Mind Mental Health Health Wellness

Overcoming my childhood phobias made me who I am today

Much of my late childhood into my tween years was ruled by phobias. A phobia, for those who don’t know, is an irrational fear of something that is unlikely to cause a person harm. This fear can make daily life-crippling and anxiety-inducing. During my early life, I was extremely shy and fearful of other people’s perceptions of me. With that type of personality, my phobias thrived and intensified.

Needles, heights, swallowing pills and certain foods, and test-taking terrified me. My fears would manifest through panic attacks, hysterical breakdowns, and sheer avoidance of the things that triggered me. It was exhausting and demoralizing. I thought I would never “be normal” as a result. Looking back, I can now see that these irrational fears were the first traces of my severe generalized anxiety presenting itself.

As I grew older, I was able to overcome my phobias. However, new ones also cropped up periodically during different stages of my life. I developed a fear of taking out tampons when I first got my period at age 14. When I was 16 and learning how to drive, I began to develop extreme driving anxiety. All of these phobias weighed on me significantly. I felt embarrassed to tell anyone outside of my immediate family. I hid them from friends, which made me feel alienated from my peers. I thought of myself as lame and even baby-ish for allowing these fears to affect me so much.

I wish I could give a concrete, step-by-step guide on how to overcome phobias, but I have no perfect or universal solutions. A large part of my journey living with these anxieties was trial and error. Through continually pushing myself into uncomfortable situations that forced me to confront the things that I feared, I built up a tolerance. You could call it my own DIY version of exposure therapy.

During my time struggling with driving anxiety, I forced myself to drive as much as possible. I realized that avoiding driving only exacerbated my phobia. The irrational thoughts built up in my head the more I avoided driving. By making myself drive more frequently, I became used to being on the road. It became more muscle memory and less anxiety producing for me over time.

The same principle applied to taking my driver’s test. The test itself terrified me to the point where I had panic attacks while taking it. I had to take the test three times before I passed, but I finally did it! These experiences taught me that phobias subside through exposure and persistence. Calming strategies used in therapy like deep breathing and positive visualization also aided me significantly.

I am far from perfect now. However, I am happy to say that my phobias no longer hold me back from functioning in my daily life. My anxiety remains, but now I am able to see past fear rather than let it hinder me. I never thought I’d say I am grateful for my phobias, but honestly, I can now say that I am. If not for them, I never would have learned about my generalized anxiety or sought therapy.

My phobias taught me the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. Because of the obstacles I faced during childhood, I am a more confident and open person today. I am proud of myself for overcoming these struggles and becoming a better, stronger person as a result.

I can only hope that my story encourages others to normalize talking openly about mental health problems.

You are strong. Your disorders do not define you. 

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Mental Health The Pandemic Now + Beyond

Here’s how texting is giving us anxiety – and what to do about it

I have a confession: I’m tired of texting.

Not because I hate technology and certainly not because I think we need to go back to the old times. Rather, I just find it mentally exhausting.

After months of not seeing people regularly in person, texting is just slightly better than solitude at best and emotionally taxing at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting altogether, but maybe it’s time that we don’t treat it like the only form of online communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting.

Before the pandemic, I preferred texting to other forms of social interaction. As someone with social anxiety, it was easier.

I’d have time to think about responses, I wouldn’t have to show my facial expressions and, if a conversation was awkward, I could just ignore it. I much preferred texting to the dreaded phone conversation, the most anxiety-inducing part of my life.

Texting saved me. It was my social crutch. I could second guess myself or start a thought over without appearing awkward. I could easily draft and edit my response to any interaction, and nobody would know.

For someone who struggled so much with socializing, texting was a godsend.

What I never realized was that, when texting is your only form of communication, it’s exhausting. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t see people in person. And with only texting, it’s notoriously difficult to tell someone’s tone while they’re texting, which can make conversations feel awkward or inorganic. I also find it difficult to hold a casual conversation while texting.

When I talk to someone face to face — or phone to phone — we’re able to shift from subject to subject and talk about the most mundane things. With texting, I always feel like I need a purpose to start or continue a conversation. This makes it very difficult to keep up casual friendships. During my time in pandemic-induced isolation, those relationships started to slip away.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

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There are exhausting aspects to Zoom, Facetime, and Skype as well, but having face-to-face communication can feel so much more invigorating. Being able to see someone’s facial expressions and hand gestures, and hear their tone of voice makes such a difference. Being able to have an organic conversation, with plenty of twists and turns and digressions just feels more comfortable for me.

I never realized that, when texting is your only form of communication, it can be exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like texting, and I’m not in favor of stopping it altogether. Still, we should stop treating it like the primary form of online communication.

Some of us need to be able to see a human face while interacting with others.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

Some of us just prefer the spontaneity of a talking conversation.

Texting is great, and it can be a lifesaver in certain situations, but it can’t be the only way we communicate. Technology is bringing us closer to real human interactions in an online setting, so we should take that opportunity. It makes a big difference.

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Mind K-pop Mental Health Health Wellness

15 K-Pop songs to help you feel seen

Content Warning: Somes of the songs in this article mention themes of mental illness, suicide, depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

Mental health has never been more important than it is now. Music is one healthy coping mechanism that helps a lot of us keep on keeping on. Over the last decade or so, I’d argue that more global artists, musicians, and idols have helped start conversations around mental health by being open about their own struggles with depression, anxiety, loneliness, and more.

