Aladdin’s Genie is Free

Robin Williams died today*.

*August 11, 2014.

He was an actor, a comedian, a father.

This is sort of, kind of, but not really, about that.

Preliminary reports indicate that he killed himself; he had been battling major depression (and Bipolar disorder) as of late.

This is about that: Mental illness.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental illness. I, like Williams, suffer from Depression. This blog has told the story of my life as I deal with the everyday happenings brought on by my illness: the triumphs, the failings, the high-points, the low-points. I’m trying to raise awareness for the demons from which I suffer, because I can’t fight on my own.

We cannot fight on our own.

People like me need a support system: a group of people who can see past our happy face, people who hear past our jokes, people who find the hidden nuances in our “I’m fines.” People like me don’t want to be seen as weak.

We’re not weak; we’re strong.

Mental illness is hard to understand if you don’t know what it’s like to have one. I’m going to put it as simply as I can:

Our minds are fighting a civil war for control of our bodies: death versus life. And it’s not that we want to die, because we don’t, at least not most of us, not really. We just don’t know if we want to live. At least not like this. It’s like we’re living in this purgatory between living and dying, waiting to decide if we’ll be sentenced to life or death. We feel like we’re stumbling through life–a tumbleweed being blown by the wind–a witness to life, not an active participant.

A few weeks ago, my sister switched the placement of a few apps on my iPhone. I freaked the heck out. I had a mini Mental breakdown.

To her, it wasn’t a big deal.

To me, it was.

Depression and other Mental Illnesses cause you to feel as if your world is spinning out of control, a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop. And when we can’t control the big things, we try to control the little things. For me, that means my apps have to be in a certain order; my socks have to match my outfit. For others, it means they count each calorie that goes into their body. For still others, they turn to drugs or self-harm to try and control and numb the pain they feel.

We’re not crazy. We just feel like the world is too heavy for us. It’s a roller coaster that only goes down. It’s a never-ending tunnel filled with darkness and a thousand tons of dynamite. We’re wandering around in this big world, and we feel so small. We don’t know if we’re ever going to be ‘ok’ again.

And we probably won’t. Because even when we’re happy, we’re always cautious. We know the darkness is just around the corner. It comes in waves, and right now, we might be swimming, but soon we’ll be drowning. And with each wave, it gets harder and harder to get out of bed, to breathe, to think, to have any energy whatsoever.

I’m exhausted. I could stay in bed for 100 years and still be exhausted. The floor is lava, and I can’t get out of bed. But, I’m not crazy.

I have an illness. And there are millions of people just like me.

Just like Robin.

We’re your neighbors, your relatives, your friends, your classmates, your worst enemies. (But even I wouldn’t wish this feeling on my worst enemy.)

Everybody in this world is hiding something. Even the funniest people can be suffering from Depression.

Mental illness is not a joke.

Mental illness is a battle. It’s a fight every single day. Some of us survive; some of us do not.

I almost didn’t.

I don’t think suicide is selfish, because I’ve been to that point where it feels like the only option. Suicide isn’t selfish because we think about everyone and everything.

Committing suicide isn’t a sign of weakness, because the strongest people in the world can only be strong for so long.

I don’t care if you think suicide is a sin or not. This isn’t the time or the place to discuss it.

Suicide is what happens when the pain you’re enduring is exponentially greater than the strength you have left; some of us run out of strength sooner than others.

Our sicknesses are as big a part of us as our blood and our bones. It’s not all we are, but it’s an inexorable part. Some of us accept that, and some of us can’t. By which I mean, some of us learn to live with our illness, and some of us only learn how to die with it. But either way, we hold on for as long as we can.

So, yes. Robin Williams was a fantastic actor and stand-up comic. But he was also a man who had an illness and just needed room to breathe. And I understand that, because I’ve been there before, and maybe someday I’ll be there again.

And even though I don’t know exactly what Robin Williams was going through, I can understand. I hope wherever he is that he is happy; he’s pain free; he can breathe again. He suffered long enough.

