Ask me

When I was 10, I made my mom buy me a shirt that said “ask me about my Crohn’s Disease” because my Camp Oasis counselor had one and I thought it was just the *coolest.* I really only wore it around the house and it sort of became a joke to the rest of my family. Every time I would come downstairs my dad would “ask me” about my Crohn’s to the point where I taped a piece of paper saying “actually don’t ask” to the front of it to make him be quiet. At the time, it was just a funny t-shirt that I wore to make my family laugh. But thinking back, 10 year old me was on to something important.

So often, we assume things about other people based on what we can see or gossip we’ve heard. We see someone who looks “healthy” and “normal” and assume that nothing could possibly be causing them pain. Or, we hear that someone has a certain condition and assume they are affected by it the same way our aunt, or lab partner, or favorite tv-character is.

But as someone living with an invisible illness, I can tell you that these assumptions often hurt more than my disease itself. They make me feel like people are looking at me through a glass case, as if there is something in the way preventing them from reaching out to me. They assume that if their friend or relative is doing well on a certain medication, I should totally try it to because it will fix all my problems- as if I’m not already trying my best to manage my disease. When I voice my offense, I’m met with the response “Their intentions were good! They just didn’t want to make you uncomfortable!” But in these scenarios, is it really my comfort they’re trying to protect, or is it their own?

Asking people to tell us about their battles is not easy. It feels “wrong,” like the very question is off-limits. But avoiding these types of questions because they feel funny isn’t okay, either, because it leads us to judge people rather than try and support them. And when we assume things about other people, we make them feel small; like their story is invalid if it doesn’t fit with how we picture it in our own heads.

I’m guilty of this. This “thinking we know people based on how they appear and what gossip I’ve heard about them” nonsense. I’m pretty sure we all are. People are so scared of being “uncomfortable” that we sacrifice others’ well-being for our own peace of mind. For so long, we’ve been taught to piece a person’s story together by making assumptions and snap judgments instead of just asking them to tell it themselves. But those assumptions and those judgments? They hurt.

Asking doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with asking someone how they’re feeling, or how their condition affects them, or how you can help them get through a rough day. Sure, there are polite and impolite ways to do so. Asking someone “what’s wrong with you?!” or is a lot different than asking “how is your ______ impacting you today and how can I help?” or “how is your treatment going?”

When we ask people questions instead of assuming the answers, we let them tell their story the way they want it to be heard. We show them that we value and genuinely want to learn how to support them. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can just ask whatever questions we want and expect an answer every time. If a person isn’t willing or able to respond to you, that’s okay. You did your part- you asked. You showed that you care and want to learn. That’s already 5000 times better than just assuming. Or, if they correct you and explain a more polite way to ask your question, be receptive. Don’t defend your mistake, but rather be willing to learn and improve the way you approach that situation next time. Asking the wrong way and learning from that mistake is better than not asking at all and just taking a guess.

I may not wear an “ask me about my Crohn’s disease shirt” anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to start conversations. If you don’t know what food I can eat, or what I mean when I say I don’t feel well, or how I expect you to react to that statement, ask me! Don’t ask your great uncle who also has Crohn’s and expect me to feel the same way as he does. Don’t google it and get confused when I don’t have the same experience as the robot on WebMD. Just ask me. It’s not rude; if anything, it’s the opposite. Asking people questions is compassionate. It’s thoughtful. It allows us to hear their perspective and put ourselves in their shoes. It may feel weird, but asking is the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. So if you have a question, go ahead and ask. And when you get an answer, listen.

4 Words

I’m thinking about you.

Yes, you. The person reading this right now. I’m thinking about you.

I’m thinking about you, and I hope you’re doing well. But I know that might not be the case, especially now. You may be thinking “you don’t even know me” or “you have no idea how I feel,” and you would be right. Maybe I don’t know you. I can’t possibly know how you feel. But I’m still thinking about you.

I’m thinking about you, and I care about you. I’m serious. Pinky promise.

So why am I telling you this? To make you smile? I hope so. But it’s more than that. So often, I find myself writing about how to recognize when someone needs your support. How to put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how they might be struggling. Empathy is one of those words I write about so much that sometimes I start to think it’s not even English anymore. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I’ve given you the “why.” I’ve told you my story. I’ve spent hours upon hours explaining why we, as people and as a society, need to do a better job of having empathy and support for each other. But the “why” is just context. On it’s own, the “why” is powerless. Who cares why we need empathy if we don’t know how to show it? That’s where the other half comes in. The “how.”

How can we effectively support one another? How can we show empathy in a real, tangible way that actually helps someone? We know we need to have conversations. But how do we start them? Who do we talk to? And what do we say first?

That’s where the 4 words come in.

“I’m thinking about you.”

I’m. Thinking. About. You. 4 words, 18 letters (if I counted right), and yet they have the power to do so much good.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I send or receive a text with those words, I smile. It makes me feel good. Sure, maybe it seems a little awkward to message someone you haven’t spoken to in weeks. And I know it’s uncomfortable sending that first text to someone after they’ve experienced a tragedy. But the anxiety and fear we associate with reaching out is so small compared to the difference those few words make to the person hearing them.

It could be that your message is the first text they’ve received all day and they finally have the chance to open up to someone. Or maybe they don’t have the energy to text you back, but seeing those words flash on their screen makes them smile and power through the next few hours. Those 4 words can be the difference between someone feeling like no one cares and like someone does. So be the person who cares. Be the person who doesn’t just know why empathy is important, but who actually uses it to make today better for someone.

Having empathy means stepping out of your world and into someone else’s. And it doesn’t have to be for a long time- they just have to know you’re there.

So I have a task for you. I need you to pick one person. Any person. Try to pick someone you haven’t talked to in a few days, or weeks, or months. And send them 4 words: I’m thinking about you. It can be a text, a card, a telegram, I don’t care. Just make sure they hear them.

We’re living in a really hard time right now. A time that has forced a lot of us to stay shut away in our own worlds, unsure of how to step into others’. But just because we can’t touch other people doesn’t mean we can’t think about them. So tell someone you’re thinking about them. Tell them that you want to know how they’re doing not just to be polite, but because you actually care. Send that text (or that card or that telegram) and step inside their world for a moment. I promise you’ll both feel better for it.

New Years Intentions

I’m just gonna say it: I hate new years resolutions. I think they’re the worst. And no, I’m not just bitter about my failed attempt to totally transform my life in 2014 (hey, I was only 11, give me a break!). But I don’t hate them for what they are- goals are good things. I hate them for the way they make us think.

New years resolutions perpetuate an all-or-nothing mentality that is as ridiculous as it is detrimental to our mental well-being. The idea that we have to do something perfectly or not at all causes us to believe that one mistake signifies instant failure. That if we can’t do it right all the time, there’s no point in trying in the first place.

Now, this mentality might work if you’re a superhuman robot who never has bad days and can afford the “perfect” lifestyle we see advertised so often in the media. But what happens when you wake up in excruciating arthritis pain at 4 am and can’t make it to the gym? Or you only have the energy to make a frozen pizza for dinner instead of spending hours in the kitchen. Or, oh, I don’t know, a global pandemic makes it so that you essentially can’t go places and see people for 10+ months. Does one skipped workout, or frozen meal, or bad day make you a failure? Of course not. But our little friends called new years resolutions seem to think they do. Which is why they suck.

We aren’t built to be all-or-nothing beings. We have good hours and bad hours within each day. We face challenges that tear us down but also bring a new perspective. We feel pain, and sadness, and fear, but at the same time, we can still sense the goodness that still exists in our world. Life isn’t black and white. It’s not all great or all awful. Rather, it’s a mix of both.

I hate feeling sick. I hate waking up feeling like I was run over by a truck and dumped into the ocean where I spent 2 hours treading water. I hate the physical, mental, and emotional toll that living with IBD takes on me. But I don’t hate my disease or the life that it has caused me to live. I don’t hate the sense of empathy I’ve gained, the people that I’ve been able to meet, and the impact that I’ve been able to have because of it. I cherish those things, and I can cherish them while still hating the way that I feel.

So how to we handle a time when everyone seems to be making huge “all-or-nothing” goals that we know will only hurt us in the end? How can we motivate ourselves to try new things and be open to change without feeling like a failure every time we slip up? As I mentioned before, it’s not the idea of making goals that harms us in the long run, but the way we think about them. So I present to you, my totally awesome way to set goals without feeling like a complete and utter failure when you make a mistake or two (or three or four or seven) along the way! Now say that 10 times fast.

Here’s how it works: stop making new years resolutions, and instead, start making intentions. See how much nicer that word even sounds? Intentions, by definition, are things you aim to do. Think about shooting a basketball. Sure, you have the size of the rim, the heigh of the hoop, how far back you’re standing, and if it’s really windy outside determining if your shot will go in. But those things are all out of your control. The one thing that is up to you is your aim. So in this new year, don’t worry about setting goals for things you can’t control. As we saw in 2020, stuff happens, and sometimes, there’s not much we can about it. So forget about resolutions, and focus on intentions. Focus on aiming for the things you can control.

In addition to that, make those intentions broad. Setting a goal to do a six step skincare routine three times a day is intimidating and likely not going to happen. So instead, make one of your intentions to prioritize self care. Decide to do one, or two, or three things just for yourself every day. Maybe most days that looks like doing your multistep skin care routine, and that’s great! But on the days where getting out of bed is hard, just brushing your teeth can count, too. And bam! You aren’t a failure, because you’ve followed your intentions to take care of yourself.

Now, let’s talk about what types of intentions to actually make. So often, we tend to focus on physical goals and completely forget to make mental ones. But the big actions, like working out and eating differently, are no more important that the ones you can’t see. Make an intention to shift your current attitude closer to your ideal mindset, whether that be becoming more inclusive, thoughtful, or self-aware. So make goals for the way you want to treat yourself, but also the way you view and talk to yourself and others.

And lastly, realize that you shouldn’t be perfect. Even by using intentions instead of resolutions, we’re bound to forget where we’re aiming sometimes, and that’s ok. Maybe a few weeks in you realize setting an intention to be more mindful is actually making you more anxious, so you decide to focus on something else. January you is not the same as February you or July you, and that’s to be expected. So remind yourself that the goals you set now are for the person you are now, and those goals may change as you do.

New years resolutions suck, and so often they make us feel like we do, too. So let’s stop giving them that power. Instead, take the hope, the ambition, and the motivation that once fueled your resolutions and turn it into something useful: an intention. Think of the person you want to be- the actions you want to take, the thoughts you want to have, and the feelings you want to experience- and think of small steps you can take to make that person possible. Set intentions that not only propel you forward, but give you the flexibility to face the hard days.

Being a human is not easy, and its even harder right now. So this new year, let’s be kind to ourselves and the people around us. Let’s be patient, and flexible, and okay with making mistakes. Let’s set intentions that build us up rather than resolutions that tear us down. We can do this.

You don’t need to understand

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know how I feel about Pinterest quotes. (And if you don’t, no need to worry! You can find all my thoughts right here 🙂 ). So you can imagine my surprise when I found one tonight that I actually liked. I guess it’s less of a quote and more of a question, but regardless, it has none of the nauseating elements of a typical “inspirational” quote, so that’s a win for me.

It goes like this: “why do people need to understand everything”

Okay, okay. So it may have seemed cooler and more interesting in huge black uppercase letters with an artsy background. Reading it in times new roman or whatever this default font is does make it seem like an overdramatic English teacher wrote in in his sleep. But, that’s exactly why I love these words so much. They’re subtle, but they make you think. Why do people need to understand everything?

The easy answer is because it’s in our biology. Back in the caveman days, humans needed to understand things to survive. Get confused by which animals will eat you, and you die. But back then, things were black and white. Understanding them was easy. So our innate desire to “get” everything wasn’t an issue. But flash forward to now, when almost everything is some kind of muddled gray. In today’s world, nothing is simple. Our tiny cave clan has grown to a staggering 7 billion human beings, each with a unique life experience. 7 billion people, all with their own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and challenges. There’s no way we can all understand everything about ourselves, let alone that of everyone around us.

What I’m basically saying is we’re stuck. We’re stuck living with brains that need to understand everything about everyone in a society that makes it impossible to do so. And we’ve tried to adapt, by asking questions and making assumptions about people and groups. But it’s not good enough. We are never going to understand everything about each other. We are never going to know what someone else’s life is really like. And that is a really scary thought for a brain that thinks it needs to know everything.

So why do people need to understand everything? Well, if you ask me, they don’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we don’t need to know what someone else’s life is like to support them. We don’t need to physically be in someone else’s shoes to show them empathy. Spending hours trying to make sense someone else’s situation is time that could be spent sitting with them, telling them that we’re here to talk. Researching someone else’s disease to try and get how they feel is time that could be spent reaching out to them, asking what we can do to help. As people, we spend so much time trying to understand everyone else that we forget to actually care for them. Knowing the ins and outs of someone’s life means nothing if you don’t actually support them.

But guess what? We can still treat people with compassion when we don’t understand how they feel.

No one owes you an explanation of their struggles to earn your support and your empathy. And you don’t owe one to anyone, either. Accepting, and including, and supporting, and empathizing with people, and doing all of the things that I write about on here don’t require you to understand that person. I don’t expect everyone in my life to know everything about my disease and it’s impact on me. I can’t expect that. But I also shouldn’t have to. Treating people with understanding is not the same as understanding what they’re going through. You don’t have to “get” me to show me support, just like I don’t have to “get” you to show it back.

So on this fine Monday, I challenge you all to do something. Stop trying to understand. Stop trying to make sense of the people around you, and instead, start focusing on how you can show them compassion. Don’t think about why they need that support- think about how you can show it to them, even if it makes no sense to you.

There are 7 billion of us on this earth right now. 7 billion human beings. And, if you ask me, I think we could all do a lot more good if we focused on treating each other with compassion instead of just trying to understand.

Don’t get too comfortable

Right now, we’re all staying pretty comfy. I would be lying if I said I didn’t show up to school in pajamas every day. I mean, what else can you do when you’re stuck at home besides amass a 50-piece loungewear collection?

Being physically comfortable is great; it brings a sense of coziness and warmth that we’re definitely missing in the real world right now. And who wouldn’t want to live their life covered in layers of fluff?

But there’s another kind of comfortable that can be dangerous if left unchecked. The kind where we cozy up in our own little personal bubble because it’s safe. The kind where we forget that other people aren’t like us because it’s easy. And the kind where we become complacent with society’s harmful norms because it’s just less complicated that way.

It’s great to be comfortable, if you’re talking about pulling on some fuzzy socks and grabbing a cup of tea. But ignoring key issues because they “don’t apply” is not the same as hiding under your favorite blanket.

We all crave mental comfort. It’s what humans do. It makes us feel happy, and calm, and safe. But sometimes we get too comfortable. We ignore things because we have the privilege not to care. We stop checking in because it’s easier to assume that everyone is fine. We don’t have the hard conversations because it feels better to stay put in the comfy walls of our own heads.

Now, you may be thinking, what’s the point? Why make ourselves uncomfortable when it isn’t going to feel good? Why take away the ease and security of staying within in our own minds?

My answer is simple: to create change.

To spark positive change, you have to leave your cozy little bubble. You have to face people and things that are hard and intimidating. You have to put yourself to the side and have empathy for the people around you. And doing that’s uncomfortable. Recognizing other’s people’s pain will often hurt you, too. But that uncomfortable feeling is what allows us to connect with each other. It’s what motivates us to support each other through our struggles. It’s what teaches us to feel empathy, which in turn motivates us to act with compassion. It’s what inspires us to fight for issues we wouldn’t have otherwise cared about because we can see ourselves in the people who are affected by them. Being uncomfortable is how we create positive change. It’s necessary, whether we like it or not.

A few days ago, I created an Instagram page for this blog. For me, this was a very uncomfortable thing to do. I didn’t want people to see me, or judge me, or think of me differently after learning about my disease. And yet, I did it, not because I wanted to feel uncomfortable, but because I knew that being uncomfortable was the first step to creating change.

If I want to change the way chronic illness and disability are viewed by society, I’m going to have to put myself in an uncomfortable position. If I want to teach people what IBD is like, I’m going to have to be vulnerable. And if I want to combat the ableism that is so harmful in our society today, I’m going to have to ask some tough questions.

To spark change in areas that we care about, we have to tear down our walls. We have to let people in. We have to start the conversations we don’t want to have, and ask for the help we don’t want to need. To spread awareness, we have to be vulnerable. We have to open up and be willing to do things that feel a little awkward. We have to be uncomfortable. And that’s okay.

So when you can, start the conversation. Ask the question. Make the statement. And most importantly, don’t get too comfortable.

A day in the (Crohn’s) life

I talk a lot about living the Crohn’s life. I mean, it is the title of this entire blog. But it’s come to my attention that I’ve never shown you what it’s really like. So I present to you: a day in my (Crohn’s) life.

Now, this isn’t to say that my experience is the universal experience because it isn’t. And this isn’t to say that my life revolves around my disease because it doesn’t. This is just a snapshot of what it’s like to be me: a bored 18 year old whose been stuck in her house for 8 months and often eats fruit snacks for breakfast. Oh, and she has Crohn’s.

So, here it goes:

7:45 am: 1st alarm goes off. It’s a really stupid jingle and I hate it. I’m not even half awake but I already feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. Is it the autoimmune disease? Maybe, but honestly I think we all feel this way these days. Whatever, back to bed.

8:11 am: You have class in 4 minutes. Just reminding you. Let’s watch someone decorate a cake on instagram before we get up though.

8:15 am: Wow those three steps to my desk were tiring. Time to teach myself chemistry!

11:15 am: Lunchtime! Don’t eat the leftover tacos. You stomach will die. This is not a drill. *eats leftover tacos*

12:15 pm: Woohoo, back to work. Your stomach hasn’t started hurting and you’re pleasantly surprised. And a tiny bit scared.

1:30 pm: 20 minute walk. My gym teacher considers it cardio.

3:15 pm: School’s over. Maybe I’ll start my homework.

4:53 pm: Wake up confused with music playing and the lights on. Have no clue how you ended up in your bed asleep in the first place. I guess being *this* cool is exhausting.

5:00 pm: Physical therapy time. Yep, at the ripe old age of 18, my spine is degenerating!

7:00 pm: Eat dinner. Do more homework. Riveting.

10:00 pm: Take a shower. Put on new sweatpants.

10:45 pm: Watch an episode of Criminal Minds. The perfect way to lull yourself to sleep.

11:00 pm: Hey, don’t get too comfy! You forgot to take your medicine. Nice try, pal. You peel yourself out from under the covers and go take them. Why are vitamins so huge? At least it’s not Humira night (mainly because that would require me to walk downstairs to go get it).

Now, you’re probably wondering, why the heck did I call this a “day in the Crohn’s life” when there’s hardly anything chron’s-y about it? I snooze my alarm. I go to school. I eat lunch. I do homework. I text my friends and watch tv. I do all the things everyone else does. I’m normal. Well, you do have a point. From the outside, my life is pretty normal. Maybe even boring. Sure, I might take a few extra pills, give myself shots every once in a while, and skip out on the popcorn, but other than that, I’m just your regular old teenager.

And that’s true. I am a regular old teenager. I have friends, and homework, and activities. I have fun and spend way more time watching food videos than I should. From anyone else’s perspective, my day is 100% typical.

But here’s the thing: it’s not what you do see that set’s my day apart from the average person’s- it’s what you don’t. You don’t see me waking up at 4, and then 4:30, and then 5, and then 5:30, all the way to my first alarm because of the pain in my joints. You don’t see me sleeping all afternoon just so that I’ll have enough energy to go to soccer practice. You don’t see me arguing with myself over whether I should take the pain reliever now, or in 2 hours, because what if it gets worse? You don’t see me wondering if that red mark is a scratch or a sign of inflammation. You don’t see me taking my temperature hoping I don’t have another fever. You don’t see me staring at the mirror for 10 minutes before taking my medicine being angry at the fact that I have to take it at all. You don’t see me reaching for my phone to text someone about how I feel, only to put it down when I realize that they won’t understand. You don’t see all the thoughts I have taking up room in my head just so I can get through a day of fatigue and chronic pain. You don’t see me laying in bed, exhausted, knowing I’ll probably think them all over again tomorrow. You don’t see me wondering if it’s all in my head.

That’s not to say that my life is crap, that I mope around as a prisoner to my disease, and that I live my life in constant pain and misery. I do fun things. I do “normal” things. I feel ok a lot of the time. But I also do hard things. I push through things. Some days, I give in to things. And most of that hard work is behind the scenes. Crohn’s is an invisible illness. It’s pretty much impossible see how it affects me. And in a world where we think we know one another based on how we see one another, that can be really tough.

Clearly, reading about a day in my life won’t let you know how it feels to be me, just as reading through a day in yours wouldn’t teach how it feels to be you. Because we all have our game faces that we show to the world, but we also have our hurdles. Our silent battles. And I’m not asking you to expose yours to the world the way I’ve done with mine; I’m just asking you to be aware. Know that ever single person you see has something going on that you can’t. And whether they want to share that thing with you is up to them. The important part is that you’re willing to support their fight even when it’s invisible to you.

You aren’t what you can do

Productivity: the dreaded P-word. Though it’s defined simply as “a measure of efficiency of a person completing a task,” our society has twisted the concept of “getting stuff done” into something much different, and not in a good way. In our world, we don’t see productivity as how well a person does something, but rather, how much that person is worth, and this viewpoint is as equally damaging as it is defective.

If you’re anything like me, thoughts about productivity are constantly swirling around in your head. “Am I being productive right now? Did I have a productive day? Why is everyone else so much more productive than I am?” And yet, this mindset that is forced on us by every part of society, whether it be at school, work, friends, or social media, is wildly unhealthy. We equate good days with checking off boxes and bad ones with getting nothing done, regardless of how we truly felt in those moments. We begin to judge ourself and others not by the qualities that make us who we are, but by how many “things” we’ve can do and how quickly we can do them.

But here’s the thing: productivity, at least in the way society views it, is not sustainable. Sure, checking of boxes may work for a while. It may even motivate you and make you feel good. But what happens when you have a bad hour, or a bad day? Are you suddenly a worse person because you couldn’t get it all done? No, of course not! But that’s what we’re led to believe. And when you live with something that throws a lot of bad hours and days your way, that belief is incredibly harmful.

I wish I could send a letter to every person on this planet that said in big bold letters, “Productivity is not a measure of your value as an individual!!!” and that it would be the end of the constant comparison and judgment of how we live our lives, but I can’t. As much as I want to, I can’t change the system we live in. What I can change, though, is the attitude we have towards ourselves and towards one another. So I’m going to try.

As someone who has lived the majority of their life with something that often makes it hard to be productive in the typical sense, most namely chronic illness and chronic pain, I’ve learned how to function in a world that wasn’t built for me (not that 8 am classes were designed with any sane person in mind). I’ve learned how to get things done without using that as a basis for my own self-worth, and I’ve learned that productivity is not all about cranking out essays, running miles, and cleaning drawers. Sure, we all have to get work done. But we also have to take care of ourselves, physically and emotionally.

So, if you’ve gotten this far into my rant and somehow want to keep reading, here are my top two tips for reframing the way you view productivity:

Tip number 1: Redefine it. Yes, productivity is about completing tasks and completing them efficiently. But tasks are not just essays and chores. One of the most important tasks that exists is taking care of your own health. Maybe for you, being productive is taking time to rest on the couch or eat a snack. Maybe it’s going for a run, or maybe it’s taking a nap. Maybe it’s saving your work for tomorrow so that you can go to bed early and get more sleep, or maybe it’s taking an extra long shower before you go to bed. Some days, if all you do is wake up, take your medicine, and eat a few meals, that’s ok. Taking time to slow down and rest your body and mind doesn’t mean you aren’t productive- it just means you’re being productive in a different way; a way that is best for you. Taking care of yourself is important, and it does “count” for something. So on those days where all you can do is take care of yourself, don’t write it off as a a “bad” day. Don’t say you didn’t get anything done, because you did. You worked towards your own health, and that holds a lot of value.

Tip number 2: Focus on your feelings. Too often, we judge our worth based on how much we can do regardless of how we feel doing it. But writing 3 papers in one day doesn’t make it a good day if you felt exhausted and terrible the entire time. Although it’s important to stay on top of work, it’s equally important to stay on top of your own emotions. If you have a fun day spending time with friends and watching tv, that is still productive – you are doing something good for yourself and your mental health! So rather than judging ourselves and our time by how much we’ve gotten done, let’s take a step back. Think about how you feel while doing things, and give yourself the time to take breaks when you need them. It feels good to check off the boxes, but if that’s all you focus on, you’re going to get burnt out. Give yourself time to do things that make you feel good, regardless of whether they fit into society’s view of “productivity.” Watching tv in your bed may seem like the most unproductive activity out there, but if it makes you happy and allows you to rest, than for you, it’s very productive! It’s not all about checking of boxes for external things – make sure your own health, physical and emotional, is at the top of the list.

Look, I’m no expert. I’m just a person like you who’s trying to figure it all out. I don’t have all the answers, and you may think I have no idea what I’m talking about. But I do know this: your value as an individual is not defined by how “productive” society thinks you are. We all have different needs and different challenges, and what productivity looks like to me is in no way what it will or should look like to you. So let’s stop comparing and stop judging ourselves and others based on how many boxes we can check off in a day, and start focusing on finding balance and lifting each other up. Because as much as society tries to force this view upon us, we aren’t a measure of what we can do or how fast we can do it. We’re so much more than that.

If you could tell the world…

I have a question for you. You get 5 seconds to answer (I’m counting). Ready? Here it is:

If you could tell everyone in the world one thing, what would it be?

Got your answer? Great. Hold onto it!

A few years ago, I published a post titled “If I could tell the world.” In it, I wrote about the things I wished everyone was more aware of. I explained that if I could teach the world one thing, I would teach it empathy. I even made an acrostic poem to spell out the word (thankfully I’ve moved past that phase 🙂 ). But this time, it’s not about me- it’s about you. I’ve spent the past week asking people what they would tell the world if given the chance to teach it one thing. And this is what I learned.

To start off, the responses were striking. Some were funny, and some were serious. Some were simple, and others not so much. But they were all important, because they opened my eyes to a problem that we are facing and have been for a long time: Every person I asked was able to answer the question immediately. Every person I spoke with had something on their mind that they wished other people knew, but didn’t. So I started to wonder, why? Why are we all isolated by things in our heads that no one else understands? And how can we change this?

It’s not a problem of knowledge or communication. Yes, it involves those things, but it goes beyond that. It’s a problem of patience, of perspective, and of empathy. And it occurs because we get so wrapped up in what we want in our own worlds that we forget what other people need in theirs.

So, back to my question. I asked you to answer it at the very beginning. Now, I want you to think about your response.

How long has that idea been in your head? How many days, or months, or years have you spent thinking to yourself, “ugh, I wish everyone would get this?” And if tomorrow, everyone magically did get it, how would your life change?

If you’re anything like me, that “thing” has been floating in your brain for a long time. And if everyone could magically understand it tomorrow, life would be a whole lot easier.

So now what? You’ve identified what you want to tell the world, and it’s clear that if everyone knew it, things would be better! But if we all have a “thing” to share with the world, how can we possibly make those ideas known? No one wants to go around telling everyone they meet, “hey! I wish you understood x, y z!” I mean, I wish everyone understood what living with chronic pain is like. But, I can’t be expected walk up to everyone I know and give them a full-fledged presentation on the challenges I face. That’s draining, both physically and emotionally. So what can we do instead?

Our society is built on principles that make it very hard to support people who are different from us. We are taught that if we don’t “get” something, we don’t have to deal with it. That if someone doesn’t ask for our help, we don’t have to offer. That if someone isn’t clearly struggling, they’re totally fine. But here’s the thing: Telling people the details of our battles shouldn’t be the only way to get them to show us compassion.

It’s hard to open up to others. That’s why we all have those “things” we wish people knew, but don’t. That’s why most of us, no matter how frustrated we get, aren’t able to express the ideas we wish others understood. The though of sharing them is scary. It’s intimidating. But it’s necessary, and we can make it possible.

By reframing the way we see the people around us, we can become more open to accepting and sharing new ideas. By having empathy, we can connect with people who are different from us. We can care about problems that don’t affect us personally. And we can understand the feelings of other people even if we don’t feel them ourselves. At the same time, by having empathy, we can form an environment where people are more willing to share their ideas. If someone asks how I’m feeling in a genuine, empathic way, they are giving me the chance to help them understand my illness. And, by being involved in the conversation and showing that they care, explaining my challenges is no longer the taxing process I mentioned earlier. That conversation may still be difficult; It’s hard to talk about our struggles, and it’s hard to support someone you can’t relate to. But we have to push ourselves, both to share our thoughts and to invite the thoughts of others. Because if my little “experiment” has taught me anything, it’s that we all have something to tell the world. And we all deserve for everyone to listen.

Good intentions don’t make good people

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of apologies posted on social media by celebrities and other influencers. Many of these people have made mistakes in the past, evidence of those mistakes resurfaced, and they felt pressured to apologize to clear their name and prove that they’ve become better people. And don’t get me wrong- I think it is incredibly important for people to take responsibility for themselves and apologize to those that they’ve hurt. But as I’ve read more and more of these apology posts, I’ve noticed something: although these people say they’re sorry for their actions, they tend to focus more on the fact that their intentions were pure. And this upset me, because the focus of an apology should not be if you “meant” to hurt people or not; it should be taking responsibility for the impact that your actions had and validating the feelings of the people you upset.

At the end of the day, even if you have great intentions, your actions can still end up hurting other people. You are responsible for the impact you have on others, regardless of whether that impact is what you intended it to be. And when you hurt someone, even if you actually meant to help them or do something nice, you need to take responsibility for the pain you have caused.

Think about it in terms of a car accident: if you’re driving and you accidentally rear end another car, you are still responsible for the accident regardless of whether you wanted to cause it. You likely had no malicious intentions and didn’t plan to hit that car or harm the people in it. However, although it was an accident, your actions still caused a crash and you are responsible for the damage. Even if you are a wonderful person who would never hurt anyone on purpose, you don’t get to flee the scene and not be held responsible for the accident just because you didn’t mean for it to happen.

In short, having good intentions doesn’t automatically make you a good person. Wanting to do good things is the first step, but actually doing them is what matters. Sending a text or posting a picture or saying something to someone with the intent of making them happy is great, but if they receive those actions the wrong way and become embarrassed or upset, you haven’t actually done something nice for them. This doesn’t mean you weren’t trying or aren’t a good friend; it just means your intentions and actions weren’t lined up. That’s not to say that your intentions aren’t important- but it’s necessary to look at the whole picture, and intentions are only a piece of it.

This concept is not something that only applies to celebrities who posted offensive tweets in 2015 and are just now apologizing. We all have intentions, we all commit actions, and those actions all have consequences. Whether those consequences impact 10,000 people or one individual doesn’t matter. We all behave in ways that affect the people around us, and it is up to us to not only want to treat people well, but to make sure that our actions are received as helpful and not damaging.

We can’t control how other people choose to act, but we are responsible for our own behavior. We have the power to make sure our good intentions lead to positive actions. So, if you’re ever in a position where you want to support someone but you don’t know how, just ask. Ask them what actions would be helpful to them. Take the power of your good intentions and combine this with an awareness of other people’s needs to make an impact that is beneficial. And if you are ever in a situation where despite good intentions, you have made someone upset (no one is perfect and we’ve all been there), take responsibility for your actions, apologize, and ask what you can do differently in the future. It’s okay to mention that you didn’t mean any harm, but don’t use this as an excuse to diffuse the blame.

It’s a important to want to do good, but wanting to do something good isn’t enough. It doesn’t matter if your intentions were good if you end up hurting someone, because at the end of the day, they’ve still been hurt by your actions, and you still need to take responsibility for that.

Good people aren’t perfect; good people are mindful. They are mindful of the intentions behind their actions, and they are also mindful of the impact those actions have. Good people make mistakes, and they take responsibility for those mistakes and learn from them. Good people don’t just have good intentions- they make good impacts.

Immunocompromised & Ignored: How to be safe in a country that doesn’t care

There are an estimated 10 million people with weakened immune systems in the U.S. right now. That’s 1 in 33 people who are especially at risk of contracting COVID-19 and its associated complications. And I’m not talking about 10 million old ladies who live 5 states away that we’ll never cross paths with; these are people we know. They are students, coworkers, relatives, and close friends, and many of them are under 18. COVID-19 isn’t just something that affects “old people.” It isn’t fake. It isn’t “just the flu.”

Right now, we are living through a global pandemic in a country where individualism is the greatest value- where politics and personal convenience have somehow outranked science. And for the millions of people at risk of getting really sick, it doesn’t feel very safe.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have written about this. Two months ago, people stayed more than 6 feet apart, washed their hands for the full 2 minutes, and didn’t take their masks off because it was “too hot.” But now, we’re tired. We’re tired of the constant cleaning, waiting, and isolation. We want our old lives back. So now, we’re cutting back on the rules and letting ourselves relax, and I completely understand why. But we must remember that not everyone has that luxury; just because we feel safe going to the grocery store and touching all of the apples before we pick one doesn’t mean everyone else does, too. As we continue to “loosen up” on the precautions we take, we need to think beyond our own comfort level. Maybe touching all the apples is perfectly safe for us. But what about the next person who comes into the store? Did we unknowingly put them in harms way by getting germs on all of those apples that we didn’t buy? Could we have prevented that situation?

American culture is built upon the “I” and not the “we,” so it’s hard to think beyond ourselves when we’ve been conditioned to for our entire lives. But in times like these, it’s not about thinking “I’m healthy, so I can do what I want. If I get the virus I’ll be fine.” It’s about thinking, “I’m healthy, but I know that not everyone is. I’m still going to take precautions, even if it’s uncomfortable or annoying, because I want to prevent those people from getting really sick.” It’s about sacrificing out own convenience for the safety of our communities.

As states begin to enter “Phase 4” of the pandemic response and life begins to feel “normal” again, it’s important to remind ourselves that it isn’t. The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, and the vaccine is still not ready. Nothing has changed besides people’s levels of comfort and fear. Of course, we can’t sustain a total quarantine for multiple months. However, there are steps we can take to support members of high-risk groups during this time.

If you are immunocompromised or high-risk for another reason, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about what they feel is safe for you. Nothing I write here is medical advice; I’m just a kid telling you what I think.

So, here is a list of actions you can take to protect yourself and others, especially those in high-risk groups.

  1. Clean! Keeping things clean is essential to preventing illness. If you let someone use something of yours, clean it well in between uses. Continue to wash your hands and any objects that you bring in public like a phone. Taking the 2 minutes to wipe something down can be annoying, but it is worth it!
  2. Wear a mask! When you are in a public place, wear a mask to protect yourself and the people you come in contact with. Even if other people nearby do not have masks, focus on your own actions and do the best you can to wear yours.
  3. Don’t touch! Practice social distancing and stay apart from others. Don’t touch anything that isn’t yours unless you have to. At the store, take what you need and leave. If you want to see something on your friend’s phone, let them show it to you or at least ask before taking it. Just because you are okay with people touching you or your things does not mean everyone else feels that way. There is no harm in asking if you can touch something or sit somewhere. And there is nothing rude about telling someone no, they can’t hold your phone.
  4. Don’t share! Right now, sharing is not caring. Avoid using the same pens or other items as someone else unless they are being cleaned in between uses. And don’t share food! If you order something to share, have it be divided in half before you get it to minimize touching someone else’s food.
  5. Be mindful! Think about the people you are interacting with and be mindful that they might have a different comfort level than you. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid people who are extra careful; just ask them what they are comfortable with and comply if they ask you to wash your hands or wear a mask. And if you know someone who can’t go grocery shopping, offer to shop for them and use precautions when you go to the store.

I’m not expecting everyone to follow each of these ideas to the t. Have I been closer than 6 feet away from a friend? Yes. Have I taken off my mask the second I step into a parking lot? Yes. But the purpose of this is not to call out all of the mistakes that have been made; it is simply a reminder that the Coronavirus is not gone and that we can all do a better job of keeping each other safe.