Health Care Mind Mental Health Health

I’ve ditched all-nighters, and here’s why you should too

I have to admit something. I’ve never pulled all-nighters for work. Even in university, and now as I start to pick up different jobs, I’ve never stayed up all night to finish assignments. Sure, I’ve pulled them for flights or nights out, but other than that, I always manage to squeeze in some shut-eye time. I have to, otherwise, I can’t operate. 

I know this from experience. Once, I had a class in Florence, Italy, and my roommates and I spent the whole day touring the city, reserving the nighttime to work on our essays. I couldn’t have spent more than three hours past midnight typing away for an assignment before I felt desperately ill.

I needed to lie down! I was a cranky mess for two days afterward, and my friends can attest to that. I knew missing out on sleep has a very clear effect on me. But still, I pushed myself for school. I wanted to complete my assignments and attempting an all-nighter seemed like an obvious way to stay on top of things.

While all-nighters do not sit well with me, perhaps you are reading this thinking they work for you. Maybe you have always resorted to this method and it has become fool-proof. Well, unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. Skipping out on sleep is not something that can be dismissed because it is not a sustainable lifestyle at all. While it may seem like an appealing way to get more time in your day, it can have devastating consequences. 

I hear you saying, “But can’t it be slept off?” I used to think the same way.

Can you make up for lost sleep by sleeping in? Nope!

Taking an introductory course in psychology opened my eyes to the dangers of bad sleep hygiene. If you were to hold out two scans of a brain—one from a person who lacked sleep and another who has recently suffered a concussionthey would look eerily similar. Skipping out on sleep can cause irreversible damage to your brain. The brain holds these scars, even if we “make up” for the lost sleep. Imagine that damage over time if we continually (try to) pull those all-nighters. 

This may come as a shock as the idea of all-nighters has been glamorized by movies and other media as an essential part of college. I always understood skipping out on sleep as a sign of putting in the effort, burning the midnight oil to wrap up a project.

I used to feel bad about not being able to stay up all night at the library, comparing myself to other students that were holding up just fine. I felt that it was expected of me to sacrifice my sleep for my studies and my career. Yet, does our productivity have to come at the cost of our wellbeing? 

Our toxic ideas of productivity are impairing our health. I came to a point where I really needed to rethink the way that I was approaching sleep and all-nighters.

While it can be easy and often tempting to get sucked into the grind of getting little or no sleep to clear up my task list, from now on I’ll be thinking twice about the physical and mental toll on my health. I hope you do, as well. 

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LGBTQIA+ History Gender Inequality

The history of non-binary genders is longer than you know

When Joan of Arc dressed for church, they wore men’s clothing.

When they took the sacraments, they had their hair short and wore pants.

When they fought for their God, they wore armor.

Many people resistant to cultural change will blame the newness of the terms used to define it. The newness of a label is often used to allude to the idea that it is an invention – something that is not true, but rather made up. This is the criticism that many people are applying to non-binary genders.

However, something that has been around since the 15th century cannot be rejected by society’s supposed perception of its “newness.”

As people assigned female or male at birth celebrate their androgyny, the patriarchy is fighting back, declaring gender identity a new construct that is fabricated by those who strive for a difference. It’s important to acknowledge that the newness of the term “non-binary” is not an indictment on its existence, but rather a celebration of its acknowledgment. 

Many people resistant to cultural change will blame the newness of the terms used to define it.

History is no stranger to the tales of people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) who dress in men’s clothing to adopt more powerful positions in society.

For many people, the Disney adaptation of the myth of Hua Mulan might be the first time they consider nonbinary identities. While the term “non-binary” is never used in the family-friendly flick, in the title song, “Reflection,” Mulan proclaims, “I will never pass for a perfect bride or a perfect daughter…That if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.”

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A 20-year-old movie certainly doesn’t indicate the newness of betraying gender roles, nor does the 1700-year-old source material.

Even earlier, in 1400 B.C.E., Hatshepsut ruled as Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt. Often regarded as one of the few female pharaohs to take the throne, the statues that survive her celebrate the strength of her rule.

She is depicted in a few different ways, from a woman wearing men’s clothing to a feminine face upon a man’s body. Hatshepsut defied the strict gender roles of ancient Egypt, and the statues that still stand are evidence of their defiance.

These examples are anecdotal, and often follow a common theme, of a person assigned female at birth (AFAB) defying the gender roles assigned to their sex to achieve something greater. However, even these examples hardly hold a candle to the rich history outlining people of a third gender.

History is no stranger to tales of people who are assigned female at birth dressing in men’s clothing to adopt more powerful positions in society.

This third gender, sometimes defined as neither a man nor a woman, is present in several ancient cultures, including Mesopotamia, the progenitor of written history.

During that time, people of the third gender, or Hijra, were in service to the gods they celebrated. In various cultures throughout history, from Hijra priests to eunuchs and virgins in the temple of Artemis, holiness has transcended gender.

It’s easy for detractors to rebut this by pretending that nothing of the sort took place in our current understanding of Western society. The notion of a third gender or “Mahu” is part of Polynesian culture. It can mean a gender between male and female, or gender fluid. In Hawaii and Tahiti, the Mahu people were highly respected in the indigenous culture as keepers of oral traditions and historical knowledge.

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Mahu people exist not only in the past but are an important part of queer culture in Hawaii today. 

The Navajo are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. The Navajo people have a gender category called Nadleeh, which can refer to transgender people who have transitioned in one direction along the gender binary (having been assigned male at birth, and now identifying as female, or assigned female at birth and now identifying as male), gender-fluid people, and, of course, those whose gender presentation falls “outside” of the gender identity norms imposed by society at a large. The Nadleehi have a spiritual function and are inherently respected as tribal members within the Navajo culture. 

This stark difference in acceptance and perception was noted by Anglo-Saxon American anthropologists as early as the 1920s. In fact, Author William Willard Hill was surprised that Navajo society considered a transgender person “very fortunate,” unlike his understanding of Western culture, for which gender fluidity caused anxiety in mainstream society.

Gender has been used as an oppressive instrument for centuries.

It’s been used to highlight the difference between people, rather than highlight the inherent strength in us all. Strength of character is not something that is defined by maleness or femaleness. Strength is an attribute of the human condition to thrive when tested and fight for what we believe in.

The history of defying gender roles is as ancient as humanity itself.

That human condition is what drives people to discover what gender means to them. They are able to transcend the baggage of strict gender roles to achieve greatness.

The history of defying gender roles is as ancient as humanity itself, which leads one to question why people are so threatened by the nonbinary identification overall.

Why is it that the rich history of gender fluidity needs to be constantly torn down by censors and patriarchs of today’s “binary” culture, and rejected because of its newly-found public acceptance?

Perhaps, Joan of Arc and Hatshepsut knew something that everyone else did not.

Perhaps it’s important for us all to remember the wisdom they passed on through their life stories:

That to transcend gender is to harness the power of the gods themselves.


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Health Care Mind Mental Health Health

How I became a more mindful pessimist

I know, I dread to say it. Pessimists get a bad rep, sometimes rightfully so.

Going biking around the city, and I’ll remember the grating sound my bike made. Listening to feedback on my writing, I’ll be drawn to the things people said I could improve, agonizing over those. As a result, I need constant validation from others, although it barely ever sticks. My head has long been a magnet for negativity and it’s been draining me and even those around me.

But I don’t believe that ‘once a pessimist, always a pessimist.’  I’ve found ways to turn my mindset around.

What it takes is consciously detangling myself from pessimistic thought patterns. I was once enrolled in a Science of Happiness course (ironic, I know) where I learned about mindfulness tools. One of those was called the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) exercise and it aimed to rewire your brain to think in a more positive way. 


Naturally, I was doubtful. But it makes sense. My thoughts, feelings, and behavior are so closely connected that if they were on a Venn diagram, they would be overlapping each other. Recently, my thoughts are more introspective than ever. So, on my journey to become a more mindful pessimist, I’ve been keeping tabs on my thinking—especially negative thoughts. 

Here are some pessimistic thought patterns that I have become more aware of throughout my journey: 

Fortune Telling

A major one that precedes all others. I predict negative outcomes, imagining the worst possible scenario to happen. This is often the case when I try something out of my depth, such as when I flew to another country for a project without knowing anyone that would be on my team. I assumed that I wouldn’t get along with anyone and was already counting down the days to come back home. I thought they’d see me as a fraud and not want to work with me, although we were all enrolled in the same class. At the last moment, this thinking almost made me drop out of it.

I’m so grateful I didn’t because I ultimately met some of my closest friends there and produced good work. 

All-or-nothing thinking

Sometimes I look at situations as if there are only two possible outcomes. Either my team likes my idea or they hate it. I often forget that everything can be placed on a scale, they may like it but think that a certain part isn’t working. They may dislike it but see potential, suggesting a way to elevate the tension in the story.

Mind Reading

Making sweeping negative conclusions about a situation can be the easiest way for me to make sense of what is happening. For example, if I have an awkward conversation with someone, where I unintentionally said something insensitive, I may walk away and say to myself: “They certainly don’t want to talk to me again.” It is far easier to just claim that and be “done” with it rather than acknowledge my fault and find a chance to apologize. In these moments, I need to remember that I can’t read anyone’s mind and the only way to know for sure is to have a conversation with them.

Using ‘should’ or ‘must’ statements 

I have fixed ideas of my future and the way I conduct myself, even to the extent that I expect how others should react to me. Thinking that I should be close to people working in my field and they must want the same things that I do sets up unrealistic standards for both parties.

When these expectations aren’t met, I feel a deep sense of failure. Whenever a ‘should’ or a ‘must’ make their way into my thoughts, I need to take a step back. I can’t predict everything, who am I to know what ‘should’ or ‘must’ happen?

Emotional reasoning

Admittedly, I am a very emotionally driven person. I tend to value the way that I feel about something—a job or person I’ve met—rather than rationalizing the reality of working in that environment or being involved with that person and their lifestyle. I often make the mistake of thinking that something must be true because I feel that it is. I feel annoyed with someone; therefore, they must have done something wrong. Or I feel lonely; therefore, there is no one around that cares enough to reach out to me. These are both dangerous thought patterns because once I’m in them, I begin to ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Consciously recognizing these thinking errors and reframing them in a positive light is changing my outlook on the future. I started off the year rejecting every opportunity that came my way out of fear that they would overwhelm me, such as grad school and internships. Now, I feel more hopeful and am willing to try out what comes my way. I am enrolled to start a graduate program this coming fall.

Even if it doesn’t work out as planned, I can stay on track and remain positive by steering clear of the major thinking errors. I can’t help being a pessimist, but I can be a mindful one. Some of us are more susceptible to negative thinking like I am, but there are ways to navigate it without spiraling into hopelessness. 

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No, I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding and you can’t make me

We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.

My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices. 

But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.

The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him. 

After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.

To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.

The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf

My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.

Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.

Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.

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Mind Mental Health Health Spilling The Zodiac Tea Wellness

Let this be your (zodiac) sign to practice self-care this week

Follow our Zodiac series for everything astrology related. We’re Spillin’ the Zodiac T! Stay tuned for the juice.

Self-care. At this point, we’ve all heard the phrase, but how many of us actually practice it? No matter how busy our days are, self-care should always be a priority, especially because it’s a surefire way of mentally, physically, and emotionally de-stressing. Taking time for ourselves may seem selfish, but it’s necessary in order to maintain our mental wellness and wellbeing.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start with self-care. Tonight, let your sun sign be your guide and start with these self-care suggestions.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

[Image Description: Gif of a woman dancing in her bedroom while wearing her pants in a comical way] Via Giphy
Aries, do you hear that? It’s the sound of music that makes you want to get up and dance. That’s right, it’s dance night! Put on your comfiest, most breathable clothes and bust a move. Individual sports might be your typical jam, but tonight is all about freeing yourself from the limitations of competition and just enjoying the moment. Should the need for choreography arise, go with it—but, for the most part, don’t think, just dance!

Whether you skip the dancing portion of tonight’s self-care schedule or you take advantage of every second, be sure to stretch. In addition to relieving stress, stretching regularly increases the blood flow to your muscles, improves your posture, and expands your range of motion. Stay motivated by setting stretching goals!

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

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Taurus, I believe your favorite scented candle is calling your name. Tonight, we’re focusing on what pleasures we can derive from each of our senses—starting with smell. If candles aren’t your thing anymore, try aromatherapy. Take stock of what your body would benefit from, and then choose an essential oil that fits the bill. Try peppermint if you need an energy boost, rose to reduce anxiety, chamomile to relax, or ylang-ylang to soothe a headache.

Another aromatherapy option is a luxurious bubble bath. Select a bath salt or bath bomb with a scent that will treat your senses right and then enjoy for as long as it takes for the stress to leave your shoulders—or for the heat to leave the water. Maybe even bring along a delectable book as you take the time to focus on what you’ve been putting off: you!

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

[Image description: Gif of Captain Holt walking with three women in Brooklyn Nine-Nine] Via Giphy
Geminis, I challenge you to tap into your well of curiosity and take a walk around your neighborhood. Rather than tread your usual trail, embark on a route you’ve never taken before. As you walk, keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes open for a couple of strangers to greet. Don’t be shy, say hello, and follow the paths of conversation. Interacting with new people can introduce us to pieces of the world we’ve yet to experience.

If quarantine is still in effect in your neighborhood, try out Window Swap! Click through until you find a view that brings you contentment. Then find a journal and write a short story about whose window you’re peering through. Let your imagination wander, and your creativity take you to places you’ve never been before.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

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Cancers, it could be time for another visit with your family—whether in-person or digitally. Check in with your loved ones and share how you’ve been doing. Even if you just called them yesterday, call them again today and tell them about something that brought you joy or peace. Or open up about something that made you sad or anxious. Cancers care deeply for others and thrive when helping their loved ones, so take the time to do that.

If you’re not feeling chatty today, listen to a podcast instead. There are so many to choose from, and it could be time to finally start one you’ve been meaning to listen to for a while now. As you listen, go for a drive, a bike ride, or a walk and savor the vastness of the sky.

Leo (July 23 – August 24)

[Image description: Gif of Winston from New Girl doing a puzzle while singing, “Puzzling. Winston is about to do some puzzling.”] Via Giphy
Leos, I challenge you to find the hardest puzzle you can. Then spend time every day for the next couple of weeks putting it together. It can be overwhelming to approach a task thinking we need to solve every problem or tick off every to-do in one sitting. By giving yourself time and space to piece together this puzzle, you’ll be able to live in the moment and find contentment with the progress you’re making.

Another way for Leos to check their progress is to re-watch a nostalgic movie or show (or read a book) from your childhood. Going down memory lane can be a fun way to reflect on who you were, where you’ve been, and how far you’ve come as a person. Write down a few of your thoughts as you watch/read. In a couple of years, return to those thoughts to track how you continue to grow and evolve.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

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My fellow Virgos, sometimes we just need to find a way to turn off our overly critical brains. I challenge us to volunteer at our local animal shelter—if quarantine guidelines allow for it in our communities. My local shelter is always looking for people to walk dogs, socialize cats, clean, fundraise, and even foster a pet. Find where your skillset will shine and apply to volunteer. While self-care is about ourselves, focusing on others can help get us out of our heads.

