Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'Love is being yourself'

I never truly knew what being "in love" was.

Until now -- when, oddly enough, for the first time in my life, I'm falling out of love.

Okay, don't make fun of me, but I'm going to use a movie quote to describe what I have realized that love is (actually, two movie quotes).

The first is from the movie "What's Your Number," when Anna Faris' character says, "Being in love means being yourself." 

The second is from "The Wedding Singer," when Ellen Albertini Dow, who plays Adam Sandler's grandma, says, "You'll know when you meet the right girl because it's not how you feel about her, it's how she makes you feel about yourself."

I had watched both of these movies dozens of times and never understood these quotes. "Isn't loving someone completely about the other person? How does it have anything to do with how you feel about yourself?"

Now, I understand how wrong I was. Because you could think your significant other is a god among men. But if you don't feel good about yourself when you're with him or her, it's never going to work out.

If you're in a relationship, and you constantly feel like you're pretending to be someone else, then, please, end it right now. In my last relationship, I was not myself at all. I would have panic attacks at least once a week, when before, I would only get them, at the most, once every six months. I had a very short temper when, before, it was almost impossible to get me mad. I doubted everything, especially myself, when I was with him. And the two most used words in my vocabulary at that time were, "I'm sorry."

For people who know me, you know that this is not the person I am. At least not when I'm single.

It doesn't mean that it's the other person's fault that you feel this way about yourself. And it's not your fault either. No, you're not crazy. No, this isn't who you really are. It just means this person isn't "the one."

For the first time, I realize that, when I do find "the one," I will feel confident. I will be proud of the person I am, and I will know that I am exactly who I'm supposed to be.

I know it won't be perfect. When I do find true love, there will be days where I feel down. There will be days when I will cry. And on those days, I'll know it's okay to let it out. I won't be ashamed of my tears. I won't try to hide it. Because I'll know that's just another part of who I am, and that it's okay.

Never again will I ever settle for anything less.

And you shouldn't either.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Just because a person is different, doesn't mean he or she is a 'freak'

"American Horror Story" - FX
From the 16th century until the 1950s, people with unusual physical characteristics agreed to be part of "freak shows" — shuttled from city to city as they were gawked at by audience members.

But, according to History Magazine, many of the people who worked in these sideshows did not feel exploited. Instead, they felt famous and, oftentimes, became richer than those who came to see them.

According to the article, "Both showmen and performers, alike, argued that it was better if (they) were in public, displaying their abnormalities for profit, rather than struggling to live among everyday people without a job and in complete isolation."

But, by the 1950s, freak shows almost complete disappeared.

"In the early years of the 20th century, a rise in disability rights inspired people to turn against sideshows and what they deemed as exploitation parading as entertainment," the article in History Magazine reports.

This serves as the backdrop for "American Horror Story: Freak Show," which premieres on Oct. 8 on FX. The show will be set in 1952 Florida and follows one of the last remaining freak shows in business.

According to a review of this season by Merrill Barr of Forbes Magazine, the characters in this season "take it upon themselves to integrate into everyday life in order to be seen not as monsters, but as the people they truly are."

And I couldn't help but wonder — are people with disabilities and deformities treated better or worse nowadays than they used to be? Are they viewed as monsters...or as the human beings they are?

In the long run, I am honestly not sure if things are better now or not. According to statistics, more than 65 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed and, of those working, almost one-third earn an income below the poverty level.

And of course there still is, just as there always has been, cruel people who judge others based solely on their appearances.

For instance, until she had surgery two years ago, Stefanie Grant, 25, was called a "freak" by her peers because of her severe underbite.

 "It was really hard to deal with, especially as a teenager, I felt like people didn’t see the real me, they just saw my face," said Grant. "I was called a freak and long face. It was awful."

Others try to make the best out of their disabilities, and, similar to the shows all those years ago, they decide to shine a light on their diseases, instead of hiding and being ashamed of it.

Actor RJ Mitte, who has cerebral palsy, is known for playing Walter Jr. on the television show "Breaking Bad," a character who also had CP. In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Mitte said he was bullied before reaching celebrity status

"I had kids that would push me and shove me. I had my hand broken," he said.

I wish that media would focus more on people with disabilities. There is more and more healthy representations in movies and television shows of people of different races and sexual orientations, but as the Huffington Post reports, "The same coverage hasn't been extended to those with disabilities."

Mitte said, "I try to bring awareness, not just to CP but to all disabilities in the sense that it's knowledge. My disability gave me so much knowledge that I was able to take into 'Breaking Bad' and to grow and to learn. You always have to bring in awareness because this is real. This isn't something that people are like, 'Oh yeah, that CP thing...' People live with this and people should see it because it is real. This is our world."

And I'm hoping that, besides just the expected scares and thrills inflicted on its audience members, that this season of "American Horror Story" will raise some awareness as well for people who actually have to deal with disabilities like this on a daily basis. Although the show is titled "Freak Show," I hope it shows that people with disabilities are anything but freaks. They are human beings, just like the rest of us.

Monday, September 29, 2014

People are not meant to go through life alone

As a psychology minor in college, one of the first studies we learned about in class was Harry Harlow's famous monkey experiment in the late 1950s.

Harlow wanted to prove wrong a previous theory that the only connection between mother and child is for food and safety. And so deprived baby monkeys were given a choice — to hang on to a fake monkey, made of soft terry cloth, or one made of wire with a baby bottle attached to it. And although it didn't have any food, the baby monkeys still spent significantly more time with the cuddly "mother" than the wire one.

Harlow concluded, "These data make it obvious that contact comfort is a variable of overwhelming importance in the development of affectional response, whereas lactation is a variable of negligible importance."

I am sharing this because I think, for all mammals, including humans, it's in our basic DNA to need others. No matter how independent and strong-willed you may be, I can guarantee that every once in a while, you get an unexplainable longing just to be held, comforted and told, "Everything is going to be alright."

And I don't think seeking the comfort of others makes you, in any way, weak. The world may tell you, "Toughen up" and "The only person you need is yourself," but we were meant to live in a community. Like the lyrics to the 1964 song "People," sung by Barbra Streisand, "People, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world."

I have always believed that the ability to swallow your pride and know when you do need help makes a person strong — not weak. It is unhealthy to be emotionally cut off from other people.

I know — trust me I know — that it is hard to let others into your life for fear that they will hurt you. Because yes, when you do seek the help of others, there is a chance you will be let down because people are not perfect. But that doesn't mean you should just give up on people either.

Last month, I dealt with a bout of depression. And thanks to the help of my family, my friends and a Common Ground volunteer, I have come out on the other side. Without them, I would probably still be in that dark hole, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. But they showed me that sometimes, the love and support of others can cure you — or at least make life not feel so hopeless. And it that's not enough proof that we need other people, then I don't know what is.

If you need someone to talk to, call Common Ground's 24/7 support line at 1-800-231-1127. They can refer you to a psychiatrist or a counselor if you need professional help.

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

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."