ifIknew

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.

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#YouAreEnough

#YouAreEnough

In a mental funk? Try walking into the bathroom and looking yourself in the mirror, saying out loud, “I AM ENOUGH.” What does that feel like? Do you believe yourself? If not, ask yourself,” What voice is giving me doubt? What is it asking of me and what does it need to feel better? What part of myself can I give more love to in this moment to love myself right where I am?”

When, at your core, you believe you are more than whatever cutting comments your family members or your ex or your friends or your teachers might have told you; when you look yourself in the eyes and declare you are strong, confident and worthy of love, things change.

If you are feeling overwhelmed today, love yourself right where you are – not matter where that is. Don't worry about getting everything on your list finished and don't continue to compare yourself to the "prettier" or "skinnier," "smarter," "happier," "more successful" or "more popular" people. Instead, focus on loving yourself and things will change. Love yourself today a little more than yesterday and do the same tomorrow.

‪#‎youareenough

Jealousy and how to combat it

Jealousy can come in all shapes and sizes. When we perceive that someone else has something of value but we do not.  Though we may not be proud of it, it seems that for most of us it is a part of the human condition to frequently feel jealous of others. We might be jealous of a girl who has a smaller waist or we might be jealous of a guy who can play soccer better. Jealously normally has to do with our own self-worth and wanting to be like someone else or have what they have. Here are some tips on how to combat jealously if you feel it:

  1. Let’s say that you are jealous of someone’s looks. Try looking at that person as more than their looks and see if you would want their whole life. Would you also want their job? Their house? Their spouse? Their family? Sometimes putting their life in perspective with yours makes it easier.
  2. Write down the qualities of the person who makes you jealous. In what ways do you want to be like him or her? Are these qualities things that you can develop within yourself? How can you take action to empower yourself to practice these ways of being?
  3. Pay attention to where you feel the jealousy emotion in your body. Are you angry or sad? Do you have a burning sensation in your belly or are you clenching your stomach? These are signs that you are going through physical discomfort. Try to pin point where you feel the emotion in your body.  By bringing awareness to where you are holding onto the emotion, you might find that your body releases the tension by itself.
  4. Erma Brombeck said, “The grass is always greener over the other person’s septic tank.” Keep in perspective that the people who you are jealous of could possibly be jealous of something that you have that you take for granted. The girl who is really skinny might be allergic to dairy and gluten and can only eat specific super healthy foods that don’t taste great. It is possible for her to be jealous of the fact that you can eat anything without feeling sick. It is important to remember that our experience is always only ours. This means that we can never fully accurately judge someone else without walking in their shoes first.
  5. Remember your absolute uniqueness. There was never and will never be another person on this planet who is exactly like you. Use positive affirmations to remind yourself of that. You are worthy of love and belonging just like anyone else.
  6. Jealousy just makes us unhappy. Choose happiness instead. Focusing on what we have instead of what we don’t is the easy road to happiness.  Quoting Ziggy (the cartoon): “Happiness doesn’t depend on how much you have to enjoy, but how much you enjoy what you have.”

Take Your Time

When you are in your early 20’s and a high school soon-to-be senior approaches you to talk about sex, your instinct is to pretend you’re going under a bridge, have lost cell reception, and can’t hear him (even if he’s right in front of you).

Enter last Friday. A teen mentioned something about losing his virginity before his brother did, and I just stopped him. The words of wisdom (labeled wisdom by him, by the way) I left him with were the following: take your time; wait until you are ready; you are not running on someone else’s time clock. More than that, don’t let peer pressure convince you that losing your virginity by the end of high school will open the gates to respect and popularity.

Dating is not a race. Take your time getting to know the person – their heart and their mind. You don’t have to instantly declare your relationship status, have sex, or meet each other’s parents. Slow down and really open your eyes to the person in front of you and simply see where it goes.

Also, know yourself when you look in the mirror. Millennials have a thing about defining ourselves – not a bad quality. But before you begin a relationship, know who you are as an independent person. Take your time understanding yourself and exploring the world around you. When you know yourself, you can do anything.

Before I left the teen, I told him a story I’d heard about someone’s first sexual experience. This person only had sex because he was told by “the populars” that he was stupid and inexperienced. When he went back and told “the populars” he was no longer a virgin, they called him stupid once again. Why? Because none of them had ever had sex.

The biggest lesson anyone at any age can learn from this story is that being yourself and taking your time are the best things you can do for yourself, your heart, and your future. Whether its sex, a relationship, or the pressure to date, we can all afford to slow down, look objectivelyat the circumstances before us, and realize that maybe we don’t have to do things the way everyone else does.

Why We Stayed and Why You Should Stop Asking

Ever wonder why some people stay in really messed up relationships? Delana Listman is a recent graduate at American University and for her Honors Capstone, she created an incredible project called: “Why We Stayed and Why You Should Stop Asking”. This project was created to educate people on why women stay in abusive relationships in an effort to stop accusatory questions of "why does she stay" which lead to a culture of victim blaming. I had the honor of interviewing her and hearing more about her process around this life changing work.

What first inspired you to do this project?

DL: I took a class on gender and violence with Dr. Irvine, who is interviewed in the videos on my website: (http://dlist35.wix.com/whyistayed#!learn-more/c1p9k) and began learning about the different reasons that women stay in abusive relationships. It was extremely eye-opening to me.

When the whole Janay Rice situation happened, (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/sports/football/on-today-janay-rice-says-ray-rice-hit-her-only-that-one-time.html?_r=0) I was floored that people thought: “She stayed with him… it’s her fault! Why doesn’t she just leave him?” Instead of asking, “Why did he beat her up? Why doesn’t he get help?”

Then, when I was in the gender and violence class, I realized my own relationship in college was emotionally abusive. For a while I had heard my friends say, “You are really dumb. Why did you date this guy?” It was so strange to hear them say that because I consider myself to be a strong and smart person who makes good decisions. It was disturbing to have my friends view my relationship in such a different way than I did. Once I witnessed this in my own life, I wanted to explore how to discern what is healthy and not healthy when it comes to relationships. I realized that sometimes it also takes looking back on a past relationship to realize the parts that were not healthy. You get blinded by love while you are in it.

