Why adults should be watching 13 Reasons Why

13 reasons why

I started watching Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why yesterday afternoon thinking that it would be another teen drama. A day later, I’ve binged the whole series, and I can say conclusively that it is actually like no other teen drama that I’ve ever seen.

13 Reasons Why is based on a book of the same name about a girl named Hannah Baker – Hannah commits suicide, and leaves 13 tapes behind, one for each person who contributed to her ultimately killing herself.

It spoke to me in a way that I did not anticipate. I’ve dealt with depression on and off for my entire life, and I struggled with suicidal thoughts often in my youth. I have never seen a show or movie that dealt with depression and suicide so honestly. 13 Reasons Why does an incredible job of exploring the interplay of depression, peer pressure, harmful gender roles, sexual assault, bullying, grief, and the loneliness and confusion that one can feel as a teenager. And I think that sometimes people forget this about adolescence – yes, it can be fun, and exciting, and carefree in the days before “real” responsibility, when everything in life is still brand new. But it can also be lonely as hell. It can be hard. And too often, adults can minimize the overwhelming feelings of adolescence. It’s easy for us, on the other side, to overlook the very real struggles that teenagers deal with. It’s also easy to gloss over things. In my time working in health communication this has happened so many times. I pushed and pushed to create brutally honest resources for parents and teens on issues like sexuality and mental health. I remember once talking to a team who wanted to create a resource on teen suicide, and one of my supervisor’s felt that even saying something along the lines of “to prevent them from committing suicide” was too graphic. Too horrible. It would make people uncomfortable reading it. I wanted to write a piece on talking to teenagers about sex and consent, but was met with the same pushback. We don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. But here’s the thing – we are not doing teens thinking about killing themselves any favours by sitting in our comfort.

Suicide should make us uncomfortable.

The teens in 13 Reasons Why frequently skirt around having awkward conversations with their parents and each other. They say that everything’s fine, despite how incredibly obvious it is that things are not. They avoid. And in the end, their avoidance of discomfort leads to tragedy.

Every parent I’ve ever talked to has said that they “want their kids to be able to talk to them about anything” even things that are really hard. But how can we expect teenagers to open up these conversations when we’re so afraid of them ourselves. It is too horrible to imagine that our own children could do horrible things, and so we avoid even openly acknowledging that these horrible things exist. It is not helpful to simply tell a depressed teenager that “things will get better”; but it might be helpful to open up to them about a time when you also felt hopeless and alone, and how one day things changed.

13 Reasons Why tells a story of teen suicide without talking around it, or romanticizing it. It’s beautiful and compelling. Some scenes are very hard to watch. It’s a little slow in places. And it has a really amazing soundtrack. But more than a good show, I think that it’s an important show. And especially for parents of kids coming up on teenagehood, people who work with teens, and teenagers themselves, it’s a show that can open up those difficult conversations, and take us out of our comfort.

 

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Physical activity and personal fortitude

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At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.

What it feels like sometimes when you have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder

I wrote this post about a year ago to try to describe what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder on the days that it’s really bad. People throw around the term “anxiety” all the time – “I’m so anxious!” “I’m really stressed out!”. But having a generalized anxiety disorder is something different. There isn’t even necessarily something in your life that’s particularly worth stressing out about at the time, but your brain will create something. Sometimes the rational part of your brain can manage those things, and sometimes it can’t. This post was from one of those times that it couldn’t. I’ve been nervous to post this, because I worry that it makes me sound like a crazy person, or like I’m going to break down any minute and just completely lose my shit. I worry that it makes me sound like an incapable loose cannon that’s waiting to crumble. I worry that someone will read this and they will decide not to date me, or not to give me a job. But I’ve been sitting on it for a while now, so here it is. Because if it makes even one person out there have a better understanding of their friend with anxiety, or feel less alone, then all of my worries can be damned. 

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You go for months or even years where things seem fine. You’ve grown as a person, made new friends, built your career, and you’re described by colleagues as one of the smartest, most accomplished people they know. You’re pretty and fun and busy, and a lot of people tell you that they admire how strong you are.