He was fighting demons and just wanted to be free.

Aladdin used his last wish to set the genie free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

He’s free.

One day, we’ll all be free: free from the stigma, free from the pain, free from this world.

Here’s to the ones who survive, and here’s to the ones who didn’t.

And here’s to Robin:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”- Dead Poets Society

Thank you for contributing your verse.

Thank you for the laughs. Thank you for your movies that have changed so many people’s lives. Thank you for the tears, for reminding everybody that we’re still alive.  Thank you for showing everybody that words and ideas change the world. Thank you for everything.

(If you are someone you know is suffering from depression/is at a risk for suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255)

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Olympics and Flying: What they Have in Common

When I was little, I would watch the Olympics in complete awe and reverence. I would watch the gymnasts run down the mats like an airplane taxing down a runway, fling themselves off the vault, fly through the air, twisting and turning like a leaf in the wind, and stick their landings. I would watch the ice skaters glide on the ice like a knife over butter, twirl in the air as they complete their triple axels, and come back down to earth all with the grace of an angel.

And I wanted to be a gymnast and an ice skater and a fairy princess. So, I tried my hardest. I put a step stool down between the lines on the carpet in the living room. I would run and jump off of it, doing a half twist in the air before my feet hit the ground. And in that moment, I was an award-winning gymnast. I would “ice skate” in my socks on hardwood floor, and as I glided over the floors I pretended I was Michelle Kwan. I would take my light pink super hero cape and pretend it was a Queen’s robe, until I decided being prim and proper was boring. Saving the world is more fun.

When I was little, I was obsessed with the idea of flying. I would stand on the bottom step of the staircase in my home and channel my inner Buzz Lightyear by saying, “to infinity and beyond.” Of course, being 3, it would come out “to infiniby and beyond.” And then I would jump off that 6 inch step and flap my arms, because I was convinced that if I flapped my arms hard enough, I could fly around the room. One day, I told my Dad with all the enthusiasm little me could muster, “Daddy. I was in the air for 6 whole seconds!”

Of course, I wasn’t. Children don’t understand time… or gravity.

Sometimes I still don’t.

Time is a relative concept. It’s not a line. It’s more of a… of a… big ball of timey wimey stuff. Gravity isn’t concrete either. Sometimes, when I feel particularly unhappy about my body, I remember that I would weigh less on the moon. So, if I ever fulfill my dream of becoming an astronaut, I’m all set. Because what is weight, but the force of gravity acting upon us? And the amount of gravity depends on the mass of the object. The earth is bigger than the moon. But compared to the size of the universe, the earth is miniscule. A speck of sand on the finger of God. So it’s easy for me to feel small.

On the day I decided to test gravity and throw myself off the metaphorical cliff, I wasn’t small enough for God to see me, to protect me, and save me.

I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of flying, and I’ve learned that 37,000 feet in the air is beautiful.

Gymnasts fly. Ice skaters fly. I’ll never be either.

And that’s ok. Because I’m a writer. I believe in metaphors. I believe in life. And what is life but a metaphor anyway?

When I was little, I believed that if I jumped high enough and flapped my arms hard enough, I would sprout wings and fly around the room.

One day, I woke up, and I had wings. And now I’m flying.

The girl who is scared of heights, which is more a fear of falling aka a fear of trying to die, is flying high in the sky. And nothing will ever bring me down.

Hey, A&E. What are you doing?

Dear A&E,

What the heck are you doing? First of all, it must be noted that I’m not a political person. Politics don’t interest me, and I don’t really care enough to figure out what on earth is going on. However, I do know two things. I do know everything’s a mess, and consequently, 50% of the country is mad 100% of the time. But, this isn’t about politics, except for the fact that it has everything to do with politics.\

I know you all have an image to uphold. But let me tell you, this is one of the best shows on Television. I’d much rather have my young cousins watch Duck Dynasty than Teen Mom, Toddlers and Tiaras, or any other of those reality shows.

I don’t watch the show religiously, because it’s not on Netflix, and I don’t have cable, nor do I have the time. But I know many friends who do. My Dad watches the show sometimes at work, and let me tell you, that man always draws connections back to that show. “This reminds me of that one episode of Duck Dynasty…”

What I do with books and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, he does with Duck Dynasty. And honestly, I’m not complaining. It’s a good show. It’s hilarious, and it’s wholesome for the whole family. So let me just say…

Second of all, let me emphasis this question: WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING?

Phil Robertson is suspended indefinitely from your show after expressing an opinion based on his personal beliefs. How dare he. How dare he have opinions. How dare he express said opinions. Am I right?

Wrong.

How dare you. You released a statement that read, “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty,'”- read more

I repeat: What?

They’re Southern Christians, and y’all knew that when you gave them a TV show. Do you even watch the show? If you did, you’d see that his personal beliefs are reflected in the show. Maybe they’re not so quite glaringly obvious, but they’re there nonetheless. Yes, I agree he could have phrased his opinions better, but sometimes what you want to say doesn’t come out like you want it to. And it’s not like you can grab them once they’re said.

This is almost exactly like what happened when Chick-fil-A came out as opposing gay marriage. Wasn’t that a shock? Not for me. News Flash: They’re closed on Sundays! And it’s not just because they can be.

So, why are we surprised here? I don’t know, because I’m not. News Flash: They’re Southern Christians.

By taking Phil Robertson off the air, you’re punishing him for having his own opinions, for believing in the Bible. This is not North Korea.

Third of all, there is a difference between thinking a way of life is wrong, and hating people who live that way. Phil is saying that he thinks being gay is a sin, not that he hates people who are gay. There’s a difference, and if you can’t understand that, let me say it in a way that might make more sense.

I think eating salad all the time is wrong. That does not mean I hate vegetarians. And I hope vegetarians don’t hate me because I prefer a steak over a salad.

If you still don’t understand, consider parents. Teens go through a rebellious phase, and while parents may not agree with everything their teen does during this phase, they love the teen anyway.

Fourth of all, you can’t open the can of worms and then get offended if a long, hairy one crawls out. That’s like diving into shark infested water with a large, bloody cut, and then getting mad when the sharks bite you.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think taking Phil off the show will solve anything. He is Duck Dynasty. He started Duck Dynasty, and taking him off the show will not make more people watch the show. If you’re people don’t get mad at you for expressing opinions, you either don’t share them, or you don’t have any.

I don’t like offending people, so I try to keep my comments to myself (unless it’s night class, and I’m too tired to care). But the lack of sharing does not mean I’m not opinionated, because if you could hear my inner sarcastic commentary, you’d understand. If you need sarcastic comments, I’m your man… or, woman (don’t want to offend anyone).

If you are able to share your opinions on controversial topics without offending anyone, that means you’re telling two different things to two different groups. In High School, we had a term for people like you, “two-faced.”

So, yes. I applaud Phil. I applaud Phil for saying what he believes. I applaud Phil for sticking to his Christian vales, even if he creates backlash.

And I hope you, A&E, have learned three things.

1. This is America. We have Freedom of Speech. We should be able to express our opinions without people trying to silence us. You know what we get when that gets taken away? We get North Korea. I’m content with not living in North Korea.

2. There’s a difference between thinking a way of life is wrong, and hating a person who lives that way. I hate eating salad. I don’t hate people who eat salad.

3. If you don’t like worms, don’t open the can of worms. If you don’t want to be eaten by a shark, don’t dive in shark infested waters.

Hey, media. How Dare you!- A Final Project

For my Adolescent Literature Class, one of the choices for our final project was a personal project in which we could focus on a particular part of adolescent literature or culture that is of interest to us. So, naturally, I chose the way media affects society and teenagers today. But, also, we learned a lot about finding your voice, and for a long time, I had lost my voice. For a long time, I had no idea how to tell anybody about the battle that was raging on in my head. And then one day, I started to write. I found my voice. So, I share my story. And I won’t be silenced again.

The media affects society in so many ways–some good, some bad.

