Life at the Heart of L’Arche

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The Following are my own viewpoints and do not represent those of L’Arche International or any of the specific communities I have lived in.

Human beings connect to songs.  Both musical notes and poetic lyrics shape who we are and singing has always been a cornerstone in my seven years in L’Arche.  It seems like a lifetime ago now, but I was just in my first year when I took one of the core members (the L’Arche way of saying “person with learning disability”) to a Prayer Partner Retreat in Kingston, Ontario.  A man in his late twenties was strumming a song on a guitar while the core members and assistants laughed and danced. After, I made some small talk with him. “How long have you been in L’Arche?”  I asked curiously.  He flashed a smile “10 years.”  He said.  10 years seemed like such a long time back then, but now, I realize it’s really not that long. 

I stumbled upon L’Arche accidentally.  I was in my final year of my Bachelor’s and we had a guest speaker, Sister Sue Mosteller, at my university.  She spoke in such a tender and humble way about her experiences in the Daybreak community.  At that time, Sister Sue had been in L’Arche for nearly 50 years and was a founding member of Daybreak.  The way she spoke gripped me, I wanted whatever this woman had. I got in touch with her and she, in turn, welcomed me to come for a visit.

The first time I rocked up at L’Arche was a disaster.  It’s quite humourous now and I enjoy telling the story whenever I wish I poke fun at myself, but back then, it was quite stressful.  I got lost and was late.  I made mistakes.  I had no idea how to interact with people who have disabilities.  I had no idea what L’Arche was.  I had such an idealized version of life in community which (thankfully) the house leader smashed as soon as I told her what I thought the days would look like.  Yet, despite all this, there was a tenderness which permeated the room.  There was an evident trust and friendship displayed between the core members and the assistants.  There was a sense of holiness and humanity which I had searched for in the academy and had fallen short of, and so, after a one night stay, I signed myself up to live a year amongst adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and various other disabilities. 

Life in community had its ups and downs as I learned to integrate into this way of life.  Among some of the most important lessons were discovering how to laugh at myself (because if I didn’t, everyone else would), figuring out how to speak to core members as adults (something our patronizing world is not very good at), and finding the joy in each day regardless of how tiring it was.  One of the key elements of life in community is forgiveness and this is something I repeatedly came back to.  There was the day that I was short with one of the core members and after apologizing to her, she smiled back and said “Don’t worry, be happy.  We’re still best friends!”  I learned then that there was no point to hold a grudge because faults and mistakes were quickly forgotten.  It didn’t matter how annoying I might feel someone was, tomorrow morning was a new day.  I had to let any anger and resentment go in order to preserve the life of the house.  There was also the time one of the core members stole one of my prized books (she couldn’t read), and another time another core member decided I would be staying put and hid my car keys under his bed.  We didn’t find them for a week!  At the time, these instances were greatly distressing, but now I have to chuckle as a wry smile inexplicably escapes my lips.

Community also brought with it opportunities for growth and healing.  Within my first month of being an assistant, one of the core members in my house passed away.  The community came and sat with all of us in our grief. They allowed the space for questions and pondering and they also permitted both tears and silence.  In L’Arche pastoral care is offered between one another.  We often do have outside ministers who come in and provide needed support in times of crisis, but I have always found the connection between the household members just as profound if not moreso.  I will never forget a very special moment when I experienced one of the darkest valleys in my personal life.  It was a season of intense sadness, loneliness, and heartache, but the simple rhythm of saying the Lord’s Prayer around the table every evening sustained me.  One day, one of the core members with Down Syndrome could just sense something was troubling me even though I had not said a word.  He came beside me and started rubbing my back whispering soothing words.  Before I could stop myself, tears streamed down my face as I crumpled into his arms. It was at this moment that I realized he was giving me pastoral care.  I have been ministered to many times since then by other core members who intuitively know when I am sad or upset and give me the biggest hugs or the brightest smiles.

One comment many people have said to me over the years is “you must be a very patient person.”  I often thought this was a patronizing statement, but today I have come to regard it as truth, because in community patience is key.  I often must be patient with core members who take longer to do tasks and as someone who enjoys being the boss of the kitchen, I often have to be flexible enough to change cooking arrangements at a moment’s notice.  Yet, the real patience comes from the core members themselves who allow young people barely adults and often still in their teens to help serve them.  It really is a lesson in humility for all.

I have always loved how mutually satisfying relationships within L’Arche can be.  When I came to L’Arche I was impressed by names, titles, statues, and educational abilities, yet, today I am impressed with a person’s character and heart.  The core members have welcomed everyone from the university professor to the high school drop out and everyone has been treated the same way.  In a world which values beauty, the core members have taught me that sometimes mismatched socks and bare faces actually make the best photos because they are truly authentic representations of life. 

Cooking and dinner hours are places where life is lived out most authentically.  To date, I have lived with people of over 30 nationalities and from 6 different continents which is a unique experience many other people cannot say they have had.  The tastes, textures, colours, and aromas of the various dishes brings the world right to our plates and the banter which soon follows brings in that sense of home.  Living with people from different countries has also been a grounding point for me when I moved to Scotland for the first time nearly 5 years ago now.  Any time I missed home I was able to turn to assistants who were living the same thing and together we could draw strength from each other.  Over the years, I have rubbed shoulders and met many people and as I learned early on “in L’Arche we have to say hello and goodbye often.”  In some cases, these friendships were for a season which was painful at first.  Sharing in both the blessings and the stresses of an entire year only to have no contact after dropping someone off at the airport was heartbreaking, yet, I also have made some unique friendships which have carried on and served the test of time.  


In the past year or so, L’Arche has been going through a whole lot internationally, and it pains my heart to see some of the negative press.  I will admit that some of what is said is perhaps warranted and I believe any community or organization must be transparent enough to deal with both the good and the bad, yet, I do worry about the future of our organization if all people have heard is bad.  Hearing negative reports will likely scare off some potential assistants who might actually contribute greatly to the community.  The trouble is when people hear concerns about work hours, responsibilities, and how L’Arche is slipping away from its spiritual core, people lose sight of the real mission of being fellow pilgrims.  We have worked through some very difficult things together as a community: the Jean Vanier inquiry being the most notable and searing.  Hearing such horrific news shook the core of who we were as we ventured to dream and discover how L’Arche could function without the founder. We asked ourselves if we should delete his name entirely for the annals of L’Arche history, or, if not, how much of a role he still plays in L’Arche’s story (in OUR collective story)? This is a path we have all trod and is both lived and experienced communally but also personally.  Some people have had to walk away from the movement entirely because they could not reconcile at all the news of his abuse of power with the care of the most vulnerable members of society.  There is no shame in this and we do not begrudge them.  We do not consider them weak, in fact, it took tremendous strength for them to do so.  Others have chosen to stay and chosen to work this out within the community.  We honour these individuals as well.  


Another struggle we have faced has been dealing with a global pandemic which we were all unprepared for.  Again, there were no easy answers or quick fixes.  Some of what we have lived communally has been a real blessing, other aspects have come short of a nightmare.  Once again, there were members who needed to leave as soon as the pandemic hit.  This was not their fault and they were not weak, it took courage to return home where they were needed.  Others have stayed and helped to provide a rich and vibrant life for the service users and we are most grateful to them.  Throughout the pandemic we have often heard the term “frontline workers” which generally has referred to those in paid positions, however, I truly believe that the real heroes were the core members themselves.  The tenacity, strength, adaptability, and resilience evidenced by those who had no ability to understand what was occurring was a brilliant testimony to those of us with the capacity to fully grasp the implications.  It truly reminded me to take it one day at at time, looking forward with gratitude rather than backwards with regret.  There were many days when the stress of the pandemic nearly caused me to burn out, but looking back now that we have all lived through the worst, I also would not have chosen to live any other way during these past six months.

Slowly the Spirit has been calling me out of L’Arche.  A decision I feel completely at peace about, but which still rips me to the core.  I often find myself tottering between emotions.  I am both excited and extremely nervous.  I am both elated and also devastated.  I feel it is a type of death to say goodbye to a certain way of life which I have come to know and love.  When I first came to L’Arche I was taught in my orientation “there are those who come to stay long term and there are those who are called and sent out to spread the message two by two.”  I feel I have been called to both.  I have stayed in L’Arche much longer than many other assistants who have stayed for just a year or two and I feel that as I have stayed on I have continued to grow and develop as a person.  I felt I continued to give a lot to L’Arche but that I was also receiving a lot.  To borrow the phrase of another long term member “I have earned my BA in spirituality and my MA in humanity.” However, there soon came a point when I realized I was ready for something else.  L’Arche gave me the confidence, assurance, and blessings to embark on what my true calling is.  Now I am being sent out just like Noah’s animals.  Having been safely kept in the massive ark during the global storm, they were nudged out of the safe and familiar and told to go back to the land where they had always been meant to be.  Did they even know how to be lions, tigers and giraffes anymore?  Had they forgotten how to hunt?  Perhaps they were a bit timid as Noah and his family had provided for their every need and needed to be prodded, yet eventually they made it.  I may be leaving a certain vocation, but I am not leaving the mission.  The lessons I have learned I believe will serve me well in my future endeavours both as I interact with people who have disabilities themselves and consider how to make churches more accessible, but also engage with the general population by helping them through their own woundedness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 

It is hard to say good bye to something I have invested my life into, but I do know this: wherever I go in the world, there will always be that house with the picture of the boat and the three people welcoming me in with a hot cup of tea, a biscuit, a prayer, and more than likely, an off key guitar.

Facing Fear: Peace in the Midst of Pandemic

fear.jpg (700×466)It was 7pm on a Monday night 5 months ago and my coworker had just finished her shift.  She said she needed to leave promptly so that she could hear an important announcement on the car radio.  The rest of us were huddled around the television awaiting the all important Prime Minister’s address.  This was the first day of lockdown.  None of us knew what to expect or what was happening, but all of us were afraid. 

There are people who will try to convince you they were never afraid during this pandemic, but I don’t believe any of them for one minute.  Fear has been the natural response throughout this very strange and difficult time.  We have several groups of people when it comes to fear.  We have those who have been absolutely terrified about getting the virus or about infecting a loved one with the virus.  We have those who have been absolutely afraid of their economic uncertainty and how they will pay their rent and bills.  There have been extroverts like myself who have been fearful of life never getting back to normal and never being able to give a friend a hug or a handshake again.  Others have been afraid that life will not resume normality and that they may be stuck in their deadend jobs, working permanently from home, or never being able to visit children and grandchildren who live in other countries.  Lastly, there are the group branded “conspiracy theorists.”  These individuals claim that they are not afraid at all, but perhaps are the most fearful of all.  These select few are fearful that the government wants to control us, microchip us and force mandatory vaccines on us.  

Life has resumed some form of normalcy as I write this.  I am able to travel (albeit not as much as I wished and still within my own country, but at least day trips are now available). Routine medical and dental exams have resumed.  Even some leisure activities such as eating out and going to the cinema are an option.  From the outside, everything looks more or less as it did before except now we are all two meters apart and wearing face masks. Yet, I believe there is still a spirit of fear which permeates much of what we do in a day.  There are still individuals who are paranoid of the virus as the numbers have started creeping up again.  There are those fearful of sending their children back to school (and some parents who have chosen not to).  There are still those who are convinced the government wants to microchip us and that the Mark of the Beast is at hand, and I think if we are completely honest, nearly all of us are fearful that a second wave will be approaching.  I haven’t watched the news for months now, but I still hear the whispers from my friends and the posts on social media.  It really seems only a matter of time.

I was very blessed to have worked throughout the entire pandemic. I say blessed because it is humbling to me how many of my same age peers faced economic uncertainties since they did not have this privilege.  Work took my mind off things, gave me something to do, and helped to have some form of interaction with other humans.  Yet, work was also very stressful.  Being on the frontlines daily took a huge toll on my physical and mental health.  Stress was high, my brain could never switch off, and policies and procedures were amended several times over several weeks which heightened the fear of never knowing exactly what was expected. Due to the stress I experienced from the pandemic and the massive plummet my mood took, I decided to pursue another venue: getting back into full time ministry.  Something which has been on my heart throughout my life, but now seemed like the time to do it.  Everything went well.  I passed my interviews and the church genuinely seemed to like me, but once again the natural human emotion of fear crept in.  Fear of not being enough, fear of what others have said or what I have been led to believe about myself in the past, fear of failure, and once again fear of COVID.  Exactly how DOES one minister completely online?  In some ways I feel I will be entering the ministry more prepared because I know that these things can happen (something no seminary ever trained or talked about before), yet on the other hand, I feel ill-prepared.  There is fear about how long this will last and exactly how many sermons one can preach over Zoom before the whole congregation goes bug eyed and walks away from the screen.

In this time of fear, God’s people are called to engage in faith.  This is not an easy thing to do.  How do we have faith when we don’t know what the future will bring?  As a late 20 something single millennial I do have questions.  Is it still possible to buy a house now that the economy has plummeted?  Will there still be a way for me to meet a young man organically?  Will I ever get my 20 something life back with all the excitement I once had?  And how can I get to know a church community when the next year or so will be completely online?  What does pastoral care even look like then? 

In Matthew 6:34 Jesus writes “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own.”  This verse has never been truer than in COVID.  The truth is I don’t know what tomorrow brings.  For all I know we could be locked down tomorrow.  For all I know I could get COVID tomorrow.  For all I know, life could drastically change tomorrow, or it might not.  For all I know, we may get to Phase 4 tomorrow and the masks come flying off.  It has been a real challenge for me in this season to learn to trust God, but that’s what I’m called to do.  I must accept that there is so much I don’t have control over at the moment.  What I do have control over is doing my part to continue to follow government guidelines and to be kind to others.  I have been learning so much about acceptance in fact that it has truly made me a happier person.  When I look back even over the last few difficult months, I see how God has been present and blessed me.  I see how many of the plans which I had hoped for in my life (which were hampered due to COVID) have now been replaced by something even better for me which I would never have expected.  I can only be grateful and in awe of this.

I was listening to a sermon the other day about when the Apostle Paul wrote “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12).  We may look at this and say “wow, good for you, Paul.  So pious, but you have no idea what I’m going through.”  Well, actually there’s a good chance he did.  He was in prison and about to lose his life.  Let me paraphrase this in relation to what we’re going through:

“I know what it is to be in lockdown and I know what it is to be in normalcy.  I know what it is to be in quarantine and I know what it is to be able to go to church physically every Sunday.  I know what it is to be furloughed and I know what it is to be at work.  I know what it is to be healthy and I know what it is to be sick. I know what it is to go on holiday and I know what it is to shelter in place.  I am CONTENT in each and every situation.” 

Contentment is not happiness.  I’m sure no one is happy with all the rules and regulations, however, we can be content in terms of accepting it and still making the most of it.  We can ask God to redeem and use this time so that we don’t squander it.  We have the ability to make the most out of another lockdown by treating it like a retreat.  We don’t have to continue in a negative vein about how 2020 was the worst year of our lives brought to us by the letters W T F, instead we can look at the glimpses of grace and the sparks of God’s love which have been given to us.  It’s a tall order, but as God’s people, it’s possible for us because we approach life with an attitude of plenty rather than scarcity.

And me?  I still hope to settle down in my new church, with a decent enough flat.  I hope to get myself a pet to come home to, and I hope that eventually I will be able to meet my congregation in person and not on the screen. But even if none of that happens, I still believe that I can be content in my circumstances and say with all honesty and confidence “it is well with my soul.” 

 

 

 

The Seven Rainbow Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Usage: Monster #7 – The Purple Monster of Addiction

purple-cartoon-monster-clipart-free-clip-art-images-clipart-kidDo you find that you frequently interact with the substance even when you said you were going to limit it or stop it all together?  Do you make promises to yourself that you are only going to keep to a certain limit only to discover later that you have far exceeded it? Do you wish you could cut down on your usage? Does this substance consume a significant amount of your time and energy?  Does the substance impact important areas in life such as your job, your finances, your friendships or relationships?  Have you ever neglected important responsibilities due to the substance? Do you sometimes feel out of control when using the substance? Do you go through “withdrawal” such as feeling nervous, anxious, or on-edge when the substance is taken away from you or is not available?  Have you ever worried about your usage or have you ever had a friend or family member comment on your usage?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have an addiction.

The paragraph you just read about was from a quick Google search highlighting some of the ways that someone can tell if they *may* have a drug addiction.  I have been interested in addiction for several years and done quite a bit of personal research, so this obviously just scratches the surface, however, it does paint a stark picture doesn’t it? The exact same traits that we can find in someone who abuses drugs and alcohol are similar to what many of us find ourselves doing with technology on a daily basis.

During the spring months, there is a Christian tradition called Lent.  Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter.  During this time, it is customary for people to give up something which they enjoy or find pleasure in to remind them of personal sacrifice.  Some common things people give up are: junk food, eating out, alcohol, and one of the most common ones in the past few years: SOCIAL MEDIA.  However, it was soon discovered that many people who chose to give up social media and/or technology in general went through withdrawal symptoms in the same way as someone does when they give up smoking, excessive coffee drinking or drugs and alcohol.  In fact, many professionals are contemplating opening up treatment facilities and programs for chronic technology users.  In the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V which is used by mental health professionals including psychologists and psychiatrists) video game addiction was finally mentioned as a mental health issue. I believe it is only a matter of time before cell phone addiction will also grace the pages of this text book(if it hasn’t already).


Many people who face addictions have similar behaviours and mindsets, however, in my short time studying addiction, I have come to believe that everyone is addicted to something.  People with addiction usually live in denial.  I recently heard denial described as “Don’t even notice I am lying.”  Basically people who are truly addicted don’t think their addiction is that bad. Many of them don’t even realize the devastation it is causing for those around them.  It’s the same with internet and technology addiction.  People may joke and say “I’m addicted to my phone” or “I’m a Facebook addict” but if you were actually to confront them on this many would backpedal and even become defensive. In fact, I was told once that this is the first step of identifying an addiction – if you’re not addicted you wouldn’t need to argue the point.

The six other monsters I introduced which preceded this final monster helped to flesh out a bit more some of the ways social media is addictive and what to do about it.  Just a quick recap: the red monster of anger, the orange monster of insincerity, the yellow monster of fear, the green monster of envy, the blue monster of depression and anxiety, and the indigo monster of distraction.  When we look at each one, we can also see that these are all common traits in someone who is going through addiction themselves.

Now, please note, as I said right from the beginning, not everyone who uses technology is or will become addicted just like not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic.  Many people are able to find a balance with work, social life and technology.  Many people inherently know how to use technology well and productively so that it is purely for fun and recreation.  Many people are able to turn their apps off and get a good night’s rest.  But a vast majority aren’t.  A vast majority find social media more stressful than pleasurable.  Lots of individuals lament each day about the hours lost in “screentime” only to mindlessly scroll the following day.  Please note: I am not sharing this from a judgmental pedestal, it is something I have struggled with in the past and I still have a long way to go before I am completely free of technology’s shackles as well.

However, as one fellow traveller to another, if you are worried about potential cell phone addictive behaviours, here are a few tips I’d like to leave with you:

1) Notice the times when you are drawn to Facebook and other social media.  Are you scrolling or checking your phone just because you are bored?  Are you trying to distract yourself from an otherwise upsetting event?  Are you procrastinating from a project that legitimately needs to get done? Or are you simply on it because you’d like to have some fun and enjoy yourself?

2) Notice your emotions.  Do you come away from social media feeling more angry at the state of world affairs, jealous of your friends, insecure, or depressed? Or are you genuinely able to put what you just saw online behind you and move on with the rest of your day?

3) The opposite of  addiction is connection.   Use social media to foster rather than replace real relationships.  I do not disparage that there are genuine communities online.  I am part of a number of groups and circles online focussing on many different helpful areas and sometimes despite not knowing the people in real life, I have formed friendships and even professional working agreements. However, be careful not to neglect friends in real life.  Be careful to connect with other people in the day to day.  If you’re up for a challenge, keep your cell phone in your room for a whole day and see how much more you notice and can take in from life.

I hope these rainbow monsters have been helpful in showing you some of the ways technology can adversely affect us.  Technology in itself is not a monster, however, if we do not properly tame our minds and hearts when interacting with it we can become one. Please do something good for yourself today and be kind to yourself when using social media remembering that it is a tool and it is in our hands what kind of tool to make it.

The Seven Deadly Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Usage: Monster #6: The Indigo Monster of Distraction

indigomonster-lalanta“I’m listening,” my friend said as we sat across from each other at the cafe catching up on our latest news. “Uh hun, hmmm, yeah” she was making all the usual noises someone makes when they are following a conversation whilst holding the phone in her hands presumably scrolling through a favourite social media site. Suddenly she puts it down and looks me straight in the eyes, “I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?” She genuinely asks.

I think it goes without saying that distraction has become the biggest monster in our day and age when it comes to technology and cell phone use. From the big like getting into a car accident due to texting, to the small like spending more time than needed online, technology can be very addictive. How often do we say “I’m just going to pop over to Facebook for 5 minutes to get caught up on the latest news?” only to realize that 15 or 20 minutes later we are still on there. Did you know that statistically speaking, almost everyone has been late to work, an appointment or a social engagement at least once in their life due to being distracted by social media and overspending time on it. However, aside from the time lost online, there are also the emotional effects it produces such as your friend feeling unheard, unvalued, and unappreciated. There is also the addictive quality it produces in some people as a way to numb out of reality in a similar way that other addictive behaviours can produce such as drinking, gambling or online shopping. Furthermore, hearing all those distracting buzzes and pings can also add pressure for us to respond right away. We may be on a day off work when our boss sends us a DM and we feel compelled to respond. We may be in the middle of doing an important task and we hear a ping or a buzz and we feel compelled to answer our phone. In fact, there is even a phenomena called “Phantom vibrations” whereby we have become so used to feeling our phone vibrate that when it’s in our pocket we feel we have felt it vibrating or we think we hear the ring tone, when it is still silent. I think we all can relate. You’re at an event where you have clearly been told to silence your phones or shut them off completely, and someone forgets or doesn’t bother to do so. Suddenly you hear a familiar ring tone and everyone jumps to put their hands into their pockets, purses or rucksacks, even you who are aware that your phone has never had that particular ringtone. It’s a real thing. And then, of course, to end on a light and funny note – I once fell because I was rushing to catch the bus in another city and using my phone for Google Maps. My ankle hurt for days and I couldn’t help but think what a Millennial Facepalm moment that was.

When I told my friend that I had been asked to write about some of the unhealthy ways phones and technology can control us if left unchecked he scoffed. He is rarely on Facebook or social media and never posts anything. He said, “who, you? You’re always posting every day.” And that’s true. I definitely am imperfect when it comes to cell use and I probably am still on it way more than I need to be. However, there are certain rules I abide to which I think can also benefit you:

1) I don’t use my phone when I am out with friends. When I am having a coffee or dinner with someone I focus on them, not on my social media.I usually put the phone into my purse so it’s out of sight out of mind. This also includes not using my phone when I am at the doctor’s, at the dinner table at home, or at church. I generally would not have my phone on me when watching Netflix or movies with others either. [Caveat: cell phones are vicariously addictive, so I have become more aware that when your friend takes out their mobile it’s more likely for you to do so as well, it’s kind of like yawning. However, I have been challenging myself not to do that even then.]

2) I have put my cell phone on silent. This means that I get to respond to texts and DMs when I feel like it. I don’t have to jump right away to answering as soon as I hear my phone. The exception is that my phone does ring if someone tries to call me twice back-to-back or if they leave a message in which case I will respond as it could be someone important such as a GP.

3) I installed a screentime app on my phone. It’s gotten a bit complicated with lockdown due to being on platforms quite a lot for social events which normally would have happened in person. However, the general idea is that I only allow myself 1 hour of Facebook and 4 hours of cell phone use in general then my screen goes grey and I can’t open my apps. I have a password to log back in but it is such a random number combination with no significance so it’s a bit more of a hassle to remember what it is.

4) Even just being aware of how much I had been on my phone was mind-blowing. Matt offers a course called “The Phone Freedom Challenge” and he provided a lot of insight into how and why I am using my phone. It’s important to remember that phones aren’t bad. There are so many good apps and useful resources on them, however, it’s more how we are using the apps productively. Social media in itself is a good thing, but it’s not a good thing when it consumes our entire life.

5) I still do activities which I enjoy and I don’t let phone use dictate my day. I make a schedule of all I need to accomplish in a day and I have been able to stick by it. Some activities I enjoy doing that don’t include phone use at all are: walking (I often still listen to a podcast or music when walking by myself but I am definitely not scrolling and walking or stopping to scroll), going to the cinema, going to live theatre, reading a book, writing, taking online courses, and travelling. When I do these things I enjoy, I may still have my phone on me for pictures and emergencies, but they take my mind to the present and the last thing I am doing is thinking about what is happening in my Newsfeed.

Distraction is a very real issue of our day and I think many of us would be kidding ourselves to say we are never distracted by technology. I know that I still have a long ways to go myself and could further limit my phone use, but I also know that these 5 small steps I have taken have generally improved my relationship with social media and given me a clearer head especially in the midst of these pandemic times. What are some things you enjoy doing that take your mind off of social media?

The 7 Deadly Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Usage – Monster #5 – The Blue Monster of Depression

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Many of us have heard the word “depression” used flippantly. People often use depression to explain frustration or surface level sadness over a particular event or to describe a certain mood they might be feeling on that particular day, however, for over a quarter of the population, depression is a real issue. Depression differs from sadness in that sadness is a normal human emotion. It is totally normal and expected to be sad at times for example when someone has lost a job, when someone breaks up with a partner, when someone has to say goodbye to a friend moving abroad, or when someone has lost a loved one. Although unpleasant, sadness is there to remind us of how important a person is in our lives and how when their presence is not there with us it affects us. In fact, sadness often stems from love (not necessarily in the romantic sense, but in the sense that we were built for community and compassion). However, depression is something quite different. Depression is a prolonged state of just feeling empty, dull and devoid of feeling. Unlike sadness, depression is not meant to be there. When someone experiences depression it can often feel as if a large and dark presence is hovering over their bed or in their room. Sometimes depression can be the result of certain circumstances such as job loss, marital trouble or financial difficulty (this is called situational depression) or the result of hormonal changes after childbirth (this is generally called postpartum or post-natal depression). Depression can also be the result of chemical imbalances within the brain – for whatever reason, some of us are not able to produce the necessary hormones needed such as serotonin (“the happiness hormone”) and many others face depression during the winter due to lack of sunlight (this is commonly referred to as SAD or “Seasonal Affective Disorder.”)

I have struggled with depression for most of my life. The very first instance I can remember was at the age of 4 wondering at times why I had even been born. However, it was not until I was 12 that depression really consumed my life. From the ages of 12 up until 21 there were periods of time when I lost my appetite, did not feel like meeting with friends (despite being a fairly outgoing extrovert), would have crying spells, would feel lethargic and with no energy, would have difficulty concentrating or following along in a conversation, and would generally regard myself as a worthless human being. There were days when I thought life was rather pointless and it took me to the extreme sometimes of wondering if people would be better off without me. I did not talk about depression for a long time because I grew up in a culture that said it was not okay to discuss these types of issues. I was subjected to the same stigma that many others are even being told the classic phrases such as “snap out of it” and that I had so many good things in life and therefore no reason to be sad. Unfortunately, these individuals did not or could not understand that depression is a significant mental illness, but with the right help and support people can thrive and oftentimes recover. When I received my diagnosis at 17, I thought it was a life sentence due to me being a terribly evil person. Today, I know that many individuals who experience depression are highly creative (for whatever reason, there seems to be a link between those in the arts and those who have depression), many are very intelligent, and most are highly sensitive. Today, I know that my own struggles with depression are the very reason I am able to reach out and help so many others. My own dark nights have helped provide light to others so that they know there is a way out even when it does not seem that way at all.

When Matt asked me to write about the 7 Rainbow Monsters of Unhealthy Technology use, I knew that depression had to be one of my monsters, in fact, it is probably the most glaring and obvious monster there is. I did a bit of research beforehand, and while there is some division, there are two main ideas presented: 1) Depression and Anxiety has significantly increased since the mid-1990s (also known as the I-Gen) particularly amongst children and teens.
2) For people with pre-existing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, internet and cellphone usage is more likely to have a negative effect than a positive one.

Why is this? Firstly, there are the physical reasons. Extended cell phone usage seems to cause poor posture, slight hearing and sight decline, and poor sleep. Many of us are aware of the “blue light” which our laptops, phones, and other electronics emit. This prevents us from getting to sleep as it tells our minds that we should still be awake and alert. As well, scrolling through social media right before bed can often get us riled up over political posts or unpopular opinions we may not like. I personally had to guard myself when lockdown first began. Throughout lockdown I have been invited to several virtual events. At first, I really wanted to connect with my Canadian friends. I guess just living abroad in these uncertain times made me crave the familiar. I used to log on to Zoom or other platforms and talk to my friends well into the night sometimes past midnight. While I did enjoy talking with my friends, I noticed I couldn’t get to sleep after especially when the discussion had been very interesting and intellectually stimulating. After about two weeks, I realized that I needed to change this pattern so now I try to end most conversations by 11pm GMT so that I can still have an hour to unwind. Most of us are aware of the “body-mind-soul” connection. In order to function at our top level mentally, we need to take care of our physical bodies. Most of us have had sleepless nights where we have woken up exhausted and we remember being cranky at our friends, coworkers and partners. We may have felt physically exhausted and this contributed to a poorer work performance on that particular day. Now, imagine what it would feel like for one to subject themselves to that same mindset daily (which is what a lot of people do subconsciously due to social media and technology).

Secondly, there are the mental and emotional aspects about cell phone usage. As discussed previously, there are so many ways social media gives us a skewed version of reality. Constantly being online produces FOMO (fear of missing out), can cause us to be envious of what others have, and produce loneliness. Even something as simple as sending someone a DM or text message and viewing the read receipt only to have them not respond can cause anxiety over our friend being upset with us or not wanting to talk to us anymore (meanwhile the vast majority of the time the person just forgot).

Social media can also be mentally exhausting as many of us feel we need to keep up a certain appearance. An interesting fact I discovered in my research is that the more platforms one uses the higher their chance of social media having a negative mental effect on them. For example, if you only use Facebook you might still be negatively affected, but if you then add 9 different apps to your phone you probably will be affected much more. This is because the more platforms we use, the more appearances we have to try to keep up with especially tailoring our statues and photos to suit what that particular platform requires of us. It’s hard work. In order for people to “remember us” we need to post constantly (this is especially true in the blogging, YouTube, and Tik Tok worlds which demand fresh content daily). Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram also add the pressure of finding the best photos and it almost becomes a popularity contest to post about how many friends were at a party or a lunch. Many Millenials and Gen-Zs actually end up spending more time obsessing over the perfect picture than they do actually enjoying the event. Food photography makes their plates grow cold, and the fact that a woman can’t post a picture of her without make-up (and if she does she has to draw attention to that fact) further plays into body image issues. In fact, I remember about three years ago someone said something very hurtful about my appearance. It has stayed with me since that day and for a while led me down the path of photoshopping each one of my pictures. Social media definitely plays a role in how we view ourselves from the superficial to the internal.

Of course, not everyone who uses social media will become depressed, however, it is a good idea to be aware of this being a reality for some. If you are going through depression, whether social media related or not here are a few tips I have picked up from my own experience:

1) Try to do things which you still enjoy. A hallmark of depression is losing interest in hobbies and interests, but having something to look forward to can really boost your mood. A very practical idea would be to plan a nature walk. Being out in nature has been shown to improve one’s mental state and if you take a friend along, you’ll also have company and socialization.

2) Try to keep to a routine as much as possible. Just like a mountain climber needs little nooks and ledges to put his or her feet on, we also need little “grip hooks” in our daily lives. Take control of what you can during this uncertain period even if it’s as simple as deciding what to eat, what music to listen to, or what to wear.

3) Try to practice meditation and mindfulness. There are many free apps which can help with this. Destress from all the ugliness that social media can bring and invest into yourself and providing a positive space.

4) When your mind starts to spiral out of control, stop it. Don’t allow yourself to go down those endless rabbit holes which tell you you are an awful person (often for some superficial reason). Instead, remind yourself of your worth and how many people value you and love you.

5) Lastly, if you are concerned about your mental health or the depression of a family member or friend, please reach out. Your first point of contact might be a helpline, a GP, or someone in the community. If you live in Scotland, the NHS website provides a lot of helpful resources about this you might like to browse. Remember that you do not suffer alone. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of and with the right help and support you’ll be able to come through it and emerge as an even stronger person. (Here’s another great resource I discovered today: https://sadagain.com/let-depression-lead-to-change/)

The 7 Deadly Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Usage: Monster #4 – The Green Monster of Jealousy

915875When I was graduating from high school, I had the opportunity to present at a local drama festival. The play my school presented was called “Jealousy Jane” and I had the supporting role of being the green monster. Although this was years ago now and I have forgotten the intricacies of the play, the main premise was that Jane (a high school teen) kept a monster in her purse.  The monster’s name was Jealousy.  At first, the monster was cute and even a bit playful and Jane regarded it as a pet.  She kept it on a lead (leash) and was able to command it where to walk or when to sleep. However, every time Jane got jealous the monster grew until one day she could no longer control the monster and the monster controlled her.  The monster now had her on a lead.  The only way for Jane to combat the monster was to learn to give up her jealousy.  Everytime Jane genuinely complimented someone or was truly happy for that person the monster got smaller and shrunk. Eventually the monster became pet size again and one day it disappeared completely.  What a great story for most teens who constantly compare themselves to others. What a great reminder as well for everyone who owns a social media account and has found it difficult to not give into the temptation of jealousy.

The dictionary describes jealousy as “feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone for their achievements, possessions or perceived advantages.” Jealousy basically means wishing you had something that someone else does (or perceives to have).  Sometimes jealousy is just a niggling feeling one can walk away from, but other times, jealousy can destroy friendships, marriages, and basically eat away at your mental and physical health.  It can cause one to stay up all night grinding their teeth, it can even cause ulcers. Grudges, jealousy, resentment and unforgiveness have even been linked to very serious medical conditions such as addictions and even cancer.

I briefly touched on it in other posts, but let’s quickly recap. During this lockdown period, most of us have spent more time online than we normally would. Mindlessly scrolling social media has become a favourite pastime of many.  Suddenly you see a post about a high school friend who beat the odds and managed to have a socially distanced wedding, you read about another friend who has been accepted into grad school because quarantine has finally clarified what they want to do with their life, your cousin has posted that they have written a new book which has been sent off to the publishers because their creativity hasn’t stopped flowing during their time off work, and your great aunt Edna just got herself an adorable puppy and her smile in the selfie says it all.  And what about you? You glance away from the screen feeling embarrassed and you notice your flushed cheeks in the bedroom mirror.  “All I’ve done this whole quarantine is binge watch Netflix.”  You lament.  “I can’t believe life is getting back to normal and I have nothing to show for it.  Where have these last 3 months gone?  There’s so much more I was capable of accomplishing.” And then your mind starts to spiral out of control. All of a sudden you regard yourself as a horrible person.  A waste of space. Not just that you may have “wasted” time in the pandemic, but you seriously start contemplating if you truly do have any good and admirable traits.  The problem with a spiral is that if it isn’t stopped, it continues.  I know because back in the day, my mind spiralled for weeks, months and years at a time.  I have been there. 

Ok, so maybe that’s an extreme example.  Maybe some people can relate and others reading this think “yeah right, I’ve never gone that far.” Maybe not, but consider: have you ever wished you had a partner just because you constantly see pictures and posts about your friends in relationships?  Have you ever gotten bitter about your situation in life barely making ends meet because you see pictures of your friends posting about trips, clothes and holidays?  Has reading through posts made you feel insecure – perhaps questioning if you are pretty or make the cut?  Do you come away from social media truly feeling happy for your friends or do you come away in a state of depression more frustrated than when you logged in?

For those of us who face the normal human emotion of jealousy from time to time, I would like to offer a few practical tips and suggestions:

1) Remember that people only post their “best life.” For every picture of something amazing someone has done during lockdown, there have been many more moments which weren’t pictured of them being frustrated, discouraged and maybe even depressed.  There might have been one day when all the children got along and a beautiful family selfie was snapped, but there were probably many other days of an exhausted mother wishing her kids could just get back to school.

2) Remember that everyone is on a different timeline.  There are certain challenges we may face in life that others would not consider a burden at all and vice versa.  Always have patience and grace for someone when they are going through a winning period, you have no idea what they may have lost during their losing season.

3) Create goals for yourself rather than for anyone else.  What are the things you want to learn?  Where are the places you want to travel to? What hobbies and interests do you want to further explore?  What books do you want to read?  What music do you want to listen to?  Do these things because they fuel your soul, not because you need to catch up with what everyone else is interested in.

4) I mentioned this in another post, but I’d like to reiterate it here – hide or unfollow any celebrities or friends who are triggering to you. 

5) Be aware of your own internal triggers and state of mind.  You may notice that certain topics are more touchy to you than others right now.  That’s okay.  These are unusual times for all of us and all of us process it differently.  Have grace with those you interact with online, but also have grace with yourself.  If something online upsets you, walk away from it and ask yourself why it upset you.  Knowing your personal triggers will enhance your self-awareness.

 

The 7 Deadly Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Usage

8i68jyXiEThe colour yellow has long been associated with sunshines, smiley face emojis, and brightness, however it has also been associated with the word “coward” which means someone who is too afraid to do something of importance.  There’s a long and interesting reason for how yellow became synonymous with fear and cowardice, and while I don’t have time in this short post to go into it, if you are curious feel free to Google it.  You might be surprised.

While we have already established and I will continue to reiterate the positives of using social media and technology, over the years, it has also fueled a lot of fear and even cowardice.

Let’s look at each one separately before coming together to make our concluding remarks.

Fear: A recent term that millenials and Gen Zs have adopted is “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out).  It started just as slang for when young adults spoke to each other, but now I have even heard older populations using this term. FOMO has always existed and it impacts some more than others, however, FOMO is exasperated due to being online. I am a huge extrovert who is so thankful to have so many friends.  I know that my friends care about me and love me and that has been demonstrated over and over.  Yet, I distinctly remember (moreso in my early 20s than today) scrolling through my Facebook and seeing pictures of people at birthday parties and other celebrations.  Suddenly FOMO would set in.  My mind would negatively spiral towards why I wasn’t invited to that particular event.  Did the person not like me? Did the person not think about me? What about the wedding of a person I thought was my friend that I wasn’t invited to just to turn on Facebook and see 10 other university friends with the bride and groom?  FOMO then breeds comparison which in turn can bread jealousy or even anger.  However, when I spent time to rationally dissect it I realized in most of those cases the reason for not being invited was either because I simply was not that close to the person (many times they were an acquaintance) or because my friends knew I wouldn’t enjoy an event and they organized a different event for me to take part in.  One issue with social media is that it often makes people appear emotionally closer to us than they truly are (we feel we know them so well because we know where they go on their jogs and what they eat for breakfast and what their 2 year old did today, but in reality, we are not really all that connected to them).  FOMO can also occur when we see other friends on expensive holidays or in relationships (especially couples which post sappy posts about how their husband/wife cooked them dinner or bought them a nice gift).  We can fear we are missing out on these life experiences, again leading to FOMO.

Cowardice: In the younger teen, middle school (and increasingly elementary school) environments, social media and cell phones have played a huge part in the cyber bullying and sexting culture.  Sadly, many each year succumb to its effects.  There are certain apps out there now which make it almost impossible to trace what one teen is saying to another.  This does not help with teachers or parents providing proof to match their cases.  I feel that in a way, cyberbullying is cowardly.  Like I discussed in yesterday’s post, people can be different behind a screen than in person.  People feel freer to say whatever they want without thinking about it and they don’t consider the other person’s emotions because they can’t see the other person. There have been so many individuals  who have unfriended people simply for sharing or commenting on a different political view than the one they have, rather than walking away from those upsetting posts and reminding themselves that we are all entitled to our own opinions.  There have also been so many stories of people breaking up with their partners over text rather than in person, or families airing all of their dirty laundry online in a smear campaign against other relatives.

To help combat the problems that fear and cowardice involve, I would like to leave you with 5 tips you might like to try in this coming week:

1) When FOMO sets in, write a gratitude list.  Think of all the people you are happy to have in your life and maybe send a DM or text to one of them.  If you are feeling FOMO due to materialistic things such as not affording a nice holiday, write a gratitude list about what you do have.

2) If you see someone posting something negative online, have the courage to walk away rather than to engage in that post.

3) If you’re a parent, do a bit of research into what apps your teen/child is using.  Know about them and how they can be used both positively and negatively.  Understand what bullying is, its signs and symptoms and know how to talk to your child about cyberbullying or sexting if need be.

4) Try to avoid being contentious for one week.  Right now, there are so many political posts floating around about several different topics.  There will always be people to take one side or the other.  It can be tempting to write about your own beliefs and values online and it can be tempting to contribute fuel to other heated discussions. For one week, challenge yourself to post only positive statues which will build up, encourage, and add something of value to conversation.  Think about the 3 gatekeepers: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?

5) Lastly, keep arguments and disagreements private whenever possible.  People don’t need to know all about family fights and romantic arguments.  Those things are meant to be private and discussed within the family unit, not to all of your friends and followers online.

FOMO is a difficult fear to shake and sometimes it has made people question whether they should get off social media entirely.  If you are finding that FOMO is causing undue anxiety, or that every time you see a divisive point your blood boils and you need to comment, think about taking a step back. Turn off your notifications, walk away from the screen to collect your thoughts, and don’t act out of impulse.  If the trouble persists even after a few deep breaths and limiting screen time, consider potentially going on a social media fast for a week to see how it helps. Remember, there are a number of resources available  which can help support you in your technological struggles and offer tips and encouragement for you to find healthier and more productive ways to use a tool which is able to benefit many. 

The 7 Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Use: Monster #2: Inauthenticity

pngkey.com-monster-clipart-png-2876178Yesterday we looked at the first monster: The Red Monster of Anger.  Today, I would like us to draw our attention to the Orange Monster of Inauthenticity.

The dictionary described Inauthentic as “not in fact what it is said to be,” “not genuinely belonging to a style or period” and “lacking sincerity.”  The word the majority of us would use to describe something or someone who is inauthentic is “fake.”

Through the years, social media has experienced various phases of inauthenticity or “fakeness.”  Here’s a classic example: young women taking down pictures of themselves when they haven’t received enough likes or comments.  There was even a fad for a few months in Europe where people would spend money on holidays, clothes or accessories which they otherwise could not afford to create a certain persona online.  These individuals would occasionally buy a new dress or suit for no other reason than their new profile picture.  There were even some individuals who “faked” holidays by posing at a local beach and claiming that it was abroad because they simply wanted to fit in and not be left out.  And then, of course, there is the obvious elephant in the room that we can’t ignore “fake news.”  
Social media outlets lend themselves to what North Americans would call “Keeping up with the Joneses” a snappy way of saying “trying to fit in with neighbours and others around us” and what many of us know as “Imposter Syndrome.”  A common phrase we hear is that many use social media to impress people one doesn’t know intimately and who likely don’t really matter or at least are not the ones we need to impress.

People can get caught up in how many followers, friends or subscribers they have on various platforms.  It can almost become a popularity competition.  And yet, as someone who has well over 1,000 friends, I know that I only hold the ability to be emotionally connected and share everything about my life intricately with a handful.  It is an oddity of our time that while someone may have thousands of friends or followers, loneliness and isolation have increased.  I overheard a 20 something say once “I have so many ‘friends’ but I have no idea who I can call to go out for a coffee with.”

Facebook and social media can also give us the wrong impression that everyone’s life is better than ours.  There were once two mums in lockdown. Mum number 1 was a nurse who was working on the frontlines daily and came home exhausted to her two children.  Mum number 2 was a stay at home mum who spent lockdown doing crafts, activities and nature walks with her children.  The two mums were best friends.  One day Mum number 1 wearily called Mum number 2. “I feel so jealous” she confided “your life is so great.  You’re always finding the best crafts on Pinterest, making the best recipes from TikTok and you still have time to blog.” “Are you kidding me?” Asked mum number 2. “I was thinking that you were such a hero for going to work every day and still making a classy dinner for your family at night.” The problem is that Facebook and Insta only show the highlights of our lives.  They show the good points of a friendship, marriage, parenting or pet owning, they don’t show the reality of day to day life and how difficult rather than idyllic it can be.  As a single person, I remember those hours scrolling Facebook seeing “all” my other friends getting married.  They were having fairy tale weddings and seemed to be having an amazing life and then the honeymoon pictures followed by the baby pictures.  It filled my heart with jealousy and envy.  What I didn’t know is that first of all not all of my friends are married (it gives a false perception that was the case) and secondly, within a few years many of those people got divorced.  Facebook made it appear that marriage was all about holidays and concerts.  It didn’t highlight the fights, the messiness with the inlaws, or the truth. In fact, it is a proven statistic that couples who DO NOT share everything about their personal lives online tend to have happier marriages as they feel there are some things which they are still able to keep private between them.  I will never forget the day I once heard a woman who recently went through a divorce confide “the truth is, my husband and I posted all those pictures of us out on trips and events and socializing with other couples, because we simply could not stand being alone with ourselves.”

And fake news is a whole other area which I won’t get into, but suffice it to say, with all the topics floating around in our world, especially topics which many of us have found scary and confusing lately, it becomes a real challenge to sort out the fact from the fiction. 

If you are struggling with being your authentic self on social media, here are a few  tips adapted from a podcast entitled “7 Ways to Have a Healthy Relationship with Social Media” by Nils Smith:

1) Be the authentic you (don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, this could include photoshopping pictures or posting just to impress when it doesn’t add value.  Simply share your life)

2) Don’t play the comparison game (unfollow/hide friends or celebrities who you find triggering)

3) Listen and think before you speak (it’s easy to get a fake confidence when posting or texting and attack people or act cruel when behind a screen rather than in person)

4) Create accountability structures within your life regarding social media (be particularly careful with DMs because these can often have the potential to lead us further into temptations)

5) Set Limits (primarily with your time.  Most phones have a screen time app you can use to help)

6) Encourage, Encourage, Encourage! (Encourage people with a like, a positive comment, or a DM. Try to encourage 1 person a day for 10 days and see how you get on)

7) Have fun! (If you’re not having fun on social media, you’re not doing it right)

Looking forward to writing tomorrow’s lesson on the Yellow Monster.  Any guesses?

The Seven Rainbow Monsters of Unhealthy Phone Use: Monster #1 Anger

I have started writing about some unhealthy phone habits on my Facebook account, but I  thought it might be beneficial to make these more public. Today there will be two posts because I started this project yesterday:

I was given the task of writing about the different ways technologically addictive behaviour or just plain bad habits when it comes to phone use can negatively affect our mental health, relationships, and well-being. Each day for the next week, I will be posting a different coloured monster with a description of what that monster can become and look like if left unchecked.

Today, I would like to introduce you to the red monster. He goes by many names including rage, annoyance and resentment, however, he is best known as ANGER.
As a noun anger is defined as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility.” As a verb, anger refers to provoking, irritating, or exasperating someone else.”
Many of us have experienced anger at various points in our lives and oftentimes the anger is justified. Anger is not necessarily a negative emotion, rather it can be helpful in pointing out areas in our lives where we have been wronged or treated unfairly and with injustice. However, anger can become a problem when it robs us of our peace of mind, impacts our sleep, or causes us to lash out at another human being physically or emotionally.
One of the jobs I had in the past was being an au pair (nanny) to 3 young children with varying disabilities. One of the children was three years old and was given one hour to use her IPad.Her mother had no issues with this at all and had been setting an example by playing on her own IPad and phone all day. When the time ended for the girl to be using technology, I let her know. I had given her a 10 minute warning and then a 5 minute warning. I let the girl know that in 2 minutes we would be ending to play outside. I still remember the girl screaming and kicking while I more or less wrestled the IPad out of her hands. She was in a full out rage at technology being taken away from her. Internet and app addiction had already clenched her in its awful grips. The girl and her siblings had become zombies to the technological apocalypse.
Most of us as adults would not have responded in such an overt temper-tantrum type way, but many of us still respond negatively when technology is taken from our grasp. We may react with panic and anxiety when we leave our phones at home. We may become restless and distracted in conversations thinking that we have lost something valuable even though we know we’re just missing out on superficial likes and debates. Many of us have snapped at friends, coworkers or partners when they have asked us to do something in the midst of our mindless scrolling. We might not have overtly yelled at them but our tone of voice and body language conveyed annoyance at being ripped from the latest Candy Crush game. Some of us have felt our blood boiling at night after a long day debating the latest politically controversial point on Facebook. Whether for or against we will always come up against opponents and sometimes those internet debates can turn nasty with name calling and borderline hate speech. Even if our controversial posts remain civil, we can still find ourselves making straw men and poking holes at the other person’s ideologies rather than walking away. One of the phenomena of our time is that if someone doesn’t like what we say they can simply unfriend or block us with a single click of a mouse. Years of built up relationships, years of friendship, years of good times spent together, can be destroyed simply because someone doesn’t like what we have to say and they can do it all by a simple mouse click rather than a sit down conversation or phone call explaining what went wrong. When this happens and we realize we have been unfollowed or unfriended it just further fuels our anger and upset making us think negatively towards that person. Suddenly an otherwise good day has filled us with anger and bitterness. It robs our sleep as we think about the best comebacks for the day ahead and how we will continue to be crusaders for whatever cause no one else seems to get but us.
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To help combat the anger we can feel over Facebook posts, I would like to leave you with “The 10 Commandments of Using Social Media” adapted from the book #struggles by Craig Groeshel:
  1. Think about how what you are going to say or post will benefit the other person
  2. Love others the way you want to be loved
  3. Use social media to facilitate, not replace, real relationships
  4. Use social media instead of being controlled by it as an idol
  5. Turn your virtual other cheek to posts that offend you
  6. Do not post out of emotion
  7. Always reflect love whether online or off
  8. Do not use social media to fuel temptations
  9. Form your own opinions, do not follow the crowd
  10. Do not base your identity on what people think
Social media can be used for a lot of good. Whether keeping in touch with family and friends, making people laugh, educating and informing people, or even the occasional advocacy, however, it has to be done in the right way. People will not change their minds due to anger, fear, or endless debates. People will come to a healthier view of themselves by seeing our positivity and the ways we react in a healthy manner towards challenging people and posts. Tomorrow we will talk about the Orange Monster…until then, hope you all have a great day

GUEST BLOG: Letters Written Never Sent

Today’s blog features a guest writer who wishes to remain anonymous.  Here is her story about dealing with an eating disorder. 

I don’t know really where to start. Part of me is always confused about how to speak about my eating disorder history when for most of my life I did not even see it that way. Part of me also sees it as a “first world problem” and whenever I’d feel an incredible sadness regarding my looks and failures (that’s often how I’d connect those topics) I’d just let myself go through the awful days of secret crying and maybe a few days/weeks of bad mood without telling anyone what the nature of it really was. Just simply “bad times that I’ll get over and just move on with my life”.

Of course, it wasn’t about having only a bad mood. Most of the times I’m a highly functioning, depth seeking person, who does not want to focus on looks only. I’m aware that self-love is the key to create a balance in life, in self-progress. I’m aware of so many traps that we, as human beings fall very easily into. But that does not stop the weak part of my mind from being very puzzled, miserable, self-loathing, toxic, desperate at times.

It’s safe to say, an eating disorder is never just about looks. Most of the time I felt loved by my family and friends, but certain “family drama” for sure influenced my perspectives (like my parents splitting before I reached age 1), and added to many unpleasant memories regarding my looks. For example, my dad made a lot of comments about how good it is that I lost weight when I was 18. I think he hinted that he was worried about my health, but it still sounded incredibly judgmental.

Actually, I should say it started with my mum who was scared of – for health reasons as well – me gaining a lot of weight when I was a kid. And I understand that. Yet still, how I remember one specific summer when me, my mum, her friend and the friend’s two sons had holidays together at the seaside. It was great and fun, but I was constantly reminded by my mom how to avoid sugary and fatty foods cause it’s bad for me. I was around 9 (I think) and I had no idea what her problem was. The only feeling that stuck with me was that the sons of my mum’s friend are better than me, because they somehow deserve to eat whatever they want and I have to be limited to tastless youghurt and banana as a sweet treat. I demanded an explanation after few days of bubbling childish frustration and I got it – I have to be careful with fat in my body, because it’s harming me and since I had a heart surgery as a baby, I have to be even more mindful. Obviously, in hindsight, I’m glad my mom taught me so much about healthy eating and understanding chemistry within our bodies (she studied food technology and to this day is passionate about science). But that specific summer I remember getting very bitter over “my looks.”

Believe me, it didn’t end with my parents though. A lot of people in my close surroundings (my parent’s age or older) liked to comment on my looks, including my grandma’s sister and sometimes they were nice, sometimes brutally harsh, especially about me being chubby – I already start to feel upset just thinking of all this. Mainly because a lot of times I wished to be thin just so people could get off my back and stop harassing me with their opinions. Don’t get me wrong though – I liked discussing all sorts of topics, but my weight was not one of them and I have not asked for it. And that suppressed anger had slowly grown into a very unbalanced attitude towards myself.

The thing is, I loved food. I started loving sports and movement too (at age 11 I started playing volleyball in an amateur sports club; I was kayaking regularly with my mum; sometimes I was swimming) but I loved food and that did not work to my benefit. What’s more, the more I dreamed of being thin and not eating, the more I got myself to binge eat. I obsessively read blogs about anorexia, watched awfully skinny girls photos, read hundreds of stories of losing weight with a crazy envy. I tried starving myself, I tried using anti-cough pills with ephedrine (which is a stimulant) to motivate myself to excersise at home, I tried to throw up every time I binged… I tried many things…

I can recognize the similarities between my thinking and the classical eating disorder reasons like gaining control, feeling like losing weight could prevent me from getting the unwanted attention (at age 14 I didn’t want some elder creeps to be interested in my curves) + attention of people all ages around me, including a teacher at my school who said I shouldn’t be wearing the type of jeans I liked because it “doesn’t suit my body type”. FYI, I never heard from my other classmates who would also be considered “bigger” to have such experiences with our teachers which makes me wonder why was I so “blessed” with “advices” all the time. Basically, the fat started to equal failure. (Still is, but a lot of things changed in the meantime which helped me to stay reasonable and focus on health). I’ve learned that I can’t starve and I can’t throw up. I felt like a loser cause I can’t even have a “proper” eating disorder. I can’t have the one that would make me thin. No one would see, no one would expect anything unless I said something disturbing out loud. But even then, I was surrounded with girls and adult women
saying constantly “I need to lose some fat” so everyone was numb to my comments (to this day I believe the society I grew up with is incredibly, but not always willingly judgemental, so even when you’re slim, it’s polite to be humble aka criticize yourself so you don’t seem full of yourself; even  if in reality you still like to show your body, you crave for attention, but you cannot complement yourself – ’cause you might sound like a diva). Imagine, I got to a point where I literally have wished I could have been anorectic cause maybe people would care. Maybe I could draw the attention to myself without using words and once I’d be so thin I’d be falling apart they could finally feel guilty about their comments and I could openly blame them. I fantasized about it a lot.

The thing is I lost a significant amount of weight few times in my life and every time it felt awesome. I got compliments all the time. You might think it sounds shallow, but believe me, the more I stopped caring about people’s feedback, the more compliments I’ve received. Of course it boosted my fragile ego, fed the narcissistic little ugly duckling in me. Every time, for a while it was amazing to experience the positive attention, the “love and affection”, the “ooh lala” in people’s reactions. Though I liked it, I also hated it, because I was wondering was I so worthless and disgusting being my “normal self”? And it created a huge amount of pressure. At the end of high school I got ill (to this day I have no idea what it was) and I could barely eat as my gums were constantly swollen and I had a fever every evening for like 2 weeks. When I came back to school 2 sizes smaller one of my favorite teachers asked me if I’m anorexic. I was shocked cause I didn’t see myself being slimmer (body dysmorphia at it’s best), I also was not prepared to have that question asked, and definitely not in front of other people from my class. I wish I could describe to you that tremendous happiness when I heard that question! The most messed up part of the day is me glowing with pride that I had finally made someone think I might be sick. Yet I never really considered myself sick up to age 25.

I don’t really want to get more into the details of how my weight was up and down, but it is a vicious circle of people’s comments. Luckily, it’s so much less important to me nowadays. I know how I can defend myself, I’m trying to be honest and polite in my explanation of why the topic should be no one’s concern but my own (and maybe my doctor’s if there are some actual health issues). Yet with all the support and wisdom I receive I just can’t get over that time of judgment, humiliation and anger from the past. Especially now that I’m struggling with gaining weight. For the past 2 years I have had so many weight struggles due to my change of metabolism, very irregular life rhythm, a lot of travelling and lack of focus.

I will openly say I’m a chronic dieter, but I feel lucky to finally have a mindset where I search for a healthy lifestyle that suits me and is not the absolute bullshit calorie count. I started to enjoy workouts which are easy to do wherever I go, instead of depending on sports that I love but cannot access so left me not having enough movement in my life. But most of all, I’m lucky ’cause I want to become healthy with my mindset and I hope to help others in the future. The hardest, longest and most challenging fight is always to love yourself as you are.