On Technology And Being Alone

Put down your devices or be ruined by them. This is the message preached by various videos gone viral over the last couple of months. At first I went along with what you might call the “technological backlash,” having spent a lot of time in therapy working toward a healthy balance in regards to using my phone and computer. It wasn’t until I watched a particular TED Talk near the end of the semester that my perspective started to shift. Profound and thought provoking, I had to choke back tears as we discussed it for my career and leadership class. I related to it on such a deep level, and realized that perhaps being so connected isn’t as cut and dry as people think. 

There’s no arguing that (rapidly advancing) technology has a dark, even ugly side. I’ve witnessed the internet bring out the worst in some, and I’ve had relationships that were built on a false sense of security because we communicated almost entirely online or via texting. Yet when it comes to addressing this unsettling reality as a whole, attitude really does make a difference.

The problem is way bigger than being glued to Candy Crush or sharing ridiculous cat videos on Facebook. That being said, the solution is much more than demanding less time on social media and pointing out why we’re supposedly better off without it. 

Electronic communication and the internet is not the heart of the issue. Rather, fear and loneliness is. 

Like Sherri, I’m convinced that we are the way we are because we don’t know how to be comfortable with being alone. 

And I say that because for nearly a decade, I was one of those people. 

From the time I was twelve, the mere idea of physically being by myself was absolutely terrifying. Part of it may have very well been pre-conditioned; at the age of ten I can recall being told by a school counselor that I needed to be actively playing with other kids instead of just watching or walking around on my own. By the time I reached junior high, I genuinely believed that weekends without a packed social schedule indicated that something was wrong with me. High school and college were a little bit different because it was more about experiences and not wanting to miss out on them. But age and maturity didn’t make me immune to the sting of rejection; the build up to the weekend made me anxious and desperate to plan things in advance to avoid being left out. And when a lot of those weekends were spent watching movies instead of going to parties or night clubs (at least for the first two years as a college student), my overactive imagination went into overdrive.

In that time, online communication and texting was less about hiding and more about just personal preference. I’ve always said that writing is like a second voice because it gives me the ability to articulate thoughts that are difficult to talk about in person. Back then, it was easier to discuss a subject in a text or a Facebook message first because I could choose my words carefully and not run the risk of being misinterpreted. I admit that I initially started blogging because I didn’t know how to contribute my own opinions in a face-to-face discussion. And even though I’m older, there’s still some truth in that for me today, but it really depends on the topic.

But I still found myself over-analyzing, second-guessing, and ultimately working myself up to where I just didn’t know what to do anymore. I tried limiting my time on social media to twice a day, and when that didn’t work, I would try to only check it when I saw notifications on my phone. Yet it wasn’t long before I started to feel the way that some do when they go on certain diets; they mess up or “cheat” and experience instant shame or frustration. 

I struggled very much with anxiety for most of my senior year of college, particularly as graduation neared. At one point I even sat down with my therapist and discussed on the possibility of going on medication, as I’ve noticed that my mind tends to shut down and leave me unable to think about anything whenever I become seriously overwhelmed. (I initially thought this was due to texting, but it also happens when I’m in public places that are extremely crowded). The combination of that and having a creative mind that goes in all different directions can be a ridiculous recipe for a breakdown, which did happen once or twice. 

“It’s not just about your habits,” she explained. “It’s also about the story you keep telling yourself whenever this kind of thing comes up.” 

It was a story in which a lack of response meant that they didn’t want to talk to me or see me. It meant that they didn’t care and I didn’t matter. Is this story true? For some, perhaps so, but  a lot of it can be chalked up to simply being lazy or being forgetful. We all do it to some extent.

On the other side, a lot of people experience those feelings and wonder if they could have said or done something different. It’s so hard not to take it personally, and in some respects after a certain point it does become personal. But the bottom line is that you can’t control what other people think or do because of it. What is said or done in love and kindness should not result in guilt or shame. 

Yet I wonder if this kind of mindset would exist if generation after generation wasn’t raised to believe in vulnerability as a bad thing. If people were comfortable enough with not only telling, but showing a loved one that they cared, would the person on the other side of the screen be driving themselves crazy?

How would it be if people believed that all emotions are valid, and that they have every right to express them out loud?

 How would it be if our culture stopped focusing on the meaning of life based on age or gender, but based on what it means to be human?

In my personal experience, it’s all about awareness. Despite that I use my phone and computer a lot, I do have instinctive limits. I can’t explain what it is exactly, but I get this feeling whenever I sense that I’m using one or both too much. It’s like a combination of anxiety and annoyance, and when that happens, then I know it’s time to take a break. Of course, I still do things to help increase that awareness: I rarely use headphones anymore and choose not to take my phone with me when I go for walks or work out. Paying attention to the triggers helps me moderate how I use it without having to avoid it altogether. 

Finding comfort (and even contentment) in actually being alone is something that I’m still working at as well. It took a long time for that little voice in my head to quiet down; the one that constantly asked what are they all doing without me? One of the concepts pointed out in the video is that spending time alone teaches us how to relate better to others, and to better understand ourselves. When I genuinely reflected on it, I realized just how much growth took place when I was completely by myself. Some of those times were incredibly lonely, where I often wept like a baby and had to grit my teeth in order not to slip into a deep depression. But when I re-read various journals and just allowed myself to be still, I was filled with an indescribable amount of peace. Once I found true joy in that, I discovered that my faith grew deeper, I became a better writer, among other things. I actually find myself craving it when I’m around people for long periods of time, although I’m learning how to cope when I can’t. 

Once I learned to be comfortable with admitting that I was lonely, it seemed like the stigma fell away. When that happens now, I see it as a natural reaction that is temporary and will eventually pass.

Yet that doesn’t change the fact that cyberspace now resembles that of an addiction, and electronics are the ones that feed it. 

But it’s not just what we do that exemplifies this culture. It’s the way we view it. 

In other words, we romanticize the past and villify the present. There needs to be a balance that’s healthy but understanding of the world we live in. 