 And I know many blog posts and articles have been written on this topic before. I am not the first, nor will I be the last. But, I think it’s important to talk about. I think it’s important to talk about, because we hear things like, “this is how the media affects her…” “this is how the media is affecting our teens…” but, we hardly ever hear, “this is how the media affects ME.”

Therefore…

This is how the media affects me:

“I was raised in a society that taught girls how to protect themselves from sexual assault, but didn’t teach guys how to not rape. Fat lot of good that did me.

I was raised in a society where beauty is found in Photoshop and good lighting. And even though society’s beginning to change, I think it’s too late for my generation.

It’s too late for those who have already starved themselves to the point of hospitalization. It’s too late for those who have killed themselves because the pressures of society were too much. It’s too late for those who have already created enough scars on their skin to map the constellations in the sky.” – Open Letter to Society

That is how the media affects me.

It affects me because I don’t fit the societal standards of beauty. It affects me because I’ve been sexually assaulted. It affects me because I struggle with Depression. It affects me because I’m a teenager, and my mind is so impressionable.

It affects me for all the reasons it should affect me: I’m not a model.

I’m not perfect.

But, then again, neither are the models, neither are half of the people in images we are exposed to every minute of every day. And I know this. I’ve read the articles. I’ve seen the statistics. I’ve watched the YouTube videos of how Photoshop is used to enhance, erase, fix, perfect the imperfect.

And I still compare myself to all the images I see.

I compare, and I lose every time. I want to be them. So, I’ve learned the tricks on how to take “the most perfect selfie.” I’ve learned which way to face the camera to capture my ‘good side,’ by which I mean, hiding the side of my face with the most imperfections. I’ve learned how to tilt my head at just the right angle to hide my double chin. I’ve learned the best filters to use, the lighting that suits me best, and the way to do my make-up just right to make my eyes pop. I’ve also learned the best way to pose for photographs to hide the extra pounds on my body.
But, I also have mastered the way to get rid of the extra pounds: starving myself. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one in my group of friends who have felt as though the beauty standards of society were so hard to achieve, the only way to get half-way there is to starve themselves.

I felt that way. So, for five years I nitpicked every calorie. For five years I only ate on days I felt I deserved it–days I deemed myself worthy enough for food–which, let me tell you, were few and far between.

And it did nothing for my self-esteem. Starving myself did nothing to alleviate how depressed I felt about being me. It made me feel worse, because when you compare yourself to fake images over and over again, you will lose. Every single time.

I was having a conversation with a pre-teen friend of mine once. She mentioned how she thought she was ugly, because she didn’t look like anybody in magazines. I told her, the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like the girl in the magazine.

And I realized I need to stop comparing myself. Society can call me ugly if it wants, because if pretty is having flawless skin, zero fat, perfect straight white teeth, and perfect hair, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

I’m not condemning the use of Photoshop in the media, because I’ve Instagrammed the heck out of some of my photos. But, I’ve also taken and posted many photos of me au natural. And I applaud the celebrities who are doing the same. I applaud the celebrities who show their bare skin–imperfections and all.

Because teenagers are impressionable, and they will believe what they are told and shown. We are teaching them, you taught me, that true beauty is found in Photoshopped images where fat is sucked out, scars and blemishes are air-brushed, teeth are straightened and whitened, lighting is manipulated, and eyes are brightened.

Because, yes, that’s one form of beauty. But we also need to teach our teenagers that beauty is also found in the confidence to accept how you look, flaws and all. Wearing make-up and fancy clothes is a choice, and only belongs to the person whose body it affects, whose appearance it alters.

So, no. I’m no model. But I will continue to take horrible, ugly, selfies. Because I’m beautiful, despite what the media says.

Death in a Fandom

I am silently grieving today. You see, there’s this part of me that I keep hidden from people, a part of me that I’ve only let come out and play a few times in public. A part of me that so many people on the other side of my Tumblr Dash understand, but one that not many “real-life people” do.

