletics forever.

So it turns out the pain, although highly inconvenient, is also highly necessary. Maybe in the same way the lows of 2015, though highly inconvenient, were necessary. Maybe they were necessary to get me to 2016. To make me appreciate what’s coming next.

Because if 2015 started with such an optimistic high and ended up really just being a slow, steady, downward spiral landing me in my dad’s chair on December 31, to the lowest point of the entire year (so melodramatic, I know, but cut me a break I’ve been trapped inside by myself for days), then why can’t the opposite happen? Maybe 2016 has no where to go but up.

When the clock strikes midnight and it becomes January 1, I will still be in this damn chair. I will still be in a crap-load of pain. I will still be lonely. And I will still be confused, sad, and a little (OK, a lot) depressed. But, what if . . . what if . . .  the lowest point of my 2015, is also the lowest point of my entire 2016? What if instead of a downward trajectory, I spin upwards towards the highest I’ve ever been?

What if on December 31, 2016, one year from now, I’m sitting somewhere thinking about how fan-freaking-tastic 2016 was and how grateful I am that I started it at the very bottom? What if each day of 2016 I only get stronger, healthier, happier, and more of myself than ever before? If that’s the case, then I’m glad this happened. I accept the low in pursuit of the high. Just not the drug kind of high . . . OMG that was horrible. 

So then, here’s to new beginnings. Or a beginning that looks a whole lot like the end, but really is a gateway to something bigger, better, and more wonderful. 2015, I can honestly say you really were not that great. But nonetheless, I am grateful for you. Thanks for everything.

DFTLY,

Natalie

Hope – And Why We Should Talk About Difficult Topics

Standard

Hope is a powerful, powerful thing. From individual hopes for the future to idealistic hopes for humanity, people often talk about the things that they hope will happen. It’s easy to talk about hope because it represents the possibility of change; it is a spark of light that can illuminate even the dimmest of places.

But no one likes to talk about what happens when that hope seemingly disappears. Because, if hope is light, then the absence of that light is darkness; it is depression. And talking about depression makes people uncomfortable.

My child psychology class last semester covered depression for exactly one half of one class period. Comparatively, we discussed a newborn baby’s sleep cycle and crying patterns for two weeks. Now, I’m not trying to take anything away from the legitimacy of learning about neonatal care, but the topic isn’t exactly pertinent to my life at the moment.

So, needless to say I was frustrated when, as we got to the topics I was truly interested in, the ones I really, really wanted to talk about, they were rushed through and brushed over in about twenty five minutes.

Eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicide: devoting such a short amount of time to the discussion of these issues does nothing to combat the innumerable fallacies and misinformation that surround them. And unfortunately, a lack of discussion leads to the development of false stereotypes, misguided judgements, and unfair labeling. For example, the notion that a person who struggles with an aforementioned disorder is “weird”.

During our brief class discussion about self-harm, a girl in the back of the class, who had a habit of commenting on everything the professor said, raised her hand and proceeded to tell the rest of us about a girl she knew in high school who, as she put it, “did that cutting thing and it was so weird”.

My classmate talked about that girl as if she were a circus attraction; one that the whole school treated as a pariah. I was boiling.

Self-injury is not “weird”, it is a mental disorder; had my classmate understood the depth of the disorder, or the emotional pain and shame that goes with it, she would have chosen different words to describe it.

She also would not have assumed that the girl she knew in high school was the only one suffering with/from the desire to self-mutilate. In fact, I would be willing to bet that there were multiple students at her school who struggled with self-destructive thoughts, patterns, and behaviors.

That’s because self-harming, eating disorders, and depression are unfortunately so prevalent among adolescents, but because there is a sense of shame that surrounds them, they’re rarely discussed. Consequently, their prevalence is grossly underestimated.

Keeping quiet about them just feeds the behaviors, but no one wants to talk because they don’t want to be judged. They don’t want to be ostracized or labeled as weird. They don’t want to be the subject of gossip.

It personally took me a long time to learn how to talk about my own struggles. I spent so long feeling alone, like no one would understand what I was thinking or feeling, and so I bottled up everything. But as I began to be more open, I found more and more people who were dealing with similar things. It became a source of hope: the realization that I wasn’t alone.

But so many people don’t have that reassurance and, as a result, they keep everything inside until they can’t handle it any more. Until the darkness consumes them and blocks out all the hope: the hope that they’re not alone; that others have been where they are, wherever they are, and have healed.

My Facebook newsfeed has been blowing up recently with articles about suicide. All of the victims have been so young and all seemingly had so much going for them. But they all lost hope that things would get better.

I can’t pretend to know the circumstances or motivations behind each of these victim’s deaths, but I do know that even the littlest bit of hope can help someone hold on. That’s why we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about our struggles. Because if no one ever shared their story, there would be no hope for healing.

