Why do I anthropomorphize my problems?

In one of my recent blog posts, I wrote about my demons. A couple comments acknowledged that I, like now, am preferring the word “demon” rather than speaking what is currently unnamed. And continuing to do so.

Why anthropomorphize my problems?

Via giphy.com

I have my reasons.

  1. These blog posts are my selfish way of venting creatively while also keeping details, for the most part, a mystery.
  1. Labeling my problems “demons” keeps my problems vague enough that I believe readers with various experiences could (hopefully/potentially) relate, since I’m not specifying what my problems are.
  1. While a comment mentioned that the word “demons” was not always used to connote negative entities, in my blog post and according to our most current usages of the word, “demons” are negative entities usually out to destroy anything good in the world, and are the mystical, Biblical depiction of evil. For me and the problems I have, this depiction couldn’t be more fitting. Thus, I ran with it (and from the demons). See, there I go again.

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So those are my main reasons for why I chose to anthropomorphize my problems as “demons,” because it was a conscious decision I thought through before even writing the post. However, one comment addressed a point that I can’t argue with:

“Hmmm… I have to say that I don’t think anthropomorphising your problems is going to help. They’re not demons (demons are just mythical creatures) they’re bad things that happened.”

And to that I say, you’re exactly right.

Via giphy.com

Does calling my problems “demons” help? No.

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Could it potentially make the problem worse? Oh, most definitely.

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And that’s the whole point.

In my blog post, I describe that I’m running from my problems (“demons”). Since I’m calling them “demons” and not by their name, and I’m running from them, at this point I haven’t faced them yet. Am I helping myself by continuing to not face my demons and continue to refer to them as “demons”? Not at all. Which is part of my problem.

If anyone can relate to having a problem needing to be addressed and worked through, many of us may encounter a feeling of denial or refusal in wanting to address the problem. Addressing there is a problem is sometimes just as difficult as living with the problem. Addressing the problem means you have to fight to fix the problem. Change is never easy, especially if your problem involves habits or negative thought patterns you’ve been engaged with for months, years, or decades. As they say, “Old habits die hard,” and if that phrase wasn’t written for me, then…no, it was written for me, actually. Google it.

Via giphy.com

I don’t think referring to my problems as “demons” does me any good in the end, that is, essentially, the point. I haven’t yet conquered my problems (“demons”), so I’m not at the stage to speak their names.

I’m running, and hopefully I’ll stop dead in my tracks soon, turn around, and face these demons. And for now, I’m still calling them “demons.”

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Demi Lovato: Why her story is important

Photo credit: YouTube.com

Pop singer Demi Lovato’s documentary Simply Complicated was released on YouTube on October 17th. While she’s been open about her drug and alcohol addictions and eating disorder in the past, this doc provides a more detailed timeline of Demi’s journey from addiction to recovery to relapse and back to recovery once more.

Photo credit: Directlyrics.com

This documentary is unapologetic, raw, and in-your-face. It has some eerie similarities to director Asif Kapadia’s brilliant 2016 Best Documentary Feature, Amy, which documents the life and tragic death of British singer Amy Winehouse.

Ironically, in Simply Complicated, Demi references Winehouse as someone she idolized growing up. In a journey back to Demi’s house, she shows a poster she’d made as a child that she kept in her closet, plastered with photos of celebrities she wanted to look like. There, among the models and skinny celebrities, was Winehouse, most likely in the depths of drug and alcohol addiction and bulimia, which she was mocked for in the media until the day she died.

Photo credit: Pinterest.com

The difference with this doc? Well, to put it bluntly, the addiction sufferer survived. In Simply Complicated, Demi acknowledges that while she is clean from drugs and alcohol, she does still struggle with eating disorder behaviors, and that it will be something she most likely will struggle with for the rest of her life. However, even though she may have her setbacks, this documentary has a completely different outcome and tone than Amy did, mainly because Demi is speaking from a place of recovery while Winehouse is no longer here to tell her story because her addictions killed her.

Demi has not only been vocal for years about her struggles with addiction, mental illness, and recovery. She also has stated her awareness of the life-and-death nature of these addictions. But her story has not ended the way Amy’s did. Demi has come away from her addictions through recovery and publicly advocating for mental illness treatment, awareness, and erasing the stigma behind it.

Photo credit: Vulture.com

Whether you’re a fan of her music or not, whether you even know who Demi is or not, her story matters. This documentary matters. Why?

It matters because Demi is sharing her struggles with mental illness in a world where mental illness is still stigmatized.

It matters because roughly half of those struggling with mental illness are not currently receiving treatment

It matters because while eating disorders (specifically anorexia) are the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses, there is a severe lack of funding allocated to research.

It matters because celebrities are viewed as being “immune” to mental illness and shamed for suffering, seeking treatment, or dying by suicide. 

Example of mental illness stigma perpetuated on Facebook.

If you look at any article or social media post with news of a celebrity dying by suicide or opening up about his/her mental illness struggles, you will find a heaping pile of comments perpetuating myths surrounding basic psychology. Some classic myths or statements of victim-blaming represented in comment threads include:

“You’re rich, so you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“You’re rich, so you can afford treatment!”

Victim-blaming in action.

“You’re doing this for attention because no one cares about you anymore!”

“There are poor people in the world who have REAL problems!”

A meme attempting to crack jokes about mental illness and perpetuate the stigma. Classy. Photo credit: Instagram.com.

“So selfish to leave your family all alone!”

Victim blaming seems quite popular on social media.

Or, the ever popular favorite:

“Mental illness doesn’t even EXIST. Just smile and get over it!”

Someone attempting to “spread the message of veganism” by stating that mental illness doesn’t exist and shaming sufferers. Makes perfect sense. Photo credit: Instagram.com.

Demi is viewed by many as a hero. Why? Because she speaks out in a world that either misunderstands, demonizes, or attempts to silence those suffering from mental illness. She speaks out without editing herself. She speaks not only of her addictions and recovery, but also of her slipups. By doing so, especially with the release of this documentary, Demi is not only helping raise awareness for those who need to be educated on mental illness; she’s also giving a realistic and honest representation of what addiction, recovery, and relapse look like, while still showing why she continues to work towards recovery.