Animals aren’t really your thing? Then let’s get organized! Rather than tidy up what we both know is probably already alphabetized and colorized, sort through your belongings and start making a pile of items you no longer want or need. There’s a reason why spring cleaning is a tradition that continues year after year.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

[Image description: Gif of Daria and her family from Daria playing a board game] Via Giphy
Libras, it’s time for a game night! Send a quick text to the group chat to let your pals know you’re hosting. When picking out the games, choose ones like 20 Questions, This or That, Two Truths and A Lie, and other conversational games that will lead to insurmountable discussions amongst you and your friends. Go deep or keep it light—either way, fun will be had. The best part about game night is it’s quarantine-friendly if you need to go digital.

If you’re friend group just recently had a game night, try a book club. Pick a book you think everyone will love—or hate, if you want to spice the conversation up—then be sure to chat about it every few chapters or so.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

[Image description: Gif of TWICE cooking and dancing] Via Giphy
Tonight, Scorpios, I challenge you to first cancel all of your plans. Say no to what people are asking of you as a way of practicing boundaries. You are natural leaders and great friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put yourself first from time to time. Once you’ve opened up your night, stay in and cook up that recipe you’ve been meaning to make. Focus on the directions the recipe gives and let the mindless tasks of chopping, dicing, and other prep work help quiet your mind. If you’ve been looking for a release of some sort, be sure onions are in your recipe to give yourself an excuse to cry.

Or, take a break from the kitchen and order takeout from a restaurant you’ve never tried before. Get out of your comfort zone and ask for menu recommendations from the maître d’ before placing your order. And who knows, this new restaurant could become your new go-to spot!

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

[Image description: Gif of a man attempting to cross a river, slipping on a rock, and falling into the water] Via Giphy
Sagittarius, we both know you’ve been clamoring to get out of the house and back into nature. This isn’t much of a challenge for you but schedule a hike for this weekend. Pick a trail you’ve been wanting to trek but haven’t had the chance to. If you’re feeling social, invite a few friends to join you and let the conversation flow between deep chats about the meaning of life to observations about what you see as you enjoy the great outdoors.

If trails are still closed near you, watch a nature or travel documentary that’s been hanging out unwatched on your streaming watchlists. Afterward, write down a couple of things you learned or what is inspiring you to plan your next trip abroad.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

[Image description: Gif of Alina Landry Rancier wearing a leaf crown and holding a house plant] Via Giphy
Capricorns, you are very responsible and disciplined individuals, which makes me think you’re ready for a new houseplant! Studies have shown that active interaction with indoor plants can reduce stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity and providing a soothing sense of natural calm. Build a watering routine for your new plant friend—and consider singing to them as part of that routine.

If you’re not ready to add another plant to your collection, then a good old-fashioned deep cleaning session is another way to put your mind at ease. Cleaning is one of those tasks that are always on the to-do list while doubling as a destresser. Just don’t forget to make a new playlist before you start!

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

A woman dances while the words,
[Image description: Gif of Debra from Three Busy Debras saying, “Let’s do face masks”] Via Giphy
Aquarius, it’s time for a detox night! I challenge you to stock up on some face masks—or, better yet, find an easy-to-make face mask recipe online and concoct it with a few of your closest confidants. As you assemble, chat about what’s been happening in your lives lately. The combination of being with your friends and getting to show off your listening skills will help calm any nerves from earlier that day. I know you’re not always fond of expressing your emotions, Aquarius, but practice being open and vulnerable, too.

Since you thrive when you get to help others, brainstorm a couple of action items you and your friends can implement to help resolve any problems you vent about during detox night. Sometimes getting something off your chest is resolution enough, but just in case, make sure everyone leaves feeling like they can tackle what life throws at them next.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

[Image description: Gif of Phoebe from Friends putting on a hand-knitted scarf while saying, “Scarf is done!”] Via Giphy
Pisces, it’s time to treat yourself to that arts and crafts project you’ve been eyeing on Etsy. Buy it or try to do your own version with the supplies you have at home. Put on your favorite music album and let your brain go quiet as you complete your project from start to finish.

Not sure what your project should be? Try embroidery, paint by numbers, or making your own clay earrings. If you’re an experienced crafter, teach yourself a more advanced skillset: look up a new knitting pattern, try a more complex candle mold, or dabble in more detailed printmaking. The world is your oyster, Pisces, so take advantage of all the projects there are still to do.

Self-care isn’t just important. It’s crucial for our health. Start building self-care into your daily routine so that you can be a better, stronger, and more present you for yourself and your loved ones.

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Health Care Mental Health Health The Vulvasation Wellness

Don’t forget to advocate for yourself when it comes to your Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love and Health exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I only recently found out about Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) despite being a person who’s welcomed a certain monthly visitor into my uterus since I was 11-years-old.

PMDD is a more chronic and severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that often results in psychological symptoms such as irritability, anger, fatigue, moodiness, insomnia, paranoia, difficulty concentrating, and more.

Other PMDD symptoms include respiratory, eye, skin, and fluid retention problems such as allergies; infections; vision changes; ankle, hand, and feet swelling; and acne as well as gastrointestinal, neurologic, and vascular symptoms like nausea and vomiting, dizziness, fainting, easy bruising, muscle spasms, and painful menstruation.

What’s frustrating about any and all of those symptoms is they can easily fall under a variety of different disorders like bipolar disorder, depression, thyroid condition, and anxiety, making PMDD hard to diagnose for some people with periods.

I’d also like to add that PMDD feels even harder to diagnose because people with periods have been told over and over again that our menstrual cycle will make us overly emotional. Modern Family is but one example of media turning this experience into a joke, and it feels like yet another way for patriarchal societies and men to dismiss women and people with periods.

My own periods usually arrive after an onslaught of cramps, breakouts, and mood swings—typically high highs and low lows with a spattering of extra irritability and sensitivity thrown in just to keep things spicy. When I was 18, I decided to go on birth control. After just one month of being on birth control, I noticed that the specific brand I was using amplified my mood swings and even made me depressed. This can be common for many people, and I quickly asked my doctor if we could try out a different brand.

A few weeks ago, I emailed my doctor because the pharmacy gave me the wrong brand of birth control. I knew it was a brand that exacerbated my period symptoms because of my past experiences. But I have to admit, I felt silly having to say to my doctor, “I need a different birth control brand because I know this one makes me moody.” And I was annoyed at myself for feeling silly about drawing attention to real concerns. Adding fuel to the fire, my doctor never followed up with me; she simply emailed the pharmacy and the problem was resolved.

But is the problem resolved? Should my doctor have looked into whether or not I’m one of the estimated 5.5% of women who develop PMDD symptoms in their twenties?

The MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health notes that PMDD can be distinguished from other mood disorders because of its cyclical nature. Typically, symptoms will occur during the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle and there will be a grace period in which people with PMDD don’t feel any symptoms at all. The Center suggests helping your doctor confirm the diagnosis by charting your symptoms daily.

When diagnosed with PMDD, there are a variety of treatments, including lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication. The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD) also offers resources for those with PMDD.

I’m disappointed that people with periods aren’t always taught about PMDD. Because many of the symptoms are psychological, I feel like there should be more awareness around this disorder; but because many of the symptoms are psychological, I can’t say I’m surprised many people don’t know more about PMDD. Emotional women have long been discredited and overlooked by society—unless they’re being used as the butt of a joke. And these biases have often been reinforced by those in the medical industry.

Thankfully, the IAPMD is helping to raise awareness of this disorder, encouraging people with periods like me to advocate for themselves in their doctor’s office.

If your period is painful, mentally and/or physically, there could very well be a medical reason for it, and you deserve to know that reason.

I encourage everyone to take care of themselves. In your doctor’s office, this could mean being bold and advocating for your needs.

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Book Club Books

“The Passing Playbook” by Isaac Fitzsimons is The Tempest Book Club’s June Pick. Here’s the first chapter.

We’re so excited to announce Isaac Fitzsimons’ novel The Passing Playbook as The Tempest Book Club June read. The Passing Playbook is about a trans boy trying to fit in at a new school after being bullied when transitioning in his last school. As time goes on, he blends in perfectly–big brother, soccer athlete, and proud nerd. All this is at risk when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him. Now Spencer has to decide: cheer from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone—including the guy he’s falling for. LISTEN

As always, we’re collaborating with Penguin to give away a copy. Enter here!  

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Spencer’s morning went to hell when some asshole on a dirt bike swerved in front of Mom’s Subaru.

Mom slammed on the brakes and flung her arm across Spencer’s chest, despite the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, and even if he weren’t, it’s not like her arm would keep him from hurtling through the windshield and becoming sausage meat.

At least she’d already finished her coffee. The last thing he needed was to spend all day smelling like the inside of a Starbucks.

“Is everyone okay?” Mom twisted around to check on Theo in the back seat, but his eyes remained glued to the nature show playing on his tablet. Spencer was impressed by how nothing seemed to faze his little brother.

“Maybe we save the vehicular manslaughter for tomorrow,” said Spencer. He didn’t want to be known as the kid whose mom ran over someone at drop–off. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be known asanything. As far as he was concerned, the less he stood out, the better.

Mom ignored him as she steered the car more carefully up the tree–lined drive and parked at the curb. “Promise me you’ll make an effort today. Talk to people. Smile sometimes.” She tugged on one of his earbuds, pulling it out of his ear. A muffledda–da–da–dun–da–da–da–dun from the song he was listening to trickled out into the car. “It wouldn’t kill you to be more social.”

“It might.”

Mom’s jaw clenched. “That’s not funny, Spencer. Not after last year.”

“Too soon?” said Spencer. If he turned it into a joke he could pretend that he didn’t still wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, drenched in sweat thinking about The Incident. He called it “The Incident” so he wouldn’t have to remember it all in excruciating detail: the threatening email, the picture of his face in crosshairs stuffed in his locker, the call to the school that prompted a lockdown, huddling in the corner of a dark classroom, the cold tile leeching heat from his body, and knowing that if someone got hurt, it would be all his fault.

“I’m serious, Spence. We don’t have other options if this doesn’t work.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” The back of his neck grew hot and prickly like it had whenever he was awakened in the small hours of the day by the creak of the staircase as Dad crept up to bed after spending all night preparing for the extra college courses he was teaching that summer to pay for Spencer’s tuition.

Even with the extra work, it didn’t take a math genius to figure out that Dad’s paycheck was barely enough to send one kid to private school, let alone two. So after two years in a Montessori program his little brother, Theo, who was autistic, had to go to public school for the first time.

Theo had spent his summer stretched out on the living room carpet in front of the TV watching anything and everything with the word planet in the title. Spencer wasn’t sure how well an encyclopedic knowledge of the mating behavior of amphibians (called amplexus, according to Theo) would go over with other eight–year–olds.

“Hey, what’s with the face?” asked Mom. “This is going to be a great year. For both of you,” she added, reaching around to pat Theo on the knee.

Spencer picked his backpack up off the floor and squeezed it to his chest. He reached out to open the door when Mom said, “Are you sure you want to keep that there?” She pointed at theI’m here, I’m queer, get over it pin on the front pocket.

Spencer’s fingers brushed over the pin. He’d had the same conversation with Aiden over the phone last night.

“Think of it as a test,” Aiden had said. “If someone makes a big deal out of it, you’ll know to steer clear. Besides, how else will you find the other queers?”

“I’m just saying,” continued Mom, “it’s a bit . . . provocative for your day one. Why don’t you wait and see how the QSA meeting goes first? That’s today, right?”

Spencer nibbled his bottom lip. Last night he had agreed with Aiden, but now, seeing the glittery, rainbow letters sparkling in broad daylight, the idea of walking into the building with it on felt like sticking a target on his back. Sure, Oakley might brag about being the most liberal school in the county—-after all, that’s why they’d chosen it—-but it was still in rural Ohio, where just that morning they’d passed by half a dozen churches, one of which had a sign that said:Don’t be so open–minded your brains fall out.

He undid the clasp and tucked the pin in his backpack, hoping Aiden didn’t ask him about it when they debriefed after school.

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“All right, do you know where you’re going?” asked Mom.

“I think so,” he mumbled.

“If you’re not sure, you need to ask for directions.”

“I know.” He tried to keep the tinge of annoyance out of his voice. When Mom got anxious, she tended to treat him like a baby. But this was a big day for all of them.

“Here,” said Mom. She rolled down Spencer’s window, and leaned over him, calling, “Hey, you with the bike!”

Spencer slouched lower in his seat as several kids, including the boy on the dirt bike, turned to stare at them.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

The boy on the bike reversed, rolling backward to the car and stopping outside Spencer’s window.

“I’m sorry about cutting you off earlier, ma’am. I didn’t want to be late.” His voice was low and gravelly and muffled inside his retro motocross helmet.

“That’s quite all right,” said Mom, clearly charmed by his slight Appalachian twang. Her own accent, courtesy of a childhood in West Virginia, came out stronger. “This is my son Spencer. He’s new this year.”

“Nice to meet you.” The boy stuck a gloved hand through the window. The worn leather was as soft as a lamb’s ear against Spencer’s palm.

“Do you think you could show him to his first class?” asked Mom.

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The helmet visor hid the boy’s expression, but Spencer imagined the amusement in his face at being asked to play babysitter. “It’s okay—-” he began, longing to turn around, go home, and try again tomorrow, but then the boy lifted off his helmet and Spencer’s words died in his throat.

He was cute—-all farm boy tan in a navy polo and Wrangler’s. But what really made Spencer’s insides feel like he’d just been dematerialized and rematerialized in a transporter was that this kid, with his brown eyes and megawatt smile currently aimed right at Spencer, was a dead ringer for Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Spencer’s nightly ritual was watching Star Trek with his dad, who would disown him, not as a son but as a fellow Trekkie, if he knew that the only reason he put up with the cheesy special effects was because of his teeny–tiny crush on acting ensign, wunderkind, Wesley Crusher.

Mom gave him a little nudge. “I have to go put Theo on the bus. Have a good day, sweetie.”

Spencer climbed out of the car, careful not to trip over himself, and slammed the door behind him. Did she have to call him sweetie? In front of him? What was wrong with bud? Or sport? Bike Boy’s parents probably didn’t call him sweetie, especially not at school.

He waved them off, watching the Subaru disappear around the corner, and trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest.

“So, what grade are you in?” asked the boy, parking his bike and waiting for Spencer on the sidewalk.

Spencer’s thoughts became all tangled up in his head as he tried to shape them into words.

“Are you a first year?” Bike Boy prompted.

“No,” said Spencer, a little too forcefully. He pulled himself up to his not very tall height of five feet. He wasn’t insecure about it, not really, but it would be a long year if everyone,especially cute boys, thought he was a middle schooler who got lost on his way to class. “I’m a sophomore.”

“Cool, me too.”

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He followed Bike Boy up the path to the gated entrance. On the way the boy waved to a couple kids and high–fived another, but he didn’t introduce Spencer. Then again, what would he say?This is the kid whose mom almost ran me over and then made me walk him to class? Not exactly the first impression Spencer wanted.

“Let me guess, you were kicked out of your old school for talking too much.” Bike Boy shot Spencer a wide grin. His two front teeth overlapped slightly, which Spencer found oddly endearing considering that most of his friends had been put in braces as soon as they hit double digits.

Spencer searched for something witty to say back. Something to show Bike Boy that he wasn’t a complete weirdo, but his words got lost again.

The smile on Bike Boy’s face slipped off. “Wait, were you actually kicked out? I’m sorry, I—-”

“I wasn’t kicked out.”

“It was just a joke.”

“I know,” said Spencer, growing frustrated that even the most basic of conversations left him flustered.

Not wanting to prolong the agony, he made a decision when they reached the entrance. He knew where he was going. Sort of. He had taken a tour earlier that summer when signing up for classes.

“So what’s your first class?” asked Bike Boy.

He opened his mouth to respond when someone going past pushed him from behind, and he fell into Bike Boy, who reached out a hand to steady him.

Spencer pulled back his arm like he’d been burned. “It’s okay. I know where I’m going. But thanks for your help.”

Bike Boy searched his face as if trying to see if he was telling the truth. “Are you sure?”

Spencer nodded, scuffing his foot against the floor.

“All right, then. I’ll see you around, I guess,” said Bike Boy, his voice lilting slightly like he was asking a question. He hitched his backpack higher and turned to join the swarm of students on their way to class.

Spencer watched him leave, not with relief, but with something that felt a little like guilt. Maybe he should be a touch nicer to the guy who had offered to help him, despite narrowly escaping death at the wheels of his mother’s Subaru. Hell, Spencer didn’t even know who he was.

Before he could stop himself, he called out, “Wait, what’s your name?”

Bike Boy turned and flashed Spencer a smile. “Justice. Justice Cortes.”

Justice Cortes. Spencer silently mouthed the name before another wave of students knocked into him. He shook his head. The last thing he needed was to think about Justice Cortes, or any boy, really.

What he needed was to keep his distance. If he didn’t get too close to people, they wouldn’t find out his secret. If they didn’t find out, they couldn’t use it against him. Nobody at Oakley knew he was transgender.

Spencer needed to keep his head down, study hard, and escape Apple Creek, population 1,172, where the only traffic jams were caused by tractors and Amish buggies.

But first he’d have to survive PE.

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After a few wrong turns, he finally found the locker rooms just as the warning bell rang.

When he opened the door the nauseating stench of body spray mixed with floral air freshener blasted him in the face, invading his nostrils and making him light-headed.

Spencer hovered awkwardly at the door as a few stragglers in various stages of undress glanced up at him from the wooden benches lining the room. Maybe he should change in the nurse’s bathroom like Ms. Greene, his guidance counselor, had suggested. Private stall, a door that locked, and nobody who’d snap him in half like a twig if given the chance. But then someone might wonder why he didn’t change with the rest of them. First rule of passing: Don’t be different.

He found an empty corner and untied his shoes, avoiding eye contact. He wiggled his toes as a chill from the concrete floor seeped through his socks. After a minute the only sounds in the locker room were the thumping of his heartbeat and the dripping of a leaky faucet.

Alone at last, he jumped into action, wriggling out of his jeans and pulling on shorts from his backpack. He tugged on his T–shirt, grateful, not for the first time, that he hadn’t needed top surgery or to suffer through wearing a binder. Starting hormone blockers at thirteen prevented too much growth and almost one year on testosterone replaced whatever fat there was with smooth muscle.

The late bell rang and he slipped into sneakers, shoved his clothes and backpack into a locker, and hurried out the door.

With its towering oak trees and ivy–covered walls, the Oakley School looked impressive on the outside. But inside, the lemony scent of disinfectant and the squeak of his shoes against the linoleum as he jogged down the hallway connecting the locker room to the gym told Spencer that this was more like the charter school Miles Morales attended than the Xavier Institute. The hallway, which had teemed with the hustle and bustle of chattering students five minutes ago, was empty. He snuck into the gym, where a dozen or so boys were flinging foam balls at each other. One sped toward his face, forcing him to duck. Where was the teacher?

“You’re late.”

Spencer jumped and twisted around to see a man in a baseball cap standing beside him. The man wore saggy sweatpants and a ridiculous–looking cardigan with a hood—a hoodigan?—-and had a toothpick dangling from his mouth.

“Are you Coach Schilling?” he asked, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, I—-”

“Name?” Coach Schilling cut him off.

“Spencer Harris.”

“Harris, eh?” He surveyed his clipboard, rolling the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

Sweat pooled clammy and moist under Spencer’s armpits. The principal, Mrs. Dumas, had assured him that his school records would have the correct name and gender, but that didn’t stop the panic rising in his chest. If someone had made a mistake, he’d be outed in his very first class, and all of it—his dad working overtime, Theo switching schools—would be for nothing.

“You’re new,” said Coach Schilling. It wasn’t a question. With a school this small, new students must be easy to spot. “Make sure you’re on time tomorrow.” He pulled a magazine from the back of his sweatpants and began thumbing through it.

“Could you tell me what’s going on?” Spencer sidestepped as another ball hurtled toward him.

Coach Schilling, preoccupied with uncovering the secret to getting rock–hard abs in thirty days, barely glanced up from his magazine and said, “Dodgeball.”

“Right,” said Spencer. “But what should I actually be doing?”

Coach Schilling raised a bushy eyebrow and gave three sharp bursts of his whistle. A hush fell across the gym. Spencer’s face burned as all eyes turned on him. Coach Schilling picked up a loose ball and shoved it in Spencer’s hands. “Take this and throw it over there.” He pointed across the painted line in the center of the gym. “No head shots, no crotch shots. Got it?”

Spencer nodded.

“Good. Have fun.” Coach Schilling blew his whistle to start the game then went to sit on the bleachers with his magazine.

Spencer’s knees knocked together as he joined his teammates. At least if it was a total disaster he could probably duck out after attendance tomorrow and Coach Schilling wouldn’t even notice.

After a few minutes of playing, Spencer’s pent–up anxiety about the first day of school dripped away with the sweat. He might be small, but he was nimble on his feet. He ducked, dived, and even got in a few hits himself, until he was the last man standing on his team and found himself outnumbered, two to one.

His first opponent, a tall boy with shaggy brown hair, chucked a ball at him. Spencer did a clumsy pirouette and it whipped past. He grinned as his teammates called out encouragement from the sidelines.

His second opponent threw a ball, which Spencer caught. His team erupted into cheers as the player moved to the sidelines, out of the game. Now it was Spencer and the shaggy–haired kid.

The boy launched the ball into the air. Spencer used the ball in his hands to deflect it back, then threw his second ball, forcing the kid to defend both shots simultaneously.

To Spencer’s shock, his opponent reached out with hands the size of Spencer’s face and caught both balls. Spencer was out.

Coach Schilling blew his whistle. “All right, game over.”

Spencer threw his head back. He didn’t consider himself a sore loser, but he disliked losing enough to make sure it didn’t happen very often. When it did, it was like a kick to the shins: incredibly painful, but unlikely to cause any real damage.

He forced his grimace into a smile as his opponent approached him, hand outstretched. “Nice moves out there, Twinkle Toes.” He winked at Spencer.

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Spencer’s cheeks ached with the effort of keeping his smile from falling. He took the kid’s hand, squeezing it limply. He couldn’t tell if he was making fun of him or not.

As the kid turned around and started walking back to his buddies, Spencer’s pulse raced. He imagined him telling them what he’d just called Spencer and the nickname spreading around the school. His eyes fell on a ball in front of him, and before his brain caught up with his body, Spencer pulled his leg back and let loose. The ball made a perfect arc in the air before smacking the kid in the back of his head.

The kid whirled around, his cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. Spencer’s brain finally caught up.Oh, shit.

“Who did that?” shouted the kid.

All eyes turned to Spencer. Even the girls playing badminton over on the other side of the gym with their own teacher stopped their game.

The kid rounded on Spencer.

Spencer flinched.

“Did you throw that at me?”

Spencer couldn’t exactly lie, not with a room of witnesses. “No, I kicked it.”

“With your right foot or your left foot?” asked the kid.

“I— What?” asked Spencer, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.

The kid took another step toward Spencer, who found himself backed up against the wall. “That shot. Did you make it with your right foot or your left?”

“Left. My left.”