K-pop performers like IU and SUGA from BTS have long been known as mental health advocates of sorts, unafraid of broaching harder topics in their music. While it seems obvious, it never hurts to remind ourselves that idols are people, too. They experience highs and lows and battle with issues acutely felt by those of us living in the 21st century.

Many of these idols have included their personal stories in their music, which can help us feel less alone as we face similar challenges in our day-to-day lives.

1. “eight” – IU (Prod. & Feat. SUGA of BTS)

IU’s song “eight” is about loss. Depending on your interpretation of the music video, this could also be a song about losing friends to suicide. Rather than focus on her despair, IU’s lyrics and melody remain hopeful, reminding us that we should remember the good times with our lost loved ones. She even hints at meeting them again someday in a place where there is no sadness or pain.

2. “BORDERLINE” – Sunmi

Sunmi revealed that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which she explores in this song. Many of her fans who have BPD have said this song helps them feel validated in their experience. In addition, “BORDERLINE” makes it clear that it is okay to voice our struggles. Even if people don’t always understand our pain, we should be proud of ourselves for persevering.

3. “Dark Clouds” – Heize

“Dark Clouds” delves into what it’s like to have depression. Heize sings about not having the capacity to fake a smile for her friends, so she ignores their calls. Even though depression often feels unfair, numbing, and isolating, Heize takes the time to simply experience these emotions in “Dark Clouds.” She encourages everyone to do the same because ignoring the problem is never the answer, and sometimes, the only way out is through.

4. “Dear Me” – Taeyeon

In “Dear Me,” Taeyeon sings about being able to endure life’s rough patches because she has herself. This is a song that reminds us that even if we think there’s no one at our side, we’re never alone because we have ourselves. The sooner we learn to trust and love ourselves, the more we’ll be able to weather future storms.

5. “Breathe” – LEE HI

Throughout our lives, many of us have experienced pressures from society, our parents, our friends, and even ourselves. Lee Hi revealed that she suffered from a panic disorder from all of these pressures that made her feel like she was suffocating. She wrote “Breathe” to remind those of us who are exhausted or bogged down by these pressures that we will be okay. We’re all doing the best we can, so keep going.

6. “Happy” – WJSN

Just like the “Happy” lyrics say, sometimes we start believing that happiness is foreign or irrelevant to us. Or sometimes, it’s hard to feel happy because we don’t think we deserve to be happy. But WJSN reminds us that we’re allowed to be happy. They also talk about how celebrating their friends, being body positive, and choosing to be confident are all ways they’ve become happier.

7. “Ugly” – 2NE1

“Ugly” is relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with low self-esteem or confidence issues over their physical appearance. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others. We also often get sucked up in what society says beautiful people are supposed to look like. 2NE1 gives voice to these inner thoughts, which can be cathartic. But it’s important to remember that we all have value, even if we don’t look or feel like everyone else.

8. “Eternal Sunshine” – EPIK HIGH (Prod. SUGA of BTS)

EPIK HIGH is another group that has been fearless in tackling mental health issues, and “Eternal Sunshine” is no exception. In this song, Tablo and Mithra Jin rap about loneliness, anxiety, and insomnia. Throughout the track, they remind listeners that we shouldn’t feel pressured to always keep up with the steps of life—because life is difficult and riddled with problems. But you’re not alone in feeling this way, and therein lies the message of “Eternal Sunshine.”

9. “Clap” – SEVENTEEN

Like EPIK HIGH pointed out, life is hard. And SEVENTEEN agrees. “Clap” includes lyrics about everyday struggles like staining your white shirt or not having enough money on your metro card. But these setbacks shouldn’t stop us from experiencing the world. Even if it’s raining, there is still a melody to be found in the raindrops, so why not clap along?

10. “Voices” – Stray Kids

In “Voices,” Stray Kids encourages all of us to ignore the voices in our heads telling us to give up because we’re not good enough. Just like the lyrics say, we have to step out and break free from the voices in our heads because they’re not always credible sources nor are they always telling the truth. We are good enough and we can achieve our dreams.

11. “Wake Me Up” – B.A.P.

Both the song and the music video for “Wake Me Up” speak to some of the darkest moments in life. But even if we’re still trudging through these dark times, we can’t forget who we are. B.A.P. encourages listeners to believe in themselves and stay alert to how society tries to lead us astray.

12. “Whalien 52” – BTS

While BTS has quite a few songs about mental health, “Whalien 52” is immaculate, *chef’s kiss*. Due to the pandemic, most of us experienced a year of isolation and alienation, and “Whalien 52” speaks to this acute feeling of loneliness. But BTS also includes a message of hope: No matter how lonely we feel, keep singing—or trying to connect with others—because eventually, someone will hear our song.


13. “Crown” – TXT

“Crown” is about finding solace in ourselves—by accepting who we are, imperfections and all—and in our community, because our friends and family help to combat loneliness. Even though we all go through hard times, our experiences help shape us into something better, and TXT has decided to be proud of their experiences and wear them like a crown.

14. “Runaway” – Bobby

“Runaway” is relatable to anyone who has ever wanted to press the pause button on life. Like Bobby says, sometimes our mistakes feel like failures, and sometimes our responsibilities feel so burdensome. I think “Runaway” is a reminder that it’s okay to take a break, to stop and collect ourselves before getting back on the horse, so to speak. Our mistakes don’t define us and shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward.

15. “The Last” – Agust D

Depression, OCD, social anxiety, and self-hatred are all topics Agust D raps about in “The Last.” Though he talks about how he wishes he could hide his weak self, Agust D’s choice to be honest about his struggles with mental illness shows his strength as an individual and artist. In this way, he sets an example for all of us, proving that it’s okay to open up and be vulnerable because our weaknesses are often our strengths.

It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to take some time for yourself. Prioritizing our mental health should be at the top of our to-do list each and every day.

But, every now and then, don’t forget to play ITZY’s entire discography, too! While it’s perfectly okay to feel blue, it’s also important to feel on top of the world from time to time—and ITZY always delivers.

Just remember, you’re not alone.

We see you, we hear you, and you’re loved for being your fully authentic self.

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Tips & Tricks Life

Journaling lets me remember my self-growth journey

I have been journaling for as long as I can remember. Occasionally, I like to skim through the top shelf of my cabinet and pull out one of my journals to read. Do I cringe when I read my younger self’s entries? Yes. But it’s all a huge part of self-growth. 

Journaling has proven to have many benefits, particularly for mental health. For me, the biggest benefit was the reduction in stress. As someone who is prone to have stress-induced panic attacks, journaling – whether it’s small doodles or a novella – has helped by giving me clarity and a place to express my emotions. A 2005 study found expressive writing to be therapeutic, noting that participants who expressed trauma, stress and other emotions through writing decreased their chances of getting sick significantly. In the long run, people who journal are less seriously affected by trauma as opposed to their non-journaling counterparts. Although I wouldn’t consider myself completely unscathed by my experiences at school, I do look back at my journals and applaud myself for the strength I mustered to get through it. 

So what does journaling do for the soul? Reduces stress and anxiety as well as boosts your immune function. Well, there are other benefits. One great one I have noticed in myself is the ability to put things into perspective. Journaling is a great regulator of emotions as when you write down how you feel, everything becomes comprehensible and once you have the chance to figure out your own emotions, you are presented with the amazing opportunity to be able to process other people’s too. It is a great way to promote self-growth and confidence as many people, myself included, read over their past personal struggles and either laugh at themselves or marvel in awe at the inner strength they didn’t know they had. 

And the best part of journaling? There are so many different styles you could go for. Days where I am feeling more creative, I’ll do some art journaling or bullet journaling. Some days, it’s easier for me to do an electronic journal (I highly recommend Notion because you type or record videos straight into the app). And you don’t have to do the typical ‘dear diary’ stuff. Make it yours. Of course, there are other tidbits people concern themselves with before they start writing, namely,  what do I write about

My easiest tip is to start writing about anything. There was a class exercise one of my lecturers used to do with us in my first year of university and that was writing for the first 15 minutes of class. “If you don’t know what to write, write ‘I am writing’ until the thought, any thought, comes into your head.” Although this is not a piece of advice I had when I first started journaling, it is something I would pass on to new journalers. Start where you are. The great thing about journals is that they are private to you so they can be two words or a whole novel if you want it to. Even if it’s just a single line, or what you had for lunch, write it. Don’t censor yourself. This is for you and it’s your personal journey. There is no right and wrong when it comes to journaling because it’s an experience so personal and tailored to the individual. 

So unlearn anything you had learned about ‘keeping a diary’ back in the earlier stages of education and go with what works for you because you don’t get graded on how you feel. I’m sure that you would appreciate the nostalgia and growth that comes with looking back at your journey in your journal as much as I do.

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Race Life

The “angry Black woman” stereotype makes me hesitate to defend myself

For stories of Black history and excellence, check out our Black History Month series. Celebrate with us by sharing your favorite articles on social media and uplifting the stories, life, and work of Black people.

Being a Black woman causes me to severely overthink, especially when contemplating if and when to stand up for myself while being viewed by others as inherently angry. The angry Black woman stereotype: every Black woman has felt the burden of this stereotype at one or many times throughout our lives. Personally, I’ve found myself in many situations or conversations that were both micro-aggressive and aggressive in a racist context. As a result, throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable while at school, at parties, and in work environments. 

Therefore, I’m constantly battling the angry Black girl stereotype, and my personal mission to always stand up for myself. Admittedly, too often, I allow my internalized insecurity to win. The societal stigmas against Black women cause me to be silent. I’ve been called angry, aggressive, or defensive in times I was simply not allowing someone to disrespect me or others. So given my history of being gaslighted, I’ve forgone standing up for myself or firmly setting or maintaining a boundary out of fear of being seen by others as the angry Black girl.

However, I’m slowly learning to overcome my internalized insecurities with the intention that I’ll never second guess putting myself first again.

The angry Black woman stereotype was created as an extension of the sapphire stereotype during the antebellum period, which categorized Black women as inherently masculine, aggressive, and dominant. The angry Black woman stereotype is a reimagined, racially charged trope that often goes undetected as it persists within modern society, pop culture, and politics; mostly because the stereotype is a manipulation technique used to silence Black women. The imagery of the original sapphire trope may look different or be less obvious, but the harmful effects it has on Black women remain.

Within recent years, prominent figures and celebrities such as Janet Hubert, who originally played Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, and Monique have all had to navigate through being stereotyped and/or type-casted as difficult, angry, or masculine women. In particular, Janet and Monique have been blacklisted in Hollywood for years because of the harm being labeled as “difficult” have on Black women’s careers.

