Category Archives: Culture

Remembering Anthony Bourdain Pt II

Last night I fell asleep to the sound of Anthony Bourdain’s voice. He did not appear as an apparition.

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“fish”, lol

I realize what I’m about to say may sound blasphemous to many of you, but I sometimes forgo handheld books for audiobooks. The reason being, I’m busy as hell, and it helps me fall asleep 99% of the time. This habit started a little over a year ago when I started commuting across the longest bridge in the world.

I know what you’re thinking…that’s one expensive habit. FYI, you can rent audiobooks for free if you have a library card.

The point though, is that Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw is read by the author himself, and it is pretty damn phenomenal. There are many poignant parts about his feelings on suicide, which are both intriguing and hard to listen to now. It’s quite a window into his motivations.

For instance, near the beginning of the book, he says that when he got his first show and stopped working day-to-day, his life descended into chaos. You can also tell he is hyper aware of his privilege by the way he often calls himself out or glazes over these moments, detracting from his own pain and experience, but they’re still there.

I guess I recognize some of myself in Bourdain’s autobiography. Mainly these moments of complete self destruction and moments when he, despite his better judgement, goes along with questionable people and situations because he is bored of his life and monotony.

What I find interesting though is how often in interviews and in the book he lives on this edge of craving routine and also detesting it. It seems like no matter what he does, including travelling the world with a TV show, he eventually becomes numb to any moment of pleasure. Of course, this is exactly how depression works, and, once someone has it, their chances of relapsing skyrocket.

I had a strange moment last night where I thought, maybe there is something to that whole positive attitude thing. Although, for the most part, I believe depression to be both chemical and situational, which takes more than merely redirecting your thoughts to come out from under. Bourdain was very candid in his books and sometimes in his shows, but he clearly, and often, redirected his suicidal thoughts in front of others almost as quickly as they appeared.

One thing that stuck out in the book is just how frequently he played with death. In most of his anecdotes, it’s always at the edge, if not the forefront of his thoughts. In chapter two, we learn that he regularly let the next song on the radio determine whether or not he drove off of a cliff while living in the caribbean. Listening to this, I wondered how Anthony Bourdain ever made it to 61 years old. To say that he had a death wish was to put it mildly.

Still, his writing as a whole and descriptions are incredible. I am now convinced that he could have lived another life as a successful fiction novelist. Until last night, I seemed to have forgotten all about the explosive memoir that pushed him into the limelight in the first place, Kitchen Confidential (2000), which he discusses in Medium Raw (2010).

You can bet he used this follow up as an opportunity to go in on the Food Network and celebrity chefs once more. But, as we now know, the Food Network actually gave Bourdain his big break with the show No Reservations. Eventually though, he recognizes himself as a sellout. To make matters worse, they pull his show after realizing that audiences will eat up dumbed-down, buzzfeed-style TV features. This is a big point of contention for him in the book, particularly the way the network begins using anti-immigrant, anti-poc, anti-diversity language in reference to his show.

Where most people might move on from something like this fairly quickly, I get an overwhelming sense of hopelessness from Bourdain, even now, as he recalls something from his past. It’s like every moment, every event, every interaction in his life left a lasting mark. Hearing his voice through my headphones as I writhe around in sleep is both soothing and unsettling. 

I could probably write my own book about this, but, alas, I must go. However, if you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain and want more insight into this recent tragedy and into who he was, I recommend starting at the source.

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Remembering Anthony Bourdain

At 7:17 AM Friday morning, I woke up to find a heartbreaking text waiting for me.

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I later told my friend that the news wasn’t surprising given his former heroin addiction and open dialogue about his struggle with depression and suicide. I’d witnessed him speak on this over the years in episodes of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. But this automatic retort was a lie. Despite his history, the news still shook me.

For one, you spend your entire life working for the things Anthony Bourdain has: an extremely successful career that allows you to travel across the world, wealth, fame, love—all on your own terms—and it still doesn’t fix the underlying problems that accompany depression and other mental health issues many of us struggle with.

Whatever he was going through, he deserves recognition for his accomplishments and his game-changing impact on the culinary arts and reality television.

If you watch some of his older shows, you might laugh because the foods he was trying and the places he visited, that seem so normal now, were still taboo for many Americans at the time.

I don’t care much for cooking shows, but I loved everything about Bourdain from the moment I saw an episode of No Reservations in college. He was, as the show’s title implies, an absolutely fearless, punk-rock, barebones traveling chef who went where high-brow chefs refused to and who could care less about these same opinions on food or his approach to food.