What was the goal of the project?

DL: The ultimate goal of this project was to make people more understanding and less accusatory. In the video we talk about, “Why doesn’t she leave?” Instead of, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” It’s the abuser’s fault. In my opinion, everything is the abuser’s fault. When someone is being abused, you have no idea the levels of barriers there are. When I say barriers, I mean things getting in their way of leaving. It’s important for people to gain more understanding and be aware about how challenging it can be to leave. We judge people so quickly instead of trying to empathize with their situation.

People who are uninformed ask questions about sexual assault out of a lack of knowledge--not to be demeaning. But, when you are the one who is dealing with the relationship, having people blame you and accuse you of staying in the relationship can feel victimizing and make you feel like it’s your fault.

The project was meant to be an overview of the issue of domestic violence and by no means includes every single barrier that affects people of all backgrounds. Furthermore, this project focuses mainly on heterosexual relationships in which the male is the abuser, but we should keep in mind the many issues facing domestic abuse survivors of other sexual orientations.

Can you tell me more about these barriers?

DL: Sure, there are big structural barriers that everyone recognizes as abusive. For instance, being killed or hurt by a partner. But people aren’t always aware of the psychological abuses, power, and control one person can have. We need to change the discourse on abusive relationships.

What was your motivation for doing this project via video?

DL: My double major in school was film/media arts and political science. I was very interested in sexual assault prevention education and curious as to how media and video could be used as a form of inspiration and as an educational tool.

What are some of the challenges you were faced with while doing this project?

DL: Domestic violence is a hugely complex issue that affects different people in different ways. Cultural difference can be challenging, too. When you are a privileged white person, you are going to see a lot less barriers than an impoverished black woman in a poor community. For example, in many more improvised areas, the idea of community is a big deal. Just the act of moving to a neighboring community can be completely life changing and scary for someone. If you are on welfare and living in the same public housing as your abuser, there is no way for you to move out. Or if your partner is illegally living with you, it can be challenging to leave. Domestic violence affects everyone in such different ways. My number one piece of advice is to be understanding of each individual’s situation because you have no idea how many barriers they face.

It can also be really draining to work on an issue like this. Since the material can sometimes be heavy and upsetting, I had to remember self-care. Taking breaks and confronting my own feelings were very important.

What was the most rewarding part of the project for you?

DL: The most rewarding part of the project was when I got to share it with people. My posts received an overwhelming amount of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook as well as other social media platforms. It made me really happy that I could communicate my message in an effective way. It was, however, very surprising to see the reactions my mom’s friends versus my friends. My mom’s friends were beyond shocked by the content I posted whereas my peers had more tolerance for the content. I believe that my generation is a step ahead of older generations when it comes to domestic violence education.

What is next for you?

DL: Right now I am focusing my career path on making videos for social change. I want these videos/documentaries to promote charities and key issues which is why I combined the sexual assault and video work. I’m going to continue to volunteer and keep fighting for this important cause. My work is just beginning.

Check out Delana’s project here: http://dlist35.wix.com/whyistayed#!learn-more/c1p9k

If you are in an abusive relationship or you think a loved one may be, here are some resources to help.

24 Hour Hotlines:

RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline

-Call someone at 800.656.HOPE (4673)

JCS counseling services- http://www.jcsbaltimore.org/

CHANA hotline- http://chanabaltimore.org/

National Domestic Violence Hotline

-Call someone at 800.799.SAFE (7233)

Life happens even if you don’t “figure it out.” Immediately

The second semester of my senior year of college was defined by one question: “what are you doing with your life?” It came from friends, family, strangers, and the familiar barista at Starbucks.

Why is it so important that our future is defined? I eventually realized the answer to this question. The answer is “no.” I don’t necessarily need to know what I’m doing for the rest of my life. I don’t have to be thinking of what my career status will be at age forty-five. Of course it is necessary to find a job, go to graduate school, get an internship or do something to advance yourself. But do you need to have a set career path? No. The time after undergrad is a time of exploration. Learn what you like to do, learn what you hate to do, and learn where your interests truly lay. This time of self-discovery, however, does cost time and money. Sometimes it’s best to prioritize you’re paying job over jet-setting around the world on a whim. BUT that does not mean you can’t take the time to learn about other interests: use your time after work and accept awesome opportunities that come your way.

What’s important to remember is that your degree doesn’t determine your future. My degree is in Anthropology, but in Israel I interned for a nonprofit that completely changed any ideas I had about what I wanted to do with my life. Confusion is okay. Limbo is okay. Uncertainty is, surprisingly, okay. If you’re twenty-one or twenty-seven, it doesn’t matter. Figure out what is right for you while maintaining a responsible lifestyle; no matter how long it takes.

So here are my recommendations for de-stressing, figuring it out, and dealing with the pressure.

  1. Designate time for job or school applications, internship searches, or postgrad program research. Don’t constantly obsess. Rather, take the hour every three days to work on your future, and then set all thoughts of it aside. You should be enjoying your senior year and every ounce of nostalgia that comes with it. Don’t miss out just because you’re afraid that your postgrad life won’t be perfect.
  2. Take every opportunity you can to determine or confirm your interests. You may find yourself in love with the idea of getting a financial business degree. Before you apply to schools and set sail for the life of GREs and MBAs, take some time and work in the field before you make the commitment to graduate school. You may find you are more interested in marketing, research, or program development rather than the financial aspect of a business. Be 100% certain when you apply to graduate school that the program is right for you; the best way to know is to explore and experiment.
  3. Give yourself a break. If you’re working a job that financially supports you but you’re not happy, that’s alright. If you want to venture into a new field, go for it. If you don’t know how long you’ll last at your current job, don’t stress. Nothing is forever unless you want it to be. You can do anything with your life because it’s YOURS.