Besides, the angry Black woman stereotype is downright hurtful as much as it is harmful. According to a Forbes article written by Janice Gassam Asare, “Black women were found to experience many negative health outcomes including anxiety, at a greater rate than their white counterparts” because of how often we suppress our emotions. This gaslighting technique of accusing someone of greatly overreacting when they aren’t, that people continuously use against Black women, is an intentional tool of oppression.

Essentially, we are taught not to challenge the intersecting marginalizations that continue to severely oppress Black women. Instead, Black women are forced to shrink ourselves into quiet submission or simply be complicit with treatment we aren’t comfortable with so people won’t weaponize our emotions against us. Consequently, the angry Black woman stereotype lumps Black women into a monolith of combativeness and negativity while it strips us of our feelings and humanity.

Notably- if the world can impose this stereotype on the aforementioned women with as much status, money, or influence as they have, imagine what the average Black woman is forced to tolerate at work, in class, in shops or restaurants, and elsewhere.

Since late May of 2020, we should be seeing a supposed societal shift in oppressive race dynamics, as people promised to “listen and learn” about the harmful effects of racism. Luckily, I have some suggestions on how people can better show up for Black women, specifically when we are forced to combat the angry Black woman stereotype.

People need to first reflect on what about Black women causes the world to view us as inherently angry and why Black women are the ones most punished for having feelings perceived as negative. People must confront their internal biases and empathize with Black women’s frustration- and yes, anger- regarding how we are treated in a racist and patriarchal society. Lastly, people should begin the work towards dismantling the stereotype by always standing up for Black women whenever and wherever they can. 

As for Black women, it’s hard, but we must learn not to view ourselves as inherently angry either. Standing up for yourself or exerting your will does not make you angry. In fact, there is nothing wrong with anger as an emotion. It’s natural and sometimes warranted. After all, we have a lot to be angry about anyway. As Delta B. Mckenzie perfectly concludes in an article for Medium, “As a Black woman, I have a right to be angry. I have a right to be loud. I have a right to be anything I want to be. If society wants to put my emotions down to a demeaning stereotype then I say, let it.”

Black women- work towards consistently showing up for yourself despite what others have or continue to tell you. I’m additionally trying to remind myself that my feelings are valid, and I shouldn’t ever have to make myself smaller to coddle anyone. Ultimately, my humanity should matter more than other people’s biased, racist, and inaccurate perception of me anyway.

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[Image Description: An illustrated graphic featuring several Black women with the text saying Black History Month in capital letters] Via The Tempest
[Image Description: An illustrated graphic featuring several Black women with the text saying Black History Month in capital letters] Via The Tempest
Books Pop Culture

How “The Clique” novels taught me the importance of eating the rich

The ambiguous “they” say not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did when I first came across Lisi Harrison’s The Clique series in my middle school library. At the time I just thought the girls on the cover (of what was actually the third book, Revenge of the Wannabes) looked pretty. A decade later, I view that otherwise unmemorable afternoon as the start of a journey that radicalized me. No, unfortunately not regarding the inanity of Eurocentric beauty standards (we’ll save that story for later) – but rather on the excesses of capitalism and the power of a PalmPilot gone unchecked.

As a quick primer, The Clique focuses on the ultra-rich and glamorous Massie Block and her equally wealthy friends, dubbed the “Pretty Committee.” Massie, the queen of the all-girls Octavian Country Day, seemingly has it all — an endless collection of credit cards and designer bags, a cute pug named Bean, and the affection of the hot guys at OCD’s all-boys counterpart, Briarwood. The only thing standing in her way to continued total domination of the 7th grade is the arrival of the shy and naive Claire Lyons and her family, who move into the Block family’s guest house as they get set up in Westchester.

It’s possible to read through the 14 books (and 5 bonus novellas!) and come away with nothing but a feeling of mild disgust. At first glance, the series does read as just Gossip Girl For The Youths. But, digging deeper into the absurd, excruciatingly detailed depictions of the ultra-rich girls and their complicated middle school friendship dynamic – based on Harrison’s own experiences at MTV, I’ve realized the brilliance of Harrison’s subtle manifesto.

For starters, The Clique taught me that power corrupts. Take Alicia Rivera, the eternal “beta” to Massie’s “alpha.” Alicia doesn’t appreciate how good she has it, with all of the benefits of being at the top of Massie’s inner circle and none of the responsibilities of running an empire. Instead, she desperately wants more influence and tries on multiple occasions to dethrone Massie, only to let her ego get in the way. She finally becomes an alpha after Massie’s departure to London, but not before spending several hundred pages proving that you can be the hottest girl in school and still be completely ugly.

[Image Description: 4 girls lie down on their backs with their heads on pillows in a circle at a slumber party]. From The Clique movie / Alloy Entertainment.
[Image Description: 4 girls lie down on their backs with their heads on pillows in a circle at a slumber party]. From The Clique movie / Alloy Entertainment.

The Clique’s most convincing call to arms, however, comes in the form of Claire Lyons. Claire, one of the only explicitly lower-income characters in the series, begins as an outcast mocked by Massie. But over the two years the series spans, Claire repeatedly turns the tables on Massie and beats her at her own game by accidentally stealing the heart of Massie’s first real crush, beating her out for the starring role in a movie, and even planting fake bedbugs in Massie’s bed so the Blocks have to fumigate their house. Claire learns to read and capitalize on her enemy’s weaknesses and there are certainly times where she fights dirty, but she never loses sight of who she is at heart.

Massie is eventually forced to recognize her true power, but even when she’s accepted into the Pretty Committee, Claire continues to eat with her “Loser Beyond Repair” best friend, Layne Abeley. She sees through the posturing of middle school social dynamics and brings truth to power. In doing so, she breaks the oppressive iron grip of the Pretty Committee from the inside. My one critique of Claire is that she’s a reformist, not abolitionist, but I trust she gets there in high school and beyond.

I like to think that I learned about as much about class warfare from The Clique as I did in my introductory sociology classes. Rereading (and literally laughing out loud at) the books as I’m home during the pandemic, I recognize how much I’ve used what I learned, first as a girl from rural Wisconsin at a fancy private white university, and now as a Desi woman who did not come from generational wealth and who started in community organizing, but somehow landed in corporate America.

I still pull on the lessons on how to talk like a rich person – and all the brand names – that I learned from The Clique when I talk to certain coworkers at the coffee station. But even more so, I pull on the reminders that it’s all BS. No matter how many microaggressions I face, I am reminded that arbitrary flexes of social status and wealth, and the power structures that amplify them – whether they’re traditional capitalist institutions or the Pretty Committee – are really all just waiting for a Claire Lyons to tear them down, start society anew, and spread the wealth.

Harrison is no Marx but there’s definitely a socialist reading of The Clique that I’m 100% willing to believe actually makes this pre-teen chick-lit series a truly revolutionary text. I will not rest until it’s made into a full Netflix Original Series. Until then, I’ll be happily rereading this gutsy manifesto about my problematic eternal faves.

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Family Life Stories Life

This is my open letter of apology to my sister

Growing up, I had only a few friends. From the ages of twelve to sixteen, I had a grand total of three people I would talk to and even then, I only felt comfortable messaging one out of these three friends. But, the one consistent person in my life has always been my older sister, someone I owe a big apology to. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I were often called twins – we were so in-sync all the time whether it was sentences, responses, or even emotions. My sister is in fact just under two years older than I am and although she can be a bit up herself for being the older sibling at times, I can’t say I’ve never connected with her even though my sister was always a little more sympathetic to things than I was or even still am; if I shed a tear, she shed a waterfall. 

Exhibit A; I slipped headfirst into the side of the building and got a concussion at school one time in year three and she cried more than I did as she went off to get a teacher who basically told her to calm down because not a single coherent word was coming out of her mouth. Though I had to stay home battling a throbbing headache for the upcoming weeks, my sister would spend her time at school making get well soon cards for me and coming home to just sit with me. 

I remember when she was leaving primary school and on her last day, I was filled with dread because I realized that if I now had a spat with my friends, I couldn’t run off to my sister. She was now going to be somewhere that would require me to climb out of the school gates undetected, crossroads safely and not get kidnapped by the white van that appears to be everywhere. Far too much effort for the kid who barely got off the sofa once she sat down.

I got through that year anyhow and remember my sister giving me a pep talk before my first day of secondary school with the same sentence over and over: “I’m there if you need me.” It got really sour, really fast. 

Although undiagnosed at the time, social anxiety has always been a lifelong struggle of mine and I always took comfort in familiarity in my surroundings. I expressed to my sister how nervous I was about starting school on our walk there and she agreed for both of us to meet during break time in the school canteen. The first day had already been awful for me with the highlight of it realizing that I would be picked on by this one girl for the next five years. Her reason? She thought I was ugly. 

As I sat at a table waiting for my sister, a group of girls from my class walked past me making comments about how ‘ugly’ I was. I became the focal point of their laughter when my sister walked up to me and gave me a hug asking how my first few lessons were. I was suddenly torn between being in my safe space and fitting in – would I have been spared the embarrassment if I didn’t talk to my sister? I didn’t know it wouldn’t matter either way; the class bullies ran with it, teasing me relentlessly for the next five years. 

I got teased for a myriad of things during my time at secondary school, but it was all largely in comparison to me and my sister. She was tall, fairer-skinned (colorism at its finest), pretty, and above all, skinny. It didn’t help that she was also smart so whenever we had the same teachers, I would have to face comparisons by the teachers which would just become more ammunition for the class bullies. One girl in my class spread the rumor that I was adopted because there was no way one sister could be so beautiful and the other one so ugly. Another girl told me that my sister should be embarrassed to have such a fat sibling. The comments only got more demeaning from there.

I took it all out on my sister. I started arguing with her every morning so she would leave for school without me and purposefully get out of class really late so I wouldn’t have to walk home with her. Everything anyone has ever bought me down for, I would blame on her and I made sure she knew it. I bullied my own sister for my insecurities and that is a regret that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I regret my actions especially because my sister is a kind soul who has only ever encouraged me and waited patiently for me to work through any issues I was having.

It wasn’t until I got out of secondary school that I realized how awful I had been to someone who had never been mean to me – we came out of school with an overwrought relationship on my behalf. The road to healing has been long but my sister deserves to know that none of it was her fault and if I could undo it, I would.

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Health Care Health Wellness

Here’s how to actually be supportive to your friend with bipolar disorder

Lately, most of my heartbreak has come from lost friendships, some of which I still haven’t gotten any closure from. In part, this is because I have bipolar disorder.

In the time that has passed, I’ve come to realize that I deserved better. I deserved to be surrounded by people who accepted me as I am and so do you.

There have been many situations where I have found myself among my friends, experiencing an episode — either depressive or manic — and felt completely alone in my suffering when a few acts of kindness could have made a huge difference.

1. Acceptance

: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.
[Image description: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.] Via Unsplash
Regardless of whether someone is a lover or a friend, don’t ever assume that they can be fixed. They are not a broken tailgate or a leaking engine.

The assumption that a person can or needs to be fixed can destroy your relationship with them.

This is because people cannot simply ‘snap out of it’. This is because they are not doing it to themselves: it is happening to them.

2. Compromise

Two girls talking
[Image description: Two girls talking.] Voa Unsplash
Someone’s mental illness is not about you unless you are abusing them.

So, expecting someone with a bipolar disorder to meet you at your physical, emotional and mental level is unrealistic. This is why you have to be the one who meets them halfway.

If a person cannot come to you, then you come to them, if a person during mania episode wants to jump off a bridge or out of a window, then suggest bungee jumping or skydiving.

At the end of the day, it is about finding a compromise.       

3. Improvise

Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset
[Image description: Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset.] Via Unsplash
Improvising is very important. There will be times when the notion of order and routine falls out the window and all you can do is wait it out. In those moments, it’s best to simply be there for someone.

Sometimes, you’ll need to take it one day at a time, and if one day is too much then take it one hour at a time.

And if that feels like too much for them, go moment by moment because sometimes, you simply need to hold them through the pain.

4. Don’t retaliate

A girl sitting down, looking sad.
[Image description: A girl sitting down, looking sad.] Via Unsplash
When someone is having a panic/anxiety attack, that is not the time to psychoanalyze them. That is not the time to pull out the receipts of all the times that you were unsatisfied with their behavior.

Simply telling someone to calm down is redundant because that person is already doing everything in their power to calm down.

So sometimes, if you can’t cope, the best thing you can do for them is to call someone they trust. Getting someone a bottle or a glass of water can be helpful regardless of the fact that it might not resolve the panic/anxiety attack.

5. Be patient

Two boys hugging in a bar.
[Image description: Two boys hugging in a bar.] Via Unsplash
People who have compulsive behaviors and various tics exhibit (tap toeing, pen clicking, thigh rubbing, pacing) ways to expel anxiety.

While these might be irritable and distracting to a normal person, rather than simply pointing out your annoyance, something you can do is provide the person with alternate forms of expression.

For example, if a person is pacing, you can both go for a walk; if a person is clicking a pen, you can give them paper to write on.

6. Be responsible

A man and woman playing at a foosball table.
[Image description: A man and woman playing at a foosball table.] VIa Unsplash
Social anxiety is real. It isn’t when someone is being rude, or when someone has poor manners. If you have a friend that does have social anxiety, you’ll have to compromise. If you’re inviting them to a party, you have two responsibilities that you must uphold; the first is to respect the people they choose to interact with and the people they choose not to interact with.

And the next is to respect and accept when they want to leave and ensure they get home safely. Allow your friend to gravitate towards people that they find interesting.

Another option is to bring along games or cards, that way if they don’t want to interact but are interested in the games they can play them.

All relationships are hard work. While the representation of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder still has a long way to go, accepting the people among us for who they are, and helping them out goes a long way.

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Gender & Identity Life

Going to a concert isn’t the carefree experience that it should be for me

Even when I feel that I’m fully recovered, certain moments always crop up where I am reminded that mental health is a long and strenuous battle. Usually, these moments occur when I’m surrounded by people or when I have plans that I know will trigger either my depression,  anxiety or my rheumatoid arthritis. I believe that the worst part of it all is knowing that you are an outcast and that you can’t tell everyone what you are feeling or what you are thinking because they won’t understand you.

In my case, I’ve found that concerts and shows tend to cause one or more of my conditions to act up. This is absolutely miserable because concerts, shows, fireworks, movies, presentations, in general, are those things that are always the most fun or anticipated. We are willing to pay in order to sit in chairs that may be far away just to see,  to hear, or to watch the show of someone whose talent we admire.

Even though I love these events, ever since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis I found myself paying attention to the places where the spectacles are going to be held. I’m always checking if there is access for people that have mobility impairments or as, in many of the places available in my city, the road I must take in order to get to my seat is determined by stairs.  Where I live, concerts are very expensive and if you want to see famous artists or a world-renowned spectacle with your friends or family you’ll have to make compromises, you’ll have to buy a cheap ticket (which really isn’t cheap) so that you have to see the show from a very long distance and the access is  torturous. Of course, being in the same position for a long period of time makes my bones ache, makes my joints scream and my extremities to become stiff. By the time we get out of the show, I must go out in the cold to grab a cab, which makes my pain on the next day absolutely unbearable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen amazing shows and I feel lucky to have the economic possibilities to see great artists perform, but I’ve always felt bad because I never know if the show that I’m going to has chairs, or if I’ll have to sit on the floor.

This struggle isn’t always physical, but psychological.  I’ve found myself having panic attacks, episodes of memory loss due to anxiety, sweating, headaches, and/or gastrointestinal discomfort because of the number of people in these places. There is always a moment when I sit in my chair (if I’m lucky enough to have found one) and I look around to see the crowd and my anxiety tells me, “Hey if there’s an earthquake, if there’s a fire, these are all the people there are going to step on you on the stampede at the exit.” The struggle of going in and out of the place is huge because I always feel that the doors are too narrow, that there are too many people and that everyone is invading my personal space. I feel trapped. Even the prospect of standing up just to go to the bathroom makes me uncomfortable in these groups.

Of course, I feel miserable because I know that I’m not like everyone else and I know that my discomfort makes others uncomfortable. I feel especially bad for my mom and my brother as they like to go to shows, they are very carefree, and they would sit on top of a rock in order to watch the person they like play. I know that they have to accommodate their desires in order for me to be comfortable and to feel safe.

Speaking of this is really hard but I know there are a lot of people that can relate to my situation. Others who feel uncomfortable leaving their houses to go to theaters, malls, concerts, plays,  and dance clubs, but they remain shut-in because we all want to fit in. We all want to feel that we are not a burden. I invite all that feel this way to keep in mind that you are not alone and that you are not the only one who feels this way. Dream with me of the possibility of being able to enjoy our favorite band or favorite artist or a Cirque du Soleil show in a comfortable space that makes us feel safe.

Health Care Mind Surviving the Holidays Love Life Stories Wellness

My anxiety makes every Christmas a living nightmare

The holiday season is in full swing and unlike many, I am not keen.

I don’t hate Christmas or have any particularly deep philosophical issues with the holidays, I just find this time of the year overwhelming.  I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which came with varying degrees of depression at the beginning of this year.

I have spent the year learning how to navigate life in a way that is best suited to my needs. This included learning my triggers and ways to minimize my anxiety. Large crowds and loud noises in confined spaces are a huge cause of anxiety for me. The cold sweats, shakiness and overall feeling of sinking into myself – these have all caused me to fear large gatherings of any kind. I have managed to avoid many of these situations under the guise of studying (thanks, law school) but now that the holidays are here I no longer have an excuse.

Coming from a large Christian family made up of people of color, this time of year is particularly busy. In between ensuring the house is clean, stressing about not making enough food and playing Christmas music prematurely, family trips are still placed high up on the list of holiday-musts.  I have a tight-knit family who spends most of their downtime together. Considering I am the only girl in my family, I am expected to be involved in family gatherings. I usually help out in the kitchen or keep the kids entertained. In short, I am constantly surrounded by a lot of people.

Since I have anxiety, this is hugely difficult for me. 

Mental illnesses are not spoken about in my community as it is still highly stigmatized. If it’s acknowledged, it isn’t something that happens to us.

So it’s not surprising that my parents were very concerned with what the rest of my family would think and quite honestly, just didn’t know how to ‘handle’ me and my mental illness. Nobody was informed about my diagnosis and for the most part, we carried on as if nothing had happened.  

 This is pretty much standard procedure in my communities.

My parents would plan weekends away with my family in an attempt to get me to ‘snap out of it’ and get back to normal. We usually spend the weekend in a small coastal town. I love being near the ocean, despite hating the beach. There is something about the crisp breeze and salty air that makes dropping my shoulders and unclenching my jaw automatic.  But the constant stream of people is an assault on my senses and cancels out any sort of relief I initially felt.

Being in that space only made my anxiety worse and I would count down the hours until it would be acceptable for us to leave.

My most recent experience included me staying in bed for two days wishing I could go home and be in my own space away from everyone. My anxiety was heightened as I knew if I were to have an anxiety attack or get sick, which I often do during periods of extreme anxiety, I would have to face my family.

An explanation would be required, which would quickly be followed by advice along the lines of “you need to go to church and get right with Jesus” or “you shouldn’t stress so much, you’re too young.”

These words invalidate my own feelings and experiences.

It also exposes the reality that many of those closest to me are not good for me and my health overall.  This is what makes it a difficult time for me. I want to be around my family and be part of all the festivities but it can all get a bit much.

To avoid this, I chose to stay in my room and didn’t feel guilty about doing so. It was easier than trying to power through social interactions. I have put in a lot of work into learning to listen to my body and what it needs. I can’t let people who see me every few weeks or months undo that.  

I had to acknowledge that telling myself, “It’s only two more sleeps until it’s home time!” or using my studies as an excuse for my behavior could only get me so far.

I will admit that most times that is easier said than done, but I managed to do it this time and I am proud of myself for taking that step.

I am fine being subjected to dodgy comments from random aunties if it means I am in a good place.

For now, this is the best plan I’ve been able to come up with to survive the holidays with my family, so I’m going with it.

Editor's Picks Tech Science Now + Beyond

Always getting lost in your own world? This new form of therapy encourages it

There’s no doubt in my mind that virtual reality is cool and I’m not the only one who thinks so.  

Movies like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle show society’s growing obsession with VR, it saturates popular culture in addition to actual VR video games. But it’s not just the film industry and video game corporations whose interest has been piqued by VR: it’s scientists too.

Image result for jumanji welcome to the jungle gif
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson via

A recent study was published this past March within Lancet Psychiatry finding that VR based cognitive behavioral therapy has the ability to reduce momentary anxiety with patients who have a history of psychotic disorders.

