Carrie Fisher is a fucking badass. Let’s remember her that way.

I use the present tense “is” because in some way, shape, or form, I believe in an afterlife. Wherever Carrie is right now, be it heaven or ghosting around or reincarnated as a butterfly or one with the Force- she’s somewhere.

And Carrie Fisher is a badass. We all know and love her as Leia Organa, and let’s not diminish just how important our beloved space princess is. Leia Organa inspired generations of little girls everywhere. Leia showed us all that girls are important. We matter to revolutions and rebellions. We can kick ass and take names just as much as the boys. That might not seem like a revolutionary statement in 2016- but it was in 1977. My mom was in high school in 1977, and at the same time that Leia Organa was shooting storm troopers in the face, my mom was being told by her father that girls couldn’t be doctors, or veterinarians, or scientists.

Like everyone else, I too grew up with Star Wars. But unlike my mom, I was never told girls can’t be doctors or veterinarians or scientists. Women like Carrie Fisher- and characters like Leia- are so much a part of why that changed.

But Carrie Fisher didn’t stop there. She had the nerve and the audacity to be a human being with flaws and struggles and problems. While she’ll be remembered most for her famous role, she’ll also be remembered as a champion for the mentally ill, a witty and talented writer, and a feminist icon.

Carrie Fisher fought on Endor and sassed Darth Vader right to his face, but her most epic battle will always be the one against bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Both conditions can be debilitating, sometimes deadly, but Carrie Fisher found her own way to fight them both. Her story is an inspiration to so many others living with mental illness, and she used her fame and her voice for advocacy. She spoke out when others didn’t.

I hadn’t considered it before today, but now I think I’m going to have her hanging in my office someday- a print out with Leia’s face and one of her quotes typed over it:

“I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”

Or maybe this one:

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

Working with kids, which is what I’m in the process of learning to do, you almost have to use fiction sometimes in therapy. Inside Out has turned into a fantastic way to get kids to understand and vocalize their emotions, for example, and Harry Potter therapy is actually a thing.

Leia is a role model to kids everywhere. Carrie Fisher is a role model to so many people with mental illness. How powerful, that we can combine them. Your childhood heroes are just like you. If they made it, so can you. Leia helped take down an evil empire and did it all with at the time undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Your power is unlimited as the Force.

That’s fucking badass.

Love is weird…

There is no theme to this blog at all.

But I’ve been thinking a bit about it. I think everyone has at least one love they can very distinctly remember. One love that changed how they think about it. That love that made you recognize love. It becomes definitive, in a way, because I think everyone experiences love a little differently.

I’m not going into the nitty-gritty details here. But I’ve had that kind of love. The one that stops you cold and makes you re-think everything you ever thought about it.

For me, it happened to be unrequited. An unfortunate luck of the draw, but I don’t really regret it. It was still formative. It was still love, and I’m not sure it’s productive to say you regret loving someone. It’s a feeling- we don’t often regret our feelings, do we? And how can we ever regret this most powerful of feelings, even when it causes some pain?

What is life without love, anyways?

That’s a question for another day.

What I will say is how my love shaped me. It shaped my views of love, for better or worse.

Because of it’s nature as unrequited, love to me is something that blooms quietly. It doesn’t hit you like lightening. It sneaks up on you, more like a storm slowly moving in. You don’t see it until it’s too late, and then you wonder “when did those clouds even get here?”

It’s something that’s inherently self-sacrificial. There is nothing to be gained from an unrequited love. You just love them anyways, and know you’ll never get anything in return. Not what you want, anyways. You might have a wonderful friendship if you’re lucky.

I can’t really describe how it feels. It’s just wanting to be with that person. Wanting to know them. Talk to them. To love them in the ways you’re able. It’s wanting the best for them, always, and doing what you can to ensure that happens. If what’s best for them doesn’t include you, it’s walking away. Or it’s keeping your mouth shut because you already know there’s no chance. And you love them anyways, even if they never know it.

Is that selflessness good or bad? I couldn’t say, exactly. I just know how I’ve felt.

But the really remarkable thing about it, to me, is that it seems infinite. I can love this person, and continue to love them my entire life. But that will never mean I cannot love someone else with just the same depth. There’s this bottomless capacity to love in the human heart. It’s why I’ve never understood the concept of soul mates or one true loves. We have the ability to love so many people.

