The Science of You…and Me.

I’ve been trying to get acclimated to the new semester, and I think it’s okay to take a break from constantly ranting and raving. Today, I want to speak honestly about life. But the stuff that weighs on my heart is the issue of self-identification.

In one of my classes this semester, we’re discussing classifications of organisms (as a prequel to the rest of the material) and the question was asked: Why do we classify things? The answer was: to order a chaotic world. I think that for the most part, that’s pretty true. But I think we, as human beings, also want to belong. We have a sense of longing to be part of something greater than just our own individuality. And maybe that seems a little naive, but maybe it isn’t.

  

I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times throughout the life of my blog, about where do I as an individual fit in to life’s big puzzle. But I invite you all to also think about it. How do you identify yourself? Is it just through your name? Your preferences? Your associations? What about who you are as a single individual, without regard to someone or something else? How would your identification change? It’s no difficult task to put yourself in a category. It’s an entirely other matter to design the category that you alone fit in.

Allow me to demonstrate. I am a pretty much run-of-the-mill midwestern woman. I tie my hair up in ponytails, I drink coffee, I know how to shovel snow, care for sick animals and even how to field dress carcasses (I really don’t enjoy it though, but if the great earth mother gives unto us, it is disrespectful to waste that gift. And I try not to partake either.). I am a wife, a cat-loving-dog-owner (he’s my little cat-dog), a sister, a daughter, a student, an employee and a coworker, a friend, a dreamer, and I’d say most definitely an extroverted introvert (yea, I know. It gives me problems too.). But take away anything that has to do with someone else (so-daughter, wife, sister, worker, etc) and take away the references to religion, geography, capabilities and preferences. What is left?

I call that “left” stuff the essence of me. But I don’t really know what it is. Is it emotion? Because I have quite a bit of that. Is it personality? I think I have a decent amount of that too. Is it what I am made of? Atoms, cells, blood, skin, organs, memories? I mean, I suppose that would have to be included. So what am I that no one else is? I am me and you are you. And I couldn’t be you if I tried, but I wouldn’t want you to be me either.

I know, you were all expecting for the meaning of life. And I shan’t disappoint! Because each and everything that I have said is both true and false. And I hope you’ve stuck around long enough to see why.

In the very beginning of time, before history, before science, before everything we know, there were stars. And these stars grew until they could grow no more, exploding when they reached their peak. When these stars explode, they create a bunch of atoms, in the order of the periodic table. First Hydrogen, then Helium, then Lithium, Beryllium, and so on and so forth until at least Iron (which is the 26th element). Each atom mixes with the others, out in space, combining and pulling apart. Now why am I telling you this?

  

There is a law in science called the Conservation of Energy. Now, in science, a law means that hundreds, if not thousands of test have been done and for all intents and purposes, the law is a scientific fact. This is why no one disputes gravity-even though you can’t see it directly. Anyway, the Conservation of Energy can be simplified down to the following: no energy can be created or destroyed in a system. There is also the law of the Conservation of Mass. This also is simplified down to: no mass (the stuff everything is made of) can be created or destroyed in a system. So what does that have to do with anything?

Well, we know that a human is made up of a lot of water, but what else? If you look at the most common elements that a body is made up of you get: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine and Magnesium. Now if you look at a Periodic Table of Elements, you’ll see that those elements are numbered: 8, 6, 1, 7, 20, 15, 19, 16, 11, 17 and 12. Iron, as I said is 26, which means that all of the elements that make up most of us come before Iron. That further means that the stars that exploded made the elements I have listed here.

  

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m very glad! Because the laws I mentioned, they come into play here. Since absolutely nothing can be made or destroyed, the atoms (which make up the mass of everything) which make up you and I came from the explosions of the stars. So here’s the deal. We are all made up of the little tiny particles which first originated in stars. So when you hear people say “We are stardust”, believe them. Because although this information is all paraphrased from other sources, it remains true. And just incase you wanted to know more about the meaning of life, let me explain death.

