Overly Tone In The Danger Zone

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One afternoon, I arrived at my neighborhood boutique-spinning studio, harried and stressed, with only minutes to spare before the start of my class.  When it comes to my fitness preferences, I turn my practice inward and try to tune out the world around me.  As a result, I often have few interactions with my fellow riders.  Today, however, I was pulled out of my bubble by the sight of a terrifyingly thin girl drenched in sweat.  Clearly, she had just finished an intense spinning class.  I was embarrassed by my reaction as I gawked at her body.  I easily counted her ribs through her studio-branded tank top.  She was even too skinny to have a thigh-gap – it was just open space surrounded by skin and bones.  What shocked me most, however, was that she leaned her skeletal frame over the front desk and asked to be signed up for another one.  I was horrified that with the click of a button, the clerk assigned her a bike, and off she disappeared into the darkness of the spinning room.

My mouth was agape as I questioned: How could they possibly let her take another class? Now, I know nothing of this girl, not her motivation, nor her health history, so I really don’t want to pathologize, but I must ask: in our society’s “more is more” approach to fitness, how can we help the people whose exercise habits move beyond healthy and into the danger zone?

WAIT – EXERCISE ADDICTION IS REALLY A THING?

Yup!  The technical name for excessive and compulsive exercise is Anorexia Athletica.  Similar to alcohol or drug addictions, the person builds up a tolerance and need more juice to fuel that same high. They may also experience withdrawal effects like anxiety or irritability if they can’t exercise. Other signals include pulling out of other normal life activities like getting together with friends or skipping meals – all in order to spend more time hitting the gym.

The danger in this disorder is that on the surface, exercise is not inherently threatening.  However, the body is not made for this amount of exercise.  In addition to the increased risk of experiencing a sports injury, exercise addicts can be doing serious damage to their metabolic processes, hormone levels, or internal organs. There have been reports that chest palpitations and heart failure have been associated with this disorder.

GYMS NEED TO SHAPE UP

Back at the studio, I began to wonder if these boutique fitness companies have an obligation to intervene. Turns out, it is a highly sensitive issue for their management.  The financial structure of these businesses depends on people paying à la carte for classes.  This means the more classes people take, the more revenue flows into the studio.  I placed a call to one extremely popular spin studio and the person who answered the phone informed me there is no limit to the amount of classes a person can take in one day. I emailed several other fitness studios, and each of them declined to comment or expressed fear of being associated with this issue.  They do not want this issue to contaminate their image of being tightly-knit communities focused on fitness, health and wellness.

FINDING STRENGTH FROM THE INSIDE OUT

The more I researched this issue, the more people came forward with stories of friends, roommates, or family members that suffered with this disorder. Unfortunately, as with most such issues, there is stigma around coming forward.  This feeling of unacceptability furthers shame, secrecy and a whole lot of denial.

I came across a podcast called the Lively Show, in which a special guest, Lauryn Lax, discussed her 14-year eating disorder and fitness addiction.  During the episode she spoke about meaningful interventions.  She began by identifying that when strangers at her gym told her that she looked too skinny, she found it to be insulting and worthless.  This calmed some of my own anxiety about not saying anything to the girl at my spin studio.  Lax went on to say that, although she did not want to hear it at the time, she was more open to hearing from her friends and family because she knew they had her best interests at heart.

If you find yourself among one of those trusted supporters, be delicate, and expect the veil of denial to be thick.  Begin by empathically identifying your love and support.  Addictions can be isolating, so let them know you are going to be there unconditionally. When it feels appropriate, share some concrete examples of how you have been personally affected.  If you share your fears and other observations be sure to avoid blame.  Keep in mind, there is a lot going on under the surface that may need to be addressed by a professional.  While medical doctors and clinicians can diagnose this addiction, anyone can be concerned over the deteriorating condition of a friend.  Sometimes a little tough love goes a long way.

Armed with this information, I recognize that there is little I could have done for that girl at the spinning studio. At this point, it seems that fitness studios are unlikely to get involved, but if you share my concern about this, then reach out and ask them take notice.  In the meantime, it is important to shed light on this issue and attempt to de-stigmatize it.  Understanding the disorder and recognizing the warning signs make it is easier to catch and treat the problem. When I think about that girl, I hope she has a supportive person in her life that can step in and help her make a change.

If you want to learn more about this and other eating disorders, I recommend visiting Nami.org.

Photo by Lukas North

 

What To Do When Your World Crashes Down

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It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Instances when life blindsides you, when your very hopes and dreams get dashed against the rocks of reality.

Having recently gone through a crisis of sorts where I almost lost everything I’ve worked for in the last five years due to an seemingly insignificant (at least at the time) mistake, here are a few things that I’ve managed to glean from the whole experience.