I don’t think kids under the age of thirteen should have a smartphone or a tablet, but I’m also not a parent. Technological overload doesn’t mess with the human mind, but a lack of boundaries and moderation does. 

The internet can destroy, but it can also unite. I never discovered that so many others had the same questions and doubts (regarding the current state of Christianity) until I got into blogging. There’s no verbal communication, but the stories did and still do speak to me. And I’m grateful. 

Texting is terrible for planning and having important conversations, but I love the fact that I started a prayer circle because of it. 

Social networking has its hangups; it does cause jealousy and insecurity, but it’s not right to blame those who are simply trying to share their happiness with others. There are certain types of posts that I would rather not see on Facebook or Twitter, but it’s not my place to go running interference. The only thing that gets under my skin is when I find out about the death of a friend or family member through someone else’s Facebook post, rather than get a phone call or even just a text beforehand. While I get that those affected don’t want to openly talk about it, it’s still disrespectful to others that knew the deceased person, even if they didn’t have the closest relationship. Pardon going off topic, but it’s a serious matter and one that I feel very strongly about.

 Contrary to popular belief, I don’t get the hype over a supposed “golden age” where everybody talked to each other all the time. If I didn’t want to socialize, I read books in the middle of class, and I can imagine those of previous decades hiding behind newspapers or just flat out ignoring those around them. Would they talk more if they didn’t have distractions in front of them? Probably. But sometimes it’s more a matter of someone simply wanting there own space. In circumstances such as public transportation or crowded areas, most likely they’re doing what they feel is necessary to keep themselves safe.

And though traditional means of communication are changing, there are other avenues opening up alongside that, particularly in terms of careers. I love being creative with various platforms, from coming up with catchy slogans that will fit one hundred forty characters or discovering various means to promote an upcoming story collection. Technology is providing certain kinds of jobs that didn’t exist a decade or so ago, and being able to network has mind finding a job so much easier. Also, why bash a tool that has helped me stretched my creativity and help reach more audiences with my writing? 

That’s the underlying issue in all of this; people spending all this energy arguing and fighting against things that they don’t use or aspects that they’re not even part of. No one’s saying that you have to be involved with social media or own a smartphone, and not doing so doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Technology would be less overwhelming (and concerning) if there weren’t crusade-like arguments that perpetuate all of it. 

I get that some, if not most networks are often a breeding ground for negativity, and it can get really old after a while. But why try to convince somebody who probably isn’t going to listen, and instead just change a few settings so you don’t have to see that stuff? (de-friending or blocking seems a little bit drastic). The fact that anyone spends time and energy trying to dictate what others do online says more about them than it does about those being criticized. It says “I refuse to take responsibility for my own actions,” which is the kind of attitude that contributes to more problems than just what goes on in cyberspace. 

If you are seriously concerned with what someone else is doing on the other side of a computer screen, then be an adult and talk to them about it. Otherwise if it’s just something like seeing too many selfies or pointless articles, maybe it would be a good idea to just stop scrolling and get off of the computer for a little bit. Again, no one is forcing you to do anything. Everyone should be able to express themselves freely and not feel like they have to cater to their friend/follower list. I’m very conciancious of what I share and the fact that not all will appreciate it, and that’s OK. I’m doing it because I came across something that made me happy or made me think, and I want to do my best to create a positive environment online. I’m not going to apologize for that.

It’s not bad to occasionally reminisce about “back in the day”; who doesn’t like talking about their extensive CD collection, along with everything that came before that? But fighting against (inevitable) change and always longing for what used to be seems like a battle that will ultimately go nowhere. 

Like loneliness, technology is not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just part of life. You can either embrace it and roll with it, or waste your days being cynical over something that you can’t control. 

Trust me when I say that once you do, it definitely gets easier to deal with.

photo credit: Anne Worner via photopin cc

Privacy Cravings: The Sacred (Part 1)

For most of my years, I have considered myself pretty open about my life; there are things that I won’t necessarily shout from the rooftops, but neither will I deny it if anyone asks. What exactly do I have to hide? Yet in this digital age where it’s possible for people to document their lives on a minute by minute basis, whether it be through pictures, tweets or statuses, part of me now suddenly finds myself shrinking back when it comes to updating on “real time.” I can’t pinpoint a specific reason exactly; it’s not that I totally want to disengage from technology, because I do consider Facebook and Twitter to be positive forces when used appropriately. But when online platforms somehow morph into online diaries  (which happened a lot when I was a teenager), then it becomes a problem. 

Recently, there was a bit of an uproar in regards to this subject: there were a period of days where at least one person would say something along the lines of “I hate it when people post…” almost to where it turned into a laugh-out-loud rant. Then I came across 7 Ways To Be Insufferable on Facebook which I might have considered interesting had it not come across as conceited and taken on a holier than thou tone. Everybody that engages in social networking will say or do something ridiculous and most likely more than once. Demanding that users do or stop doing things because supposedly “nobody likes it” is not going to produce change. While I’ll agree that there are things better left off the world wide web, I cannot control it. It’s actually rather simple: if you don’t like it, don’t look at it. And if a person is going to take trivial stuff that seriously, perhaps the problem isn’t just other internet users. 

However, there are times where I see something and wonder not about the actual post, but the motivation behind it. Do some users update Twitter and Facebook because they genuinely care about the subject, or is it just for the sake of reaction? I’m not as concerned with the political fiends or the gym buffs, but more so with the romantics. There’s no shame in applauding your significant other/spouse in regards to their achievements and your milestones together. On the other hand, when you constantly proclaim your love over the internet, whether it be literally or giving a detailed synopsis about what you did that day, I scratch my head. What are you trying to prove? 

I understand that not everyone has the same views on how to treat a relationship, but I’d like to think that connection and possibly real love is fostered face to face, not screen to screen. When you constantly broadcast details that should remain between you and that person, it suddenly becomes everyone else’s business; as much as they shouldn’t be nosy, anything that goes online is almost fair game for criticism or questioning. Being able to distinguish the difference between gratitude/humbleness and a honeymoon-like phase probably makes it easier to stay rooted in what matters. 

