Rituals: Not just for the occult anymore!

Routines can be incorporated seamlessly into your daily life in different levels or aspects: on a personal level, a relationship level, and/or a professional level.

Mariana Plata, Psychology Today

Forming everyday rituals is important for mental health.

In the plethora of mental health advice available free of charge on the internet, routine based self-care appears frequently. Among these sources, a few research based articles caught my attention. Coupled with my personal experience in therapy, I thought this was an important topic to address.

People my age (read, people in their late teens and 20s) tend to see routine as something to avoid. Usually due to fear of falling into a rut in relationships or some serious FOMO on spontaneous hollywood-esque adventures, we’ve got an aversion to planning too far ahead. This may be to our detriment, however. With mental health disorders on the rise in young adults and adolescents, particularly LGBTQIA+ individuals (source), studies abound attempting to mitigate the effects of common afflictions like anxiety and depression.

Many studies concentrate on the effects of sleep on mental health. One project in particular from the University of Oregon caught my attention; its research correlated depression symptoms and lack of sleep. The study had college students use a sleep hygiene app for 5 weeks and significantly improved their sleep quality and habits (source). I found it particularly useful in my research since it indicated routine is helpful despite focusing on a tangentially related issue.

“Daily fluctuations in both sleep duration and quality were significantly linked to corresponding daily fluctuations in anxiety and depressive symptoms”

” Adolescent sleep quality mediates family chaos and adolescent mental health: A daily diary-based study.”

Returning to Ms. Plata’s point that there are three major areas to implement routine in one’s life, this study and others reinforce the idea that personal life habits can help alleviate symptoms for those suffering from depression and other mood disorders. But what can we do to make routine more appealing to the teens and 20-somethings?

Establishing a routine may be easier for those of us that fear monotony if we re-brand it as mindfulness. Sometimes words become loaded with meaning in a culture; routine often weighs in confining and restrictive in gen-zennial mentality. So, re-framed as mindfulness, routine can take root as a positive piece of mental health culture. If we are mindful of what we do, when we do it and why we do it, it may have a positive outcome on our collective and individual mental health.

I have found bedtime mindfulness helpful in my sleep quality, physical and mental health. Currently, I’m working to establish a morning ritual that gets me in a positive mindset for the day. More on this story as it develops…

Have a gay day! 

Starting Successful Therapy

I’ve been seeing my current therapist since September of last year. It’s the best experience I’ve had with therapy, so I plan on continuing to see them for a long time. But I want to talk about why this particular experience has been so successful.

from them.
Read their article on queer therapists here.

When you see a therapist, you have to be willing to address your issues. That’s what you’re going for, right? To find and work on the things having a negative impact on your life? A surprising number of people I’ve talked to about therapy go because someone told them they need to, and have an attitude about it. It’s clear the don’t want to be there and don’t think it’s beneficial. As much as I think therapy is super helpful and a good space for me, it’s totally valid that therapy does not work for everyone. And that’s the first rule of successful therapy: willingness to be there and work for it. Seriously, if you’re making the choice for yourself and don’t want to go to therapy, don’t. You won’t get anything out of it and it probably will upset you.

That’s likely a huge reason therapy hasn’t worked for me in the past. I went, but I really didn’t think I needed it. So when I talked to my previous therapists it was about generic issues I felt were safe but common enough for them to take me seriously. There was also an element of distrust with these therapists, too, as they were through my university. Second rule of successful therapy: trust. A palpable difference exists between the licensed therapist that I now see and the students/religiously affiliated therapists I bounced between in my adolescent and early college years. The biggest reasons for the distrust came from my uneasiness with religion and my parents forcing me to sign a disclosure agreement. That’s a completely different issue, but let me say this: your therapist will not tell anyone what you talk about unless you sign one of those. If you have questions on the privacy of what you talk about, ask! Any good therapist will tell you when and why they would disclose what you talk about. It took me a couple weeks to start opening up to my therapist about what was triggering my anxiety, and I only recently opened up about my biggest (Scariest) triggers. Deep trust does not have to be immediate, it can be earned, but if a basic level of trust with your therapist isn’t there from the beginning I seriously doubt it will be there later on.