1. Ignore the naysayers.

There are always going to be people who decide that your problem isn’t really a problem. That’s their prerogative, but you would also be completely justified in minimizing contact with them for the time being.

Likewise, some people will think that you had it coming. If anyone ever comments with the phrase “I told you so” – ignore it and while you’re at it, put them on the ignore list too. When you’re at the lowest point of your life, the last thing you need is more negativity.

If it’s constructive criticism, chin up and take it. Chances are it’ll help you avoid making the same mistake twice.

2. Avoid destructive coping methods.

What people don’t realize is that the panic and/or depression doesn’t come first. It’s numbness. You wonder if you’re just dreaming, if this is all just some nightmare that you’ll eventually wake up from.

Some people cope by binging on food. Alcohol. Gambling. Drugs. Netflix. We all have our vices.

Others start brainstorming ways they can either salvage the situation or start over. One of these is more productive than the other.

Do give yourself permission to take some time to adapt and accept unexpected new reality, but don’t delude yourself. There’s a difference between taking a few days to accept the new state of affairs versus hiding away under your blankets in denial for the next two months.

The important thing you need to realize at this time is that there’s no need to make your situation worse than it already is.

3. You might be aimless at first and that’s okay.

Take a deep breath.

Reach out to your friends and family. Go online. Try and find out if there is anyone who’s been in a similar situation and what they did to solve the problem. If they succeeded, see if you can apply that to your own scenario. If they failed, learn from their mistakes.

Get in touch with a professional or someone who can help if you need to.

4. Surround yourself with supportive people.

It’s during times like these that you learn who your true friends and family really are.

They are the ones who will lend you a shoulder to cry on, a couch to crash on. They will tell you that this does not change how they feel about you, that they still love you. Your pain is not just another piece of gossip for them. If anything, your situation has a large emotional impact on them too, despite them being mere bystanders.

And, if you’re fortunate to have these people in your life, hold them close and don’t let them go.

5. Remember, you’re stronger than you think.

Like all things, this too will pass. But it will pass a lot quicker if you don’t fall into the pit of despair.

Finally, I think we all know some people that lead a charmed life – everything seems to work out for them no matter what happens. And that might be true – but it’s probably just a front. Like Facebook. There’s probably a lot going on under the surface that you can’t see. Their problems may not seem like much to you, but as I alluded to earlier, it’s a very real thing for them.

But even if that person did exist, that wouldn’t matter. Because for the rest of us, life is an unpredictable ride, full of unexpected bumps and sharp turns. Early on in childhood, we’ve were taught that life isn’t fair and it’s isn’t. You just have to work with the cards you’re dealt.

(Photo by Emily Long)

 

Reflecting on Life…And A Haircut

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Having recently moved to Sacramento from Washington, DC, I set out on a journey to find one of the most sacred people in my life: the person to whom I would entrust my hair.

I’ve had a lot of lack luster haircuts in my life, and one or two spectacular, life changing, made-my-stylist-my-future-baby’s-godparent cuts, and I’m a true believer in finding the unicorns who, with a shampoo and some scissors, can make me feel like a movie star. Last weekend, I set out to find said unicorn, but instead I learned a life lesson about the balance between patience and courage, and it only cost me $30 and an inch of split ends.

My first mistake was not making an appointment. After half an hour of Google/Yelp surfing, I had decided on a place in Midtown. Arriving there a few hours later, despite the sign outside declaring “Appointments available! Walk-ins welcome!” the less than exclamatory hipster behind the counter told me there were no appointments today, there were no appointments tomorrow, there were no appointments at their sister location, there were no appointments for the masses because what even is an appointment but an elitist opiate to exclude the… you get the picture.

I edged my way out the door before his inevitable collapse into a pool of well-coiffed apathy. Outside I refused to give up. There is a day to give up on a haircut when a whole bunch of salons turn you down at once, but it was not this day. So I found the closest place, called, and the woman on the phone told me curtly to come as soon as I could. A couple blocks away, I found an old man with a walker standing in his socks in front of a corner store advertising “Men’s Cuts $16″. Looking back now, that was probably a sign. But I was still feeling a sense of haircut destiny, so I passed this gentleman by and stepped inside.

“Sarah.” barked the small, middle-aged woman.

“That’s me!”

Death glare.

“Sit. Right there,” she gestured to the rickety chair that was sandwiched between the open door and the cash register cart. I sat. “What do you want to do,” she said, sweeping the red cape over me as she attempted to strangle me with the neck guard.

“Uh, a trim? Clean up the ends, I don’t want any layers or anything.”

“I’ll take off 1 inch.”