And yet, he spent so much time advocating. For people of color. For women. For rape survivors. For addicts. He was outspoken about all of these things. Much of the show (both NR and Parts Unknown) is dedicated to watching other people cook as well as learning and highlighting their techniques.

He never intruded in these spaces while he was there, rather he carved out a voice and a space for these individuals. That was the heart of his shows.

It’s incredibly hard to picture someone as fierce, loved, and wildly successful as Bourdain ending his own life.  Although he always spoke of depression and addiction as though he’d overcome them, there is no denying that this came up often enough in his shows to send up red flags. But there were also incredible moments of joy and laughter in the exchange of food and culture throughout every episode.

I’ve since talked to several friends about Anthony Bourdain, and he meant something different to all of us. A talented writer. An advocate. A bold voice that went against mainstream food critics. A cool guy. A tour guide in the bowls of unknown spaces. There’s no denying the fact that he touched people’s lives in a positive way…and under all that was still a man battling for his life.

I don’t pretend to know what drove him to this, but I think it was always this brokenness just under the surface in him that always resonated with me. Maybe it was what allowed him to be so different, relatable, and fearless. There is nothing glorious about suicide, which Bourdain himself admitted is a selfish, stupid act in past interviews. I don’t think anyone is in a place to judge why another does something this extreme. However, I think that Anthony Bourdain still deserves to be remembered for all he has done and for what he meant to others. I know I won’t be the only one who misses him.

How I Was Misdiagnosed with Depression for 24 Years

Today, I’m going to address something I rarely talk about online that most certainly (and often unknowingly) impacts the everyday lives of countless women, myself included. To give you an idea of how something like a 24-year misdiagnosis happens, I’ll start with some personal history.

If you don’t care about any of that, skip to the “Why Women Are Left Behind” section.  

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For 24 years of my life, I was misdiagnosed with major depression and bipolar type-II. This started clinically when I was 11 years old, but, as a young child, I remember a darkness coming over me and taking root, like the difficult kudzu you must fight to keep from swallowing a town.

I remember writing in an attempt to make sense of my reality, to carve out a world I could call home, a place where I had permission to feel both adequate and happy.

There were situational events that made me feel wretched, but they weren’t at the heart of the chronic rain cloud that followed me around. However, these experiences gave me an excuse to grab onto other emotions like anger which, temporarily, made me feel in control of my life and my feelings.

I think that we can all agree that these are childish coping mechanisms most of us grow out of eventually. For me, this process has been difficult, and the journey isn’t over yet. It is not enough to merely admit the problem or the cause. Changing our behavior and way of thinking is the hardest part.

In my case, I didn’t understand the problem until I was 24 years old.


There’s Your Sign

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time being punished in the classroom. My teachers were always shouting my name as though an acrid taste had just entered their mouths; their words like newly slung arrows lodged in my chest.

Despite the fact that this happened constantly throughout the day, every day, I found myself blindsided and demoralized each time. I still couldn’t control myself.


Whenever something jumped into my brain, I had to do or say something about it right then and there. And this impulse has been the bane of my existence my entire life.


Somewhere along the way, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of shame all of the time. My personality did a 180, and I went from extrovert to extremely shy, anxious, and wary of all people. Most disturbing of all, I became quiet.

I even learned how to feign listening when, in reality, I was completely checked out. I remember the urge to hit myself in head to pay attention. Why can’t I just focus?! Needless to say, I did not perform well in school and, at home, my parents worked tirelessly with me on homework with very little reward.

I also began to believe at this age that I was inherently inadequate, stupid, lazy, ugly, rude, and that everything about me was just…wrong. Everyone in my life reinforced this whenever I could not easily adjust to new situations or information.

By now, you have probably guessed my real (and painfully obvious) diagnosis. Hint: it’s not depression.


Why Women Are Left Behind

It’s no secret that ADHD can manifest as other disorders, such as depression and OCD, in an effort to control the original problem. However, women are disproportionately affected by this misdiagnoses.

I am no longer surprised when someone I’ve just told my diagnosis to responds with, “I think ADHD is overdiagnosed,” or “I think ADHD is made up.”

If you’re one of these people, keep in mind that the criteria has evolved substantially since the 80s, and we are just now recognizing the gap in previous studies that built this criteria.

For instance, over 99% of studies conducted on ADHD have centered exclusively around boys/men exhibiting hyperactivity, which means the number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed women is still grossly underrepresented, and the consequences of this are deadly.