As cliché as we all know it to be, you only live once. You have one life to adventure, learn, make mistakes, love, succeed, fall down, and do every incredible thing that you don’t even know you’re capable of. It’s important that you don’t spend all of your time trying to figure out your life because you can miss amazing experiences if you’re only focused on the future. Find a balance. Remember, you get one life. Live it.

Loni Fink- contributing blogger to ifIknew

Binge eating: What happens when you can’t stop

I recently got back in touch with my friend Matt whom I met in college. After the usual catching up, Matt told me that (in addition to getting engaged) he was hard at work fighting the eating disorder that he’d been dealing with. March is Eating Disorder Awareness Month, and I asked him if we could have a short interview to share his experience.

What kind of eating disorder did you have?

Well, I still have the eating disorder so it isn’t in the past tense yet; I have “binge-eating disorder.” Most people haven’t heard of that. When you say “eating disorder” most people think anorexia or bulimia—those are the ones that are talked about most. Binge-eating disorder is pretty much what it sounds like: I would eat and couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I would just keep eating and then afterwards I would feel so incredibly guilty for eating compulsively like that. My guilt would make me want to eat more, which made it even harder to stop. I never made myself throw up, but sometimes I wished I could “uneat” what I’d binge-eaten.

Who is most likely to have an eating disorder?

They’re most common in teenagers and young-twenties. Women are more likely than men to have them, but I have one so men can obviously have them too. Even though high school and college aged people are most likely to develop eating disorders, they can also happen with children and older people. No one is immune.

When did you realize that you had an eating disorder and how did you figure it out?

I figured it out my senior year of college, about six months after the binge eating started. I figured it out from a pamphlet I picked up at the college’s health center. I was worried about my sister eating too little and thought she might be anorexic, so I picked the pamphlet to learn more about eating disorders. While looking through and thinking about her, I was surprised how many things on the checklist rang true for me. Guilt about food? Check. Uncontrollable urges to eat? Check. The list went on. When I thought about eating disorders I had only ever thought of super skinny people and not eating enough or purging—it had never occurred to me that my uncontrollable eating might be an eating disorder. I just thought I had bad self-control.

What were the effects that you experienced from the binge-eating disorder?

Other than the shame and guilt and depression each time after binge-eating, I was also gaining weight. A lot of weight. Right before I realized I had a problem I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol—both of which have started to get better as I’ve gotten my eating and my weight under control.

 What did you do to stop binge-eating?

While medication and nutrition counseling were options for me, I wound up being okay just going to a mental health counselor and participating in a support group. Medication didn’t seem right for me, but I know a lot of people in my support group who found anti-depressants and nutrition counseling were lifesavers. Everyone’s different as to what works best for them.

Any suggestions for resources?

My primary care doctor helped me a lot, but some immediately available online resources I found helpful were http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/  and NIMH’s publication http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders-new-trifold/index.shtml.

JCS also has resources available. Look for “Body Image and Eating Disorder Resources” under the “Get Help” on ifiknew.org

Written by Chris M. contributing blogger

Don’t gamble on your mental health

When it comes to gambling, people can sometimes become confused between fun and addiction.  Enjoying gambling doesn’t automatically mean you have a problem—most people go to a casino, play the lottery, or buy scratch-offs at some point in their lives. We all dream of how nice it would be to make it rich quick at the poker table but it’s hard to believe that you could actually make it happen.

So where’s the line? How do you know when a good time is getting out of hand?  Maybe you’ve noticed that you think about gambling a lot, probably more than the others around you. You might be preoccupied with it more frequently than you used to be. You could be spending more and more money on scratch-off tickets. When playing or betting—even if you don’t think you play that often--you might find yourself unable to stop even when you realize its past time to call it quits.   Sometimes people get nervous and start chasing their money.  If you’re down, you might continue betting to try to get back up even though you know it’s not a wise move—or that you’re out of betting money already and are betting with rent money or savings. All of these things are signs of gambling addiction, and they mean you should take a more careful look at your relationship with gambling.

Problem gambling is something that most people think could never apply to them. Gamblers come from all walks of life and the warning signs might be different than what you think. According to The National Council on Problem Gambling (www.ncpgambling.org),  “The essential features are increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, ‘chasing’ losses, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting, serious, negative consequences. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.”

If you do decide to go out gambling, here are some tips from choicenotchange.org to help you:

  1. Be honest- It's important that you are honest with yourself about your gambling and the harm it may be causing you or others. This may feel really hard at first but it will help you to move forward in a positive way.
  2. Take note- Some people find keeping a note of how much, how often and who they gamble with helpful as they begin to see patterns about their gambling habits. If you think this would help you, try writing down the time you gamble, the day and date; the place; who you were with; how much cash you were carrying and your net win or loss. Why were you gambling? Did your friends encourage you or were you alone? Were you bored, drunk, angry or stressed?
  3. Budget- In terms of money, set an amount that you can spend on gambling each week and withdraw only that amount. When gambling, take your set amount in cash and leave bank cards at home.
  4. Get help- You may want to talk with a professional or friends and family for support. You can find some resources under “Get Help—Substance Abuse Resources” on the www ifiknew.org website or check out www.jcsbaltimore.org to see our offered therapy services.

While gambling doesn’t have the same health effects as alcohol or other drugs, it can ruin relationships, lead to bankruptcy, and be emotionally damaging to the children of the addict. Realizing that what you thought was a hobby might be an addiction can be scary, but you don’t have to try to tackle it alone. Checking out the resources available is a great first step to regaining precious stability in your life.  Bet on that, instead!

Chris M.

Sticks and stones may break your bones…..

Thanks to widespread campaigns on social media and television most people know the signs of physical abuse. We know how to spot the bruises on our friends, coworkers, or family members, and we might even have an idea of what to do to offer them help. What is less well known is emotional abuse in relationships, which can be incredibly damaging in a different way. Physical abusers usually use emotional abuse as well, but not all abusive relationships are alike and a relationship can have emotional wounds without physical bruises.