What it comes down to is choice. Love is a choice, it’s making a commitment every day to someone. It’s waking up and saying “today I will love you.” It’s easy to fall out. It’s much harder to keep it strong.

There’s other things I associate love with. There’s some heartache, some pain. There’s the unfortunate fear that it will always be an unrequited thing. There’s some insecurities tangled up in it. Those are impossible to avoid.

I’ve been in love, though I so rarely talk about it. I’ve been shaped by it and will continue to be forever. Someday I hope to feel it again, just as strong and wonderful and true, for someone else.

I know it’s possible. It’s only a matter of time.

An Open Letter to the Kids Who Can’t Remember.

It’s been fifteen years now since those planes crashed into the World Trade Center. A lot has changed. Many people I know and talk to don’t remember it too much. The cultural changes are no longer changes to some people, but the norms. These young people, most of them teenagers- are able to look at the event objectively. They see only the historical perspective. And it’s to these people, these young adults who never knew a world before terrorism, before war in the middle east, before the TSA and Islamophobic racial profiling, that I speak.

You don’t remember what it was like. You don’t remember how people felt watching those towers fall. You don’t remember the chaos, or the confusion. You don’t remember the fear or the massive countrywide panic. To you, 9/11 is just something that happened. There was no drastic shift in anything if you can’t even remember what it was like before.

But for those of us who can remember? We do. I know exactly where I was when it was all happening, still. I was nearly nine years old, so I was in school of course. It was a Tuesday. just an ordinary Tuesday. At 8:46 am, when the first plane hit, I was in gym class. Were still there at 9:03, when the second plane crashed. By 9:59, when the South Tower fell, we were back in the classroom. Our teacher tried to go about the day as usual, but most of the older kids were watching it. They knew, and they were scared. The younger kids were still being taught as normal. They tried to shelter us. But it was clear something wasn’t right to anyone with a modicum of perception.

I attended a Catholic school, and at 1:00 the entire school was led over to the church to say a Rosary (a rather extensive Catholic prayer). There was no Rosary scheduled that day. Even more bizarre, for once, nobody was scolded when they complained they didn’t have their Rosary with them. “That’s fine,” “it doesn’t matter.”

It wasn’t normal.

Eventually everyone found out the truth, mostly from their parents, some from friends or older kids. And things changed. I was already a child with a higher degree of anxiety than most- but everyone was afraid on September 12th. This illusion of safety we all had was just shattered. Could it happen here? Would the bad guys ever target Ohio? Maybe it isn’t likely, but wasn’t there a plan that crashed in Pennsylvania? Did it fly right over us? Could it have crashed here? Would another one?

The blue skies didn’t look so serene anymore. Every cloud could be hiding a threat.

And we were third graders.

Even a year later, people were still terrified. On the first anniversary, I remember a class discussion about it- we were in the fourth grade now. This was when the whole truth spilled out, honest and raw. It was shocking for those that had been sheltered. We talked about what we remembered, what had happened, and why- but always there was that question of could it happen again? Could it happen here?

There was no way for the teacher to honestly answer “no.”

I distinctly remember kids drawing on the chalkboard during recess and talking about the possibility that we were all gonna die from the terrorists.

Something else I remember was flying on an airplane in the year 1999. Almost exactly two years before it happened, to DisneyWorld. I remember how easy it was. I remember a flight attendant giving me and my brother a little pin. It had a long sharp needle to poke through your clothes. I doubt they still give those pins out today.

The next time anyone in my family flew anywhere was 2009.

Before 9/11, there was an innocence. Everyone felt safe here in the US. Those kinds of awful things just didn’t happen here, they didn’t happen to us. It was like we all felt immune to it somehow. And for those of us who were children, that innocence extended even further into the general innocence of childhood, where war and death and violence were things you studied in history but weren’t real to you. They couldn’t really happen.

9/11 changed all of that. The kids who remember it were never quite the same. We grew up with this understanding that something very big had changed our country. It changed all of us. We watched our culture change, our lives shift just ever so subtly. We watched the fear and paranoia grip our nation, and grip all of us with it. We grew up with this tragedy, and every year understood just a little bit more. Those vivid memories of where we were and what were doing shifted into a tragic understanding of just how much we lost that day.