Before I really go on, let me tell you a story (you know that’s my thing!). I once went to a funeral of a family member and sat in the back, just observing. I watched the widow sit in the front row, the handkerchief crumpled in her hands, her eyes puffy and red from crying. But what I had not expected to happen, was the moment I caught her eye. I looked away immediately, not out of shame, but out of the understanding that I could not bear the weight of her pain. It would have been far easier if her eyes had been dead, the windows to a soul lost to the oblivion. But they weren’t. They were the windows to summer basketball sessions between her late husband and her kids, the early mornings when snow would lightly fall and she would watch him sleep. They were the windows to a thousand more “I love you’s” which would fall on deaf ears and the echoes of petty fights that would haunt her recollection for years to come. And at the funeral of a childhood friend, I remember looking at his body, thinking about how many times that might have been me, how even in death, he didn’t seem so happy, but maybe that’s because his body was pumped full of gallons worth of chemicals and the makeup could not hide the way his neck curved ever so violently, the ghost of a rope ever so snug around the collar of his dress jacket.

  

If no matter and no energy can be lost or created, what happens at death? Quite obviously, there is still mass. You have a body almost always, a quiet shell of a person lying still. But a person while living maintains the energy of thought, of breath, of circulation. And once ceased, that energy cannot be destroyed. The body heat rises into the atmosphere, reuniting with the clouds, the rain and the air. The breath that once ran through them now runs though the atmosphere. The memories which gave fuel to their every move, their every sense of self, they belong now to the people who need them most, to those with whom they were shared before. And I think that is a lovely thing. We are both part of the universe and made up of it. We cannot be created from nothing and we cannot disappear to nothing. The life of each and every one of us was determined by the star explosion, the energy and life of others, the ability to continue on. And that’s why it’s entirely okay if you could not define yourself as just yourself before. Because in all honesty, you really can’t be you without others. But it’s okay. Because the others couldn’t be themselves without you either.

  

Here Be Dragons

Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to remind yourself that it’s okay, that you’re only suffering a minor setback and that life will continue on, as it indeed always does. You may not want life to change, or approve of it, you may desire it more than you desire anything else in the world. But at some point, change comes for us all and the only thing you have to do is be ready.I wrote a piece about driving a while ago, about how I just couldn’t seem to, and about how it was a source of great shame for me. I finished the piece by saying that my New Year Resolution was to drive more, to be free of the bonds that strapped me into the passenger seat. It has been a week since the year started and what have I done to accomplish that goal?

 

 A bit actually.

The second or third I drove to the store. I can’t say that I drove back from said store, but I darn sure drove there. And my husband and I talked about it and I realized that if I just kept to the quick and simple stuff, I would never succeed in my goal at all.

But I’m not going to lie to you. This is not easy for me.

Yesterday, I had work and I usually have my husband take me in, so that I can just focus on work and he can hang out at the school and get stuff done. We’re on break, which makes that sentence completely illogical, but we’re an active sort of people who quite like the academic scene. He hadn’t slept well and asked if I could take myself in. I immediately burst into tears, the panic having surged through me faster than a tornado. I felt woozy, nauseous and above all, I felt ashamed. Why couldn’t I just get over it? What was wrong with me? So on our way home yesterday, after he graciously picked me up, I asked him timidly if he wouldn’t mind coming with me either today or Friday as my passenger. He agreed, saying he wanted to start working out anyway and this would force him to do so. Last night, I went to bed nervous, exhausted and wondering what I’d done.

This morning, he again told me he hadn’t slept well and I let him sleep a little longer. I prepared my stuff, got my coffee and took the dog out. I looked over the parking lot and once again got the panicked sort of emotions and sensations. I knew that I would have a difficult time talking myself into it and an even worse time if I talked myself out of it. So I hauled myself up to our apartment and grabbed a few more things (let’s be real here- I grabbed a bunch of good luck charms), waited for my husband to finish getting ready and then marched myself down to the car. My hands were shaking, I felt sick and I started the car.

Wouldn’t you know it, rush hour was waiting for me.

I can’ tell you the curse words that streamed in my head. How dare other people be on the road when I was trying to get over my fears? I mean, didn’t they know that I was going to be driving?

And I realized that there was no other place, no other time, that could possibly make my journey more ideal. It was rush hour that gave me a headache, made me a nervous passenger. It was the highway that made my heart race. And that sounds like the settings for the battleground to me. 

