Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lizzie Velasquez, labeled 'World's Ugliest Woman,' redefines beauty

We live in a world where, sadly, many people judge others based solely on appearance.

I recently went to a wedding and while at a table with mostly guys, they would examine some of the female guests — pointing out imperfections that weren't even visible to me. And I suddenly wanted to hide under a rock as I became acutely aware of my own physical flaws. What did they say about me behind my back, I suddenly wondered.

While living in this shallow world, I'm sure we've all felt, at one time or another, uncomfortable in our own skin. Maybe even on a daily basis.

But how would you feel if, worldwide, people actually knew you as the "ugliest" man or woman? That's what happened to Lizzie Velasquez, 25, of Austin, Tx. As a teen, she was the subject of an online video which described her as the "world's ugliest woman."

For many people, if these three words were used to describe them, it would be hard to even get out of bed in the morning. But for Velasquez, she does more than just get out of bed. Instead of hiding, she has become an author and motivational speaker — traveling around the nation, most recently to D.C. to work with Congress to stop bullying, and to Mexico City, where she shared a stage with Hillary Clinton.

She is also almost done making a documentary, titled "The Lizzie Project," about her life and her mission to inspire and empower a more positive online environment. So far, $214,930 has been donated through Kickstarter for her project — more money than she even needed.

She has used the viral bullying against her to help others. And all the support she's received makes me have hope in the world. With thousands of views on her YouTube channel and almost 400,000 likes on her Facebook page, I know that there are people out there who aren't so judgmental.

Some of the comments on her Facebook profile picture are as follows:

• Anas Goz called Velasquez "The Definition of Beauty."
• Capeic Leon called her "the strongest lady alive."
• Melissa Felvus said, "I think of you EVERYDAY. ... You have helped me so much. You have opened my eyes. You are so blessed, gifted and loved."
• And Leighton Muller and Ellie Broadhead both called her "gorgeous."

Velasquez has a rare condition — she was born without adipose tissue, meaning she has no fat on her body. She has never weighed more than 60 pounds.

In an interview with Mary Fischer of The Stir, Velasquez said, "My parents always taught me never to have a negative thought in my mind and to always be myself. They taught me a little trick to help me get through the difficult times. I would recite a mantra like, 'I'm smart, I'm beautiful, I'm strong ...' and it truly did make a difference."

Whenever you're feeling self conscious, think of Lizzie Velasquez and repeat that mantra in your head. Hold your head high. Be proud of who you are. Stop obsessing over the hardships in your life and instead use it to help others. And when you do that, just like with Velasquez, people will see those things and not your self perceived imperfections.

Friday, September 12, 2014

75 songs to brighten your day

iStockphoto.com
Music can be pretty magical. It's one of the only things in this world that is universal. And, whenever I'm in a bad mood, sometimes all it takes is turning up a song really loud and dancing around my apartment. Somehow, almost every time, I feel better.

According to the website How Stuff Works, a study found that babies as young as five months old reacted to happy songs. Happy music with a faster tempo causes people to breathe faster and music has also been found to boost the immune systems of patients after surgeries and lower stress.

So, I decided to ask my friends and readers of The Oakland Press "What is a song that no matter how bad of a mood you're in, whenever you listen to it, you feel happy again?" The response was overwhelming.

The songs recommended were from every generation — from the Pixies to Miley Cyrus. Some of the songs were — songs from the "Spongebob Squarepants" show, nominated by my boss Steve Frye; "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da" by the Beatles; "Let It Go" from "Frozen;" "Happy" by Pharrell Williams; "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor; "Everything is Awesome" from "The LEGO Movie" soundtrack; "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley; "Everybody" by Backstreet Boys; and "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang.

So I have complied a playlist on Spotify of the songs, so, whenever you are feeling down, just crank up this music and it's sure to put a smile on your face.

Happy songs playlist 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Just yesterday, a suicide victim jumped from an overpass on I-696 around 3:30 a.m. in Farmington Hills. On Saturday of last week, an Independence Township man, who was in the middle of a divorce, was found hanging by a belt inside his closet. And the body of Matthew David Lyzen, 23, of Rochester Hills was found earlier this month, with a self inflicted gunshot wound to his head, after he went missing seven months ago.

Suicide has become an epidemic, and each time I hear about someone taking his or her life (which seems like it's on a daily basis lately), it breaks my heart. Suicide takes the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans every year, according to the organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, and is the second leading cause of death among people age 15-29.

I think, in the last decade or so, there has been an astounding step in the right direction when it comes to suicide prevention and awareness. But we are not there yet because there is still a stigma against mental illness.

