Sunday Sermon

This past Sunday was the third of the month; in my parish, that means the deacon, rather than the priest, speaks the Homily. For anyone who doesn’t know, in a Catholic mass the Homily occurs after the three Bible readings. In the Homily, the priest or deacon tries to explain or add insight to what we had just heard. Usually, I don’t particularly like when the deacon at our church does the Homily. He’s not terrible, he just utilizes the same writing technique every time, which, as a writer, tends to get on my nerves.

However, this Sunday was different. Saturday night I randomly woke up and felt empty inside. “There is no God,” I thought to myself, not sure where this sentiment came from but believing it nonetheless. The next morning I didn’t feel as faithless, but could not fully trust in my religion, even though I still prayed and sung throughout the Mass.

As the deacon performed the Homily, my mind drifted between listening intently to what he had to say and wondering whether I should apply for that campus job. Fortunately, I tuned in to hear a beautiful comment  from our deacon.

“We seem to focus so much on who we think should be saved. Instead, let’s focus on strengthening our own faith.”

This is a really important idea for Catholics and other Christians to hear in a world where people march against gays and abortion or condemn the use of birth control. Sometimes we spend so much energy, resources and time attempting to persuade others to do “the right thing” when we could be improving our own religious dedication through prayer, service and love. I literally smiled in church, relieved to hear this statement after hearing our priests discuss the evils within our modern society every so often and how we must be the metaphorical light of the world.

Furthermore, this is an attitude someone of any race, gender, nationality, age, and yes, even religion, could adopt. Changing others is difficult, especially when dealing with a) those who do not wish to change, or b) opinions rather than fact. This does not mean abandoning our own beliefs and submitting to someone else’s views. Rather, we should concentrate on enhancing our way of life instead of attempting to change others, because no one can claim they live a perfect lifestyle.

This wasn’t the end of #quotableChurchmoments. During another part of the mass, a lector reads a list of intentions, or things we want to pray for. After each intention, we all say “Lord, hear our prayer”. This was one of the best intentions I have ever heard:

“We pray for all those who are searching for God, that they may be enlightened so that their natural goodness will shine through”. 

Anyone who has studied Classicalism and Romanticism knows most religious institutions, especially the Catholic church, follow many classical beliefs, including the idea people are born evil and must be taught to be good. Contrariwise, this prayer recognizes people are children of God and therefore naturally good creatures. Beautiful.

Though these experiences have not reinstated my faith to its full health, this Sunday sermon made me hopeful for alterations in the attitude of the world and hopeful for my own future. As I look forward to college with excitement, anxiety, and some fear, I know this will be a time of change and self evaluation, of figuring out who I am and what I want. Through my own natural goodness, I can strengthen my faith and achieve my full potential in whatever I’m supposed to do on this earth.

*Note-all comments are paraphrased.

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Changes

Hi everyone. Again, sorry about a nearly month-long hiatus. Soon after posting “Waking Up Happy”, I started dealing with some pretty bad depression (the worst I’ve had in a long time), actually skipping work because I felt so bad. Though I have been feeling better for about a week, I’ve been preparing for the so-called next chapter of my life: college.

Other than excuses, I have some pretty significant changes I’ve experienced in the past month or so. After over a year of enduring depression, my parents-well, mostly my mother-caved and agreed to take me to a psychiatrist before I go to college. I was exceedingly anxious prior to visiting the doctor, knowing that I usually cry when discussing this topic. And, of course, I did cry when he asked me to start describing how I had been feeling. We discussed the symptoms of depression, how depression affects the body, and how antidepressants can help.

I was relieved when he told me he certainly believed I had depression; I had been clobbered with self-doubt, wondering if maybe I wasn’t really depressed and was just going through a rough patch in my life. But depression is a real illness, which can be treated just like any other disease. When we started discussing antidepressants, my mom related her worries, and pointed out that, based on the symptoms he had described, most of the people she knew could be depressed.

He then related the most important symptom of depression: the disease affects one’s life and prevents one from functioning as they would without the depression. Though she claimed she did not see it interfering with my life, I reminded-or rather confessed-I had skipped work and school because of how I felt. The psychiatrist also stated I had been trying to solve the issue through other means, particularly therapy. Though I feel therapy helps me tremendously, I seem to have reached an impasse and can no longer progress forward in healing.

Soon after, I was prescribed some antidepressants, and have been taking them ever since. It’s been about a week now. In the past week I’ve had trouble sleeping, but I’ve started to fall back into my pattern, and last night got 7 whole hours of sleep.

I’m also looking forward to college more than I have thus far. Prior to this week, I’ve been terrified to embark on my college adventures, to the point where I was dreading my departure date. For some reason-maybe after talking with my roommate, feeling less depressed, rediscovering my love for biology, or a combination of the three-I’ve become obsessed with going to college. It’s one of the first things I think about when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I fall asleep. I’m done with paint crew, my summer job, and just want to get back to academic work.

Waking Up Happy

It was really refreshing to wake up this morning unreasonably happy; no thoughts about anything in particular, except trying to remember the dreams I had last night. I walked over to turn my air conditioner off, and when I got to the window to turn the dial to the “Off” position, I wondered why I was so happy. It wasn’t even the kind of happy you experience on your best day with friends, or the jubilant relief that accompanies realizing a gnawing worry is resolved. It was, in the only way I can think to describe it, ignorant bliss (Clichés-1, Wiggygirl-0). I wasn’t sure why I was happy, but I was obviously enjoying it. Honestly, I have not felt that happy in weeks or months. Months. That’s a long time to not experience an emotion, let alone a fantastic one. This realization made me wonder how long it would be until I felt this strange elation again. After a few weeks of believing my depression was actually going away, I was hit by an especially depressive mood at the beginning of this week; unfortunately, I have to wonder if I brought it on myself. I had been sick after coming home from vacation at the beach, and through a mixture of not really wanting to go to work and guilt of probably spreading germs to my coworkers, I coerced myself to take Monday off. I texted my boss that morning and he told me it was fine if I didn’t come into work, and to inform him when I would be able to come back in (have I mentioned my boss is really chill?). Monday was spent sleeping a lot, browsing a variety of sites on my computer, maybe a little reading….nothing too productive, because I was attempting to relax and “get better”. However, as the day progressed and I knew I would have to go back to work the next day, I started feeling unmotivated, though not quite depressed yet. Since my boss hadn’t said “see you tomorrow”, rather telling me to contact him when I was feeling better, why shouldn’t I take another day off? Though I told myself I would see how I felt in the morning, I knew in the back of my mind my decision had already been made. Not wanting to tell my mom I was taking another day off, I decided I would wake up normal time and pretend I was going to work. I drove to the park behind my house to chill and listen to music/my anxiety tape while I waited for all my coworkers and mother to get off the roads. Then, I spent three hours driving around South Jersey with no actual destination in mind. I love driving, but this wasn’t supposed to be a leisurely escapade through main streets and lonely roads. This was foreshadowing for the lowest low I’ve felt in awhile. Flashback to last summer, when my depression went along unnoticed and untreated. I was so afraid and anxious to tell my boss that once soccer started I would not be able to work, I decided I simply would not, and instead texted him two days in a row saying I would not be coming to work that day. No explanations or excuses; I just would not be working, and in my last text I told him I would not come in again because soccer would be starting. Minus the vague text messages, I did the same thing I did this past Tuesday; I pretended to go to work but instead drove around aimlessly. When I told my best friend about what had occurred, she completely brushed it off. She didn’t get it. This was what I did when I was very depressed. I know now after talking to her she was trying to help by distracting me and discussing other topics, but I had to tell her this was not how to help me. I don’t know about other people, but when I am really depressed or upset about something, I don’t want people to distract me immediately. I don’t even necessarily want advice. What I really need and covet is sympathy and someone who will tell me it’s okay that I’m upset. I really would like someone who will ask questions; this will either show they are interested in what’s going on or it will help me look at the issue and work through it. After a similar conversation with my ex/guy friend, my depression became severe, and I’ve unfortunately spent the past few days feeling alone and melancholy. I barely talked to my friends and spent a lot of time inside my room, traversing the dark regions of Tumblr and listening to music that makes me sad. I excessively and genuinely cried for the first time in awhile. Luckily I conversed with my friends and therapist about this issue and, after this wonderful morning, am starting to feel sort of normal again. Though I know this intense change of mood is fleeting, I have some sense of hope for future happiness.

“Overcome Fear and Anxiety”?

I tried to blog yesterday, but for some reason wordpress.com was blocked on my computer? Anyway, today it seems to be working okay.

Yesterday my therapist gave me a CD to listen to entitled “Overcome Fear and Anxiety”. After going through it today, I’m not sure what to think about it.

I was surprised it included a lot of Christian references, including affirmations about God/divine spirit and many verses from the Bible. I’m religious, so it did not bother me; it just seemed weird.

To spice up the affirmations, I decided to add “bitch” to some of the end of affirmations. For example, “I am confident BITCH!” I was entirely too amused with calling a disembodied voice a bitch.

Some of the sentiments expressed are untrue. For example, the speaker stated “You cannot feel love and fear at the same time”, which is entirely false.

Then, one affirmation stated, “When we fear something enough, it can become real and attracted to us”, and I automatically thought of Amnesia, which was, to say the least, not good. Then I thought, “Oh my God I’m afraid of ghosts and demons, and now they’re going to be attracted to me? That’s not a very reassuring thought!”.

The CD itself made me a little anxious and depressed, because it forced me to think about my anxiety, stress, worries and fears. This was magnified by the fact my mind combated many of the recorded statements, accusing quite a few declarations of being ridiculously cliche.

During the CD, though I was not overcome by any intense emotion or epiphany whatsoever, my hands started shaking and my entire body was soon encompassed by this shakiness. I am not quite sure what that was all about.

Overall, I do not feel any different, though this was the first time I have used this CD, so I do not expect instant results. About a half an hour ago I experienced another anxious episode, and I really hope this tape will help, but I am only slightly optimistic.

I asked my therapist if I could listen to it while I work out, and she said yes. This is fantastic because I can motivate myself to listen to the tape, which will at the same time force me to exercise five times a week, and vice versa. Basically, killing two birds with one hand grenade.

Has anyone else used these affirmation/self help tapes? Have they worked at all?

Feeling Comfortable With Myself

Last night I attended my neighbor’s Sweet Sixteen party. We used to be really really close, but because I no longer take the bus to or from school, we don’t see each other. Maybe the birthday girl hangs out with my little sister and felt obligated to invite both of us? Or maybe we forged that type of friendship that still resonates after you stop consistently communicating?

Anyway, it was the first fancy Sweet Sixteen party I had attended. Technically I’ve only been to two: my own party, which was held in my backyard, and though we wore dresses, it was pretty casual, and my semi-friends’ party, which was held at a house, no formal attire necessary. This party was at a reception building, required black and white formal clothes, and included fancy cake and the sixteen candle thing (which I had never heard of before).

When I got there, I expected to see a bunch of sophomores (that’s what birthday girl is), and to spend my evening following my sister, maybe interjecting myself into the conversation every now and then. Upon entering the glitzy ballroom, I immediately locked eyes with my good senior guy friend, and we were both like, “hey, what are you doing here?”. To my surprise, there were quite a few seniors there…though I do not talk to most of them, and they quickly filled up a table of their own so I stayed at my sister’s side.

I felt quite awkward, just sitting there with my sister. In my mind I kept thinking of reasons I was not mingling-excuses I could give to other people, though I was sure no one would ask, so they were really just excuses for myself. Sentiments like, “my sister is really shy and I don’t want to leave her alone”, etc.

Then another senior girl came in who I am good friends with, and I basically followed her around and talked to her (and whoever she had chosen to mingle with). She sat next to us when we ate, and when the music started she danced with us. However, she soon found other friends to dance with, which left my sister and I alone in the middle of a crowd of (mostly) strangers. In addition to my inherent awkwardness on the dance floor, I was now alone.

But you know what? I didn’t really care. Why couldn’t I just dance with my little sister at this party? Why should I feel awkward because I’m terrible at dancing, probably making a fool of myself, and a senior without other teenagers to talk to?

I suppose someone (my overbearing parents or aunts, for example) would have encouraged me to mingle with everyone and anyone at the party, because that’s what people do at parties, right? That’s the supposed reason for get-togethers? Plus, how would I expect to make new friends or have any fun if I do not converse with other people? This seems like a fairly important skill to acquire for college.

But you know what? Dancing with my little sister, along with dance interjections from my two seniors friends, was fun. I did not feel the need to awkwardly approach strangers/acquaintances to complete my evening. I was, except for my sister, alone, but I did not feel alone. I could just dance and sing (when I knew the lyrics) and be content in my own skin.

In my opinion, changes in mindset like these do not occur because of silly encouragements telling you to “be yourself” and “not care what other people think”. Maybe they help guide you on the path to self-enlightenment, but the ultimate transformation has to come from within. Someone else cannot tell you you are a wonderful person, or that it’s okay to be quiet/alone/an introvert, or you do not need a boyfriend to be self-assured and confident. You must discover these things for yourself.

And in the dimmed lights of that wooden dance floor, I realized I could be completely comfortable with myself, a skill I cannot wait to employ in college.

 

Of course, it’s also Mother’s Day, and as soon as my mom gets out of the shower I’ll be spending most of the day with her. Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women out there who deal with us rowdy, impertinent children day after day. Your perseverance is truly one of your greatest attributes.

And good luck to all my fellow introverts/low self-esteemers in finding comfort within yourself.

8 Reasons I Fell In Love With “The Fault in Our Stars”

(Sort-of spoilers ahead, specifically in #3, 5 and 7. If you haven’t read the book yet, you should be able to read the other numbers or at least the bolded sections. Maybe writing this in depth list isn’t so helpful to people looking for a good book to read if it spoils parts of the novel…oh well.)

Yesterday I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which has got to be one of the greatest modern novels composed, for the following reasons (in a somewhat but not really particular order).

1) Allusions and Symbolism. Lots and lots of allusions. Being a former AP English Lit student, I was able to identify them many of them as the meaning each work brought to the novel. Allusions include “The Red Wheelbarrow”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and of course, Shakespeare. The title of the novel comes from a line in Julius Caesar, in which Caesar says, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves” (Shakespeare 1.2.140-141). Furthermore, there is a smorgasbord of symbols, particularly representations through the characters. There is a ton of water (rebirth, cleansing) symbolism (for example,  Augustus’s last name is Waters and they (Hazel and Gus) travel to Amsterdam, a city famous for its canals).

2) Writing Style. I’m usually a fan of the classical, lots-of-fancy-language-and-run-on-sentences style of writing, but the ideas surrounding the novel are so strong John Green does not need to be “fancy”. Moreover, it just makes more sense the writing style is more relaxed, considering a teenager is the narrator. It includes some script-like conversation between characters (Example: Me: Hi Mom. Mom: Hi there), which I really enjoyed for some inexplicable reason.

3) Themes. There are a multitude of important concepts covered in the novel, the most important being the struggle for immorality and two ultimate life questions: Will I be loved? Will I be remembered?

The novel emphasizes the way even a novel cannot immortalize an individual. For example, John Green states, “Nothing (at least that can be done by humans) immortalizes anyone. The Fault in Our Stars will hopefully have a long and wonderful life, but it will eventually go out of print, and eventually the last person ever to read it will die, and then the characters will no longer live in any consciousness” (The Fault in Our Stars Q and A 5-6).

So that might seem depressing, especially to someone like myself who adores the possibility of immortality promised in writing. However, Green goes on to explain, “Also, that is okay…What Gus in particular must reconcile himself to is that being temporary does not mean being unimportant or meaningless” (TFIOS Q and A 6). Even though one is mortal, the here-and-now of life is just as important as it would be if our lives were remembered forever. Essentially, the novel suggests the meaning of life is to continue to lead significant lives notwithstanding our own mortality.

The novel also describes the struggle of those like Hazel who attempt to refrain from becoming a “grenade”, harming their loved ones with their departure (specifically death). John Green demonstrates through Hazel and Gus’s relationship hurting one’s loved ones, simply by being loved, is okay. As Gus writes, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you” (TFIOS 313).

4) Characters who also love literature, metaphors, and using big words. These are people I can relate to! Not only do these characters make reading more personable (to me at least), it allows John Green to include important literary allusions flawlessly (see #1) in the novel.

5) “Okay”. Isaac and his girlfriend say “Always” to each other as a sugary, romantic way of saying “I will love you forever”. “Okay” becomes Hazel and Gus’s “Always”, which is not a promise of a forever but of real, substantial love. Sort of the kind of thing I find attractive in a relationship (not overly romantic).

6) Realism. Many of the other components of this list could fit into this category, such as writing style and theme, but I wanted to point out just how real this book feels. Its characters and the interactions between them seem pretty legitimate to me. The novel addresses realistic ideals, including the impossibility of human immortality.

7) The novel does not portray cancer patients as overly cheerful, strong, wonderful people, or the dead as virtuous and venerable. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mommom, who passed away this year. But she had many, many flaws. Cancer patients, stereotypically depicted as heroic survives, can be these astounding, angelic individuals. But they are still real people, who experience anger, misjudgments, and, well, all of the normal human emotions. All of the cancer patients in this novel-Hazel, Gus, Isaac and Caroline Mathers-are complex characters with good and bad qualities.  Additionally, when Isaac and Hazel write their eulogies for Gus’s funeral, though they opt for a more sentimental speech at his actual funeral, they poke fun at his life and his shortcomings. Green does not “sentimentalize or romanticize anything in the book” and combats the oversimplification that “suffering is heroic, and that cancer suffering in particular strengthens you and makes you better” (TFIOS Q and A, pg 23).

8) I read this novel at a perfect time in my life. The past year, more specifically the last month, of my life has been encompassed by the question of the meaning of life. More importantly, what is it that I want from my own life? While I was reading the novel, especially in the beginning, I was shocked by the reality of my own mortality, and, in short, would not accept it. As I began to realize I was “temporary”, I spiraled into more depression. I would channel my inner Augustus Waters and ask myself, what is the point if no one will remember us?  After finishing the novel, I have been satisfied with a somewhat answer. Indeed, there is a point in living fully even though we are only mortal. I have yet to discern the specifics of the meaning of my own life, but will and must continue to hope living is truly worthwhile.

I am so excited to see the movie when it is released in theaters, and am very pleased to have enjoyed the “small infinity” contained in this novel.

#GottheDot

After much painful and protracted deliberation, I have decided to attend Gettysburg College.

In the end, the University of Rochester was just too far away, in too wintery of a location, and too large. Additionally, I felt a lot better when I went to visit Gettysburg’s campus-it had that special feel about it, like I could imagine myself spending my college years there.  Rochester didn’t give me the feel. Though I will be giving up immense diversity (because let’s be honest, Gettysburg College is mostly a bunch of white kids) and specialization early in my college experience (Rochester had Molecular Genetics as a major and is a research institute), I am quite pleased with my choice.

After doing some research I discovered a variety of Biology and BMB students who are currently studying at great universities for grad school, including at Johns Hopkins University (which is where I would like to  go for grad school). Because Gettysburg is so small (the incoming class last year was about 700 students, I think), I’ll have that small community feel I love. I’ll also form tight relationships with faculty, which will lead to research opportunities. And even though the location is not a lively city like Rochester, it’s a beautiful landscape rich in history only two and a half hours from my hometown, versus the five and half hour drive to Rochester.

Ultimately, college is what you make of it, and I intend to do A LOT. I’m going to major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with a definite minor in German and possible minors in English, Writing, or Neuroscience. Because there are so many subjects I want to delve into, I’ll probably end up taking five (versus four) classes in at least two, if not more semesters. I plan to study abroad, perform research with faculty, get some internships and experience in there, and do all kinds of college type things!

After making this decision, so much weight has been lifted off of me, and I feel a lot better. I do have moments of doubt, thinking perhaps I made the wrong decision…that’s just my nature at this time in my life. But talking to people from the college (and of course stalking their Facebook pages), I’m really excited to embark on this new chapter of my life.

Here’s to making the last few weeks of high school count and salmon colored pants! (Which reminds me…I gotta get some Gettysburg gear!)