I made it to the school, having managed to drive on two separate highways and through campus traffic. I didn’t throw up, pass out, or any of the terrible things that I assumed would happen. I didn’t crash, didn’t die and didn’t break down. I didn’t even say that chant from the previous post. I marched myself up to work with a smile on my face, saying hello to everyone I met. I know that I’m not done for the day-my shift has only really just begun and I’m still nervous about the drive home, but when I grabbed one of my good luck pieces from my pocket, I had to smile pretty fiercely. I mean, just look at how fitting it is.

  

One week down, fifty one more to go.

Collide

The title to this blog is the song, but as you’ll see, it also represents something else to me. Today, I want to try to describe a scenario which to me, is the singular reason why I can’t seem to get a grip this past year. I know that being prone to moods and their sways is also not helpful, but I can think of no other thing which makes me feel like a shitty person, friend and individual. I don’t need sympathies, but I hope that my words help someone. And if not, they at least help me.

Fear.

When I was younger I had a dream. Like one of those really vivid nightmare type dreams where you’re positive that it will come true. It was me driving a little car down a road in Columbus, passing under a bridge and getting into an accident. That accident (in the dream) caused me to die. I even remember looking at the black lamp post where blood had splattered. THAT kind of vivid. It’s stuck with me as a weird gut feeling ever since.

Going on a couple years ago now, my husband and I were in a pretty hellacious car accident. We were totally fine, but the car was not. In fact, had the horse (yes, we hit a horse) been any heavier, I would have eaten some very serious amounts of windshield. It ended up that the windshield was an inch away from my face. The horse, for all you animal people, was entirely fine. He got up immediately and ran off. Later the owner found him and got vet treatment immediately, or so he told me. I was in the passenger seat. It shook me a little, but for the most part I was entirely okay.

Fast forward a couple years and a couple cars and I now live in Columbus. I drove all my stuff up here when we moved, I drove back from the grocery store once and I drove to school (but not back) and other than that I have not driven at all. I’ve been here for almost 6 months. Why? I live so close to so many wonderful things that I could literally go anywhere I please and be amazed at the fabulous scenes and sounds. But instead, I stay home or catch rides with someone else (namely my husband). He doesn’t seem to mind, but there are moments when I know it bothers him. 

The reason I’m even writing about this is because well, really two things. The first being that I need to acknowledge that it holds me back. The second is that I want everyone to know that I’m not being a bad friend, or a bad family member, I have a real problem and I’m really just not handling it very well. So I want to describe to you the process of getting from my house to anywhere.

I have a good luck charm, which always goes into the right hand front pocket of my jeans. If I’m dressing up, it goes into another pocket on the same side. It’s full of herbs and charms and crystals which are supposed to bring safety and observation skills. I then put on my best face, grab my stuff and head to the car. By that point, I already have an upset stomach, my head hurts and I fell like I’m going to throw up. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I. GET. INTO. A VEHICLE. And that can be quite often if it’s during the school week. So we pull out of the drive and I’m already feeling sick. I look down at my phone while my husband drives and check the news or Facebook or anything I can to keep me occupied. It doesn’t last for long though, because soon enough we’re on the highway and that’s when phase two of my passenger ritual begins.

I have a little chant that I say while clasping my hands together between my knees. It goes a little something like this:

We shall not break down, crash or die today

Not no how, not no way.

And I say that probably for a good 15 minutes solid. Even longer if the traffic is bad, which it usually is. I do this because I’ve developed a nasty habit of pointing at brake lights, gasping a braking cars and saying my husband’s name when people merge into our lane. He put up with it for a while, but my fears were (and usually are) unfounded and he thought I felt that he was a bad driver. I don’t feel like that at all. I’m just literally terrified of being on the road. So I try my hardest to remain quiet in the mornings for our commute, finally starting to open up when we make it to the school. 

In the afternoon, I try a different approach. I say my little rhyme once or twice, usually just at the ramps and then I try to talk to him about what happened that day. But I think even he notices that I don’t look out the front window. And in fact, that is a constant no matter when we drive. I look out the passenger window if I look out them at all. Because each car is one that might hunt us down, cause us to swerve off the road or mangle us up horribly.

The one time my husband needed me to come to the school to pick him up, I nearly threw up in the car. I even took the back way, so determined was I to avoid the main roads and high ways altogether. My hands were shaking so badly that it really might have looked more like a person coming out of rehab than someone who was simply driving. And I thought to myself, maybe this is the worst feeling in the world.