Without asking any more questions, she started blow-drying my hair. Mind you, my hair was damp from showering, but because I was hoping to have it shampooed at a salon, I hadn’t washed it, so yeah, it was oily and gross.

“It probably needs to be washed,” I said, looking longingly towards the sink while she raked a comb over my scalp that may or may not have been made of knives.

“No. It’s easier for me to cut when it’s dry.”

So at this point, I was realizing that at best I had found a horse with a corncob tied to its head.

Over the next several, torturous minutes, I wrestled with whether or not I should stand up, rip off my cape like a Spanish bull fighter and make a run for it with my half-dried, half-cut, fully-gross hair, or sit it out, be patient, accept that it was not an ideal situation but that there were good
things I could get out of it.

After several long, silent minutes of indecision while getting whipped in the eyes with my own hair, commanded to stand up, sit down, sit taller, lean forward, and being generally manhandled, the hair cut was over, and my ability to choose was gone.

I grudgingly paid and got my revenge by calculating the exact 15% tip, and as soon as I walked out of the store, I put my hair back up in a ponytail. No victory post-haircut walk for me. Later, staring at my new, and undoubtedly pretty good, haircut in the mirror, I couldn’t decide whether I had done the wrong thing, the right thing, or nothing at all. And unfortunately, it got me thinking about my actual life.

Being a recent college grad and a 20-something at my first job in a strange city where I work from home, no, things are not ideal. I haven’t made the bundle of new friends I expected to make, the work I do as someone with almost two years of experience (read: 1 year, 1 month) is less than world changing or life altering, and I find myself harboring the fear that I’ve made a terrible mistake, that I could be so much happier, more fulfilled, and generally more well somewhere else.

So in a way, these past six weeks or so have been the longest haircut of my life so far.

Do I stand up, apply for other jobs, and make a run for it to anywhere else, maybe where more of my friends or family are or to a job that might be more fulfilling, to a life that might be better? Or do I be patient, sit it out, get a decent haircut, and if in six months or a year I’m still feeling it, I can change it up when I’m a little older, a little smarter, and a little wiser.

I know what I did at the salon. I never decided, and the decision was made for me. I don’t know if I’m okay letting indecision decide for me in my real life, but right now, that’s what is happening. I don’t have any answers (and if you do, help a girl out!), and I can’t do both. I have to do one or the other, stay or go, cut or run, and whichever I choose is going to fundamentally change my life.

For me, I’ve never felt more twenty-something.

 

Women Who Eat Salad

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You might have seen it before. Girl sits alone at the bar on a Sunday night. Orders a glass of her favorite pinot noir and a salad. The girls across the bar softly whisper about her, while staring directly in her line of sight. The bartender tries to make small talk, thinking she just may be lonely in her own company. Meanwhile, girl with salad is tweeting her whole experience, wondering why humanity cannot fathom a single lady enjoying her own company. Then, she laughs in the midst of it all. Unbeknownst to them, it’s because of their own insecurity in thinking this way.

Women Laughing Alone with Salad.” Not just a meme. And not just an incredibly raw and zesty play that I just saw (courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theater). It’s real life.

And I can relate. At the initial preview of the show, the “appetizer” if you will, I was surrounded in the lobby of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington DC with a countless number of bordering, and what seemed to me like, AARP-eligible single women. Was this foreshadowing my future? Alluding to what could be, if I didn’t shake things up and stop being that girl, laughing alone, with salad on a Sunday night at the neighboring watering-hole at the mall?

Before I get to that point, a little more background is needed. The play is based on a popular 2011 Tumblr page of, well, women laughing alone with salad. Its purpose is to showcase feminism in a contemporary world – the good and the bad. Interestingly enough, it centers around around a male protagonist who plays the role of observer and judger of women’s habits. One who, struck me dead in my heart when he says in one of his opening lines, “Don’t tell me you’re a salad eater!” A line I hear much too often and not just from the opposite sex.

Let it be. I would gladly be a stand-in for that popular 2011 meme on which the play is based. That way, instead of explaining my story at every dinner intro, I would just hold up a meme. Of me. And a salad. Laughing, of course. With the words in bold across the bottom: “Plant-eater.”

As you may guess, the way women are portrayed in the play is meant to draw out our insecurities, how we self-loathe our bodies and how society defines the way we should actually look. The play makes the point through stereotypes – the powerhouse, dominant woman; the curvy, flirtatious bombshell; and the pencil-thin blonde – all drowning in low self-esteem and stretching for any remedy. (In this case, that happens to be salad.)

Again, I could relate. My self-image fix started with the fat-burning soup craze. Since 1998, I had gotten hooked on losing 10-17 pounds every time I jumped on this semi-annual fad. However, every time I partook in this quick-fix diet, I would gain twice as much as I initially lost. Fed up (and quite shockingly to some), I made the decision to change my dietary lifestyle to one I believed would actually help boost my self-image. Veganism.  It was what I needed for a lifestyle change that would leave its mark.

Prior to changing my dietary lifestyle, you would have caught me ordering take-out from Popeye’s, or divulging in half-smoke, all-the-way, Ben’s Chili Bowl Hot Dogs. And yes, plural is how I would order. Thinking about the way I used to eat, I should have been 50 pounds heavier with a greasy face and bad hair. All the while, I pulled off sporting a schmedium shirt while holding a bucket of chicken in one hand, a beer and cigarette in the other. The ideal woman, ladies and gentlemen.

Yes, men SAY they like their women to enjoy themselves when it comes to food. But let’s face it: As much as we hate to admit it, we go on first dates and show men that we only eat like a rabbit. We don’t want to show that we, too, can lose self-control in that department. Entertaining border-line gluttony, really. Rather, we put on a show. We wear Spanx and contour our faces. We wear high-rise jeans to avoid a muffin top. We wear shift dresses to create an illusion. And now, we ask our hairdressers to shape our hair to make our faces appear thinner. Persistent we are in stopping at nothing to create a perception that society can accept.  I was on the search for the happy medium.

This isn’t new news.  This front we put up stems from that certain idealism when it comes to the way a woman is supposed to look. You see them when you flip the pages of your favorite magazine, or scroll whichever Kardashian-Jenner is now waist-training’s Instagram feed, or whatever you pinned on Pinterest (the platform was made for dreamers). And no matter how much we convince ourselves to not care about what others think, we do care.  After all, looking good is tied to feeling good.

So let’s reverse who we’re trying to impress. Stop putting in all that effort for for others — because really, it should be for us. At the end of the day, our self-gratification should be the priority. I’ll spare you the schpiel we have all heard before and sum it up to say: it’s you that matters most.

The reason I think it’s important is because there will always be that day when each of us will run into that someone. An old friend. Or better yet, an ex-boyfriend. And the only thing we want to leave them saying is , “Damn, she looked good.” And not just because of our trendy outfits or shiny hair or flawless skin. Because we exude confidence! There is no better feeling.

So, go ahead: Eat what makes you feel good, indulge when it feels right, and at the end of the day, don’t let others pass their judgement on your diet.  This way, even after we’ve all grown old and become one of the older ladies I saw at the preview, we will feel happy and good when we get there.

I want to leave you with this line from an empowering speech performed by one of my peers in her self-introduction about her struggle with self-image: “I may not be perfect physically, but I aim to be flawless everywhere else.” And that, my salad lovers, is a beautiful thing. That kind of powerful self-esteem comes from deep within yourself, regardless of your outside appearance.

Women Laughing Alone with Salad is running until October 4th, 2015. Want to check it out? You may purchase tickets here.  Quarterlettes get a special $30 ticket using the code – MEME!

Now in its 36th Season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company continues to hold its place at the leading edge of American theatre. Acknowledged as “one of the most influential outposts for the best new American plays” (The Washington Post), and “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times), Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new works, and one of the best known and most influential mid-sized theatres in America.

(Photo of author laughing with her salad was taken by Edilberto Argueta)

 

The Trouble With Those Darn Smart Phones

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About four years ago, I got my first phone that did anything other than text and call. At first, the sense of connectedness was intoxicating. Email on the small screen had a new appeal. I ate up apps like they were sweet treats. I learned to type with both thumbs, like the kids do.  Pictures, videos, links… all shared in the blink of an eye.

But almost as soon as I got my phone, I started feeling subtly off. I found myself checking the screen for missed messages although I knew perfectly well that new messages make sounds. I’d argue that I missed the chime and check again. I started feeling an odd anxiety that wasn’t exactly worry. It was like the tense irritation you feel when waiting to get back test results. You know they’re coming soon but you don’t know exactly when. In this case, it felt like the waiting just went in circles. Message chimed, check it, back to waiting.

I was growing impatient (…for what exactly?). I was growing more critical of others – “I just saw you like her Facebook post, but you can’t reply to my text?” “I like how you replied to his email but not mine.” Each time that I imagined a friend should have reached out to me and didn’t, I felt annoyed. Each time that I believed a friend should have replied to me on my timetable, I got more frustrated. I would never dare communicate it to them directly though, I knew it was my own issue. I was feeling hurt over imagined rejections – figments of insecurity.

The more I used my phone, the worse I interpreted the actions (or, rather, in actions) of other people. Even the people I loved most in the world came through worse on the screen. How could this be? My first theory was that the phone had replaced a more satisfying cadre of in-person interactions. Perhaps my phone had become like a social stunt-double. As soon as I saw it wasn’t the real star of the show, I felt fooled.