This documentary is a brave move, and one Demi should be commended for. For years she has been vocal, blunt, and unapologetically honest about her struggles, and this is the type of voice necessary for raising awareness and slowly erasing mental illness stigma. Those uneducated need to not only be educated; people suffering from mental illness also need to be prepared for recovery, relapses, and understand that recovery is something necessary for survival.

Erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness is a slow, long process. Documentaries like Amy and Simply Complicated have been bold moves towards erasing that stigma. Demi’s leadership in advocating for mental illness awareness is so necessary, and hopefully in the coming years, she will inspire more voices to speak out.

Watch the documentary on YouTube.

 

How long can we run from our demons before they catch us?

I’m at the point in my life where it’s nearing time for an exorcism.

Think this angel will chase away my demons?

I have some demons haunting me, and I’m experiencing one of those breakthrough, “How did I let this happen?” moments.

My demons control my entire life. It’s taken me years to realize it.

The first time I realized I was ruled by my demons was when I thought to myself, “I don’t blog anymore.” My creativity, hobbies, and interests disappeared.

It got to the point where I’d longingly look back on myself as who I “used” to be. I “used” to listen to that music, I “used” to write poetry, I “used” to watch movies, I “used” to blog. Every one of the aspects that made me “me” became past tense.

Out of desperation, I started to run.

I’ve been running from my demons longer than I care to admit. But over time, my demons have multiplied, feeding off one another, gaining strength, and, in the process, weakening me.

The first demons I encountered were sinister, and I hid them from everyone around me, but I was still capable of acknowledging them within myself. In public, I was all smiles, laughs, and “everything is always fine.” In private, I allowed myself to acknowledge the demons, interact with them, speak with them.

Now, I don’t even allow myself to notice my demons in private. I’ve come up with the brilliant method of repress, repress, repress, ignore, ignore, ignore. But my demons don’t appreciate this. They still make their appearances.

Once in a while I see them staring me in the face when I look in the mirror. Just when I thought I’d forgotten all about them I say, “Oh, there you are.” My demons refuse to be ignored.

Over the years, my demons have morphed into beasts, and I’ve developed the habit of running from them. But not without attempts at an exorcism.

Before they multiplied and started feeding on my flesh, I tried. I followed every step of the How-To-Get-Rid-Of-Demons handbook: Counseling, meetings with other various healthcare professionals, ridding myself of toxic/triggering people from my life, journaling, challenging negative thoughts, yoga, time outside, socializing, medications, changing my environment. But my demons refused to let go. They were around every corner, laughing, taunting.

So I ran. Against the advice from professionals and others around me, I ran. I ran from my demons. But my demons followed me to New Jersey.

I found distractions though. Trips to Manhattan, the Shore, and other adventures distracted me from my demons floating around me. However, in hindsight, I realize that no matter how distracted I may have been, my demons were always there.

They were with me when I first set foot in New Brunswick.

Church in New Brunswick.

They were with me on my walks around the neighborhood.

Building on the Rutgers University campus.

They were with me on the train to Midtown.

At the train station to attend the Women’s March in Manhattan.

 

They were with me on my strolls through Central Park.

Central Park in autumn.

They were with me in Ocean City while I watched the sunset at the beach.

Ocean City at sunset.

They were with me on a rainy day in Hoboken.

Wandering through Hoboken.

They were with me when I and thousands of others marched down Fifth Ave for the Women’s March.

Participating in the Women’s March in Manhattan.

They were with me when I looked out at the NYC skyline on a chilly April night thinking, “God I love this city.”

View of the Empire State Building from the 230 Fifth rooftop bar. Photo credit: Rikki Helvey.

They were with me when I made the decision to return to Wisconsin, the place I thought I’d forever “escaped.”

But now I realize that it wasn’t Wisconsin I was running from. I was running from my demons. And the demons hadn’t stayed in Wisconsin. They came with me to New Jersey, and followed me back to Wisconsin.

I realize now that no matter where I run, my demons will follow.

I’m approaching that pivotal moment where I realize I have two options: run or exorcise my demons. There are no other options.

If I don’t perform an exorcism, what happens?

My demons will continue to lurk. There is no escaping them. Maybe I’ll run to New York, or Chicago, but my demons will follow me.

The thing about demons is that you can’t run from them forever.

No matter what kind of demon you have, whether it’s dealing with a breakup, trauma from past sexual/physical/emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, depression, bipolar, anxiety, an eating disorder, a combination of all of the above or something else, you can’t outrun any of your demons.

How long can we run from our demons? The answer is that it depends on the person. Some may not be able to run for more than a few days. Some will run for months, years, or even decades.

But the most sinister thing about our demons is that we all face the same answer to the question “What happens when our demons catch us?”

They kill us.

To be both blunt and honest with myself and anyone else currently haunted by a demon, our demons are chasing us in order to kill us. While running, we may be just out of their grasp, but once they catch us, it’s all over.

Demons quite literally are creatures from the depths of Hell. Once they start chasing us, they attempt to destroy us in every way possible. Psychologically, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially. Demons feed off of us and aren’t fully satisfied until we’re dead. That is their main goal.

For now, I’m still running. I even ran away from this blog post for a while before finishing it. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll perform an exorcism. Most likely it won’t rid me of my demons forever. They may be scared away for a few months, or maybe even a few years. But they’ll try to return, I’m sure.

Sometimes I wonder if I (and others still running from their demons) have a death wish. And maybe we do. But sometimes we see the light and realize we still have the strength to chase our demons away.

Every day is a battle, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. We all have to make the decision to run or fight. Some days are easier than others. But each day is a new opportunity to battle against our demons. When one day we have a death wish, the next day we may feel like we want to exorcise our demons from our lives.

I’ll keep that in mind while I run.

 

 

 

Autumn’s got me daydreaming

Here in Wisconsin, autumn is in full-force. The temperatures have dipped, the sun shines a bit dimmer and sinks earlier than we’re used to, and most mornings call for a cozy sweatshirt and cup of pumpkin or mint-flavored coffee (or any other autumn-inspired beverage).

A hot caramel macchiato on a cold Wisconsin autumn day.

As a lover of summer and all that it brings, autumn in Wisconsin usually has me daydreaming for a bit more sunshine, more 80-degree days, and maybe a new adventure altogether. While drinking coffee with hazelnut coffee creamer (because I’m the type of girl who loves creamer more than the actual coffee), my mind usually wanders to my next adventure.

Usually with daydreams, it’s go big or go home. Why would our brains limit us when the possibilities are endless in our dreams? The thrill behind daydreams is to dream up the “what ifs.”

What if you had an extra $10,000 to spend on your dream trip? Places like Earnest make fulfilling your dreams possible with low-interest personal loans to assist you in making those dreams a reality.

For me, I’ve been dreaming of taking a trip back to the East Coast. After my move from New Jersey back to Wisconsin, I’ve already felt the itch to return to New York. As a millennial who embraces technology, there are so many options that make traveling more affordable and easier than it’s ever been.

Autumn is ideal for a trip to NYC. Southwest offers cheap flights, so I’d hop on a plane from the Milwaukee to LaGuardia airport.

One of the coolest recent technological advancements is Airbnb, an app on your phone where you can browse and book stays in rooms, apartments, or houses for your trips. Communication with the host of your accommodation is done through the app, and prices can often be more affordable than you’d find for traditional hotels. Airbnb can be a great option not only if you’re looking to save money, but also if you’re looking for a more unique travel experience.

My Airbnb would be close to one of my favorite places in Manhattan: Central Park. I love the blend of city and nature, the ponds throughout the park, and it’s perfect for people-watching.

Central Park in panorama.

After a walk through Central Park, it’s only natural that I’d need some pizza to satisfy my hunger. Luckily New York is a place where I have many options for a slice at $1 a pop (or $3 if I wanted to splurge). Then I’d venture down to the perfect place for me: a dessert shop called Becky Bites NYC. Of course, why wouldn’t I go there? Founder of the shop, Becky Rosenthal, has created a heavenly place with cream-cheese inspired treats that are just too good to pass up.
My sweet tooth satisfied, and with my extra travel money still burning holes in my pockets, shopping seems like an obvious way to spend part of my day in the city. The largest department store in the world, Macy’s Herald Square, seems like a wise choice. But I wouldn’t be shopping just for the sake of shopping: I’d be on the hunt for the perfect dress for a night out in Manhattan.

After finding the winning dress, my day in the city wouldn’t be complete without some spectacular views. So I’d head over to 230 Fifth, a heated rooftop bar with a view that’ll blow you away. I’d make sure to make it to the rooftop early enough to see the sunset over the beautiful city. 

The view from the 230 Fifth rooftop bar. Photo credit: Rikki Helvey.

Running around Manhattan all day gives you an appetite, so I’m sure while I’m soaking in the view, I’d have to enjoy one of the options from the bar’s food menu. As a vegetarian, sometimes my options at restaurants can be limited, and sometimes limited to only items from the appetizer menu. But at 230 Fifth, the vegetarian ravioli or Asian vegetarian noodles would be perfect entrees for me (mainly because I’m forever obsessed with pasta).

Nighttime calls for something I haven’t done in NYC since I was 13: seeing a Broadway show. With shows like Anastasia, Wicked, and Hamilton onstage currently, you can’t go wrong. There’s just something magical about Broadway.

My night complete, I’d return to my Airbnb to sleep off the event-filled day I’d had, and definitely sleep in. My second day would involve plenty of museums, which is always one of my favorite things to do whenever I travel. The Museum of Natural History is one of my favorites, so I’d start there, but I’d want to venture out and explore museums I haven’t seen yet, like the Met and the Guggenheim.

American Museum of Natural History.

Of course throughout the day I’d indulge in some mandatory NYC bagels, and probably more pizza. In a city like New York, your food options are basically endless. Foods like bagels and pizza are not only delicious–they’re also convenient for when you’re on the go, which is a given if you’re in New York. After all the running around, I’d go back to my Airbnb earlier and relax for the night.

On my last full day in NYC, I’d take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, another one of my favorite New York sights.

The view from the Brooklyn Bridge.

I’d make sure to bring a good book and find a bench in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which offers beautiful views of the Lower Manhattan skyline.

View of Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The next day I’d fly back to Wisconsin, promising that I’ll return to New York as soon as I could (which would be feasible with the leftover money from the extra $10,000 to go towards the trip). No matter how many times I visit New York, I’m already planning what I’ll see next time I’m there. For now, I’ll keep dreaming.

If you had $10,000 to put towards your dream trip, where would you go?

 

A Letter to Myself (To My College Self)

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Impromptu college photo shoots were the best.

Dear college me,

Remember high school freshman orientation when your principal said, “These are the best four years of your life”? He was clearly wrong. The best four years of your life are your college years.

I speak from a place far, far away—I come from the future. Great Scott!

part high quality future great back

Go figure, I just had to throw in a Back to the Future reference.). But since future me has been in the “real world” for a few years now, I can say from experience that so far, the college years were some of the best years of my life.

Sure, I know right now you’re probably reading this while procrastinating on a paper you should be writing for Honors, or Spanish, or Creative Nonfiction…or maybe all three. Right now you’re probably panicking about how busy you are, how there never seems like there’s enough time in the day to get all these papers done. You wish that the coffee shop on campus was open 24 hours (and just an FYI: you will miss those delicious coffees more than you can even imagine).

I’m probably being a bad influence right now, but keep procrastinating for a little longer and let me school you with some knowledge. Just kidding. But I do want to fill you in on what I wish I would have known during college:

1. It’s okay to stress out. What you’re doing right now? It’s normal. You’re a college student. You are an Honors student. You’re double-majoring. You’re writing for the college newspaper. You have a lot on your mind, and that’s perfectly okay. Taking steps to reduce stress, as long as it’s healthy, is always a good idea. It’ll be a few years before you heed my advice, but let me just tell you now: Yoga does wonders. Honestly. You’ll thank me later.

2. Enjoy the adventures. Throughout your college years, you will have opportunities to travel to new places around the country, and for the first time, you’ll finally set foot outside the United States, traveling to Greece.

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Ending college with a bang at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Trust me: Right now, that will be the opportunity of a lifetime, and it will forever be one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen. Take it all in, take tons of photos, breathe, close your eyes, and appreciate the beauty of the world around you. You’ll remember these moments for years to come.

3. Life post-college is just as confusing/stressful/complicated/weird as college life is. No, even in your mid-20s, you still won’t have life “figured out.” Will we ever have it figured out? Who knows. But what I do know is that life will take you to places you never thought you’d end up (like New Jersey and New York City).

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Sunset at the most beautiful beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

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Walking along the Brooklyn Bridge to catch the New York City Marathon.

Your life will probably always be unpredictable, but isn’t that what makes life thrilling?

4. As a millennial, you and millions of other college grads around the country will deal with paying back student loans. 20-somethings everywhere are in the same boat as you are, so you don’t need to feel alone. Even though the idea of student debt is daunting, places like Earnest exist to help students refinance your loans. They also help students understand finances better, which is obviously important for all of us. Adulting outside of college is tricky, but finding the right resources to help you will only help you out in the long run, so no worries.

5. There is no timeline for chasing after your dreams. You may compare yourself to others around you, and in case you were wondering, you’ll compare yourself even more once you’re out of college, unfortunately. Social media plays into it because we only post what we want others to see. You’ll see people living lives that you’re slightly jealous of. You’ll wonder what you’re doing wrong. The answer: Nothing. You’re walking along the path that’s right for you. You’re taking steps towards where you want to be physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just know that comparing yourself to others is natural, but the path you are on is uniquely yours.

6. You are capable. I know you, and I know that voice of insecurity. Even if you don’t believe me right now, just know that you are capable of success, in whichever way that may be. You are capable of finding peace. You are capable of finding day-to-day happiness. You are capable of finding security—security in your identity, in your present life, in your future. Just know that right now where I am in life, I am on that journey towards achieving all of those things. Yes, there will be dark times that you may feel you won’t emotionally survive. But somehow, you will. The journey only continues, and you will walk on.

7. It’s okay to love yourself. Your college years will be the most inspiring years of your life (at least they have been so far), so please take advantage of these years. Relish in those moments of confidence, inspiration, and self love. Loving yourself isn’t vain—loving yourself is crucial to living with yourself. After some rocky years post-college, I know that. I live that. So I just want you to love yourself and be proud of it.

I’m sure right now it’s nearly midnight, so you should probably get back to the papers you’re procrastinating on. I know you might be a little bundle of nerves, but honestly, I think that’s just a part of the college experience. To be honest, I’m slightly jealous of you. Life outside of college is another world entirely, and even though I don’t miss the stress of college, I miss the atmosphere. So breathe it in, write in one of those fancy journals until your hand cramps up, drink too much coffee, and always say yes to movie nights with your friends down the hall. You’ll never, ever regret it. Just know that I love you. I always have, and I always will.

Love,

Future Me

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All we can do sometimes is laugh our way through life.

Ants (a nonfiction memoir)

I wrote this nonfiction piece during my junior year of college. It seemed like the perfect essay to post in memory of my grandfather, Robert Awes, who passed away on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015. I will always cherish my memories of him, and our time feeding the ants.

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Source: thisisreylo.com

Source: thisisreylo.com

It’s early October, sunny, and a perfect day for a walk. Grandma and Grandpa Awes have traveled the five hours from their house in Chicago to visit my family and me in Wausau. I’ve just watched “Pinocchio,” my current obsession, and I sit on the edge of the flowered couch waiting for Grandpa to end the conversation with my mom so that he and I can walk to the nearby cemetery, a tradition my grandfather started a couple years previously. I remove my white hat with a blue bow from my head (which I call my “Pinocchio hat” because it resembles the puppet’s hat perfectly) and hold it in my tiny hands, trying to wait patiently, but I know that when it comes to Mom and Grandpa, I could be waiting a while.

Swinging my legs while slouched on the couch, Grandpa and Mom’s conversation sounds distant, but they’re standing two feet in front of me. Grandpa wears what seems to me to be the only outfit he owns: black pants, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a black hat. He has even sported this outfit when we venture to the beach in Chicago on summer vacation. My mom always laughs before reminding me that Grandpa is adamant about protecting himself from the sun, and in later years I will come to wonder why he chooses to wear black, a color that absorbs the sunlight more than any other. It could have something to do with the fact that he’s been a pastor for so many years that he’s grown accustomed to wearing the color. I pull my hat over my head once more, and bring my attention to Mom and Grandpa’s conversation.

“And how much sleep do you get regularly a night during the week?” my grandpa asks my mom, and she sighs before answering. “I don’t know, Dad. The normal amount, I guess. I’m not tired, you don’t have to worry.” Evidently Grandpa has been badgering my mom, drilling her with questions about her sleeping and eating habits. At five years old, Grandpa does not yet interview me like this, but in time he will make sure to check that I am maintaining my health when he calls or visits.

Grandma ambles into the room and sits next to me, gives me a small smile, and looks from me to Grandpa and Mom.

“Bob, cut it out; Mary’s fine. Why don’t you and Becky go for a walk to the cemetery to feed the ants?” Grandma says.

Grandpa glances momentarily at Grandma, looking a bit irritated, but then looks at me and asks if I want to go feed the ants, his tone changing to something more enthusiastic, much better than the nagging tone he uses when he talks to my mom.

I nod my head vigorously and jump off the couch.

“Let’s go get a couple pieces of bread; I’m sure the ants are hungry,” Grandpa says to me, and we walk together to the kitchen and Grandpa helps me take the twisty tie off the loaf of bread, and we take the two pieces from the two ends of the loaf: the pieces that nobody eats.

Grandpa reminds me to use the bathroom before leaving, and then I run to the front door and grab my bright pink fall jacket. I call goodbye to my mom and Grandma (my dad’s still at work and my brother and sister are busy playing in the backyard), and we leave the house, walking down the three front steps and taking a right. I look up at the blue and cloudless skies, feel the wind whipping through my hair, and crunch some of the newly fallen orange leaves. I reach up and take Grandpa’s hand, and I skip a little.

“I hope we see lots of ants,” I say excitedly.

“There will be plenty of ants; they should be hungry right around now, so they’ll be happy to see us,” Grandpa reassures.

Still holding Grandpa’s hand, I swing my arm and his, skipping once more in an attempt to quicken our journey to the cemetery. Grandpa takes small, quick steps, but in his old age each step is an effort, while I am able to skip several steps, feeling completely unexhausted. When I feel that Grandpa is too far behind, my hand almost slipping from his, I halt in my tracks, glance back, and wait for him to catch up.

“You’re going to have to slow down a bit; I’m an old Grandpa,” he jokes, chuckling. From then on I keep to his slightly slower pace.

Grandpa and I reach the entrance to the cemetery and stroll through the open gates. Leaves litter the dirt path and our footsteps frighten nearby creatures; they scurry up the trees. We walk deeper into the cemetery and search for the concrete bench located just feet behind an immense oak tree, where we know thousands of ants roam during the summer and warmer days in early autumn.

Suddenly a chipmunk runs across our path, and I jump in surprise. The chipmunk (I decide that it’s a male) stops and looks back, black eyes frozen on my grandpa and I. Letting go of Grandpa’s hand, I slowly creep forward, hand outstretched towards the creature, but he darts away, up a tree.

“We should leave food for him, Grandpa,” I say, and Grandpa tears a piece of bread and hands it to me to place at the bottom of the tree for the chipmunk to eat when he was hungry and willing to venture back to the ground.

Grandpa and I decide to name the chipmunk Chipper, a name easy enough for a five-year-old to remember, and we plan to feed him whenever we see him during our walks through the cemetery. We continue strolling along the path and finally find the bench. Grandpa and I sit next to each other and stare down at the ground; I lean forward to watch more closely for the ants. At first only two or three ants scurry through the dirt, but once Grandpa and I begin to throw bread crumbs onto the ground, ten, twenty, a hundred ants emerge from nearby anthills, and some seem to appear out of nowhere, thrilled at the sight of food.

The ants’ behavior enthralls me: they scuttle past each other, and when one ant attempts to carry a piece of bread twenty times its size, other ants come to its assistance and in groups they carry off the bread, forming a line. The ants resemble an army, large in numbers and working as a team to achieve a common goal. As we toss more pieces of bread onto the ground, the ants come back for them, and I see that the ants have a leader. The leader ant marches in the front of the line, reaching one of the bread pieces first, and takes it himself, refusing help from the other ants who come forward to assist. The ants appear tireless, carrying bread crumbs off and coming back for more.

“It’s a good thing we came here today while it’s still warm. The ants aren’t going to be around later on because it’ll be too cold for them,” Grandpa says. I imagine a below-zero December day, and while I’m making snow angels with my best friend Maggie in our winter attire, the ants are in their anthills underground, keeping warm and feasting on bread crumbs they’ve saved for hibernation. I cannot imagine how boring it would be sitting underground, trapped for months at a time with nothing to do.

“Do ants get bored being underground during the winter?” I ask Grandpa.

He laughs and says that he doesn’t know, because he’s never hibernated during the winter months.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring for them because they’re not alone,” I decide, and Grandpa agrees.

After we run out of bread, Grandpa and I say goodbye to the ants and leave the bench. Not yet ready to go home, I suggest trying to find Chipper once more. I sprint to the tree where I had left the piece of bread for him, Grandpa ambling behind me. The bread is still there.

“He’s not hungry yet,” I say. Grandpa assures me that Chipper will eat the bread once we leave, and we continue walking on the dirt path. I glance left to right as if watching a tennis match, searching desperately for any sign of Chipper, or for any animal for that matter. At the sound of rustling leaves to my right, I turn my head to find a chipmunk sitting near a grave.

“It’s Chipper!” I shriek, but instantly regret screaming so loudly. The chipmunk jumps a foot in the air and scampers away into a mass of trees. Feeling disappointed, I trudge a few paces back to where Grandpa is standing, and I take his hand once more before continuing in our walk.

“Chipper’s just shy,” Grandpa says, and after pondering the statement, it’s understandable. I know that I wouldn’t take food from someone I’d never met, and I surely wouldn’t talk to a stranger walking down the street, unless the person was friendly, of course. Chipper must not have taken me to be a friendly human being at all, screaming so suddenly the way that I did.

Grandpa and I walk hand in hand along path while black, grey, and red squirrels climb up and down the trees, the robins chirp, and the sun begins to fall lower in the sky. Sunlight peeks through the trees, but the cemetery grows slightly darker as time passes. Grandpa suggests that we walk home, and I follow his lead as he gently pulls me along in the direction of the gates from which we entered.

Walking along the sidewalk, the atmosphere has changed in the hour and a half that has passed since Grandpa and I were walking here. We left the house at past 4:00, (thanks to Grandpa and Mom’s ability to talk way more than necessary), while the street had been empty, and there was a palpable humidity in the air. Now, walking while the sun begins to set, cars whiz by, drivers on their way home from work, and the air is no longer humid. It’s still comfortable, but the temperature is gradually dropping. I grasp Grandpa’s hand more tightly, feeling slightly nervous at the sudden rush of cars, and I notice the almost leathery feel of Grandpa’s skinny hand compared to the smoothness of my own. At this moment I think to myself that I don’t ever want to grow old.

Grandpa and I walk up the porch steps and into the house, which is louder than the noise of the cars outside, and I call “We’re home!” to anyone who will listen. My siblings Katie and Luke are watching Luke’s favorite movie, “Michael’s Jordan’s Playground,” while attempting to shoot hoops, using a miniature plastic basketball hoop in the living room. I can hear Mom, Dad, and Grandma talking in the kitchen while my mom cooks dinner, and my mom and Grandma emerge to greet us. The four of us sit at the dining room table and I tell Grandma and Mom of the adventure Grandpa and I had at the cemetery. I talk excitedly about how many ants we fed, and then Grandpa says, “And we saw a chipmunk today, didn’t we, Becky? And we named him Chipper.”

While I continue to babble about Chipper the chipmunk, Grandma leans towards my mom and says into her ear, “Grandpa really does love going on those walks to the cemetery,” and she gives my mom a smile.

Once Grandpa and I finish our story, Mom returns to the kitchen to finish making dinner and Grandpa and I wash our hands at the kitchen sink. Mom calls to the rest of the house that dinner is ready, and Grandpa, Dad, Katie, Luke, and I join Grandma at the table. We all take our sits and I sit next to Grandpa, and since he is a pastor, he leads us in a prayer, which begins with the line, “Be present at our table, Lord,” and at the time it is the only line I know. I sing it loudly with the adults, but abruptly stop and watch them sing the rest of the song, eyeing my siblings and giggling a little at the slight awkwardness of sitting silently while our parents and grandparents sing.

While eating dinner, Grandpa and I retell our story to Katie and Luke.

“Grandpa, I want to see Chipper!” Luke shouts, and Katie nods her head in agreement, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement at the idea of seeing a chipmunk. Besides that, however, feeding the ants is an activity that Grandpa and I do together, and Katie and Luke wouldn’t find it as entertaining as running along the path looking for animals. Perhaps they are too young to appreciate nature on a scale as small as the size of an ant.

The next day, before Grandpa and Grandma drive back to Chicago, Grandpa takes Katie, Luke, and I to the cemetery. Grandpa and I make sure to take a couple pieces of bread to feed the ants, but during the walk, all Katie and Luke talk about is Chipper. Luke asks where he lives and when I say that I’m not sure exactly, he decides that we’ll just have to search the whole cemetery until we find him (not realizing that Chipper could not possibly be the only chipmunk residing in the cemetery).

Grandpa, Luke, Katie, and I enter through the open cemetery gates and Luke and Katie run ahead to find Chipper. Grandpa calls them back, and we all walk to the concrete bench where Grandpa and I ritually feed the ants. Katie and Luke stand while Grandpa and I sit side by side, dropping bread crumbs on the ground. Within minutes, ants emerge from their anthills and march toward the pieces of bread, taking them away to store for later. I lean forward as I always do, once again fascinated by the way the ants move as a unit, but it is evident that Katie and Luke are not amused. Luke stares up at the trees, calling, “Here, Chipper, come here,” while Katie walks around the circumference of a tree, humming.

After Grandpa and I throw the rest of the bread crumbs on the ground, he says that we should go look for Chipper. We rise from the bench and walk away from the ants still retrieving the bread crumbs, and I look over my shoulder at them as Grandpa, Katie, Luke and I walk back onto the path. I long to go back and observe them, but the thought that reassures me is that when Grandpa and Grandma visit again in the spring and summer, Grandpa and I will be able to feed the ants again.

Someday (Letter Three)

Someday, this will be a memory. Someday you'll be okay.

Someday, this will be just a memory. Someday, you’ll be okay.

This is my third letter to myself. I know, I write letters to myself a lot. But writing in itself is cathartic, and this letter-writing technique has proven to be just what I needed.

Letter One

Letter Two

———————————————————————————————————

Dear Me,

Maybe one day I’ll stop writing you letters.  Right now, I haven’t yet said enough. It’s crucial to communicate with you.

Today is one of those beautiful “good” days. Your thoughts are clear, and you feel in control.

I cannot, however, explain why your negative thoughts surrounded you a couple of days ago. They swarmed like bees, stinging you again and again. They made their way into your mouth, down your throat, and suffocated you. You collapsed, succumbing to these thoughts instead of controlling them. That day, your negativity controlled you.

At this point in time, I still cannot pinpoint what causes these turbulent meltdowns. Thankfully, they are rare. The clear days seem to outweigh the ones clouded with questions, judgments, and labels.

That most recent dark day was darker than usual. The negative thoughts surrounded and stung so quickly, it made more sense to stay still, hoping they’d just move on. Swatting them away would only make them more aggressive. But on this particular day, they were relentless. You had no defense to guard yourself from the attack.

No matter how painful those thoughts stung, and no matter how unexpected it was, one thing is certain:

You made it. You made it to a day in which you feel in control. Do you know what that means?

It means that someday, you’ll be in control. Someday, your realistic thoughts will outweigh the negatives. Someday, these thoughts that drive you to a meltdown will no longer matter. They won’t sting. They will roll away to the back of your mind, and slowly fade.

For now, you are stronger than I ever thought you would be. You have been fighting against those negative thoughts with all of your being. Instead of surrendering to the questions, obsessions, the insecurities, you are challenging them all. This is a strength you didn’t possess four years ago.

This strength takes work. Every day. You work every day to treat yourself with respect. To be realistic. You know that the dark days don’t happen often anymore, but they aren’t over for good.

That’s okay. I mean it.

Acceptance is the most difficult part of moving on. I don’t mean acceptance of the situation. That may never happen. It’s my belief that while you can acknowledge what happened to your relationship (an arson set fire to it), you may never “accept” it. Maybe you will. That remains to be seen.

What I mean by acceptance is your acceptance of your mistakes and emotions. I want you to accept your occasional meltdowns. The bad days. The missteps. They happen. I want you to accept that just like perfection doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, you aren’t perfect, either. Expecting perfection from yourself is setting yourself up for disappointment.

I also ask that you strive to be patient. You are coping in a healthy way this time around, but please don’t beat yourself up on the dark days. Accept them as a part of the process, and know that these days will become significantly fewer in time.

Trust me, it’s okay.

I want you to accept yourself because someday, you will be okay.

Someday, none of those negative thoughts will even be thoughts anymore.

Someday, you won’t have meltdowns over this. They will be memories that shaped you.

Someday, you will be apathetic about this time period of your life. You will no longer hate him, or her, or yourself. You will understand that this was just a part of your life, but you won’t be angry forever about this.

Someday, you won’t blame yourself. For now, please, even on your darkest days, STOP.

No matter how confused you are, no matter what dark corners of your mind those negative thoughts drive you to, just know that it never was your fault. You couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, you aren’t the one who caused him to hurt you, and you did not deserve it. Please, no more “Why me” or “What’s wrong with me” or “What did I do.”

“Why me?” It could have happened to anyone. Honestly, it’s just a shitty reality in life.

“What’s wrong with me?” Nothing. At least, speaking in the terms of this situation, nothing. Do you have flaws? Yes. Does everyone have flaws? Yes. Did your flaws drive him to sleep with someone else behind your back? No. Hell-to-the-no.

“What did I do?” Nothing. In terms of what I know you mean, you did nothing to deserve someone to lie to you and betray the relationship you thought you had.

Every thought you have should help you, not hurt you. Obsessing hurts, anger hurts, insecurity hurts, negative self-talk hurts. While I know that it feels impossible on the dark days, but you have to just stamp out these behaviors. There’s no other way around it. I will not allow you to accept these behaviors, because they cause you pain.

Ask yourself, “Is this helping or hurting me?” If it’s an obsession, angry or negative thought, or an insecurity, it will automatically be hurting you. In these times, it’s crucial to pull away and distract your mind.

Just know that I love you, I’m proud of you, and you are amazing for your strength right now. You have progressed so much, and you are coping with this better than I ever could have imagined.

You’ll be okay someday.

Love,

Me

The deer and the hunter 

Sometimes while I’m running, I have to look over my shoulder. That paranoia crawls up my body. It’s like a leech. Buried in my skin. So quick I don’t notice.

Deer

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

I’m a deer. Weak, frail, timid. I’m running for my survival.

I had been alone and cautious because a hunter had shot me with a bow and arrow. It pierced me in the chest, just inches from my heart. Somehow, I escaped.

I stumbled into the forest, determined to be alone. The wound had greatly weakened me. I was bleeding all over the forest because the arrow was still lodged in my chest.

A buck came out from behind a tree. He assisted in removing the arrow. He said, “I would never hurt you. You’re too weak and small, my dear.” He told me he would protect me from the dangers in the woods.

I was skeptical at first. With all the dark creatures lurking in the forest, is it wise to trust a strange buck?

The sun was falling steadily. I had to make a decision soon. My survival depended on it. I could continue my journey alone, awake all night and on the alert, or I could travel with this buck.

I went against my better judgement and followed his lead. We traveled into the depths of the woods, and I could see nothing.

For two years, I was blind. We traveled through the woods, and usually at night. This buck was nocturnal, always telling me, “Just trust me. I won’t stray you in the wrong direction, my dear.” So I followed.

I have poor eyesight. When alone, I travel during the daylight hours. I stop at the edge of the woods, but don’t venture into the clearing. The open space is risky. I prefer the safety of the trees.

As a frail, weak female, it was perhaps wise to travel with the young buck. For the two years of our time in the trees together, I found it peculiar that we only began our ventures when the sun fell. I spoke up at times. Meekly, but I still voiced my concerns. His answers always left lingering questions that I kept in my head. Sometimes the questions traveled to my tongue, but I swallowed them.

During the day, the buck and I were lazy together. At first it felt comfortable. While alone I had to always be on the alert, but with him, I relaxed. I got too comfortable.

Over the course of our time living in the woods together, his actions gave me more questions that swam in my head. After two years, I was a nervous wreck. Not only was I weak and frail, but he was convinced I was dumb and incapable of living without fear. I questioned his every move, and rightly so.

The buck was concealing his true identity. The questions were building because my instincts told me to get out. But his charm trapped me to his side. I was enslaved, weighed down by the hopes that I was worthy of him.

Leading up to the horrific event, I should have known. The buck has assisted in helping me when I’d been bleeding all over the summer leaves. He caught me when I was vulnerable, almost begging for someone to take me. To at least pretend he cared. This buck was the best pretender. However, I swatted the questions away like flies.

After two years, the buck and I were in shambles. I was too weak and frail to keep up with him during our nightly journeys through the woods. My eyesight worsened, and it made me nervous. We were on the lookout for hunters in their orange attire, but I could only see a few feet ahead of me.

The buck, once charming, now was frustrated. I weighed him down and I knew it. I was a risk to travel with, day or night.

We both knew we could not go on. We were dead together, before the hunters had even shot us. The buck and I decided that we would part at the edge of the woods, and I would venture into the field for the first time in two years.

He led the way, like he always had. I was too blind in the trees to realize this would be the sign before the attack.

The buck I had been chained to for two years was secretly disguised as a hunter. He raised his gun and pointed it between my eyes.

“I’m sorry, dear,” he said. “I love you.”

He looked me in the eyes. His blue eyes. They looked different now. His eyes used to be so clear. Now I saw only a stranger in front of me. Had I really been that blind? Why hadn’t I run when I had the chance, before the night draped over the both of us?

As the hunter stood poised with his shotgun, I knew there was nothing I could say that would convince him to lower the gun and let me go. For two years, he’d been after my flesh. He led me right into his trap.

He shot his bullet straight through my head. My brains spilled all over the melted snow and mud as I ran out. I’ve been running ever since, leaving a dark red trail.

I ran out of the woods, my skinny legs shaking. My head is spinning from the blood loss. How am I alive?

I’m still looking over my shoulder as I run. My eyesight is slowly returning. I don’t sleep at night. But the paranoia is still buried in my skin. I cannot stop running for anyone. One more arrow, one more bullet, one wrong move, and I could be a lifeless carcass buried deep in the woods or eaten by a family of hunters.

I’m safer alone.

In honor of International Women’s Day (Why I’m a feminist)

Source: patheos.com

Source: patheos.com

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and I decided that today would be the perfect time.

In 2015, we live in a generation of opposing viewpoints. Feminists speaking out on one end, and politicians or anti-feminists trying to take our society backwards on the other.

In America, we live in a society with many opportunities that women in other countries do not have. However, even we do not have full equality. This is a disappointment as a female American citizen living in the 21st century.

I believe that I should not have any reasons to be a feminist other than I believe in equality. But in this society, we are expected to have reasons for being a feminist. As if we should justify, qualify our opinions.

I am a feminist because I am. It’s as simple as that. But I am a feminist not for myself. I’m a feminist for women who don’t have a voice.

We need feminism because society has created fear of the word. We need feminism because feminism is viewed as a debatable issue rather than an obvious right. We need feminism because when celebrities announce they are feminists, it’s called “coming out,” as if they’ve been hiding a dark secret.

We need feminism because there are anti-feminists. There are people who minimize women’s issues as “feminist bitching.”

Voicing the belief in equal rights doesn’t make us bitches. It makes us human beings.

While I do not belive I need to divulge any reasons as to why I identify as a feminist, I do feel it necessary to express my need for feminism.

I need feminism because without it, my country may never have given women the right to vote.

I need feminism because I earn less than men.

I need feminism because advertisers tell me every day what I should look like.

I need feminism because advertisers give me different rules every day.

I need feminism because rape against women is debated by mostly male politicians.

I need feminism because women are told how to avoid being a victim of rape, while men are told how to pick up hoes.

I need feminism because women on the red carpet are asked, “What are you wearing?” before asking about the fucking movie.

I need feminism because Meghan Trainor shames women who are skinny, degrading them to “stick figure silicone Barbie dolls” (and gives poor excuses for doing so).

I need feminism because about 24 million women and men suffer from eating disorders in America. I’m willing to bet that society’s fucked up beauty standards and obsession with our bodies has something to do with that.

I need feminism when colleges allow rapists to return to school, which is horrifying and traumatic for the victims.

I need feminism because my ex-boyfriend told me I was weak.

I need feminism because women don’t need rules.

I need feminism because I don’t need marriage. If I want it, I can choose it.

I need feminism because I want control over my own body.

I need feminism because it is my choice whether or not to have kids–not society’s.

I need feminism because women are advised to travel in pairs or groups for our own safety.

I need feminism because women are told we can do anything we want–as long as we get married, have the right amount of kids (no one knows the exact number, but it’s constantly changing), and work the right amount (this is constantly changing too).

I need feminism because women’s choices are not viewed as CHOICES. They are viewed as right or wrong, and open for debate.

I need feminism because I am told I’m pretty more than I am told I’m smart.

I need feminism because some people believe rape victims were “asking for it.”

I need feminism because when I was a teenager, I read a Christian book that blamed rape victims. Their hypothesis: if women wear sexy clothes, men cannot help themselves.

I need feminism because control over women’s bodies and “blurring” the lines between rough sex and sexual assault are not only glorified, but books and music about this topic sells billions of dollars (Robin Thicke or 50 Shades, anyone?)

I need feminism because when a male celebrity’s naked photos are leaked, the situation is “funny.” When the same situation happens to a female celebrity, some call her a “whore,” and blame her for taking the photos in the first place.

I need feminism because some men use their drunkenness as an excuse to verbally or sexually harass me in bars.

I need feminism because a drunk man once offered me money to kiss him. While I had a boyfriend. After I had already rejected his flirtations (true story).

I need feminism because if I reject a guy for a date after he comes off too aggressive, his friend calls me a “bitch” and a “cunt” on Facebook (also true story).

I need feminism because there are many names used to shame women: slut, whore, cunt, bitch, skank, sleaze, easy, loose, open-for-business.

I need feminism because men are applauded for the types of behaviors that give women the names listed above.

I need feminism because I believe in body autonomy. My body is mine, no matter what our government, society, or some religions would like me to believe.

I need feminism because little girls are still learning that their looks matter. But there are young girls standing up to voice how much more important their education is than being pretty.

I need feminism because we should be celebrating women and voicing our hopes for equality every day of the year.

I need feminism because there are movements created with the purpose to tear down the progress feminists have made in this country. Movements that are blatantly sexist against women and have a disturbing number of followers.

I need feminism because Elliot Rodger is, to my horror, viewed by some “Red Pill” anti-women activists as a “hero.” Rodger wrote a disturbing manifesto before going on a shooting rampage, killing six people and wounding 14 others.

I need feminism because with the internet, it’s easier for men to harrass me online.

I need feminism because I’m not a bitch for having a voice.

We live in country  where we value “freedom,” yet it doesn’t exist for everyone. Feminism has evolved and been beneficial for women’s rights, but we’re not done. In my lifetime, I hope to see even more changes towards equality. The fight isn’t over. We can’t be afraid to stand up, speak out, and fight back against the ones dragging us down.

People who don’t get it

As writers, we often come across people who don’t “get it.” I’ve written poems to the people who don’t understand art.

Writing is an art that isn’t black and white (thankfully). We can interpret a piece in a million different ways. We can use our life experiences to relate to someone’s work.

However, if we’re the author and someone is misunderstanding our work and blaming us, how should we feel?

Is the problem us, them, or neither party?

Recently I wrote a post about “fire safety,” but it was a metaphor. Do I need to say what the metaphor is?

My assumption is that readers can figure it out.

Right?

That’s my hope, after all.

My hopes were dashed today when I received some rude tweets from someone who clearly didn’t “get it.”

Here’s how it went down:

Her: Did you really sit in your house while it was on fire?

Me: Hahaha, no, it’s a metaphor.

Her: Oh good cause I thought you were really a dumbass.

Source: imgarcade.com She did.

Source: imgarcade.com
She did.

Me: Yeah no. It’s quite clearly not about a real fire. It’s an obvious metaphor…

Her: Well it’s clearly not if I had to ask.

Me: Nah, it’s pretty clear. Maybe you just didn’t get the metaphor?

Her: I guess it’s just not that good.

Source: hellogiggles.com

Source: hellogiggles.com

Me: Well then you don’t have to read it. #thanks #ByeFelicia 🙂

For real, that actually went down.

If I had to give some advice to people out there wondering how to critique a writer’s work, here are some helpful tips:

Rule #1: Don’t call the author a dumbass. I know it’s shocking, but calling anyone a dumbass may come off as rude.

Rule #2: Don’t continue to insult the author. You may come off as hostile.

Rule #3: If you don’t understand the author’s intentions, remember that you didn’t have to read or even reach out.

Rule #4: Be prepared for the author to be offended. The author may not even feel inclined to be overly kind to you. Who would be cheerful after someone just called her a dumbass?

My conclusions from this little Twitter exchange?

Source: memegenerator.net

Source: memegenerator.net

No matter how long you’ve been writing, no matter how educated in the writing field you are, you will have haters. It’s just life. And like T-Swizzle, it’s better to just shake it off (or write a snarky post about it). Whichever works for you. Using whatever inspiration you can find to motivate your writing is something that will help your writing evolve. So maybe we need haters?