Emotional abuse in a relationship isn’t as obvious as physical abuse if you don’t know the signs. Emotional abuse is used to manipulate and control another person. While the most obvious tools an emotional abuser can use are things like insults or threats or shaming, they can also be more subtle like constant texting or calling when you’re out or guilting you into doing something by saying “If you really loved me you’d…” or “if you leave me, I’ll kill myself.”  And, while jealousy can be normal at times in relationships, it should not be a routine part. Many abused partners feel like they’re constantly walking on eggshells to prevent angry or jealous outbursts. An abuser might guilt his or her partner into not seeing friends or loved ones, or even demand cutting off contact with them.

Abusers usually spend a lot of time putting you down. It could be through mean jokes or it could be through (what seem like) heartfelt explanations of your failings and shortcomings. It’s not normal relationship behavior to tell your partner how awful they are at things—partners are supposed to support each other, not make the other feel bad about themselves. Putting you down also lays the groundwork for other abusive behaviors like  making you believe things are your fault when they aren’t and making you terrified your partner will leave  and, or that you are such a loser, no one else would want to be with you.

Money might also be used to exert control over a partner – withholding it (not for sound financial or budget reasons) as punishment or to limit activities outside the bounds of the relationship, like preventing a trip to visit family or friends. It is all about isolating the partner and making him or her dependent.

So what do you do if you see some of these signs in your relationship or a friend’s relationship? There are resources available to help you. You can see some of them right here on www.ifIknew.org  in “Relationships & Abuse Resources” under the “Get Help” tab at the top of the page.  Whether it’s physical abuse, emotional abuse, or both, no one deserves to be hurt in their relationship. That includes you.

Written by our contributing blogger, Chris M.

One Apology Accepted!

I have a problem: I’m a compulsive apologizer. Or at least I used to be. If I mess something up I wind up feeling so guilty that I have to apologize. One apology won’t do, though, and I wind up apologizing for the same thing again after my first apology has been acknowledged. Then I apologize again. And again. I feel so wracked with guilt that I just want the person to understand how truly, deeply sorry I am. I don’t want them to be mad with me, and with each apology I feels like I’m getting closer to them understanding my guilt and not be angry with me anymore.

I finally understood the pattern of what I was doing when my roommate in college apologized even more profusely than I did. It was shocking. I could see the severe guilt lining his face as he apologized to me over and over for not remembering to replace the soap he’d used. I understood he was sorry the first time he apologized. The second and third reinforced that, but by the fourth I was just starting to feel guilty myself for having brought up his mistake at all. After that I was somehow trying to console him because of how guilty he seemed to feel which made me feel my own guilt. In the end, I just wanted him to stop apologizing and so I kept telling him it was okay even though nothing about the situation was okay.

These kinds of interactions are not healthy, nor are they genuine. Feeling guilt over doing something wrong is normal, but it’s not normal to internalize that guilt so deeply that we can’t stop apologizing for our mistake. It’s up to the person we’ve wronged to decide to forgive us or not, and apologizing over and over again in an attempt to make them forgive us is trying to take that power from them. Apologizing once and apologizing sincerely is all you need to do. Repeating an apology does not make it more genuine and manipulating a person through apologizing—whether it’s a conscious attempt or not—does not lead to genuine forgiveness.

These types of habits can be indications of other issues, as well. For my friend, it was a deep seated fear of people being angry with him. He thought it stemmed from dealing as a child with his father’s angry drunken outbursts; the fear of those outbursts stuck with him and he’s had a hard time dealing with others’ anger ever since. This led to him compulsively apologizing. Fortunately, therapy helped him learn tools to deal better with this. College campuses often offer free or affordably-priced counseling services for students and high schools often offer it for free. If you’re dealing with overwhelming guilt when you make mistakes, know that you don’t have to. Check out what local resources are available to you and www.ifiknew.org for more information.

Chris M, contributing blogger

Learning how recharge our batteries (and I’m not talking about our cellphones)

I knew a woman who told me about a tired looking dog who went through her front door one day. The dog came down the hallway, and got on her couch to fall asleep for an hour. The woman let it stay because it had a collar (even though it didn’t have tags), looked well fed, and her own dogs didn’t seem to mind. The dog slept for an hour or so and then went out the door. The next day he was back and resumed the same position on the couch. He continued to do this for the next three weeks. Curious, the lady pinned a note to the dog’s collar and wrote, “Every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap. I don’t mind but I want to make sure it’s okay with you.” The next day he arrives with a different note pinned to his collar saying, “He lives in a home with three children. He’s trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?”

In our busy and fast paced culture, we forget that it’s good to take and cherish quality alone time because it is an opportunity to check in with yourself, bring awareness to what you really need, and “recharge your batteries”. Because we are constantly interacting with others face to face or on social media these days, it seems almost impossible to be alone. We have to consciously shoo away others in order to not be bothered. We have to set “out of office” replies on our computer, we have to turn off our phones, we have to deactivate our FB accounts, we have to unplug. Quite frankly it’s a lot of work and who really wants to do all that?

If we somehow do happen to have a lot of alone time, it is also very rare to actually cherish that alone time and be at peace with our aloneness. We often feel like we need to constantly be doing something otherwise we don’t feel productive. Because of this, most of us spend lots of time running around and feeling exhausted. We never learn how to “recharge” ourselves. It’s hard to not always be multitasking and responding to people via text, email, phone, or social media. It’s easy to use our technology as an escape, too. Think about all of the people you see checking their phones at restaurants or while waiting in line for the movies. It is habit. The second we start to feel bored, our go -to move is to check Instagram or Snapchat. Boredom usually comes from not having anything to do that gets you truly excited and fills you with joyful anticipation. Find something that makes you feel happy and creative and do that instead. On a budget? Find some old watercolors in your junk drawer and go wild on some old assignments. Slowly but surely you will begin to cherish your alone time and then in return actually have more energy to give to the people around you when you see them.

“Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life…."

