Redefining Beauty: Inclusive Brands

Today I went shopping by myself.

And by shopping I mean walking around the mall with a Starbucks iced drink and looking at clothes but never buying any. This has become one of my favourite hobbies, as there’s something peaceful about shopping on your own without anyone to bother you that you’re taking too long or you’re going to stores that they don’t want to go to.

It was also today that I realized how much inclusivity matters. At least, to me.

It’s no secret to people who know me that one of my favourite stores to shop at is Aerie by American Eagle. I love them because 1) they sell the most comfy bras and underwear but 2) they don’t photoshop their diverse set of models.

The latter of those two things is most important to me because as a child, I often felt awfully uncomfortable and embarrassed when I went clothes shopping. When I was a kid, I was rather plump and chubby. I was wearing “size 16 kids” (whatever size “16” even means) by the time I was around 11 or 12 years old, and was constantly embarrassed every time I went clothes shopping and things didn’t fit me right or were too small. Everyone my age was wearing Aeropostale, Hollister, or Abercrombie graphic tees and skinny jeans. It was horribly mortifying that I didn’t fit into those clothes (their sizing tended to run small, so I was squeezing into large and extra-large t-shirts, sucking in my stomach and trying to smooth out my muffin top by pulling up the waist of my jeans). Why couldn’t I look like everyone else? I wondered to myself, looking at the popular girls with their little tiny waists and straight blonde hair. They looked just like the models in all the ads. Maybe these were clothes meant for them, but not for me.

So I stuck to what I was comfortable in or what was more “me”. Random off-brand clothes, sometimes from Wal-Mart, sometimes the thrift store, sometimes hand-me-downs from my cousin. I still wished I could be wearing all the so called “fashionable” and “in-style” clothing as everyone else. I often complained to my mom that the fashion in style wasn’t meant for my body. Low rise jeans and tight little t-shirts did no service to my chubby, curvy body. My mom agreed, saying that stores should have different kinds of clothes that suit different body types and allow for everyone to feel comfy and happy.

Flash forward to my first year of undergrad. I had moved away from my small town (it’s by no means small in population, but basically a bedroom community with nothing fun to do there), to a bigger city about an hour and a half away. For the first time, I lived nearby to a mall that had more than a handful of stores (that mostly catered to middle aged white women). That was when I found Aerie.

I’d been to an Aerie before back when I was on a high school trip to Chicago, but in the flurry of the trip I’d forgotten about it. When I walked into the store, it seemed like everything was inline with my aesthetic and sense of style: pastel colours, soft and comfy fabrics, and stylish but functional. But what really blew me away was the pictures of models all over the stores.

All over the store, the models were plastered with the tag #AerieReal, meaning none of the girls were photoshopped to look thinner, fair-skinned, or perfect. And I could tell. Some girls had thick thighs, some girls had smile lines, some girls had cellulite, some had fat rolls, but they still looked absolutely beautiful and radiant.

For the first time I was looking at shining women who I felt I could relate to. If these women were imperfect, but I still thought they were beautiful, perhaps I could also be beautiful just the way I was.

I was hooked after that. It was so comforting to browse their website and have an idea of what clothes would look like on someone who looked similar to me. I used to face the problem of seeing clothes look gorgeous on tall skinny models, but when I put it on my short, curvy body, it did me no service. But I felt overjoyed to spend money on clothes that were made with my body in mind. In fact, the whole brand was designed to have something that suited everyone, and created an environment that allowed you to feel beautiful no matter what you were wearing or how you looked in it.

It was so liberating, most of the clothes I own (or rather the clothes I love the most) are from Aerie.

Today I went into the mall and peeped into other stores that sold similar things to Aerie, like Victoria’s Secret, Pink, and La Senza. I could immediately tell the difference. All the clothes and pictures in those stores clearly catered to the skinny white girl my young self had desired to be like. It didn’t feel like I was really meant to shop at these stores.

Inclusivity is by far one of the most important things to me, especially as an Asian-Canadian who often struggles with my sense of cultural identity, and even more so how I looked compared to other people. There’s something very powerful about feeling included, whether because of your race, body type, gender, etc. and it’s important that brands follow suit to try and meet those needs. Is the #AerieReal campaign perfect? Far from it. But they’re definitely taking a step in the right direction, a direction that I am more than happy to support by buying their merchandise.

It’s taught me that I deserve to feel happy, comfortable, and beautiful in the things that I wear. Even if I don’t look like the “ideal woman”.

 

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5 Things I Learned from Taking a Mental Health Leave

When I first heard about people taking time off from school/work for mental health reasons, I never quite understood what “mental health leave” would entail. When we are physically ill (with a cold, the flu, etc.) we get a doctor’s note and stay home for a prescribed amount of time (a week or so), we sleep, we lie in bed, drink soup, take medicine, but what did it mean to take mental health leave? And what would that do?

For the first time ever, I recently took a week off of school for mental health reasons. I’m sitting now, back at school, in my faculty building facing the huge glass windows. But two weeks ago at this time, I was at home, probably still sleeping.

From my time off I learned a lot about myself, the people around me, our society, and more. Here are some of the things I learned.

1. It is 100% valid to take a mental health leave.

I didn’t want to take a mental health leave. “I can’t,” I told my friend, curled up in a ball on the floor of their room, my head buried between my knees. “I have so much stuff to do!”

“Carole.”

Her voice was stern, but with the kind of conviction where you know they’re only doing what’s best for you in that moment. “You need time to recover, you won’t get better like this.”

And she was right. I wasn’t. I needed time to just stop. I had been living the past 2 weeks in a flurry of hell, grabbing onto whatever shred of hope and motivation I had with my fingernails, hoping to claw to the finish line. The “final sprint” so to say, but I’d been sprinting for almost 3 weeks at that point.

“Don’t worry about the things you need to do. The assignments, the grades, the performances, what matters most here is you. You need to be well. None of that matters if you’re not okay.”

As someone that puts others before myself, that was something I desperately needed to hear. I’m a people pleaser, I know that. I try the best I can because I want people’s acceptance. But in doing so, I forget to take care of myself. It’s funny, because you don’t realize it’s happening, until someone else points it out to you.

From those words, I decided she was right. And from there, I took a week off of school. Not because I “wanted it” or “didn’t want to work” or “was giving up”, but because to take care of myself, I needed a break. And that’s 100% valid. If our body is sick, we rest, if our mind is sick, should we not do the same?

2. There is actual merit in taking sick leave for your mental health.

At first I didn’t know what benefit going home and taking a week of off school would do for me. Would I not just fall more behind? These were the thoughts racing through my mind on the way home. Was I running from my problems? Was this all some crazy mind-game I was playing with myself as an excuse to be lazy?

But that wasn’t true. When I got home, I instantly felt a bit better. It was familiar surrounding, my childhood home I’d spent so many years of my life in. It was slowing down and taking a breath. It was surrounding myself with people that I cared about deeply. That tight knot in my chest slowly began to come undone and I knew that I had made the right decision.

Getting the chance to just rest was by far the most rewarding experience. Getting to put myself first, and care for my wellbeing as a number one priority was liberating. I was gathering the strength that would allow me to keep going; to do better and get better.

3. There will be people who understand.

When I first admitted I needed to go home, I was embarrassed. The idea of calling home and crying for my parents to come pick me up was mortifying. I thought they would be confused, or they’d make me explain when I really didn’t want to talk. But when I called them, they listened to me cry on the phone and dropped everything to come get me.

When I went to the doctor to get a doctor’s note, I was terrified she wouldn’t understand why I felt I needed to spend a week out of school, when there was nothing “physically wrong with me”. But she’s been my doctor since I was a young child, and when I told her I needed her help with a doctor’s note, she looked at me and asked, “How did this benefit you?”

I told her that I felt I needed time away from school and work to truly take care of myself. If I was back at home with my parents, I would have the time to rest and move forward with my life. She smiled warmly at me, before turning to the computer to write the note, “That sounds like the best idea for you, yeah?”

Of course it was embarrassing to explain where I was to people back at school. I said it was a “personal emergency”, and the outpouring of support was really heartening. I thought that people would be angry. I had to give up some of the commitments I made because I needed to put myself first, for the first time in a very long time. And I’ve been so blessed to be with people who told me, “That’s okay, thank you so much for your work. I hope you get better soon.”

4. There will also be people who won’t.

And of course, there will be the people who don’t understand. But that’s okay. I spoke to my therapist soon after my leave from school and she told me that she was proud of me for putting myself before other people.

I shared my struggle with how other people perceive me, and what they might think of me, and she gave me some very relevant advice.

It does not matter how other people see you, that’s their problem, and you can’t change how they are and what they think. The only constant you have is yourself, and what matters is how you view yourself, and how much you value yourself.

I’ve learned that being a people pleaser can deteriorate your self-worth, and you’re the only person who will always be with you, so learning to accept yourself and ignore what other people might think about you can be the most liberating thing.

5. You are allowed to rest.

This one is important. When I was at home, I spent the days lying in bed, spending time with my friends and family, and using my free time to do things that I enjoyed. At first, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that I wasn’t doing anything school related at all. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the whole point of a health leave is to rest.

You wouldn’t think twice about not doing any work when you’re home sick with the stomach flu. There shouldn’t be a difference if you’re at home sick with mental health issues.

You deserve to take care of yourself and if that means that you can do work, then do it. If that means you need to take time for yourself and just rest, do that. There is no linear way to recover, and you need to learn what’s the best for you.

It’s taken me a long time to learn how to balance self-care and productivity, and I’m still learning, but the most important thing I’ve taken away from taking a mental health leave is that you deserve to take care of yourself however you might need to. You are valuable and important, and deserve that much from yourself.

– Carole

 

To You, Whom I Loved

You know, a couple weeks ago, I hurt the back of my hand. My raw skin hurt and it scabbed over and I watched it heal. It went from red and wet with blood, to dry and brown, shrivelling and pulling at my skin to stitch it together again. And I waited weeks. I was careful not to touch it while it healed, careful not to pick at it or agitate it, and after a couple weeks it’s healed. There’s fresh pink skin, and a scar I’m not sure will fade. But that’s something I can look at and know has healed. But the mark will always be there.

No one else can see it, but it’s the same thing with my heart. But unlike any physical injury, no one could see it. I could only feel it. When you left, I felt like someone ripped a huge hole in my chest. That first night I lay in bed, and felt like my head was floating in honey. Think of those jars full of liquid and whole brains in the creepy scientist laboratories. That’s how it felt. I couldn’t access anything inside that jar. Just the bittersweet taste in my mouth, and salty tears that just kept flowing and flowing from my eyes. And it felt like I would never stop feeling like this. Everything moved slowly, suspended in syrup and it was so so hard to breathe. Lying in bed didn’t help. Lying on the couch didn’t help. Pacing the house didn’t help. Every fibre of my being was just stuck on you, crying for you to come back to me. And that was the moment I realized I had lost myself in you.

The next day didn’t feel better. I woke up in bed, with your picture above my head, floating on a curtain of happy memories and your smiling face watching over me. I couldn’t take it down.

Everything felt too normal. The sunlight through the bathroom window felt like any other day, the sound of the water running, and the soft creaking of the floorboards beneath my feet. My body went through the motions, and before I knew it I was on the bus. How did I get here? I wondered to myself, staring at the scenery passing by. The bus called stop after stop, and I realized I would have to get off. When I got to school, my legs felt like jelly. I checked my phone 3 times. You hadn’t said anything. Maybe I was hoping you would take everything back, but I knew deep in the stirring pit of my stomach you wouldn’t.

My prof asked me if I was okay, because clearly I didn’t look like I was. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror that day, but I hardly needed to look to know how I must’ve presented. My eyes were red, all the light had drained out with the tears. I felt like a shell of the person I used to be. And I wondered how I allowed you to take that from me. I told her I wasn’t and sat quietly in my seat. I pretended I was normal for about an hour. Like nothing was wrong and I was the same old happy girl. And maybe it was because I wanted to be her again. But it just felt so wrong. At the end of class I walked out the door and straight past my next class.

One of my friends asked me if I was okay, and for once in my life, I couldn’t pretend like it was. The hole in my chest felt like it was bleeding, and everything was blurry and fuzzy and a big awful nightmare. I found her in a practise room and just started to cry. I was tired of crying, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. I just cried and cried and cried and asked her why you left me. But she couldn’t give me any answers, and neither could I.

“Why did you come to school today?” My friend asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said softly, nursing a crumpled up tissue in my hands. I just wanted to feel normal, but I couldn’t be normal anymore. You had become my normal, and suddenly you were gone. I wondered, were you crying like I was?

The rest of the day was a blur and I went straight home to be alone. But I didn’t want to be alone. All I wanted was to talk to you, because you always knew how to sew the holes that ripped my heart apart. But without you, it just kept bleeding and bleeding until I thought I would die. And I knew I was overreacting. And I knew I was being dramatic. But I just couldn’t make it stop. You were poison that was burning me from the inside out and all I could do was wait for it to pass.

The funny thing about a broken heart is there’s no antidote but time, but time has a way of moving in slow ticks of the clock when I need it the most.

The next day was better. It still hurt, but it was better. I got out of bed and my chest ached a little bit less. The metaphorical scab on my heart had begun to form.

Days turned to weeks.

Some days I thought I was fine.

Then I took your photo down off the wall and cried. My friend ripped it in half and threw your face away, giving me my half back and telling me I could be that happy again without you. But your smile haunted me from the kitchen garbage can.

I packed all of your things in an old chicken korma box. Your sweaters, your gifts, your memories, your love. All shoved in the back of my roommate’s closet, lest I take them out and cry on the floor with them.

Some days I’d wake up and feel good. I’d leap out of bed, brush my teeth, and smile at myself in the mirror. There you are, I would think to myself, this is what it’s like to be happy again. I’d sit at the kitchen table, nursing a bowl of chocolate cheerios and watching the sun filter through the thin white curtains. Today’s gonna be a good day, I would tell myself. And I’d put on my shoes, trying not to think about how you convinced me that I should buy them because I deserved them, and walk out the door. The screen door would always close with a thwack, and it kickstarted me into a new day. Day number _____, without you. I’d smile at the construction worker paving the road and raking leaves.

“Good morning!” He’d smile at me.

“Good morning!” I would chirp back happily. And I’d walk up the slanting incline to the bus stop, breathing deeply with my lungs bursting with early morning air. And I’d stand at the bus stop. And I’d think, this is good. I am good.

But then something would remind me of you.

Someone would be wearing your favourite pair of shoes. Someone would have the same backpack as you. And I’d remember memories that made it feel like someone was poking at my heart with a pin, and boy was my heart a fragile balloon.

I could remember chatting with my mom, and smiling until my cheeks were aching as we walked around the outlet mall looking for the shoes I knew you wanted so much. I remember sitting on the hotel balcony in Florida, curling my toes and looking at the palm trees while you told me about your day over the phone. I could remember seeing your face on my laptop screen as you smiled and told me about your day at the mall and all the cool things you bought. I could remember walking down Main Street, carrying a big bag of clothes I was donating to Salvation Army, and how we sat in the park and just talked about what the future must be like.

All of these things would hit me like a tsunami wave. All the good “I’m fine” moments were just the receding of the sea before the storm.

And when I got like that, you were the only one I wanted. I’d remember that day I just started to cry and it felt like I’d forgotten to breathe. You pulled me into your arms and just said, “Shhhh, I’m here.” And I wished you were here. Because I was crying alone, and it felt like no one would understand except you, and I wondered when I let myself get so lost that I had no one to go to except you.

But slowly I started to find myself again. And I found the people that understand. I just never let them in so they could.

I remember one day I woke up and decided I couldn’t handle the day. My roommates left for school, and I just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It was one of those sad days that was just an empty day. No crying, no laughing, nothing. Just silence and the starch white ceiling glossed in the honey golden lamp light.

It was 4pm and I was still there, when my phone lit up and it was one of my friends asking how I was doing. And I wasn’t doing well, I said. And 2 hours later he showed up at my door, which I answered in my wrinkled pajamas and messy bed hair, with a small container of Manchu Wok and said, “Your sister said you would like this.”

That gave me the strength to smile. And to brush my teeth. And wash my hair. And that was when I really started to think, you know, I could do this. I had friends that could help me do it. I didn’t need you anymore.

From that moment I started to try and move forward. Maybe before it felt like I was just trying to survive. But now, I was trying to rediscover who I was and what I stood for. It felt so exciting and liberating, despite being one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

You know what?

Slowly but surely I am surviving without you. Even when it felt like I would never be able to. And not only that, but I’m flourishing. I have people I love so dearly, my family, my friends, and me. I’ve learned what it means to love myself for who I am, not for who loves me. I’ve found what I care about most in life and what I am most passionate about. I’ve overcome my jealousy of others, and found opportunities so that I could be proud of me. You know, I wonder if I would have learned those things if you hadn’t left me. Maybe I would have, maybe I wouldn’t have.

What I do know is that I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you, and I don’t love you anymore. Not the way that I did. Sometimes your face comes into my mind. The light that I saw in your eyes, and the way your lips pulled back when you smiled. But I remember that we’re both in such different places in life now, and that I can stand on my own with the life I was given, even if you’re not in it. We’re both different than who we were just 4 months ago. And I wish you all the best in life. And I hope one day we can be friends again.

Maybe I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe you aren’t either. But what I do know is that I’m going to be okay. So to you, whom I loved, good bye.

Love,

Carole Lynn

 

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

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