I wondered if my feelings stemmed from the faulty communication inherent in mediated interaction. It was so easy – far too easy – to misunderstand one another. One time a friend of mine was waiting outside my apartment so we could go to dinner together. After about a minute, she texted me, “Let’s go!!” Was it a squeal of enthusiasm… or an impatient admonishment? I still have no idea.

I have no doubt that mediated miscommunications do breed frustration with our phones and our friends. But for me, that wasn’t the heart of it. I could forgive any tonal ambiguity as the price of admission to the connectivity jamboree. Poor communication wasn’t my friends’ fault… none of this was really my friends’ fault. The fault lied in my phone’s early promise – a promise it couldn’t keep – that I would never have to feel alone.

I began to recognize that my phone had blurred the line between what I considered “alone” and what I considered “together.” When I was alone, I still felt as if the people in my life were with me. At least, they could be with me if they wanted to be. While this possibility had a rosy hue at first, over time it turned darker. I know my boyfriend can text me, so it means something when he doesn’t. I know my best friend can reply to my message about tomorrow night, so why doesn’t she?! All of a sudden, people were not fulfilling obligations they never knew they had.

Against all logic and good sense, my phone made me feel as if the people in my life were letting me down. Of course, they were not in reality letting me down. I simply had a new feeling now – a feeling that was hard to shake – that silences were full of rejection. Before, if I routinely spoke to a friend once a month, the time between chats meant nothing at all. The silent periods did not imply that she had dismissed me. But now, I had found (or created?) an almost infinite number of opportunities to be disappointed in that friend for her muteness.

This feeling is still something with which I grapple. I will probably always struggle with it as long as I have a phone. I do try, however, to be decidedly alone when I am actually alone. Allowing time alone to be what it is has helped me love time together again. I also try to use my phone in service of making plans to be together in real life, and that’s it. This plays to my phone’s strengths and not its weaknesses, and it’s definitely helped.

And sometimes, in my quiet moments, I wonder if I have a friend out there who’s silently fuming at me for failing to meet an expectation I never knew she had.

Photo by Jaryl Campos

 

I Refuse to Sink

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It’s a typical spring day at South Beach, Miami. The ocean is a boundless spectrum of blue. A few speedboats are traveling towards infinity. Someone is parasailing in a purple parachute in the distant sky. A group of little girls in swimsuits sit a few feet away from me attempting to build a sand castle. The sun is burning the skin on my back. My feet are covered in sand. Someone is playing Spanish music somewhere close by. This is truly a traveler’s paradise.

But there’s something else on my mind. I am here but still not here. I have a lot to say but don’t know where to begin. I want to strip off my soul and let it all out. I have a comorbid Major Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. The road has been rocky all this while, and the struggle is still not over. I don’t know when it will be, or if it will ever be. But, I am lucky to have survived. I am lucky to have figured it out a little. I am lucky to have discovered myself despite my illness. I am a success story.

I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder in January 2012 at the age of 19 in my freshman year of college. My move from India to Seattle and the associated culture shock, homesickness, bad living situation, roommate conflicts, academic pressure, gloomy weather and unfamiliar environment of the US only made it worse. Earlier this year, I was also diagnosed with Border Personality Disorder that probably went undiagnosed for the last few years and exacerbated my depression and anxiety.

I had three major relapses after a first major episode within a period of three years. I quit college twice and went back home for a few months both times to seek treatment. I fell in love with a man; only to have him tell me after being together for a year that his parents would never accept “a girl who is on the pill”. I lost friends because I wasn’t the same fun, bubbly and entertaining person that I was before. I gained 30 lbs. in 3 years. My self-confidence was completely shattered. I would stay in bed for 2 days straight without even getting up to eat, drink or pee. I would wake up in the middle of the night, frightened out of my senses, realizing that I had wet my bed. I would cry and howl for hours at a stretch. I felt like I had no purpose to live. There were days I slept for 20 hours and there were other times when I couldn’t sleep

for 5 nights in a row. I was scared of my own self. It was like a funeral in my mind. I didn’t know who I was or who I was meant to be. I would cry so much that I had difficulty breathing or swallowing. I was traumatized and tired of fighting every day. I used to wish I were never born. I felt caged in my own body all the time, waiting for someone to let me out. Happiness had become like sand. The tighter I tried to hold onto it, the more it slipped out of my hand. I felt like depression was going to slowly choke me to death.

I did not think I could live, but I overcame all the obstacles that life threw at me because I never gave up. I have now graduated with a double major in Finance and Entrepreneurship and a minor in Dance. During my four-year degree, I studied abroad one summer; interned abroad at world’s second largest financial newspaper another summer; interned at world’s largest aircraft manufacturing company another summer, held various leadership roles in college and founded two start-ups in the same year. I received multiple full-time job offers in my senior year and now work for one of the big 4 accounting firms of the world in San Francisco, a dream city for millions of people across the globe.

If I can do it, you can do it too. You can scare the black dog away. All you need is a truckload of patience, strength, perseverance and determination. I’ve learned from my personal experience that it is important to cry out for help, without the fear of being judged or hated. It is not your fault that you are depressed. It is like any other physical ailment that you could have picked up, except that it does not have physical symptoms that you can see. If you think you are feeling unlike yourself, please seek professional help from a psychiatrist or counselor. Medication, therapy, counseling, exercise, a disciplined routine and most importantly love, affection and support from family and friends can do miracles and help heal even the worst of depression. Nobody can fight depression alone.

If it weren’t for my family, close friends, therapist and psychiatrists’ unconditional support, I would not have made it through.

It saddens me to see the numerous stigmas associated with clinical depression. Please know that nobody gets depressed by choice. It is a biopsychosocial disease and anyone could have it, regardless of his or her age, sex, religion or culture. But you are only making it worse for the patient if you tell them that nothing is wrong and they need to try harder and cheer up. Depressed people may seem absolutely normal on the outside, but the disease kills them inside every second. Labeling or criticizing them is often far more detrimental to their healing process than helpful.

Patients with clinical depression will become irritated, agitated, angry, quiet, hyper or simply confused. They might push you away and protect themselves by developing a strange emotional safety mechanism. Give them all your love anyway. That is the only balm that will soothe their ache. Try to create a positive environment but never force anything upon them. Always empathize, not sympathize. A lot of people avoid helping out others with depression because they think they spread negative energy. Consider it as a social responsibility, and do it anyway.

No matter excruciatingly painful depression is, the truth remains that I would not have been the person that I am today if I didn’t suffer from the illness. I might have been healthier otherwise, but my perspective towards life and myself would not have been the same. It was indeed a blessing in disguise. As for the future, I am still dealing with a personality disorder and occasional bouts of depression and anxiety that accompany it. However, I shall wear my suit of armor and soldier on. I will keep daring greatly. I am a fighter and will always be.

Although I am not a medical professional, I found these resources helpful in understanding my depression and tackling it better:

http://studentsagainstdepression.org/tackle-depression/

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/dealing-with-depression.htm

http://www.projectsemicolon.com/

 

The following articles, books & videos influenced me a lot during my journey and are worth reading/watching:

https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hannah-sentenac/mental-health-news_b_5678778.html

http://www.amazon.com/Mindful-Way-Through-Depression-Unhappiness/dp/1593851286/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437459641&sr=1-3&keywords=dealing+with+depression&pebp=1437459712796&perid=1NASD4PR8EXATB1X0D57

 

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, visit these below resources for help and more information:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml

http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=home

http://www.adaa.org

http://www.nami.org

 

 

Life Is Not a Chicklit Novel

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Picture yourself indulging in the perfect beach read. You’ve mastered the art of keeping your toes buried in the sand while balancing your Kindle across your chiseled abs. Simultaneously, you reapply another coat of Clarins Broad Spectrum SPF sunscreen before adjusting your Ray-Ban mirrored aviators and returning to your chick-lit novel.

Cue record scratching sound drop.

If this sounds like your inner monologue, then I’ve got some bad news: you are living in a fantasy that your life is a chick-lit novel. If you keep listening to this internal soundtrack you’ll soon find it hard to separate yourself from the novel’s perky protagonist.

Indulging in this lighthearted literary medium is a great way to decompress in solitude or keep yourself entertained, but our generation seems intent on blurring the lines between reality and our idealized chick-lit-selves.

When we lose ourselves in these kinds of escapist novels, we get vicarious validation each time the heroine pushes boundaries.  We enjoy the perks of this unabashed lifestyle without any of the anxiety. This phenomenon occurs because we are tapping into parts of ourselves that we cannot always express in our everyday lives.  We see shades of ourselves in the adorable, yet fundamentally flawed, female character and we get hooked.  Whatever the plight – enduring a toxic work environment, struggling with friendships, or lusting after an emotionally unavailable man – haven’t we all been there before?

The problem arises when the heroine goes on to overthrow her tyrannical boss, get revenge against her arch nemesis, or seemingly heal a damaged bachelor through the power of love, and we think we can get away with the same behavior. While we enjoy watching our fictional friend fumble along, the choices we make in the real world are not without consequences.

Many of the premises upon which this genre was built reinforce our generational sense of entitlement.  We expect those around us to prioritize our needs and we assume that good things will happen to good people.  Unfortunately, these are unhelpful thinking-traps that ultimately widen the gap between our idealizations and reality.  Our literary preferences plant the seeds of unfulfilled wishes that will ultimately leave us feeling dissatisfied.

Giving into these wishes blinds us to another truth often ignored by our generation: that success in life requires hard work. We’re talking to you Andy Sachs!  In the real world the boss you abandoned in Paris is not going to write you a good recommendation.

Unlike a chick-lit novel, there is no finite happy ending, because there is always more to the story.  Life is complex, and most of the time the loose ends don’t get sewn up. It may be difficult to tolerate this uncertainty, but it is important to remember that enduring this emotion is healthy. You can leverage it to your advantage and use it as motivation.  As tough as it is to hear when the chips are down, disappointment is character building.  Adversity deepens our capacity to recognize the good in life and enables us to build a healthy perspective.

So as you enjoy your weekend read, try cutting yourself some slack.  Be a little more compassionate with yourself and remember that life is not a chick-lit novel.

 

Photo by Lukas North

 

Protein Power Couples

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You’ve probably heard that protein is good for you but there’s more to the protein story than that. For young women, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough protein from all the different sources in the right amounts and many of us may be missing the mark. Let’s face it- our daily lives are so busy, the last thing we think about is if we are pairing our proteins correctly- I can barely pair a cute outfit in the morning for work! Read on to find out why it’s so important to focus on protein pairing and how to create your own protein power couple . . .

We’re all looking for that special someone. The person who brightens our day, making life seem easier or more complete. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, need that kind of lovin’ too! But let’s be real – protein pairing is about as clear as an “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook.

In a way, amino acids are like us – young, newly single, challenged by the environment (stomach acid can be very hard on amino acids). Amino acids serve as the building blocks for protein and proteins do amazing things in the body – from building muscles to split-proof hair. There are thousands of protein variations used by our bodies, all created from either amino acids on their own or some combination of amino acids.

So where do these amino acids come from? Amino acids can be made through physiological processes in the body or obtained by eating food. Different types of food contain a different set of amino acids. There are 20 types of amino acids used in the body, 9 of which are essential, or indispensable. The food you eat must provide indispensable proteins, or the body may start breaking down muscle. The other 11 amino acids are dispensable – meaning the body can make these on its own.

Some types of food contain all the essential amino acids in just the right amount. Like Brad and Angelina or any other power couple, they seem to have it all! These protein sources – or complete proteins – are often obtained from animal products (meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs etc.) but can also be found in non-animal products such as soy foods. Other protein foods are incomplete or lacking in some essential amino acids. Also, some amino acids are not as well digested in these proteins as others. Not to worry! You can easily create your own power couple of complementary proteins by pairing two incomplete proteins. A set of complementary proteins can provide adequate amounts of amino acids.

Do you need to pair these incomplete proteins at every meal? Nope! Consuming a variety of protein foods in adequate amounts throughout the day will provide the essential amino acids your body needs. Still curious about how the food groups match up? Check out our sample list of single foods looking for their match to make the ultimate protein power couple:

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The take home message is simple – you can eat a variety of foods to meet your protein needs! Grains, legumes, beans, and seeds may not provide all the amino acids in adequate amounts that your body needs – but it’s easy to combine them with other proteins to form a complete protein. And don’t forget about those fantastic proteins like beef, chicken, dairy products, and soy foods that are perfect “just the way they are”. Because you know as much we do that sometimes you don’t need another person to make you feel complete. So whether a protein is “single and ready to mingle” or is complete on its own, there are a lot of ways to get protein in your diet. Get out there and start “protein” dating!

Sarah Romotsky is a Registered Dietitian and is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in Washington DC.  IFIC Foundation’s purpose is to bridge the gap between science and communications by collecting and disseminating scientific information on food safety, nutrition, and health and by working with an extensive roster of scientific experts and through partnerships to help translate research into understandable and useful information for opinion leaders and ultimately, consumers.

 

The Myths of Late Night Snacking

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I occasionally find myself wandering to the fridge at night and opening it a half dozen times as if something new will magically appear. This is the life of a late-night grazer. Is it because I’m bored, I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in four months, or because I haven’t slept in two days while trying to finish a project for work? The truth is that all of the above can lead to eating too many calories.

Yes, calories. That word I learned in chemistry class, sitting in a 200 person seminar, trying to understand how to connect it to an insanely long math equation. I’ll let that dreadful memory vamoose and share some info that I think helps anyone understand the real deal about calories.

#1. It’s not about when you eat…necessarily. There’s a myth that eating at night causes more weight gain. It doesn’t. But let’s be real here…if I am eating late, I’m probably throwing back a pizza slice (or the whole pie). Or, it might be some chips, or a half gallon of ice cream to accompany my Real Housewives marathon. So it’s not specifically the time of day that’s adding on the extra pudge, but the impact of the types of calories consumed.

