The Art of Existing

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It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been almost two years since I’ve felt the burning desire to create something and launch it out into the world.

In the past two years, I have experienced the beauty of a first love and have then felt the agony of a first heartbreak. I have worked tirelessly towards dreams and have then had to accept that some dreams are called dreams for a reason. I’ve had friendships fade and then watched new ones grow. I’ve missed my mom and dad, but have also adored that with each year comes more independence. In the past two years, I’ve completely lost myself and have begun trying to figure out who I am again.

Here I stand on the edge of the rest of my life. I feel like I’m on the edge of the cliff, and that I’m trying to work up the courage to move forward. Some days I feel like just closing my eyes and waiting for the cliff to crumble below me and force me to drop, other days I feel fearless and ready to leap forward into my future.

I thought at this point in my life, senior year, that I would have it all figured out. That I wouldn’t still be the same dreamer I was as a child. That I would be practical, ambitious, and ready to lead my own life.

Is it ok to be 21 and still trying to figure out who you are? Is it ok to finally be and have everything you’ve ever wanted and then wonder if it’s really what you want? Can you be fearless and terrified at the same time?

The other day I found something that I wrote when I was about 16. “I have decided that our world is obsessed with successful specifics. We chase after successful marriages, successful careers, or even successful children. We devote our entire lives to these successful specifics, instead of chasing after a successful existence. I want a successful existence, and I see my successful existence in the stories I tell, and the words I love. I see my successful existence in being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I see my successful existence in telling my grandchildren, if I ever have any, about the different poems I pinned onto trees in every foreign city I called home- even if it was only home for a day. I see a successful existence in purely that- existing successfully.” I was surprised how the younger version of myself understood what I’ve been wrestling with so deeply these last few months.

I’ve been struggling to blend my dream of “pinning poems onto trees in foreign cities”, with the practicality of supporting myself with a reliable career and my desire to eventually start a family.

I’m a giant bundle of contradictions, and I have no clue if I’ll end up in a corporate PR firm in South Carolina or working at an orphanage in the middle of a jungle in South America. I don’t know if I’ll go off to Europe or live in the same town as my parents. I don’t know if I want to fall in love young, or if I want to experience the freedom of living alone.

I don’t know what’s next or exactly what I want, and I’m ok with that. I know that I have gifts and talents and that I want to impact the world- I just don’t know where I can best impact it yet. I don’t want to plan my successful specifics and miss out on living a successful existence.

So, that’s me. A 21-year-old who wants to both dream and live practically. Someone who’s just trying figure out where she fits in this world. A storyteller who’s trying to master the art of existing.

Growing up is so full of unknowns, but writing has always helped me understand my emotions, desires, or dreams a little bit better so I’ll be documenting my journey as I try to figure out who I am and where I fit in this world. Maybe you don’t know what you want either and we can feel a little less alone as we try to figure out what our successful existences are together. I may not know what I want, but I do know that nobody likes feeling alone- so maybe this helps you feel a little more understood and a little more seen.

Because, no matter what anyone tells you, it is ok to be 21 and still trying to figure out who you are.

 

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A Different Approach To Eating Disorders

Today, 2.7% of teens struggle with an eating disorder. Eating disorders have become an epidemic, with 20% of all college students claiming to either be currently struggling with an eating disorder or previously struggled with one. While both of these statistics are concerning, the death toll is terrifying. ANAD, an anorexia research group, states that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

If an eating disorder ends up being diagnosed in a child, many parents feel lost as the general consensus is that patients can only heal if they want to be healed and that treatment should not be pursued until the patient chooses it. I believe that only going forward with treatment if the patient wants it is severely dangerous and that parents should look into the Maudsley Approach as a possible treatment option for their child.

The idea that a child must choose to want to get better, or to eat, is a concept that is prevalent but one that is impossible. The brain, while it creates a rich internal world, is still a physical part of the body. The Maudsley Approach, an up and coming treatment for eating disorder, focuses on this idea.

Research backing the Maudsley Approach asserts that since the brain has been malnourished the brain can not rationally make decisions, hence a patient suffering from an eating disorder can not choose recovery. With the Maudsley Approach, parents are encouraged to view food as medicine. The student suffering from anorexia is unable to make rational decisions due to the malnourishment of their brain and will rarely make the decision to begin eating or seek treatment, even if their lives depend on it.

Parents need to take control of the child’s recovery in order to use the Maudsley Approach as a treatment option. The Maudsley Approach has a 95% recovery rate, compared to the 30%-40% success rate found with other treatment options. The Maudsley Approach has been the only treatment option in the history of eating disorder treatments to have such an astounding success rate. This is why it is imperative for parents to test out this method for their child. What makes the Maudsley Approach unique is that, instead of sending the child away to an expensive facility for treatment, the parents are in charge of administering the majority of treatment.

Parents work with a trained psychologist and nutritionist trained in the Maudlsey Approach as they begin the refeeding process, a process that involves feeding the patient until both the body and brain has been fully nourished. The Maudsley Approach puts parents back in control of their child’s life, as they are the ones ensuring that the child is eating all the food needed for recovery. Research has shown that as the patient re-nourishes the brain, many of the eating disorder symptoms and thoughts begin to disappear. The psychologist helps work through any remaining difficulties that remain as refeeding comes to an end.

It is so important that parents realize that this method is out there and that it works. It keeps parents from helplessly watching on the sidelines as their child starves and instead gives them the power to take successfully take control of their child’s diet and life.

I Went Viral!

With 822,000 hits and counting, it is still surreal to think that a blog post of mine went viral. I just keep thinking to myself “I’m just a kid!” as I watch my article slowly reach more and more people.

I have been actively lurking through Facebook, reading through people’s thoughts and opinions of my article. It has been such a blessing to see people from all sides of the political spectrum letting go of their biases and simply focusing on people who are hurting. I have found the majority of these to be so gracious and appreciative, regardless of beliefs.

In contrast, a good number of comments on my actual blog itself have not been the most kind. I have been both blessed and cursed with a confidence that dips into arrogance at times, so the unkind comments do little to affect me personally. They do irritate me, though. I feel as though many of the people leaving unkind comments either missed the entire message of my article, did not read the many sources I linked or did not read my article all together.

I do appreciate the disagreements that have been very respectful and provoked me to thought. I did a good bit of research but I am young and have no doubt that I missed many things in my blog post. I am extremely grateful to the many people who have gently pointed out my mistakes! Truth is a journey and we must always be learning.

As a college student, I don’t have as much time as I would like to respond to all the comments and emails I have been receiving but I have been reading them. People have reached out to me to thank me for being  accurate and for being their voice. People have reached out to me to15073292_1073815612736152_2065105734707576723_n let me know why my article was distasteful and how I have promoted stereotypes. Either way, I am touched that people thought my article worthy enough to read and then take the extra mile to contact me with their thoughts. I will hopefully be getting around to responding the all the emails I have received and respond to a number of the comments on my blog.

All in all, I feel deeply blessed by God. I dream of being a successful journalist and helping reach hundreds of thousands of people with stories that need to be heard. The fact that I’m only 19 and a simple blog post of mine reached almost a million people is astounding to me. I do not feel talented enough to speak to almost a million people, but I don’t think I ever will- or even should.

God chose David to be king for his humility, not his skills. This is something we must all remember.

Hate Didn’t Elect Donald Trump; People Did

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Over the summer, my little sister had a soccer tournament at Bloomsburg University, located in central Pennsylvania. The drive there took about three hours and many of the towns we drove through shocked me. The conditions of these towns were terrible. Houses were falling apart. Bars and restaurants were boarded up. Scrap metal was thrown across front lawns. White, plastic lawn chairs were out on the drooping front porches. There were no malls. No outlets. Most of these small towns did not have a Walmart, only a dollar store and a few run down thrift stores. In almost every town, there was an abandoned factory.

My father, who was driving the car, turned to me and pointed out a Trump sign stuck in a front yard, surrounded by weeds and dead grass. “This is Trump country, Tori,” He said. “These people are desperate, trapped for life in these small towns with no escape. These people are the ones voting for Trump.”

My father understood Trump’s key to success, even though it would leave the media and half of America baffled and terrified on November 9th. Trump’s presidency has sparked nationwide outrage, disbelief and fear.

And, while I commend the passion many of my fellow millennials feels towards minorities and the fervency they oppose the rhetoric they find dangerous, I do find many of their fears unfounded.  I don’t find their fears unfounded because I negate the potency of racism. Or the potency of oppression. Or the potency of hate.

I find these fears unfounded because these people groups have an army fighting for them. This army is full of celebrities, politicians, billionaires, students, journalists and passionate activists. Trust me, minorities will be fine with an army like this defending them.

And, I would argue, that these minorities aren’t the only ones who need our help. The results of Tuesday night did not expose a red shout of racism but a red shout for help.

Journalists are now reporting that Trump won because rural America voted for him in droves. I see a lot of journalists reporting about the what, the who, and the how of this election, but not many are tackling the why. I do not at all feel qualified enough to discuss the why of this, but I don’t see anybody bringing up the astounding poverty found in rural America and that the desperation found in these areas is what prompted the rise of Donald Trump. Perhaps this will inspire more intelligent people than I to look into this more deeply.

It’s easy to point to these small, impoverished towns and name racism, the second amendment or plain stupidity as the only reasons why these people would ever vote for a man like Donald Trump. I find this to be highly intellectually dishonest, though. To write this off as simple racism is to ignore the very real and very heartbreaking struggles small town America faces.

The majority of rhetoric going around says that if you’re white, you have an inherent advantage in life. I would argue that, at least for the members of these small impoverished communities, their whiteness only harms them as it keeps their immense struggles out of the public eye.

Rural Americans suffer from a poverty rate that is 3 points higher than the poverty rate found in urban America. In Southern regions, like Appalachia, the poverty rate jumps to 8 points higher than those found in cities. One fifth of the children living in poverty live rural areas. The children in this “forgotten fifth” are more likely to live in extreme poverty and live in poverty longer than their urban counterparts. 57% of these children are white. 

Education, particularly college, is less attainable to those living in rural areas. 64% of young people in rural areas attend college, compared to the 70% of students who attend universities in metro areas. 47% of these small town students who end up attending college only go for a two-year degree, while only 38% of urban students attain only a two-year degree.  And, when these students do fight the odds and attend a university, they don’t come back to their place of origin due to the lack of jobs.

Rural Americans also suffer from a lower life expectancy. Those living in Appalachia regions, in particular, have a life expectancy that is declining at a rate that is worse than anywhere else in the USA. Those living in rural America are more likely to suffer from depression. Alcohol and substance abuse  is prevalent in rural America and 25.9% of those entering rehab for addictions are between the ages of 12-17.  The chronic pain that comes from vocations such as mining has caused the heroin epidemic sweeping small towns.

The most well-known ailment of the rural Appalachian mountain region is mountain dew mouth, which is the rotting of teeth caused by an overconsumption of Mountain Dew. This soda is prevalent in Appalachian culture because it’s cheaper than milk, Mountain Dew originated in the Appalachian region and the water in these areas is often too polluted to drink.  In extreme cases, mothers have even been documented feeding their babies Mountain Dew out of bottles.

Those living in rural America don’t even have access to many of the same services those living in urban America do. This includes health services, like clinics and hospitals, and social services.

Lauren Gurley, a freelance journalist, wrote a piece that focuses on why politicians, namely liberal ones, have written off rural America completely. In this column she quotes Lisa Pruitt, a law professor at the University of California who focuses many of her studies on life in rural America. Pruitt argues that mainstream America ignores poverty stricken rural America because the majority of America associates rural poverty with whiteness. She attributes America’s lack of empathy towards white poverty to the fact that black poverty is attributed to institutionalized racism, while white people have no reason to be poor, unless poor choices were made.

“For better or worse,” says Pruitt, “when we talk about poverty, we focus on black poverty, and we focus on Hispanic poverty. We’ve collapsed our nation’s poverty problem into our nation’s racism problem and it leads us to turn a blind eye to rural poverty.”

For arguably the first time since President Kennedy in the 1960’s, Donald Trump reached out to rural America. Trump spoke out often about jobs leaving the US, which has been felt deeply by those living in the more rural parts of the country. Trump campaigned in rural areas, while Clinton mostly campaigned in cities. Even if you do not believe Trump will follow through on his promises, he was still one of the few politicians who focused his vision on rural communities and said “I see you, I hear you and I want to help you.”

Trump was the “change” candidate of the 2016 election. Whether Trump proposed a good change or bad change is up to you, but it can’t be denied that Trump offered change. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was the establishment candidate. She ran as an extension of Obama and, even though this appealed to the majority of voters located in cities, those in the country were looking for something else. Obama’s policies did little to help  alleviate the many ailments felt by those in rural communities. In response, these voters came out for the candidate who offered to “make America great again.”

I believe that this is why rural, white communities voted for Trump in droves. I do not believe it was purely racism. I believe it is because no one has listened to these communities’ cries for help. The media and our politicians focus on the poverty and deprivation found in cities and, while bringing these issues to light is immensely important, we have neglected another group of people who are suffering. It is not right to brush off all of these rural counties with words like “deplorable” and not look into why they might have voted for Trump with such desperation.

It was not a racist who voted for Trump, but a father who has no possible way of providing a steady income for his family. It was not a misogynist who voted for Trump, but a mother who is feeding her baby mountain dew out of a bottle. It was not a deplorable who voted for Trump, but a young man who has no possibility of getting out of a small town that is steadily growing smaller.

The people America has forgotten about are the ones who voted for Donald Trump. It does not matter if you agree with Trump. It does not matter if you believe that these people voted for a candidate who won’t actually help them. What matters is that the red electoral college map was a scream for help, and we’re screaming racist so loud we don’t hear them. Hatred didn’t elect Donald Trump; People did.

5 Reasons Why Cats Are The Best

1. You have to work for the approval of cats.

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This might seen like a turn off but, in reality, the fact that an owner has to work for the approval of their cat is a blessing. It gives owners a way of judging just how much they’ve bonded with their. A finicky cat that chooses to sit on the lap of its’ owner shows how an owner’s love can really win the animal over.

2. Cats always feel like fluffy little angels.

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You can’t compare the luxurious fur of a feline to the greasy strands of a dog’s fur. Cat’s clean themselves better, and this adds to the pleasure of stroking a cute kitty.

3. The internet loves cats.

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If you own a cat, you have the opportunity to be the owner of a fuzzy internet star.

4. Catnip.

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A little bit of catnip guarantees immense entertainment. Researchers think that catnip triggers the “happy” receptor in a cats brain, which is what causes them to go nuts. Watching a cat space out brings joy to everyone involved.

5. Cats’ have blessed little purr boxes.

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Nobody knows why cats purr. Yeah, it’s weird but nobody really cares because purring is awesome. Stroking the chin of a purring cat is an instant stress reliever. There is no deeper contentment than cuddling up with a purring cat.

 

Introversion Isn’t An Excuse

 

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A year ago, I struggled to make eye contact with strangers. I struggled to speak to people I didn’t consider good friends. I avoided places like the dining common and our student center because it was too crowded.

Whenever my extreme shyness would get to me, I’d blame it on my introverted personality. This was a mistake, though, as it gave me an excuse to brush off some severe character defects that both held me back and hurt other people.

Don’t get me wrong, I thank God for my introverted nature. I love that I genuinely enjoy being alone and that I crave silence. I love how a good book or a deep train of thought can leave me feeling energized and ready to tackle anything. I wouldn’t change my introverted nature for anything but that doesn’t mean that only focusing on the internal world in my mind and neglecting the physical one around me is good.

Throughout my life, I have had multiple people let me know that they originally thought I was unkind or a “snob” before they got to know me. It hurt that I was giving off an impression like that, especially when my quietness stemmed out of fear rather than a sense of superiority. Shrugging back the hurt and blaming my introverted nature was easier than tackling my fear of small talk.

I missed the opportunity to be blessed by countless friendships through my quietness. And, even worse, I missed the opportunity to bless others with my friendship because of my shyness.

My shyness kept me isolated. My shyness kept me from fully fulfilling what God wanted of me. Yes, my quiet nature is from God but my fear of man was not.

My fear of man was a perversion of my personality and I kept using my introversion to excuse this.

Philippians 2:2-4  calls us to truly work in harmony with others and put their needs above our own. It calls us to be humble and to focus wholeheartedly on the interests of others. I couldn’t do this when I was too afraid to speak. I was putting my own quietness and fear above loving others.

Crippling shyness keeps us from fulfilling our full potential and loving others as Christ did. We can’t use introversion to excuse this. This doesn’t mean we have to be the life of every party, but it does mean expanding our comfort zone to talk with others.

 

The Silent Minority

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We live in a culture that rewards us when we speak. We blast our thoughts out on Twitter, on Facebook and on Youtube. I’m even blasting my thoughts, currently. While this can be a good thing, I think our culture is becoming so obsessed with always having to be heard that we forget that sometimes silence is just as powerful.

The quote “My dear, you’ve missed so many opportunities to say nothing,” crosses my mind often.

I think that this is a rather radical way to look at life, especially considering that our culture abhors awkward silences and not throwing out the last word during a debate. I find myself mentally combing through my interactions, looking for all the times I forgot to say nothing. Trying to not miss an opportunity to stay silent challenges me. And I think it should challenge you, as well.

The next time somebody tries to bait you into a debate, capitalize upon this opportunity to stay silent and truly learn what and why they believe the opposite of what you do. To do this, you must be prepared to swallow your pride but do so while remembering that you’re learning more about why you disagree with them- not just being reaffirmed that you do.

The next time friends are discussing a subject or hobby that is unfamiliar to you, don’t try to change the subject so that you can contribute, too. Realize that this is an opportunity to stay silent and perhaps learn something new about your friends. Who knows, you might even be inspired to read up on a new subject or take up a new hobby.

Being able to stay silent throughout these examples take maturity. I know it isn’t easy to sit silently while somebody spouts off opinions that you have no tolerance for. I know it isn’t easy to be the odd man out in a conversation.

It isn’t easy because, when we are silent, we hear our own insecurities. When we quietly let others share their opinion, we worry that others will find us to be less intelligent than we are. When we stay silent amongst friends, we worry that they don’t really care for us and that they only put up with us out of pity. Or worse, we feel as if we don’t belong.

But, talking over these insecurities only masks the issue. It is like putting a band-aid over a broken bone. To truly conquer these insecurities we must remain silent and acknowledge that our self-confidence is lacking. You will quickly realize that listening to other’s opinions does not leave you less intelligent- it prepares you for the next confrontation. You will realize that your friends won’t find you odd when you drift out the conversation- they will appreciate your maturity in remaining silent instead of abruptly changing the conversation.

Proverbs 17:28 states that “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” Staying silent has the power to transform the opinions people have of fools. This is a Biblical testament to how powerful listening is.

So, the next time you find yourself in a conversation, I encourage you to briefly consider whether or not you’re about to waste an opportunity to say nothing.