A Letter to My Friends with Anxiety

Everyone has experienced anxiety or stress, but anxiety orders are completely different animals. They often go unannounced and unrecognized, even by friends and family close to the people who have them. Where our culture fails to consider mental health to be just as important as physical health, we must step up to even the score. This is a letter of support and solidarity, genuinely written to each and every friend I have who has such a disorder.

 

To my friends with anxiety,

I write this letter as someone who may not always understand what you’re going through, but who wants you to feel understood. I may not always get “it”, but I want you to feel like I get you. And I like you a lot. I sometimes get irritated, because your tolerances for certain situations aren’t the same as mine. You have to fight to overcome so much more than I do, and I take that for granted. I know there have been times when I haven’t understood what you were going through emotionally, and I may have even said something that put you down or made you feel less-than because of it. A friend should never make you feel that way.

Like any other physical or mental struggle, some of the best medicine (but certainly not the only!) is the support and encouragement of those around us. I apologize for when you haven’t felt supported. Or when you were unable to reach out, and I didn’t meet you halfway. When I didn’t notice that you were feeling down or struggling. When I was too caught up in my own sh!t to notice that something was not quite right.

I hope you know that despite all of these shortcomings I really, truly care. You make me a better, more compassionate person. I’m super blessed to have you in my life. You prove each and every day that human beings can overcome incredible challenges, reaching out to others even when those other people aren’t accepting or understanding of you in the same way. You’re some of my role models, and the bravest people I know.

 

Mad love to each of you,

Natalie

Wednesday Warriors – Elinor Ostrom

Don’t you want to be friends with this lady already? I mean, look at that smile and that sweater!!

As if you needed any more reason to like Elinor, she happens to be the first and only female winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Now, any Nobel award is a big effing deal, but did you know that only 48 women compared to 822 men have received these awards? And Ostrom won in Economics no less? This field has all the patriarchy and bias of mathematics and politics put together. Not a great combo.

It’s been challenging for female economists to be accepted or recognized even today, no less in the ’60s and ’70s. Ostrom was actually denied entry to an Economics PhD program since girls had not been allowed to take certain (required) advanced math courses in high school. So, she had to enter the Political Science department instead. Ouch.

Despite setbacks, she went on to do amazing research on the (get ready for some fancy phrasing) success of small to medium-sized collectives maintaining and sustaining public goods. In less fancy words, she and her team studied how communities across the globe took care of their lake, or farm land, or any other communal resource, aka “the commons”. It is fascinating and says a lot about human beings’ ability to be sustainable, if we try and work together.

Ostrom passed away in 2012. Watch any lecture she’s given and your spirits will be lifted, even if you have no clue what she’s talking about. She has left a bright spot in the economics field not just for those who believe in the power of cooperation and community, but for many women like myself. Heroes come in many forms. Not all are social activists and flag-wavers. Some lead by simply following their path no matter what comes their way.

Thanks, Elinor.

Wednesday Warriors – Maximillian Kolbe

So, I spent this spring break in Poland studying for a class on Religious dialogue after the Holocaust. We visited Auschwitz I and II, and everything about the trip hit powerfully. I wanted to do this week’s Wednesday Warrior on someone we heard a lot about.

Maximillian Kolbe was a Catholic priest and a Franciscan. He was the only one of his brothers to remain in the monastery in Poland after the beginning of the WWII invasion. He was in prison for three months before release, and later arrested, sent to prison again, and then transferred to Auschwitz.

As a priest, he experienced great violence and harassment in the camp. There is a rather well-known quote that new prisoners heard from Newly arrived prisoners were greeted at the camp by SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritzsch: ‘You have arrived not at a sanatorium but at a German concentration camp in which the only way out is through the chimney. If someone doesn’t like this, he may at once go to the wires. If there are any Jews in this transport, they have no right to live longer than two weeks. If there are any priests, they may live for a month, the rest only three months.’

During his second month in Auschwitz, there was an escape attempt. Prisoners, including Kolbe, were forced to stand before Fritzsch as he choice 10 prisoners to punish to deter further attempts. One of the men chosen cried out about his children and his wife, and Kolbe volunteered himself because as a priest, he did not have a family to be there for after the war. The substitution was allowed.

These prisoners were taken to a starvation cell, too small for the number of people. After two weeks in the cell, Kolbe still survived, and was killed with lethal injection. Later, he was sainted as a matyr.

There are two major ways to respond to the types of horror that people experienced in the camp. There is complete selfishness, self-preservation, a thing that none of us can blame anyone for truly. Then there is the attempts to maintain goodness and kindness, to be selfless and help those who are suffering even as you suffer. Those who make this choice exist to remind us that it is possible, in the hardest times, in the worst times, for there to be good.

And yeah, I just wrote about a Catholic guy in the Holocaust. So I want to say: the Holocaust is a Jewish tragedy and to say otherwise is utterly ridiculous regardless of the other people who died and were targeted. Of the few people approaching the level of targeting the Jews were at, the Catholics were certainly not one. But I am a Catholic, and we do love our saints.

Book Review – Chakras Wheels of Life

This 1987 classic is indispensable for anyone seeking to learn more about the useful and enlightening world of chakras. Chances are, if you are reading this, then you have already heard of the word, “chakra.” If you haven’t, despair not! Now you have, and you can go read the book.

To very, very briefly summarize (I’m only doing this because I couldn’t find a succinct youtube video to do it for me), there seven major centers, or wheels, of energy in our bodies starting from the tailbone up. These are connected to different emotions and associated with specific colors. For example, and perhaps the most well-known, is the third-eye chakra located on the forehead which is purple and helps focus mental or psychic energy (makes sense, if you have a really challenging math problem to solve, where is your tension and strain?). This is a very superficial explanation, but I hope it suffices for the debutant.

Judith’s book takes each major chakra, lays out extensive information and fascinating history about it along with exercises for “opening up” or activating the energy center and tapping into the correlated emotion as well. Struggling with self-confidence and empowerment? Here’s how focusing on the solar plexus may help. Want to open up more to the loved ones in your life? Time for work with your heart chakra.

If you have any interest whatsoever in connecting emotional and psychological development to your physical body then this is a FANTASTIC book. The chakra system is a wonderful way to work with your body and mind and get them in sync.

I’d also like to address the elephant in the room, one of cultural appropriation. That is, the author Anodea Judith is not a part of the very long and rich culture that has developed the chakra system. And yes, purchasing her book is potentially diverting funds away from those people. I bought mine at a small bookshop in India along with some other local products and still feel a bit conflicted about it. Life is messy and we do our best, right? Make your own decision, but I would highly encourage visiting some translations of Eastern writings on the topic in addition to this Western version.

Let Your Little Light Shine

Somedays, or maybe most days, we all lack a little confidence. Maybe it doesn’t go more than skin deep, and we recognize that feeling as if we’re too fat, too skinny, too smart, too dumb, too short, too tall, too whatever, is just us getting caught up in that stupid, social bullsh!t. But, if I’m being honest, many times my lack of confidence goes a lot deeper than acne breakouts and bad hair days.

So in this (relatively) long post, we’re going to explore confidence a bit more. And that’s a pretty big topic so I’m narrowing it down to a specific context: our voices. YOUR voice. MY voice. You know, the thing I’m using to talk to you right now? That thing.

YOUR voice. MY voice. You know, the thing I’m using to talk to you right now? That thing.

A teacher once asked me once what makes a good class participant and student. How does someone get to a place where they are involved in the discussion? Is it intelligence? Determination? Teachability? While these are certainly important, they are not enough. How do teachers get their students to actually learn and contribute to a class? I think back to my middle school and high school classes and ask myself, what drove me to keep writing and keep trying in classes where I wasn’t the smartest or best or, hell, even understood what was going on? It boils down to one, very simple factor.

My teachers convinced me that I had something worth saying.

Let that sink in.

I was convinced that even if I was objectively wrong, my attempts at giving an answer, proposing a solution, or asking a question were good enough to verbalize potentially to complete strangers, or worse, people I knew.

What if we actually believed that our thoughts had value? What if we had enough confidence to say our thoughts and beliefs on a regular basis to people who may not understand or even want to hear us? 

Sure, you can accuse of me of the typical millennial with a load of BS that “everyone’s opinion matters,” but that’s not quite what I mean. What I am saying is, sometimes we get scared to speak out in class and in life’s conversations. We let a lot of those opportunities slip by us. It doesn’t seem important enough, intellectual enough, funny enough, smart enough. These are lies, and a lack of confidence that’s keeping an entire generation silent. Not only is it grossly limiting awesome ideas and our sense of shared community (because I’m pretty sure we’re all thinking what you’re about to say and then we’ll all realize how we’re not alone), but I believe it can negatively impact our own, personal self-confiance. How we feel about ourselves and our “value”. 

The duct tape over the mouth begins innocently enough. Someone gets a couple Bs and Cs on paper or two. The teacher corrects their answers and the other kids in the class laugh. They try to show their new experiment to their parents and are dismissed because the parents are busy. Sure, grades are important, knowing the right answers are important, and parents need a break, too. But that’s just the beginning because there are a million things in our lives that tend to beat us down. Without a whole lot of support to combat these things, the message that comes across is WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY OR DO IS NOT OF VALUE.

Without a whole lot of support to combat these things, the message that comes across is WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY OR DO IS NOT OF VALUE.

Someone tell me I’m not the only one who’s felt like that?

I was a good student in college. Not the smartest, but decent and put in the effort. I was that annoying kid who talked every class and enjoyed chatting with my professors before and after. I had no problem speaking up. But I only was at that place because in some of the formidable years of my life, I had a significant support-network of people (thank you parents and teachers!) telling me that what I said meant something. Was worth something. Wasn’t stupid. Often wrong, but not stupid. Sometimes we just need people to say, hey, what you are thinking and have to say isn’t dumb! Keep trying.

I could easily connect this to the importance of young adult literature, where the characters of the story say and do the things that youths are feeling, thus legitimizing their thoughts and actions, but let’s not go there today. (Maybe Danny will share his writing on that one!) Suffice to say, when voicing and expressing our thoughts and emotions is a roller coaster ride of uncertainty, the best way to set ourselves up in the future to be confident with our voice is to surround ourselves with people who validate our words.

This whole post is a long way of saying that wherever and whoever you are, your voice deserves to be heard. People and life can make us feel really bad about what we have to say, it can get us down, and make us feel like we shouldn’t or can’t express ourselves. But, hey, Danny and I are here so send us a message if you want. Start your own blog (maybe you hate ours anyways), find your own tribe, or just message someone you care about. To quote a well-known nursery rhyme, let your little light shine!

 

Wednesday Warriors – International Women’s Day 2017

It is Wednesday and you know what that means. Welcome all to our little world of activism and badassery! This week’s rendition of the Wednesday Warriors series is a big round of applause and general worship of all the women who have ever, in big or small ways, fought for justice and equality.

I’m not here to emphasize binaries and exclusivity in the world, I’m here to share with you some inspiring people who battled for human rights.

So, to start your day off right, please find below some inspiring content for your viewing and subsequent awesomeness boost. You’re welcome.

Movie Time

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A movie about the Suffrage movement in the Great Britain and another about Lili Elbe, one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery (if you would rather not support this Hollywood rendition, which is understandable, please read her autobiography, Man into Woman). Sit down with your placards and tissues at the ready.

Poetry

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You can listen to Maya Angelou’s beautiful and empowering poem, And Still I Rise, in her own voice here.

Painting

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Artemisia Gentileschi faced torture for not denying that she painted Judith Slaying Holofernes. Enough said.

Music

Billie-1050x700.jpgIn addition to being one of America’s favorite singers, Billie Holiday sang Strange Fruit (although not written by her) protesting racism in America. It’s creepy, condemning, and positively crucial to any activist’s playlist. Enjoy.

Wednesday Warriors – Audre Lorde

Alright y’all, for my first Wednesday Warriors, get ready for a good ol’ lesson in feminists you should know.

Audre Lorde was a black, lesbian poet, essayist, and novelist born of immigrants in New York City. She wrote on many injustices, such as racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Her position as outsider led to her poetry frequently dealing with issues of difference between one’s self-understanding as well as one’s interaction amidst groups.

She is recognized as a starting point for the concept of intersectionality, arguing in her essays that while feminists made the distinction between man and woman, class, race, sexual orientation, among other things, were also deeply important issues in understanding one’s experience a woman; these things could not be separated from each other.

I talk about her now as a white feminist because of the proliferation of White Feminism™. It is important right now to commit to issues of rights in regards to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and for those white people who find their activist identities in feminism, it is important for us to understand exactly where we stand among multiple intersections. Audre Lorde’s work in this area is insightful, digestible, and enlightening, and I highly suggest reading, at minimum “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” (available with a google search I won’t link you to because legality is a whole question I don’t want to get involved in).

And of course, as we cannot forget that she is a poet, we can end on a poem of hers titled “A Woman Speaks”

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.
I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.