Thursday, March 24, 2016

"If we're talking bodies"...

I wrote another article for The Mighty that I thought I'd share. It's a bit different from my usual topic, but a topic that's still close to my heart: body image. I've been on both sides of the spectrum somewhat...I was naturally quite skinny for years and sometimes I could be quite self-conscious about it, especially since people would frequently comment about it, usually expressing their envy. I hated the thought that my body type - which I didn't ask for or even particularly like - would cause other people to dislike their own body, so I dreaded any sort of comment related to my appearance and bit my tongue any time I slipped and said something about clothes or showed a new dress to a friend and they immediately launched into lamenting how they would never look good in that, etc. Overall, I didn't see what the big deal was since it seemed to me that to be attractive you needed to have curves, an area in which I am definitely lacking.

After I left my former school and took a semester off, I gained a lot of weight, which was pretty difficult to deal with in addition to everything else that was going on. I didn't have much motivation to exercise and maybe was a little more prone to snacking, etc. (not to mention not fed a steady diet of cafeteria food). But I also went on a new medication, which I have a feeling had a big thing to do with the weight gain since it was such a dramatic change. Ironically, one of my fears when I first acknowledged that I needed to go on an anxiety/depression medication was that I might gain weight. It didn't happen for the first year, but when it did, I couldn't help but think back to that. Ha!

In some weird way, I was a little bit relieved that now I could relate to the average woman's complaints about not being able to find clothes that fit, hating to see skinny models, and feeling fat after seeing myself in the mirror of the Gap changing room; no longer would I be any woman's cause for self-loathing! But it was also a reminder of my grief and the life I had lost, especially when I had to pack away all of the beautiful sun dresses and cute little skirts I had amassed but could no longer even squeeze into. They were a vestige of my former life, when I could wear cute outfits around campus in hopes of getting some fellow to notice my nicely toned legs. I delighted in going to my favorite outlet stores and finding some new dress to add to my collection. It really was like a hobby or a collection of some sort. Now I just had to settle for any boring old thing that would cover my private parts and accommodate my embarrassing belly that had sprung out to a rather unruly, un-disguisable size. Not to mention, it almost felt like an advertisement to the world that I was now a sad, unemployed single girl who had failed at life.

Now that I'm back in the real world again, I still feel quite self-conscious about my new body (namely the belly). I'm okay with being a couple sizes bigger - it's even kind of nice to look less like a 16 year-old - but the belly does not work well with clothes and is not easily ignored since it is in my line of view whenever I sit down. Not to mention the stretch marks. And just seeing myself in mirrors, especially in changing rooms. It's kind of nice not to care about clothes as much any more because I did spend an embarrassing amount of my parents' money on them, but it's a little sad too. Kind of like not caring about getting married any more. It's nice not to have the distraction and $25000 wedding debt, but sad not to have the dream, the attention, and the glamour.

Anyways, I didn't really mean to write all that, but it felt good to put on paper, er, pixels. I meant to share my article with you. So to relate things back to the subject of the article, which is body-shaming, it breaks my heart that so many people hate the way they look. I've been fortunate enough to have a pretty healthy relationship with my body (I know I focused on the negative in this article, but that was just to highlight my experience with body self-consciousness), but pretty much all of the girls I encountered in college were absolutely brutally hard on their appearance. It made me so upset to see and hear.

It has long made me angry how society (not just ours, but across the nations and across time) puts value on only one or two sorts of body types or physical features as being beautiful and attractive, making everyone (quite often even those who do possess such features too!) sick with insecurity and envy and discontent to look that way. It just doesn't make sense because everybody (and every body) is so wildly different! Every person is so very unique! Isn't it incredible how much variety there is when it comes to appearance? You can have two people who have the exact same physical features on paper, but, in reality, they are quite distinct in person. So, with such variety, it seems silly to choose a few traits as being desirable and declare that those are the only people who are beautiful. (Who decides those traits anyways?) We expend so much time, effort, and money trying to look a certain way when we probably won't even be happy even if we looked that way. It's just heart-breaking! We would probably function much better as a society and as individuals if we all were content with how we looked and praised other people's looks!

Beyond this, attraction really is such an odd, unpredictable thing, and there are so many things that make a person beautiful. Here I will focus more on the romantic side of being attractive, since that is so much of what we claim drives our desire to look a certain way. Personally, I think people's individuality is what makes them attractive, rather than their conformity to a certain standard. And the types of physical traits I've found attractive has changed over time, and often doesn't govern who I have ended up finding myself attracted to in the end. Just as it's fun to find someone who perfectly fits your description of what is the perfect man or woman, it's equally intriguing to fall for a person who is nothing like what you ever thought you'd be attracted to. And there are people who I used to find extremely physically attractive who I now look at and don't really see much of anything there, even if they still look the same. I guess what I'm saying is that 1) Attraction isn't necessarily dictated by societal standards, and 2) people tend to stand out to someone who finds them attractive because they are unique in some way, and 3) when it comes to the person who really loves you, they love you for what makes you you. So, again, it's silly to encourage everyone to try to look the same.

Well, I got lost again, but here it is: even though there's a big movement to embrace all different body types and progress is slowly being made, day by day, it's troubling to see that there are still a lot of harmful ideas perpetuated and behavior enacted, sometimes in the effort to combat body negativity, that continues. One of those things is "skinny shaming", which I am especially sensitive to after being on the receiving end of some of those comments. So when I saw comedian Julie Klausner saying negative things about actress Zendaya's body, I was rather incensed for the following reasons:

  1. Skinny women aren't necessarily suffering from an eating disorder. Some women, especially young women who haven't had children (like Zendaya...who's also six foot, which means she probably underwent growths spurts somewhat recently, can I just say), have naturally high metabolisms. We don't need to hate them for it or make comments. Also, some people have medical problems that make it hard to keep on weight. 
  2. Thin women can be self-conscious about their body too. It is rude to comment on people's weight or appearance in our culture and you never know what a person is going through or how a comment about something so sensitive will affect them. So it is wise to stay away from commenting on someone's weight, even if you mean it in a good way. Thin women have been bullied for their appearance too (such as Kate Middleton). By criticizing Zendaya, Ms. Klausner could be making other women who are naturally thin self-conscious about their body and the way people perceive them, which is what the body-positive movement is supposed to be about eliminating!
  3. It sends the message that it's okay to pick apart other people's appearance, in particular women's and celebrities'. Can we just stop doing this? How is criticizing one woman's appearance going to help people move away from feeling self-conscious about their bodies? It fuels the culture that leads people to think it's okay to send messages to TV anchors they've never met before in their lives and tell them they're ugly and fat. Not okay, people!
  4. It perpetuates the idea that women's appearance is what matters more than there accomplishments. I'm guessing Klausner had some previous beef with Zendaya based on all of her comments, but it's interesting that she chose to go after Zendaya based on her appearance. Zendaya was at the Kids' Choice Awards (the event of the incident) not for being a model or looking a certain way, but because she has done work as a dancer, singer, and actress. But Klausner chose to pick apart her appearance, not comment on her accomplishments or her outspokenness on social issues. So she is furthering the culture that is obsessed with how women look rather than what they do, which contributes to the body negativity of our society.
  5. The incident oversimplifies eating disorders and perpetuates misconceptions about them, even trivializing what is an awful, deeply seated, misunderstood, complicated disease. First off, not everyone who has an eating disorder has an emaciated appearance. This stereotype has put up a barrier to people suffering from eating disorders getting treatment, much like the stereotype that only young women suffer from EDs has put a barrier to men with them receiving treatment. We need to expand our concept of eating disorders beyond anorexia, bulimia, and thinness. It can also encompass obsession with healthy eating or exercise, to name some newer forms of the disease that are beginning to be recognized. Eating Disorders have often become associated with the behaviors that are symptoms of the problem, but the issue is the unhealthy fixation, anxiety, and obsession and other destructive mentalities that keep a person from living a healthy, happy life. The stereotypes about eating disorders in the media trivialize this devastating disease and ignore the toll it takes on its victims and their families (looking at you, ABC's Real O'Neals). We need to educate ourselves on the issue and address it with sensitivity.
  6. Klausner's actions were disrespectful and potentially harmful not only to Zendaya, but also to the very women she claimed to be trying to help. When you slam people's body and throw them around on social media, that just isn't cool. Even with a strong person, that can hurt. Why is it okay to destroy one person in order to "help" (though my argument is that it was really more harmful than helpful) others. Most likely, Zendaya can't help her body type (I know because I've been there). And if she was intentionally starving herself to look a certain way, why would you be vilifying her for that since you are saying that people with that problem need help? To get back to the point, Klausner could have potentially done some serious damage to Zendaya's emotional health. Comments and bullying incidents like these are the sorts of incidents that trigger low self esteem and/or eating disorders to develop. And Klausner's words reached thousands, even millions, who could also have been potentially damaged. Which brings me to my final point,
  7. This is bullying. Please STOP with the body shaming, the hateful comments, the tearing each other down, the cyber bullying. It's disgusting! There is a respectful time, place, and way to call someone out for the way they are behaving or the lies they are spreading, but none of these was achieved in this incident. Klausner was acting like a bully and maybe we need to start calling more people out for such behavior because I think some people see the Internet as a grey area where hateful comments are okay.
So that ran a bit long, but I wanted to cover some of the things I couldn't in my article for The Mighty because it was so brief. I didn't really want the article to be focused on the celeb feud so much as the issue of body shaming (in particular shaming for the cause of helping the body positive cause, which is inherently contradictory), but it ended up being marketed that way. I also didn't care for the use of "that comedian" since Klausner is a person too...But ah well. So if you still care to read even after this long-winded post, here is the link:

Please know that you are beautiful!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Six things I wish people knew about living with Social Anxiety Disorder.

I was very excited to have this third piece of mine published on The! I haven't talked much about Social Anxiety on here, but it has been a very-present struggle in my life since at least age six (I guess it's appropriate that I listed six things here!!! WHOA.) Even now, when I've made a lot of progress both in regards to my social anxiety and other mental illnesses, I feel it taking over my life and keeping me from being happy with who I am or pursuing my goals. I've found that very few people know about this disorder, even those who suffer from it don't tend to know it. So I wanted to write a little about what it's like to have it. Of course, this is only a very small snippet!

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) has held a tight grip on my life for as long as I can remember. Since I was young, social situations have filled me with a certain dread that pushed me to avoid anxiety-inducing activities like speaking in class or checking out at the store cashier or talking to a teacher because of the immense stress they put on my already-anxious mind.

In spite of this, I have always put a lot of pressure on myself to try to overcome my fears. Some things get easier, but social anxiety still permeates into all areas of my life and leaves me wondering if I’ll ever be able to achieve my career goals, make friends or fulfill lifelong dreams, especially when people tend to write me off as just a shy girl instead of seeing my potential.

It still seems that very few people are aware of Social Anxiety Disorder and the crippling effect it can have on the lives of those who have it, keeping a lot of truly talented people from reaching their full potential and sharing their gifts with the world…or even just leading a fulfilling, happy life.

Here are some things I wish more people knew about the experience of those who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD):

1)      We are not just shy. There are people in the world who are more hesitant to talk than others…this is shyness. Those of us with SAD experience physical symptoms of panic when exposed to social situations, leading them to dread and avoid them. This panic makes it difficult to speak to new people, look others in the eye, make conversation, etc. We obsess over saying the wrong thing, offending others, or embarrassing ourselves. SAD can take over your life and make it lonely and miserable.

2)      We are more than “the quiet one”. I’ve gotten to know many shy and socially anxious people over the years, and I’ve come to find that they are some of the funniest, most intelligent, thoughtful, and talented people. Because we don’t talk much, people assume we are just meek people with little to say. People are often shocked to find that behind those downcast eyes and blushing cheeks can lie spunky spitfires and irreverent comedians. It is frustrating to not be able to show others the real you.

3)      We don’t mean to be rude. Sometimes people interpret my not making conversation, joining in groups, or avoiding eye contact as me being rude or stuck-up. The truth is, I am terrified of offending people, but my social anxiety makes it hard to join or continue conversation because I can’t think of things to say or I’m just too afraid to say them.

4)      Social situations are very stressful for us, so please have some understanding. I have had people judge me over the years for cancelling on an event at the last minute. I understand their frustration, but imagine the panic and stress you feel in your body right before you go on a first date, give a presentation, do a job interview, or start your first day of work: your pulse raises, stomach churns, body shakes, mind races, and your mouth freezes up. This is what people with SAD often feel when they go to school or a meeting, the store or a lunch date (even with an old friend). Any situation can trigger these feelings of panic. Please be mindful that this might be the reason for someone not showing up for appointment, participating in class, etc.

5)      We do have things to say, but it’s hard to get them out. Please be mindful in group conversation of those who may have a hard time speaking up, especially if you are voicing strong opinions or making decisions that will affect the entire group.

6)      We have a lot of potential. Most work and educational opportunities depend on one’s ability to communicate and the number of connections one has. Obviously, this presents a huge obstacle to those with SAD. I work very hard to keep pushing myself in spite of my disorder, but I still have a naturally quiet demeanor that leads many employers, audition judges, etc. to dismiss me as a candidate in spite of my qualifications. Please give consideration to the ideas people share, not just the volume at which they speak them.