Another reason why women are able to “hide” ADHD for so long is that we are not permitted the same behavioral freedoms as boys and men. In other words, we are working twice as hard to fit ourselves into societal roles and norms. Women, especially, are held accountable when they fail at emotional labor, organization, caretaking, housework, let alone balancing these things with a full-time job.


Whether we want to admit it or not, we write these behaviors off in boys, or we get them treated immediately. Girls, on the other hand, are shamed into masking symptoms.


Thus, changing their physical appearance, and performing restrictive behaviors that cause them to distrust their own bodies, language, and autonomy from the time they are born. This results in self-loathing, depression, OCD, anxiety, and more.

This exercise of control over women in public and private spaces is so normalized that it’s invisible. And this sort of medical erasure happens to women all of the time and not just for psychological issues. Women, and women of color in particular, with legitimate medical concerns are often patronized, ignored, and misdiagnosed by doctors.

I am reminded of the fact that both my male cousin and I had the same behavioral issues and learning difficulties in school. I was told to control myself; he was sent to a psychiatrist and given tools to deal with his disorder.


Revelations

In 2016, Quartz published an article addressing just this:


“ADHD materializes dramatically differently in girls. ‘Anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD,’ 2012 research shows…


“Unlike boys, many of whom show hyperactivity, girls’ symptoms veer more toward inattentiveness and disorganization. Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to society’s expectation that they be on the ball and organized.

And while some ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after they pass through puberty, for many girls, it gets worse [1].”

I had just been diagnosed for the first time at 24 years old when I read another life-changing article by Broadly called: “‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD” [2], which left me feeling a mix of things, mainly that I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t alone. And, for the first time in my life, I felt understood and validated in my experience.

At that time, I had already completed half of my graduate degree in Colorado with a year-and-a-half left to go. Between grad school, a 100-year flood 3 months into living there, my boyfriend at the time moving back to Kansas, and my own cross-country move, life had taken a huge toll.

I’d never felt more alone.

This feeling progressed until I became scared enough to seek professional help. Every 2-3 years my ptsd (from Hurricane Katrina) was triggered like this. Major upheavals, lack of control over my environment and relationships, worrying about my grades—it all brought up too much. Inevitably, my entire life and mental health status imploded shortly thereafter without fail.

This cycle was normal for me from ages 15-24 and even expected.

Imagine my surprise when, after many sessions, my new psychiatrist in CO told me that I wasn’t depressed. I remember my mouth falling open. What do you mean I’m not depressed?!

He became more and more convinced that the root cause of my depression was a direct result of undiagnosed ADHD. As he went through several points with me using examples from my childhood and these bouts of depression, the direct link between my sense of self worth and my ability to complete things/lack of organization suddenly clicked. Holy hell!

Not once in all of my years of therapy had a medical professional suggested this to me.

Most of the advice I’d received up until then required a lot of that pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps blend of self-help. But I couldn’t fix that aspect of my life. That was, well…me.

So here I was at 24 years old finally putting the pieces together. And with that, I felt the beginning of many painful years unravelling.


The “Miracle”

My diagnosis was, in fact, the beginning of untangling a thick web of self-hatred I’d buried myself in for so long.

I’ll never forget the therapist who performed the test saying, “It’s a miracle you’ve made it this far,” in reference to graduate school.


The truth is, it isn’t a miracle. Not in the slightest. There is no such thing for people with ADHD. The only “miracle” here is that I did not give up.


The first year I applied to graduate programs, I didn’t receive a single acceptance letter. Yes, I was an above average writer, and I was passionate about it; but that could not account for years of poor grades, a disorganized portfolio, and an abysmal GRE score.

While my friends were off starting their programs the next year, I was working at a refinery to save money and busting my ass on those applications for the second time. I remember crying a lot at the application and testing fees, during the math portion of the GRE, at the overwhelming feeling that I was doing all of this for nothing, and at the realization that I’m not the only one who has to do this and omg why am I crying?

Even though my portfolio was amazing and my letters of recommendation were from well-established poets the second time around, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. And until I was finally diagnosed and treated, I had imposter syndrome throughout all of my classes and interactions at school.

It didn’t matter that I was 1 of the 12 chosen out of 400 applicants or that I was 1 of the 5 admitted for poetry. It didn’t matter if someone solicited me for poems or was moved by my work. Or that the students that dropped were first-time applicants who couldn’t handle the workload. I can state these facts all day long and still feel insecure, although less so now.

The truth is that therapy and medication cannot completely erase years of psychological damage, but it can help. And, because of those things, it is easier than ever before to not give up or break down at the slightest obstacle like I would have in the past.