To put it simply: I am a fangirl. Google defines Fangirl as “A fan, sometimes also called aficionado or supporter, is a person who is enthusiastically devoted to something, such as a band, a sports team or entertainer. Collectively, fans of a particular thing or person constitute its fanbase or fandom.” I belong to many a fandom, and I’ve been known to randomly geek out when I scroll down my Tumblr dash and see a post that pertains to any of my numerous interests.

So, why am I grieving? Was one of my favorite characters killed off? Did Steven Moffat ruin my life? Probably. But, that’s not why.

I’m grieving because one of my favorite actors died last night.

Cory Monteith, best known for his role as Finn Hudson on Glee, died yesterday at the age of 31. I don’t belong to the Glee fandom because it’s a great show, because honestly I can make a list at least 100 items long of what’s wrong with the show. I belong to the Glee fandom because, at least originally, it was about a group of misfits who were trying to figure out where they belong, where they fit, which is all what we really want from life. And this group of misfits strived to be better. Glee addresses topics we don’t talk about in society today because of the social stigma, and they do it so delicately and honestly it hurts.

But, I’m not grieving because the show lost a great actor. I’m not grieving because the fandom will never get their “Finchel” happy ending. I’m grieving because the world lost a great man. Cory was more than an actor; he was a human, just like you and me. He was open and honest about his past, and he used his celebrity status to draw attention to the issue of Substance Abuse, an addiction with which he struggled. He was so open and honest and painfully genuine, and I rooted for him. The whole fandom did.

Surprised is not the right word, because I was surprised when I found out a few years ago he was nearly 30, neither are shock or sadness. And the fact that I can’t find the right word to describe how I feel is a little disconcerting, because I am an English Major.

What I do know is this: this is the first time a celebrity’s died my generation’s grown up with. This is the first time a public figure we’ve admired has died. Michael Jackson does not count, because we didn’t grow up with him. This maybe the first time that a teenager has lost someone they look up to, and it puts everything in perspective: it makes us realize that nobody’s immortal. Everybody will die, friends, family, celebrities. 

I grew up with Glee. It got me through difficult times. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me shake my fists in anger. It made me nod my head in agreement. It made me believe that somewhere out there is a place where I belong, where I can be myself, where I can be accepted for who I am. To that I say, thank you. Thank you for making me believe in myself. Thank you for making me believe that I can be better, that I can succeed. Just… thank you.

And how do we, the fandom, respond? We can’t call in sick because one of our favorite celebrities died. He was one of our “friends” (because he was our friend, in the most general sense of the term), but we can’t go to his funeral. And we certainly can’t let our grief go unvalidated, because then our feels* will take over. Glee changed my life, and if you think I’m not going to cry over the death of one of it’s kindest, brightest stars, you need to learn a thing or two about the inspiration celebrities can be. If you don’t think that I wanted to go back to bed this morning because I was not emotionally ready for this day, you’d be wrong. I wanted to redo this day since I woke up this morning.

And it’s not just the fandom who’s grieving. Because somewhere out there are people who really knew and loved him (like we, the fandom knew and loved him, but they did for real, for real). Yesterday, someone lost a son. Yesterday, someone lost a brother. Yesterday, someone lost their boyfriend. Yesterday, someone lost their idol. Yesterday, someone’s whole world came crashing down.

Yesterday, the world lost an inspirational gem of a man whose Twitter bio reads: “Tall, awkward, canadian, actor, drummer, person,” and who said: “Be yourself. That’s good enough for me.” Yesterday, the world lost a man who inspired us all to be better, to embrace our past, to learn from our mistakes, and to root for the underdog. Yesterday, the world learned that your idol can save your life, but you can’t save theirs.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever be emotionally prepared to watch Glee episodes. I don’t know if the fandom will ever be ok. But what I do know is that the whole fandom is struggling today.

So to my fellow fandom warriors:

I feel ya, bro.

*feels: it’s a known fact that people belonging to a fandom feel things more intensely. The objects of our affection and interests make us explode with all the emotions (hence the term, all the feels).