Likely how my therapist felt the first time I started crying in session

Rule 3 of successful therapy: allowing yourself to feel the feels. Personally, I choose to minimize my “negative” emotions in public. You know, crying, anger, depression etc. Allowing yourself to fully experience these in therapy is not only helpful to the process, I’d argue it’s necessary. What better place to feel all your feels than with someone in the room that you literally pay to help sort them out? So, when in therapy, ride those emotional waves friend! It might suck in the moment but if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll feel waaaaaaaay better afterwards.

That’s what I’ve figured out so far, and tbh therapy has been a big old ride but so worth it. If you’re on the fence about trying it out, do some research. Find out therapist specialties and pick one that addresses your needs; I picked an office that specializes in queer issues and anxiety/panic disorders and they selected a therapist for me based on a first time client survey asking what I wanted to get out of it. I can’t speak to other places, but most offices in my area have a first time client survey of some kind and will work with you to find the right therapist. Yes, they are getting paid to do this, but therapists don’t get into this line of work unless they want to help people. Would you want to sit and listen to people’s trauma all day unless you felt like you could help?

Here’s a list of other resources you might find helpful:

Let me know your experiences with therapy, good or bad. What works for you? Anything I should add to this post?

Art vs Artist

I’ve been having some serious introspective sessions lately with my life choices, career path and general choices I’ve made since graduation. Consequently, I’ve found myself thinking more deeply about what kind of art I consume–specifically what kind of movies and television shows I watch.

I find myself in a conundrum: Many of the franchises/style of films I enjoy employ problematic actors to play out tropes that demean women or are unintentionally homophobic/transphobic or play into stereotypes that are harmful to the communities they aim to represent (re: bury your gays), so can I watch these films without feeling guilty for enjoying them? With the rash of celebrities recently caught up in the #MeToo movement, and the queer feminist perspective I maintain, I have yet to find some show or movie untarnished by the misdeeds of its artistic team or participants. So, can I separate the art from the artist?

the world is on fire meme
from @70ceeks on Twitter

Watching these films with a critical eye and bringing up what makes them problematic when I discuss them with others seems to be a compromise that works. Granted, not everyone I discuss these films with will share my views. But, calling out a problem and starting the discussion is an important part of changing the industry. So, the next time you watch the latest Marvel movie, enjoy it! But afterwards, consider the implications it has for the minorities or marginalized communities portrayed within it.

Need an example? Try Deadpool 2, one of my favorite movies by the way, which includes a lesbian couple but nearly erases Deadpool’s pansexual identity. Didn’t know that Deadpool is pan? That’s the point. This article discusses what’s included and what is left to be desired from the queer perspective in the movie (and does a really good job explaining things that may not be common knowledge too).

pan deadpool
Manip of Deadpool by David Seguin

Quick sidenote before I change the subject: here are a couple of resources I find really helpful in critically examining the films and tv shows I watch: 

So, how do we evaluate a film critically when it’s a problematic actor we have to be aware of? Well, the easiest way I’ve found is getting to know the actor through the use of the google machine, and using what you know about them to inform what you see them do on the screen. Wow that was a long sentence. Better way to say it: Learn what pitfalls the actor commonly has and watch out for them in movies they are in.

Example: Jared Leto. Sewer system of a human being. Not a great coworker. Sends dead pigs, used condoms and anal beads to fellow actors.  Okay, wait. Not a good example. I don’t really like his work at all anyway. But if you did like a movie he’s in, say, Dallas Buyers Club, there’s definite potential to separate Leto the actor from his character Rayon.

