Words of Sylvia Plath

“Should I be worried about my penchant for enjoying and relating to Sylvia Plath?”

Though I have never read any of her work (that is soon to change), I am always struck by the beauty and accuracy of Plath’s words. Here are a few of my favorite.

 

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The following quotes often get stuck in my head at various points throughout my day:

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Now excuse me as I look into purchasing the works of Sylvia Plath who, despite (or perhaps because of) her tragic death and  history of depression, wrote words of such significance and beauty that I can’t help but be struck by her genius.

 

A (very) Brief History of a Life with Anxiety

I’m ready, are you? Time to get personal. I’m usually not one for flaunting emotions, I keep controversial opinions primarily to myself, and I play it safe when an unknown audience is involved. Therefore, this post, while not focused on a contentious subject, is definitely a new level of sharing that I have yet to attempt (dare?). However, I’m in the moment, I need to write it, and here it comes…

Anxiety.

Starting around the time I was 6, I began having panic attacks. My parents’ first assumption was that I had some sort of stomach issue, since my “attacks” made me feel nauseous and sick. In fact, my panic attacks have always taken the form of stomach aches, or more precisely: the fear of throwing up. Let’s get this straight– no one likes throwing up. However, when I say that I particularly HATE throwing up, please understand my complete detestation of the very thought. My anxiety has always come on in the form of fear that I’m going to be sick to my stomach. Talking with others who suffer from anxiety disorders, I’ve been told their attacks have felt like they were having a heart-attack, going blind, having a stroke, or even just flat-out dying. In comparison, my measly fear of throwing up seems pathetic– What has this girl actually suffered? Fear of getting sick? Childish. Ridiculous. Pathetic.  And yet, in my moments of panic, I promise you that the idea of throwing up is absolutely the most terrifying notion ever. In that moment, I swear I would rather die then get sick. I know it sounds irrational, but isn’t that the whole anatomy of anxiety? It is made up of irrational fears.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the sweaty palms, heart racing, light-headedness, out-of-body experience just like the rest of us chronic worriers. However, as a child, when my anxiety disorder first began to materialize, my fear of sickness had me spending a hell of a lot of time in the school nurse’s office. Some of my most vivid memories of elementary school are of my visits to the nurse– the mandatory thermometer under the tongue that proceeded the usual “well, you don’t have a temperature, why don’t you just lay down for a while,” and then, on really bad days, the final straw when I would desperately ask if I could call my mother to take me home. Most often I would go back to class and be perfectly fine. In my more stubborn moods I would camp out in the nurse’s office, overstaying my welcome and allotted time of occupation on those uncomfortable, puke-green cots. The funny part is that although I know those were traumatic experiences for me at the time, I don’t look back on those days with any sort of bitterness or despondency. I had a good childhood, all things considered– teachers and nurses were kind, despite my constant need for something or other. And, most importantly, I had parents who eventually came to understand what I was going through, and did the best they could to help me with a personal-battle that left them feeling stranded and powerless on the outskirts.

I write this post knowing that in all likelihood it will remain unread, or in a similarly possible situation, someone will come across it and either think “Hey- I can relate” or  “Hey- I know this girl.” If it’s the former: I’m glad. There are a lot of us out there and sometimes it just feels good to know you’re not alone. If it’s the latter, that’s fine too. I’ve never been one to hide my issues with anxiety, nor do I flaunt it. I actually start to feel bad for the people around me when I’m having an anxiety attack. I know they start to get worked up and want to help, and of course in moments of panic the last thing I can really do is give a thorough lesson on why I’m actually going to be fine and it’s okay that they just leave me alone. But it’s not in people’s nature to abandon the infirm, which I’m appreciative for, but also means I often find myself seeking refuge in a bathroom stall.

When out in public, especially with a group, I go out of my way to make sure the whole crowd doesn’t know if I’m having anxiety. They don’t need to know. Why should I spoil their time with my anxiety, especially when, as mentioned before, there’s nothing they can really do? When I was younger, and less skilled at hiding my symptoms, I know some kids in school thought I “did it” for the attention. They didn’t understand and in retrospect I don’t blame them. Many people in my life now know my struggle with anxiety, though perhaps at different levels.  As I said, when  out with a group of people,  I won’t let on to the crowd that something is up, but there is something comforting about having a single confederate in which to confide. Just telling one person what’s going on– why I’m suddenly inattentive, quiet, and escaping to the bathroom with a frequency that would make most wonder about the size of my bladder. Having that one person who “gets it” (at least to a certain degree) and knows it’s happening– I like that. It’s calming.

Most of my friends know about my struggles with anxiety, and usually when anyone finds out about it they try to empathize: “I get anxiety all the time,” “oh I had the biggest anxiety attack over that test last week,” “I had a legitimate panic attack before my big presentation.” I used to inwardly roll my eyes at this– everyone gets anxiety, it’s true, but what they feel before a big presentation or test was not the equivalent of my panic attacks. They had normal, everyday anxiety, complete with cause and effect.  Not that they experienced anything less than anxiety, it’s just that the whole reason I am diagnosed with a Panic Attacks and an Anxiety Disorder is because there is simply no rhyme or reason for when I have my attacks. Normal anxiety is common. It happens. I get butterflies before important events, too.  But it’s no anxiety disorder.

Like I said, these claims of anxiety, while legitimate, were not in the least bit comforting in their attempts to commiserate. It used to just frustrate me that they couldn’t grasp what I was going through in that exact moment. Now, however, I’ve begun to look at things differently. I’ve come to be almost grateful when a story of common anxiety is shared with me because I know that the individual telling me the story is not trying to belittle my own panic, but rather assist in keeping me feel grounded and, dare I say it: normal. It’s a way to reach out and help someone who is, at the time, nearly helpless. These individuals care, they really do, and while I know the majority of them will never truly understand, their efforts are appreciated. Of course, there are also those that will suffer from a one or two, absolutely terrible and debilitating anxiety attacks in their life. For them I feel especially sorry because at least I have the foreknowledge to know what it happening to me. It has taken me years to be able to tell my anxiety apart from actual physical illness, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it. These other people, however, will lack such practice, and for them I feel particularly bad. I would never wish an anxiety disorder or severe panic attack upon anyone.

Those of us in the Anxiety Club (let’s call it a club, that way it sounds a bit more positive) could probably spend hours, even days, comparing notes of therapists, deep breathing exercises, medications, meditation, forms of therapy, cognitive behavior, tactics and tricks. But when it comes down to it, a mixture of these ‘solutions’ is necessary for any sort of ‘recovery,’ and no two regimes will be alike.

I realize how ridiculous this is going to sound, but over the years I have found that the best way for me to deal with a panic attack is to distract myself (obviously) with a simple child’s  game that I play in my head. Honestly, this works wonders for me. When I was a teenager, I would make my mom sit with me, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes on the bathroom floor, and we would go through the whole alphabet:

A my name is ….Anna. My husband’s name is…Aaron. We come from…Alabama. And we bring back…Armchairs.

B my name is…Becky. My husband’s name is…Bill. We come from…Bermuda. And we bring back…Bobsleds.

C my name is…

You get the gist. And let me tell you– 10+ years of this game and I’ve come up with some pretty darn creative combos. Though Q and X are always pretty lame. My one rule for the game is that whatever we “bring back” can’t be a food. Naming foods does not bode well when my anxiety attack has me filled me fears of puking. Nope, not at all.

So there’s my bit of over-sharing. I sometimes feel like I could write novels about my experiences. Everyone who has dealt with issues of anxiety or depression (the two are so often and tragically linked) will know what I mean by this– It’s an every day battle. Sometimes the troops are at rest, there’s no worries for a day or a week or a month. Then– BAM! The grenade explodes. Open fire. Head for the foxholes. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. Anxiety is like warfare in my body, or more specifically my mind. And we fight back with all the force we can muster. Our strategies grow and change as we, in turn, grow and change. It’s a lifelong battle, but it doesn’t have to be a war.

Learning Lessons Post-Graduation

My major in college was Communications, with a focus in Public Relations. In the first two years, a lot of what I learned within my field was what some might refer to as “the basics.” Most of the information included swivelvocab words I aced on a test but would forget two weeks after the final exam. Don’t get me wrong, these classes were important in that they were an overview of the subject to which I was about to devote 4 years of school, not to mention the rest of my foreseeable career.

Later on, classes became more “practical.” Lessons referred to actual case studies. Our minds were tested on more than just words, but rather the application of techniques. In my senior year I took an extremely beneficial class that included all hands-on PR work. We even ran our own campaign for the local branch of the East Coast Greenway (and so I continue my “mandatory boasting”).

Obviously all my classes were important (in their own special way…), but I always found that the teachers who best knew how to teach Public Relations had actually worked in Public Relations. There is a difference between studying and doing, and when a favorite professor of mine failed to get a promotion simply because she didn’t have a Masters degree, I felt outraged! There was no doubt that her 20+ years of experience had proven more helpful to her students then any textbook teacher.

Well, I seem to be going off on a tangent from my original point of post.

I’ve been in the “real world” for about 2 years now, which means I’m just new enough to remember school, and just old enough to realize that there were some key points that our Communications lessons failed to mention. And so I have compiled a nice little list of things I wish I had learned in school, though perhaps some of these are merely lessons we each have to learn from actual experiences.

1. More Microsoft Suite, please.

I will admit that I’m grateful for having been trained to work on both Mac (my preference) and PC while in school, but despite what I had considered a thorough training in each field, I find that there was much still to learn. In particular– Microsoft Office. Let’s face it, unless you’re working for some fancy-pants (exaggeration) company, you’re probably dealing with Office ’98 on a PC from an equally distant past. Now here’s the thing– I thought I knew Excel pretty well. Nope. Barely scratched the surface. And don’t get me started on Publisher, a program I have since learned to worship as a god of efficiency. Oh, and Mail Merge. Mail Merging documents is a glorious time saver and I shudder to think of my life without it (I recently had to print out 800+ personalized letters…imagine typing each name and address…one at a time…I feel sick…).

2. Customer Service a.k.a. basic manners and tact

I don’t care what job you have, 95% of us will have to deal with customers/clients. Honestly, the majority of ‘customer service’ is basic etiquette. Watch what you say and the tone you say it in. Also, it extremely important that you learn to read people– position your statement or argument by what they value or feel. Simple social interaction is very important, especially in situations when you find yourself addressing someone who keeps you employed and helps pay your salary. The customer may not always be right, but you sure as hell should pretend they are.

The other half of social interaction, especially in the not-for-profit field, is the schmoozing. You may be making a measly salary, but you’ll often find yourself around the kind of people who spend the equivalent of your monthly income on one night of drinks. Here is where you must become a human chameleon; once again– read the audience. Fit in, but don’t put on airs. Be yourself, but maybe not the same self you present when hanging out with friends. Oh, and it’s probably a safe bet to say you should steer away from commenting on your own pile of student loans…they may be rich but they’re actually not looking to adopt a 25-year-old drowning in debt (drats!).

3. Writing. Editing. Simple, right? Wrong.

Years of writing classes, essays, and research papers– All for what? Well, I promise you one thing, practice makes perfect with writing and all that ‘practice’ will sure as hell come in handy in the career world. You will find yourself writing, no matter what your job:  composing an email to your boss, a proposal for a new program, a post for the website. You will write, and you will be judged. Perhaps one of the most disheartening moments of my (albeit brief) career thus far was finding out that one of my bosses, whose tactics and work ethic I admire, was an incredibly terrible writer. My respect for her didn’t decrease, though I will admit a slight wavering. Anyway, one of my personal favorite things to do for work is write. Because of that, I’ve been given more and more responsibility in different spheres of the organization. People take notice when you can write well. It will get you places and it will get you things– possibly just more work for the same salary, but you can’t beat the respect that goes along with it. So take advantage of all the writing you will do in school– not necessarily that paper about John Milton’s Paradise Lost; teacher’s should stress the different forms of writing, and how to make your point clear and concise (I always fail at the concise part).