#2. There are a bunch of ways to burn it off. What you want is to maintain calorie balance, meaning you’re not losing weight but you’re not gaining either. To maintain, the amount of calories you chomp on should equal the calories burned. And guess what? You burn calories just from being alive. That might be the best news I’ve shared all day. I get my dance on or sweat it out at spin class to shed even more calories.

So why has “late night eating” been deemed a culprit of weight gain? Well, if I set aside the occasional late night fiesta (like throwing back a few not-so-skinny margaritas), I have to admit something. When I let myself get ravenous during the day, it leads to overeating at night. I used to scurry home from work, nearly starving by the time I desperately unbolted the door. Then, I would find nothing but week-old takeout in the fridge. My hangry alter-ego would kick in and I would find myself scrambling to toss something together, downing half the ingredients in the process. By the time I realized how many snacks I’d gobbled, emotions would be running wild and a binge would be calling my name. Sound familiar? Fear not! I made a few easy changes that you can too. Key ways to avoiding these bikini-altering situations are:

1. Preparing meals in advance
2. Having a light snack on your way home from work
3. Eating mindfully, not multitasking while watching TV.

Fighting the late night cravings can be difficult. If you find yourself battling the snack drawer, try going for a walk, calling a friend, or reading a book for a distraction. If you feel your stomach caving in, go for a healthful snack like crunchy carrots or cheddar rice cakes. Remember, all late night snacks are not created equal.

Sarah Romotsky is a Registered Dietitian and is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in Washington DC.  IFIC Foundation’s purpose is to bridge the gap between science and communications by collecting and disseminating scientific information on food safety, nutrition, and health and by working with an extensive roster of scientific experts and through partnerships to help translate research into understandable and useful information for opinion leaders and ultimately, consumers.

 

My Process to Positivity

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We all experience conflict in our lives that’s often difficult to navigate.  When we witness others in conflict and see them reeling from an argument with a colleague, a family member, or a friend, we often have some perspective on the situation and wish they could see things as we see it – not from the center of the fire.  From the outside, we can see that perhaps the situation isn’t as difficult as it seems, or, better yet, there’s a positive lesson to be learned.

But there is nothing quite as frustrating as being the person in a challenging interpersonal situation. You really want to be mature and take the positive perspective, but in the moment it is almost as if the emotions of “upset” and “anger” get together and somehow perpetuate themselves in your mind, blocking out all reason.

The reality is that all of us will get into tough situations every now and again. And we will learn a great deal from those events, so we shouldn’t run from them. But the question then becomes – how do we get to the positive perspective faster, so we spend less time feeling sorry for ourselves or making the situation worse with the things we inevitably say and do while upset.

In between working at McKinsey, studying at Harvard Business School for my MBA, and advising a startup (things are definitely busy for me!), I often find myself looking for ways to stay balanced and positive. I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently and have been working on creating a plan for such situations. Here is my personal 3-step process:

1.  Sleep & meditation 

Being tired can make your mind play tricks on you.  You feel like your world is in shambles, that everybody hates you, the list goes on! Yes, things like not using your computer before bed can help you fall asleep faster, but one thing that works for me is a guided meditation. A guided meditation is basically a soothing voice that walks you through breathing and thought exercises that allow you to literally exhale the day’s worries and relax your mind and body to sleep.

2.  Empathy visualizations
A huge part of positivity is being able to empathize with another person. As we know, this is easier said than done. But one thing that helps me is to meditate for about 5-10 minutes and then listen to a guided visualization about empathy.  An exercise like this can effectively force your brain to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore the ways they see you, the situation, and themselves.  Every time I’m about to do one of these visualizations, I am skeptical.  I think that I will probably come out from the experience holding the same grudge. But it never happens. I am shocked at how much compassion and empathy I feel for my “antagonist”.

3. Writing down what I’m grateful for
Like a good number of people, I make a practice of counting my blessings every so often in a gratitude journal. Usually it’s the obviously good stuff – the fiancé, the family, the opportunities, good health. However, when I have a tricky interpersonal situation, I force myself (and I say force because it doesn’t come easy) to write how I am grateful for that person.

For example, I once had a boss that was pleasant to me while we worked together and then gave me a horrible career-denting review at the end.  I felt like I had been completely betrayed. When I started writing, I found that I was grateful for him for teaching me to be more proactive about asking for feedback and to be more perceptive about how others are actually viewing my work and personality. This step single-handedly helped me see the situation in a positive light and allowed me to grow exponentially.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to find a strategy that works best.  None of us can live conflict-free lives, but what we can do, however, is develop strategies for managing those conflicts and staying as positive as possible throughout the process.