I hope someday soon there will be more educated discussions about these kinds of difficult topics, and I hope that those suffering with these disorders will feel less shame and more acceptance. Especially more self-acceptance.

I hope.

DFTLY,

Natalie

Chasing Dreams

Standard

The other night, I found myself on a school bus at one am surrounded by drunk rock music fans. It wasn’t a dream. We were on our way back to Philadelphia from seeing a band play in New York City; it was late and everyone had been drinking since the bus left for the show earlier that night, around 6:30. I was pretty optimistic that everyone would pass out and sleep on the way home. Unfortunately though, I made a really poor seating choice.

Instead of sleeping, I stayed awake for the two hour drive listening to the drunk guys directly behind me. They were partaking in some pretty cliché drunken activities: the inevitable singing/yelling/butchering of classic songs, the stupid sex jokes, and the slurred spontaneous professions of bro-love for one another. Then there was the beer spilled on my skirt and the guy who kept forgetting that my head was not his own personal arm rest. But, as annoying as those moments were, there was one point in the night where I became absolutely fixated on their conversation. I would call it eavesdropping, but I don’t think it counts as eavesdropping if the people are talking loud enough to be heard in a different state.

They started talking about what they wanted to do with their lives. The younger ones, probably just a few years younger than myself, were talking about how they wanted to drop out of college. All of them. They all wanted to do the things that they were passionate about and were lamenting the fact that they had to wait four years to do it. Then, the older and “wiser” ones (I put wiser in quotations because, for the life of me, I can’t call someone who pees in the back of a school bus wise and mean it) chimed in. They were out of college, in the real world, and hating every minute of it. All they wanted to do was follow their dreams, but they felt trapped in their current situations.

One of the drunk guys loudly proclaimed “I have hated every single thing I’ve done since high school.” There may have been a few expletives in there, too. Everyone else mumbled in drunken agreement, and then they sang Build Me Up Buttercup and an arm landed on my head for the umpteenth time.

I was staring out the window during this conversation and, as I watched the car lights fly by on the other side of the Jersey Turnpike, I started reflecting on my own life. By the time they hit the chorus of Build Me Up Buttercup, I had come to a pretty profound realization: I have loved every single thing that I’ve done since graduating high school.

In June of 2008, when I walked out of my high school for the very last time, I remember feeling completely free. At 17, I had chosen to defer my admissions to my top choice school and in the process turned down a scholarship and an opportunity to play soccer. Unsurprisingly, I was met with a lot of different reactions to this decision, and most of them were negative. Many people at the time had no qualms about exclaiming straight to my face that I was “throwing away my future”.

Even within the confines of my immediate family, there were mixed reactions. My brothers were annoyed that I wasn’t being forced to go to school, and my mom, despite her unconditional love and support, found it hard to hide the disappointment that she wouldn’t realize her dream of seeing each of her kids with a college degree.

Some of my friends’ parents tried to convince me that if I didn’t go to school I would end up on the street as a drug dealer or a prostitute. And kids my own age thought that “pursuing music” was just a grand scheme to cover up the fact that I couldn’t get into college. This one annoyed me the most and it took a long time to stop being super defensive about it. For the record, just because someone is not pursuing higher education, it is not a definitive reflection of their intelligence. (I may still be slightly defensive).

Because of these reactions, I spent a lot of time agonizing over the legitimacy of my decision. Instead of enjoying what I was doing at the time, every move I made was laced with a back-of-the-mind thought that asked: should I really be doing this? Or should I be in college right now? Should I be doing something more practical? Should I be hating my life more?

I wish that I could go back and have a frank conversation with that younger version of myself. First, I’d probably tell her to never, ever get blonde highlights again. And then, after giving her some dating advice and a complete wardrobe overhaul, I would confidently and persistently assure her that she is exactly where she should be.

Because, had I chosen to listen to everyone else; to do what they wanted me to do and what they wanted for me; I may have ended up with a degree and a “real” job, but I am 99.9% certain that I would be miserable. I would be a drunk guy sitting in the back of a school bus complaining about life. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Now, I’m not hating on college. I actually think it’s really important and in most cases pretty necessary. But I just get frustrated when people complain about their lives and then do nothing to change it. And I get even more frustrated when they start to blame other people for their present circumstances. And I get the most frustrated when people look at me and tell me that I’m lucky because I’m not in those same circumstances.

I truly appreciate my blessings and all of the opportunities I’ve been given, and I am extremely grateful for them. But I also acknowledge the fact that my circumstances have not been contingent on luck. I wasn’t handed some winning lottery ticket that said “Hey, you can go do what you want now! Congratulations!” I was faced with the same choice that every single senior in high school has to make; I just chose differently. And I think that chalking it up to luck depreciates just how difficult of a decision it can be to actually chase your dreams.