I wish that more women had access to this knowledge because it can improve your quality of life exponentially. I have much more control over my impulses and emotions, or rather, they have stabilized. Tasks are easier to prioritize and don’t overwhelm me as often. I can see the big picture of my projects and my position and am less prone to quit on impulse or self-sabotage.

Basically, my life is 80% more manageable than before, and I have some great doctors to thank for that.

There are still people who tell me my disorder isn’t real or overdiagnosed, and people who let it mar their view of my capability and performance. Then there are people who see it as a window into you.


My Thoughts on Living with Diagnosed ADHD

Personally, I believe ADHD is behind all of my creative and professional success.

If you follow my blog for writing tips and some of what I’ve said sounds a little too familiar, take refuge in knowing that ADHD has been an asset more than anything else in this area of my life.


Whether we are capable of recognizing it or not, those of us with the disorder have a unique set of tools the average person does not have access to.


That puts our perspective and our possibilities at the cutting edge of creative writing. Scores of famous writers, artists, actors, and creatives in various professions, including entrepreneurs and CEOs, have learned to embrace this disorder and use it to their benefit.

Despite many of the negatives that come with ADHD, this endless, unstoppable creativity is something to be thankful for at the end of the day.

What Aziz Ansari Teaches Us About Sexual Coercion

In the wake of the sexual assault allegations against Aziz Ansari, I felt the need to say something about consent. I’ve seen a lot of disappointing reactions on my newsfeed today, all from men. Mainly people posting this New York Times article, Aziz Ansari Is Guilty. Of Not Being A Mindreader. Even my gay friends have defended Ansari, and, although I adamantly disagree, I can understand why they would.


When we picture a rapist, we picture someone who is physically and emotionally capable of overpowering a woman or someone who looks rough around the edges.


Aziz Ansari is the opposite of this, more than that, he’s a likable guy. Yet, he has openly joked about sexual coercion in his skits, and we all laugh at it. That’s because sexual coercion is completely normalized in our culture.

But what is sexual coercion exactly?

Most people do not realize there are multiple forms of rape. Sexual coercion, in my opinion, is one of the most insidious forms. Here’s an example:

Picture you’re sitting at a table with someone just trying to do your homework. The other person offers you a bite of their bagel. You say no thanks, but you feel bad, because you like the person, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Five minutes later, they offer you a bite of the bagel again. You react the same as you did before. This cycle repeats until, finally, you take a bite of the bagel just to get this person to stop.


This is something women experience every single day at the hands of men, only it’s not a bagel we’re saying no to. It’s unwanted sexual contact.


So, if you give in, eventually, that’s still consent, isn’t it?

Not exactly. What the offerer has proven by the time you cave is that they do not care about your desires, your boundaries, or your consent. They just want to get laid, and they will keep chipping away at you until they get what they want.

If this sounds like something that happens all the time, that’s because it is. Sexual assault is often in plain sight and encouraged. People think of sexual assault as violent stranger rape when the majority of rape is performed by someone the victim knows and is comfortable with. It’s nuanced like that, and because of this, women have difficulty speaking up in the moment.


You wouldn’t expect a woman to pull out a rape whistle on a trusted friend because it’s not that kind of situation. You can’t expect a woman to fight or scream “no!” at these times either.


I don’t think Aziz Ansari is an inherently bad dude, or that he is even rare in thinking that what he did was perfectly acceptable. But it isn’t that hard to tell if your partner wants to have sex with you. It’s also not hard to ask for consent.

A common reaction I see to this line of thinking is that everything is being treated with “kid gloves” now. The same argument has been made for things like autism and rampant levels of mental illness. To which I say, these things have always existed; we just have a name for them now, and we aren’t accepting ignorance anymore.

The Lesson

What Aziz Ansari teaches us about sexual coercion is that it is still a societal problem we need to address. Despite the #metoo movement, victim blaming is still a huge problem.


We should not be teaching women to “speak up” more often. We should be teaching men to stop wearing women down until they get what they want, and that this behavior is, in fact, a form of assault.


Aziz also teaches us that even the nice guy can be out of touch with consent. Speaking and asking questions during sex is embarrassing sometimes, but if we (I’m looking at you New York Times) are going to make the argument that women need to be socialized to speak up, we need to make the same argument about men.

More Reading:

P.S. Medium.com published an amazing piece on coercion and Aziz Ansari worth reading. The author articulates sexual coercion on a personal level and articulates the subject better than I ever could.