If you don’t remember, you don’t remember. It’s easier to wonder why even fifteen years later, the memories still burn. If you can’t remember, it’s easier to forget. It’s easier to want to forget. It’s easier to criticize, to question, to see it from a colder, objective standpoint free from the strong emotions of the day. It’s easier to look at the adults in your life and wonder why they still cry when no one they knew even died.

But we will never forget. We can’t.

The Great Grad School Depression, or why I (almost) regret my life choices.

If you know me at all, chances are you know I’m in grad school. It’s just about all I can talk about any more. It’s consuming my life, my mind, my energy, my resources, and a hell of a lot of my money.

Well, the government’s money, and a decent chunk of my parents’. But someday I’ll have to pay those damn loans back, and mommy and daddy aren’t helping with that.

To clarify, I’m not in PhD program, and at this point, I don’t intend to be. I’m in a terminal Master’s program for clinical psychology that is specifically structured to mimic the first two years of a clinical psychology PhD.

It’s different on paper, but given that it’s meant to mimic a PhD program, I don’t think those differences matter much. I’m still stressing over my thesis, coursework, and clinical practica the same way a PhD student would be. Only real difference is, instead of comprehensive exams, I have to think about applications to doctoral programs.

In theory, this is all I had ever wanted to do, from the time I was 16. And yet, I’m miserable. Why?

It’s not the workload. That’s never the problem for grad students- most of us can handle that. You have to, in order to get in at all. No, the problem is a different kind of stress, one that’s much less easy to handle. It’s self-doubt and anxiety, depression, loneliness, an existential dread, and a creeping feeling that you don’t really belong.

Everyone’s heard of impostor syndrome, but I don’t think you truly know what it means until you feel it. By definition, it sounds just like it looks- feeling out of place. Well that’s okay, surely. Everyone feels a little out of place sometimes, or like they don’t belong.

No.

Impostor syndrome runs much deeper. It’s feeling inadequate, incompetent, like you’re failing at the one thing you’ve always wanted to do. Impostor syndrome cuts to the very core of your identity, because who are you without this thing? If you can’t do this, who would you be? What would you do? Where would you go? How would you ever live with the shame of knowing you failed to live up to your own expectations? And how could you ever be happy if the trajectory of your life suddenly goes careening off road? How would you manage doing something entirely new because you simply weren’t capable of Plan A? How would you feel?

Answer those questions before attending grad school. Really make sure you understand them and the implications of their meaning.

Academia is a toxic environment. It is competitive and unsupportive. Your advisers will at some point make you feel like garbage (intentionally or not.) You will feel inadequate, your research will seem pointless and stupid, your statistics will make you want to cry, some nights you will spend crying over a bottle of wine and smudged writing. You will question all of your life choices. You’ll consider dropping out to live as a hermit. You’ll feel trapped behind journal articles and papers and books. You’re going to feel lonely and isolated and cut off from the rest of your friends, many of whom will be getting married, having children, starting real careers. Nothing will make you want to scream so much as your advisers edits and comments to your work. Feedback is going to hurt. If your self-esteem is already tenuous, grad school is going to do its best to shatter it completely.

In short, grad school sucks.

In fairness, not all programs are created equal. Some have better environments and supports than others. Some schools offer free counseling. Some mentors are more understanding than others. Some cohorts of students get along better than others. And some students are just more psychologically resilient, for whatever reason (I blame genetics.) But most programs have a certain degree of toxicity in common, which is ultimately inherent to the world of academia.

The question you have to ask yourself- aside from the ones above- is can I honestly be happy doing anything else? Would any other path to my life be just as fulfilling?

If the answer is yes, don’t pursue a doctoral degree. Your mental health will thank you.

I have no idea what I am doing!

I mean really. I’ve never blogged before, unless you count tumblr. And I don’t really count tumblr. That place is a mess.

Really I’m not doing this for anyone but me, though. The thing is, I’ve always kept myself tightly locked up. I admire people who can write about themselves so freely, who are open and honest about who they are and what they like. People with such confidence in themselves inspire me, they truly do.

But I envy them, too. I wish I had that confidence. So I guess this is my attempt at trying. Because let’s face it, no one cares to read your streams of consciousness on Facebook, and Twitter is ill-suited for thoughts that exceed 140 characters. (Twitter is terrible, to be honest; worst form of communication ever invented.)