But it isn’t. The worst feeling in the world is being trapped by your fears. I have to make a trip by myself in a couple days and it turns my stomach just thinking about it. I’ve tried meditation, I’ve tried convincing myself that I’ll be okay. I’ve even tried to force myself to suck it up and drive anyway. But in the end, there’s no success. I literally just sit in fear and wait for the next time I’m going to have to suffer through these feelings. We go back to school in just a short little while and I’d really hoped that this would be the semester that I could share the drive with my husband instead of cowering in the passenger seat. But I think it might be the semester I convince myself what a shitty person I am because I don’t know how to be a functional adult and therefore no one will ever hire me and I will die alone and poor. Literally that is how this thought process goes. There is no logic in fear, there is just an overwhelming, all encompassing feeling of inability and failure. But I didn’t even have these fears while I lived in the old place. So why am I so afraid?

I’ve always been afraid of change. I can outwardly speak about accepting change and change making you a better person, but inside I fight against it with all my might and I frequently cry about how hard it is. Any change is like that scene in one of the Chronicles of Narnia books (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, maybe?) where Aslan is de-scaling Eustace. That’s how it is for me. I’m putting off graduation because I’m afraid to move to somewhere new. I was a nervous wreck when it came to living in this apartment for the first few weeks because it was new.

  And you know what? All I’ve wanted to do my entire life can be summed up in two things: I want to help people and I want to travel.

Seriously. I can barely walk by myself alone on campus without being afraid. I can’t even drive myself around because I am afraid. And I want to see the world and meet new people? Who am I kidding?

But that’s the thing. When Eustace got his scales ripped off, he because a better person. He was in pain, he was scared but he was better. And I guess that’s what’s important. It’s not entirely okay to be afraid. But only in the capacity that you be blocked from your destiny by your fears. So this year, for my New Year’s Resolution, I feel like it is very simple.

I want to drive myself places.

And you can laugh all you want, but when was the last time you took on your greatest fear? 

Role Models and Hope For A Messed Up World

I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say right away, so this post is coming almost a week after the incident, but the concept has been stuck in my head for quite some time. As an individual, I love being a singular version of myself. But I look often for someone else who is also a trailblazer. I wanted to write about why I look for and who I select as a role model for my life. I think it’s important for people, women especially, to have someone who is an upstanding, respectable example of the lives we want to lead. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people from older stories who could be role models (I frequently look to Joan of Arc, personally). The problem with using people from the past is that things were different. The world was not the same then as it is now, and we need people who are more like us than sword bearing warriors or queens from afar. 
  There is the social media factor, I suppose, which lends itself to a certain realm of role models, some good, some not. But it seems that the news represents best those who are not good role models for the young (and young-ish) people of today. I am of course talking about the celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lindsey Lohan and to some extent even Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They all represent the pandemonium of fame and the pit falls thereof. We could also examine outlets like Disney or Matel, who have presented the world with prestigious Barbie, Cinderella, and Ariel (just to name a few). It is these three which are both a great help and a hindrance to young women of today. I want to explore them and then propose my list of four individuals who are better role models for our generation. 

  Barbie: In almost every household you might find her, or a cousin or a friend. She is blonde, brunette, red headed, light skinned, dark skinned. She has had a plethora of jobs, donned an impressive collection of costumes and even manages quite a large variety of accessories. Over the years, people have yelled at her for being too skinny, too unrealistically proportioned and too shallow. I mean, there was even a brief moment in Toy Story 3 where she was introduced to public audiences as a complete and utter bimbo, followed by a weak attempt to reclaim her dignity. But the thing is, she’s too uniform. She has no individualized flaws. No scars, stretch marks, beauty marks, wrinkles, pimples, or really flaws of any kind. Her makeup is always done, she’s always smiling and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

  Cinderella: She’s Disney’s star princess. I mean, who didn’t want to be a princess because of her? She came from rags to riches, found a guy, married Royal and viola. She even had a set of killer shoes. But what does she have as far as personality? She’s got wishes, desire. But she lacks motivation and drive. She “asked for a dress, shoes and a night off”. I get it. But that’s not real life at all. And why do you need a man to provide you with everything? I mean, independence goes a long way. I know in the original story she was a teenager, but isn’t that kind of the point? In her time period, that made her basically an adult, and I know she would have been in need of a man, but this is the 21st century and we don’t need that anymore. Say it with me: I am a strong, independent woman who needs no man, but can have one if I so desire.

  Ariel: With a golden voice and perfect hair, who cares about anything else, right? Wrong. Again, you don’t need a man to be the best woman you can be. The thing is, Sebastian was right. Giving up everything, your soul and life included, just to get a man (or attempt to) is not the way to go. And by this point, wouldn’t you also need to make exceptions for finding the right partner-be it woman or man or just a good friend? As with Cindy, sorry Ariel, but there’s nothing that warrants me looking up to you if you’re going to change everything about yourself for someone else.

So I’ve given you a basic run down of my issues with the above, but I do want to mention that I know these characters are fake, but they are widely distributed and influential. I do not want to come across as impossible to reason with so the last person (it’s actually two people) are fictitious as well. And I also realize that the women I am looking at have flaws. But that’s exactly why I chose them. And I will go over them as well. These are, of course, my own personal opinions and you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments, as always. So,without further adieu.

Michelle’s List of Role Models for Women of 2015.

  Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo: You might not have heard of this woman, but she is the reason I’m doing this post. Seven days ago, she was sworn in as a judge in New York. She wore a headscarf, because she is Muslim and she was sworn in on the Qur’an. Now, none of this even really seems like anything out of the ordinary. But the amount of hate mail she received for being sworn in on the Qur’an is astounding. This woman vowed to uphold the law, as she has done her entire career. She is an upstanding citizen who was voted into office. I came across this story in my FaceBook news feed because of how many ignorant people are accessing social media to tear her down. You are permitted to swear into office on any holy book and even the constitution of the United States. She has done nothing above and beyond the average expectations I have for a law abiding citizen, but she is my candidate for a role model for the simple fact that she stuck by her faith, even when people threatened her and heckled her about it. She stayed true to herself, even though that path offered great resistance.

  Adele: Let me say that I am a huge fan of Adele. Her voice is so beautiful, and she’s gorgeous. She’s not stick thin, and I love her for it. She says what’s on her mind and once again, stays true to herself. She took time from her career to take care of her baby. We’re almost the same age and that means a great deal to me. Why, you ask? Because she’s proving that not all 20 year olds and 20-somethings are wild and crazy and awful. She’s a credit to our age group. She even works at a record shop. Her flaws? She’ so soulful in her music that she really only sings sad songs. Which isn’t like a huge flaw, but I don’t associate anything other than sad love songs and break up songs with her. 

  Angelina Jolie-Pitt: Did this one take you by surprise? I really thought that this spot would be occupied by many other people, and indeed it could have been, but there are lots of women who could have taken this spot who simply aren’t as well known. And while you are all entitled to have your own individual role modes, for the purposes of this blog, I needed someone visible. She adopts underprivileged kids, she works with charities and organizations, speaks on behalf of underprivileged people to the UN. And on top of that, she preventatively had a mastectomy so that she didn’t have to worry about breast cancer. I mean, that sounds like a very personal thing and she’s known for her body. I remember a lot of people were upset at her for taking charge of her own body, and that is why I commend her for doing it. She did what she had to do so that she could live her life to the fullest. Also in this spot, Emma Watson for similar reasons. 

  

  Molly Hooper/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I told you I would bring in some fictitious characters. I chose one from my younger adult life and one from my current adult life. So I will start with Buffy. She was a kick-ass teenager who saved the world a lot. And the thing is, that was badk when TV series were filmed with people who looked like teenagers playing teenagers, and incorporated flaws and diversity of character types. Buffy had an attitude, she was impatient and made mistakes. She needed help and asked for it, she complained about life and then grew up and made sacrifices. She represented real teenage life, apart from vampire hunting. And her friends were just as painfully realistic. But they all had a moral code and they represent a lovely era of beautiful story telling.

   Molly Hooper. I have great aspirations to be Molly Hooper. For those of you who do not know who Molly Hooper is, allow me to tell you. The BBC produces a show called Sherlock, based off of Sherlock Homesfrom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the BBC version, there is a medical examiner by the name of Molly Hooper.  She has an enormous crush on Sherlock, does everything dignified she can to get him to notice her including buy him a present at Christmas. He’s rude about it and she calls him out on his bad behavior. Later in the series, she also tells him he’s throwing away his gifts and that he should apologize for various actions. Sherlock comes to respect her. And she didn’t change herself. She stayed true to her personality and persona, all while being a valuable asset to a team. Honestly, I know that this is all fiction, but really, if I were ever to model myself after someone who never existed in real life, it would be Molly Hooper. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, I HIGHLY recommend it. I can discuss all manner of theories with you. I’m a true and devoted CumberCookie and Sherlockian.

Anyway, this has been my short list about female role models in modern society. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. 

Thankfulness, Day 9

  
I first read The Fellowship of the Ring when I was in middle school. I was captivated by the story, even if it was just a smidge over my head. But this particular portion of thebook was lost to me completely. It wasn’t until the movie came out and the internet boomed that I even recalled ther was a poem. This is the most widely recalled line, and for good reason.

Today’s theme is aimlessness.

A few years ago, I did a facebook post on this very day about being thankful for being aimless. And I found it today, believing that I had been a genious. You see, in the end, it isn’t really the destination, is it? It’s always been about the journey. But so many footsteps are solidifying for me that I am enthralled by my own wanderings.

I started college Autumn 2011. I had to immediately withdraw (within the first week) because I listened to my peers and drank far too many energy drinks and my kidneys couldn’t handle it. I was in the ER multiple times, my PCP (Personal Care Physician) too and it was determined that my energy drink habits were killing me. Before that fall, I’d spent my summers drinking Monster BFCs (Big Effing Cans-the equivalent of 4 Monsters in one can) and Rockstars and Venoms (these were my favorite). I was always seen with one in my hand. Now it’s coffee and the occasional soda for me, marginalized by gallons of water.

I didn’t return to college (or technically even start college) until Winter 2012. We were still on quarters then. I was a bio major, determined to be a pediatric oncologist. My entire life was dedicated to this. Only my heart didn’t seem to be. For two years, I fought with deciding if I was doing the right thing with my life. Ultimately, I wasn’t. I had the heart for the job, the brains too, but it wasn’t what I longed for. And so I became an anthro major.

Even then my wandering (and wondering) was not over. What kind of anthropologist would I be? I couldn’t decide, wanted to do everything and ultimately picked cultural. But that isn’t to say I haven’t had a couple moments where physical sounded like a much smarter idea. Even this left some questions.

What would I focus on? People was far too broad a focus, culture wouldn’t work either. Religion. Now that could work. But what about it? Eventually, I landed on something both practical and interesting. Religious Extremism and Violence as a Diplomatic Interference. Now that sounds snappy, doesn’t it? I only really settled into that idea. Now comes the new wave of questions about jobs and such.

But as I said: it’s really all about the journey, anyway, isn’t it? Sometimes the lights have to go out, the path needs to disappear before we can find ourselves. There isn’t really a way to make it easier, or less scary. You just have to take the plunge. Interesting.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

You Got Me There

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Today is the day that I come out of my shell once more, and tell you all about a subject that I believe needs more sincere attention. It is National Bipolar Awareness Day. I have some helpful infographics here for you all, and I think that Ineed to be the change I want to see in the world, so I’m going to discuss why YOU and I and EVERYONE needs to start talking about mental health.

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5.7 million Americans. “There are 321,271,372 people in the United States of America.” according to howmanyofme.com and that means that there are roughly 2% of Americans (1.77%) living with this disease. Comparatively, there are  10 times as many people who simply live with some mental illness diagnosis. Since this day is dedicated to Bipolar Disorder, I will focus thusly. (These numbers all change depending on where your sources are and who actually did the research, so keep that in mind. These are “low” estimates.)

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So what IS Bipolar Disorder?

I can promise you that it is NOT a crutch. People who live with this disorder are not seeking attention because they have very little else to do-it is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

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Sound like fun, right?

It isn’t. There are moments when you feel like you are invincible. You can go for days, live life freely. And then comes the crash-the moment when life isn’t your oyster, it’s your cage and you’re running out of oxygen. And there’s more than one kind. There are more than 2 kinds. But the 2 which everyone seems to be “familiar” with are:

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So what can we do to help?

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All in all, having a mental illness is not much different than having a physical one-because as a human, we are both the mental and the physical. You see, there are not too many people who would go to a cancer survivor and tell them to “get over themselves”, but there are plenty of people who passionately do that to someone with a mental illness. It’s time to change these stigmas and reclaim healthy lives.

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