What I Needed to Understand

I’m a shy person by nature. I don’t talk to strangers often, I like being introverted. Even in a manic state, I only get chatty with people I know. Interesting.

Ever since I discovered that I’m really passionate about human rights, I’ve started to see an evolution in my personality. I helped a complete stranger yesterday who couldn’t get their door to lock. Normally I would have shied away, had my husband see if he could help. And I feel chatty. Depressed, manic, all the time. 

But only about specific things.

And wouldn’t you know that the things I feel like I need to speak about so urgently are the things that I harbor in my soul.

-Depression and Suicide

-Sexual Assault Rights

-Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

                                                                                 (Image from Google-I just happen to love it.)

It has come to my attention (or should I say, I have noticed) that I start these conversations, I make sure the people I am with are aware that there are some very big news stories going on and that they need to care. I mean, I’m sure I sound like a downer because I talk about (generally) death, crimes and destroying the earth/cultures. I know. 

But I can’t stop talking about them.

I don’t even think I want to stop.

Because, as I put so poignantly in a FB response, “If we stop talking, we stop living.” And I believe that. 

So instead of apologizing for being the bearer-of-bad-news and the news anchor in my social life, I’m going to keep talking. I’m going to keep bringing up things people might not want to talk about becuase I have no other choice.

If I stop talking, I stop being who I am. 

And I won’t compromise that. Not anymore.

Safety of the State

I went searching for the state of 2016 thus far. As many of you know, and the rest of you are about to find out, my true passion in both writing and in life is to get the word out about sexual assault and rape not only in America, but in the world. I focus on America a lot:

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According to the FBI crime statistics, the most sexual violence incidents happen in Alaska followed closely by South Dakota. Alaska’s reported rape is THREE times as high as the national average. Now, I am of the opinion that the need to have ANY reports is too much. I mean that in a “There shouldn’t be rape” way NOT “there shouldn’t be people reporting it” way.

To put some perspective on this:

Alaska: 80 cases per 100K

South Dakota: 70 cases per 100K

New Jersey (the lowest): 11.7 cases per 100K

For the full link and accompanying article, click here: Rape Numbers by State

Now why is this concerning? Because the majority of rapes aren’t reported. Let me repeat that for the people in the back.

The majority of people who are assaulted do not report it, making these numbers only the ones who have bravely come forward seeking justice. That means these numbers are exceptionally skewed in a bad way.

Now I’ll save ya’ll some math and just say that I understand these numbers translate to fractions of percentages of total populations but they all represent people. People I one day hope to bring justice to.

On Settling

I had a conversation with my sister recently about college and about passion and careers. I tried my best to be a guiding voice, as much as I could be, but I also am very conscious that everyone must make their own mistakes. I know I would not be the same person if I hadn’t “wasted” my time or made the choices I did. So I try to keep that in mind every time I give someone advice. Usually, I end up giving myself advice and they just listen.

But talking with her really was like talking to a younger version of myself. She hasn’t decided quite where she wants to go to college, what her passion is, what she wants out of life specifically. And I can appreciate that on so many levels. (Most of which come from making those mistakes I was talking about.)

I told her that it didn’t matter what she chose to do, as long as she chose it with her whole heart. Because settling for anything less than your passion is killing everything unique and creative about you. That applying to college as a high school senior was doing something insane that would work out in your favor later. And with that in mind, I told her if she wanted to go out of state, do it. If she wanted to stay at home and commute, do it. If she wanted to major in underwater basket weaving, do it. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there, so long as you get there.

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I remember being a senior in high school and thinking that I had everything figured out. I would go into medicine, wear the white coat and then devote my life to saving kids (I wanted to be a Pediatric Oncologist-aka children’s cancer doctor). I thought I could do that, have time for hobbies and maybe, just maybe do something great with my life. I looked into all girl colleges, co-ed ones out of state, universities in Ireland. I literally wanted to run away from Ohio and never come back.

I never left Ohio. And I don’t really regret that as much as I thought I might. Mind you, Ben and I are looking for law schools out of state, but if we stay here, it isn’t the end of the world. High school doesn’t really give you the sense of “everything will work out”. Instead it gives you unrealistic ideas about college, and incomparably ridiculous amounts of unnecessary stress.

I couldn’t find a way to convince my sister of this, and that’s okay. She’s got to find her own path. But in the end, I think that what I said was the only thing I could have said. Because I didn’t know it then, and I wish I would have.

You have to commit to an entire lifestyle when you pick a career. And if you want to live to the fullest, you’re going to need to find out what drives you enough to make that easier. Anything less than your passion isn’t living-it’s torture.

I’ve decided on a few proto-ideas about what makes a person passionate, that I will be honing throughout my life, so maybe if I have kids, I will be able to help them more than I could do for my sister, but for now, that is what I will leave her with.

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What do you want out of life?

What do you want your typical day to be like?

What things can you not do without?

What things do you not want to do without?

What are your hobbies? Favorite classes?

Who are your role models? Why?

Who are your favorite teachers? Why?

What do you want out of your career?

What will it take to make you happy?

What would you do first if you were given a super-power?

What kind of super power would it be?

Just Breathe

If you had to sum up what I am most passionate about in terms of what I blog about most often, that list might look something like:

Women’s Rights

Self-Care

College Life with Bipolar Disorder

Poetry

And if you added in coffee, I would not mark that as wrong. But I want to come at those things from a different angle today. I’m gonna do a humdinger post, where literally all the things come together and we hopefully have a work of art. Might work, might not.

I have a couple months before my lease is up, and my husband and I are looking for a place to move that we can afford with just the two of us (we currently live with roommates). We have one car, and while that doesn’t seem to be bad right now, it means that we don’t have a bunch of space for moving everything all over hell’s half acre. We’re probably going to move again when we graduate, and that’s okay. It also means that there is one fatal flaw to this process.

  

(This isn’t my personal stack of books, but it’s basically the same thing.)

While I may not be a hoarder, I happen to attach emotional value to lots of things-namely books. Every time I approach moving, I discover that somehow I have accumulated a large quantity of knick-knacks. What happens then is something I like to call Purge-aggedon. I go through all of my clothes, my books, movies, general stuff and everything I own and start throwing away or donating whatever I have that I don’t need. It’s akin to shedding off a layer of skin, or getting several feet of hair cut away. It may cause me exceptional amounts of stress, but once it is gone, I feel loads better.

The thing is, like so many people, I create barriers around myself to protect myself from life. I used food as medicine for the longest time, creating a layer of fat to protect my feelings. It was like I had a protective coat which wasn’t me, but would take on all of the negative things from other people. Some walls are not physical, but completely mental and mostly subconscious. I broke through one on accident this semester and it was a disaster. Some walls are very much physical and yet mean so little. I keep clothes which do not fit either in hopes that one day they will or because I feel “rich”because I have multiple things. And while that is all fine and well, sometimes it’s more important to be completely okay with myself as myself rather than the illusion I make of myself. I really hope that makes sense.

  

Anyway, I sat down this morning and actually drank my coffee while watching the sunrise. I took a pause in life, looking at the bigger picture. I didn’t weigh myself down with worries and stress, I just was. And it was wonderful. I know that not everything can be solved by stopping what you’re doing, but one of the most helpful things I learned from a counselor was that if you spend too much time in the past, you’re depressed. If you spend too much time in the future, you’re anxious. If you spend just enough time in the present, you will live life to the fullest.

I’m not an expert in the way life works-or even the way I work. I have good days, bad days, days with both and days with neither. But I know that I left my hair down today, watched the sunrise, drank my coffee slowly and just breathed. I have no idea what the rest of my life holds. But for today, all I need to know is today. And that’s something very doable.

So, it’s clear where two or three of my list comes to play, but what about poetry and women’s rights you ask? I’m glad you brought that up.

Part of what I’ve been doing at work today is working on some ideas about how to help children with body safety (as a stand alone project). And if you can’t see the poetry in a cup of coffee and a sunrise, then I will add in some very lovely words to close.

My eyes, once the vision saw

Melted into the watercolor sky

Without so much as a hello

Without needing to say goodbye.

My heart, once the sun rose 

Fluttered once then stood still

The life which beat within me paused

Then soared out from it’s window sill.

The Start to a Great Day

This past week was a brutal week for human beings. Earthquakes, bigotry, hatred, fear and on my own campus there was a display of some very xenophobic graffiti. But there were also some wonderful things which happened. The grafiti was covered over by messages of acceptance and love. The bigotry and hatred was combatted with hope and kindness. Aid was given to those who needed it.

Yesterday was one of those weird days when I missed something from my old life: routine. Not the kind that I’d expected, but I missed having songs to sing to my deity. I had seen a video of someone singing “It Is Well With My Soul” and vividly recalled all the times I spent in church singing that song (and playing it on the piano) and then all the times I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t even want to sing the song. I wanted to revisit a time when there was a routine in my life that made everything seem simple. That is the way it is because is is that way. You know?

It was a weird feeling, but I think the point of it wasn’t that I found a hole in my belief system, it was that in those days, everything was simple (for me at least). I lived in a small town of people I knew and who knew me. I could walk all over the county by myself without fear. I could stop by people’s houses if I needed to call my parents or get a drink or hang out with people roughly my age. I missed the simplicity.

And yet, there are things I would not change about today. I braided my hair for the first time successfully all by myself. I got up on time, I dressed up today (I’m channeling my inner Snow White-red lips, blue top, yellow skirt) and I even managed to get rid a bunch of homework done. I didn’t panic when my husband drove us in this morning, even though I’ve grown accustomed to driving by myself. I got in to work early and successfully set up for the day. I’m a stronger, more independent person than I was six months ago. And what’s more, I accept myself for who I am more so than I did when I moved here. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to be a little different, but it means that I am not ashamed of who I am now.

  We are all products of our pasts. For me, that past means walking barefoot through grassy fields on the way to a raspberry patch to get my fingers completely covered in red dye. It means traveling downs dirt roads covered in arching trees and watching baby rabbits run across your yard right before a huge buck comes sniffing for roots and tulips. It’s picking apples off the trees while waiting for the bus to take me to school and bonfires with burnt marshmallows (which my parents had to eat). It’s dressing up on Sunday’s because that’s what respectable people did and then going home to pick garden produce.

  And we choose what becomes our future. Coffee dates with friends, and making time for people. It’s proving to yourself over and over again that you’re not the mistake you thought you were. It means taking the time to capture life’s little moments, watching a sunrise even when you’d rather be sleeping, making the best sandwich you’ve ever eaten and then being surprised that it tasted that good.  

  It means choosing to feel good about yourself and “I’ll be damned if I let other people shame me out of my own life”. It means giving up every reason you have for not being happy and just taking chances anyway-because you’ve finally decided that it’s in your best interest to believe in yourself.

  At the end of the day, we’re not always going to listen to the naysayers. And doing so will only hold us back. We’ve got to start living with love and passion, or else we don’t stand a chance of living at all.

(All photos today were taken by me and as you can see, are on my Instagram. Ya’ll can hop on over and browse about if you feel so inclined, but this is basically what I take pictures of. Only now it’s my dog and campus, but hey.)

A Letter

Dear Senator Sanders,

         You do not know me, but I am a young Democratic voter from a very small town in Ohio. You’ve probably never heard of it, but it was named after a Polish officer who fought in our revolution. In that tiny little spot, there are no stop lights, and plenty of dirt roads. It is a place where children can play freely, cut off from the rest of the word, or so it can seem. I grew up there, and it will always be home to me, full of the love and support that I am thankful to have had.

         I’ve been privileged to have had some wonderful friends, all of whom helped me grow into the outspoken, passionate woman I am today. And part of that stems from having a deep love of people who are different from myself. I deeply enjoy looking into other cultures, ensuring that I have the best, most thorough information available, so that I can make that small town proud of the ways in which I impact my world. As an anthropology student, research into cultures and attitudes are kind of a requirement. So I took the time to do a little research on you, Mr. Sanders, and here is what I found out.

         You are a man of many skills: carpentry, film and legislation among them. You are devoted to your family, and all that you see morally astute. But do you know what I did not see, or at least, not on your website? I did not see a medical degree. And so it troubles me deeply that you went out of your way to say the following at the debate in Flint, Michigan:

“We are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health. And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to address the mental health.”

         You see, the media may have found that sound bite worthy of a chuckle, Secretary Clinton did as well, but for someone who works so hard at promoting equality amongst peoples, you have let down a very large, very important community. You may have made an offhanded comment about the opposing party, but you neglected to consider that the members of the mentally ill community may not have appreciated you including the Republican candidates into that group simply because some of the outrageous things which have come out of their mouths.

         I have been a proud advocate of mental health awareness, of mental illness equality and of breaking down stigmas associated with mental illnesses. But more than that, I am a member of that community that you so brazenly mocked. Some of the phrases you used last night were “lunatic”, “crazy person” and of course, the quote which I have mentioned above. You see, while it may be easy to openly criticize actions such as those of Mr. Trump mocking a physically disabled person, it is not as socially acceptable to openly discuss ways in which mental illnesses need to be treated with the same respect. 

         So here I am, Senator Sanders, a young woman from Ohio, asking you to consider the fact that while the words you speak may be coming from a well-intended place, you are furthering the stigmas and stereotypes which have plagued a branch of health and wellness for far too long. Instead of using the actions of the opposing party to get a few laughs, why don’t you focus on ways in which you will help the mental health community facilitate our own well-being in the face of misunderstanding and under-education. Perhaps then, you would be able to see why making jokes about mental health isn’t funny-it’s just plain rude.

         Thank you for your time.

Best,

Michelle Brewer-Bunnell

A Concerned Citizen

Hindsight

When I was in high school, there happened an event that has stuck with me ever since.

I was the field commander of the high school marching band. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, honestly. I took my job very seriously, regarding each of the band members and color guard as members of my own family, who I would defend to the death (I was very theatrical back then). Anyway, part of my duties was to ensure safe transport of persons and equipment post game. Our instruments were hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So I would holler out “Band coming through!” And other things, like “Watch out!” And “Excuse us!”

 

(This is basically my podium/ladder-basically huge)

 The event happened one home game my first year commanding (I was commander for 2 years-the first in school history, I believe). I was VERY passionate about my job, but also very polite and I was trying to get all the band and guard members into the school without damaging anything or anyone. Carrying my “ladder” (it was a platform I conducted from which was more than twice my size and a workout all its own), I was announcing our departure when a group of our school’s football players came up from behind me and yelled “No one gives a shit about you band faggots.” And I do not think there has been a single moment in the history of who I am that I contemplated murder more seriously. I think I could have wafted my ladder at him (and yes, I know exactly who he was) and it would havebeen a blood bath. Thankfully my director saw and heard what had happened and talked me down. If I recall, I had to stay after the game because he was telling me about how some football player wasn’t worth my future. I fumed about it for days.  And when the football player came down to the band room to apologize to the director (but not the rest of us), I saw red once more. If it had been a band member, we would have been crucified! How dare he just get off with some shitty apology! Make him pay, dammit!

  

But this story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to the last day of the year 2015 (so today-6 years later), that same football player and one of his cohorts is playing Call of Duty with my husband. They know who he is, but none of them know who I am, other than his wife. So my husband (who was in the band as well) asked if they remembered that incident, as well as a couple others. And they did. I held no hopes that they might have changed, fully expecting them to make more slurs and laugh about it. My opinion was so low, even after over half a decade of separation that I expected them to be the same low-life people they had been before. And after six years of holding that grudge, I got my apology. 

  

So, there was enough time in 2015 to see to it that I learned one more lesson. I spent a good chunk of time today thinking about the implications of the entire event. How is it that I try so hard to hide the mistakes I made in high school from the me I am now, so that people judge me (and you know they will) based on the person they see before them and not the one from before-but would not extend the same courtesy to someone I barely knew? Why did I expect him and his friends to not change what-so-ever, but to have seen nothing short of a revolution in myself? What did that say about me?

And as I look at the clock, watching time pass by, I have a smile on my face. I cannot condone his actions, but my own are no different. I had originally started this post as a declaration of how we are all pressured into being unique but also conforming. And what I learned was that those are the struggles which have defined my past. I’m going into 2016 with a keen awareness that maybe I need to do more to be a kinder person, to keep less stereotypes, to open my heart to forgiveness and the pursuit of happiness. Because one of the only things that is more liberating than”I love” is “I forgive”.

  

Time may change me, but I can’t change time.