We are all raised in a culture of “never enough”. Think about it. One of the first thoughts when we wake up in the morning is, “I didn’t get enough sleep last night” or “I won’t have enough time today.” The idea of “never enough” occurs automatically before questioning or examining it. We are constantly trying to make up lost time or recalculate our lives to give us more time. The ironic thing is, the more we worry about never having enough time or happiness the more we forget to appreciate what we do have. We forget how to stay in the present because we’re so busy thinking about the future and the past.

Take a second and think about the way you eat your food. Do you scarf it all down like a little kid who finally got a hold of all of the ice cream from the freezer? Or do you savor every single bite and appreciate the taste, the smell, and the textures?

When we come from a place of the feeling of scarcity, we are never satisfied. We rarely stop and appreciate what we have. If the stars came out once every thousand years, we would stay up all night and make new rituals around it. But the stars come out almost every single night so we stay inside our  homes and watch TV.

The opposite of “never enough” isn’t always “abundant and plenty” rather learning how to appreciate what you already have. Next time you feel bored or dissatisfied with your life, instead of turning on junk TV or going through an entire box of Oreos, take a moment to get in touch with what you are grateful for. I like to write it down. Maybe you’re grateful for a person or a friend. Maybe it’s the weather outside. Then pause for a moment, take a deep breath and take note of your beating heart. Even if it’s only for 30 seconds, just see what you notice.

Choosing to ask for forgiveness takes courage but can bring great relief. Here’s a true story.

I was recently at a school with a coworker of mine doing a program on vulnerability. During the class we asked the students to all stand on one side of the room and move to the other side if they had ever experienced being bullied or ever been the bully. Immediately, more than half of the students crossed over to the other side of the room. We then started a discussion on bullying—going back and forth—asking questions and processing as they shared their individual stories.

Paul who is only 11 or 12, raised his hand. “I need to get something off my chest. See that boy over there? Jake? I bullied him throughout 4th and 5th grade and I feel awful about it.” He pointed at Jake, and in that moment, Jake made eye contact with Paul and said,  “Me? I didn’t realize you felt that way. I knew that I got bullied in 4th and 5th grade but I never just blamed you. I had no idea you felt badly about it.” Apparently, even though Jake hadn’t blamed Paul for bullying him, Paul had felt guilty about it for a couple years and was suffering over it. My coworker then asked Paul and Jake if they wanted to make amends. Instantly, both boys got up and walked towards each other. Paul said he was really sorry for hurting Jake, Jake forgave him, and they both grabbed each other for a big hug. The other students burst out in applause. We were all impressed that Paul had the courage to come forward and say how he felt. It took real guts to do that, especially in a middle school classroom among his peers. Afterwards, Paul told the class that he felt like weights were lifted off his shoulders and that he could finally forgive himself.

Forgiveness is a very powerful tool. Whether you are forgiving someone who has harmed you in some way or you are the person asking for forgiveness, there can be a deep satisfaction in being able to let go. There’s a lot of guilt and shame that can happen when we believe we hurt others. Shame needs three things to flourish—secrecy, silence, and judgment. When we keep feelings inside, do not share them with others, and judge ourselves for our experience, we can wind up hurting ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones. We even end up wasting tons of energy beating ourselves up over something that happened in the past.

Tips on forgiveness:

  1. Reach out to the person you hurt in some way. This doesn’t have to be face to face, although those interactions are usually the best. You can send a letter, an e-mail, or make a phone call. You could say, for example, “In whatever ways I have hurt you, I sincerely ask you to please forgive me." Then, try to forgive yourself the same way. Even if you don’t think you will ever get the actual forgiveness from the other person who you hurt, there is no reason why you can’t forgive yourself. Try saying, “In whatever ways I have hurt you, I sincerely ask you to please forgive me."
  2. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. You can always reconnect with whoever you’ve wronged and ask for forgiveness. There is always the risk of rejection but the potential relief might very well be worth the risk.
  3. Everyone wants to know that they matter and feel heard. Mental health practitioners have a saying, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” By having the courage to share what is hardest for us, we find a deeper and truer connection to friends and family. After all, we are only human and make tons of mistakes. By being honest with someone else, especially during a tough conversation, they can gain greater empathy with you and develop trust and respect once again. Just like Paul said, maybe you’ll feel like weights were lifted off your shoulders, too.

Medication didn’t turn me into a robot

When I was fifteen I knew I had to do something about my depression, but I knew that thing wasn’t medication. I didn’t want to use a prescription to mask my negative feelings—I had already used alcohol to try to mask them and that had ended poorly. I also figured that any medication that would mask my negative feelings would mask my positive ones too (not that I had very many) or would prevent me from feeling anything but an artificial happiness. I was afraid that I’d be a robot. I said as much to the psychiatrist my parents brought me to see and was prepared to get up and walk out. The conversation that followed not only led me to try medication, but it changed my life forever.

I described my emotional state as feeling like I was freely floating in a big dark emotional expanse.  I would float low and be depressed until something snapped me high into happiness—only to then plunge back down into depression. I felt absolutely no stability and it was becoming very difficult for me to go to school, care about my homework, visit my friends, or take care of myself emotionally or physically. After listening to me, my doctor explained that medication could save me from that emotional “free floating” and could provide me an emotional floor on which to stand. I was skeptical, but I agreed to give it a try.

A few weeks after starting the prescription medication I saw what he meant. The first time I dropped a plate of food, instead of being thrown in to the pits of depression and beating myself up, I got only a little bummed out, cleaned up the mess, and got on with my life—something I’d almost never been able to do before. I still experienced my negative emotions, but they didn’t consume me in the unhealthy way they had before; plus, I was actually able to experience positive emotions when something good happened. I realized I had been floating through my life with little or no emotion other than despair; in a way, the medication actually stopped me from being a robot rather than turning me into one like I had feared.

So, here is my advice. If you are fighting depression or any other mental health issue, consider seeing a doctor to find out of a medication might help you. If you’re avoiding taking medication out of fear of it turning you into someone you’re not, remember that you can stop taking it if you truly decide it isn’t right for you. The benefits often outweigh the costs when it comes to treating mental health, and I’m thankful that younger me took that chance.