With that being said, I wonder if it’s a bad thing if I choose not to share every single detail, not necessarily just online, but also in terms of “gushing” around friends. I’m definitely a believer in vulnerability, but dissecting the event or a conversation is not going to get anywhere. Overall, I’m just really selective now a days about who I confide in; it really depends on that person’s attitude. 

Lately, I’m more focused on my social media profiles being positive and encouraging to others. When used in a healthy amount and for the right reasons, Facebook and Twitter can be a good thing. As a writer, it’s very important for me to be active in using the internet in order to get my name out there. I’ve connected with a lot of people through things like LinkedIn, and ultimately it has given me a lot of insight in terms of the career path that I want to take, which I might not have found otherwise. 

But it’s not just about what you post/upload, but when. It’s almost normal to take a picture and then spend five to ten minutes afterward trying to put it on instagram. Tweets document the most trivial stuff in regards to when and where something is taking place. In my personal opinion, the worst is hearing the news of a loved one’s passing on Facebook before getting a phone call or text. I say that because I’ve been on the tail end of it several times, and it’s all the more devastating, not to mention inappropriate.

I’m not saying that it’s ultimately a bad thing to share photos or news with others, especially those you don’t get to see often. Rather, I think sharing right away often takes away from the sacredness and beauty of the moment, because then it becomes more about presentation then anything else. Instead of trying to keep everyone else in “real time” focus on celebrating, mourning, or doing whatever you need to do with those that you’re surrounded by. You have to be present in order to get the most out of an experience, or process something in a healthy way. The internet can wait, and it will still be there in the days and weeks to come. 

This is not meant to knock anyone down or demand change. This is more for the sake of pondering in an era that is largely based on virtual and constant connection. More so, I’ve learned that the number of views, likes, and comments is not going to fill you in the long run. If you take the time to put down your phone, get off the computer, and devote your attention to what’s right in front of you, you’ll eventually find out what will.  

Other Writing

I wanted to blog about this particular topic on here, but since I’m required to contribute one or more articles per week for my internship, I thought it would be best to post it on there first and then provide a link for others to read. I’ve been thinking a lot about being “good enough” and how validation, particularly from online communities, has become so magnified in our culture. Unfortunately, it’s starting to destroy people who take it too personally, ultimately keeping them from real connection. 

You can find the link to the article here, and if you like what you read, feel free to like College Social Magazine on Facebook!

Closing The Distance

Day 23-Anticipation 

What are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?

If you had asked me this question in years past, I could easily rattle off a list of things that I wanted to happen, but had no way of guaranteeing that they could happen. Yet I’ve learned the hard way that depending on circumstances and leaning on this perfect yet uncontrollable vision only leads to disappointment. Instead, I want to focus on what I can control. 

And rather than make a long list of cliche New Years Resolutions that I’m more than likely to give up on at one point or another, I’m going to choose one thing to primarily put my emotional time and energy into. In my first entry for December, I declared that 2013 would be the year of freedom, and discussed the particular freedoms that I would like to embrace. But those freedoms can be summed up in one simple sentence: living with authenticity as well as intimacy. 

Despite sounding incredibly similar, I’ve come to the conclusion that these two words are not the same thing. While authenticity involves a person’s self-awareness of who they are, it tends to frequently come off as defensive and lacking the will/motivation to improve or become better at something. It’s individualistic and involves only that one person taking responsibility for how they present themselves. 

Intimacy is where two or more people genuinely present themselves to one another exactly as they are and make a point to actively connect and relate to each other.  It’s raw and without pretense. It takes time and involves an equal amount of sharing and listening; telling the truth and being able to hear it and recognize it.  It’s not a state of codependency, but acknowledging the fact that one can’t survive or succeed on their own. 

And I say that because there was an insane imbalance of the two in my life this year. I knew who I was and how I felt, but scared stiff of how some of my friends and family would react if I peeled back those layers. I was not only careful about who I talked to, but how I talked to them; I didn’t want to risk being looked down upon for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or just oversharing in general. 

What my insecurities prevented me from discussing in person, I wrote it on my blog and had other people read it. It may have kept me from enduring rejection (at least verbally) but it left me isolated from those that I desperately wanted to know, and for them to know me. 

So if there’s one thing that I really want out of the New Year, it’s to have relationships with very little insecurities or inhibitions. To have that closeness and vulnerability that I once did seven years ago. It’s just too exhausting to try so hard to keep my guard up, as opposed to risking a kind of pain that can eventually be healed. 

It won’t, nor is it possible for everyone that I interact with, because sometimes personalities just don’t mesh well. On the other side of it, I can also tell when we don’t have a lot in common and when I’m the one holding back. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve been told that it’s the gift of discernment. 

Whether it be feeling confident in our own skin, or being vulnerable with another person, I think it’s something that is hard for everyone in one way or another. It’s hard because we’re given this mixed message that our self-worth should be based on being likable rather than being human. If we don’t meet specific standards, then we’re not good enough. 

Although I don’t have an exact blueprint as to how I’m going to work my way out of isolation in terms of certain relationships, a lot of it is a matter of not depending on friends or family to help determine how I see myself. And that no matter what pain I have to go through, I will be OK. 

I’ve assumed that the greatest pain is rejection. But it turns out the greatest pain is a life without knowing, and a life without love.

Over The Cyber Wall

A couple of days ago I came across the Facebook page memorializing Amanda Todd, the Canadian teenager who committed suicide last week from enduring a living hell of online bullying and harassment.I wept for her and her loved ones, the way I have wept for so many other stories like this. It always hits close to home, given my own experiences relating to the subject. But when I began hearing about the malicious messages that were being posted about her through that page, I began to question the concept of its creation, and how this all seems to be going around in one gigantic, vicious circle.

Her death was tragic, and a situation like this should not be taken lightly. Amanda Dodd deserves to be remembered and mourned.  At the same time, I too, find myself asking why certain people are glorified or are given attention on this subject, and others are not. A vast number of people kill themselves every single day due to some form of bullying, whether it be online or off. Why aren’t they specifically mentioned, as opposed to be lumped in to a group of statistics?