You feel varied levels of stress, but you go for a run, or you go to yoga, or you visit with a friend, and these things help, and everything is under control. The stress gets worse, and you run more, and you train outside of running, and you eat lots of kale, and you feel accomplished for being healthy, and everyone else tells you how impressed they are with how healthy you are too. Your shoulders tighten and your breathing comes with more effort, so you run more. You run a race, you run every day, you run a half marathon, you run a marathon. You run until your legs are jelly and your chest hurts. You train more, and the stress subsides. Then it doesn’t subside, and one morning you find yourself on the brink of tears because you couldn’t complete your metcon fast enough, and this means that you’re a failure.

You take on more activities, go to more lectures, have coffee meetings, accomplish more, but the feeling of failing doesn’t go away. No matter what you do, it is not enough, and it will never be enough. You stand in the cold and close your eyes and imagine floating in the sea, and this helps for a minute.

You ignore the tightening feeling in your shoulders and your chest for weeks and weeks, until one day you’re lying paralyzed on your bed trying your best just to breath, but meditation isn’t working, and you already took a lorazepan this morning. You have a million things to do, but instead you stay in bed all day watching Netflix, because this is the only distraction that will quiet your mind, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really help.

You stop calling friends, because you are sure that they cannot stand to hear you talk about your anxiety, and they could probably never stand you to begin with. You don’t understand how anyone could love you or has ever loved you, and you feel so alone that you’re sure strangers can see your loneliness dripping out of you though your tired, glassy eyes. Your body feels overwhelmed; you vibrate with the same intensity of someone newly fallen in love, but instead of the feeling that you will burst forth with love and joy, you are sure that your body will shatter because there is simply too much nervous energy for one human to contain. You go for walks. And when it gets really bad, you buy a pack of cigarettes, because at least when you’re smoking you are taking time to breath.

You forget all of your previous accomplishments and praise; you forget every precious moment with anyone who has ever loved you, because you are sure that they are fleeting. You are sure that no one could ever fall in love with you again, because how could anyone love someone who feels this way.

You remember a time not so long ago when the anxiety had subsided, where you knew in your heart that all of these anxious thoughts were so untrue, and life seemed carefree and full of hope. You imagine what your life would be without this poisonous haze enveloping everything you do. You imagine the person you could be if there weren’t days and weeks filled with so much anxiety and hopelessness that you want to crawl into a hole in the earth and sleep there until you die.  You can see this other you, but you don’t know how to reach her through this fog. And all you can do is carry on, push through, and remember to keep breathing until it lifts one day, and you remember yourself again.

Make it don’t break it – ego and men’s mental health

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been researching and… no… it goes back much farther than that. I’ve spent most of the past decade working in health communication – the longer I worked the more I became interested in research and treatment of mental health issues. My formal work researching and writing about mental health has also been coupled with years of really intense personal exploration through talk therapy, running, writing, and lots of reading/practicing mindfulness, CBT and ACT. I’m also a feminist.

As I got deeper into my work, and read more, and observed more, one theme that kept coming up again and again was that many men do not seek external resources to help them process their emotions. I’ve experienced this in my own love life, and also heard it time and again from acquaintances and in other people’s writing. “I tried to talk to my partner, but he just shut down”, “I feel like I undermined his sense of manhood”. This, or I have just seen men in my life walk away from difficult situations and bottle up their feelings despite the fact that I can plainly see on their faces that their insides of being gnawed away by their own anxiety or depression.

When women feel this way, we get tarot card readings, we go to the spa, we take a yoga class, we share a bottle of wine with our girlfriends – many men don’t seem to give themselves the space to find healthy outlets.

It worries me. It worries me, because I have acted as therapist to many men that I’ve been involved with, and I see other women in my life playing this same role more often than they’d like. How does one navigate the line between wanting to help your partner because you see that they are in pain, and becoming a bullying mother figure? How do you continually push your partner to seek out mental health support while still maintaining your desire to have sex with each other?