So I guess that’s the point. You’re supposed to write a lot on a blog. Whether or not people actually read it is irrelevant. My thoughts are out there, I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym or alias. This is me, out in the open. Trying not to hide anymore. Or at least, not as much.

See, I’ve come to the realization that much of percieved isolation has been, in large part, self-inflicted. I could blame my childhood shyness all I want, I could blame spending 11 years in a Catholic school with the same 30 people all my life. I could even blame the mental health issues I struggled with my freshman year of high school (that’s a story for another day.) But at the end of the day, anger over those things doesn’t really change the core problem. It doesn’t help me move forward.

I isolated myself, for a very long time. I let myself believe that I’m “weird” or “abnormal.” That there is something wrong with me for who I am. I have never been popular or well-liked in all my life. I’m no extrovert, I’ve never been part of a large group of friends. I have always felt myself on the outer edges of the circle, somewhat included but never really a part of anything.

I suppose this does stem back to childhood. I was shy. I did have a difficult time making friends. I’ll always struggle against that tendency, I’ve accepted that. But that doesn’t mean I have to believe people don’t like me. And that was what I did for so long.

I can’t for the life of me remember why, but as a child I was so certain the “popular” girls didn’t like me. I don’t believe there was ever more than 35 people in my class at any one time up through the 8th grade. Yet I felt ostracized, and really I never tried to make friends with those girls because of it. I don’t really know why I felt this way. There was no evidence those girls didn’t like me. Yet I held them at arms length, even began to scorn them as superficial and shallow the older I became. What a waste of energy that was- those girls have all grown into kind, good people. I don’t currently think any of them are shallow.

I don’t recall being teased on the playground, nor being purposefully excluded from games, nor not being invited to birthday parties. So where did this perception come from? I can only conclude that, at the end of the day, it’s because thought I was weird. was the one that didn’t like myself.

I never turned this negative energy into spite or bullying, thank God for that. But I did push people away. I suppose I must have felt, because I didn’t like myself, I couldn’t really expect other people to like me. So I assumed they didn’t, and I locked myself away to avoid being hurt. And that all extended into high school, which was an entirely different kettle of fish.

People who knew me my freshman year of high school might remember as the weird quiet girl that didn’t like to wear matching clothes (a quirk I blame entirely on 9 years of plaid jumpers and polo shirts.) But it’s true that I was quiet. There was a lot going on with me mentally that year, such that I can’t fully blame myself for all of my behavior.

That said, I had so many opportunities to make friends. Yet I struggled with it, because again I let those fears get in the way. I refused to open up, could barely make conversation, pushed away most people that tried showing me kindness. And yet I wondered why I wasn’t liked.

Now that’s not to say I had no friends, because that would be a lie. Of course I had some, a few of whom remain close friends to this day. But the point is that it was a major struggle for me. It took me a very long time to grow comfortable enough around a person to even text them randomly, to chat on Facebook without fear of seeming weird, or that they secretly didn’t like me, or that I was annoying them.

I wonder, had I learned to let go of all that, might things have been different? Had I opened myself up to people, would I have been closer to them? Was my fear of being disliked the very reason I was?

Probably. Though the mismatched clothes probably didn’t help.

Things improved marginally in college. With each step forward, each new transition, I make a little more progress in overcoming all of this internalized crap. But I think most of all it’s important for me to forgive myself for it. I need to like myself. It always sounds cliche when you say it- but there’s truth to it. You can’t really expect others to like you. Not because low self-esteem makes you somehow unloveable, but because you engage in behaviors that push people away. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that I’ve carried on too long.

So enough of that. I’ve kept myself locked up too damn long. So yeah, maybe I am a little weird. But really, who genuinely sees themselves as normal?

I love psychology despite having issues of my own. I hate wearing make up. My skin is terrible and I have more allergies than I know what to do with. I love TV a lot. I’m obsessed with Once Upon a Time and my favorite not-dead character is Regina Mills. Harry Potter and Pokemon defined at least 50% of my childhood. I had an emo phase even though I didn’t always dress the part. I love to write. I love to draw and paint. I’m an introvert. My family is everything even when I don’t show it. I’m super weird about showing and being shown affection. Camping is my favorite thing. I should probably exercise more. I get a little too caught up in my own head.

Maybe I should try coming back down to Earth.