When the world starts understanding that, just like cancer or diabetes, mental illness is a disease just the same and when people stop using the words "crazy" or "retarded," that's when I think the stigma will significantly decrease. That's when people will stop being ashamed to seek help. And then many of these needless deaths can stop.

If you had a tumor, would you just sit there and wait for it to take over your body and spread? No, you would go to the hospital and fight like hell to survive. Mental illness is the same thing. Go to the hospital. Treat it. Get help and stop thinking you can cure it on your own. It's not something you can just wish away — just like you can't just wish away a tumor or any other disease.

The local nonprofit Common Ground released this statement on their Facebook page today:

"People thinking of taking their life by suicide often feel terribly isolated; because of their distress, they may not think of anyone they can turn to, furthering this isolation. Please help get the word out—anyone and everyone can turn to Common Ground. We will be there for you. It all starts with a simple phone call: 800-231-1127. Or you can text us at 248-809-5550. By sharing this post with all your friends, you are helping us pull together as a community to address this very serious problem."

Monday, August 18, 2014

'Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top': Advice on how to gain self confidence

I have always struggled with self worth, but, lately, believing in myself has been even more difficult.

What makes self-confidence even harder to obtain is when others criticize you for the very thing you are struggling with — your self-esteem. Have you ever had someone tell you, “I cannot be with you if you don’t stop feeling bad about yourself” or “It’s draining to be around you because of your low self confidence” or even call you “crazy” because of it.

Yes, that has happened to me. And, trust me, if you are a friend or significant other and you say this, it does not help. That’s like telling somebody, “Whatever you do, don’t imagine an elephant.” Chances are, at that moment, you won’t be able to help it but think of an elephant. And that’s what happened to me. I tried to force myself to stop thinking badly about myself out of fear that this person would leave me if I didn’t. In turn, trying to force myself not to think badly about myself only made it worse.

My self-confidence soon plummeted even further — because I had someone who made me feel like there was something wrong with me because of the way I felt. And, since I already felt like something was wrong with me in the first place, you can imagine how much worse I felt.

So, after reaching what felt like the bottom for me, I realized that I needed to dig myself out. I knew that I needed to feel better about myself. I needed to do that for myself — to be able to live a full life — and not for anyone else.

For anyone who is working on this, there is one thing I’ve learned. It takes time. When you spend your whole life with low self-confidence you can’t just *poof* have it be gone in a moment. That’s what I tried to do — and trust me, it did not work.

So I’m not going to set a time limit. Instead, I’m going to take one day at a time.

Lately, whenever I've felt down, I've played the song "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor on repeat because when she sings, "Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top," it makes me feel a little bit better.

I know that a lot of people struggle with self worth. Here's some advice my friends gave and what they
do that helps them believe in themselves:

• Cara Jade: "I set daily, short, and long term goals... Everyday I work towards those goals. If I don't meet them, I take that opportunity to reflect on how I can make it happen, and use it as motivation!"

• Misty Bennett: "Meditate, do things for yourself, listen to good music, and trust that you know you are okay just as you are!!!"

• Barb Shea Pote: "You just do. Every day tell yourself you are 'a delight,' as my 17-year-old daughter says of herself. What you tell yourself (good or bad) becomes your reality."

• Melanie Montgomery Wilson: "By focusing on others, I find that I draw the attention away from myself and, in turn, I begin to feel good about what I am doing which leads to feeling good about myself — hence believing in myself and my own self worth."

• Katie Ogg Belliotti: "Start a new hobby and incorporate it into your routine."

• Ariah Smith: "Take one day at a time. Remember the sun will come out no matter what kind of day you're having."

• Alora Wallace: "I pray because sometimes it's hard."

• Randall Harries: "I believe in myself because I know that if I can't, I can't expect anybody else to believe in me either."

• Sherry Thornton: "Never give up. Do as much as you can when you can. Take each day as a challenge that you can accomplish. Always remember that no matter what you do or don't do, the world will go on."

• Tonya Flowers: "Spend time with a good friend laughing and drinking wine."

• Kenny Davis: "Don't ever give up on yourself. Don't set expectations too high or too low."

• Chris Nelson: "Spending time with others helps. Being alone with your thoughts is tough."

What I have found helps me is to write down the way I'm feeling or talk to others about it instead of bottling it up inside. Find a person you can trust who you know won't judge you.

I have also found that writing down all the things that I like about myself has done wonders as well.

And I have been trying, whenever I start to feel bad about myself to think, "If your friend was telling you he or she felt this way, what would you say? You wouldn't berate them like you do to yourself." So, instead, I try to talk to myself like I would to anyone else who told me he or she was feeling the way I am.