I’ve noticed a lot of anxiety and depression in a lot of people across the board, but once the feelings are identified, I have found women to be far more proactive in seeking help.

Anyways… this year I decided to create a series of workshops and retreats that sneakily address mental health issues through other means. Currently, a friend and I are running a writing workshop that draws on mindfulness techniques to get over creative doubt, and we’re planning on developing another that uses the same techniques to help people get better at public speaking. The next round after these two will have a physical activity focus. Part of my hope in developing these, is that they would offer a gateway to men. If you frame mental health tools as creative productivity tools, will men be more likely to seek them out??

But for the first round of the writing workshop, all those who registered were women. Granted, I DID post it only on my own social media, and in two FB groups that have only women as members, but still… I was a little disheartened that very few men showed any interest.

So the questions that I’m left with: (1) How do we help men to feel safe talking through, and seeking help for difficult feelings? (2) How do female partners support their male partners to better themselves without making them feel emasculated? (3) How do we make mental health resources more appealing to men? (4) How do we market mental health coping strategies to men in a way that’s enticing and doesn’t sound like “TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, SAD SACK! YOU ARE BROKEN!”

I am worried about men, because they die younger, and have heart attacks more frequently, and I want my future partner to feel like he can talk to me about issues in our relationship and in life, and also to not feel like I’m criticizing his entire being when I bring up issues that bother me. I’m worried about men, because I know what it’s like to live with at times crippling anxiety and depression, and I cannot imagine what I would do with myself if I wasn’t enabled to take care of myself through healthy outlets.

Later this week, I’m going to be releasing a Typeform survey on some of these topics, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s your experience with men’s mental health? How have you helped yourself, or your partner, access the resources they need?

Mental health and community

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Photo by Academy of Lions

Thank god for community.

If you’ve read through a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I am a person who lives with a generalized anxiety disorder. And that every now and then, this is also coupled with depression.

Under usual circumstances, I am very careful about balancing my life so that I can mitigate the negative effects of these mental health issues. But over the winter, I was unemployed, and broke, I let my gym membership lapse, I got a month long severe sinus cold – which further interfered with seeing friends and physical activity – and I fell into a depression.

For me, and I’m sure for many people, my anxiety and depression manifest themselves as a complete withdrawal from the things that matter the most to me, and incredible amounts of insecurity and self doubt. From a logical standpoint, I know that the things that I am thinking about myself are irrational and untrue, but this doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

When I’m in the depths of depression, every venture outside of my house feels like a farce. Every interaction with anyone who matters (whether friend or colleague) feels like I am putting on a one woman show of “someone who is ok”. And when I do let it slip that I am not coping all that well, I get so incredibly nervous that I am coming across as needy/incompetent/a mess, that I completely fumble my thoughts and words, so that I am met with confused head tilts, which only makes matters worse.

I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual, and I don’t believe in THE SECRET, but I have had enough experiences where “the universe” gives me exactly what I need, that I do believe in serendipity, and also the general goodness of the humans around me.

I was sitting at home yesterday thinking to myself, I NEED TO GET A REGULAR WORKOUT SCHEDULE AGAIN, OR MY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE GOING TO BURY ME. Then later that afternoon, I got an email letting me know that Academy of Lions would now be offering Community Classes; I immediately signed up for three this week. Just knowing that I would be having a solid workout in a gym that I really love, and that I would be able to access classes regularly even in my incredibly broke state, took such a burden off my shoulders. I went to class that afternoon, and a few minutes in, I could already feel the fog lifting. For me, really serious exercise is not an option – it is literally what keeps me alive.

Once I get working again on a regular rotation, I will be very happy to pay my monthly gym fee to go and work out. But while I am going through this transition, I am so incredibly thankful that community classes are a thing that exist, and that my community offers them.

So if you’re a gym owner, or yoga studio manager, or whatever, I know that it might seem counterintuitive to offer regular free classes when you could simply be registering paying clients, but the loyalty and positive word of mouth that you will garner from giving back will be well worth your while. And in the process, you might actually save someone’s life.

the 100 day project – 61-74?