To Spencer’s surprise, the boy smiled and turned to Coach Schilling. “Did you see that, Coach?”

Coach Schilling was also staring at Spencer with a curious look on his face. “That I did, son, that I did.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Macintosh, why don’t you head to the nurse and get an ice pack. You.” He pointed his whistle at Spencer. “Harris, right?”

“Yes, sir,” said Spencer.

“You’re coming with me.”

Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House.

Get a copy of the book here.

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Pop Culture

The fault in YA books: why mental health in YA fiction needs to be better

YA literature is a genre not just limited to young adults. And if you’ve read some of the contemporary YA literature of recent years, you might have noticed a common trend: mental health tropes are used as the backdrop of most of these books. Even though the genre is typically used to uncritically present a teenage perspective, I can’t help but think how the authors are tackling hardcore issues like mental health in such a tactless way.

Mental health is a complicated issue. Coping with mental health and recovering from it is not a linear process. Even if you recover, you have relapses. Recently, YA books have portrayed mental health and its recovery process to be something linear.

For example, most of the YA books set up the whole book based on imminent mental health struggles. Firstly, the protagonist is written off as a character with ‘quirky’ personality traits which are more of struggling mental health symptoms. They then sensationalize the illness by revolving the conversation around a love interest. Then the authors proceed to give the story its climax by showing that mental health is something salvageable by love interests.

The YA books are buzzing with these sort of storylines, where mental health has been stigmatized.

How YA novels stigmatize mental health

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why – the 2007 novel, not the TV show with its unnecessary 4 seasons – is a perfect example of how mental health in YA books is portrayed as unrealistic and sensational.

Despite relating to Hannah’s mental health struggles, there was something not quite right about how her issues were being portrayed. The book is focused on the psychology of a teen who commits suicide due to bullying. The psychological reasons portrayed in this book that led to her suicide have been sensualized to the point that it got all of our brows raised. Secondly, the whole plot behind her suicide was to get revenge on her bullies. This sends out a wrong message to the audience. The book deals with suicide in a way that triggers emotional distress in the audience.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought Thirteen Reasons Why sensationalized Hannah’s struggle with mental health, the TV show came under a lot of fire by the critics, and rightfully so.

There are countless other books with similar problematic portrayals, for example, My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. Warga’s tale follows two 16-year-olds who are obsessing over plotting their own deaths – arguably, a very unusual and sensitive issue for a plot, but it gets worse. As the book progresses, the two protagonists who have an intense background of domestic abuse and trauma, fall in love. 

SPOILER ALERT: Teenage love comes to the rescue in the end! All of a sudden their mental illness is cured, one of the protagonists stops the other one from committing suicide, and they live happily ever after with their newfound love! Very realistic. Not.

Warga’s story not only simplifies the recovery process, but also romanticizes the trauma by portraying an unrealistic presentation of mental illness. It feeds on the problematic narrative that falling in love is the solution to every problem.

Recovering from mental illness is NOT as easy as falling in love, and this narrative takes away the messy aspect of recovery. YA authors should be careful when conflating mental health issues with other archetypes such as romantic love. This is breeding the mainstream perception that sadness and the blues that result from depression can all be fixed with love. 

You read about protagonists being romanticized by their love interest for their ‘quirky’ suicidal tendencies, and the love interest jumping in with their agenda of “I can save you with my love”.  In books like these, it’s always the ones with the “quirky” music taste, fashion sense, and custom-made Vans, that are mentally unwell. These are the people that need to be “saved” and the climax of most of these problematic books is one saving the other with their romantic love. 

These authors are writing a story out of romanticizing and sensualizing mental health. No wonder there has been a recent influx of “I can fix you” books and movies that breed and glorify relationships that are just not practical.

The contemporary YA books have reduced mental health to a mere trope, limited to one spectrum. And it’s especially detrimental to the readers of this genre who are the most vulnerable. These authors are inadvertently shaping a cultural phenomenon where mental health is seen as something easy— only to be saved by romantic love. 

YA authors need to be careful while writing about it and not further stigmatizing it. This stigmatization falls under the same category as toxic positivity where mental health struggles are overgeneralized. How many times have you come across characters in these books who have the habit of washing their hands frequently and having it termed as “OCD”? Multiple.

The culture of reducing mental health to a trope or the mental health symptoms to ‘quirky’ traits’ has its own effects. This culture has given birth to a new lexicon where people have replaced ‘sadness’ and feeling hygienic with more clinical terms like ‘depression’ and ‘OCD’. Not only have these books managed to stigmatize mental health, but they’ve also reduced its significance by taking away its clinical aspects.

The mental health trope has become repetitive. These books barely touch on the topic of self-love, self-discovery, and self-exploration – all of which are crucial to mental health. Even the arduous journey of recovering from a mental illness isn’t linear like it is shown in these books. It’s much more realistic that way and reinforces a positive understanding among its reader about mental health. 

Mental health representation in YA books needs to be better because studies have found that it has a huge effect on teens. Authors have a huge power over how teens and young adult readers perceive mental health. 

Mental health conversations don’t need to revolve around love interests or quirky personality types. It’d be nice to see a more realistic portrayal of the protagonist struggling with therapy, self-love, friendships helping with the recovery process, and embarking on a trajectory of self-discovery, for a change. Maybe a story about the stress that comes from living with a mentally struggling parent or partner? Or even a story on struggling with mental health in college? It’s more realistic and practical and most importantly, doesn’t adversely affect the readers. 

We need more nuanced storylines. YA authors owe it to their young impressionable audience to do a better job of portraying mental health in their books. Conversations about mental health have finally made it to mainstream media. It’s time that YA writers also critically approach mental health in their books, rather than falling for age-old, and incorrect, stereotypes. 

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Editor's Picks Book Club Books Pop Culture

“Counting Down with You” by Tashie Bhuiyan is The Tempest Book Club’s May Pick. Here’s the first chapter.

We’re so excited to announce Tashie Bhuiyan’s novel Counting Down with You as The Tempest Book Club May read. Counting Down with You centers around a reserved Bangladeshi teenager, who has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy. It’s a story posing the quintessential question: How do you make one month last a lifetime? Read the first chapter below.

As always, we’re collaborating with HarperCollins to give away three copies. Enter here!  

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Airports are the true chaotic evil.

There are too many things happening around me. Too many people in a hurry, too many people lazing around, too many announcements on the overhead speakers, and way too many tearful goodbyes.

Anarchy reigns in my little corner. My mom is on the phone, saying goodbye to her ten million friends, and my dad looks like he already regrets agreeing to go on a month-long trip to Bangladesh with her. Even with my earphones in, JFK Airport is too loud.

I wish I were anywhere else.

My younger brother, Samir, stands next to me as I sip the drink I forced him to buy me at Starbucks. In my other hand, I have a book flipped open to pass the time.

Dadu, my grandma on my paternal side, is busy fretting over my dad’s shirt. “Tuck it in,” she says in Bengali.

I hide my smile behind my drink when he reluctantly tucks in his shirt. Dadu isn’t someone to mess with.

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“How much longer do we have to wait?” I ask Samir, taking out an earphone.

“Who knows,” he says. “Whenever Ma finally gets off the phone.”

That was decidedly unhelpful. “So…never.”

I still think the beginning of March is too chilly to go on vacation, but knowing my parents, plane tickets were probably the cheapest today.

Even though I love my parents, I’m happy to see them leave for a month to visit my mom’s side of the family. I’d never say it out loud, but I would’ve considered breaking a leg or something if they’d tried to make me go with them. Thankfully, high school takes priority over seeing extended family. Being sixteen is a good thing sometimes.

Only sometimes.

My mom finally gets off the phone and gestures to their suitcases. “Come help me, Samir.”
While my brother helps them check in their luggage, I sidle up beside Dadu and lean my shoulder against hers. She’s been at our house for a few days now, helping Ma and Baba pack for their trip.

“Hi Myra,” she says, calling me by my dak nam, my familial name. I prefer my legal name, Karina, the bhalo nam all my friends use, but I don’t mind when Dadu calls me Myra.

“Hey Dadu. Ready for your second Uber ride?” I ask. “Baba said we’re going to have to take another one home.”

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“Another one?” she asks, squeezing my wrist. Her skin is wrinkled from old age and hours of hard work, but it’s warm and familiar. “Do you think they’ll try to kidnap us this time?”

“Inshallah,” I say jokingly. God willing.

Dadu laughs and swats me on the shoulder. “Don’t make silly jokes, Myra.”

I grin. “Sorry.”

It’s nice to have a light and easy conversation like this. We don’t have them often, because my grandma lives year-round in New Jersey. Every summer, I beg my parents to let me stay with her. They usually refuse until Dadu steps in and says she misses me, which is as good as saying Your daughter’s coming to visit me whether you like it or not.

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My parents return carrying only their handbags. My mom is shaking her head at my dad as he shows her something on his phone.

“Samir, you can download things from Netflix on your phone right, right?” my dad asks, looking pointedly at my mom.

Samir nods, but Ma narrows her eyes. “I told you already, I don’t have any space.”

“That’s because you have a million prayer apps on your phone,” Baba says under his breath. “Even Allah would agree one is enough.”

My mom smacks his arm. “Don’t say that in front of the kids. You’re going to set a bad example. You know it’s because of Candy Crush and Facebook. Why don’t you download some movies for me?”

Baba snorts. “You wish. I already downloaded every episode of Breaking Bad. No room for your dramas.”

Ma pinches the bridge of her nose. “We’re all checked in. We have to leave right now if we want to make the flight,” she says to my grandma before she turns to me, her gaze expectant.

My stomach flips uncertainly. I count backward in my head, trying to push away the uncomfortable weight pressing against my heart. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

I know I’m supposed to be emotional. I’m saying goodbye to my parents for a whole month, after all. We’re going to be nearly eight thousand miles apart with a time difference of ten hours.

It’s a lot.

It’s too little. T-28 days.

But they’re still my parents, and I can’t let them go without saying goodbye.

I lean forward to hug my mom. She smells like roses and citrus shampoo. The material of her salwar kameez scratches my cheek. I’m torn between wanting to hug her closer and wanting to be far, far away.

“Bye, Ma,” I say, and then I hug my dad, who smells like some God-awful cologne, probably worn to impress my mother’s relatives. I smile and brush some lint off his shoulders as I step back. “Bye, Baba.”

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“Myra, make sure to call us every day,” my mom says. “Dadu might be staying with you, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do whatever you want. Make sure to behave properly and try to spend more time studying than reading these silly little books.”

My smile strains. I feel like a dog being told to roll over.

I have to remind myself she’s saying it with my best interests at heart. “Of course, Ma.”

My mom turns to my brother and starts cooing, brushing back his hair. I bite the inside of my cheek and try not to scowl. Naturally, she has nothing condescending to say to him. “Tell Dadu whenever you’re hungry, okay? She’ll make you whatever you want, Samir.”

“Stop it, Ma,” my brother says, batting her hands away. He’s grinning a hundred-watt smile that’s hard to look at for more than one reason. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled at my parents like that.

My dad steps forward, gaining my attention. His expression is only slightly easier to look at.

“Keep us updated on your grades, Myra,” he says, squeezing my shoulder. “It’s junior year. You know you need all As if you want to become a doctor.”

And what if I don’t want to? What then?

“Of course, Baba,” I say, because there isn’t any other answer. “I will.”

Between one blink and the next, they’re walking toward security, leaving the three of us alone. I can still hear them bickering about Netflix.

“Come on, Myra,” Dadu says, nudging my shoulder. I look away from my parents’ retreating backs. “Let’s find an Uber.”

“I’ve got it,” Samir says, whipping out his phone and waving me off as we start to walk to the exit.

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I roll my eyes, unsurprised he wants to take the lead. I can’t help but cast another glance over my shoulder at my parents, but Dadu gently tugs my ear.

“So what’s your book about?” she asks.

I turn to her in surprise. I closed the book after my mom’s rebuke, but the story is still fresh in my mind. “You want to know?”

“Of course,” Dadu says, smiling warmly at me. “You can tell me during the Uber ride.”

Something dislodges in my chest as we approach the exit. “That sounds great.”

When I look back this time, there’s no sign of my parents anywhere.

Even though I know it’s wrong, all I feel is relief.

Excerpted with the permission of Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Health Care Mental Health Health

Here’s how you can use mood tracking to manage PMDD symptoms

Anyone who has had the lovely luck of menstruating knows that it brings many weird symptoms with it. Like really weird. From boob pain to headaches to constant nausea, the list goes on. And likewise, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is equally awful to experience. But have you heard of premenstrual dysphoric disorder? I’d bet anything you probably haven’t, but you should. It’s very similar to PMS, but it tends to be more extreme. PMS on steroids might be a way to describe it. 

Like PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) occurs before your period. It can be anywhere from one to two weeks before, and the symptoms should usually die out around two days into the period. The disorder brings bouts of depression and anxiety, which are more extreme than those found in PMS, and it affects around six million people worldwide. But here’s the real kicker, it tends to show up more commonly in people who already have depression and anxiety, usually making their symptoms worse. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

I have PMDD myself, and I can attest to the fact that it makes life miserable. My symptoms tend to show up around a week and a half before my period, and it’s usually more depression-related than anxiety. I feel a sudden loss of interest in everything happening around me, extreme fatigue that leaves me unable even to attempt the chores or activities I plan, and a deep, dark state of sadness and hopelessness that looms over everything I do. 

I will say that I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding most of my symptoms, but for a long time, that was what kept me from discovering that I had PMDD. In fact, I had to research and figure it out on my own. My doctors knew about my symptoms, I talked to a counselor regularly about my troubles, but no one cared to help me look much deeper. Figuring it all out was an accident and then a google search.

It all started when my counselor asked me to start tracking my moods to help us figure out what might trigger my depressive episodes. At first, it seemed ridiculous. How would knowing my moods help me with depression? My moods were low during depressive episodes, and I knew that already. But her approach was different from what I imagined. She had me install an app that would allow me to log my moods multiple times a day and the activities completed during that time. She thought there might be a pattern related to my daily activities that could solve the depression.

She was right, and there was a pattern. It’s just not what she expected, and for a long time, she and I were confused because neither of us could see it. Then one day, while I was lying in bed, my sister asked if my period was coming up. She pointed out that I get tired and moody right before my period. And I decided to double-check that, opening the app I use to track my cycles and comparing it to the data on my mood tracking app. 

It clicked for me then, but my counselor still didn’t buy into it, and my doctor was in denial about it as well. So I was left to solve things on my own. The most common ways to deal with PMDD involve specific birth control pills or depression medication. But due to some other circumstances, neither of those were options I wished to pursue, and instead, I decided to use this mood tracking idea to help me manage my symptoms. 

One of the critical factors in my symptoms is the loss of appetite, which quickly leads down a slippery slope of losing energy for everything else in life. And tracking that, alongside my mood, usually helps me see if I’m coming up at that time of the month, allowing me to put plans in place to ensure I eat consistently and keep up my energy. Seeing my mood lowering and noticing that I’m finding less joy in activities also allows me to prepare ahead to get most of the crucial tasks out of the way and put systems in place to ensure I can have help on any other tasks as they come. 

It’s been a lifesaver to know that I can now sort of predict when my mental health will slip and be able to handle things. Of course, it’s not perfect. There are days where I get slammed with depression out of nowhere, and my schedule falls apart then. But when things clear up just a little bit, I still have plans and routines that can help me get on track again.

