ifIknew is a health initiative for young adults that uses a multi media approach, including social media and in person programs, to address the contemporary issues that impact the well-being, self-image, careers, and relationships of people in their 20's and 30's.

If I Knew is a prevention education project that raises awareness about risky behaviors that can profoundly impact lives.

Role Reversal: What I've Learned from Parenting my Father

By ejr

 Photo by Margaret Wroblewski

Photo by Margaret Wroblewski

I used to wear my childhood like armor, thick but beautiful; a second skin. I never went anywhere without it. Indestructible, tough. It’s surface defined was who I was in simple terms. I was resilient, conditioned, knowing. I’ve been through a lot, I would tell people throughout my early 20s. A quiet smirk forming underneath my lips. The armour only making the chip on my shoulder more noticeable.

My parents, divorced, both struggle with mental illness. The role of devoted daughter to the ‘crazy’ parents was an identity I felt really comfortable in most of my life. My dad is an addict; his poison is primarily alcohol but he’s dabbled in everything from anti-depressants to sleeping pills. Without any support other than his mother (my grandmother) and his sister (my aunt), I had to step up and be his primary caretaker when I was 16.

Throughout my late teens, he was in and out of rehab, the Twelve Steps not even making a dent in the depths of his pain. When I was in college, he was worse than ever. My junior year, for example, I went home to take him to a 30-day program after he fell and smashed his face during a bender. The fear of losing him made me devote myself to his recovery intensely. I didn’t need to figure out who I was or what I like to do because I was the daughter of an alcoholic; I was a caretaker, a martyr, a good person.  

He got sober after I found him bleeding out on the floor, the cirrhosis finally taking hold. The words from the doctors got through to him: if you drink, you will die. He’s been sober for over 200 days now and he’s enrolled in an intensive mental health program. I have faith that he will maintain his sobriety.

Through hard work, therapy, and deliberate choices about how I want to spend my life, I am untangled from most of the roles I inherited from my childhood: devoted daughter, tortured sister, doting girlfriend. The masks were many and convincing. My dad is sober now; I left my boyfriend of 10 years after we mutually decided that our lives were no longer going in the same direction; my brother and I have settled into a stable but distant relationship. While it was a time of major transition in arguably every arena of my life, I felt truly free for first time.

But, this freedom of responsibility has drenched me in vulnerability. Who am I without those labels? The armour was not only defining, it was protecting. Protecting me from myself. Now that I’m free I’m wading in an ocean, exposed.

Now what’s left? Just me.

As cliche as it sounds, it’s been a scary but emboldening time. Choices can be challenging to make, but I am fortunate that I have the space and time to relearn and redefine who I am -- from what I like to do, to how I see myself, to how I relate to others. I have made new friends and let go of some old habits. I can focus on my career, on having fun, on travel.

For a brief time, I thought that in my dad’s sobriety and by breaking off of an imminent engagement with my boyfriend, I was abandoning some self-assigned post. I felt I was scoffing at my duty and purpose. At some level, it was nice to be needed by these men I cared about in my life. But, soon after I started living by my own rules, I knew I couldn’t go back. I had to move forward and face myself.

I still am a devoted daughter and tortured sister; and I am learning to love another man again. But, I’ve learned to shed the armor and tuck those roles into the quiet folds of my being.

I was at a party a few weeks ago and a man from Chile asked me, quite flippantly, “Who are you?” I started telling him what I did for a living. He talked over me and stopped me mid-sentence. He asked again, “Who are you?” I was stunned, a little embarrassed. “Uhhh,” I said, “I don’t know.” But then the embarrassment faded and I smiled deeply through the soaking wet vulnerability. I felt the sun shining. My identity is still blooming, I thought. It's learning to peek through the hardened ground.

Nanny to Line Cook: How I Unexpectedly Discovered My Dream Job

By Betsy Mullally

October 2013 was one of the worst months of my life. I moved to Russia after college to teach English and the minute I got to Moscow I knew it was a mistake. I did my training month, began working at my school, and started to realize I was depressed. I hated my job – it rained every day in September, and I dreamed about going home constantly. In October I decided to move back home to Baltimore. I was supposed to be abroad for a year.

I felt like a failure. I was unemployed for months. I wrote lists of jobs I could get and things I thought I might like to do with my life. I wanted more than anything to begin my adult life and move out of my Mom’s house. Like so many millennials who desperately need to make money, I decided to become a nanny for a few months. It was okay, but I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I needed something more fulfilling.

Every day after I finished nannying, I immediately thought about dinner. At least a few nights a week, I would kick my Mom out of the kitchen and try a new recipe. I got pretty good with a few things – chocolate chip cookies (a snow day favorite), pulled pork, eggs, and I could always make a mean sandwich. I wrote down recipes to try all the time. I had friends over for dinner and started manning the grill. I realized at some point that I loved food and cooking more than your average nanny.

On June 26th, I decided to apply for a job at Woodberry Kitchen, a very popular farm-to-table New American restaurant in Baltimore. They didn’t hire me right away but asked me to come back the next day to try out. That day was a blurry, thrilling nightmare. I didn’t hold my knife right, I didn’t know what fennel was, and I grabbed the last ice cream out of the freezer without telling the pastry chef – not knowing I screwed her over. I kept my head down and hoped they could see that I was a hard worker and that I was ready to start from the bottom.

Much to my surprise, I was hired on the 27th.

The first months were hard. I wasn’t allowed to work the line at first because I was so slow and knew so little. I got kicked out when the health inspector came because I had no idea what I needed to do. I pissed off most of the other cooks because I couldn’t keep up with them. I didn’t know about any famous chefs. I didn’t know that taking a picture of a fish in the walk-in wasn’t funny because they were in there all the time. My ignorance seemed like it would never end, but slowly, after a few grueling months, the chefs were asking me things like, “Hey, what did you put in that onion dip?” I made shrimp salad and seasoned it perfectly. It wasn’t taking me 45 minutes longer to clean up than everyone else. I made friends and started buying cookbooks like a madwoman. I started training my new coworkers on cold side and it hit me.

Shit! I, this young twenty-something with no previous experience in the restaurant business, am a line cook!

Now I feel like a completely different person than that depressed girl in her apartment in Moscow. I am still learning a great deal about food and the ins and outs of working as a line cook. I still mess up all the time, but I have grown so much in these past three years. I love working with my hands and crushing a busy service. I love watching people smile and enjoy the food that we make. I love to read cookbooks and talk to my coworkers about new recipes. I wake up every day and I do not dread going to work. I LOVE being a line cook.

I won’t be able to be on my feet for 60 hours a week forever, but cooking these three years has taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. If you’re not happy, do something else. Try anything and everything until you find what makes you the best kind of crazy – that thing that makes perfect sense once you find it. Work your ass off, surround yourself with people who support you, and refuse to give up.

These have been the most insane, burn-inducing, fast-paced, beautiful years of my life, and I could not be more grateful. Thank you to everyone who has helped me and supported me along the way. I can’t wait for what’s to come.

Bring it on, year four –I’ve never been more ready.