I’ve skipped a lot of days. Many on which, I have had an idea, or have meant to write, but have just made some kind of excuse, or have just been lazy.

Tonight, at run crew, I found out that one of us died. It was not someone who I personally knew, but it was a person who felt, this past week, that the alternatives had become so bleak that the only option left was to take her own life. And despite not knowing this person, I do have some idea of what it feels like to feel so alone, and it is utterly heartbreaking that there was not some way to pull her from this place.

The thing that I spoke about briefly with a running colleague, and that we rarely speak about in running, is that there is a reason that we run. And in a crew like ours, when that reason is not vanity, it can often be to escape some darkness. OBVIOUSLY this is not the case for everyone, but I would wager than many of us struggle, and that running is the non-negotiable part of our week that keeps us away from that darkness and closer to the light. This is why I run. And maybe I’m projecting my own escapism and triumph onto others, but holy hell has it helped.

This is a segue, and I don’t know how else to segue it, so here we go. There was a time in my youth, where every day, I wanted to die. I cried. A lot. And I remember always feeling so alone. Every day was a day long full blown panic attack. And I remember, walking down the street and thinking to myself. This is the moment. I cannot possibly take this any more. Today is the day. Something needs to change, or I am going to kill myself. Because if this is my life… if this is the way that I am going to feel every single day, I cannot fucking take it any more.

And that week, I checked myself into therapy, and began to make a change. BUT I was lucky. By some fluke, there was a program that existed for people affected by addiction to receive free therapy, and by some miracle, I was still a student, so it fit into my schedule. By some further miracle, my brother had gone before me, and so had primed the counsellors at this facility to know that addiction had been a factor leading me to this moment. I had not fully realized that my father was a raging alcoholic, and honestly, if the therapists I was working with had not known this in advance, there is no way that I would have felt that I qualified for their help. I was still living under the keep calm carry on banner, and I had literally no idea that my childhood was a horrific shit show until I was explicitly told by a stranger.

ANYWAYS, the point that I am trying to make here, is that SOMEHOW, for me, the resources existed. And without them, I would not be alive today. I would have gone to this place. I would have felt alone and unworthy. I would have taken my own life. And I would no longer be here.

And even though now, I do not feel suicidal, I do feel many of the feelings that lead me to feel that way. I feel the anxiety, and insecurity, and loneliness. I don’t feel like I’m good enough. For anyone. Or anything. I feel despair.

No. I do not feel these things all the time. In fact, most of the time, I feel loved and amazing and supported, and just the best.

But every time I hear about someone who was not able to find that support, who was not able to ask for help, who did not believe that the darkness would ever pass, I feel the need to talk about this all over again. We need to start taking mental health seriously, and we need to start listening to people who suffer, and we need to remove the stigma associated with darkness and depression. We need to make it ok to talk about mental health so that noone ever feels that there are no options left for them. So here’s my challenge for you – if you are one of those who sometimes suffers – talk about it. Talk about it with your friends; talk about it with your colleagues; talk about it casually and openly like you might any other normal health issues that impedes your day. You wouldn’t be made to feel shameful for seeking asthma treatment, and it should be no more shameful to seek treatment for mental health.

The more we talk about it when we’re well, the easier we make it for others to talk about it when they’re not, and the better things will get for all of us.

THE END.

Toronto updates

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Hello Blogworld!

It’s now been just over four months here in Toronto. Things are going pretty well so far. I’ve done some dating, made some friends, found a yoga studio, done some side contract work, and joined a pretty awesome running club.

Life is good. I guess that this post is going to be a little summary of life to date, as well as some general observations about moving to a new city and life differences between Toronto and Van.

LIFE TO DATE!