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Mind Mental Health Health Pets Wellness

Should adopting a pet be the next step of your mental health journey?

Mental Health Mondays are our way of breaking the stigma, spreading awareness and sharing stories of those who are battling with their mental health. Read more from this series here.

If you’re anything like me, you probably browse through mental health listicles every now and then. On bad days, I find that physically googling “what to do when you’re having a bad day” and then reading through the action items gives me something new to focus on.

One thing that typically appears on these types of lists is pets. Sometimes people recommend playing with animals at a shelter or cuddling with your pets at home. Other times people suggest going on a walk with a dog or watching funny cat videos on your phone.

During quarantine, pets helped a lot of us get through such a difficult time. Studies have shown that companionship pets can improve people’s mental health by spreading joy, lowering stress and anxiety, and managing loneliness and depression.

Depending on the type of animal you have—for example, dogs or leash-compliant cats or maybe even overzealous lizards—pets can also increase people’s opportunities to exercise, get outside, socialize, and meet new people. In turn, this can help decrease our blood pressure and maintain our cholesterol and triglyceride levels, boosting our mood and energy.

But this doesn’t mean everyone looking to improve their mental health should adopt a pet.

I love animals. Growing up, my family had dogs, cats, frogs, a guinea pig, lots of fish, and we probably unintentionally fed a few neighborhood raccoons as well. While I’m no Bindi Irwin, animals have always been a huge part of my life.

As an adult, I can’t imagine not having pets. In fact, one of my biggest life goals is to adopt a dog. While my backyard-less apartment and I are not quite dog ready yet, I still wanted to expand my fur family in 2021. This led me to spend way too much time scrolling through shelter and rescue websites.

Finally, I found Willie, a fluffy orange kitten looking for a home that would embrace his shyness. As a homebody and an introvert, I thought me and my cat Nona would make an excellent home for this little guy.

An orange kitten sits on a white table.
[Image description: An orange kitten sits on a white table. My new kitten, Willie!] Via Kayla Webb
I would describe myself as an experienced pet owner. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this made me a little too cocky. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows animals are a huge undertaking. Like most advice given to us after we’ve already made up our mind, I listened to those around me remind me of this responsibility with one ear—while my other ear listened for email alerts from Willie’s foster mom.

When I finally brought Willie home, I was excited and expecting a smooth transition from taking care of one cat to two. But the first couple of weeks with Willie were not as easy, breezy, or beautiful as I thought they were going to be.

I had so much anxiety, and I hardly slept. I underestimated how long the transition period would be for Willie’s adjustment. In addition, introducing new pets to your current pets always comes with extra challenges, which only increased my anxiety.

I felt like a new parent rather than an experienced pet owner. I mean, kittens are kind of like human babies; they have lots of needs and will probably keep you up at night when you really need to be sleeping.

All this to say, adopting a pet might not be what’s best for your mental health. Pets are a lot of work and require a lot of care. Sometimes adding another item to your to-do list is more stressful and exhausting than you think it will be. And low maintenance pets still require maintenance.

If that maintenance sounds like too much on top of everything else you have to do, then adopting a pet won’t improve your mental health. And that’s perfectly okay. While some people benefit from pets, some people do not.

I’m not trying to say don’t adopt a pet. I’m just saying make sure you’re well-informed, ready, and equipped for any animal you’re bringing into your life. Do your research, adopt (don’t shop!), and be ready to love the heck out of your pet because they deserve it.

If you’re wondering if now is a good time to start your fur family, maybe go visit with your friends’ pets first. You’ll get all the perks with none of the responsibility.

While I have no regrets about adopting Willie, I wish I had been more mentally prepared. Maybe that could have minimized the nights we both spent crying at 3 am.

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Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I learned about sex through fanfiction, and it’s a bit questionable

I love fanfiction. I think there’s something about it that you can’t find in published novels or tv shows, it’s unique and hard to explain. And while it might sound odd, there’s a lot you can learn from fanfics.

Most people don’t realize what’s out in the vast web to be discovered. For example, you might be scrolling through the works of your new favorite tv show and finally decide to brave the uncharted territories of mature-rated fanfics. You’ll click on one with a funny summary and then fall down the fascinating rabbit hole to continue reading more. And in doing so, you might actually learn about sex through fanfics.

That’s what happened to me anyway. You see, I never really had the opportunity to learn about sex in my family. My culture treats sex as taboo and then expects girls to grow up wanting to have babies and get married into a life of pleasing their husband. And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

I went through the basic sex ed in school, but that didn’t explain a lot. Most of what I remember was the teacher telling us to use birth control if it came down to it, but we should abstain from sex. Senior year Biology was where I learned about my body properly; I was finally told about the many changes that the body goes through due to our hormones. But most importantly, I learned about male anatomy. At no point before this had anyone explained what sex is. I knew it was performed between males and females, but not how. Before that class, I thought it was code for lying in a bed with a member of the opposite sex. 

And all this without telling girls about potential dangers that come with sex or trying to make sex sound appealing.

And while that class helped clear up some of my more significant questions, it wasn’t enough. But I had nowhere to turn to for learning more. My parents weren’t an option, and asking someone seemed awkward. So I turned to the internet. For the first time in nearly four years of exploring fanfiction online, I dove into what I thought was the dark side and looked at the selection of M-rated fics. 

Thinking back on it, they weren’t even particularly spicy fics that I stumbled across. I was jumping back into the PJO (Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan) fandom for like the third time, and I had exhausted my supply of tried and true teen and lower fics. These fanfics primarily served as a way for me to learn specifically about sex and what it was, how it worked, in a setting that wasn’t overly scientific. It was all very vanilla, but that was fine back then.

Then I jumped into some Yu-Gi-Oh fandoms and looked around at the selection there as well. And that was the first time I learned about sex being possible between same-sex couples. Then I switched from my usual fanfic website to a more known and better one, Archive Of Our Own. And this was where things got interesting because there were tags for everything. If I wanted to explore a specific kink, I could check the tag for it and look at all the options in every fandom. 

And I did exactly that; I jumped through different fandoms and checked out every type of M or E rated fic that was unique and then added the new knowledge to the ever-growing list of things I knew about sex. I explored lots of different kinks. When Fifty Shades of Grey was coming out, and everyone was complaining that it didn’t show BSDM accurately, I went to fanfics to learn what they were all talking about. I’ve read many an ABO fic and several femdom stories. And I thought by reading all these fics; I suddenly knew everything there was to know about sex.

Then one day, an online friend talked about a time that she was sexually harassed and how some of these fanfictions we read lead her to think that it was normal. And I started to rethink the fics I was reading. 

It occurred to me that a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading wasn’t always safe or consensual. These were works of fiction, and therefore not always meant to be an accurate reflection of reality, but I had spent years normalizing the lack of consent that came with some of these stories. I didn’t even realize until a month ago that it isn’t normal for someone to cry during sex or for most people to get off to that. Many of the kinky fics I read also never really detailed much about the relationship outside of the sex, which made for a very twisted view on things. 

None of this means that I plan to stop reading smut fics. I’ve come to recognize that most of what is in these stories is simple fantasy. I should have never expected it could replace the learning that comes from talking to people about their experiences or having sex myself. 

But if anyone else out there is like me, then now is as good a time as any to look a bit more critically at the fics you read and made the conscious distinction between them and reality. I know it’s awkward to talk to others about sex, and let’s not lie on the internet, it can be dangerous

I don’t claim to know all the answers, and there’s no right way to learn about sex. But at the very least, I think it’s better not to put all the eggs in one basket. When you want to learn about something you should look at several different places. I’ve begun taking a more thorough route to my own learning, one which involved properly researching whatever sexual topic comes to mind in fanfics but outside as well with the help of google or asking some very close friends who I can trust.

This new system has been working so far, and I find myself enjoying some of the conversations I can have with people about these topics as well.

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