Jim Carrey recently gave an incredible commencement speech at Maharishi University, and I highly recommend watching it on Youtube if you haven’t seen it already. The whole thing is pretty inspirational and of course highly entertaining, but there was one quote in particular that has stuck with me. He talks about fear and how we each get to choose how much of a role it plays in our lives. He goes on to state that “so many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.” Fear disguised as practicality. I love that.

When people tell me that i’m lucky, some even joking that they hate me because of what I’m doing with my life, they don’t realize that they have the option of being just as “lucky”. Because it’s really not luck at all. They have dreams that they consider to be impractical, and so they have made a conscious choice to pursue something safer. Something more widely accepted by society. But they could have chosen differently.

I believe that it is an act of loving yourself to be confident enough in your own voice to use it; to be confident enough to choose your own path, even if it strays from the one that others have drawn out for you. But too many people don’t use their voice. They speak, but it is someone else who is talking for them. They choose to let someone else dictate their life path; and they do it out of fear.

Chasing a dream is a choice made by someone who has chosen to overcome that fear of failure and the fear of rejection; to overcome the fear of others’ disapproval. Because honestly, there is always going to be someone who disapproves of what you’re doing. And I just think the greatest injustice is having the person who disapproves of what you’re doing . . . be you.

Courage, not luck. Hard work, not luck. A choice. Not. Luck.

And everyone has the ability to make that choice.

DFTLY,

Natalie

Cattiness & Competition

Standard
Cattiness & Competition

There are few things I find more intimidating than a group of girls standing together talking. And although I’m pretty sure I share this fear with every twelve year old boy in America, mine is for a very different reason.

I am not afraid because I am at my first middle school dance, trying to figure out how to ask my crush if she wants to awkwardly sway back and forth with me while standing ten inches apart and barely touching (the sixth grade version of slow dancing). Rather, I am a grown woman, anxious because I know what we all know: that unfortunately, women are harshest to their own gender.

It is universally known that girls can be catty, which is why so many women have their guard up the first time they meet another woman. I know I am extremely guilty of this: I have a natural wall that comes up when meeting another female. Upon reflection, I can trace its cause to years of being bullied, followed by a history of betrayals and falling-outs from and with close female friends.

Though I’ve since met and maintained strong friendships with beautiful, strong women, those scars are still there. And they still cause me to be instinctively suspicious around new female acquaintances; whether it be instant or gradual, my wall only dissipates when I feel safe and can sense a mutual connection.

But I know I am not the only one who experiences this meeting-new-women-phobia. I recently met someone who, in her late thirties, had to leave a job she loved and had worked at for years. The reason she left? Because six female co-workers were bullying her day in and day out. Those are grown women, ganging up on another grown woman. She is now, quite understandably, nervous around females.

And it’s almost unavoidable when you think about how society shapes us; we are taught from a young age that, as women, we are in a constant, on-going competition with one another. We are compared to and pegged against each other in almost every circumstance, and it ultimately affects how we see other women, and ourselves.

For some reason, we see another woman’s beauty and start to feel ugly. We hear of another woman’s intelligence and immediately feel stupid. Or we witness another woman’s humor and feel boring in comparison. We start to feel like we’re losing the competition and so, in order to compensate and gain a competitive edge, we tear apart other women in an effort to elevate our own status.

But putting down another isn’t actually a sign of superiority; it is really just a way of covering up subconscious feelings about one’s own self. We cast all of the hidden hatred we have towards our own flaws onto others, trying to use other people as scapegoats for our insecurities. We have this twisted hope that if we point out another woman’s imperfections, it will somehow make people forget that we, too, have imperfections.

In the moment we think it will make us feel better, but it actually does the opposite. The whole reason we are speaking negatively about another girl is because we feel negatively about ourselves; but then the more we speak negatively about her, the worse we end up feeling about ourselves. So not only do we hurt the other person, but we also hurt ourselves and start a horrible self-destructive cycle.

Instead of trying to be happy with who we are, and allowing others the freedom to be happy the way they are, we just don’t feel like we’re good enough; so, we try to find ways to prove that others aren’t good enough either. But true self-acceptance comes from acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are all flawed, and realizing that having flaws does not make us, or anyone else, less worthy of love. It comes from being able to see other people’s flaws and not point them out, but rather understand how they make the person even more beautiful.

And most importantly, self-acceptance comes from the ability to say and believe: “I am human. I am flawed. But, I am still good. I am no better and no worse than anyone else.”

We don’t get to choose our deck of cards, but we do get to choose how we view them. There will always be someone who seems to be “better off”: pretty, athletic, smart, whatever the trait. They have some, or several, characteristics that you want for yourself. But, that’s their deck. Instead of trying to take cards away from them, we need to start looking at our own hand and seeing the unique beauty that lies within the cards we hold.

Maybe then women wouldn’t be so afraid of each other. And maybe then the fear of girls standing together in a group will only exist in the hearts of those twelve year old boys, anxiously pacing back and forth in their poorly decorated middle school gymnasium.

DFTLY,

Natalie