The other thing that puzzles me is the effectiveness of “liking” something on Facebook, particularly if it is a cause or some kind of outreach. It’s not just bullying; it’s the “like this [photo] so that this poor dog doesn’t get put to sleep” stuff. It’s “Like this picture to show that you care for kids with cancer.” What good does that do, exactly?

I understand the intentions behind things like that, particularly when someone takes their own life due to senseless cruelty. You want to make sure that their death is not in vain. You want to spread awareness and make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. But just because you post something on the internet doesn’t mean that people become automatically informed, nor does it mean that they will care. In this specific case, it appears that cyber-bullying is more or less being enforced or inflamed; from what I’ve read, more people are posting messages that Amanda “deserved” what she got, given the circumstances preceding what happened, and a whole lot worse. It’s an awful cycle that has been going and going; at this point, Facebook can do very little to contain it.

Meanwhile, adults have gone about the usual tactics of pointing fingers and blaming people or social media. This is something I tend to slap my forehead over;  because every time our country is dealt with some kind of tragedy, whether it be a mass murder, bullying/suicide, etc. all we do is cry foul, and nothing else. Sure, Facebook and Twitter, parents, peers, and a whole list of other stuff plays a role in such events. But is it really possible to pinpoint one or two as the sole cause? 

It seems like the underbelly of all of this is hatred; pure, unrelenting, blinding, hatred. All other things help a person or group of people feed on that hatred, but that in itself is ultimately where it starts. 

But hatred, bullying, and the like are not limited to students. It happens everywhere, with everyone. Politicians can be bullies. Business owners and leaders can be bullies. Parents/husbands/wives can be bullies. Even pastors and church congregations can be bullies. It all starts to when we fail to recognize those around us as human beings. What’s worse is when we ignore their human dignity. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of gray areas in these things, which I’m saving for another time. But instead of focusing energy on removing one thing or adding something else, why not make an effort to actually sit down and talk to each other?  And if you don’t agree with or understand something, ask that person why that idea is important to them. There’s a chance that it might be more effective, rather than becoming dependent on technology or the justice system to do all the work. 

I’m not against creating a page or a website, for whomever or whatever. But “liking” or “following” something/a person can only do so much. What I mean is, people should be doing more than just getting involved on the internet. Get off your butt and act. Volunteer for an organization relating to that particular cause. Speak out whenever you see someone being treated disrespectfully. Smile and say hello to your school mates, peers, coworkers, etc. In fact, why not invite them out to lunch or coffee and get to know them? 

I have to be honest, I can’t say that there is a concrete solution to stopping or preventing any wrongdoing against humanity. But we’ll never know unless we turn off our computer screens and make an effort to try. 

Stream Of Consciousness: Stagnant

I’m currently at a loss of knowing what to write this week. Don’t get me wrong, my creative wheels are always cranking at full force; I have a boatload of ideas and topics in mind, and am always coming up with more. It’s just that there are times where I don’t feel like I have the emotional energy to publish those ideas right away; almost as if I have to work through my own thoughts and opinions before I can genuinely discuss it. And sharing fairly deep posts week after week seems mildly overwhelming, which I’m sure every serious blogger deals with or calls into question. Or I’m probably just not ready to talk about it, especially if it has to do with something personal.

Plus, I want to be authentic with my readers; and if I were to act like I knew everything all that time, I wouldn’t be telling the truth. 

Right now it’s almost like my life isn’t really going anywhere in particular. Or maybe it’s not that, but more of seeming like I’m going around in circles, or taking one step forward and than two steps back. There are mornings during my quiet time when I feel absolutely nothing; no stirring of peace in my soul or a verse/passage that speaks to my circumstances in some way. There are moments when I will pray for God to take my burdens, but yet I don’t feel any lighter. I realize that I’m not going to feel uplifted every single day, but I wish it wouldn’t leave my heart so heavy either. 

I’m experiencing a season of healing, and it’s taking quite a bit of time, as well as patience. I think that’s where the not moving part of it falls in; sometimes I believe that I am progressing, and other times I just do the same thing over and over again. 

That’s why I get frustrated; I want to leave this crap behind me, yet it’s not always as simple as “let it go.” 

Words and thoughts are one thing; habits are another. 

I did something very refreshing yesterday. For that day in my journal-devotional, Jesus Calling, it talked about not constantly venting to other people, but working it out with God first. So I kind of made a list/prayer about everything that’s been bothering me lately, from not having actual creamer in my coffee to constantly acting skittish whenever I walk around campus at night. It felt good; not because I was forsaking gratitude, but because I wasn’t  mincing my words and being honest about where I was at. 

A friend recently relayed to me the GPS analogy; that you’re never given directions way ahead of time, you’re only told where to go and when about a mile before you get there. 

Perhaps that’s why life has seemed to slow down, almost to the point of stopping. It’s not because I’m not going anywhere, but because I haven’t gotten close enough yet. 

Until then, I’m choosing to be patient instead of testy. To pray instead of trying to figure it all out myself. And ultimately, to do my best to make the most of where I’m at, instead of desperately wishing and waiting for when I can be someplace else.

The Seemingly Impossible Fight: A Call To Kindness

Let me start off by saying that personally, this is not an easy post to write, nor will it be an easy post to read. It’s long, and at times may be difficult to take in, especially for my friends and family members that are unaware of what I went through up to this point. But I do not share my story for my own sake, but rather for the sake of others: those who have already been through it, those who are currently in that kind of situation, or those who simply don’t understand what it’s about. You may not agree with everything that I say, but please be respectful.
We have a problem. It is a problem that tends to be written off as kids being kids, or a problem that is not worth trying to solve because we’ll never completely solve it. It started on the playground and has plagued its way into people’s own homes. More or less, it has gravitated into cyberspace. That is why it has been given the now all-too-common term “cyber bullying.”