Every person with social anxiety is different and the disorder can affect people in different ways, but hopefully this gives a better idea of what life is like with SAD. It may seem like a weakness of character fueled by a lack of courage and petty fears, but SAD is a crippling disorder that requires a lot of courage to get through every day living with. I hope we can all have more understanding and consideration for the battles people we come across each day may be battling, offering compassion, not criticism.

Friday, March 4, 2016

an update

I apologize for leaving this blog to lie fallow for the past month and a half or so. I didn't really had words to share with the world any more, especially since I have seen a drastic improvement in my life and state of mind, for which I am enormously grateful! There IS hope for recovery, friends.

Shortly after the new year began, I received notice that I had gotten into the school I applied to. Of course, this was pretty late notice so I had to scramble to get my act together to start this semester. I had been dubious last year about the prospects of my returning to school in the spring of 2016...or EVER, especially after another breakdown led me to drop out of the two courses I tried to take last fall. I just felt sick of school and doubted my ability to ever go back.

By early January, though, I was starting to feel better. I spent October of 2015 weaning off of Zoloft since I found out in the summer that my body doesn't process SSRIs well. By January, I think the stuff was mostly out of my system (finally!). Also, I had started on a supplement called SamE that my psychiatrist recommended in what ended up being our last appointment together (Hasta la Vista, no hard feelings, as I once mom really hates you though). It's actually something that your body produces naturally, unless you're like me and tend towards depression, in which case part of the problem may be that you don't make SamE (oops. Guess the bod missed that memo). You can't take the stuff while on an SSRI, it should be noted, and I'm taking it along with Deplin, an L-methylfolate, to help me process it because apparently I don't make that stuff either.

Being off the SSRIs, etc. that were most likely poisoning me and on the stuff my body lacks has definitely made a huge difference. It's a little sad, actually. Would I have even gone through that whole Semester from Hell had I not been on the Paxil? Even sadder, I was on the Paxil to make everything better. I really thought it was making things better. I do think it helped my social anxiety to some extent, but it seems quite evident now that it must have been at least part, if not all, of the problem last spring. Sadder still is the thought of how many other must be out there suffering unmedicated or incorrectly medicated or unresponsive to medication and needing a different sort of treatment.

In the fall, I was sleeping half the day, waking up in the early afternoon, and still feeling tired and having to take naps. I'm back to eight or nine hours and don't even need to nap. I have plenty of energy to get through the day and have finally been able to bake, something I always wanted to do in the fall but was far too drained.

I am back at school, limiting myself to one class, but it isn't a particular easy one. The time off gave me some perspective though, and I have made progress on shedding my procrastinator-y ways. I just finished a 12-page research paper which makes me extremely proud. In general, I feel less prone to despair and better able to have rationale, positive perspectives on life. I still feel pretty lost when it comes to my future, lonely, doubtful about whether I can do grad school, frustrated about still having doors shut in my face. I still have moments where I grieve the life and dream I lost of being at my old school and having friends and being involved. I still feel pangs of bitterness over the people who have left me behind, whether on purpose or by accident. But I no longer feel sick. And, now that I am feeling so improved, it is infinitely clear that I was ill before.

Mental health is important, even if you aren't ill, and I don't think I realized that until these last few months seeing my new counselor. Even though I am no longer sick, I have to be aware of my needs, drawing boundaries when it comes to stress and using mindfulness techniques to stay balanced and healthy that I wasn't able to when I was so sick because I was just so emotional.

I honestly thought even just a couple months ago that I would never get better or be able to live a functional life again. Occasionally even now I have my doubts. If you're in the same place, I hope this gives you some perspective and, well, hope.

Overall, I wouldn't trade my journey, long and steep though it's been. I have lost a lot, especially in the friends territory, which I am in the midst of working through, but how could I ever go back to not being able to empathize with an entire subset of the population that no one pays attention to? That suffer in silence! How could I surrender my chance to speak up for and to them? And there is a sort of peace in knowing that you have been emptied of everything yet still survived. That you have been completely derailed but have found a new track and are slowly beginning to chug away into a new sort of territory that isn't what you thought you would ever explore but isn't so bad after all.

Reminds me a bit of the lyrics I wrote for this song during my sophomore year after another really difficult semester that featured some serious depression and let-downs.

Stay strong, friends.