Chris, contributing blogger and editor to ifiknew.org

Why it is so important to be kind to yourself

I recently woke up after having a dream in which I was having a conversation with my ten year old self. I was observing her and noticing our similarities. Our nails looked the same, although she still bit hers. Our hair looked the same, except she didn’t care as much whether hers was brushed or tangled. Our belly buttons looked the same except she wasn’t afraid to stick her tummy out and show off how big it could get. It was as if I was looking at a less self-conscious, more innocent and open version of me. My ten year old self was playful and joyous and my older self was very gentle with my younger self. I spoke to her with much empathy, understanding, and patience.

This dream made me introspective because I realized that in my waking life, I do not talk to myself as if I am an innocent child. I am not as gentle and kind as I was in my dream. I talk to myself as if I am a “bad” adult. I say things like, “Come on! Why did you do that? That was so dumb. You are so dumb.” My inner voice can be ruthless and not understanding.

For example, if I get a bad grade on a grad school test, I could have a negative dialogue with myself that goes like this: “I can’t believe you failed. Why are you so stupid? Why can’t you ever be good enough? You are wasting your money! You are worthless!” When I do this to myself, I become frozen in fear and shame. I feel closed down and not good enough. This inner conversation gets me nowhere and ends up making me feel worse. But, if I can take a deep breath, slow down, and be gentle with myself as I ask what happened, I am much more likely to solve the problem. Then, the dialogue could go something like this: “Okay, sweetie—what happened? Everyone makes mistakes. I’m here for you. Let’s think of better studying strategies for the next test. Who could you ask for help? Everyone needs help. You tried the best you could and remember it’s only a test. You are still brilliant to me. We just need to come up with new learning strategies for you for next time. I love you.”

By doing this, I am creating space for growth and learning instead of closing myself down and teaching myself to not give up. I can then probe deeper in a wiser, non-judgmental way and self-reflect. By speaking to myself as if I am that little girl, I can communicate in a more loving way with the 25 year old me today.

My challenge to you is to have a conversation with your ten year old self. Ask your inner child, “What do you want?” “What would comfort you right now?” “How do you need to be taken care of?” It’s possible that with some gentleness and self- love, you could give yourself the understanding you have been missing.

How my concussion helped me to get out of my own head

After suffering a concussion, I was forced to unplug from all mental stimulation for one month as best as I could. This was not an easy task. It involved me not using my phone, computer, television, not reading, not exercising, and not driving. Though the first week was incredibly boring, I slowly got into a different rhythm that made me identify the ways my brain conspires to drive me crazy.

While sitting in silence for hours on end during my recovery, I was confronted with all of my thoughts—the good, the bad, and the ugly. During this long period of self-reflection, I had a life changing realization that I am rarely in the present moment. I spend so much time worrying and stressing over things that have either already happened or things that have not happened yet. I have an urge to control the future and fix the past. Because of this, I become less grateful for what I am experiencing day to day and I become unsatisfied and anxious. I end up missing out on life. I realized that my mind spends hours wasting time trying to fix things over which it has no control.

Because we all naturally have a tendency to think cyclically and replay stories over and over again in our minds, we can spiral into a pattern of negative thinking that isn’t healthy. Having the time to observe my thoughts helped me to become more aware of my inner “Negative Nancy” and my inner hamster thought-wheel. By probing deeper, I could dive into the feelings behind my thoughts and defuse them by acknowledging that they aren’t totally real. We do not have to believe every thought we have. Eventually, I was able to watch my thoughts, let them arise and then pass but not take them too seriously. I decided to continue practicing this approach even after recovering from my concussion because it let me live the way I always wanted to live: not stuck in my own head replaying things over and over again.

Marianne Williamson once said, “You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” Having a month to confront my mind and literally sit with it, didn’t just change the way I thought, it changed the way I acted. I began to take my time with every activity and cherish it. I started giving thanks and appreciations for my friends and family. I was able to sit outside and be in awe with nature. I let myself relax and worked on letting go of the idea that I had to have control. This changed my life and let me—for once—be okay with letting the past be the past and letting the future happen without trying to proverbially control the weather. In the words of poet Brian Andreas, “If you hold on to the handle, it's easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it's more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”

Why Vulnerability is Crucial

It isn’t always easy to ask for help. Depending on what I am asking for, it can make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to make anyone go out of their way. I don’t want to intrude. Asking for help can make me feel vulnerable—like I’m naked in front of a large crowd. While recovering from my concussion, I had to ask for help constantly. I couldn’t drive or cook for myself, so I had to get comfortable with asking for assistance. I felt exposed and at risk of being rejection.

We are taught from a young age that being vulnerable and asking for help are signs of weakness. In Brene Brown’s groundbreaking book on vulnerability called, Daring Greatly, she says, “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness.” What’s interesting is that it’s often much easier for us to be the helper than the one asking for help. But, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is how we build connections. It’s why we live. Brene states, “To foreclose on our own emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”

It takes great courage to show your vulnerability and it is hard work. It takes courage to wait for the doctor to give you your test results. It takes courage to stand up for a friend who has been bullied. It takes courage to say I love you first without knowing if the other person will say it back. When we display acts of courage like these, we also attract the support that we never thought possible because we show others the real us. Learning how to ask for help taught me that showing vulnerability takes great courage and is absolutely crucial in building meaningful relationships.

Herpes 101-It is not life-threatening. But it can be life-changing.

Herpes is common. Probably way more common than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in every 6 people has genital herpes. You can get genital herpes from an infected partner even if your partner has no symptoms.  Not only that, but most people don’t even know they have it. Whether you are single and ready to mingle or in a long term monogamous relationship, it’s crucial for you to know how to protect yourself and your partner(s).

What is herpes?

If you get a cold sore on your mouth, it’s possible that you have herpes simplex type 1 which is NOT the same as genital herpes. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “Most people get HSV-1 (herpes simplex type 1) as an infant or child. This virus can be spread by skin-to-skin contact with an adult who carries the virus. An adult does not have to have sores to spread the virus. A person can get herpes around their mouth by kissing someone who has herpes simplex type 1, touching the person’s skin--such as pinching a child’s cheek, or by sharing objects such as silverware, lip balm, or a razor. You can get genital herpes after coming into contact with HSV-1 or HSV-2. Most people get genital herpes during sex. If someone has a cold sore and performs oral sex, this can spread HSV-1 to the genitals.”

Check out more information here on how to detect the early signs and symptoms: https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/e---h/herpes-simplex/signs-symptoms

How does one get genital herpes?

You can get genital herpes by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the disease. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is more common to contract herpes if:

  1. You are female
  2. Have had many sexual partners
  3. Had sex for the first time at a young age
  4. Have (or had) another sexually transmitted infection
  5. Have a weakened immune system due to a disease or medicine
  6. If you have come in contact with the fluid found in a herpes sore

Should I get treatment? What does treatment look like? Is there a cure?

Genital herpes may cause painful sores that could worsen without treatment. There are many good resources on the web for treatment options. According to the Mayo Clinic, “There's no cure for genital herpes. Treatment with prescription antiviral medications may:

  1. Help sores heal sooner during an initial outbreak
  2. Lessen the severity and duration of symptoms in recurrent outbreaks
  3. Reduce the frequency of recurrence
  4. Minimize the chance of transmitting the herpes virus to another
  5. Antiviral medications used for genital herpes include: Acyclovir (Zovirax), Famciclovir (Famvir), Valacyclovir (Valtrex)”

Can I still have sex if I have genital herpes? How does that work?

Yes! Sex is still possible if you have herpes you just have to be very careful and make sure your partner knows his or her risk. Having sores or herpes symptoms increase your risk of spreading herpes but even if you don’t have symptoms, you are still putting your partner at risk. Remember to always use a latex condom if you and your partner choose to have sex.

Sources:

  1. https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/e---h/herpes-simplex/signs-symptoms
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/genital-herpes/basics/definition/con-20020893
  3. http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/

World AIDS Day: A Much Needed Reminder

Ask anyone right now what disease they fear contracting and many would say Ebola.  But to date there have been less than 10 cases of Ebola in the entire US. Compare that to 1.1 million people in the United States who are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.   December 1st is World AIDS Day, yet this health crisis doesn’t seem to make it onto most young people’s radar.

As a millennial, there are many struggles that my fellow twenty-something year old friends and I face. We wrestle with finding the perfect job, becoming financially independent and navigating the somewhat murky waters of intimacy and relationships. Then there is my friend Sarah*. She is 27 and living with HIV. This is a struggle that I cannot even begin to imagine.

Sarah was diagnosed with HIV when she was 24 years old, though she believes she contracted the disease when she was only 19. She is a “nice Jewish girl” from a smart family and a wealthy town.  In her mind, it wasn’t even in the realm of possibility that she could contract HIV.  I had the opportunity to talk with her and get some insight into what it would be like to live with HIV.

What stereotypes do you encounter?

Sarah:  For the people who have sex and do not contract HIV, their one mistake will turn into a funny joke later down the road instead of something that they live with their whole lives. I feel like I’m seen as dirty because I’m one of the people who have HIV but the other people who didn’t get it can brush it off, like “oh you’re just a stupid kid who made one mistake and had a one night stand.”  Here is the best advice I can give to you:

1Don’t assume that someone is not infected because they “come from a good family” and are in the same social circle as you.  People wouldn’t think I was infected and they would obviously be wrong.

2HIV affects people from all different walks of life and it is shortsighted to believe that only “certain types of people” contract the virus.  Therefore, you should ALWAYS be safe and wear a condom or go with your partner and get tested.  Don’t assume they have been tested just because they told you so.  The odds of contracting HIV are very small, especially for people like me.  But even if the percentage is 1%, you don’t want to be in that 1%.  And SOMEONE has to make up that 1%, so make sure that you are not the one.

The statistics are sobering.  More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were reported in 1981. According to aids.gov, of the 1.1 million people in the US who are currently living with HIV, almost 1 in 6 don’t even know they are infected.

A lot of my peers have heard about HIV/AIDS but don’t seem to have a clear idea of what it really is or how one can contract it. Unfortunately, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are at the highest risk for infection.

To understand what HIV is, let’s break it down with the information from Aids.gov.

H – Human – This particular virus can only infect human beings.

I – Immunodeficiency – HIV weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection.  A “deficient” immune system can’t protect you.

V – Virus – A virus can only reproduce itself by taking over a cell in the body of its host.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a lot like other viruses, including those that cause the “flu” or the common cold. But there is an important difference – over time, your immune system can clear most viruses out of your body. That isn’t the case with HIV – the human immune system can’t seem to get rid of it.  We know that HIV can hide for long periods of time in the cells of your body and that it attacks a key part of your immune system – your T-cells or CD4 cells. Your body has to have these cells to fight infections and disease, but HIV invades them, uses them to make more copies of itself, and then destroys them. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of your CD4 cells that your body can’t fight infections and diseases anymore. When that happens, HIV infection can lead to AIDS.

To understand what AIDS is, let’s break it down:

A – Acquired – AIDS is not something you inherit from your parents. You acquire AIDS after birth.

I – Immuno – Your body’s immune system includes all the organs and cells that work to fight off infection or disease.

D – Deficiency – You get AIDS when your immune system is “deficient,” or isn’t working the way it should.

S – Syndrome – A syndrome is a collection of symptoms and signs of disease. AIDS is a syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is the final stage of HIV infection. People at this stage of HIV disease have badly damaged immune systems, which put them at risk for opportunistic infections (OIs).

The good news is that you can live with HIV and Sarah is proving that—she says:

Sarah: My doctor reassured me that HIV is no longer a death sentence, like it was back in the 80’s, and that it is treatable today. I started on medication right when I got my diagnosis although there is some debate as to whether one should start taking medication immediately.  I found out that different “strains” of HIV develop once the virus mutates and causes resistance to certain medications.  The resistance occurs because someone did not comply with their medication and did not take it every day, as necessary. At that point, the virus builds up immunity to the meds since it was not taken regularly.  If that strain is passed (based on someone not taking their meds) then you have that resistance.  Everyone these days has some strain of the virus and is resistant to some medications, but historically that is how the strains develop. I was luckily only resistant to one medication- the “all in one” pill. I now take 3 pills a day. I am very fortunate because I feel no side effects. I just take the pills with my fish oil and vitamins.

How has having HIV changed you?

Sarah: I think having HIV has made me a better person, as crazy as it sounds. I have a better global perspective, I’m less judgmental, and I don’t feel immune to the world even though I had advantages growing up that other people never had. Overall, I have a positive outlook for the disease. At first I thought, ‘Other people deserve this, not me. Drug addicts deserve it. I don’t. I know better. I am better than this.’ But having the disease has taught me to not judge anyone else because no one is better than anyone else. It can happen to anybody.

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.”  Join the movement with other millennials by getting tested and speaking up on World AIDS Day. Find a testing site near you by visiting: http://aids.gov/locator/ and join the Facing AIDS Movement here: http://facing.aids.gov/gallery/.

Seven ways depression doesn’t have to run your life

It’s been more than a decade since I was finally able to reach out and get help for my depression. I found a medication that helped me gain stability, and I decided to give therapy a shot.  I’ve never been good at asking for help, however the support and guidance I got from my parents was really helpful in the initial years when I was still trying to find my emotional footing.  Both of them struggled with depression and had some great insights for me.  Here are some things that really helped me during that confusing time:

  1. Be brave and get help.  It can seem daunting to reach out and ask for help; sometimes you even need to ask more than once if the first time doesn’t work out.  Your feelings are legitimate and you deserve the help that’s out there.  Don’t forget that you’re worth the effort—even if you don’t feel like it right now.
  2. Don’t expect perfection. Accept that even after getting help you’re going to slip up and have depressed episodes.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight it because fighting your depression is something you should always do.  The natural inclination is to beat yourself up when you realize depression snuck into your passenger seat, but that only helps prolong the episode.  Accept that depression snuck in and then work on kicking it out, not on kicking yourself.
  3. Don’t be fooled. Remember that depression is never your friend; being depressed can feel comfortable.  It can feel natural and safe and it helps you avoid the feeling of failing at things you try to do.  When your depression tries to lull you into putting off the things you want to do, remember that depression will never lead you in the right direction
  4. Take care of yourself mentally. Forgive yourself if you make mistakes.  Don’t verbalizethose harmful depressed-person thoughts about you being a horrible person—you’re not horrible.  You wouldn’t let someone say those things about your best friend, so don’t say them to yourself.  Don’t get upset if you realize you fell back into depression for a little while, just focus on overcoming this cycle and getting back to being happy.
  5. Take care of yourself physically. To a depressed person, eating in an unhealthy way (including overeating unhealthy foods or not eating at all) can sometimes feel like the right thing to do, but it’s important that you pay close attention to your diet.  Eating more healthily can actually help alleviate depression. Additionally, exercise can be a great tool to help overcome depression because it releases “feel good” chemicals in your brain, gives you energy, and has the potential to make you feel accomplished all at the same time.  Even if you don’t normally exercise, moments where you’re trying to overcome depression can be a great time to give it a try. Then remember to forgive yourself if you slip up.
  6. Check out the resources available, like the ones listed right here on ifiknew.org.  Under the “Get Help” header click on the link for “Stress & Emotional Health Resources.”
  7. Lastly, remember that you’re not alone and that there is (a lot of) hope!

Depression is not an unbeatable fight.  Millions of people effectively manage their depression every day and many are able to forget it’s even an issue.  Some days can be harder than others, but that’s why having the help of a professional can be so crucial.  Managing depression requires some work, some soul-searching, and some honesty with yourself, but almost anyone can do it if only you’re ready to give it a good try.  Overcome that inertia and give it a shot—and don’t forget to be kind to yourself in the process!

Chris M, guest blogger

No one has their life totally together in their 20s - even if their Instagram tells you differently.

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to have everything together in our 20s? Where does that pressure come from and why do we care so much what other people think? I was talking to my family recently about attending high school reunions and my dad, who graduated high school in the 1960s, commented on how he didn't even bother to go to his 5th or 10th year high school reunion; he had noticed at that point in everyone’s lives that people were still trying to impress each other and it wasn't relaxing or fun. He said that the first reunion he wanted to go to was his 20th high school reunion because by then, when most people were older, they were more open to being honest about where they were and what was going on in their lives. Why was that? How come we feel pressure to live up to an idealized version of ourselves in our 20s and 30s? How come we care less when we are older? Is it because we have a lot more exposed vulnerabilities when we’re younger and are still trying to figure out where we want to live, what work we feel moved do in life, and who we want to spend our time with? While speaking with a fellow millennial, Casey, age 25, said, “I believe that we feel more vulnerable in our 20s about sharing where we are in life. We want to look like we have everything together. I even struggle with going back to high school to visit my teachers. I have this completely unrealistic idea of what I want them to see me doing and I am fearful that they will not be proud of me with anything less than that. I know it is ridiculous. It feels like there is so much pressure we put on ourselves that no one else puts on us.” After talking to a few other millennials, I started to wonder if we put pressure on each other partially because of social media.

Tommy, age 23, said, “Social media is like our new makeup. It’s the greatest way to hide pimples, life struggles, and hardships. Instead of showing people what is really going on, we just post cute pictures on Instagram of ourselves on the beach or at a restaurant eating our favorite meal. When I see other people on social media look like they have their life more together than I do, I feel like I have to compete with them.”

The truth is that we are the ones who put the most pressure on ourselves to live up to our own unrealistic expectations. The only thing that ultimately benefits you is being honest with yourself and others about where you are in life. Unrealistic expectations are a distraction from actually experiencing your life. Leave those expectations with your younger self and accept that, while it’s really great if you’re doing something cool, you don’t have to freak out if you aren’t. Cool stuff will happen as time goes on and you don’t need to make stuff up to be the type of person you want to be.