Within VR therapy,  patients are able to work through and confront particular issues through an entirely digital atmosphere in which they know are harmless. VR therapy’s recent successes for those with psychotic disorders holds monumental impact for its future. Researchers have been focusing on VR therapy since the 1990s, but their successes were best found in alleviating phobias. Fixing a fear of high places was all VR therapy could manage in the past. Today, VR goes beyond simply curing a fear of clowns or spiders.

Now, more complex mental illnesses such as social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and psychotic disorders such as paranoid schizophrenia could potentially have quicker solutions in sight.

And with over 15 million Americans suffering from social anxiety mental illnesses alone and 7.7 million Americans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the implications of this new form of exposure therapy in a more controllable setting is monumental. For those struggling with social anxiety, virtual reality incorporates a relieving safe environment into traditional exposure therapy. In a VR therapy session, the number of people in the room, the amount of noise, and the amount of light can all be controlled – those implications are monumental.

In the real world, tasks, like going grocery shopping or making an order at a coffee shop, can be too much for some people. The security that VR therapy might provide is literally life-changing. With this new study, there’s a building block for countless new studies to be made addressing mental health.  

That’s especially true considering the advancements in VR over the years. When VR research was first introduced, research would have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Today? A session just needs technology running a bill of $100 using new developments such as the Samsung Gear VR that turns your smartphone into a VR device.

What does that mean for those struggling with a mental illness? Researchers noted in “The Use of Virtual Reality Technology in the Treatment of Anxiety and Other Psychiatric Disorders” that due to the past two decades of research, the cost of VR therapy will only continue to decrease. The researchers estimate that VR therapy shall become more available to a wider audience very very soon.

Of course, that doesn’t mean VR therapy is perfect, as it may induce feelings of dizziness and nausea, a side effect known as cybersickness. Even more, because of the current high cost of virtual reality equipment and its bulk, it is often hard to relocate therapy sessions. This means VR therapy might be less accessible for those who can’t leave their homes.

Nonetheless, in 2002 VR therapy was rated third out of 38 interventions to increase in use over the next decade and this recent study certainly proves that prediction to be true. The accessibility of VR therapy will only increase in upcoming years. VR therapy provides a new path for others that traditional therapy might not have done.

Although virtual reality was once thought to be a fantasy, today through VR therapy we have a newfound reality of hope for those with mental illnesses. 

Tech Now + Beyond

How Google Duplex could be a game changer for phone anxiety

Does the thought of making a phone call make your start to sweat? You’re not alone. Many of us would rather let a call go to voicemail instead of picking up the call. For some, it’s a result of social anxiety. We’ve gotten really comfortable texting our friends to share memes and updates on life, but phone calls usually mean there’s a more pressing matter. It makes sense that one would start getting anxious sweats and knots in their stomach when tasked with making a call to talk directly to another human.

Source: Giphy [Image desctription: A woman looks shocked, holding a phone to her ear.]

No More Phone Calls?

Whether you’re an anxious person, a busy person, or just don’t feel like making a call, the reality is that you can’t avoid them. Phone calls may feel like an ancient art at this point but are essential for navigating daily life. While a lot of businesses offer online scheduling, you should still expect to have to dial a number and speak with someone directly about dinner reservations or scheduling a haircut.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had an articulate, competent personal assistant to make these calls for you? Google thinks so, too, and has developed a new feature for Google Assistant called Google Duplex. 

Source: Giphy [Image description: A man stands in front of a Google powerpoint that says “How can I help?”]
Thanks to machine learning and AI, Google has developed technology that can make calls on your behalf. The coolest, and maybe weirdest, part of it is how natural the voice sounds. It’s so real that the person on the other line probably can’t even tell they’re not talking to an actual human. According to Google, the Assistant “can understand complex sentences, fast speech, and long remarks, so it can respond naturally in a phone conversation”. 

So, who can this help? Well, you, of course! Simply by texting the Assistant, you can schedule an appointment and have it added to your calendar. Assistant will first go online and try to schedule or find the business hours you’re looking for. But if a phone call is required, the Assistant will handle it for you.

Source: Giphy [Image description: A humanoid robot turns and looks at the camera]
Let’s say you want to book a hair appointment on Saturday between 12 and 3 p.m at a salon that doesn’t take online appointments. You provide the Assistant with your availability and it takes care of the rest. It even uses fillers like “um” and “ah”. Is that creepy? Maybe a little. Check it out for yourself. 

Google and Accessibility

There’s some controversy about whether Google Duplex will help or hurt small businesses, and if it violates the two-party consent laws that require both parties to be aware that they’re being recorded.  While these are important issues that need to be considered, I really hope this technology continues to advance. Google is making strides when it comes to accessibility. For example, they’ve developed a disability support team available to provide support specifically for Google’s assistive technology. Duplex could prove to be hugely beneficial for users with motor impairment.  As head of the Central Accessibility Team at Google Eve Anderson wrote on Google’s blog, “the possibilities for accessible technology are greater than they were 20 years ago in part because of the advancement of technologies like AI.”

Making Life a Bit Easier

My chronic pain often leaves me feeling drained and any extra help is appreciated. As someone who has to schedule an above average amount of doctor’s appointments, I’ve grown pretty comfortable making phone calls.  At the same time, I would love to never have to worry about waiting on hold to schedule appointments again. If I could rid my life of terrible hold music, I think the quality of my life would improve. 

I wish I could go back to simpler times when my parents would handle all of this Adult Stuff. I’m an adult now and adults have robots to schedule their appointments and make dinner reservations.