Leto fan art
Art by beneaththespinlight on deviantart.com

I realize this is another problematic movie since they cast Leto as a trans woman–speaking of which, good on you ScarJo for dropping the role of Dante “Tex” Gill albeit after significant backlash and an ill-advised public statement. But that’s part of the research I’m talking about to inform your watching of the film. Ask yourself: should Leto be playing a trans woman? What past experience and support for the queer community has he shown? What will inform his playing of the role? What is he like as an actor? What do his costars from the show say about him? Are his acting methods beneficial to the character? These are a few of the questions to use the internet or other resources to find the answers for.

I’d advise developing a few of your own questions to research as well for things you feel strongly about, like queer issues or race issues or the portrayal of characters with disabilities. Who am I to tell you what to care about? Anyway, just make sure when you watch a film or a show, you know what you’re getting into. If not the first time, do some research before you rewatch a film you really enjoyed and decide whether its something you want to support.

That’s all I have for today. Here’s a few little easter eggs from my research I thought you might enjoy:

This video isn’t as scary as the cover photo looks I promise.

There’s this cool article about feminist consumption of pop culture:

This article is a lengthy list of problematic actors.

A continuation of my distaste for Jared Leto and everything he stands for.

Also here is the link for the cover photo to this post.

Supporting Actors

9 p.m. August 2015, Omaha, Nebraska, the Old Market. I was home for the summer, out with old friends catching up on college adventures. They offered to walk me to my car, I said it was only two blocks away. They got in their car and drove away. I started walking while I dug in my purse for my keys. He came up behind me and pinned me to a wall. The streetlights weren’t on yet. I thought he wanted my wallet. Told him to take it out of my purse, whatever he wanted. I felt him pull his zipper down, panicked. I used my nails to tear at exposed skin. He collapsed. I ran.

I was 19 years old.

Women younger than me have recently come forward and shared their stories. They and all the women who have made allegations against powerful public figures recently have started conversations between people who have experienced sexual assault and the rest of the country. Questions raised because of these conversations deal with who should lead the narrative, and which voices on the topic should be the loudest. If the people involved strive to change the culture and right the wrongs done, supporters need to let survivors take leading roles in this publicly staged discussion.

Don’t mistake this rhetoric for denying anyone their voice. Without the support of white men, who generally have little direct experience with sexual assault, there would likely be nothing done. This is the sad reality of U.S. culture. But the problem lies in men or other unaffected people trying to dictate the narrative of conversations without the proper context to do so. They are defining their roles as leading ones, when they should playing supporting parts.

The most logical parallel to be drawn here leads to allies in the LGBT+ community. Their role is to support friends, family and others that identify as anything other than cisgender heterosexual. They do this by defending the community when they aren’t there, and taking responsibility for educating friends while listening and staying in the back seat while queer people lead the conversation.

If this mindset and role can be accepted by sexual assault survivor allies, more productive conversations could happen and eventually lead to more action. Instead of always starting with the “I believe the women” narrative, the conversation could start with what action could be taken to prevent further harm, emotionally and physically. This is the biggest flaw with unaffected people trying to lead the conversations about sexual assault. Though their hearts are clearly in the right place, there is no possible way for people who have not experienced the trauma of sexual assault to understand what exactly needs to be rectified.

If you find yourself arguing with this idea, or even saying, “Wait a minute, don’t I get a say?” consider this: You don’t. Your voice is important in the fight against sexual assault; you are a part of the group that sees this as a problem. But what can you claim that justifies your demands to be included in writing the framework for laws and workplace policies? Do you have a frame of reference for how it feels to jump through hoops to retrieve your dignity? Unless you’ve experienced sexual assault, odds are you don’t. So, even with the best intentions, things will be overlooked or made unnecessarily traumatizing for survivors if left in the hands of people with no comprehension of the issue.

Acknowledging the need to take a supporting role is especially important for men in positions of power. Only 104 members of the 2017 Congress are women, about 20 percent of the 535-member legislative body. Meanwhile, over 50 percent of the U.S. population is female. With these numbers, support from more than only those affected, or even just women, is necessary to effectively change legislation against sexual assault.