I was in my second year of middle school when I began to venture online; most of the kids at the time used AIM (AOL’s instant messaging service) and along with it you could make a buddy profile, which was basically just anything you wanted it to be. Some also used Xanga; it normally functioned as a blogging website, but anyone I knew of that had one used it before the days of Myspace and Facebook.

It started around late February or early March; I came home from school one day to find that people had posted messages for me; I can’t recall the exact details, being that it has been a little over five years since it happened. I do remember that whoever wrote it often used the words “bitch” and “whore” in order to describe me.

I was in shock. What exactly did I do to be treated that way, and by whom? I knew there were vicious rumors going about me, but that was it. None of it made any sense to me.

I was extremely naive about the internet back then; I believed that I was in control of what was going on, and that eventually it would stop. But every day, there was always something being posted that was more hurtful than the last. The one thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was when someone wrote, “no one likes you. Go fix your legs!” Despite my eventual healing, I have never forgotten those words. 

    I wanted to make it stop, but I didn’t know how; at least without coming across as a complete bitch. I didn’t have definite proof as to who was doing it, and thought it would be better for me to be the bigger person. Little did I know that I was just being a doormat.

 At some point I began getting called down to the counselor’s office to talk to her about how I was doing with school, both socially and academically. I tried opening up to her about what I was dealing with, but she would always tell me to stop being so negative and then all of my problems would go away. I never took a whole lot out of the time I spent in her office, and usually walked out of there feeling worse than I did before.

My parents knew that I was struggling, but only to a certain extent. I it didn’t occur to me to tell them that I was being cyber-bullied, since I didn’t even realize what that even was. We would have numerous conversations where I ended up in tears, mostly because they said one thing and I would hear something completely different. I finally stopped trying to explain my perspective because life at home was stressful enough, and I figured that all I was doing was burdening my loved ones with crap that they didn’t need.

It got to the point where I started spending more time alone, and sinking slowly into a state of depression. There were days that I would get so upset (normally after the counseling sessions took place) that I would skip class and go into the girls’ bathroom and cry. A lot of the time I wrote poetry in order to express what I was going through, because what I really wanted to say usually never came out right.

I can’t say that I wanted to physically take my own life, but I did wonder if anyone would actually care if I was around or not. It was like a large part of me was dying on the inside; the part of me that genuinely loved myself, and would take years to resurrect.
The biggest aspect of bullying, at least from my perspective, isn’t just about the words that are being said, whether it be face to face or through a computer. There’s no denying that words hurt, but it is more about the psychological damage that is being done as a result of those words. It is about the isolation that a person feels when they’re being told that they’re worthless and undeserving of any kind of love. It is about trying to find the courage to say “I am not OK” but yet fearing what would happen if you do so.

 My moment of relief came one Sunday a couple of weeks after eighth grade started up; I had begun attending a church with my neighbors, after taking part in a youth group trip that summer. I loved learning about the Christian Faith and about the concepts of loving others and compassion. And although my spiritual journey has had its ups and downs since then, it was the beginning of an extremely long healing process for me.

 I had been holding a lot of emotions in at the time, doing my absolute best to deal with the memories on my own. I remember that I walked into the hallway before the service started and somewhat lost my composure. A friend of mine, who I had only known for about a month, spotted me and asked me if I was all right. Since it was rather obvious that I wasn’t, we went off into a small closed off area to talk.

 I didn’t trust anyone at the time, so I’m not sure what moved me to spill out every single detail of what had happened, and my feelings towards it. I’d like to think that I have a keen sense of perception and that I’m good at sizing people up. This friend seemed safe enough, so I told them every single last detail. Then they looked at me and told me that I was loved, both by God and those that also went to the church. And at the end, I remember how this person gave me a hug. The relief, gratitude and joy I felt in that moment are still indescribable.

But this is not just about me. There are millions of people go have dealt with and are still dealing with this kind of cruelty; not only are they being verbally picked up, but some are even physically harassed as well.  Sadly, it is still being viewed as “petty junior high crap” when the truth is that bullying of all kinds happens both in high school and even on college campuses. One can go so far as to say that even adults are subjected to this kind of treatment.

The question to ask is not “who is to blame?” but rather “what can we do about it?” And I say “we” because it is going to take so much more than one person to form a solution. I call this “the seemingly impossible fight” because there are very few that believe that bullying can be completely banished. And while there is some truth to that, it doesn’t mean that people should stick their hands in their pockets and act like it isn’t happening. You never know what kind of change you can bring about unless you make an effort to do so.

The bridges and gaps of social groups have appeared to create this great divide; it seems simple enough to say that if a kid (or group) took the time to get to know and understand another, then perhaps this wouldn’t be as big of a problem. However, one has to be willing to do so, and sometimes the need a little bit of help when it comes to talking openly about themselves or a set of circumstances. Not all lesson plans need to strictly adhere to a textbook.

I applaud our government leaders for recognizing bullying as an issue that needs to be addressed. However, (and feel free to disagree with me on this one) I do not believe in becoming completely reliant on our legal system, both for this particular matter and other troublesome matters as well. Our justice system has failed time and time again, and it will continue to do so if we look to it as the ultimate answer. It seems like it is just a method of punishment to the bully as opposed to disrupting or preventing the act of bullying in itself.