Like I said, I have finally settled into a new yoga studio, which is great, because I was really missing something from my life without it. Over my four month break, I lost a lot of my flexibility and arm strength, which is a MEGA BUMMER, but I am looking forward to getting it back. I’ve also started running with the Parkdale Roadrunners a few times a week, and it’s been so amazing in terms of fitness, and just making me feel great about life. I’ve decided that I’m going to do a long slow train for the Detroit Half-Marathon in October. It’s gonna’ be great. It’s been wonderful to feel FIT again. For years, I’ve been doing cycling and yoga, with maybe some dodgeball or other sport thrown in there, but something was just missing. I was very slowly putting on weight, and just feeling like I needed more in the physical activity area of my life. Now, a few months into running, I’m feeling stronger and faster, and I’ve melted off that extra ten pounds of love handles. The love handles were not a huge deal, but I am just happier that they are not there anymore. Plus, slowly making pals with this group of runners is awesome. I can’t wait until 6-8 months from now, when we are actually buddies, and running is this great healthy and fun social activity that is a big part of my life. ANYWAYS.

Other things… also did some contract work with Emily Carr again, and work is going well, and I am feeling more competent and awesome about career stuff than I have ever felt in my life. It’s amazing.

I also seem to have more confidence about dating than ever before? I have a long history of being kind of “why doesn’t anyone loooooooove meeeeeeee????!?!” And now I know why. It’s because if I’m honest with myself… I was kind of desperate. I was so eager to have a bf, that I would just bend over backwards to accommodate any kind of behaviour or schedule, even if it didn’t really suit me. I didn’t even really have to like the person like crazy. I would just do it. This is not an attractive characteristic. It wreaks of nervous insecurity. I’m not sure what happened when I moved. But after about a month of being here, that characteristic was gone. I feel calm and confident, and like I know what I want and what I don’t want, and like if something is going to work out then that is great, but I do not have to strain myself to make it happen.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MOVING IN GENERAL

It takes a long time to get settled. A really long time. I am still in a kind of mid-way home, where it’s good, but not quite HOME. I often miss my Vancouver apartment, which was not perfect, but reflected me so well, and was definitely mine. I miss sitting on my porch and listening to the rain, and having friends over for dinner. I miss my books, and my art, and my kitchen corkboard full of mementos.  I miss getting home late, and turning on music to dance around my livingroom, and smoke on my porch.

I miss my friends. So much sometimes that it hurts. The Internet helps things, but I miss the everydays of our lives together. I miss J and Clayton on the weekends. I miss easy hangs. The thing that is both wonderful and exhausting about being in a new city, is that there are so many new people to talk to.  It’s so great, but it also means that most social interactions take a lot of energy. There is no “Just come over with some chips to drink beer in my livingroooooom. I’m still in a housecoat, but can we just watch trashy TV and talk about our love lives all afternoon?” I don’t know how else to summarize best friends level of comfort differently right now. So, I miss that.

Again, as with friends, places are easy to miss. In a new city, when I want a specific thing, I might not have any idea how to get it. It took me like 3 weeks to figure out where to go for my birthday, because I didn’t know where the type of place that I wanted to go to existed. In Vancouver, it would have been easy. Or like, if I need weird cheap crafty things… where do those come from?

Anyways… so things are great, but hard. Exciting, but also lonely sometimes. I can’t wait until the summer, because it will make everything way more awesome. I can almost taste how awesome summer will be.

TORONTO VS VANCOUVER

I lied. I actually am going to leave this for a future post. I am so sleepy right now, and I’ve been writing/working on different projects on my computer for like 4 hours now, and it’s time to hit the hay.

The one thing that I will say, is that despite the cold, I am really loving the snow/sunshine as opposed to RAIN ALL THE TIME. The snow is still a magical novelty to me at this point, and even though I am dying for summer, the snow is so beautiful and I love it.

I also love how friendly people are in Toronto. I was warned before moving here that Torontonians are cold. I’m not sure what happened that those people had that experience here, but I personally find folks in Toronto so incredibly friendly, and non-flakey, and genuinely interested in other humans; I think that people here are about ten billion times more friendly, and more likely to make friends with strangers than anyone in Vancouver. But that’s just been my experience.

ON THAT NOTE – SLEEP TIME!

Until next time.

SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP!