Final Post of the 2018-2019 School Year

As you’ve probably gathered from the title, this will be my final post for the 2018-2019 school year. I stage manage for the Middle School show, Mulan, and tech week starts today. I also have five AP exams for which I need to prepare, two regular exams for which I need to study, and numerous other events and activities that fall at the typical end of the school year. Creating a blog this year has very much helped my mental state. However, I’m doing much better now. The medication I’m taking improved my perspective on life and my daily functioning. I don’t have a lot left to say right now, but I will continue blogging at the start of my senior year either about mental health, or about anything else which interests me. It depends on how I feel, on how I’m doing. And now, some short anecdotes and observations.

The other day, I went in the library bathroom. I stopped. Colorful sticky notes covered the mirror and the walls with uplifting messages like, “People love you!”, “Smile, beautiful,” and “You’re amazing.” And I started to cry a little. Just the simple, kind act of a student or a few students taking the time to write positive sticky notes and post them in a public place touched me. I think I have mentioned this in earlier posts, but everyone has problems. Everyone overcomes obstacles. I don’t know exactly why, but the fact that my peers recognized this essential part of humanity and acted to make a difference–even if it was small–in others’ lives comforted me.

Those sticky notes made me consider everyone else’s stories as they stumble through their lives. We see students opening classroom doors and sitting on comfy couches and shuffling to sports practices in clusters of friends. We see teachers bending over students’ papers and eating lunch together and shifting their children from one hip to another. We see parents dropping off their children on foggy Monday mornings and supporting the school at fundraisers and screaming for the school basketball team on Friday nights. We look at everyone, but what do we see? Because there’s a difference. Do we know an exhausted teacher struggles to balance his personal life (family, cooking, cleaning) with work (students, grading, meetings)? Do we know a student got a new puppy and this squirming creature has saved her from falling into a darkness so deep that she could never get out again? How do you look at people? What do you see? Do you look beyond the surface, beyond the polished or cracked glass that people choose to present? How do you distinguish reality from appearance?

Sometimes when I walk around campus, all the people around me blur together and the colors of their jackets and pants and socks and hair all meld into colorful streaks. It amazes me how little I and almost everyone else know about each other. But I guess we have designed our society that way, as individualists–protagonists of our own stories–while everyone else falls into the background as foils or the ensemble. We all walk or run or sprint or fall on slightly different paths, and the lessons we gain from this experience–if we apply them correctly–continuously transform us into better citizens. The problem is that failure devastates. Problems frazzle us. We want to throw our hands in the air, and say, “I’m just not good enough,” or “Nothing will ever get better,” or “Why do I have to go through this?” However, look at situations from a different perspective. Over the years, people have gifted me poetry books, and one of my favorites is by Vernon Law: Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson after. We learn from mistakes, but mistakes frustrate us, and it’s difficult to see the advantages of our downfalls. This is okay. With every “mistake” we make (however you choose to define a mistake), we change. We grow stronger. I know that I may sound so incredibly cheesy and you might be thinking “Oh my god Megan just stop being so cliché already!” But just because a saying is overused, just because I’m borrowing this idea from thousands of other people who have already thought this before me, already explained this concept to their friends and families and whoever would listen, doesn’t mean that my words aren’t a helpful reminder to you. And they may not be, because everyone is different. This is okay.

Finally, I want to touch on why persistence is so important, because no matter what you do, this forms an integral part of your character. A couple weekends ago, I went kayaking with my family. A gentle breeze glided past the water, and the sun’s warm rays kissed our skin as we dug our paddles into the deep sea supporting us. My parents are expert kayakers compared to my sister and me, so Allyson (my sister) and I stayed behind. Mostly, we were quiet or sang songs as we awkwardly tried to propel ourselves forward with the paddles. We laughed a lot. But in some moments, we talked about serious topics, about how we were doing. Naturally, we would focus on the social, academic, or emotional difficulties we were facing, because we don’t need to ameliorate the already-positive aspects of our lives. I summed up what I had learned from this school year: “Hey, Allyson, wanna hear my motto for this year??? When in doubt, keep going.” She scrunched up her nose and replied, “That’s a terrible motto. Mine would be: when in doubt, stop and reevaluate.” Well, we had two hours to kayak, and I thought a lot about what she said. My conclusion? True, determination is extremely important. But you have to pursue the right goals, you have to lead a meaningful life, and you are the only person who can determine what “meaningful” means. You can’t just barrel ahead immediately, because you might fall into the same traps set for you two weeks ago. So, I’ve changed my motto: When in doubt, stop. Reevaluate. But then, keep going.

Medication Can Be Justified

Before I began taking medication for my anxiety, I had considered trying it for about two to three years, but had never told my parents that I wanted to take it. I knew that it would help to mitigate my worried thoughts, but I didn’t want it to change who I was, what I thought, or how I acted. I didn’t want my ambitions to change because I didn’t care about the world anymore (or, in other words, I didn’t want the medication to push me to the other end of the spectrum, where depression lurked). I also felt guilty that I had the opportunity to have access to medication, while so many other people who suffered from mental health in the world did not. The Internet would list dozens and dozens of side effects of anxiety pills, and I didn’t want to fall asleep in class or lose control of my actions. I thought that medication was an embarrassing, unnecessary, dangerous idea.

Whenever I looked up pictures of medications (I always look up pictures when I’m researching because I am a very visual person), I saw bottles and bottles of green with white labels wrapped around them. Colorful, little pills laid in the bottom of these bottles, waiting to be taken. I knew that I would feel ashamed if I took medication. Could I really not deal with my problems on my own?!? I needed little white circles to adjust the “chemical imbalance in my brain” because I couldn’t do it myself. I hated the idea of medication, because I thought that I could handle everything just fine for the rest of my life.

But then, I changed. I matured, and I began to consider it more. Every time that I had a panic attack or let my anxiety control me, I considered asking for medication. And finally, one day, I did. Because I realized something. It was just like how taxes should be. The more you earn, the more you contribute, because nobody needs an excess of money. The less you earn, the less you contribute, because you need every resource that you can get in order to survive. Everybody needs to take the steps necessary to help themselves. Everyone has different weakness and strengths; everyone is different. I needed medication. I was born with the predisposition for stressful situations to overwhelm me much more than other people, because I don’t know how to just “breathe.” The words “just relax” make no difference in my mind. Some part of me believed that “everything would be okay,” but another part never did. And that’s okay that I wasn’t okay. I just needed more help with my mental health, like a student who needs extra help with algebra or needs a tutor in order to pass a class. Ideally, everyone should be able to get what they need to be successful; this, to me, is the definition of “fair.” I thought for a long time, yes, I have anxiety. But maybe I was born with it for a reason. And is it fair (morally sound) for me to change myself? Who told me that I have the right to be okay?

I began medication after working through these thoughts. And I think that it has really helped me, but that it hasn’t changed who I am or what I believe in. It helps me to be more logical. I used to wait in line at Starbucks, for example, to order a blueberry muffin and some water. If the line was long, I always felt eyes staring at me and judging myself and wondering if I was old enough to be at Starbucks alone. I thought that they were criticizing me and I would feel sick at the idea of interacting at the register with the person who took my order. I would have to say what I wanted, and any adjustments to the menu that I desired (more often than not, adjustments had to be made because I am a very picky eater). The idea of reaching into my little wallet and pulling out a twenty dollar bill terrified me, because I wondered if the person would think that I should have paid with a ten dollar bill but that oh, I would learn the correct bills to pay with when I got older because I was too young to understand now. I wondered if the person could sense my nerves and uncertainty about what to sign on a receipt or how much to tip (if at a restaurant) or what to eat. I wondered if she was frustrated that I was ordering so much, or what her day had been like and maybe she would explode in rage at me because she had suffered through a bad day and didn’t want to deal with any more people and then I felt bad because she had to stand there all day serving other people meals and drinks and she probably wanted to live and to explore the world and see it and surround herself with a different setting. And if I waited in line with a friend, I couldn’t think straight. My heart pounded and the words she said to me spun over my head until I had finished my order and we had sat down in a corner and everything was okay again. I was most frustrated, because I realized that all of these thoughts were irrational and were “worst-case scenarios,” but I still thought them! How strange! Because they all had the potential to happen, so my brain said that they would happen.

What medication has done for me is smoothed all of these thoughts over. When anxiety starts in my lower stomach, it no longer rips its way through my torso. It stays, churning and angry, where it started, because the pills won’t let it increase. And I am grateful for this. I’m still nervous whenever I wait in lines or order in restaurants, but whenever the thoughts surface, I am able to tell myself that they are illogical and actually believe myself, or the thoughts surface and I have the ability to ignore them. To not think them again and again after they appear one time. And I no longer feel like I will scream when I have to wait a long time in a line.

I think that a lot of other people also feel uncomfortable with the idea of medication in terms of morals. They might have similar thoughts to mine, or different ones, but I think the major theme across these sentiments is that we don’t want to change ourselves. My cousin takes medicine for ADD, and he has told me that he hates the way it makes him feel. It restricts his ability to be free and to live as he wants. It makes him more quiet and less fun. I feel sorry for him, because this is the opposite of what medication should do. I think that it’s morally okay to fix the problems in our lives with outside help, but it still is a big decision to allow a foreign object to go into your body and alter your way of thinking.

Why We Should All Have a Therapist

A child falls while swinging across the monkey bars, and her arm breaks. A teenager throws up his dinner and lolls around the house all day with a fever of 103 degrees. In both of these cases, the person would most likely see a doctor to get a cast which could heal her broken bone or to take the appropriate medications to kill the flu virus festering inside her body. So, we recognize physical symptoms of problems: aching arms, vomit, and fevers. But, what about our emotional states? Do we recognize the virus living in our brains? And if we do, do we take the necessary steps to alleviate the virus?

Whenever I go to my therapy appointments, I always observe the people sitting in the waiting room. Old ladies with reading glasses squinting at magazines or adult men watching baseball with their mouths hanging open. One time, a 20 year-old man ran into the room with his parents and he kept shouting and pacing the room and looking at me (probably because I was staring at him). I always wonder why people are there, what the stories are that lie behind their faces. Anxiety? Depression? Bipolar disorder? Schizophrenia? Or do they simply want to have a meaningful conversation? And why is almost everyone there an adult? I rarely see teenagers, but aren’t they categorized in today’s society as an angsty bunch of hormonal creatures? If teenagers face mountains of stress in their daily lives, why aren’t more of them going to therapy?

I only observe one waiting room in one small town in one country out of the whole world. I am sure there are many teenagers who attend therapy and it helps them. But I want to talk today more about why I think almost everyone (especially tennagers) should have therapists.

First, what is therapy? What is the “point” of seeing a strange man or woman, when you could just talk to your friend or parents? A therapist is someone with specific expertise intended to alleviate or relieve a mental disorder, or simply a problem. The purpose of seeing one is, basically, in my opinion, to problem-solve, just like you would do in the real world. What is the derivative of arctan (6x+9)? What is the magnetic force a charge feels in a B-field? Is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a story designed to comment on the social evils of racism, or is it a story designed to encourage racism? What were the causes of World War One? What is the main purpose the author claims in the above reading passage? We solve problems every day. Everyone faces them, and life is literally about finding ways to cope with difficulties and overcoming confusing and frustrating problems.

So, therapy is basically the real world shrunk down to a tiny room in which you only have to focus on your specific problems for forty-five minutes. You can release all the emotional burdens of your childhood or just your day onto this one person who has revolved her career around helping others. You can be completely open, completely honest with this person, and she will always be confidential, except in extreme cases, such as suicidal thoughts torment a person. Yes, not everybody has a mental disorder, so you may ask, do I think that even those without mental disorders should go to therapy? I do. Somebody could go for just one visit when their pet goldfish dies, or for a year as she tries to cope with the emotional chaos of a divorce. I’m not saying that everyone has to go to therapy; I’m saying that at specific points in people’s lives or, in the long-term (if necessary), people should see a therapist to work through their problems.

I have pondered a lot about why so few of the people I know go to therapists. My conclusion? I think we are all uncomfortable admitting our own weaknesses, especially those that aren’t visible. For the examples I started with, physical damage and sickness, almost everybody can see that something is wrong. Almost everybody will urge you to go to a doctor, to get the help you need. But when something in your mind feels uncomfortable, different, strange, or “off,” you now have to solve your problems with the very thing that is causing them! How difficult! Fewer people are likely to recognize this internal sickness, especially if you hide it. So you continue on throughout your day. What, me? I don’t need to go to therapy. I have to walk my dog and go to the grocery store and do another million things. Yes, I know that we’re all busy, and that therapy can seem like it’s “wasting your time,” but you cannot forever move forward in your life without addressing the emotional baggage you carry on your back while doing these chores. You will eventually wear down, or explode. You need to recognize and address the problem in order to improve your emotional well-being. Everyone has issues and needs to work them out, so why wouldn’t you work through them with a therapist, the very person designed to do this? In my opinion, mental problems aren’t as easy of a fix as broken bones or the flu, and they’re uncomfortable. But this means that taking the step to see a therapist makes you all the more stronger.

Therapists have most likely entered their field of study because they have struggled through their own experiences of mental health disorders. They understand what it’s like. And they have learned from working with other patients and through reading textbooks and discussing and analyzing which specific methods will most likely work for you. Although my therapists’ suggestions haven’t always fixed the targeted problem, they have guided me into reaching conclusions on my own. They never force ideas onto me; they always give me the necessary tools to discover them, myself. I like this. And I am grateful for this. I better know who I am and what I do because of therapy. I have achieved many personal victories in my life because of the words of therapists. I want to end where I started in just simply stating that if you have a problem, practically any emotional problem (how to break up with a boyfriend, how to deal with testing anxiety, etc.), go see a therapist. It can be for one session. It can be for five years! Just reach out, get the help necessary for you to work through the issues that have inevitably risen in your day-to-day routine. You will be on your way to pursuing a healthier, happier, and more meaningful life.

Strange Dreams

One awesome benefit to my medication is that eccentric, colorful dreams fill my head each night, and I can usually remember them exactly! I think this is so very neat (one could claim it is scary, which it is, too, in a way…because some foreign object that I have allowed to swim into my body now controls some of my thoughts, but it’s mainly cool. I don’t know, maybe that’s the medication talking). But every single day I only notice a slight change in my thoughts, not in who I am, not in the Megan Kemp I was before I took the medication. And I’m not sure if the medicine actually works, if it’s just a placebo effect, but I don’t really care, because all that matters to me is the results.

On a Sunday night awhile ago, I got very little sleep. I think I went to bed at 1PM and woke back up at 4AM because I had to complete a lot of homework and then I couldn’t fall asleep after I finished it at 11:45PM because my mind had gotten a second wind and I felt like I could just keep on working forever. I know you may ask, why don’t you work on your homework earlier in the weekend, Megan? Okay, it’s true that I procrastinate sometimes, but I usually don’t; I genuinely am occupied with doing homework or prepping for book club or organizing tutoring or writing notes for student council or studying for the SAT or writing or reading or exercising or breathing or eating or showering. I don’t spend a lot of time on my phone. I don’t really just “hang around” when I have to do work. It’s just the amount that I have to conquer is a lot, and it affects my sleep.

Anyway, I want to tell you about one of the strange dreams that I had on that Sunday night. I woke up and still felt like the dream enveloped my surroundings for about ten minutes into the day, and then it slowly faded away. Usually this is what happens; one time, I texted my friend when I woke up, “Hey, I’m so sorry you’re feeling sick. If you need notes or anything, let me know!” She responded, “What?” I had dreamed she was sick, and couldn’t decipher between reality and my virtual world until I received her reply, “What?,” about thirty minutes afterward. Strange.

Have you ever traveled to Disney World? Do you know the ride Splash Mountain, where you bob in a little log and all the plastic figures to your right and left sing and smile, but then you drop and it gets dark and all the figures start “malfunctioning” and Br’er Rabbit doesn’t want to fall into the Briar Patch? That’s the ride that inspired my dream, only the thorns covered every single floor of this camp, and only very elite groups could stay here. You had to sign up seven years beforehand, and, again, only the most “qualified” could attend. It was a very special place because you got to meet Br’er Rabbit and all his friends, who were real. They served you food and you walked around their little camp. I don’t remember the purpose of the camp, only that those animals lived there. I didn’t like them from the beginning, but my mom wanted to go to the camp. She thought it would be fun. One day, Br’er Rabbit led us downward into the darkness because we needed to be transported on a horizontally-moving elevator across water. The elevator glowed green on the inside. We needed to go to our hotel rooms from the camp, so we descended some steps. But then while my mom and I traveled in the elevator somebody pulled me out and then the elevator zoomed along and I didn’t know where my mom went. I felt alone and fearful. I had hidden a dog, Chewy (he is my neighbors’ dog, and I had been playing with him earlier that morning), under my shirt, only Chewy’s fluffy hair and black, circular eyes transformed into a flashing, green puffer ball toy. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those plastic, stretchy figures that light up inside that little kids play with. Chewy was one of those, with a flat face, but he could move. And I chucked Chewy into the darkness, and he went sailing to find mom. But then darkness completely enveloped me and I didn’t want Br’er Rabbit to be near so I stood perfectly still and held my breath for as long as I could. Chewy flashed by moments later while pushing the elevator (with my mom in it) forward with his forehead. Chewy saved the day.

Then, walking into the hotel, the scene dissolved into a school classroom. All of my old classmates sat in desks, either twisting their hair and chewing Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum or drooling on notebooks. No teacher stood at the front of the classroom. They all turned their heads in unison, looked at me, and said “Megan!,” but not in a creepy way; instead, they were excited to see me. And I hugged them. But then this one girl started making a lot of chewing noises with her Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum and it kept popping all over her mouth and then her tongue reached out to collect the excess on her face with her saliva. She kept chewing louder and louder, and I wanted it to stop. I asked her to stop. I told her it made me uncomfortable. But she kept chewing louder and faster and shuffling her giant shoes on the floor and I threw Chewy at her to help me. He took away her gum. I was grateful. I thanked Chewy, and we went back to the camp to examine the briar patch while I did homework.