I understand that dozens of teachers, parents and students view all types of bullying as a kind of wildfire that has spread and cannot be put out.  Teachers, it is true that you’re not baby-sitters and should not be expected to be. However, it is your responsibility to make sure that your students are able to learn in a healthy environment. Academic institutions of all levels are becoming less of those and more war zones in the eyes of the children that walk through them. How much longer can one look the other way and pretend that it isn’t happening?
Parents and adults alike are perhaps one of the key factors in all of this; while elder generations may not care for the likes of Facebook, texting, etc. it’s important to what your kids are posting online and what they’re sending back and forth. Yes, there is an issue of privacy and the fact that so many yearn for privacy these days. But in a time where technology advances at an impossibly fast rate, privacy is one of the last things they need. What they need is guidance; knowing how to use the internet safely and in the right way. They also need to be held accountable for their actions and take ownership of what they say.
But more importantly is what an adult (and peers, for that matter) will do when another comes to them and says that they’re being bullied, or they think they’re being bullied. My best piece of advice, especially speaking from experience, would be to just listen and hear what they have to say. It might sound dramatic and over the top, but keep your personal opinions to yourself for the time being and allow them to express their pain. Whether they’re wrong or right in the long run, it is how they feel and they have a right to their personal feelings. That was something that I 

 Aside from the awful names and comments that were being directed at me, the lack of support (or what I felt to be the lack of support) was what I agonized over the most. Anybody who is in that kind of predicament is in a very delicate state of mind, and they want to know that they’re loved unconditionally. They want to feel validated, not rejected. They want to feel want to feel safe, not terrified of the world around them.
Even for those that are being bullied, you too can make an impact. I didn’t realize this until a long time after, but one can stand firm; it doesn’t necessarily have to involve confrontation. If you’re being harassed online, report it to an internet moderator or print it out and take it to someone you trust. If you can’t find anyone who believes what you’re saying, keep telling until they do. As difficult as it may be, try to find a counselor that can help you sort through your feelings and help you deal with them head on. If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I gave up on any sort of therapy (at least until recently).

 Find a support group to get involved in, whether it is a church group or a student organization at your school. Ultimately, surround yourself with people who lift you up, not bring you down.

 Learn  how to love and accept yourself; Coming from someone who has struggled with it, appreciating who you are as a person is not an easy thing to do, especially when it seems like those around you have nothing good to say. Real love starts from a spiritual standpoint; but I recognize that not all hold those same beliefs, so I am going to say that love starts with self and continues outward. Know that you have a great deal to offer, and that you’re worth getting to know and befriending.

Most importantly, you need to learn how to forgive and let go. That’s not to say that you should completely forget about what happened or try to block it out. For years, I had this notion that if I didn’t talk about it, maybe it would all go away. Yet, I’ve realized that it’s perfectly all right to discuss it, because it is a part of your history. At the same time, you cannot allow it to become your life or define who you are. That was something in particular that I struggled with for several years afterward.
It’s easy to accept that this kind of cruelty is a part of life, and that there’s no way of getting around it. Please excuse my language, but I have to say it: that’s pure bullshit. Yes, not everyone is going to like you. Nobody’s saying that you should have to like everyone either. But the lengths that people, especially adolescents, go to in order to make another’s life a living hell is just mind blowing. When it comes to internet, some will argue the concept of freedom of speech. Yet, a freedom doesn’t seem like a freedom when it is being abused.
Nobody deserves that kind of crap; it shouldn’t matter what their religion is, what their sexual orientation is, or what kind of physical or mental handicaps that they have to cope with.     As my grandmother repeatedly taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” (Technically that is from Bambi, but I heard it from her more often).

It has been six years; many readers are probably wondering why I still care at this point. I’m not in high school anymore, let alone middle school. But as I said previously, there are millions that are currently and still going through this type of ordeal. I just recently heard the story of a fourteen year old boy who committed suicide because he was being picked on at school. And although no one forces another to take their own life, it is still heartbreaking to hear that a person was anguished enough to be pushed to that point.

I have learned so much, both from what I have been through and how I continue to live my life today. It has taught me the importance of reaching out to others and treating them with love and respect, despite the fact that I feel like I’ve fallen short over the years. I probably come across as weak in the eyes of many, but I would rather have a heart of gold then a heart of stone.
There are various causes that I am passionate about; but I have never felt as strong, as angry, or as moved by something other than the cause of decreasing bullying, both on campuses and in cyberspace. There is such a lack of kindness in this world, and it is only being further stomped upon by those trying to justify ignorant behavior. Unfortunately, we can never rid the world of it, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with it either.

It starts with us. And it can end with us. 

This I Believe (But Maybe, You Don’t)

Day 4-One Belief

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

It may a bit uncommon, unconventional and not quite the smartest belief to hold dear. To some, I might as well be jumping off a cliff and not bring a parachute with me to ensure a safe landing. On a more literal level, I might very well be opening a door to allow my heart to be battered, bruised and eventually smashed to pieces. 

Regardless of what anyone says, I wholly believe in taking the time to invest in people; to talk to them and get to know them, no matter what kind of relationship it is or what the future may bring. 

From what I read on Facebook, Twitter, etc. it seems like the main idea in terms of how we relate to others is this: That it’s better to be lonely than to be hurt, and in order not to get hurt, we must keep them at arms length. And if we do end up becoming close to someone, the only way it can be deemed successful is if that particular is free from any sort of pain, betrayal, etc. If not, it becomes an unspoken regret, as well as a waste of time.

To put it plainly, the only way to not regret forming a particular relationship is if it works out exactly the way we want it to. 

But I don’t think that’s true; at least, I don’t think that should be true. I have had some relationships (or if you really want to get technical, I’ll just call them friendships) that have started quickly and ended quickly. Some that have lasted for a long time and are still going strong. Some where we’re really close, but just aren’t talking right now because life has kept us both extremely busy. But no matter the situation, I do not regret the time that I’ve spent with them. Ultimately, I do not regret having the be a part of my life.

There have definitely been a lot of people that have let me down; friends, family…oh heck, there have been times where I feel as if God has let me down. But that does not mean that I don’t care about them or that I’m not willing to forgive them; there are people, especially friends, who will always have a special place in my heart. We may have endured a tough road together, but I still have wonderful memories as well as wonderful things that I’ve learned from them.

And that is why I choose not to regret investing in those relationships, or any relationship. I may have been hurt at some point, but I learned many things about myself, about the relationship as a whole and about life. Now this is just my personal opinion here, but if you come out of a relationship having learned something, then who’s to say that it was a waste?
The other side of the issue is the concept of pain. It’s only natural to not want to get hurt. Nobody wants to experience being lied to, cheated on, taken advantage of, etc. So a person decides to keep another (or several) at arms-length; in the end, they may not get their heart broken, but what other benefits does it truly provide? It doesn’t bring full joy or laughter.  From my perspective, it doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of good.
  Through my own experiences, the one fact that I cannot dispute is that pain is inevitable. You can try and protect yourself all you want, but eventually you will experience some form of brokenness or hardship. Not just in relationships, but in life as well. That’s not to say you should walk around with a negative attitude or completely focus on it, but rather just accept it and deal with it when it happens.
It’s like locking yourself up in a house because you don’t want to run the risk of anything bad happening. You just don’t get to experience the possibilities and the opportunities because you’re not willing to take a chance. I don’t know about everyone else, but that does not seem like a healthy way to live.
And maybe I’m getting a little off-topic here, but I don’t think it’s fair to put someone else’s faults on other people. To be specific, someone hurt you and you tell the next person that comes along “I’m not going to put a whole lot of effort into this, nor am I going to trust you because of what happened in the past.” It’s completely normal to be cautious, but only to a certain extent.
There’s a little saying that I have: “Don’t let the pain of the past keep you from having joy in the future.” That is true not just for relationships, but for life as well.
With that being said, I don’t think that one should just go and tell the entire world every little detail about themselves. There are definitely times and circumstances where it’s not always a good idea to be a completely open book. It may seem that way when I am blogging, but I do hold back certain details in my writings, mostly for the sake of my loved ones and that there are a lot of sick people out there in cyberspace.
When it comes to investing and knowing when to trust somebody, it’s hard to tell from the get-go. You really don’t know what will happen a month, a year or a couple of years down the road. All you can really do is trust your instincts and know that genuine relationships of any sort tend to take a lot of time. In other words, don’t try to explain your life story to someone right when you start getting to know them. Let them slow pick up on the little things about you and then talk about the deep stuff when you’ve known each other long enough.
I realize that not everyone may agree with what I’m saying here, and that’s perfectly fine. Every situation is different and each person has their own way of dealing with this kind of stuff. All I know is that I, personally, do not want to spend my life feeling lonely and cut off from people that could potentially be bright lights in my life. I spent the majority of middle school doing so, as well as a portion of high school; I don’t want that to be what I remember about my college years.
Lucille Ball once said, “I would rather regret the things that I did do then the things that I didn’t do.” Never have I found that to be more true than right now.


My Mother sent me an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that was titled “To the under-forty crowd” about how lucky my generation has been in regards to technology and how easy it has made our lives. There’s a lot of truth to it; for instance, we can pretty much communicate with anyone we want at any time. We can control what we watch and what we listen to, and for how long and for how much. We can basically have everything we want packed into one little microchip.

I remember the various stages of technology; when I was about eight, my Dad set up my first e-mail account, we still had dial-up, I owned both a regular CD player as well as the portable version. To answer the phone, we had to say “Hello, (last name) residence!” because you couldn’t see who was calling. 

When I was eleven I got The Sims Deluxe Edition for my birthday, which I was once spent about seven hours per day playing. Virtually being able to control other people’s lives was the easiest cure for boredom, but would become the cause for boredom when it began having problems and eventually crashed the computer (Mom, suffice to say, was not very happy about that). She threatened to crack the discs in half many times over.

At thirteen I had my first cell phone, alas it was a trac-phone that you continually added minutes too. I had AIM installed, making in easier to communicate with friends. “Buddy Profiles”, as well as having Xanga blogs were pretty popular at the time. 

 At fourteen I had a flip-phone as well as the fastest computer in the house. And I made a myspace profile and kept in touch with people on there; this is turn started the “New Pictures! Please comment” craze among many girls my age at that time. I realize that I myself did this at that particular time, but talk about low self-esteem! Does one seriously need people to tell them how hot their pictures are in order to feel good? I strongly believe that quite a few of them did. And to look “hot” so to speak, there was no smiling, and a couple hours of photoshopping. 

I was given an MP3 player at the end of eighth grade, which eventually led to receiving my brother’s old first generation ipod,  I got a Nano at some point during freshman year, and after the sound became messed up I returned it (thank goodness for year-long warranty!) I currently own the second generation Nano. 

Of all things, I was introduced to Facebook during the summer of my freshman year. Currently, I have skype, and I caved and made myself a twitter account. I’m debating as to whether or not I want to get an Ipod Touch for school, but am going to wait until I come home for the first time to see if I really need it. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the blu-ray player in the living room. 

Now granted, having these kinds of things makes life ten times more easier, especially in terms of writing and communicating. But this technological frontier also has a dark side; it tends to suck you into a lifestyle that isn’t always very healthy. 

Let’s take Facebook, for example. When I first started using it, I enjoyed being able to keep up with what was going on in my friend’s lives, especially the ones that I didn’t go to school with. I loved it when people posted on my wall, if only just for the sake of saying hello.

And really, who doesn’t love it when people take the time to talk to them? From my freshman through junior year of high school, I was logging on to this cyber network almost ten times per day. If my current crush at the time sent me a message or post on my wall, it pretty much made my day. But if they didn’t, or if any of my friends didn’t talk to me for a long time, the doubts would set in. Does this person truly like me? Did I do something to make them mad? What’s going on? When Facebook started up with the whole chat thing, I would either walk away feeling like I was on cloud nine, or completely pissed off. This was the case when it came to boys, in particular. 

Oh and let’s not forget texting. During my junior year, I often lost sleep because I stayed up until midnight or later texting people. There was something about being able to have a deep and intelligent conversation with someone underneath the covers with only the light of a phone screen (as risque as that sounds, there’s some truth to it). Most nights I fell asleep a happy girl, but there were nights where I also cried to exhaustion as well. 

And that’s why I call it technologism; because for millions of people, it’s addicting. Whether it be with the internet or some type of gadget, they just have to have it. 

Since then I’ve begun to limit myself as to how often I use the internet, at times for how often I even go on the computer. For anything you do in life, balance is the key. It’s all right to social network and what not with others, just make sure you’re not constantly connected to it. That’s why I only go on Facebook, blogger, etc. twice a day and stay away from it while I’m on vacation. 

I actually do have a challenge for anyone who reads this: One will claim that they can’t survive without television, the computer, and about a half a dozen other things. But previous generations lived without it for at least fifty years, so I do believe that it’s possible that my generation can as well. 

  • Instead of sitting in front of the TV and vegging, watching only one hour per day. The rest of the time, go outside, getting a couple of people together (or maybe even a whole group) and play some type of game. If you’re able to, go swimming! Go for a walk. Read a book. 
  • Heck, if you even want to go a bit further, try only watching the local cable channels; Don’t use a DVR or Tivo to record anything. If you miss it, well then you miss it. You’re life is not going to end just because you didn’t get to watch Pretty Little Liars.
  • Forgo texting and the internet (for at least one day) to communicate. Keep the cell phone in your room unless you need it. Make an actual phone call. Or why not just walk over and talk to them if you’re able to?
  • Start keeping an actual journal if you don’t have one. If you’re a blogger like myself, take a couple of days to write down your own personal thoughts. I have a journal of my own, but haven’t kept up with it very much. Write down personal thoughts and feelings that you wouldn’t dare share with anyone else. 
  • Maybe you could even take a break from those earbuds for a bit and crank up the radio. Granted you’re not in control of what song comes on, but that’s half the fun! You might even find yourself introduced to a new artist or genre because of it. 
I know that times are changing and people are inventing new things every day. I’m all for keeping up with it and trying it out at some point or another. I just don’t believe in making it an entire lifestyle. There is certainly more to life then just what goes on in the cyber-world. 

The Other Side

Whenever I’ve thought about relationships in my life, it was always a never-ending reel about how other people could love me; I would know my Mother loved me if she just listened to my point of view and tried to understand where I was coming from, rather then make assumptions and try to give me advice all the time. I would know my friends loved me if they came to me and were honest about what I did to hurt them, rather than be given the silent treatment and let things sit there until they boiled over. I would know that a boy loved me if he took the time to get to know me rather than just put me in a category right away. 

Over the last five years, that attitude and mindset has undergone quite a change.This past year especially, when reality sort of hit me straight in the face and practically yelled It’s NOT just about YOU, ya know!!

There are a lot of times where I hear people complaining about how their friends mooch off of them and they don’t get anything in return, or the kinds of things they want their present or future significant others to do for them. It got me thinking about various kinds of relationships that people have in their lives; that regardless if it’s platonic or romantic, relationships have to involve some kind of giving as well as taking. 

I also began to look at the people in my own life, and unfortunately began to feel as though a lot of my own relationships are one-sided. That it’s easy to recall the millions of times that people have been there to take care of me; they’ve allowed me to gush (and occasionally brag) about the good times, rant and rave about the bad, and have given me advice whenever I needed it. It left me with the realization that so many people have done so much for me, but I personally felt like I haven’t done very much for them. Granted, this is a very selfish example, but its like I always confide in certain people for advice, but then I get shut out whenever they’re dealing with their own issues. 

In turn I questioned myself: Am I judgemental toward others without realizing it? Is it due to the fact that I’m an emotional person (and I have a bad habit of worrying too much)? Do they not trust me? Or maybe it’s just hard for them to trust anyone, regardless. 

Yet in the midst of that kind of insecurity, there is an even bigger (and perhaps more uncomfortable) question to be answered: Does a person want to help others because they truly care for them? Or is it just so for the sake of making yourself feel good? For example, if you see someone trip and fall, are you going to help them up because you really want to, or is it just so you don’t go about the rest of your day feeling guilty about not helping them up. 

Suffice to say, that “Wonder Woman” mindset that I frequently speak of tends to kick in to more than one gear; whenever I see people that I love suffering or going through a difficult time in their lives, I want to be able to do whatever I can to help. 

However, I often forget the reasons as to why I personally don’t always talk to even my friends and family members about what goes on in my life; sometimes people are scared to talk about it. It could be that they want to figure it out for themselves before going to anyone else. Or maybe they’re just waiting for someone to come to them. 

I worry about the fact that I’m not going to be around very much for my sister, who’s going into middle school, or my cousins that are both going into high school. I worry about not being able to be there to give advice, or offer words of support, encouragement, and/or comfort. 

The harsh reality of it is that sometimes no matter what you do, people will still make there own choices. One can raise a child in a church, a good family, or both and often times they’ll still make mistakes or do things that they shouldn’t. 

Even more, one cannot protect people they love from any kind of pain or hardship. They have to be able to face their own demons and fight their own battles, one way or the other. 

Ironic how my name means “Protector of mankind”

When I’ve come to care about someone romantically, the hardest part is not being able to fully express how much I care about them; in regards to a relationship, I don’t think about what I’d like a guy to do for me. I think about how I would like to have the ability and the opportunity to love someone with my whole heart and soul and to take care of them. When it comes to being single, it’s not about the lack of what can be given to me. It’s what I can give to someone else. 

 Come to think of it, that’s the reason why I hug people so tightly; when I practically squeeze the life out of a friend or family member, it’s personal way of saying “I love you, I care about you, and I’m always here for you.” And if they don’t know that by my verbal words, I hope they will know by my actions.

I guess I just miss being able to connect with people as a whole; I can’t remember the last time I actually sat down and had a genuine heart to heart with anyone. It seems like whenever I talk to someone, it’s the standard “hello, how are you? I’m fine” type of conversation. There is a huge part of me that constantly wants to ask “no, how are you really doing?” In a way, I’d like to be able forgo superficiality for a little bit. 

And I’m not saying that those kinds of things have to happen all the time. No one really wants to sit down day after day and talk about what’s going on in there lives; but I’m leaving for college in a few weeks, and I’d like to have the opportunity to let people to know that I care for them and that I’d like to stay in touch with them. 

I remember when I wrote a college essay about a close friend of mine that has made a world of difference in my life. After he read it, he commented that he hadn’t realized just how much he had done for me. 

With that, I’ve come to this: The greatest things we do in life, whether it be for others or for ourselves, will be often the things that tend to go unrecognized.