However, men do not need to be the ones drafting the legislation presented to Congress. Four female senators spoke out publicly on Meet the Press to share their own #MeToo stories. These women, and any other female member of Congress, would be perfectly capable of developing these bills.

This week the Senate is wrestling similar questions as, among others, Senator Al Franken faces sexual assault charges. What makes Franken’s case particularly poignant is his sponsorship of a bill designed to help sexual assault survivors. Though not every man in Congress is a perpetrator of sexual assault, Franken’s case highlights the need for survivors to take the lead in writing and sponsoring legislation. Thankfully, Senator Amy Klobuchar has stepped up to sponsor the bill formerly adopted by Franken.

Though forced by external events, this is an example of meaningful change in the approach legislators take to conversations about sexual assault. Hopefully the recent influx of allegations will have one good side effect: male legislators recognizing a need to step back and let others lead on this topic.

Since Franken is far from alone on the stage of men in power accused of sexual assault, advocating for change in how we talk about assault and survivors is more important than ever. This is a multi-industry problem, and in the wake of so many allegations against powerful men, people are more willing to listen than before. This bully pulpit of sorts ought to be used to amplify the calls for change in culture, and in conversation.

With the ingrained fear of reprisal slowly draining away, more women feel safe enough to name their attackers. They are also taking a stronger stand against the systematic silencing of assault survivors. What makes changing the conversation difficult is where the support for speaking out ends. Most of the time, supporters applaud a woman sharing her story of survival, but as soon as she finishes telling her story the attitude turns to, “I’ll take it from here, honey.” This becomes the verbal equivalent of putting a hand over the survivor’s mouth mid-sentence.

From Hollywood to Congress, no one can argue that sexual assault is not a problem in the US. This issue will take years to address. The approach to conversations surrounding assault are a contributing factor, and changing this is a stride towards fixing the problem. If people can swallow their pride enough to let those affected most take the lead on conversations and action surrounding sexual assault, at least part of the broken system will be improved.

Re-Inspiration 101

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s writing without doing much of my own. I found myself stuck in the same kind of loop, writing about the same things and mostly complaining about my life. I took some time away from the blog to get re-inspired, and I found a few really helpful things that I want to share. These tips don’t just apply to blogging either, they apply to anything you may need inspiration for!

Take a Break
From MHFA blog

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Break!

Though this may seem a bit self-ingratiating, taking a break from what you’re doing can give your brain time to recharge those creative juices! This post from Huffpost US Edition talks about how taking breaks actually helps productivity. If it can help people with boring desk jobs, imagine how much taking breaks can help us do our creative tasks like writing and painting and thinking of new ideas for content!

2. Look at the Other Kids’ Work

Now, this doesn’t mean to copy other people’s ideas. However, using others’ ideas as creative inspiration for your own ideas can help get through a creative content dry spell. I mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot lately, this is why. For writing purposes, I find that reading helps jumpstart my own ideas. Not just other blogs, but novels and news stories as well. This article from Psychology Today talks specifically about the benefits on creativity of reading fiction. My thoughts are that reading other people’s work gets your mind out of the loop it’s stuck in with your own work.


3. Revisit Old Ideas

If you have a topic you really love that you’ve already worked on, look at a new side of it. If there’s something you’ve developed a new opinion on, show people that change. Now obviously this doesn’t mean to rework things you’ve already written or painted or whatever, it just means to get a fresh angle. If you’re struggling for new material, go back to something you know and do a new version of it differently.

4. Change Your Settings

Sometimes we are not just stuck in a mindset rut, we’re stuck in a workspace rut too. Working in the same exact place all the time can get monotonous, and then our brains get bored. This article from The Atlantic talks about specific environment changes that can help boost creativity, like dim lighting and ambient noise. Having a clean workspace may not always be great for creativity either. In an episode of the new podcast from NPR, Live from the Poundstone Institutethe hosts discuss how messy environments often lead to more creative ideas (at least with ping pong balls). If messy doesn’t work for you, that’s okay too. There are a lot of ways to change up your workspace, including going somewhere else. Personally, I like coffee shops, but you can find your own niches to work in.

Hopefully some of these ideas work you next time you’re in a creative dry spell. Feel free to comment if these ideas were helpful, or if you think I need to find some new material. I’ll take whatever you got! 🙂

Back At It

It’s been too long. Honestly. I’ve been busy over holiday break, but not so busy that I didn’t have time to write. And that’s on me.

Sounds like a bad breakup, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not stopping altogether. Just easing back into it. Writing is difficult, especially if you try to keep a schedule with it. And that’s what this piece is all about.

Writing has been a passion of mine for a long time. Like since I was in middle school long time. It’s a passion that has evolved and grown over the years, but it has also been a coping mechanism for many tough situations I’ve found myself in. Recently, it has helped me through yet another decision, perhaps one of the most important ones I’ve had to make thus far.

I got a text from my mother asking me if I was considering grad school. And then it hit me. I’m a third year college student. I need to start considering what I want to do, and start chasing it. Chasing it where though? And when? And where do I start? Things kept circling through my head until a very dear friend sat down with me and talked.

Alex, you’re a gem.

After talking to him for a while, I got things settled down in my head. I know what I want to do. Sometimes all it takes is talking it out.

Good Enough.

After spending Thanksgiving away from home with a very kind friend, I’ve done some deep thinking about what has changed since I’ve come to college. I’m a very different person than who I was two years ago. Introspection has always been a strong suit of mine, sometimes to a fault. But my musings have led me to these conclusions.  Continue reading “Good Enough.”

Why I Cannot Dismiss Trump

Cartoon Credit: Daryl Cague

After watching the first presidential debate, I realized something important. Donald Trump is not a complete idiot. As unpopular as that opinion is, please hear me out. Read through the rest of this short editorial before throwing me into the basket of deplorables.

Why I can’t consider Donald Trump only a racist, misogynistic bigot:

  • He’s running for president, and like it or not, he actually has a shot at winning. There has to be something good about him, right? Maybe?
  • I’m a journalist. Even if I don’t like him personally, he is news, and I have a duty and obligation to report news objectively and fairly.
  • Both Trump and Clinton said a lot of things that had to be fact checked at the debate. Furthermore, if I denounce Trump for slandering Clinton, I have to pay the same attention to her slander as his, though they do not use it in the same way.
  • He’s a person. People don’t exist in absolutes, as simple as evil or good. There is a lot of in between.

What I mean by “Trump is not simply a moronic bigot”?

  • I’m not saying:
    • I like Donald Trump, or that he would make a good president.
    • You have to agree with me. Please have a political discussion with me! I enjoy educated debate!
    • Trump has much common sense, or knows when to hold his tongue. (I think he proved the latter at the debate.)
  • I am saying:
    • Donald Trump knows how to surround himself with more intelligent people than himself.
    • He knows how to push people’s buttons, good and bad.
    • He knows how to work a crowd and how to target his speeches at people who are likely to vote for him.

What I think of Donald Trump and his bid for the presidency:

  • Trump is a bigot, sexist, a racist, and an a**.
  • He is not suited to be the next President of the United States in any capacity.
  • Trump does however have a charismatic personality that can win over crowds, especially if that crowd is looking for someone to “Make America Great Again.”
  • Trump knows how to tell people what they want to hear, even if it means flipping on issues to get the popular vote. So, consequently,
  • Trump knows how to get elected. (Adolf Hitler did similar things and was elected, so why shouldn’t Trump be?)
  • Donald Trump does not represent a return to greatness in the United States. He represents how far our standards as a state have fallen—since when do we call going back in history taking a step forward?
  • Trump. Does. Not. Stand. For. What. I. Believe.

In summary, Donald Trump should not be elected President of the United States. I do not support him. But I do believe that he is not a complete idiot. People that I respect and consider intelligent are supporting him. That is what makes him dangerous.