Low-Carb Dieting

For the second time now, I have entered the blackhole that is the ketogenic diet. I don’t think that I have a gluten allergy necessarily, but I can’t deny the fact that every single time a refined carb enters my body the results are less than desirable. Like clockwork, my blood sugar immediately crashes, my stomach hurts, my arms and legs tingle and I can no longer see my feet, thanks to my suddenly bloated belly, while being simultaneously met with an insurmountable fatigue and brain fog that makes work difficult the rest of the day.

These also happen to be some of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance1, granted they could also be signs of countless other medical conditions. The point is, many of us experience symptoms like this throughout our lives and come to see it as normal.

It’s no secret though, that the ingredients which makeup refined carbohydrates – flour and sugar – are extremely unhealthy, especially at the rate the average American consumes them. That is one reason why I’m back on the ketogenic diet.

Another catalyst for my diet change stems from the life-long pleas of physicians, psychiatrists and family members to undergo testing for thyroid problems, anemia, mental illness and various autoimmune diseases.

As a chronically sick kid, I was tested extensively for autoimmune diseases. As an energy-devoid adult with mild depression and anxiety, I drug myself to the doctor’s office to have my blood drawn and tested for hypo and hyperthyroidism. The results are always the same – inconclusive. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor told me to take more vitamin D and B12…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck like I am now.

The truth is, no matter how many vitamins I shove down my throat, my symptoms persist. It wasn’t until I reached an unbearable point of exhaustion, depression and anxiety that I started logging my symptoms, eventually linking them to my diet. It was so obvious, and yet, I’d never really given my food a second thought when looking for the culprit.

Once I saw the link though, I couldn’t help but notice the wave of garbage feelings – physical, mental and emotional – that washed over me and clung the rest of the day like Saran Wrap.

By that point, I’d already been a pescatarian (from 14-19 years old), a twice-failed vegan and a brief raw enthusiast who shaved her own cucumber and zucchini noodles with a mandolin slicer every night. I’d been experimenting with fad diets most of my life, but carb elimination terrified me. Partially because a carb-less existence seemed pretty meaningless.

I think the main thing that freaked me out about low-carb dieting though, is that it goes against everything I’ve been taught on healthy dieting: “Meat is bad/causes cancer. Dairy is bad. Fat is bad.” My father was even put on the cholesterol medication, Lipitor, in his mid thirties after a huge weight loss on the Adkins diet.

The popularity of the paleo diet is what changed my mind in the end. It’s hard to argue with the back to basics logic inspired by our ancestors, to whom today’s obesity epidemic would be nothing short of a Black Mirror episode – but I digress. It just makes sense to me. I figured I should at least try a low-carb diet before writing it off.

The first few weeks of keto were rough the first time around. I felt hungry all of the time no matter what I ate. My body, deprived of carbs for the first time, was in shock. All I wanted was some comfort food like mac and cheese, avocado toast, pizza or at least a decent side-dish.

But after I got over that part of the diet, I was almost never hungry. I ate once or twice and felt satisfied the rest of the day. My food cravings completely evaporated. The biggest benefit though was that my blood sugar stabilized, and while I wasn’t exactly the Energizer bunny, I had more energy throughout the day, felt less moody and my concentration improved significantly. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the improvement either.

I did that for a three or four months before I fell off the wagon. I don’t remember why, but I think part of it related to my lifestyle. I still wanted to go out drinking with my friends. The problem with drinking on a low-carb diet, aside from the fact that you’re not supposed to drink at all, is that you can’t soak up the alcohol at the end of the night with delicous carbs. Every time I drank on the keto diet, I regretted it…a lot. That led to cheating which led to quitting altogether.

Although I’ve seen quite a few people manage to do it, this diet isn’t always sustainable. I’m not even sure if it’s the best possible fit for me or as healthy as it claims to be either, but it definitely makes me feel great. I’m not going to lie though…It’s only been three days, I already miss pizza, pasta, chips, mashed potatoes, fries and pretty much every kind of bread.

Truthfully, I think it would be irresponsible of me to fully endorse a low-carb diet since I’m not a registered dietitian, doctor or nutritionist. I also don’t believe there is any universal diet that works for everyone. You have to do what feels right for you, and you should definitely consult a medical professional before significantly changing your diet.

I will say that there are different levels to food allergies and intolerance. Gluten alleriges, for example, are mostly determined through elimination diets despite available blood tests and biopsies. Beyondceliac.org’s article Blood Tests to Diagnose Celiac Disease Under Scrutiny, says, “The fact that celiac disease has been given a comprehensive evidence review indicates an acknowledgement by Health and Human Services that there is a need for increased celiac disease diagnosis.”

Low-carb diets, like the ketogenic and paleo diet, are essentially elimination diets. I certainly didn’t think carbs could effect so many parts of my life until I stopped eating them. Even when I gave up on the diet the first time, I still made better choices afterward because I knew how much better my day would be on a low-carb breakfast.

Now wish me luck resisting the carb sirens on Day 4, please. I desperately need it.


1. [Disclaimer: I don’t think everyone has celiac or the gluten intolerance level of one. If you’ve ever witnessed someone with celiac post-gluten consumption, you won’t need much convincing of this.]

Movie Review: It (2017)

I’ve always been a massive horror geek. Naturally, I saw the IT remake last Saturday. Technically, it’s not a remake since the original IT (1990) is a miniseries, but we all know that this is the 2017 retelling of that miniseries/novel.

Ninety percent of the time remakes are a huge let down compared to the original, but that was not the case with the 2017 IT film. Can I tell you that I have not screamed that many times during a movie since the ripe age of 13? And I loved every second of it. My god, Pennywise will haunt my dreams for years to come and breed a whole new generation of coulrophobiacs. And I am here for it.

IT makes heavy use of the bus technique. If you’re not familiar with the “bus technique” made popular by the movie Cat People (1942), it’s essentially a false scare and usually occurs when a character feels like someone is about to get them, and right when this seems certain, something completely innocuous jars the character (and the audience). IT is full of “busses,” and every single one made me scream across the theater like a little girl (sorry, fellow movie goers).

Something else I really enjoyed about this film is the way “fear” changes for each child. In the original miniseries, It remains in clown form throughout the movie; the monster is universal. So if you’re not that scared of clowns, big whoop. In this 2017 version, It morphs into each child’s darkest fear – exactly like a boggart – switching from clown to leper to creepy-Picasso-painting woman to another character’s father.

I sort of have a unspoken rule when it comes to horror films that I think most people agree with: Don’t. Show. The. Monster. Cheap CGI and special effects are the fastest way to lose your audience and emasculate your monster. But that was not the case in this film. IT did not skimp on the animation budget, not one little bit.

I’m not going to spoil the movie plot anymore than I have, but I will say that this film is worth its salt.

Although the IT miniseries debuted in 1990, the book was released in 1986. The 2017 film is set in 1980s like the novel, which seems to fall in line with new wave 80s horror. It Follows (2015) is perhaps my favorite example of this genre; although, the director claims the film is anachronistic and inspired by one of his recurring nightmares.  While Stranger Things (2016) isn’t technically horror, or a movie for that matter, it certainly says something for the popularity of the 80s resurgence in film. And I can’t wait to see what follows.

Why I’m Over Dystopian YA Novels

I’ve been reading dystopian YA for as long as I can remember…well, 2008. I used to find such pleasure in these types of books, but lately, I can barely make it through the first few chapters. The Hunger Games, of course, holds a special place in my heart, but I can’t shake the feeling that this niche has run its course.

A few weeks ago, I started The Selection by Kiera Cass. After all of the hype and best-of lists, I could barely contain my excitement when I opened to the first page…and then I began reading. It felt familiar. Too familiar. The book starts with an impoverished, female protagonist explaining the caste system in her world mid-manual labor. Her mother relies way too much on her, and a handsome, hardworking, family-oriented guy is in the picture. It’s at this point in the book that I decide to stop reading.

The next book I picked up is almost identical. Red Queen begins with a young, female protagonist pickpocketing for survival. Hot-guy-friend tension right out of the gate. World-building exposition.

While The Selection‘s cast system is defined by numbers (District 12 anyone?) and Red Queen by colors, it’s impossible to ignore the similarities. To be fair, I haven’t given either of these books a fair chance or read enough of either to know exactly how different they are – but I don’t really care.

The disappointing thing about this genre is how overtly formulaic it is now. In a sea of Twilight (2005), The Hunger Games‘ (2008) felt like a breath of fresh air. I remember thinking, “The writing isn’t all that great, but damn, I haven’t read anything like this before.” Yes, you can draw comparisons to Lord of the Flies, Battle Royal, and so on, but Suzanne Collins took the Twilight love triangle and smashed it to pieces.

Twilight was a particularly disturbing YA phase. While it isn’t a dystopian novel, it is a bleak look at the future of relationships. The female protagonist, Bella, is helpless, in an arguably-abusive relationship, and her biggest life decision is choosing between two guys.

Katniss, on the other hand, is completely self-sufficient, strategic, selfless, brave, and she doesn’t have the luxury of getting lost in her love triangle.

Pretty kick-ass protagonist, right? Not in 2017. Everything I once loved about The Hunger Games is what I now hate about the genre. There are a million Katniss Everdeens in unfair class systems with two hot guys, a crappy mom, and some kind of competition/game/selection to win.

All of this is a far cry from where dystopia started, which begs the question: at what point are these books making real, thoughtful commentary on society? Or are they merely capitalizing on the genre’s popularity and rendering dystopia meaningless?

Dystopia sort of makes sense for young adults. When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world.

You may have noticed that in every YA novel the parents are either dead, abusive, absent, or flawed to the point that the protagonist must become self-sufficient, which is meant to reflect children’s disillusionment with their parents and the desire to grow up. And while the use of class as a conduit for teen angst is highly questionable, I can understand why teens connect so deeply with dystopia.

But can we please do something different?

Watching Hurricane Harvey from New Orleans

For the first time in twelve years, I didn’t wake up thinking about Hurricane Katrina on the anniversary.  Not the day of, not the week before, and not for the entire month of August.

Instead, I woke up thinking about my stranded parents in Houston. This is where they settled twelve years ago after we lost everything. Surely this can’t happen here, too? Surely they are more equipped to deal with this level of devastation than New Orleans was in 2005?

The truth is that we cannot outrun disaster. I know this first hand. In my first 3 months of grad school a hundred year flood hit the area, and it was impossible to escape the memories of Hurricane Katrina. If there’s a natural disaster, you can bet that I will be there for some inexplicable reason. I guess it was lucky that I’d planned on driving to Houston the weekend after the storm to watch the LSU game with my dad. My weather misfortune is a long running joke among friends and family.

Still, it’s hard to look at the photos of Houston without remembering the hell of Katrina. And the irony of Hurricane Harvey falling on the anniversary of Katrina isn’t lost on me. Houston took us in, all of us. Plenty of people saw it as a sanctuary and settled there permanently. And as it sits engulfed in water, I can only think about the fact that there is nowhere left to run.

I have lived all over this country only to experience this kind of devastation over and over again. Wherever you are, we are all in this together. However, I do not wish to spin the resilience myth that comes with surviving a hurricane (or flood, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or wildfire). That is an individual experience.

As I’ve gotten older and survived more and more once-in-a-lifetime weather events, they’ve become easier to deal with. A few weeks ago, I was stranded in my car during a flash flood with a flat tire when the water suddenly rose without warning.

It is so easy to relapse into trauma or to let my PTSD resurface in these moments. Or that used to be the case anyway. But for the first time, I found myself laughing in the face of danger. Making humorous videos to share with friends and family as the world around me spun out of control like it had so many times before.

I have found a certain kind of peace in accepting what I cannot control.

Earlier today I called my mother to see if she could get out of her neighborhood, which she now can. “I feel bad for cooking and drinking like nothing’s wrong,” she said. My mother, who has worked at Home Depot for 30 years, is weatherproof. She is ready to step up and sheetrock people’s homes, and I love her for that.  If anyone understands what Harvey flood victims are going through right now, it is my selfless, half-Cajun mother.

My father was evacuated from his home today and took the only road out of the city all the way to Austin. On the way out, he shared a photo of the Brazos River, which looks muddy and pregnant, ready to burst at any moment.

The battle is not over. The river will crest, and when it does, more devastation will arrive. Even though I should be nestled in a cocoon fashioned from my own anxiety right now, my heart is full witnessing the Cajun navy (rescue volunteers from Louisiana) arrive in Houston with boats – lots of boats – to brave the elements and lend a helping hand.

It is strange to see Houston in a vulnerable position when they’ve always been our refuge. But I guess this is how relationships work. We New Orleanians see ourselves in Houston. We know what lies ahead for them. While we won’t forget Katrina, Harvey’s widespread destruction has it’s own place in history now. And we are ready to help.

5 Ways to Break Your Anxiety/Depression Cycle

Getting stuck in a cycle of anxiety/depression is the absolute worst. Food, socializing and everything that normally gives you pleasure, suddenly feels like a chore. But there are a few ways you can break the cycle and start enjoying life again.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself.

Some people think of others so often that they neglect themselves, and some people have the opposite problem. Once you’re there, it feels nearly impossible to break out of this introspective, anxiety-fueled cycle (see that one time you smoked too much pot in college). Taking small steps to put that thought power toward someone or something else can help you break free from overanalyzing and the negative self-talk.

2. Quit boredom.

As children we’ve had all sorts of fantasies about the future. But did you ever imagine that one day we’d all be walking around with little hand-held devices? Devices with the ability to communicate instantaneously, with internet access, or devices that allow us to play games anywhere at anytime?

There’s really no excuse to be bored, ever. But if you find yourself feeling listless, try to find out why in this world of endless capabilities you can’t find a single thing to occupy your time. Start reading, blogging, running, cooking, or [insert passionate hobby] again. Try something new or learn an unfamiliar skill. You will discover things about yourself you wish you’d known years ago.

3. On that note, just put the phone down altogether.

Anxiety and depression without an outlet is exactly what leads to boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Spend hours online looking at other people’s lives. You see some of your friends hanging out without you, and now you feel slighted and sad. You see that random girl from high school just got engaged, and she looks so damn happy. Next, you open your sad Tinder app, stare at the list of underwhelming strangers, and begin typing.

Try texting that group of “traitorous” friends instead. Or catch up with your parents, skype a friend in another city, plan a much-needed vacation or day trip you can look forward to. Find ways to redirect your energy towards something that will reap real rewards.

4. Exercise (I’m sorry!).

Personally, this is my least favorite way to break the cycle, but it is also the most effective. The reason I dislike this one, or at least in the beginning, is because I immediately feel how long I’ve neglected my body.

Me running all of a sudden:  Oh wow, yeah, I can barely run a mile without stopping or having an asthma attack in the middle of the street.

Me 2 hours later:  Oh wow, I feel great. I am an actual goddess. Watch me conquer the world. Endorphhhhhhins.

It hurts at first, which is why you should set realistic, achievable goals. You don’t need to come out of the gate with a 5k. Just take it one day at a time and keep building on the foundation you create. The only one putting pressure on you, isyou.

Eventually, you’ll find your anxiety and depression taking a back seat to the work you put in.  The important thing here is to create a routine and regimen you can stick with. If you have athletic friends, step outside of your comfort zone and ask to work out with them. More than likely they will be excited to see you making positive changes and offer guidance. Plus, the accountabil-a-buddy system goes a long way.

5. Get some sleep.

Sleep deprivation is the number one contributor to my shitty moods, that and a lack of routine. Without stability, your sleep schedule fluctuates along with your mood, which feels like playing the emotional lottery. Some days you wake up feeling great, others, you wish you could crawl under the desk with a human-proof shield. If you’re particularly prone to mood swings, depression and/or anxiety, it is crucial to get this part of your life under control. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind and body over time, and it’s not pretty.

Exercise acts as a natural sleep aid. Turn off your devices, throw on the white noise or a meditation track, turn the air down, read for a while, and wait to climb in the sack when you really feel like you’re about to fall asleep. Once you fix your sleep cycle, your mood should improve significantly.

Self-Acceptance vs. Happiness

So many of us put pressure on ourselves to be perfect when perfection is something we can never achieve.  If I just do blank, I can love myself. If I lose weight. If I get that promotion. If. If. If.

There is a belief in Taoism that the only way we can find inner peace is by accepting ourselves the way that we are now. And that prospect feels impossible to many of us.

After hitting a rough patch a few years ago, I started going to Temple once a week. Counter to The Secret’s law-of-attraction concept popularized in self-help lit, here, I was taught to accept my thoughts – and therefore, myself – for the very first time, rather than trying to manipulate every feeling into something positive. The results were astounding.

After a few meditation sessions/sermons, I realized that every time I manipulated my thoughts, and inevitably failed, I felt worse for the failure, creating an endless cycle of negativity. I do believe that the ability to convert negative thoughts into optimism is useful to a point. But when you do not accept a situation or your feelings, you are merely patching a dam with a bandaid.

What I’m trying to say is that if you find it difficult to steer your thoughts into the light – it’s okay. No one is perfect, and the sooner you realize you are good the way that you are, the sooner you will find inner peace.

When you accept and view your thoughts, rather than push them away, you begin to realize you have set conditions for self-love and self-acceptance, which is futile because everyone and everything are in a continuous state of fluctuation. In a literal sense, each decade or so, every cell in your body is replaced with a new one. You will never be the same person you were yesterday or the day before that and so on.

Not to be confused with happiness, inner peace is a constant state of self-acceptance that equips you to handle most unforeseeable situations. Inner peace is not dependent on circumstance, while happiness is a fleeting moment of joy that is impossible to maintain. Through the foundation of inner peace, happiness is easier to experience and maintain but never sustainable. After all, how can we experience joy unless we also experience sadness, anger or misfortune?

Don’t beat yourself up over negative thoughts. Accept them and take your power back one day at a time.