Monday, April 20, 2015

How do you know who to trust?


When I was in college, a young man walking around campus approached me and told me that he was selling magazine subscriptions as a way to help him pay for his tuition.

And, since I felt bad for the guy, I sat down with him and agreed to purchase two subscriptions. I knew something seemed suspicious when he said I had to pay for it in full in cash right then. But I ignored the red flags and gave this man all of the money in my wallet -- including my lunch money for the day.

Surprise, surprise, it was a scam and I never received my subscription.

The older we get, it seems, the less likely we are to trust others. I trust others way less than I did back then. But while I have gotten better at deciphering scams, I still have trouble determining who to trust in everyday life.

I have started to expect people to let me down. I'll meet someone and think, "It's just a matter of time before this person screws me over." But I will try to push it out of my head and think, "I need to stop expecting the worse." But this makes it hurt even worse when I finally let my guard down, finally trust someone, and I get screwed over and used just the same.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience this. Somedays it's tempting to just become a hermit — take refuge inside my apartment where no one can hurt me. But I know this is unrealistic and would be a very lonely existence.

So what should you do? How do you walk that thin line between protecting yourself from getting hurt and becoming a paranoid person who thinks everyone is out to get you? How do you distinguish genuine people from those feeding you a line of crap?

Here's some tips on how to learn if you can trust someone who has recently entered your life:

• Don't disclose personal information about yourself when you first meet someone, Dr. Phil says, and instead listen to the other person. Why should you tell them something about you if they're not willing to do the same? This is something I struggle with because I usually say whatever I'm thinking. But, as Dr. Phil says on oprah.com, "When you tell people what you're thinking or doing, you are making a decision to empower them with information, and you may be unintentionally giving them ammunition they can use to exploit you, compete with you or somehow get in your way." Don't feel like you need to fill a void in conversation; sometimes it's best just to be quiet.

• Determine if the person has something to gain by acting against your interest, Marty Nemko Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

 • Does this person's words match their actions? According to expressivecounseling.com, "When trustworthy people say something will happen, it usually does."

• Look for the traditional signs to tell if someone is lying, which, according to healthguidance.org, are: They avoid eye contact or stare at you more than normal in an attempt to compensate; they will make certain gestures like swallowing repeatedly, blinking rapidly or scratching themselves; they will touch their nose, mouth or ear with their hands; their voice will be a little higher in pitch and/or they look up and to the right, which stimulates the imagination part of the brain, instead of looking up and to the left, which is used to recall memories.

• You also need to learn to trust yourself. Trust your own intuition and, if something seems wrong, don't just ignore it. If you don't feel comfortable in a situation or with what someone is asking you to do, trust your gut and say no (like I should have done when asked to subscribe to that magazine).

But remember — there are good people in the world, and, just because you've been hurt before, that doesn't mean you should shut out everyone you meet. You could miss out on meeting a lot of wonderful people if you do that. Even after taking all these steps, it doesn't guarantee that you won't get hurt. But sometimes it's worth it to just take the leap.

Shelly Bullard writes on Mind Body Green, "Walling ourselves off from each other only perpetuates the problem. This does not keep us safe; it keeps us lonely."

Friday, April 17, 2015

Project Semicolon teaches that your story is NOT over

"A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you."

This is the mission statement of the movement Project Semicolon, and yesterday, thousands of people who self harm, are suicidal, suffer from depression, have anxiety, are going through a broken heart or are unhappy drew a semicolon on their wrists to signify that they are not giving up on life. This was the third year that people around the world did this on April 16 to raise awareness.

Holly Blades, one of the founders of Project Semicolon, said, "Your mental illness will tell you that your story is over, that you should just give up. I am here to tell you that is the farthest thing from the truth."

As a journalist, we're taught to always be concise. Short and to the point. But, for my personal life, I vow to throw this rule out the window.

I don't know about you, but I want my life to be one long run-on sentence, so long it would make my editors cringe. And hopefully my life will not have a period in it for about 90 years or so (and I mean a figurative period, not the one regarding a menstrual cycle, although I could live without that too). 

Throw out all those grammatical rules you learned throughout school. No matter what trials may come your way, remember not to prematurely end your story. Remember the semicolon instead and keep living your life.

You never know what may be around the corner, making all of your troubles a distant memory and showing you that the beginning of your story led you here.

For more information about Project Semicolon, visit www.projectsemicolon.com.

Monday, March 30, 2015

After the Germanwings plane crash, remember not to stereotype those with depression

Andrea Lubitz
The vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness, the American Psychiatric Association reports.

And only 5 percent of violent crime is attributed to mental illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Jillian Peterson, PhD, said in an article by the association, “When we hear about crimes committed by people with mental illness, they tend to be big headline-making crimes so they get stuck in people’s heads. ... The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, not criminal and not dangerous.”

I am bringing up these facts in light of last week's Germanwings plane crash. Black box recordings suggest that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the lead pilot out of the cockpit. And the co-pilot suspected of purposely crashing the jetliner — killing all 150 passengers and crew members aboard — was previously treated for suicidal tendencies and had a background of clinical depression.

When tragedies like this happen, it makes some people fear those with mental illness. And many are asking the question, "Why was he allowed to fly the plane in the first place?"

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls even called Lubitz "criminal, crazy, suicidal" — as if those three adjectives are synonymous with each other.

Julie Beck of The Atlantic wrote in an article, "Suicidal doesn’t equal homicidal. Criminal doesn’t equal crazy. And crazy is an unkind thing to call someone who’s suffering."

In response to the crash, there are musings of mental health exams being mandatory for those in the aviation field.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Robyn Urback of the National Post wrote in a column.

"A pilot’s mental health is just as important to a safe flight as is his or her physical health. But there is also some concern — valid concerns, in my view — that such assessments will further stigmatize those suffering with mental illness, and only encourage pilots to keep their conditions private, lest they risk losing their jobs," she said.

Urback writes that most medical professionals agree that people with mental illness are more likely to self-harm than they are to injure anyone else.

"Those who are determined to do harm to others will often find a way, though it’s important to recognize that those suffering with depression are not overwhelmingly among them," she wrote. "More than 350 million people suffer with depression. Only one guy crashed a plane."

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told The Atlantic, "If I could wave a wand and magically cure (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression), the overall amount of violence in society — any minor or serious violent act, pushing and shoving or using a weapon —would go down by about 4 percent ... 96 percent of it would still be there.”

People with all different characteristics have committed unthinkable acts. Saying that people with mental illness cannot be trusted because of this one event is about as logical as saying that all white men or all Germans or anyone in their 20s should not be trusted — which are also all characteristics of Lubitz.

One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports. That's a lot of people! And, with the appropriate treatment, those with mental illness can lead the same kind of life and achieve the same goals as those without mental illness — including being able to fly an airplane.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hugh Hefner's ex Holly Madison admits she contemplated suicide

Although women's rights have come a long way, there are still men who view women as property or as an object. And there are women who view other women as their competition. In both of these situations, women aren't treated like actual human beings with feelings and emotions.

Almost every woman I know, including me, has had at least one experience in her life (probably several) where she was treated this way by men or judged by other women who didn't
even know her.

Now imagine having a job solely based on your looks — how small your waist is and how big your breasts are — with an expiration date based on your age.

For Playboy bunnies, it was probably flattering and glamorous in the beginning. But after a while, I could imagine it being degrading to know that men across the globe viewed them solely as sexual objects, and that women across the globe envied and even hated them. For “The Girls of the Playboy Mansion,” they were degraded even by the man and the other girls they lived with.

Holly Madison, who used to be known as Hugh Hefner's #1 girlfriend, is revealing what it was actually like to live with Mr. Playboy in her new memoir “Down The Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures And Cautionary Tales Of A Former Playboy Bunny.”

According to a release by publisher HarperCollins, "After losing her identity, her sense of self-worth, and her hope for the future, Holly found herself sitting alone in a bathtub contemplating suicide."

“What seemed like a fairytale life inside the Playboy Mansion … quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation, and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies.”

If ever a person — man or woman — makes you doubt your own self-worth or treats you like you aren't even a person, then that person shouldn't be in your life, as a friend, a lover or even an acquaintance. Holly proves that, even though on the outside she lived a rich and glamorous life, this is not what made life worth living. And, in reality, this lifestyle actually made her want to die.

Thankfully, instead of taking her life, Holly got out of the situation. And, in time, she found true love that was more than just about looks and fame — a love which gave her reason to get up in the morning.

She is now married to Pasquale Rotella, a man who calls her his “better half,” and the couple has a 2-year-old daughter together.

If she would have taken her life, then this future wouldn't have been possible.

Even when it feels like you have no hope, you can still get out of the situation. Things may not get better right away but, when you don't give up on life, you are also giving yourself the chance of having a better future.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Help cheerleader with Down syndrome meet actress Lauren Potter

Two years ago, I had the priveldge to meet actress Lauren Potter, known for her role on "Glee" as Becky Jackson, a cheerleader with Down syndrome.

It broke my heart when Lauren told me, "(Students) would call me the R-word. And they would push me into the sand. ... I want to tell people to stop bullying because it really hurts."

Desiree Andrews
Through her role, Lauren has inspired so many people — most recently, Desiree Andrews, a Lincoln Middle School eighth grader. After watching the Fox TV show, Desiree, who also has Down syndrome, decided that she too wanted to be a cheerleader.

She told her dad, "If she can be a cheerleader, I can be a cheerleader," Kenosha News reports.

But, during a basketball game, some members of the crowd started making fun of Desiree. Thankfully the team has more than just "basket" balls. One of the kids stepped up and said, "Don't mess with her," the News reports, and the rest of the team banded together in support of Desiree.

Now, the gym has been renamed "D's House" in Desiree's honor and Kenosha News reports that, before the game starts, the boys on the team run over to Desiree for high fives and fist bumps.

Both Desiree Andrews and Lauren Potter teach us that, no matter how many cruel people there are in this world, there are even more kind and brave people who are willing to stand up and make a difference. The girls also teach that, no matter the struggles we may face in our lives, that doesn't mean that we should stop fighting for our dreams. Desiree and Lauren have inspired millions by their refusal the listen to other people's taunts.

Now, I would like to take this a step further. Lauren Potter, if you're reading this, I would encourage you to call or, even better, meet with this girl who considers you a hero. Deneen Smith, the Kenosha News reporter who wrote this story, can be contacted at dsmith@kenoshanews.com.

To get Lauren's attention, tweet to her @TheLaurenPotter.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Facebook releases new features to help friends who may be suicidal

Amber Cornwell
Hours before Amber Cornwell, 16, of North Carolina killed herself, she posted on her Facebook page, "If I die tonight, would anyone cry?"

According to Daily Mail, one of Cornwell's friends said, "(Bullies) were really mean. They’d say stuff to her face, behind her back. ... They’d message her on Facebook."

Cosmo magazine reports that bullies would tell Cornwell she had no future and she had nothing going for her.

I feel like bullying has grown since the birth of social media. Many people, while hiding behind their computer, will say things they would never say in person.

But now Facebook is fighting back — adding a feature that may save the lives of people like Cornwell. If you see a worrying status by a friend on Facebook, there is now new tools on the social media platform to report this.

Buzz Feed reports that Facebook has teamed up with a number of suicide prevention groups. If you flag a post by a friend, you are given the option to message that friend, ask another friend for support, or chat with a trained helper at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The friend will also receive a pop-up that says, "A friend thinks you might be going through something difficult and asked us to look at your recent post."

Next, the person will be given the options to talk to a friend or helpline worker or get tips and support. They will be able to chat online with a prevention volunteer who is on Facebook at that moment and can also view a video which talks about overcoming the urge to kill oneself.

I think it's great that Facebook is doing this. And it makes me wonder — if this option was available three months ago, when Cornwell died, could this have saved her? Maybe if a friend would have reported her Facebook status, she would have realized that people actually did care about her. She would realize that they would cry if she died.

StoneCrest, a psychiatric service provider in Detroit, released this statement about Facebook's new feature: "The idea behind this new Facebook feature is to be able to improve how they respond to threats of suicide and to be able to provide better information to those in need."

"Furthermore, by providing people with more ways to identify those who are in danger, we can all be more successful at preventing suicide. Suicide is a tragic act, but it can be prevented."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Academy Award winner Graham Moore: 'Stay weird'

I thought the best part of Sunday night's Academy Awards was the very brave acceptance speech by "The Imitation Game" writer Graham Moore.

When he accepted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Moore said, “When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. Stay weird, stay different. When it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person that comes along."

I also felt "weird" when I was a teenager, and I got chills as he gave his speech. It felt like he was talking directly to me. And I'm sure of the 36.6 million viewers, many other people felt the same way.

The 33-year-old said at the Governor's Ball after the Oscars that he never publicly talked about his depression before. Moore said that he was a computer nerd when he was growing up and looked up to Alan Turing, the subject of "The Imitation Game."

Moore, who previously served as First Lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff, told Entertainment Weekly, “Unlike Alan, I’m not the greatest genius of my generation. Unlike Alan, I’m also not gay, but I have my own things that make me feel different. ... It’s always what drew me so much to Alan’s story—the outsider’s outsider, the guy who will never fit into his own time, but precisely because of that, was able to accomplish what he did.”

The thing as a teenager that kept me going was knowing that many accomplished people were considered "weird" when they were growing up. And, now, Moore is another person to add to this list. I am so thankful that Moore's suicide attempt didn't work. His speech was not only moving but I wouldn't be surprised if it saved at least one person's life, someone watching the Oscars who was considering suicide who changed his or her mind right that second.

If you feel different and think death is the only way out, instead take on Moore's challenge. Work that much harder to accomplish your dreams so, one day, when you are honored and when you are up on a stage giving your speech, you can pass on Moore's message.