I know this all may seem very strange to you, and it is also strange to me. Most dreams are strange, but they hold symbolism and form themselves based on our own experiences and thoughts in our heads, most importantly the ones right before we go to sleep. I designed this post more for entertainment than for real purpose, because I just wanted to write down the dream before I forgot it. But I do believe it’s fascinating how vivid and real-life dreams can feel even when they exist only in one part of our bodies. I told it to my mom, and being the type of person who finds hidden meanings in everything, the words “Chewy saved you” impacted her the most. Chewy, again, is my neighbors’ adorable, fluffy puppy, and I really want to get a puppy. Maybe we will now, since only a Chewy could save my mom from the darkness.

Being Aware

I want to briefly discuss the idea of awareness in terms of mental health. My purpose is not to offend anyone (this is the opposite of what I want), but I must admit that I do not thoroughly edit my posts before publication because I want them to be as honest and raw as possible.

I have noticed that many people are not aware of themselves and are not aware of the words that they use with regards to mental health. Maybe it is because they have borrowed the same words from others, or because they don’t truly realize what encompasses a mental disorder.

First, let’s start with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is where I witness the most classic confusion: your best friend pokes your arm in class and laughs about her “OCD” because she has to use purple felt pen every time she takes notes. A peer gets exasperated when he forgets to write the date on his paper, and then informs everyone that he must write it down because he has OCD. A few years ago, somebody walked into a classroom, and immediately started toying with some musical instruments on the back counter that were for a physics project. I was trying to finish reading a chapter in a novel. I shouted, “Stooppp, can you? I’m trying to read here,” and shot him a frustrated look. I then returned to my own space. He replied, “What’s wrong? Do you have OCD or something?” I stopped reading, looked at him in surprise, and said clearly and loudly, “I can’t believe that you just said that to me.” Rage bubbled in my gut. Because, here’s the thing. If somebody suffered from polio, far fewer people would make fun of her for dealing with this physical handicap. So why would we go so far as to tease about a mental illness? This person most likely did not know that I suffer from OCD, but even if I didn’t, the comment still offends those who have to live with it. OCD is not using a specific pen or being organized with dates or desiring a quiet space. OCD is when you have obsessive thoughts that lead you to act compulsively in order to relieve those anxieties. When these obsessions or compulsions begin to interfere with your daily routine (negatively impact it), then you may have OCD. For example, I read an article one time about a girl who hit her left arm on a monkey bar while she was playing on the playground. She hated the tingling in this arm so much that she had to hit her right arm on the monkey bar with exactly the same force until they “tingled” equally. She repeatedly hit her arms to match in pain, and if she hadn’t, she would have felt that something terribly wrong was going to happen to her or to her family. Another example is ritual hand washing. Somebody fears germs, so he repeatedly scrubs his hands and under his nails with soap and water exactly 50 times, let’s say, until his hands crack and bleed. And this may sound absurd to you if you don’t suffer from these illnesses, and they may also feel absurd to the victims. But often, the sufferers cannot stop the thoughts from consuming their lives. Now, I am NOT an expert on OCD, and I have not conducted outside research on this topic. I only know from my own experience and the words of my therapists about its definition, and the definition does not match people’s perceptions of what it is.

I do not experience depression as strongly as OCD, but I often find people making similar lapses in judgement. For example, your brother burns his toast in the morning and posts on his Snapchat story, “Ugh-I burnt my whole grain wheat bread. #depressed.” Or your pet fish dies, so you have a funeral for Chubby in the backyard, among the flowers, and tell your friends that you are suffering from depression. This is not depression. Now, specific circumstances such as these could be stressful or trigger depression to occur. And these people could have depression; if they do, they should reach out, and work with a therapist toward understanding the diagnosis. But depression is when you lose interest in activities, and a feeling of sadness impairs your ability to effectively function for a long period of time. The thing is, the topic is sensitive, as it should be because people take their lives because of depression. And maybe the most burning comments that I have heard is, “Oh, she doesn’t have depression. She just wants attention.” It’s funny, because probably the opposite of what that person wants is attention. It’s easy to be confused, but don’t speak if you are unsure. We may have no idea that this girl comes home from school, locks her doors, and surrounds herself in an artificial night by drawing the blinds and living in her bed, where it is safe and silent. We may have no idea that she cries every morning and can’t sleep and can’t eat and can’t live in the way that she deserves to live.

It’s understandable that it’s difficult to know what these terms mean, what they look like. Educate yourself. Reach out to those who are struggling. Understand that sometimes you cannot understand. Don’t tease someone about a mental illness, just the same as if you wouldn’t tease someone if she suffered from a physical handicap. We tend to hide because it’s hard to express ourselves and how we’re feeling, and it’s difficult to express these thoughts in front of groups of people.

But it may help to think about all the people you see every day: teachers, students, friends, family, acquaintances. Yes, you know a lot about them…or you infer a lot about them. But do we really understand people’s complete stories? Do we really know how their past morning went, or the health of their cousins? No, we don’t, because it’s impossible to know all of this information, just like it’s difficult to know if somebody suffers from a mental illness. But just know that experiences and life affect those with these illnesses differently, and that they can be very serious. Be more aware, and help others to be so as well.

Racism and White Privilege

I hate racism. I’m embarrassed that we have embedded racism into our past, and that it still exists today. Because it really makes no sense. And the ridiculousness of the topic makes me grow more frustrated and anxious in our society, because people who do nothing wrong are teased because of their skin, because of the way that they were born. Disclaimer: this post will be loosely related to mental health and more related to general frustration and confusion.

I will begin with a personal story:

        A couple of years ago, I went to get a haircut at a new salon. The barber was trimming my wet hair, and began to tell me a story about a man who was choking at dinner and how his wife had to run over and had to help him by doing the Heimlich. He was smiling and laughing and told the story about twenty times, when it really wasn’t funny because the old man was choking and could have died. His eyes kept looking into mine in the mirror to see if the story humored me, and I wanted to sink down into my chair and hide from him. I disliked him very much. He kept laughing, and laughing, and laughing, and retelling the story to all the people in the room (and, of course, his employees laughed because he owns the place and have to be agreeable with him). Then he says, “I mean, there should have been doctors in the room to help, so I don’t know where nobody else did anything. There was a table full of Indians in the corner, so I mean at least one had to be a doctor, right?” I felt so uncomfortable, and angry. I wanted to explain that no, actually, not all Indians are doctors. But I remained quiet and shocked. He laughed again. “I thought that it was some black chicks fighting or something like that until I saw that he was choking. You know how black people can be sometimes.” I think that the color drained from my face. I just stared at him with my mouth a little open in the mirror, and then looked away. I should have corrected his logic, but I felt so awkward and sad and surprised all at once, and I was a customer in his hair salon (he owned the entire business). I tried to look down, but he needed to cut my hair, so he tilted it back up. “Your hair looks great, Megan. You can leave now.” I got up quickly, waited for my mom to pay while I went to the “bathroom,” and then avoided eye contact with everybody as I left quickly. His words were mean. Offensive. Logically inaccurate. The root of it all was ignorance, and I was never coming back to the salon in my life. I cried and cried when I got home, because I felt guilty for everything, because the owner expected me to agree with him just because I was white.

        Another personal story. One of my cousins with whom I am very close got married when I was in eighth grade, after our English class had just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. My entire family drove to Alabama for the wedding, and the reception was very formal and nice. They served cheeses, crackers, fruits, meat, bread, punch, cake – practically everything that I considered eatable. There was only one other girl there my age. Her name was Chloe, and she was very thin and shy. We spent a lot of time eating and talking near the food table, because we both didn’t want to talk to our relatives. As we were stuffing our faces with various cheeses and crackers and laughing at one of the tables, I noticed something. Every single guest at the reception was white. White people snapping selfies in corners or looking at the sunset on the terrace or dancing in the middle. Tons of guests (maybe 200? I’m not very good at estimating large numbers of people) filled every corner of the room. And every single server bringing around the cheese and punch trays was black. There were probably twenty servers, and I could not believe that the division was so stark. And, mostly, I was confused. This is embarrassing, but I didn’t realize in middle school that racism is still a very prominent issue today; racism still exists. Books like Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird horrified me, but I thought that it was mostly a past issue because I hadn’t considered that the idea that we could still be racist…today. And nobody was saying that the servers were inferior to the guests because of the color of the skin, but because of the power dynamic at play and just the idea of who got to be served and who got to do the serving, the situation, to me, was racist. I tried talking through my thoughts with Chloe, but she just got quiet and started pushing crumbs together on the table to form little mountains. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking.

        With both of these examples, I think that we can analyze how white privilege affects our society, but how many white people often fail to realize that they are privileged. Because they don’t have to worry that police cars will stop them for going the speed limit. And, please, understand that I am not very qualified to talk about race, because I only know what I have read in the news and books, and from my own experiences. Nobody has ever discriminated against me, or teased me at school because my skin is white. I have no idea what stereotypes and prejudice others face. I only know that I am privileged, because I was born with a shell the color of sand.

        What frustrates me is the first question that surfaces in my mind: literally, WHY DOES IT MATTER? Why does it matter if someone was born with different color skin? What does this say about the person besides that the pigment of their skin is different? How can we justify so much of what we do based on a color? It feels like saying to me that because my hair is dark brown and my friend’s hair is bleach blonde, then that means I am a morally or intellectually inferior person. This makes no sense. We cannot extract meaning from the pigment of something, from appearances which literally have nothing to do with us. If I shaved all of my hair off tomorrow, my ambitions, morals, needs, desires would not change because of this change in appearance. And many white people who do care about their appearances pray to the sun gods for their rays to bless their skin with a tan. They smear tanning lotion all over their arms and legs, and lay out for hours and hours on the sandy beach to have that “perfect glow.” So it’s okay to be “tan,” but not “black?” I don’t understand this.

        And if we want to dig even deeper into the issue, historically, our species (Homo Sapiens) evolved in Africa. That was the birthplace of all of us. We migrated to different parts of the world eventually. In reality, humans’ DNA is 99.9% genetically identical. Yes, we LOOK different and we just love to focus on this 0.1% of difference, don’t we? Lighter skin was actually a mutation that helped us to survive in environments with low ultraviolet radiation to prevent vitamin D depletion (because light skin pigmentation absorbs ultraviolet radiation more effectively than those with dark skin pigmentation). The purpose of racism has been to divide us with labels. It has worked.         I was talking with my mom the other day about racism and how I was confused about the justification behind it. She agreed with me, and told me about how when she was a little girl, her aunt taught her the song (please forgive me for telling you the song, because it’s horrible, but I want to make you uncomfortable in order to make a point), “N-word, N-word, never die. Black face, shiny eyes. Snotty nose, crooked toes. That’s the way the N-word goes.” One of her best friends wasn’t allowed to hang out with my mom at her house because she was African American, and my mother, even at age seven, said that she always was confused that her family was teaching her lessons like those when they were supposed to be kind.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and feel like my body is cooking over a fire. I feel so hot, and my bed sheet is damp with sweat. I think a lot during these nights. Sometimes I stare at my ceiling fan, spinning around and around quietly and I feel guilty for having a ceiling fan and for living in the Landings with all of these extra bonuses when there are people who do not have food or water in the world. How can I enjoy pools and ice cream sandwiches and everything the community offers when I don’t need any of those? People need food to survive. People need help with education, and with poverty. And then my mind spins into racism, and I remember the stories I’ve told you here and I feel even more guilty and disgusted that racism even exists, but I don’t know what to do about it besides be aware of my own words and try to correct those of others, when I can. I feel guilty being white, because I feel like my ancestors have oppressed others in the past and like other people assume that I think I am better than others because of my skin.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and feel like my body is cooking over a fire. I feel so hot, and my bedsheet is damp with sweat. I think a lot in the middle of the night. Sometimes I stare at my ceiling fan, spinning around and around quietly and I feel guilty for having a ceiling fan and for living in the Landings with all of these extra bonuses when there are people who do not have food or water in the world. How can I enjoy pools and ice cream sandwiches and everything the community offers when I don’t need any of those? But people need food to survive. People need help with education, and with poverty. And then my mind spins into racism, and I remember the stories I’ve told you here and I feel even more guilty and disgusted that racism even exists, but I don’t know what to do about it besides be aware of my own words and try to correct those of others, when I can.

I usually have trouble falling back asleep after I wake up.

The Benefits of Mental Health Disorders

I usually focus on the drawbacks of mental health disorders. I post about my confusion, anxiety, depression, anger, and sadness, because it helps me to write down my thoughts to explain them to myself and to other people. However, I rarely touch on the benefits of mental health disorders, and I believe that it would also help me to realize that advantages exist whenever I begin to lose control.

First and foremost, I am much more likely to notice and to reach out to others who are struggling from similar disorders. Sometimes, I can just look at a person, and feel that I know if he struggles or needs to talk. Two specific instances of when I have tried to help my friends come to mind, but I do not want to mention them here because they are private and should remain private to those people’s lives. I feel more equipped to understand others and guide them through the dark tunnels in their minds because I have found some strategies that have worked for me, that have helped me enter a lighter place. I’ve met wonderful humans who are beautiful and strong, who have helped me while I have helped them. My mental health problems have, in the long run, strengthened many of my relationships by either tearing them apart and rebuilding them, or just bolstering the connection that we already had.

Secondly, I am motivated to ask for help when I need it, and to lead a successful life. I know myself very well. I know how I react in situations, and I know when I need to stop, largely because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my past about how and when to care for myself. I know that I enjoy talking with others about how I’m feeling, that I need to communicate my needs to those surrounding me, and that change in my life often startles me. I am motivated every day to get out of bed when my alarm clock rings, because if I don’t move, then my anxiety will beat me over the head. Yes, when a teacher assigns a project, I grind my teeth together and angst pounds in me with every heartbeat. But then I go home, and I start on the project right away, because if I don’t, then I won’t be able to sleep very well that night. I will think about it in every class. I will obsess over it. Thanks to my anxiety, when I can control it, I can work effectively for the most part.

Third, I am more likely to become a therapist, and I am interested in the way that the brain functions. Whenever I sit down on a squishy chair or couch in a session, I almost can predict what the therapist will ask me, how he or she will question or respond to my personal observations. I want to know why humans have anxiety, and what chemically happens in the brain when somebody goes through a panic attack. I want to learn about personalities that usually pair with anxiety and why some people suffer more than others. I want to learn about who invented medication and the incredible process about how somebody can swallow a little pill and then feel better! What does the medication do in the body, and how does it know what it’s duty is? I research mental health and I watch Ted talks on it in my free time. It fascinates me, and I might see a future with myself pursuing the field of psychology.

Fourth, I think. A lot. I wake up in the middle of the night even when I know I’m exhausted, but some of my best ideas come to me in these moments. I make college plans and create physics titles for my labs and forgive people and think about my future. Yes, it’s stressful sometimes, but I always feel safe and calm in my bed. It’s frigid in the space beyond the weighted cover cocooning me in a shield of warmth. Most importantly, it’s quiet. I know that nobody will come in through my door and interrupt my thoughts. The silence hums in my ears, and I imagine myself as a successful woman typing away as a journalist or teaching English classes in Spain. I imagine myself functioning with my anxiety, and this comforts me. Sometimes, I pretend that my ceiling transforms into the sky: open, clear, free. I imagine myself as a little bird in the air, pumping my wings and then shooting through the clouds like a black bullet in the moments when my momentum overpowers gravity. My mind enjoys gliding through the fresh air. It usually shuts down and lets me sleep again after I take flight.

Finally, some really neat side-effects accompany medication. (Now, sometimes these effects are not so neat, because whenever the doctors increase my medication or prescribe a new one, I usually feel dizzy and like I will faint because they lower my blood pressure. Or sometimes it makes me consume food like a maniac, but then I’m not hungry for an entire day. But let’s not focus on the drawbacks right now). One of these effects (that I have confirmed with one of my therapists) is called depersonalization. What is depersonalization? Well, I’m glad that you asked! Depersonalization is a term in psychiatry that means when one’s thoughts and feelings seem surreal and not to belong to oneself anymore. It’s rare that I feel this way (usually when I’m exhausted or hungry), but when it happens, it actually offers me a unique perspective on the situation. For example, I once was so tired that I felt like my feet were going to slip out from under me and like I was falling the entire day. It was a Friday, and everything had been hectic, so I didn’t get to eat breakfast nor lunch. I was talking with one of my friends, and trying to focus on her words, but they seemed to just string from her mouth and fall at her feet before I could hear them. We were having a deep conversation, or deep for me at the moment. I suddenly felt as if something inside of me was swimming to my forehead and detaching itself from my body, like part of me was letting my identity go. I didn’t have the energy to grab it back. It floated into the corner of the room, and sat there. It observed the situation from above. I could see myself and my friend talking from the corner. The words still didn’t make sense to me, but a narration rolled on in my head, in third person. Megan is trying to listen. She is not doing the best job, because she is tired. Her friend is talking. She is unaware how exhausted Megan is. And I felt like, from my eyes in that little corner, I had some sense of paranormal control. Like if “I” (my detached self) narrated something, then it would happen: Megan will get up now and wave her friend goodbye. Her friend is sad to leave her, but she must go. Then I would get up and go. This didn’t happen, but I felt like it would. And sometimes the perspective would change rapidly from looking at the tops of our heads to sitting back down again. It would change, then change again, very quickly. I felt like I had lost my identity because it was in the corner, and I didn’t know if it would come back. But it did. When my friend stopped talking, I regained my energy and “myself,” and continued to live as I always did. This process might sound unbelievable, strange, or freaky to somebody who has never had it (trust me, I had trouble confessing it even to my therapist because I want to retain my sense of sanity), but it happened. I don’t know why medication would make me feel this way, but it did, and I am grateful for the experience in a way.