4. Office Environment 101

Perhaps this is where the mandatory internships and learning from experience come in, but I don’t think I got a full dose of the Office Environment until my current job. So what is the “Office Environment”? Basically it’s another version of entering a new school: Where do you eat lunch? Who can you complain about work to? How should you dress? What sort of supplies do you need? Of course, the Office has a whole new set of learning blocks, for instance: How do I use a fax/copier/printer? Who handles my paycheck?  What’s the difference between vacation days and personal days? What are these mysterious “benefits” I suddenly have as a full time employee? How do I navigate the computer system? Most of these things are answered easily enough (hint: befriend the HR department), but its just the idea of playing by a whole new set of rules that can be difficult. So what should school have taught us about ‘Office Environment’? Basically that we just when we thought we were out of middle school, we get sucked back in. Minus the detentions, but plus the overtime without extra pay. Oh, and expect drama. Always with the drama.

5. How to work on a zero dollar budget

Okay, this is more of a personal one. Or perhaps other not-for-profit workers at small organizations can relate. I have literally been told to plan events on a $0 budget, to “use what we have,” and to somehow make money off of it. Pinterest is a saving grace, as is a vivid imagination. And then, of course, there is my own wallet which, when all else fails, sometimes comes into play. Thankfully, nowadays I’m usually given a small budget or reimbursed for my contributions, but never underestimate the importance of being able to work with barely a dime.

 

Remember, this list applies specifically to my own experience. I’m not attempting to rewrite any Senior Year curriculum, nor panic any soon-to-be-grads. In fact, I would be very interested in hearing what other people have encountered as educational blind spots– What is something that has proved so crucial in your career, that you didn’t learn in college but wish you had? Then again, maybe some of these things can only be learned from actual experience. What do you think?

Just Be Kind

I like quotes. I’ve collected quotes for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I like them because of their message, other times I struck by the perfect combination of words. And while I could fill pages and pages (or should I say posts and posts) with favorites, I do think that perhaps one of the most important quotes I’ve ever come across is the following:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Plato (though apparently the author of this adage remains up to debate)

I was reminded of this saying today when, at the grocery store, I ran into a woman I know from my job. She tragically lost her only daughter a little less than a year ago. My immediate reaction, as it always is when I run into someone I know, was to say the typical: “Hey! How are you?” with a (not insincere, nor completely natural) grin plastered to my face. And of course, that is exactly how I greeted her. She was kind, we traded casual conversations–small talk about the frustrations of grocery shopping on a Sunday, and then we parted ways. It was a very brief conversation, but the whole time my mind was racing, thinking about the pain she must feel for the loss of her child. How each trip to the grocery store might wrack her with memories. How she was no longer buying the types of foods her daughter once loved. How every child she passed was a reminder of what she no longer had. Of course I didn’t express any of this. In fact, this was all projection on my part; emotions that I could only imagine I would feel in her situation. But it hit me– here is one woman in a store of hundreds. I happen to know her and know her story, or at least the bare minimum of her and her husband’s saga that eventually led to the loss of a young and sick child. Here is this one woman who I know has had this incredibly difficult ordeal. But what about the other people in this store right now? How many of them have recently had such terrible losses?

We all struggle with our own inner demons. Our issues vary in complexity, but not importance. We all have our own shallow troubles that can be blown out of proportion, but at the time they truly do feel like the end of the world. And, unfortunately, most of us will also have not-so-shallow drama; we will feel the all-consuming, mind-numbing pain of grief after an ordeal of such magnitude that it changes our entire world. At different phases of our life we have different worries and fears, but we are all fighting a battle. At the root of it, life is not easy. We will experience fun and adventure, but no one is without pain.

Now, as someone who dislikes conflict and cringes in the face of confrontation, my personal belief system focuses greatly upon the concept of being kind to everyone. Yes, everyone. I’m a thorough advocate of the “kill ‘em with kindness” theory. But that’s another story. The point I’m trying to make is that it is SO incredibly important to be kind to one another. It takes little extra effort but makes a world of difference. We are all struggling, maybe not today or tomorrow, but each and every one of us is fighting something. Understand that, accept that, embrace that, act upon that assumption.

I may be something of a peace monger (in fact, I have a whole theory that World Peace could be achieved by nothing more than puppy dogs and warm cookies– an idealist doctrine, to be sure, but it would certainly work for me). The bottom line, however, is that this world is never without its hardships, so why not do our part to add a little more pleasantness to it.

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What is this Mythical 40 Hour Work Week?

2011. I graduate from college. Bright-eyed and eager for the world in front of me. I may not have a job yet but watch out world because HERE. I. COME.

2014. I leave my second job after working a 20 hour weekend. Time to go grocery shopping, spend all the money I made that day, eat PB&J for dinner, and then go to sleep in preparation for my full time job.

This is the world that I, and several fellow graduates, live in. The myth of the 40 hour workweek was once upon a time told to me, but has long since been forgotten.

Monday through Friday are just 5 days in a cycle with no beginning and end.

What is this ‘Hump Day’ that the friendly camel cares so much about?

What exactly does the ‘TGI’ in front of the TGI Friday’s chain of restaurants actually mean?

And most importantly, what is this “social life” I hear people raving about? Some sort of newfangled fad, I’m sure.

I can’t wait until I can finally retire. Let the countdown begin.countcal150px

 

Social Media Through MY Ages

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We live in an age of constant updates, reposts, comments and likes. Who we are as an individual is greatly defined by the person we present ourselves to be on our social media sites– mainly because the majority of our ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ are (barely) acquaintances whom we might have met once at summer camp back in 1998. However, oddly enough, this doesn’t stop us from wanting to know exactly what they are doing, with whom, and how. Through the years, I feel we use social media different. Not just because one year we enjoy posting 140 character statuses and the next we can’t get enough of putting vintage-y filters on pictures of our pets. As we change and grow, the way we use and even interpret social media changes with us. But alas, this is far from a scientific discovery. Instead, I shall dazzle you with my own personal experience: Social Media Through My Ages.

Background for this– I was born in 1989. Graduated high school in 2007. College in 2011. Do the math, figure it out. Where in the world was social media at each point in time?

2003: MySpace made us realize that we could only have a certain number of “top” best friends. Like middle school needed more drama.

2006: Facebook stopped being an Ivy League gossip column and became accessible to everyone 13 and up.

2010: Welcome to Twitter, where brevity is the soul of wit.

2011: Time Magazine calls Pinterest a “top” website. Pin that where the sun don’t shine, Martha Stewart!

2012: Instagram hits over 100 million, because sometimes words are hard.

(Oh, and WordPress: 2003. Thanks for the outlet, guys!)

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Don’t pretend like you didn’t love these too!

Young’un Social Meda: The only way to describe this Age is: Foolishness. Myspace taught me so much about myself– mainly in the form of answering really deep information for my profile like who my favorite boy band was that week or the number of letters in my crush’s first and last name. Soon sparkly doll pictures could be added and at that point I absolutely knew I needed my own computer (Kids, back in my day, a “first computer” meant a 50lb clunker that took up at last 35% of my total tiny room space. I think I even had to move my blow-up blue sparkly chair out to make space!). Hours were spent changing backgrounds or, more importantly, finding the “cool” websites for those “cool” backgrounds (and glittery pictures, did I mention those?). On the plus side, my extensive use of MySpace supplied with my limited knowledge of HTML. If you wanted to make your profile REALLY cool, you needed to know all the secrets. So in-between IM-ing with friends, thinking up some pretty sweet Away Message (most of mine were quotes, like Mark Twain quotes, and I remember thinking that I was pretty darn cool for that), and updating my MySpace page, I slowly realized I had less and less time to interact with my friends face-to-face. Oh well, maybe we can have a sleepover tomorrow night and check out our MySpace pages as we doodle with gel pens and watch the latest episode of Lizzie McGuire. Sigh, nostalgia.

Early College Social Media: Surprisingly, little changed in our intents and purposes, but the format became much more sophisticated (by which I mean no more glittery pictures…well, for a of couple years). When we were younger, posts were all about trying to outdo and impress. I remember going away to college and feeling the intense need to prove that I was “having a great time” and had made all these fantastic new friend. Truth? While I did make great friends, my first year was plagued by homesickness and anxiety. Not that my social media pals would ever have known. Nor would I have known any fear or sadness taking place in their lives. Everything was dorm rooms, parties, new friends, awesome campuses, and “oh man, so much work!” Maybe our close friends knew how we really felt, but the 500 other people you graduated high school with were under the belief that everyone but themselves was living the best life ever. Of course, it also just occurs to me that maybe I’m alone here and everyone else really WAS living the BEST life ever their freshman year of college…

Current Social Media: At this point in my life, I find that my use of social media is primarily used for its originally intended purpose: keeping in touch with people who are in all different places. Well, that and a healthy dose of “stalking” those I might not know quite as well. We grow older and our friendship groups expand and disperse. There are the people we grew up with, the people we went to high school with, the people we went to college with, the people we used to work with, and then the people who are currently still in our lives, but– all factors considered–may soon also become former friends/schoolmates/coworkers, like the rest. Then, there is the element of contrast and compare. Face it, we look at other people’s lives and we, not so much envy them, but observe them in a selfish sort of way. Maybe we think: well, that would be nice. And in other situations we smile and think: good thing I didn’t end up like that. Whether it’s for daydreaming, self-affirmation or just to see what other paths people have traveled, something about social media keeps us company and support as we continue down our own path.

My Parent’s Social Media: And then there are the group that I will call “my parents,” though that’s technically not correct since none of my parents really partake in social media. For the most part, the baby-boomers whose social media presence I’ve studied are usually the parents of friends or even older coworkers. These “parents” are of a generation where they are just old enough to not have had it for most of their lives, but just young enough to learn the basics. The majority of their use is for reposting: recipes, chain posts, and the more than occasional “let’s see how many likes we can get for [insert often silly, probably fake reason/noun here].” Of course, it’s also used to keep in contact with friends. Many reconnect with former schoolmates or workmates. These are even more intersting reunions because rather than having become “facebook friends” while still knowing each others, these two will have been separated for decade before reconnecting. And, let’s face it, the kid who lived next door to your mom when they were growing up, is not that same person at 18 as they are at 58. There are whole lives to be caught up on. Oh, and of course there is the main reason why many “parents” have signed up for social network sites, though they’ll never admit to it and have since caught the social media bug themselves: They’re spying on their children. I mean, how else are you going to know what’s going through the mind of your 18 year old son. He’s not going to share with you directly but he will, oddly enough, share with 600 of his closest friends. No shame, parents. No shame.

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Oh, and these gems. Parents love these gems.

Years have passed, websites have developed, and vehicles of communication have multiplied (oh, have they multiplied!). The only constant in this crazy world is that things will continue to change: social media channels, technology, and our lives. And we will continue to come up with new and exciting ways to find out what a person we met once back in 2003 (you know, a cousin of a friend’s friend or the like) is up to now. And that’s okay. For whatever purposes we use social media, it will be there for us.