Summer sun and staying busy

 

Hello wonderful readers of the internet!

Today I’m feeling inspired to write despite the fact that I’m still feeling quite unwell. I’ve been having a bit of a rough few weeks but the last couple of days have been wonderful! I’ve been reading a ton (no surprise there…), watching a lot of Glee on Netflix, and yesterday I got to spend the day at the beach with my best friend who I don’t get to see very often since we live so far apart. And to top off the excitement of yesterday I am going to see Finding Dory tonight with my sister who I also haven’t seen in a few months now! I am so excited! It’s a nice change of pace to have things to do and people to see rather than feeling so unwell that I spend days in bed watching boatloads of Netflix and YouTube.

Right now I’m feeling content and happy while enjoying the beautiful summer day today. I think I’m learning to appreciate the good days more when they arrive because I know that life can so quickly throw you a curve ball and turn you upside down. Conversely, I’m also learning that it’s important to try and push through the days when I’m feeling terrible and stick to my routine because staying occupied can actually help you feel better much more quickly than staying in bed for days on end ruminating on negative feelings. One of the reasons that I think this week has been so much better than the last month or so is the simple fact that my therapist has pushed me to get up, get out of the house, and keep myself busy rather than staying in my own little bubble of a world at home in my room. Even simple tasks like going for a walk, reading a book at the park, going to the mall, or writing a blog post can be good distractions and force you to focus on something other than anxiety or negative emotions for a certain amount of time. So if you plan your days out and make yourself to-do lists for each day to keep yourself busy, it just might help you to start feeling better in the same way that it has evidently helped me in the past few days.

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Additionally, making yourself get up and complete various tasks on your to-do list will make you feel so much more productive. For me, this meant searching for scholarships and writing essays for those scholarships to possibly earn some financial support to help me pay my way through my master’s degree. I’ve also been getting a lot more chores done and spending more time doing things that used to bring me joy such as playing my guitar and writing.

In addition to setting myself daily goals/to-do lists, I’ve also started setting monthly goals. Usually this includes reading X amount of books, writing X number of blog posts, and crossing off tasks that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time such as finding a new family doctor or buying my textbooks for school. These tasks don’t have to be monumental to be useful to your mental well-being. I feel a sense of satisfaction even crossing off the simplest tasks such as going for a walk.

Evidently, keeping myself busy has helped me in more than one way. I’m hoping to keep this up for the remainder of the summer and then use this approach to completing my school assignments and readings rather than procrastinating like I did throughout much of my undergraduate degree. Here’s to staying busy while also finding time to enjoy the sunshine and smell the daisies.

 ♥ ♥ ♥

xo
Ayla

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Bookworm Bloggin’: The Dog Who Dared To Dream

9780349142104Synopsis

This is the story of a dog named Scraggly. Born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, she spends most of her days in the sun-filled yard of her owner’s house. Scraggly has dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. But each winter, dark clouds descend and Scraggly is faced with challenges that she must overcome. Through the clouds and even beyond the gates of her owner’s yard lies the possibility of friendship, motherhood and happiness – they are for the taking if Scraggly can just hold on to them, bring them home and build the life she so desperately desires.

The Dog Who Dared to Dream is a wise tale of the relationship between dog and man, as well as a celebration of a life lived with courage. Translated into English for the first time, it is a classic from Sun-mi Hwang, an international bestselling author.

Review

I received a copy of this book in the mail yesterday and I was so excited when I got home from work and found the package waiting for me on the table! I’d never heard of the book before but I was immediately intrigued when I read the synopsis so I decided to kick back after a long shift at the bookstore and enjoy an evening of reading (because after a day spent selling books to others who wouldn’t want to indulge in the pleasure of reading!?!)

My first impression of the book based on the synopsis was that the book is intended for a young audience. However, after reading the novel I would say that while the book would be appropriate for kids, you will appreciate the morals of the story and the themes of love, loss, grief, and friendship more so as an adult reader than you would as a child. In fact, I could easily see this book being popular among book clubs due to the latter themes and the deeper meaning that can be found within the book. After finishing the book I had a compulsion to talk to someone about it because I wanted to reflect on and interpret the life of Scraggly and her experiences so it would be perfect for anyone looking for book club book recommendations!

If I had to make a comparison, I would say that this book is most reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web (and that is a huge praise considering that Charlotte’s Web is my favorite book of all time). The reason I make this comparison is because the writing is not overly complex nor does the story seem extremely mature; however, the overarching themes in the book are extraordinarily deep and powerful.

It’s strange to conceptualize a book about the life of a dog as being relatable; however, The Dog Who Dared To Dream  brought about a strong sense of empathy and compassion within me while I was reading it. While I obviously cannot relate to the specific experiences of Scraggly, I could relate to the emotions that those experiences evoked. Oddly enough, the perspective of Scraggly and how she reacted and coped with various life events had me reflecting on my own experiences and how I overcame various challenges throughout my life. In this sense, I think that the author does an amazing job of highlighting the downfalls and triumphs of the human experience while writing from the perspective of Scraggly the dog.

I rated this book 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and I will definitely be recommending it to my friends and family, as well as my customers at the bookstore. I read the book in a mere three hours because I absolutely could not put it down. It’s a perfect summer read if you’re looking to purchase a copy in September upon it’s release! I hope you’ll consider buying and reading The Dog Who Dared To Dream and I would love it if you would let me know what you think in the comments below if/when you do!

Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest reader review. The opinions expressed herein are my own.

University essentials and advice!

before-starting-university-degree

Hello hello hellooo!

As many of my readers already know, I’m going to be starting grad school in September and I am beyond excited! I’m going to be registering for courses soon and with the next steps fast approaching I am reminded of the worries and questions that I had going into my very first year of my undergraduate degree. As a result, I thought I might channel some of my excitement about going back to school into a post that might help newly-graduated high school students prepare for university! So, without further adieu, here are my words of wisdom for the first year of university:

1. It’s not as scary as you might think

I remember being terrified at the thought of university. Moving to a new city, meeting so many new people, being responsible for getting all your work done and still finding time to take care of yourself; it all seemed so overwhelming. While the first few days or weeks might be challenging, it’s not as bad as your anxiety might have you predicting.

2. The assignments aren’t that much harder…just different

Hispanic girl studying at deskThe transition from completing high school assignments to completing university assignments is really not that much more challenging. The main difference that I noticed is that university assignments tend to be bigger and worth a lot more of your final grade; however, there are also a lot fewer assignments that need to be completed. If you’re completing an arts degree like I did your classes might only consist of one major paper, a presentation, and an exam while other classes might have 3 exams and nothing else. It might take some getting used to, but if you stay on top of assignments and get a head start rather than waiting until the last minute to complete things then you should be fine.

3. Make time for yourself

In my first year of uni I was so worried about getting straight A’s that I spent every waking moment doing readings or working on assignments. I stressed myself out so much that I ended up in the hospital (twice) due to an illness that the doctors suggested could be linked to stress. After that I started to make more time for myself and I found that I was better able to focus and retain information when I allowed myself to take breaks.

4. Nothing is more important that your mental and physical health

Again, don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed and stressed out that it makes you sick. Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses can have a detrimental impact on your ability to successfully complete your degree so make sure you are self-aware and if you need support then visit your campus health centre. I live in Canada so my university had a healthcare plan for students to access mental health services. This may vary depending on your country, but it’s worth doing some research and figuring out what services are available to you and making use of those services while they are free!

5. University is not like the movies

Movies have a habit of depicting the university experience as one giant party palace in which students go to class by day, party all night and still manage to pass with decent grades. News flash: if you spend your time partying every night, or even every week, you will not be able to keep up with the workload of university. If you are going to university for the sake of parties then you are basically throwing away thousands of dollars worth of tuition.

6. Financial aid exists, even if it is elusive

student-finances-3Speaking of tuition, financial aid is something that every university student will have to think about at some point or another. If you’re going to be attending a public university, you will most likely have the opportunity to apply for various scholarships, bursaries, and grants. I cannot stress this enough: APPLY FOR AS MANY AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN!!! I have spent the past year of my life working for a university alongside financial aid officers and I cannot believe how many students miss out on opportunities for financial aid simply because they do not take a few minutes to fill out an application.

7. If you can, find a part-time job to help you financially

I remember when I entered my first year of university I quit my part-time job that I’d had since grade 9 because I expected that it was the norm for university students to dedicate all of their time to their studies. I expected the workload to be so rigorous that I would not have time for a job. This was not the case. In fact, I can’t think of a single student in my program that did not have a part-time job while completing their degree. By my second semester of university I was back to working 20-30 hours per week and by my fourth year of university I was working three jobs to pay rent, tuition, groceries, etc.

8. You need to hold yourself accountable

tumblr_nkk1pqbtff1un6rmwo1_1280This is probably the biggest difference between high school and university. If you do not hand in an assignment in high school, teachers will hound you until you finally complete it. In university, professors couldn’t care less if you complete your assignments or not. If you don’t do your assignments, you fail. Simple as that. You have to be responsible and manage your time effectively. I recommend purchasing an agenda and marking the due dates of all of your assignments at the beginning of each semester so that you never miss a deadline.

♥♥♥

These are all of the pointers that I have for now, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty more university-inspired posts coming your way as the school year approaches! I hope that this post has been helpful for those of you who are getting ready to start university! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or additional words of wisdom!

xo
Ayla

 

“it’s all in your head” and other ignorant thoughts

Recently, I came across a video response on YouTube which was produced by Laura Lejeune in response to a video by Julia Boer who claims that eating disorders, anxiety, and depression are all choices, not illnesses.

In her video, Julia Boer claims that “[mental illness] is all in your head” and inferiorizes the suffering of individuals who experience the latter illnesses when contrasted with so-called “real” mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Boer claims that she is “trying to help” and “[has] the key to success” when it comes to recovery from eating disorders. So, you ask, what is this magical key to success? Well, dearest reader, according to Boer, it’s very simple! All you have to do is stop making the “choice” to have an eating disorder and BAM problem solved, you will no longer have an eating disorder.

a4ac53f6ee31931b81ca88238df5e816Now, wouldn’t that just be so nice? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just wake up one day and decide to recover? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be great if we could decide to stop the disorder before it even begins?

Yeah, that would be fantastic; however, it is ignorant to suggest that this is the “key to success”. Mental illness is not a choice. Recovery does require you to make the choice to fight for your life to get better, but developing a mental illness in the first place is not a choice. To suggest such a thing is offensive and –quite frankly– naive.

In the video, Lejeune makes a great counterargument to the “it’s all in your head” statement that I hear so frequently. She states:

“I never really understand when people say it’s all in your head. It’s kind of like, well yeah it’s in your head. It’s in your head because it’s a mental illness. It’s not called a mental illness because it’s physical. If you’ve got a pain in your leg you don’t say ‘it’s all in your leg’. That doesn’t make it any less severe. […] yes it’s in your head, but so are you”. 

When I heard this I actually had to pause the video and play it back three times to let that really set in. It’s so simple and yet so true. It’s in your head, but so are you. You can’t just remove yourself from your own mind. If you had a limb that was slowly killing you then you could amputate the limb. This may not be ideal, but it is at least a possibility to save your life. The same cannot be said of your mind. If you have a diseased mind threatening your life (i.e. depression causing suicidal thoughts) you can’t just amputate your mind. You’re stuck with it. You can’t escape from it. You cannot live without your mind and you cannot replace it in the same way that you might replace a defective organ with a transplant. So why is it that people say “it’s all in your head” as a means of diminishing the suffering of people who experience mental illness? Should that statement not act as a justification for why an individual should seek help immediately? Why is it so hard for people to grasp that mental illness is a serious, potentially life threatening issue that is most certainly NOT a choice? Why?!

Listening to what Julia Boer had to say about mental illness brought up a lot of emotions for me, but the two most prevalent of those emotions were anger and disappointment. I was angry that someone who is so obviously ignorant and uneducated about mental illness would speak out about an issue that she clearly knows absolutely nothing about and I was disappointed that we live in a society in which these oppressive opinions are relatively widespread. My mission as a future social worker is to break that stigmatization and educate people like Julia about the reality of mental illness.

If you have a mental illness it is not your fault. You did not choose to suffer. And if you are suffering but you do not believe that you deserve help, please reach out and talk to a doctor, a friend, a teacher, or someone else that you trust who can help you get the support that you need. Mental illness is not a choice, but recovery is. You did not make a conscious decision to suffer but you do need to make the choice to fight for your life and for the happiness that you deserve.

Remember, mental illness is in your head, but so are you.

xo
Ayla

Gluten-free discrimination and prejudice not as one-sided as you might think

stigma

About two weeks ago I found out that I needed to stop eating gluten. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of research about what I can and cannot eat, how to stay healthy on a gluten free lifestyle (notice how I didn’t call it a ‘diet’), and how to incorporate this transition into my everyday life as seamlessly as possible.

Unfortunately, over the course of this research I noticed that there seems to be a lot of prejudice about gluten free lifestyle habits and it isn’t as one-sided as I had anticipated. On the one hand, I’ve got people telling me that going gluten-free is just the latest and greatest in a long line of fad diets that come and go over time. These people raise an eyebrow in skepticism at the mention of the phrase ‘gluten-free’ and look down upon the people who follow this lifestyle, even those of us who are making the change due to a legitimate health condition. On the other hand–and perhaps more disappointing–are the people who have been gluten-free for years due to medical conditions such as Celiac disease who act as though anyone who is just starting the gluten-free lifestyle now is an impostor. These people look down upon others such as myself as if they see themselves as superior in their imaginary hierarchy of who has it worse.

I haven’t been broadcasting my diagnosis by any means (aside from talking about it here, but nobody who knows me in person knows that this blog exists…) but I have talked to a few people who I know that follow a gluten-free meal plan in order to get some advice and meal ideas. I had expected that these people would give me some good advice and genuinely help me but instead I was brushed off by them because in their opinion I do not need to be gluten-free to treat Hashimoto’s Disease. Apparently they think they know more about my condition than my doctors do. Oh ignorance, how you irritate me.

With all of this being said, I think there is a common trend when it comes to many illnesses. When it comes to eating disorders, there is a hierarchy in which anorexia is considered much more severe (and often the desired diagnosis for sufferers looking for validation), however, bulimia is statistically much more dangerous due to the binge-purge cycle. Similarly, anxiety and depression have become something of a trend over the past few years and even I am guilty of thinking that people say they have anxiety just for attention seeking purposes. But who is to say that their anxiety is not just as serious or perhaps worse than mine, just because they share it all over Facebook or Tumblr? Maybe that is their way of reaching out for help. Just because I keep my anxiety disorder to myself does not mean that others do not find support in speaking out about their experiences via social media. If anything, these people are brave enough to share their experiences and raise awareness which is something that I have to commend them for. It took me a long time to recognize the value in these peoples’ experiences and how powerful it can be to share their stories with their friends and family. It is something that I have not been able to do (aside from anonymously talking about it on here…) so who am I to criticize others for doing something that I wish I had the courage to do myself?

So, while I do not appreciate the way that my gluten-free lifestyle is being prejudiced, I am thankful for the opportunity that it gave me to reflect on my own opinions and experiences of others.

Have any of you ever been frustrated when an issue that you struggle with becomes a mainstream “trend”? Did you ever feel like there was a hierarchy of suffering? How did this manifest in your experiences and how did you change the way you thought about it?

Let me know in the comments below!
Ayla