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Real Talk: Last Night, I Had a Panic Attack.

Ever since I hit grade 12, I haven’t been shy to talk about my mental illness when I’m approached. I consider it really important for people to speak out about their struggles with mental illness because it’s all very internal, and people always think they are alone.

Today, the subject of mental illness has really been weighing heavily on my heart. So I thought I would share my story in full so it’s out there for people who feel all alone to find, and know that they aren’t by themselves.

So here it is:

From the day I was able to make conscious thought, I was a nervous person.

I can’t tell you how many times as a child I was so nervous about different things, that it caused a lot of fear, crying, and an unwillingness to do things that made me feel that way. Looking back on it now, I realize I worried an unhealthy amount, definitely way more than a child should.

I remember when I was in the first grade, we all had to take care of a beetle. Our teacher gave each of us a plastic container with a little handle, filled with dirt and sticks, and one little beetle. I was getting on the bus one morning, holding this tiny container, when I tripped on my way down the narrow aisle. My container hit the ground, bursting open, and my blue beetle zipped away and out the window. I was so horrified, I began to cry.

Not because I was hurt, or was sad about losing my newfound pet, but because I was so extremely worried. What would my teacher say? Would she be mad at me? Would my mark on this insignificant beetle project suffer? I cried and cried, overwhelmed with this anxiety that my actions would have the scariest consequences.

When I got to school, my teacher wiped my tears and told me she’d give me another beetle when I tried to apologize over my shaking sobs.

Maybe that should have been my first warning sign.

I was that kid that cried over spilled milk. All because I was worried about what would happen, what kind of trouble I’d get into, what kind of inconvenience I was causing others. But at this point, I was thought of as nothing more than “sensitive” by my teachers, my parents, my peers… It was just one of those things that kids outgrew eventually.

Except, I never really grew out of it.

My whole life, I’ve lived with a constant nagging feeling that something will go wrong. Think about the strange sense of nervousness you get right before a big test; your head feels foggy, your hands are pretty clammy, and your body is tingling with a sense of dread. That’s kind of how I feel, for the most part of my life.

As I grew older, life became more stressful. With that, it became much harder to handle this constant throbbing of anxiety hidden deep within my chest.

Throughout my childhood, I was considered “very bright”. I was always a few steps ahead, and brought home report cards full of straight A’s. Somehow, in my weird mind of mine, I got it into my head that any sort of failure would result in disappointment from my family and friends, and that absolutely could not happen.

It’s crazy how interconnected anxiety and perfectionism are.

My second warning sign came around the time I was 12-years-old. I was in the seventh grade, and we were doing an assignment in math. We were using a computer program to complete a package of worksheets on geometry.

Absolutely everyone was struggling. The program did not have a user-friendly interface, especially for pre-teens who were still kinda new at the whole “tech savvy” thing. I remember I was so stressed about it.

One of my friends was teasing me about the assignment, but they seemed to take note of my mounting distress. “Carole,” they said, “don’t worry. It’s going to be fine.”

And I lost it.

“It’s not going to be fine!” I snapped, feeling a rush of tears in my eyes, the painful knot of worry pulsing hard inside my heart. “I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t!”

My friend’s face was bewildered, scared even. They slowly inched away from me.

Everyone left me alone, hoping I’d get better with some space.

It wasn’t until grade 10, that I knew something was wrong.

I was struggling to understand grade 10 academic math. I wanted to, but it was the beginning of the year, and I was just having so much difficulty. Something that once seemed so natural to me, was foreign in front of my very eyes.

I remember the day I got one of my unit tests back. This strange numbness overwhelmed my whole body. My head felt like I was lost in the clouds, my body was moving on its own. All I could feel was that familiar sense of panic. That fear, that worry, because I didn’t know what I was going to do next.

Everything was all blurry. I moved in a subdued autopilot to my locker, grabbed my lunch, went into the cafeteria and sat beside my best friend. I must have looked like a ghost, because he looked at me with a very concerned expression. “Carole….? Are you okay?”

And I just started to cry.

All at once all these emotions just broke into a big mess that I couldn’t sort through. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” is all I could say over and over again. The whole room was spinning, I couldn’t breathe, nothing in my body was cooperating.

It took me half an hour to calm down and stop sobbing.

My friends were shaken. They didn’t know how to help me. They tried their best, they really did. One of my friends bought me a cookie when I stopped crying, trying to cheer me up. I was just tired from my strange outburst of panic. I wanted to go home.

That was the moment I knew there was something wrong with me.

No one else ever had moments like that. I remember things that would bring me to tears would not even phase some of my friends. I felt like an outsider in my own body. Why did everything make me so worried? Why did I panic about everything?

This continued on for the whole semester. And then I put grade 10 math behind me, and tried to keep going about my life like everything was normal.

But I wasn’t okay.

Grade 11 hit me hard, just like grade 10 did. I cried about math tests, wiped away the tears, and told myself to keep going. I had to keep pushing. I had to keep ignoring how I felt. I just had to get through it. Everything will be fine, I would say to myself. That didn’t help the overwhelming nerves I got when I was waiting for my teacher to hand back my test paper.

Soon, I found that this nervousness never left me. It was always there. Even when I had nothing to worry about, I still felt stressed. I could try to relax for a while, but start feeling guilty and nervous that I was forgetting something.

It was exhausting.

I couldn’t sleep. I became afraid to be left alone with my own thoughts. I didn’t like lying in the dark while I began to overthink about almost anything until I felt like I would burst into tears. I would just stay up reading books, and stories people wrote online until I woke up the next day, not really sure when I fell asleep at all.

I didn’t know what to tell people. I didn’t understand why life just seemed so difficult for me. Something has to be wrong with me, I would always tell myself, everyone else seems to handle life so well. All I do is cry, and think about something bad that’s going to happen.

Then, I found out about anxiety on the internet.

I had met a few friends online from twitter, and they would always talk about their mental illnesses and such. So I looked it up. I read about generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, OCD… I remember the way my hands trembled, and how I cried alone in my bedroom. It felt too real. It felt like me.

I remember the day I told my mom I thought I had anxiety.

She was sitting on my bed when the smile from her face seemed to drop. “But… You’re so happy.”

I was happy. I’ve always been a smiley kid. I have a good life. But none of that seemed to matter when it was late at night, and I found myself crying just in fear of something bad happening in my life.

The next time I went to the doctor, I told her I thought I was anxious. She wrote me up a referral to a psychiatrist.

My dad took me to the psychiatrist’s office. If you hadn’t known better, it could’ve been any other doctor’s office. The room had a faded old brown carpet, tan coloured walls, beige seats. Everything was so monochrome, as though trying not to trigger anything inside somebody.

I didn’t see a psychiatrist that day. I saw a nurse. She had a questionnaire, to ask my questions about how I felt. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t let on to how bad my problems really were. I was scared.

The nurse thanked me for my time.

My dad and I left. We ate McDonalds for lunch, laughing and having a good time.

I didn’t hear back from the psychiatrist’s office for over a year.

In the meanwhile, I continued to navigate through life on my own. Grade 12 was one of the hardest, but also most rewarding years of my life. It was so complicated. I could go into so much detail, but I’d never be able to cover it all.

To try and summarize it all, I had a lot of stress; just as most grade 12s do. But paired with my anxiety and lack of outlet, I didn’t know how to cope. I was in grade 12 advanced functions, and I was suffering. I would get so anxious to the point where I couldn’t form a thought. I’d forget everything I’d learn, stare at a blank page, and have to hand in a test that wasn’t even half completed.

I remember going into my school guidance office to ask for an IEP, because I could not finish in time. I needed extra time.

I met with my guidance counsellor. We talked for a long time. She agreed to let me write my tests in the guidance office with extra time. But she also told me, I should see the school social worker for my anxiety.

That didn’t really help me either.

I was crumbling, falling apart at the seams. Almost every day I would leave first period math crying. Pair that with grade 12 stress, such as preparing for my university auditions, maintaining grades, a social life, working at my job. I was a mess.

My music teacher, bless her soul, was someone that really helped me during that time. She was always there for me when I needed her. She offered me advice that was hard to take, but beneficial.

My friends were always there for me when I was having a hard day.

I think if I didn’t have the support system of people I had, I would not be here today.

I finally met with a psychiatrist when I was starting to get better. I was trying to reorganize my life, change my way of thinking, learn to live without an overwhelming cloud of anxiety hanging over me.

I spoke with the psychiatrist about my experiences in the past few years. He told me, yes, I did have generalized anxiety disorder. If he had met me a year ago, he would have put me on medicine to help. But for the most part, I was doing well, learning to handle my anxiety on my own.

And I have been. For the past few months, I’ve been doing really well. I’ve been handling stress at my own pace, teaching myself how to go through things one at a time.

But just because I’m getting better, doesn’t mean it’s gone.

Yesterday, I had a panic attack.

Nothing in particular brought it on, but I felt it was coming. I was sitting at my kitchen table, just looking through my phone when I felt this nudging of nervousness start forming in the pit of my stomach. I usually try to ignore this, hoping it would go away. But it didn’t.

I hadn’t felt this way in months.

By the time I was in bed, my hands were shaking. I tried to focus on something else. I tried reading little stories online. It didn’t help. I started hyperventilating and crying, overwhelmed with anxiety that had no reason to exist.

Today, I’m here to tell you, that it was okay.

Yes, I had a panic attack.

Yes, it felt like I had lost all the progress I’ve made in the past few months.

Yes, it took me over an hour to calm down.

BUT,

I won’t let my mental illness define me.

I won’t allow for this to set me back.

I won’t let myself fall apart like I did before.

Mental illness is something powerful and scary. It’s truly terrifying to think that your own mind can be working against you. But I’m writing this long winded blog post to tell you that it is okay.

Do not let yourself suffer alone.

If I had gotten the help I needed earlier, so much of the strife I experienced could have been avoided.

There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It is not something that’s “all in your head”. There is a valid reason why you feel a certain way. Don’t ever let someone discredit how you feel.

If you think you are suffering from a mental illness, please tell a doctor.

Lastly, be strong. Your brain is a powerful tool. It fights against you with a vigour. But your brain is also yours. Fight with all your might. Even with medicine, with counselling, with all the help in the world, you still need to have the willingness to fight.

Mental illness is a battle I will be fighting probably until the end of my life. The key is to never stop. Because there is so much you are capable of, and so much that you can accomplish and nothing, not even mental illness can dare stop you.

I believe in you. And I believe in me.

Believe that things can always always get better.

And know that I am always always here if you need someone.

– Carole

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An Open Letter to My Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

You know, our relationship has always been a funny one. For a long time, I believed that you were all in my head. I mean, after all, you are; but that doesn’t make you any less real.

We’ve had a rocky relationship the whole time I’ve known you, and how long has it been now? 2 years? 5 years? Or perhaps, have you been around since the day I could form a conscious thought?

I think you have been.

You hid from me for a long time though. But one day you just decided: I’m going to make Carole notice me, and I’m going to make her life an absolute hell.

The funny thing is you did it in a way that made me feel like I was going crazy. It was small things at first, like overthinking and overanalyzing. Your voice was quiet, discreet, and small. You snuck into my head, whispering softly in my ear.

“Did you lock the door?”

I did. I did every time. But I’d think about it all day. What if I was responsible for someone robbing my family? What if they killed someone who was at home?

Why didn’t I realize how irrational you were being?

“Why did you say that? They probably hate you now. Everyone hates you.”

You made me afraid to talk to anyone. You scared me into thinking I was pathetic and that no one would ever like me.

You were wrong. So very wrong. But I couldn’t see that. I couldn’t hear anyone telling me otherwise. You told me that they were lying and that the truth was written all over everyone’s actions.

You lied to me.

And you didn’t stop there. You crept into every part of my life, filling in the ripples of my brain and flooding my veins with fear and irrationality. You took hold of my perfectionism and pushed me to work myself half to death. You promised I would feel better if I just did everything right. That people would love me more if I got good grades, if I looked a certain way, if I was nice.

“You’ll never be enough Carole.”

But I’m not perfect, and I never could be.

When I noticed you, things got worse. Did I offend you by discovering you hiding out in my brain? When I tried to evict you, did it hurt your ego? Did it hurt you that I didn’t want you anymore? Were you going to be lonely without me?

For a long time, you’ve ruined my life. You kept me awake at night, staring at the ceiling, making me relive my day over and over again, begging me to listen and critiquing everything I said and did. I remember feeling so lifeless. The hazy yellow light from the lamp post outside my window would streak through the shutters and onto my face, right into my eyes, but all I could see was darkness.

I remember closing my eyes and seeing a warped reality. I remember you asking me why I was such a failure and why was I like this? 

I didn’t have an answer.

You made me feel like I had nowhere to go. You would wake me up with a tight grip around my throat, taking a hammer to my heart, and laughing while my lungs screamed and screamed.

But you’re a smooth talker Anxiety. I would beg you, I pleaded with you to stop. I walked ditches into the floor, I tapped my fingers against the walls until my nails hurt, I repeated to myself over and over again to “stop stop stop”, and you told me that this was all my fault. You weren’t doing anything to me.

And I believed you for so long.

I believed you when I would sit quietly and my mind would seize up with dread for no reason at all. I believed you when you convinced me I would die if I left my bed in the morning. I believed you when you pumped my lungs until I was heaving from hyperventilating. I believed you when I was scrambling to hide tears with my shirtsleeves.

And you know, sometimes I still believe you. There are weeks when you handcuff me by the arm and tag along with me all day. There are days when you set up shop in my skull and hand out doubt, fear, and tears to my naive brain. There are hours when you sit beside me on the floor while I cry and try to convince me everything is my fault in that sick twisted way of yours. There are minutes and moments I can never get back because all of my focus was on you.

But you are no friend to me, Anxiety. That much I’ve known for a long time. I don’t think I can ever fully let you go, and you know this very well. So for now, we have to live with each other, fighting to occupy this brain of mine. But you don’t control me. You’ve taken the reigns from me enough times, and I know there will be days when you grab them from my hands when I least expect it. But I am not done fighting with you. You will not wear me down. The thing is Anxiety, you underestimate just how strong I am.

And that was your first mistake.

Love,

Carole Lynn

The Day After – A Short Written Piece

The Day After

By Carole Palattao

She sat, the next day, at the kitchen table. The light whispered through the tissue paper curtains, while silence hummed in her ears. The cold morning air tickled the tip of her nose, as she sipped on warm milk and ate cereal out of a little white bowl. It was strange, she thought, how normal everything felt, there was so much noise in her heart but she couldn’t make a sound. The fridge creaked before beginning to whine, and she watched her cheerios float as they tried to sing along. How odd, to notice all the small things, she’d felt blind to for so long.

There was only so much time she could spend in the kitchen. Her stomach was in knots, and everything was cardboard. She pushed away from the table, and the thin curtains shivered. She gathered her things, shuffling quietly across the creaky wooden floor, slipped on her shoes and was out the door. Outside the air was crisper and biting, but she inhaled deeply and the taste was delightful. Each step she took felt less and less real, until she was walking on clouds, with the sun at her heels.

In this world she created, there was no pain; just sunlight and fluffy white clouds with no rain. She wished she could stay here forever. He had been her happy place, or one of them at least. But now with him gone, she felt somewhat incomplete. She knew she’d be fine without him, but it was hard to say at that time. So she kept walking and walking, trying to put a spring in her step. She remembered memory upon memory because that’s what she did best. Of sweet whispered words, and kisses in the dark. All those things she remembered, like they were just yesterday. And suddenly, they were all whisked away. What once was a memory for her heart to hold dear, her brain snatched them away to turn them into something sad and surreal. Her head felt like it was spinning, like taking a shot in the dark and she prayed and she prayed but Lord, it didn’t stop.

And she realized then she was halfway down the street, toward the bus stop of new faces she’d meet. She wondered if people would see her puffy swollen eyes, or her wobbly steps, or the tears that she’d cried. But to just anyone she was a normal girl, swallowed in a sweater of her favourite colour like she could conquer the world. But really, the rug had been ripped from right under her feet.

But these strangers didn’t know, so she gave them a smile. She said hi to the bus driver and looked happy for a while. But her heart was still beating like it belonged to somebody else. She was wondering how long it would take to have it all to herself.


 

Hi all! It’s been a while since I’ve been on this lil blog of mine. This is a piece I wrote about 3 weeks back, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s got some rhyming in it, but it’s not consistent LOL. It’s also a bit awkwardly paced, but that’s okay! Let me know what you think!

– Carole

Turning 18 and Tackling the “Supposed” End of Childhood

Lately I’ve been reminiscing.

First year of university is over, and I’m sitting back in my childhood bedroom. Gone are my days of my tiny dorm bed with the white bed spread layered with pink flowers, windows that open just a crack, and flocking to a communal pizza on my floor at 3am. And gone with that is the independence I once had when I was living on my own.

My childhood bedroom I sit in has been mine since I was about 11 or 12 years old. It’s painted the lightest purple shade called ‘touch of violet’. I have butterfly wall stickers along the wall where my bed leans, fairy lights twisted around the winding metal headboard. My baby pictures are up on the wall, so are my school photos, my certificates, my plaques, my piano competition medals. I have over 20 stuffed animals sitting on my desk. This room has been a home to me for years, it’s grown up with me, seen me in my best moments, my worst moments. There are so many memories in this room.

When I first moved out, I remember timidly opening this big wooden door that had a metal plate bolted to it: “2W8” it said. Inside was a tiny little room, cream coloured walls, twin beds with no sheets, a desk, a shelf, and a closet with a curtain. None of my memories were in that room. But by the end of first year, it had felt like I’d lived there for ages.

Coming home was a weird feeling. It felt like I had reloaded an old save file and I was back trying to live the life I had lived before I moved out, except I was a totally different person now.

And I wondered, was this what adulthood is like?

What exactly is adulthood anyway?

Canadians legally define an “adult” as an 18-year-old individual. I remember how excited I was to become this glamourized ~adult~. I think I was disoriented by how different, but also how similar the world felt.

My 18th birthday passed without much fuss. It was very different. It was my first birthday away from home and I had 2 finals. I clamoured out of bed at 8am, got ready, spent 6 hours on exams, went home to my little dorm room, and went out for dinner with my friends. I remember lying in bed that night wondering to myself, “Am I different now? Am I a changed person?”

After all, I was legally an adult now. I could vote in the next election if I so chose to, did that somehow remove me from “childhood”?

From what I’ve experienced, becoming an adult doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t magically wake up on our 18th birthdays and something has shifted. I feel like the process of becoming an adult has been so gradual, you hardly notice until one day it’s just happened.

I notice this a lot when I look back on memories. We like to joke around and see something nostalgic and think “OMG THIS WAS MY CHILDHOOD!” but what exactly do we define as our “childhood”? Do we mean those silly naive years when we played make believe and dress up while Blue’s Clues played in the background? Do we mean playing outside until our skin was burned and the knees of our pants were stained grass green? It is hard to define adulthood if we cannot identify childhood. And I think the problem is we’re too focused on something arbitrary like age telling us that we’ve become an adult. Sure, there’s a lot more responsibility put on you when you become a legally recognized adult (think: filing taxes, getting police checks, etc.), but it’s not like you’re suddenly swamped with responsibilities, you’ve been building up more responsibilities your entire life, as you grow older.

I remember the very first time I walked myself home from the bus stop. I was about 6 years old, in the first grade. It just so happened that neither of my parents would be around when the bus dropped me off, and it would be safer for me to walk down the street (for literally like 1 minute) into our town house complex than to wait on the main road for someone to come get me. My dad gave me a key and I walked myself home, turned the lock, opened the door, and kicked off my shoes in the little front foyer. I hadn’t even gotten into the house yet when my dad arrived. That was one of the first moments (I hope. This could be a dream I once had, but it still serves my point) I had any shred of responsibility. I feel like from that moment forward I had somehow “graduated” from a part of my childhood. I had the ability and had proven that I could walk myself home. That was a moment where it felt like I had grown up, even just a little bit.

And I think life is a lot of moments like that. It’s hard to remember looking back, but there were moments where I cooked for the first time, biked for the first time, mailed something for the first time, etc. etc. and those were all moments where I gained new abilities and responsibilities that furthered me in life.

So I don’t know, there’s definitely this transitional phase in between “childhood” and “adulthood” (which I guess would be called your teen years lol), but it’s hard to say that there’s a clear point in life where you suddenly feel like an “adult” over being a “child”. I mean, I’ve technically been an adult for half a year now, and I only really noticed it a couple days ago. I suppose my childhood is over now, but it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly this all knowing adult being that can just venture into the world just like that. There’s still a lot of growing to do. Heck, even people who are 50+ years my senior have growing to do.

But turning 18 isn’t all the glamour it’s cut out to be. Rather, it honestly just feels like a marker in this grand story of life. It’s a point in my life where I can look back and think of all the amazing things I’ve done in my life so far. And as I keep growing, learning, and experiencing all the world has to offer, I can keep looking back to the nostalgic, cozy “childhood” of my memories, while also looking toward the new, exhilarating “adulthood” of my future.

– Carole

Why Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” Missed the Mark

Disclaimer: This blog post will deal primarily with the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and contains spoilers.

Trigger Warning(s): Mentions of depression, suicide, sexual assault, and rape.

One of the most popular series online right now is Netflix’s adaption of the 2007 novel 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I must admit, when I first heard that the novel was being brought to life to the small screen, I was excited. It’s been years since I read the book (I was probably 12 or 13 years old, so at least 5 years ago now), but from what I remembered, it was a book that I held deeply important. Perhaps my opinion on the book might have changed from when I was younger, but I know one thing for sure: I do not like the TV adaptation of the series. There are so many reasons for this as well. Many that I’ve had to sit on, discuss with others, and read other’s opinions and articles online to fully understand what I truly felt about this series.

For some context, 13 Reasons Why is focused on two main characters, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) and Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), in which the latter has just died by suicide at the beginning of the series. Clay comes home from school to discover that a box of cassette tapes has been mailed to his front door, addressed to him. There are 7 tapes, with 13 sides recorded by the late Hannah Baker who informs Clay and the rest of us watching that each side of the tape features her encounter with different characters and how they contributed to her suicide. The series goes on to play these tapes for us and we watch both the past (as told by Hannah) and the present (as seen by Clay) unfold in front of us.

I’ll start with the issue that truly bothers me the most. 13 Reasons Why is a story about a girl who dies by suicide. Why then do we never talk about her mental health? Suicide is a huge topic in the world of mental health and wellbeing; so why does Hannah Baker’s mental state take the back burner through this whole series? Jessie Stephens says in her article for the MamaMia newsletter, “Bizarrely, throughout the entire series, 13 Reasons fails to even mention the words ‘mental illness’ or ‘depression’…It misses an enormous opportunity to open up a discussion about mental illness, which is a contributing factor in at least 90 per cent of suicides.” Somehow, we have a show that talks about suicide, but mental illness is never talked about, which as Stephens indicates is responsible for nearly all suicides. Isn’t that alarming?

13 Reasons Why misses a really important marker: it is not other people who cause someone to develop suicidal tendencies and ultimately die by suicide. In more cases than not, there is an internal, psychological problem. How can we address our teen suicide epidemic without once looking at the root of the issue? Yes, bullying is a contributor to suicide, but why? Because it influences the victim’s psyche, and there are so many more complicated issues in the human psyche that just weren’t addressed in the series. As Neha Shah articulates beautifully in her article for NewStatesman, “Hannah’s suicide as a means of exposing the actions of her peers and making them feel guilty rather than exploring the nuances of mental illness.  Of course, bullying can be a contributing factor towards suicidal thoughts and behaviour, but it is wrong to portray it as a direct cause – a lazy and unforgivable simplification of the infinitely more complex nature of mental illness.” That’s not to say that bullying and the sexual abuse that happened to Hannah Baker are irrelevant, but rather, that we’re focused too much on what other people did to her, and less about how Hannah Baker actually felt because of the things that happened to her. Serena Smith writes in her article for The Tab, “We never really tap into Hannah’s psyche: she’s just a narrator. The result is that she comes off as an over-dramatic snowflake.” This becomes apparent when you watch the show. Hannah presents as a victimizer as we never truly understand her psyche. It appears like she blames people for making her life a living hell and that everything happens to her and she plays no factor in how sad, empty, and alone she feels. It’s hard to say, but many of the things that she says in her tapes (like rejection, rumors, etc.) happen to a lot of people in high school. But the fact is she was mentally unfit to handle what was happening to her. That’s not her fault.

But it’s not up to her to blame other people either. Of course, that’s not to say that what people did to her wasn’t terrible, but what’s the point in her recording these tapes and sending them to people after she’s dead? What can they do now to try and fix what’s happened? They can’t. They can’t do anything except bear the burden that they’re a reason why someone is dead. Is that fair? That’s the danger in not opening up the conversation to Hannah’s psyche. Suicide is not an issue that can be pinned on 13 specific things. We can’t plot a time line of 13 tapes that will lead us directly to why someone took their own life. There’s so many more complexities that just get completely shut down for the sake of a story. A story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. People’s minds? Their mental wellbeing? Those things can never be mapped out in a linear procession. There are so many things that contribute to suicide it’s naïve to think that maybe if these 12 people on the tapes had just been nicer to Hannah she wouldn’t have killed herself. Stephens writes, “[13 Reasons Why] sends the message that anyone who has been touched by suicide could and should have done more. As though the onus lies on the friends and families of the deceased.” And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s so much more going on, especially within Hannah’s psyche, that was never spoken about. We can never be sure that if we had just been kinder to someone, they might not have taken their own life. It’s always good to think about treating each other better, but we can’t place guilt on people for the loss of others. What good does it do to blame any of the other characters for Hannah’s death? That doesn’t bring her back. That idea of feeling guilty for someone else’s suicide (as Clay does) is so problematic, and feeding into the idea that we should be doing more for others (not to be mistaken for actively trying to be kinder to each other) is extremely dangerous. As Kevin Fallon writes in his article for The Daily Beast, this blame game is a “misunderstanding of mental illness, depression, suicide, and…grief.”

Even more problematic than the silence on mental health in a show so deeply rooted in mental illness is the glorification of suicide. In the most obvious sense, Hannah’s suicide is incredibly, horrifically, graphic. We watch her slit her wrists and bleed out in a bathtub in the finale of the show. Quinn Keaney writes in her article In Praise of the Unflinching Honest Approach to Teen Suicide on 13 Reasons Why, “Anything less than showing Hannah’s death in all of its brutal, bloody reality would be a disservice to the character, the show, and its audience.” But I would disagree. There are so many ways that people die by suicide. Why did the directors decide on the most visually gruesome depiction at the climax of the entire series? In the original novel, Hannah is described to have “swallowed a handful of pills” (which Keaney herself acknowledges in her article 19 Big Differences Between the Book and TV Show Versions of 13 Reasons Why). Was that version not climatic or dramatic enough for the small screen? 13 Reasons Why takes the route I really wish it hadn’t. Hannah’s suicide, as much as they try to paint it as an ‘honest’ representation of what suicide looks like, is yet again dramatized and glamourized by Hollywood by making use of the flashiest, most visually stomach twisting way to present Hannah’s suicide out there at the most dramatic part of the series. Kayleigh Mcdonaldson writes for ScreenRant that the book is “an earnest attempt to tackle a very serious issue, but it’s plagued by the need to be dramatic in its storytelling, and thus sacrifices much of the nuance and compassion necessary to do the themes justice.” But I would say the same problem exists in the TV series, if not more for the visuals we get, and the differences seen from the book to the series in order to produce a longer story line that could potentially stretch into a second season. Because after all, this is a show produced by Hollywood that ultimately will generate revenue. Without the dramatics, it’s possible it won’t produce good results. But does that get in the way of telling the story properly? I would definitely say so.

Aside from that, I have to tell you, 13 Reasons Why is just too long. The book is less than 300 pages long, yet somehow, the series has been stretched into a mess that’s 13 hours long. Clay takes days to finish the tapes, but in the book he finishes them all in one night. Why? Because the series focuses on the characters left behind in present time, just as much, if not more, than they focus on the story Hannah is telling in the tapes. Personally, I found it unnecessary and at some points rather annoying. Lauren Chung writes for The Daily Cardinal, “…the audience [see] the duality and complexity hidden within Hannah’s stories. Viewers can now gain a more intimate understanding of the characters and their background stories beyond only what Hannah speaks of on her cassettes in the novel.” However, I don’t think that the stories behind all the other characters really matters. The whole premise of the series is that we should be nice to people because we don’t know what they’re going through, and the series attempts to show us what is going through the minds of Justin Foley, Jessica Davis, etc. etc. The problem I have is that I didn’t sympathize with the characters at all. When it all boils down to it, the show attempts to slather the characters with backstory to somehow ‘atone’ for their actions. Justin does terrible things by 1) taking non-consensual photos of Hannah and 2) letting Bryce take advantage of his girlfriend while she was drunk. But somehow, I’m supposed to feel bad for him and think “Oh it’s okay, I had no idea what he was going through!” when we find out he has a wrecked home life? I don’t think I’m heartless, and my heart truly broke for him in the exchange he has with his mother and her boyfriend, but does that really excuse him from the things he did to other people? No. Not really.

That’s not even my biggest issue. Let’s talk about who gets the tapes before Clay: Justin, Jessica, Alex, Tyler, Courtney, Marcus, Zach, Ryan and Sheri. That’s a total of nine people. That’s nine people that listened to these tapes, heard Hannah speak of not one, but two times that Bryce has sexually assaulted and raped two girls, one of which is Jessica, a majority of the teens’ friend, and Hannah, the dead girl they are literally listening to. And what do they do? They just pass the tapes on, keep their mouths shut, and do everything in their power to prevent Clay from breathing a word about the tapes to anybody. Why? To save their own asses and their own reputations? Because people will know the terrible things they did to Hannah Baker? They’re willing to sacrifice evidence on two rapes just for that? What kind of moral integrity is that? Am I supposed to just stand by and watch nine people cover for a rapist and then sympathize with them because of their backstory? I felt caught up in a soap opera every episode, where the characters whispering to each other about making sure Clay doesn’t leak the tapes for 45 minutes and then suddenly in the last 15 minutes we rush through what’s actually said on the cassette.

Alexa Curtis writes in her article for Rolling Stone, “We become captivated by the drama of the suicide rather than the actual suicide itself.” And that’s sad. 13 Reasons Why fails to really speak to the mental health/illness conversation in a healthy way. It glorifies the act of suicide in a frightening manner. Not only that, but it gets lost in the dramatics of what the teenagers do to try and prevent the tapes from being leaked to really speak to the real issue: Hannah Baker is dead. She died by suicide. And we will never get her back. Somewhere in her life she began to suffer. Her mental health took a nosedive, and none of the experiences she had in high school really helped with that at all. Not once did anyone offer any suggestion that maybe she get some help to get into a better place mentally. Her failed attempt at going to the counselor shows teens that that’s not where they can get any help, and doesn’t offer any alternatives for teens who need help. In fact, the glorified, graphic depiction of suicide basically gives teens the instructions on how to do it, should they feel like that’s their only option. And they should never feel like that’s the only option.

Most unsettling of all, when watching Beyond The Reasons, a half hour special episode where the cast and crew of 13 Reasons Why sit down for interviews to talk about the show. Executive producer, Brian Yorkey says something that I think is particularly problematic: “By the time we reach the last day of Hannah’s life she is completely depleted. It’s beyond simply being depressed; she thinks her life is worth nothing.” What does it mean to be “beyond simply being depressed”? Isn’t the most crucial, problematic part of depression that life feels meaningless? Suicidal thoughts are the byproduct of depression, how can we gloss over the ‘depression’ just to get to the suicide? How can I watch a show that is so heavily involved with suicide and mental illness when the executive producer doesn’t truly understand what it means at all?

I’m worried for youth that watch this show. I’m worried for youth that have been thinking about suicide and thinking that they too can get revenge and cause suffering for all those that hurt them by taking their own life. I’m worried for neuro-typical youth that watch this series and think that they could now tell you what it means to be depressed or suicidal. I’m worried for people that will now think they are responsible for other people’s suicides or that “being nicer” to people will cure the suicide epidemic (it will certainly help, but there’s so much more to it than that). I’m worried for how mainstream media will paint this show as a masterpiece for talking about difficult subjects like suicide, rape, and sexual assault just because they talked about it. Did they do it well? I don’t really think so.

Please please please, if you have been affected by this show, please get the proper help you need. I promise you that suicide will never ever be the answer to your suffering. And above all, remember, the story of 13 Reasons Why is fictional. As much as we analyze fiction and carry it into real life, stories can never truly capture the breadth that is the human experience. We can’t assume that the story we see is the only way that narrative can go.

Life may seem like a black hole you won’t get out of. But I promise you that you can. Never give up. I’m rooting for you. I always will be.

– Carole

 

 

Of 2016, Part I.

Happy New Year everyone! After ages and ages of 2016, we’re finally moving into a new year, that is full and teeming with potential. We stand at the forefront of this precipice. And it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to do.

2016 was by far one of the most eventful years of my life. Looking back on 2016, I see a mountain behind me. When I look ahead, there is yet another mountain to begin climbing up. Here I am now, in this eerily quiet valley between.

I decided to start the new year off on this blog, to reminisce about the things I’ve done in 2016. As a forgetful person, I’ve gone through the effort to go through my twitter archive to find the most important moments of my 2016 life.

As I’ve been doing this, I’ve found that it’s increasingly difficult to get a whole year to fit into one blog post, so this is part I, January to June, aka the first half of the year.

(Also, I’m aware that it’s February, it took me a whole month to finally scrap up enough time here and there to finish this monstrosity of a blog post [it’s about 2100 words long, so brace yourselves].)

Let’s get started!

My 2016: January-June

January

January was an interesting month for me. I find that every January that rolls around, I find myself in a rut. 2016 was no different. I was finishing my first semester of grade 12, exams were looming over my head, there were no holidays, it was always cold, I walked into school before the sun rose and left after it had already set.

The start of the new year challenged me to figure out who I was, led to some serious doubt, and watched me struggle to come to terms with who I wanted to be.

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My biggest goal of life is to make people feel something. I want to share joy, and happiness, and prosperity. Music is my medium for doing that, and back in January, all I wanted to do was pursue that dream.
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To achieve that goal though, there was a huge hurdle standing in my way. It was getting accepted into a music program! The New Year heavily burdened my thoughts with the prospect of this being ~audition year~. Despite the comforts from my teachers, my friends, my family, I couldn’t help but be nervous that I wouldn’t get into a music program. Holding on to this much doubt did terrible damage on my self confidence.
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Yet, through all this self doubt and lack of confidence, I began to find peace. It definitely took a long time, it still does, but when you begin to value yourself for yourself, you can begin to treat yourself to the things you deserve. I found joy in preparing for my auditions. I remembered that singing is what makes me come alive. I believed if I could just channel this joy, the audition panel would share in my enthusiasm and potential.
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By the end of January, half of my senior year was almost over. This tweet is very interesting to me because it documents just how much I’ve changed in high school. I remember being a quiet, shy, scared young girl. I didn’t like talking to people, didn’t like any social interaction, but here I was now, on the cusp of adulthood, flourishing in time spent with others, valuing lasting relationships, and spreading joy and positivity.

February

What a month February was! While January holds a lot of new change with a new year, February really kicked it off for me by starting a new semester. I always find at the turn of the semester I feel very unsettled.

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I’m not one that actively seeks out change. I prefer things to stay the way they are. Establishing a new routine, new classrooms, new coursework, new classmates, all at the beginning of February always threw me for a loop in high school.
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Though something that has never changed was my goal to be a teacher.
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February was also a very busy month because of the first ever CKSS Variety Show! I was super happy that this whole project came into fruition. Myself, along with our music council, had been planning the event since the beginning of the school year. After long countless meetings and an unbelievable amount of stress and setbacks, we were able to finally launch a new CKSS tradition, in order to share our love for all kinds of art. Not only that, but the whole even was completely student run, and an absolute success!
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February was also the month I realized how fast time was passing. The end of the school year was approaching at a crazy speed, it was almost scary to try and process it.

March

March was a very eventful month for me. I was accepted to 2 of 3 universities I applied to! The first acceptance letter I got was from MacMaster University for their Humanities program. If I wasn’t going to get into music, I was going to fall back on English, my second passion in life.

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MacMaster was my third choice university. But it was still a big step for me. When the email came in, this sort of numbness washed over me. For the first time since I had applied to university, it felt real. An actual university had received my application, reviewed my grades and decided to accept me! It was a strange feeling. I was both so excited, but very unsettled and nervous at the same time.
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Another huge milestone of March was, of course, my very first university music audition. It was at Wilfred Laurier University, in Waterloo. I won’t go into much detail right now, as that’s a story for next time, but I was a wreck the whole week leading up to this audition. I was studying so hard for their theory placement exam, reviewing my pieces over and over again… I barely talked to anyone that week because I was obsessing over this audition. But all my hard work came to fruition. A couple days after my audition, I got an email from the dean of music. My audition was a success.
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But it wasn’t over yet! I kept working through the month. The big day was coming. My Western University audition in April. This would be arguably, the most important day of the entire year.

April

April was honestly a blur for me. After my audition passed, the whole month disappeared like chocolate cake at a kids’ party.

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I remember the whole week leading up to my Western audition was absolute hell. My throat has this weird tickle and I was terrified that I wasn’t going to sound right for my audition. I gargled salt water every night, I would randomly start to cry because I was so nervous… But at the same time I was feeling a lot better because I had already done one successful audition. I remember going to bed the night before, trying to get in a good night’s sleep, feeling my heart beat so hard and fast I thought it would leap out of my chest.
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My Western audition came and went without much fuss. To be honest, it went as well as it possibly could have. I thought I had a really good chance of getting in when I left, the panel was super ecstatic, they told me they couldn’t wait for me to come to school at Western. I remember finding out I had gotten accepted. I was working on my final project in my social science class when I heard my email notification go off on my laptop. But I was so engrossed in my work I decided I would check it after class. Flash forward to the end of the period, I opened my email and my heart just about stopped. I read the first few words and screamed. My friend Thomas immediately asked me what was up. I just pointed at the screen, feeling tears stinging in the back of my eyes. I’d done it. All that time, stress, tears, all was worth it in that moment.
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And suddenly…. Everything changed. After I got accepted into the school of my dreams, my whole future began to change. Up until that point it had been “what ifs” and “maybes” but now, it was set in stone. I was moving away from home. I was going to study music for the next 4 years. I was ecstatic. I had been in one place with the same people for so long, it was exciting to think about venturing off for new adventures. But at the same time, I was so happy being with my friends, and being at my high school, and feeling like I actually belonged somewhere. I felt caught between two different worlds. And it felt like I would have to sacrifice my old life to get my new one.

May

May probably holds some of the most important memories of my entire high school life. In May, my school music program experienced different firsts and lasts.

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I’ll start with the lasts. May 5th marked my last spring concert, and last concert ever for that matter, at my high school. It was such an emotional day for me. I remember our first concert, we crammed everything into our tiny theatre, and people’s parents came and watched us perform. And here we were at our last concert, filling our school gym. We’d come such a long way, built such a big music program literally from the dirt. I cried so hard after our last concert. I wanted to live in and nurture this program forever. But I was leaving it to the students under me. And it was a crazy emotional time. May also marked our very first out of country music trip. We went to Chicago, Illinois, for 5 days and I will never ever forget that trip. I made so many memories there, just getting to spend a trip of a lifetime with my best friends doing what we loved most: music.
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The year was coming to an end super fast. I accepted my offer to Western, and was suddenly swamped with final assignments and exam prep. I worked myself to the bone, convincing myself that I had to make the most of high school while it was still there.

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June

And then… There it was. The last month of high school. June was full of so many lasts, so many things I would never get to do again. But it was all so worth it. There’s so much I could say about June, and I’m full of nostalgia, but hopefully these tweets will kind of capture the mood I was in that month.

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Everything felt like it was coming to a close in June. It felt like I was tying all the ribbons on the presents, ending the giant chapter of my life novel. Suddenly, I could count how many days of school and how many days I had left at the tutoring centre on my fingers.
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But of course, the school year can’t end without a bang. On the last full day of high school, my best friend Michael totally threw me for a loop and promposed to me with one of my favourite songs from High School Musical 3, with flowers and everything. It was basically flawless (save for Thomas screwing up playing the music in time) and totally surprised me.

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And finally, prom came and went, my friends and I danced our hearts out, and kept going till our feet were sore. We stayed up all night playing cards, and woke up to make waffles together. Our days together were all drawing to a close. Graduation came, and I surprised myself by not crying. It all felt surreal. High school was one of the most beautiful times in my life, senior year especially. It was my whole world for 4 years. I thought I would wake up and just repeat the process again. But this was it. I was moving on to bigger and brighter things. And I wouldn’t change my high school experience for anything.

And while it feels like a just shut the book on the entirety of 2016…. It wasn’t over yet! I still had another entire half of the year left. While the first half of 2016 was full of lasts and endings, the second half was teeming full of new beginnings that have helped me grow into the person I am now, writing about my 2016. Hopefully…. That part will be coming soon!

– Carole

Why Musicians are Basically Engineers

I’m sorry for being gone for so long! I really didn’t mean to completely abandon this blog as school started, but everything has just gone by so fast, it’s almost impossible to believe the semester is almost over already.

For those of you who don’t know, I moved away at the beginning of September to study music at the University of Western Ontario (more commonly known as ‘Western University’). Throughout this entire semester, I can honestly say that I am so incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of work, me and all my fellow music students have to do.

And I’ve discovered in these 2 weeks, musicians are like engineers. How?

In university (or at least here at Western), we go by a credit system, 0.5 credits being a semester class, 1.0 credits being a full year class, for a total of 5.0 credits a year (approx. 2.5 credits a semester).

Well, for most. Music students are 1 of 2 programs that do not take 5.0 credits a year. We take 6.0 credits, plus ensemble: either choir or band for 4 hours a week (so basically, another credit without actually getting a credit).

Here, we have a grand total of 7.0 credits.

What is the only other program that has 7.0 credits? You guessed it, it’s the engineers!

Why am I telling you this?

I feel like in today’s society, the value of a music education is so drastically underrated. Let’s not mind all the benefits that comes with learning music (improved memory, time management and organization, etc.) but down to humanity’s simplest form, we’ve always had music.

I recently learned today about how music can change lives for people. Some people with Parkinson’s can regain part of their mobility when listening to music, those who can’t remember more than 7 seconds of their lives at a time due to brain damage still remember how to sing.

Music is a powerful thing.

Life as a music major is an interesting world to navigate. Somehow, the whole world has opened up to this beautiful wave of sound I never quite noticed before. With an understanding of music comes an understanding of sound. Of human connection to sound.

People always joke about how horror movies aren’t scary, funny even, without the sound. But have we ever noticed what a TV show or movie would sound like without background music?

Can we imagine a world where we live in silence?

Where we didn’t connect to one another through sound and the universal language of music?

Isn’t it fascinating that without any prior knowledge, we can tell a sad song from a happy song?

I find that now more than ever, art is under persecution. And this is so sad. We will always have science, and math, and law, and medicine… But what will we do if we lose music?

I felt burdened when helping with my university’s fall preview day by the lack of people that wanted to pursue music full time. I’m sad that my craft is under persecution for fear that a life of music is a life “unsuccessful” or “unfulfilling”.

Music was once the joy of the rich. Now we have so much music available to us.

To all you artists out there, never give up.

Music may be a demanding program. It may feel like there’s no point. Why do we continually push ourselves to keep going, if there are always improvements to be made? Why don’t we just crumple the sheet music up, toss it in the trash, and walk away?

Music people, we are engineers for humankind. We engineer emotional structure. We bring people together under a roof where they can feel safe. I remember reading once that doctors fix hearts, but musicians fix souls. A doctor can spend hours in surgery to save someone’s body, their livelihood. Musicians perform, we carry a message, for an hour, maybe two, and we help make that life worth living.

To all you artists out there, never let anyone tell you you’re insignificant.

Your voice, your song, is unique to you, and you only. Every note, every melody, every word adds to this beautiful music library of life.

Let’s never let it burn out.

– Carole

 

Youth is Wasted on Youth

Hello y’all! Did you miss me?

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote a blog post. I’ve just been so busy! I recently went on vacation last week, and I have lots to share. In fact, there’s so many things I want to blog about, I have no idea where to start.

I suppose I’ll share some of the stories from my vacation. I’ll do a general “vacation scrapbook” type blog soon, but there’s a particular story from my vacation that provoked some thought out of me.

Today’s generation they say, is increasingly addicting to cell phones and “me” culture. As a teenager in this society, I can say that it’s true. I’m guilty of it. My friends are guilty of it. Literally everyone living in the 21st century has been guilty of this at some point in their lives, some more than others, other’s subconsciously. But that’s not the issue here.

I don’t write this to be hypocritical, but rather in sadness over where our society has been headed on this train ride that chugs along at full speed, even though we have no idea where our final destination is.

I’m saddened by the amount of time we spend glued to phones, laptops, iPads, you name it.

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of working at a tutoring camp. Every day, the kids have 3 break times, similar to school: snack, lunch, snack.

Usually during lunch time, and occasionally during snacks, we have a “free/play time” for the kids to take a break from story reading and worksheets. The tutoring centre has lots of toys, like jump ropes, hoola hoops, you name it. (Though personally, the centre lacks a skip-it, which was my childhood). However, at least 40% of the kids AREN’T PLAYING WITH THE FREE TOYS.

Instead, they bring their iPads and play Minecraft with each other, even though they’re sitting right beside each other.

This left me flummoxed to say the least. These kids are young! Maybe 4-9 years old. They’re big balls of energy that could run and play and laugh and sweat and enjoy everything life has to offer without worry… Yet they sit inside playing on an iPad.

Now, I’m quite young too, and I can admit that in my middle school years and even now, I’m totally guilty of doing nothing but reading internet fiction all day lying in bed, but it disheartens me that this kind of behaviour is so incredibly normal now.

Flash forward to my vacation. I went to St. Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands. It took over 4 hours in a plane, but here I was. I went with my family for a late night swim. The sky was a dark navy, speckled with a battalion of stars.

St. Thomas is super hilly, and the little houses dotted the mountain top in a beautiful constellation of light. It’s a breathtaking view. I advise you all to see it in your life.

However, I know there are a few people who missed the view.

While I was swimming, I couldn’t help but notice two teenage girls sitting at the poolside. They were in their early-mid teens, I’d say maybe 14, 15, or 16? I was shocked to see that instead of soaking in the beautiful world around them, they had their heads down, staring at their phones.

I was totally tempted to swim up to them and tell them to look up! Because the world is so beautiful, and it’s not every day you’re somewhere so mesmerizing! Here I was, looking at the beauty of the world we live in, swimming in a warm, Caribbean sun heated pool, yet twitter and instagram were more important.

Later, I thought they were going to come in, after they finally shed their outer clothing to reveal pretty looking swimsuits. But instead, one of the girls got the other to take lots of pictures of her in her swimsuit, then sat down and began to edit a bunch of the pictures for instagram.

Suddenly, it felt like social media was so plastic and small. What good is an instagram moment beside a poolside if you never went in the pool? If you never even looked up to take in at the world around you? Social media was created to share the beauty of life and experiences. Yet here we are posting and posting with our insatiable hunger for likes and attention. We’re no longer experiencing what our pictures lead others to believe we are.

It’s none of my business as to what those two girls want to do with their time. It’s not up to me to tell them what should be a priority. I’m not them. I don’t know them. But it was a sad reminder that we live in such a ‘picture-perfect’ society. We get the pictures, and the likes, the attention, the followers… But what do we lose?

We lose life. We lose precious time we’ll never get back.

Youth today waste away posting on instagram, tweeting about breakfast, tumblr blogging pictures of cake, when we are in the prime time of our life to go out and do things that will seem impossible when we’re older.

They say that youth is wasted on youth, and it’s sad to see that the sentiment is true.

I want to start experiencing. I want to live without looking through a snapchat lens. 10 fleeting seconds mean nothing compared to a lifetime of memories stored in my brain. I want to look back on life and remember experiences, not the number of people who double tapped on my pictures.

But it’s not that easy. I know it isn’t. And despite saying all these things, I still check my likes, I still check my followers, I still snapchat. It’s a matter of moderation; and I want to learn how to balance.

How about you? What do you think about this whole “social media” culture? I’d love to get to know!

– Carole