I'm working on trying to view myself as a good person who makes mistakes — instead of internalizing every mistake I make and calling myself a "bad person" because of it. I need to realize that everyone makes mistakes; it's called being human. And I need to stop beating myself up
whenever I do make a mistake.

Also, for people with low self-confidence, you need to realize that just because bad things happened to you, that doesn't mean you deserved it. That's something I struggle with.

Ryan Howes, Ph.D, psychologist, said on Psych Central that people with low self-worth think that "good things that happen to them are a fluke, bad things are what they truly deserve and end up reinforcing their shame."

He added, “When people can take a non-distorted look at themselves, they’ll see they’re like everyone else, with strengths and weaknesses."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

World loses a 'beautiful human being' after Robin Williams' death

Photo edited by Anjel Schoenberg
I think that some people are really good at making others happy...yet they don't know how to do the same thing for themselves.

 I will always remember one of the first suicides I ever reported on for The Oakland Press, a family member told me the teen who killed himself was always helping others and always trying to make other people happy.

"But he didn't save any for himself," she said.

 I believe that's what happened to Robin Williams.

After hearing about his death, my friend Zac Wieber described it best — "Your sadness may have overcome you, but the laughter you brought helped many to overcome theirs."

In a written statement on Monday afternoon, Williams' wife said, "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings."

The esteemed actor was found dead on Monday, and a preliminary investigation showed his cause of death to be a suicide due to asphyxia.

AP photo
If this doesn't show that mental illness doesn't discriminate, I don't know what does. When you imagine the characteristics of someone who dies from suicide, "comedian" is probably not one of the words you would think of. Robin Williams made a career making others laugh. Yet, for years, he battled severe
depression — maybe even for decades.

It broke my heart to hear about Williams' death last night. I grew up watching his films, and always thought he was one of the most talented actors who ever lived. He made me laugh in "Mrs. Doubtfire" and cry in "Patch Adams," and he put so much emotion and heart into every one of his performances.

Staci Lempert Pawloski wrote on The Oakland Press' Facebook page today: "I will miss everything about him, every role he played he poured so much of himself into. ... I hope he truly knew how much he meant to us all."

The truth is, sometimes people do everything they can to treat mental illness but, like a tumor, it spreads and spreads until it ultimately takes the person's life. For Williams, he did seek help. He recently spent several weeks at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota.

To me, this shows that he really wanted to get better. He didn't want to die, and he didn't want to leave him family behind. But, at age 63, the pain became too much for him. I don't want anyone to ever think of him as weak because he's not. He died from a disease. And it's no one's fault.

I hope that, right now as I write this blog entry, he is looking down at us from Heaven and seeing how many people loved him and how many people's lives he changed for the better.

For those suffering from depression, there is treatment available, and people waiting to help and show you that you are not alone. Please, don't give up on life, but instead, do everything you can to fight for it. For Michigan residents, call nonprofit Common Ground's 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-231-1127. Outside of Michigan, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Parents of child who died from suicide or a drug overdose — it's not your fault

Bridget Peterson and Ashley Ramsey
One thing I hate more than anything is when people blame the parents after a child dies from suicide or a drug overdose.

 I have written several stories about teenagers and young adults who have died. And it makes me sick reading some of the comments by people who blame the parents.

Most recently, I wrote a story about Ashley Peterson Ramsey, 24, of Waterford Township who died from a heroin overdose. And when interviewing her mom, Bridget Peterson, on the phone, it broke my heart when she told me that she felt like it was her fault. It's not!

I decided to garner support for her on The Oakland Press' Facebook page — hoping that people in the community could help her feel not so alone. And I was thrilled with the result. ‪

Pat Bernieri‬ said, "Please don't feel that this was your responsibility. Addictions can only be stopped or worked on attempting to stop, by the person who is doing the behavior." ‪

Nicole Keeley‬ said, "I lost my brother in 2011 to this horrible drug, and I have truly learned since then how controlling this drug can be. Don't ever feel like you were to blame!! We tried everything we could and in a million ways. No matter what could have been done differently, the result would have been the same."

If a child died from cancer, would you ever, in a million years say, "His/her parents didn't try hard enough." No, you wouldn't, because you know that cancer is a disease that is no one's fault.

But addiction and mental illnesses are DISEASES too! And these diseases don't discriminate. A child could have two amazing and supportive parents, live a comfortable life, be popular, be an athlete and have a bright future — and still suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

Tessie Castillo of The Huffington Post writes, "Blaming the parents for a child's drug overdose takes attention away from the appalling lack of access to treatment for people who do seek help. Blaming parents for a suicide detracts from recovery efforts for people with depression, mental health issues or unresolved pain."

She writes that, having become a parent herself, she is trying to accept the fact that, no matter how much she loves her child, there are many misfortunes she can't prevent.

Mary Reyes with Jeremiah and Serenna Hargett
"I can just do my best. That's what all parents do," she said.

I think the heroes in our society are the parents of children who died from mental illness who don't blame themselves, but, instead, make the best of the awful hand they were dealt by using the tragedy to help others. That's what Bridget Peterson did. And that's what Mary Reyes, whose 20-year-old son Jeremiah Hargett died from suicide, has done for the past three years — ever since he died in 2011.

Mary could have become a recluse after her son's death — locked herself in her bedroom and cried and slept the days away for years. Instead, she used what happened to her son to raise awareness.

For the last three years, Mary has hosted the Miah Mile to educate the community about the various mental illness disorders, signs, symptoms, treatments, as well as, provide support. The proceeds raised from this fundraiser each year is used to help organizations like Common Ground.

"We want the public to know that these mind altering disabilities are real and death by suicide can be the devastating result. ... Anyone that dies in this way due to these illnesses should be held in dignity just as those that die of cancer, heart disease and any other life threatening sickness," she said.

Mary and Bridget — you guys serve as examples and make a difference in this world. And I know that, through your advocacy, you will help others not have to go through the same fate as you did. You guys are heroes; you save lives.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to make it through a break-up

Going through a break-up is painful. It's strange how a broken heart can literally make you feel sick. I should know -- I'm in the midst of going through one right now. And it feels like this constant searing pain within my chest.

I know my ex will probably be mad that I'm writing the blog post equivalent of a Taylor Swift song. But what is the point of pain if you can't use it to help others?

And that's one of the most important lessons I've learned through this. So many wonderful people have been there for me through this difficult time in my life. While in the midst of it, it's easy to feel like no one else in the world has felt this way. But the truth is, except for those who were lucky enough to marry their first love, most people have felt this way -- probably more than once too.

Here are some more things I've learned this week from the people in my life:

1. Never be ashamed to ask for help. We were not meant to go through things like this alone. Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you strong.

2. The day after the break-up, I found myself thinking, "Please, have a car hit me!" I felt so ashamed -- after all, I'm the suicide awareness girl, yet this is what I was thinking. When I got home from work, I called a Common Ground volunteer. And she told me, "Do you really want to end your life or do you just want the pain to go away?" And I told her that I wanted the pain to go away. She told me that this isn't crazy. That this is the way most people feel after a break-up. And instead of looking so far into the future, take each day just trying to get through minute by minute, hour by hour, and, soon, things will start to feel better.

3. You are not overreacting, and you are not crazy.  In a break-up or divorce, you go through the same steps of grieving as a death. You are grieving over the loss of someone you thought you knew.

4. Life is a rollercoaster. It has it's ups and downs. Do you really want someone in your life who will bail when times get hard? You deserve someone who loves you and is there for you no matter what. And that person is out there.

5. At least it happened now and not years down the road. At least you didn't have to waste any more time.

6. Stop thinking, "He or she will come back to me." I know it's easier said than done, but stop replaying the good memories the two of you had over and over in your mind like a movie reel.  Instead, let yourself get mad. It feels way better than being sad.

7. Take this time to be selfish and reestablish your relationship with yourself. While you were with the other person, you put that person before yourself. This is the time when you can put yourself first.

8. Stop thinking about the proverbial clock. Some of the most successful people didn't find "the one" until later in life. Diane Sawyer, who is my personal role model, didn't get married until she was 40.

9. I know it's hard to imagine now, but someday, you will look back at this moment, and you will have a wonderful husband or wife, and you won't even remember why it hurt so badly.

 Let me end with what my friend Lauren Strzepek-Navarro, who recently found the love of her life, described love as. This is the kind of love that is worth waiting for. And I will no longer settle for less.

"Love should be healthy. What does that mean? You and your significant other have a mutual respect for each other and a dedication to health. Health comes in many different forms mind, body, spirit. Through action you support each other and thus show each other love on a daily basis. You can't have one aspect of love. You have to be able to have all categories met to be satisfied. That one prayer love is patient, love is kind, love is understanding. That is true, love is action to make sure you are healthy each day. Now I break it down even farther so I'm not over whelmed. Love is him walking the dog and me doing the laundry and each other giving the space to love ourself first as well! I am never made to feel guilty or sad or remorseful or any negativity for being myself!"

"We are both becoming better people each day we know each other. Do we fight and get annoyed etc... Of course!!! Expressing feelings is part of being healthy! But we don't put undue expectations on each other either. We are communicating them and we acknowledge when we can't meet them. ... Sure love is an emotion but it's also a choice! A choice to back up words with action!"

If you need help, call Common Ground's 24-hour tip line at 800-231-1127 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK.