#NetNeutrality

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I don’t know where I would be without the internet. I wouldn’t have a career, blogging and creating online content. I wouldn’t be in a relationship (thanks, Bumble!). It’s one of the things I daily take advantage of- the fact that I can visit any website I choose, that I can turn on my iPhone’s data and spend as much time as I want on Instagram; that I have affordable, high-speed access at my finger tips. So, what would happen if this all disappeared?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC- which regulates radio, television, satellite and cable communications nationwide) revealed plans to dismantle net neutrality, which would lead to internet speeds being controlled by few very corporations (this vote will happen December 14th).

Take a step back: what is net neutrality?

To break it down- internet service providers (Comcast, Charter, Verizon, etc.) must treat all data on the Internet the same and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website or platform. Service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

Net neutrality protects websites and their users. If it goes away, that means all your internet date and viewing can be scrutinized by telecom companies. Without net neutrality, providers can program the computers that route that information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communicators that they don’t like, and speeding up traffic they do like or that pays them extra for the privilege. Imagine not being able to check your favorite news site in the morning or not being to access your bank account online. Companies (say your bank) will have to start changing more for access which will trickle down to their consumer- so you would pay more to use your currently free banking app.

What can you do to help? Write to your Senator and Congressman. Call them. If enough constituents voice their opinions, lawmakers will realize that they will not getting reelected if their district doesn’t stand with their decision making. If you’re living in a state and a city where your Senator and Representative oppose net neutrality, lobby your city council to create a municipal ISP that will draft plans to install and roll out gigabit or faster service to every home. Encourage your city (no matter the population and mileage size) to take the Next Century Cities pledge and become a Next Century City.

(And dear reader- net neutrality, as well as a new tax plan are scheduled to be voted on by mid-December. Do your research and voice your opinion! Let’s start 2018 right!)

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#SeekingSupport

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These past weeks have been difficult ones. Many of us are fortunate to have strong support systems- I’m happy to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles. However, I know that accessible and affordable mental health care is still lacking. Some of us are going through these trying times without the support we need.

Below are some affordable options for those seeking help. I have tried some of these resources. Others we recommended to me. Please note that I’m not a doctor of any sorts. Your mental health is your business and responsibility. There are no substitutes for actually talking with a professional. However, if I can help you steer in the right direction, snaps.

Headspace Last month, a friend invited me to the local Buddhist Center for a free mediation class. I fell in love with the course- I could finally clear my “monkey mind” and focus on more positive avenues. However, the mediation class is only held twice a month and I wanted more practice. Another friend recommended the app, Headspace. The free app teaches you simple ten-minute mediation that cover mindfulness, letting go and relaxation. I listen to Headspace on my phone right before bed. The host’s soothing voice relaxes my tense mind and muscles and allows me to get a good night’s sleep.

Podcasts Sometimes, we don’t want to talk about our feelings but need to feel that empathy and connection. Podcasts are perfect for that. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is this terrific program that honestly asks people how they’re doing. I like listening to each story and being reminded that no one is perfect- no one has it all together- and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s beautiful. The Love Bomb I first fell in love with Nico Tortorella after watching him on “Younger” (and maybe the fact that he looks like an old ex). He also hosts a wonderful podcast about love and relationship- both with yourself and others. It’s the ultimate comfort food. The Hilarious World of Depression is a weekly podcast that talks with celebrities about their mental health and how they deal with the day-to-day. The most recent episode features Wil Wheaton of “Star Trek” fame.

7 Cups of Teas This site connects listeners together. Individuals can sign up for free to give and get advice, video chat and send thoughtful messages to each other. 7 cups is a welcoming safe space where you can find someone with whom you feel comfortable chatting without fear of being judged. The site also features online therapy at a fraction of the price and their message counseling can be done anywhere at anytime.

Campus resources Back when I was a university student, I took full advantage of my campus health center, especially on-campus counseling services. Counseling was “free” to students (students paid for such services in their tuition). My university’s psychology department also offered free counseling in their Master’s programs training clinics (which is a great option when you’re not enrolled as a student). I also checked in with my teachers quiet often and talked to them about college struggles. The hours I spent in some of my professors’ offices are some of favorite memories and most enlightening moments from my undergrad years.

Good luck, dear reader. I hope that you find the help you need.

#ForgivingYourself

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Forgiveness, can you imagine?” 

The quote above is from “Hamilton: the Musical.” Alexander’s young son just died and his wife discovers his affair with her sister. He sings about his guilt, unable to forgive himself for the mistakes he made. “It’s Quiet Uptown” is on constant rotation on my Spotify playlist. You listen to that song twenty times a day and can’t help but think about forgiveness. How we forgive others. How we forgive ourselves.

For most of my life, it has been easy for me to forgive others. However, when it comes to myself, I hold on to past mistakes long after they occurred. Poor financial choices I made in my twenties. Not taking certain key opportunities. For burning bridges and acting inappropriately in certain relationships. Not focusing on my health- especially my teeth and my anxiety.

To forgive ourselves is to accept responsibility for our actions both compassionately and seriously. Forgiveness is a process, one that doesn’t happen overnight. When we can really wrap our head around the fact that we can’t undo the past- the past is DONE- we open ourselves up to more acceptance. It’s now time to turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. They’ve all contributed to making you who you are. Perhaps we can find a silver lining in each mistake, a learning lesson. Yes, it doesn’t excuse you from being an asshole but when you’re constantly living in the past as I do, forgiveness can lighten your mental load.

Forgiveness is about mental toughness and emotional fortitude. To wrap it up in one simple word, it’s about kindness. We are our own toughest critic. I beat myself up all of the time for every single mistake and poor choice I’ve made. I beat myself up all of the time for being human. Humans are not perfect even though in my head, I think that we are. I think that I should be. I give myself impossibly high standards and expectations. But even the incredibly stupid acts are part of being human. Life is a series of mistakes. We go from one to the next, learning, shaping, and molding us along the way.

Forgiveness- it is imaginable. It does happen.

How have you forgiven yourself, dear reader?

#DACA

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Earlier today, President Trump announced his plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows for thousands of young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.

DACA was formed through an executive order by President Obama back in 2012. It allows certain people (the Dreamers) who came to the United States illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients are able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years (which is then subject to renewal). Congress now has up to six months to find a legislative alternative after it was announced that new applications will no longer be accepted.  For those currently in the program, their legal status and other DACA related permits (i.e. work permits) will begin expiring in March 2018.

Dreamers are able to request DACA status if 1) they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012; 2) they came to the State before turning sixteen; and 3) have continuously lived in the country since 2007. Dreamers must also have a high school diploma or their GED, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school.

There are an estimated 800,000 Dreamers in the United States. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; with the largest numbers living in California, Texas, Florida and New York. They currently range in age from 15 to 36 years of age, according to the White House.

With this new executive order, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020. As their statuses lapse, they could be deported and sent back to countries of birth many have no familiarity with. Trump has referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty,” arguing that those in the country illegally are lawbreakers who hurt native Americans by taking their jobs and increasing crime.

We know better.

Dreamers are our friends and loved ones. They are leaders in our communities. They work hard. They’re good people. They deserve to be here- after all, that’s what their parents wanted for them. A better life- and Dreamers deserve to live such lives here in the United States.

I encourage you, dear reader, to contact your senator and demand that they fight for Dreamers. On the local level, discover if your city is a Safe Haven for Dreamers and find ways to help (hit the streets and start volunteering!). Together, we stand with DACA and will show the world that we are a nation who comes together instead of being forced apart.

#SelfCareSunday

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After a rough “breaking news” weekend like this one, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. We all need some sort of self care. When I feel the worst of the worst, that’s when I know that I need to step back and focus on bringing me back to a place where I can think clearly and rationally.

Self care takes various forms. I turn off my computer and my phone and focus on me. I take showers- LONG showers (close to an hour). Often times, I will stand under the water and mediate, trying to think about nothing.  I’ll watch an ASMR video or something mindless that will make me laugh. I’ll grab my cat and snuggle. I’ll push myself to get dressed, get outside and hang out with good people (a little bit of exposure therapy, if you will). I will do whatever it takes to get out of my head.

But self care does actually mean taking care of yourself physically, as well. I learned this trick on the playa at Burning Man. If you’re feeling off, ask yourself these three questions: Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you tired? What does your body need? I feel a 1000x better when I brush my teeth, giving them a hard scrub. I feel a 1000x better when I drink eight ounces of water. I feel better when I take my vitamins. I get out of my head and focus on my body.

Millennials have been accused of focusing too much on self care. But let’s be real- there is nothing wrong about taking care of yourself. We’re raised to think we should always put others before ourselves and ignore our own needs; that it is somehow arrogant or selfish and not a nice thing to do. But Just think how they tell us to put on our oxygen mask first on an airplane before we help others. Yes, absolutely support others, but nurture yourself first.

How do you take care of yourself, dear reader? And don’t forget to treat yourself- treat yourself well (#TreatYoSelf2017!)

#EveryoneHasAStory

For the last couple of years, I’ve sat on the idea of creating a web series, gathering snippets of people’s lives and telling their story. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do this since my early 20s- I just never really believed in myself and thought I could create quality and compelling work. But a switch recently happened and I realized that this is something I really want to do.

Skyping with Saffeya

Saffeya is a jill-of-all-trades. An official Brooklynite, she’s worked in various positions ranging from healthcare to real estate to software coding. Saffeya explains how a certain career setback brought her closer to her mother.

“I was working two jobs. I started to notice very quickly that I was burning out. I was working about 60 hours a week, to the point where one day, I just missed work. I lost my job. I felt bad. I felt dirty. It was the first time I failed at something. I started to lose my way and I gave up on myself; I just gave up. I sat down with my mom and told her that I didn’t want to try anymore. She gave me money to cover my bills. I don’t know what I would have done without a supportive mother. I love my mom.

It took someone else believing in me. We all go through similar life cycles. I’m glad I had those experiences because I learned a lot about myself. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We need hardships; we need to make mistakes.”

As I figure out software and find people to interview (volunteers, please!), stayed tune, dear reader, for future video posts.

#DifficultRealities (Part II)

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After reading my last post to my therapist, she recommended that I counteract all the negative things I wrote about myself with a love letter. I do have a lot of good truths in my life and about my personality that I choose to overlook. Even though I spend 24/7/365 with myself, I spend little time actually taking time to build that positive relationship with the  inner me- you have to make that attempt, she and everyone else say.

Well, here goes nothing…

Dearest Andrea,

I seldom tell you how much I love you. How much I admire you. How beautiful and caring, intelligent and strong you are. That you are my hero.

I took you for granted and dishonored you. I said you’re not enough. That you will never be enough. That if you were only a better student, a better daughter, a better friend, a better writer, a better lover- then, I would love you. If you were smarter, more confident, prettier, more social, skinnier, more assertive, nicer- then, I would respect you.

You are brave. You’re a babe. You are a badass. You just forget that some of the time.

I love your courage- courage to cry, to leap, to give, to receive. When your heart breaks, you allow it to open you. When you heal- and you always heal- your heart grows bigger and stronger.

Thank you for trusting your heart over your head even when it means taking a risk, stepping into the unknown and embracing uncertainty.

I catch you dreaming for hours about a better world. You’re always reading, always searching for more knowledge, always expanding your skills, always longing for more awareness. There’s always something going on in your mind: this mixture of hopes, dreams and ideas that no one knows about. It’s a secret garden only I know the entrance to and this garden is magical.

I love that you like to be funny and that nothing fulfills you more than making people laugh. You’re empathetic and feel people’s pain before they need to tell you anything. I love that you feel the world’s pain as your own and how hopeless it makes you feel sometimes.

I love that you’re an open book and share your fears and dreams with the world. I love you even when you shut down. You will sit with it, let yourself cry and just be there. You are beginning to be more conscious of your thoughts and your words, learning to fill them with kindness rather than hurt. You are taking the time to learn more about yourself and are recognizing the importance of it.

You know that you’re not perfect- you will never be and that’s okay. What you need to remember is that you’re loved and appreciated. Being so is far better than being perfect.

You have “Be Your Own Hero” written on a Post-It above your bed. Looking back at that, hell yes- you are your own hero. You are my hero.

No one will ever be as happy that you exist more than I do.

Keep fighting the good fight. You are worth it. Your life is worth it.

Love you for eternity,
Andrea

(And dear reader, when’s the last time that you wrote yourself a love letter?)

#HowAreYou

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“How are you?”

“Fine.”

I know you’re not fine.

On our first date, my partner and I talked for hours about things couples usually don’t discuss when they first meet: religion, politics, what we don’t like about ourselves. He told me his insecurities about his physical appearance while I explained to him how I never feel good enough. It was that level of honesty that connected us to each other instantly; one of the many qualities we both share and fell in love with. Since our first date, I have been thinking about the amount of honesty and openness I use in daily communication.

In the span of 24 hours, I was asked “How are you” eight times (I counted this past Monday). Most days, I usually smile and say that I’m “good” or “okay” even though sometimes I’m not (Monday was one of those days). We all do it. We’re feeling like utter crap but we don’t reveal our truths when we’re asked. We don’t want the attention on us. We don’t want to look like “drama kings/queens.” We don’t want to have to explain our problems to people who might not understand.

“How are you” lost its meaning. It has become an official unofficial rhetorical question.

But what would happen if we were honest and responded with how we really felt?

During that special date, I was asked what is the one quality that I liked the most about myself. I thought hard, thinking about the things I was good at and enjoyed doing. A few months earlier, I was having cocktails with a friend at a bar and I asked her how she was holding up. She broke down into tears, explaining that she was depressed and she didn’t know what to do about it. So, I comforted her and was grateful that she was honest with me… I told Stephen that I was a good friend. I’m happy to be the person people feel comfortable opening up to.

It’s that level of vulnerability. I think that is missing from every day conversations. Sure, superficial conversation has its place but I want to learn. I want to know. I want to share. I want people to know that I’m truly interested in their well-being and that I’m listening.

In this year, the year that I seek out more meaning in my life, I want the BIG talk. Small talk is now and forever out. When we share, we bond. We get closer. We understand better. Our worlds open up. For me, it helps me get out of my head. I remind myself that we all have problems, great and small, worries and aren’t living in these perfect little bubbles.

So, when I ask, how are you, don’t hide your response. I want to hear it. The truth. And I want to be asked the same. This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to explain to a stranger how painful my menstrual cramps are or try to have a conversation while in the public bathroom (although I have been doing that lately- sorry to those who I’ve spoken to while sitting on the pot). When I ask, I simply want to know how you are doing.

Now dear reader… How are you?

#WorldHealthDay

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Today is World Health Day (WHD). Each year, healthcare professionals and communities around the world partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) to bring awareness to a global health crisis. What’s WHD’s focus this year? Depression.

Depression- let’s talk.

More than 300 million people around the world are affected with depression every year. Common mental disorders (like depression and anxiety) are increasing worldwide. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people globally suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50%. Close to 20% of the world’s population is affected by one or both of these conditions. Lack of treatment for mental disorders has a high economic cost- new evidence from a study led by WHO shows that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost more than a trillion dollars’ worth of economic loss every year.

In many countries, there is no, or very little, support available for people with mental health disorders. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50% of people with depression don’t get treatment. Depression can lead to self-inflicted injury and to suicide- it’s now the world’s second leading cause of death among 15-29-year olds. In 2015, over 78% of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

Untreated depression prevents people from life- most common mental health disorders can be prevented and treated, at relatively low cost. Although there are known, effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected in the world (in many countries, fewer than 10%) receive such treatments. Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health-care providers, and social stigma associated with mental disorders. Another barrier to effective care is inaccurate assessment. In countries of all income levels, people who are depressed are often not correctly diagnosed, and others who do not have the disorder are too often misdiagnosed and prescribed antidepressants.

Depression can be prevented and treated. A better understanding of what depression is and how it can be prevented and treated will help reduce the stigma associated with the condition and lead to more people seeking help. Those who are close to me know that I’m passionate about decreasing mental health’s stigma and am open with talking about my own depression. Sure, it’s a tough and often awkward thing to talk about in causal conversation but it needs to be addressed.

Why not make today the day that you, dear reader, learn more about this disease? Be the person who isn’t afraid to talk honestly about their feelings and experiences with depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc. Share your story. Listen to a friend. The only way that the stigma is going to get away. This is the only way that people who desperately need help are going to get it. Your small step forward is the first of many in this fight. Let’s push forward and make some change.

#36Questions

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I love listening to dating stories. I have quite a few of mine own floating around in my head- after a long weekend, my lady friends and I get together and gab about people with cute smiles, huge blue eyes and who made us laugh until we had charlie horse in our stomachs. We all agree that dating is difficult AF but we look for bright spots among the dating darkness. We encourage each other after we’re ghosted and exchange ideas to keep a conversation going.

Two years ago, I had the privilege of performing in a play with the greatest cast mates anyone could ask for. After one show, we ate lunch together and came across this list from a New York Times article.  We started asking each other and answering questions from the list. It’s a fond memory I think about often- I still think about that moment often. Now that I’m dating, I try to squeeze in those questions from the list into conversation.

This list of 36 questions (broken up into three sets) is supposed to build intimacy by exposing your vulnerability to the person you’re responding to. I have never gotten through the entire list with a perspective partner (I have tried!) but I have pondered these questions when alone. In this moment of my life when I heavily reevaluating my relationship with myself, I’ve asked myself these questions in order to figure out my values and deepen the bond with my inner me.

I am sharing these answers with you, dear reader. I hope that my answers can inspire you into asking yourself,  your partner, your friends, the random dude you’re seeing these questions. These questions are meant to help you fall in love (even if it’s just with yourself). They may not do that exactly but they will help create feelings of intimacy and trust—necessary conditions for love to thrive.

Set I

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? I would have dinner with my biological father. I’m curious to see if we share any personality traits and facials features.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way? Truthfully, yes. I would want to be famous. I would be a well-known journalism like Lisa Ling or Diane Sawyer.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? The only times I rehearse are when I think I’ll cry during the call. I’ll usually write my thoughts down and repeat what I wrote.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? The perfect day would consist of spending it at the beach with a group of close friends, filled with sunbathing, swimming, music and laughter (maybe a nap). Then, we all get dressed up and go out to a nice dinner somewhere semi-fancy and barhop the night away.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? I sang to myself this morning as I biked to get coffee. And does my cat count as someone else? If so, I sang to her this morning (she isn’t a fan of my singing and often runs away to hide under the bed).

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want? I rather have the body. There is too much to do in this world and I would want young legs to take me places.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? Painfully. It will be a painful death.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. What I seem to have in common with my readers is that we seems to concerned with current events in the news. We all want to change the world, or at least our corners of it. We also appreciate semi-decent writing.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? I’m the most thankful for my friends. They catch me when I fall, inspire me to the best version of Andrea I can be and bring so much joy to my life. I’m so grateful to have such a large and strong support system.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? There would be more sincere hugs and words of praise and encouragement.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible. I was born. I was in foster care. I was adopted. I had sisters. I went to school. I was an average student. I became the child of a divorce.  I continued to go to school. I got better grades. I was insecure. I played the drums. I ran for student body secretary. I discovered that I wanted to be a journalist. I graduated. I left home. I went to college. I struggled. I hated school. I dropped out. I moved to New York City. I fell in love for the first time. I went to a lot of concerts. I partied. I learned how to fix bicycles. I learned a lot about myself and life in a short time. I moved. I fell in love again- twice. I finished college. I graduated with a degree. I job hunted. I traveled. I lost friends. I met some cool people. I’m still figuring everything out (all this was written in four minutes, timed on my iPhone).

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? I would either be able to read minds or breathe underwater (my grown self still desperately wants to be a mermaid).

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Stay tuned for Part II.