What’s life without issues / The Great 8

Safe to say the response to my first post on mental health was pretty polarized.

For those who refuse to talk about mental health publicly—that was me at first. Privacy is essential to the dignity of a person and, when taken forcefully, strips us of elements that inherently make us human. But sometimes the line between what is internal and external becomes blurry for the better. This is exactly what is happening to the conversation about mental health.

For those who don’t know much about what mental health entails—you’re not alone. I really had no idea what it was at all until a few months ago. My understanding of it was limited to the words ‘anxiety’ ‘depression’ ‘psychiatrist’ and ‘therapist’—terms with a negative connotation making people think that mental health correlates with unhappiness, tremor, weakness, instability, and going off the rocker to a certain degree.

At first things got weird. I had no idea why. I spent hours on WebMD. I asked questions. Lots of them. A label was used to articulate the experience; I was in denial for a very long time. The label made me feel far from comforted to say the least. So I didn’t tell anyone, partly because I was still in denial, mostly cause I was afraid of what other people would think. I knew I was only slightly confused. But I also knew there was stigma—even here in the bay, home to one of the most progressive cities in America. So taking an extra long mental day off was something I first kept on the very down low.

I’ve been there—the fear of not knowing why or how it is possible that the world suddenly isn’t the way you saw it before, that the things you’re really into are no longer bearable, that the people you always connected with seem to be on some other wavelength that you have no interest in getting in on at all. I thought these were just growing pains.

I also know what it’s like to hear your heart pound at night and for your mind to be so deeply invested in keeping up some incessant chatter with itself that it obstructs any chance of getting to sleep. And for me this last one was like a pest that would not leave me alone: persistent and very much prevalent every night—a true nuisance; a real pain in my ass. That alone is enough to drive any one of us to a breaking point. Not a real surprise that my mental health took a hit.

I was once told that I don’t have insomnia, that trouble sleeping is just part of being a college student. While this is fair—college is a breeding ground for erratic sleeping patterns and stress-inducing thoughts—I have yet to meet another student who didn’t sleep for two weeks straight and called it normal.

So I took time off. I talked to people, thought about it a bunch, learned a lot. Then I came back to school, quietly. A tentative re-entry pushed for by me—which I can think of no better way to describe than by using the French word tâtonnement.

And now I’m ready to talk about it. I’d like to take a minute to give a shout-out to the incredible Victoria Garrick who not only made me face my fear of singing in public freshman year of high school, but who has also empowered me to use my voice and experience as a platform to subvert the stigma. It’s about damn time we do.

Mental health has less to do with happiness than we think; rather, it is more about comfort within the mind. When things are off relative to how you’ve always known them to be, especially in times of distress, take care of yourself. Let off some steam. Make time in your schedule for you. And don’t delay—small strange things can evolve and unravel faster than you have the ability to comprehend.

Mental health discomfort—as I prefer to call it—is a better term. I hate the words illness and disorder. It fuels the existing stigma and perpetuates the problem that I feel the need to address. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from Lebanon, a cosmopolitan yet conservative Middle Eastern culture where things like this are still very much taboo, driven by a string of common misconceptions that make for a version of truth that is consequently skewed. But confronting it feels right.

Here are my main takeaways from the whole thing. I call this The Great 8.

  1. Mental health discomfort exhibits itself in many different ways. There are general commonalities but it really is unique to every single person.
  2. Mental health discomfort is in no way a sign of weakness. Neither is talking about it.
  3. Coming to terms with a confusing time of your life takes maturity, understanding and courage.
  4. Let’s say you choose to disclose—or don’t, either way I respect it. For concerns regarding future relationships, consider this: why would you want to be with people who don’t like the way you are wired?
  5. And for career—why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t think you are capable?
  6. This is the generation and place—yay area (!!)—where people talk and people listen; where ideas are generated, things are innovated, and change is initiated. Talking about mental health, here and now, is the best way to go about this.
  7. It takes a village to subvert the stigma. Don’t make us do it alone.
  8. Everyone carries baggage. After all, what’s life without some issues?

Let me know what you think.

– mkh

 

10 {real} signs you’re from the bay

You grew up/live in the bay as a millennial. Here are a few things no one will get but you.

The cloud: you hear about it, you store your things in it, you think you’ve got it all figured it out—that is, what it is and how to work it—until technology fails you and you lose important valuables, which is when you finally realize that you actually don’t have a damn clue what the cloud is and how to navigate it.

The 4.0 and perfect SAT score: these terms are meaningless to you as a measurement of high achievement because everyone here is smart.

The music: you know you have it good. E-40, Andre, Mac Dre. Green Day, the Grateful Dead. Kehlani. I could go on.

The city: is less about the bridge than it is about everything else that makes San Francisco great. The city is Mission Dolores Park, Haight & Ashbury, the Castro, the Marina, and AT&T Park.

The ball game: even Dodgers fans acknowledge how great AT&T Park is. So yeah go Giants. Also, the Caltrain—you take it for fun in a big group and you get rowdy because there’s nothing like a cart full of you and your best mates having yourselves a time on the way to the game.

The windmills: you look forward to Outside Lands every year and if you’re anything like me you have a countdown and reminder for when tickets go on sale. OSL is to us as Disneyland is to the rest of the world.

The amphitheater: you have a love/hate relationship with sloppy Shoreline.

The girl’s look: you may or may not have gone through a phase when you wore rolled down Uggs, Lulus, and a North Face fleece.

The cars: Smart in the city; Tesla on the town.

The freeway: you take 280 by choice. And sometimes just for the view.

– mkh

The one less traveled

I genuinely think it is unfair that society values numbers over words and code over art. That the highest starting salaries go to software engineers and investment bankers. That a foreign language major is less useful than an MIS minor. That people often forgo what they like or what they’re good at because society moves in a certain direction.

It is not fair that we have to conform. It is not fair that people who grew up in the Silicon Valley feel like they might never be able to call it home once they graduate. I know way too many natives who have moved out of the Bay Area because of the fast pace, absurd cost of living, bad traffic and overall unsuitable environment for an enjoyable lifestyle. In the past five years of living on a cul-de-sac of 6 houses, I have seen 4 families move out because they realized it just wasn’t worth it.

But I want to live in the bay. This is where I was born and bred. This is home. And unfortunately in order to stay at home I need a high paying job to pay the bills and stay afloat.

“Keep up or die trying” is what I told myself throughout college. I tried to tell people that I could see myself doing private equity or real estate in the future. I developed insomnia my sophomore year that gradually worsened into junior year, triggering a downward spiral of anxiety and depression that forced me to withdraw from the University for half a quarter. I tried a cocktail of medications to address my sleeping problem in vain before reluctantly moving onto an antidepressant as a last resort. At this point it had been two difficult years and I so desperately yearned for things to go back to the way they were before. So I agreed to the pill. But even that’s not working anymore.

It is no secret that society is at the root of many of our mental health issues. There are far too many of us affected, far too many prescriptions filled, far too many Adderall bottles in circulation for children and adults both who take it only to keep up. All because of societal pressure and self-imposed expectations, limits we stretch, and things we talk ourselves into from fear of getting left behind.

This shaky ground is where we stand now. We can neither time travel nor backtrack. We don’t have many options: we can either flee like my neighbors in pursuit of a more leisurely way of life, “keep up or die trying,” a.k.a. suck it up and conform, or take the road “less traveled by” as Robert Frost encouraged us to do years ago.

If I’m going to be frank, I’m not too keen on waiting around to see where my previous life philosophy will lead. I want to take the path less traveled by and do what it is that I want to do, that I’m good at, that comes naturally and instinctively to me. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired from actually being sick and tired.

If there is one thing I learned junior year, it’s what it’s like to be an adult. I don’t mean adulting as in being abroad for six months alone, living with eight girls, or unclogging the toilet—sure, that was part of it, but definitely not the most important. By far the most rewarding thing I learned this year, in crossing the threshold from child to adulthood, was about myself: the kind of person ~I~ want to be.

I am deciding to take the road less traveled by. I’ve been told that my face lights up whenever I talk about the summer I spent in Morocco working for a social enterprise that helps women artisans bring their products to the international market through female empowerment and business development programs—Manal, if you’re reading this, here is my sneaky plug for ASILA and the Global Fellows program at SCU.

I want my face to light up every time I talk about work. I know this is easier said than done but I’m determined to try making it happen. I know I want to combine business with impact. I am currently working for a non-profit and taking classes the summer after my junior year, instead of having that glamorous brand name internship you’re supposed to lock in as your first job post-grad. So yeah I deviated a bit from the path I had always imagined myself treading along.

But I believe that you can work your way up to a high paying salary if you are truly passionate about your job. I know that I’m creative, better with words, and that I somehow want to do something that has a global reach or social benefit. I know that I value hard work and health, my international support system of family and friends, and live music, travel, and adventure.

I may never reach the balanced lifestyle I so eagerly seek but I’ll rest easy knowing I gave it a try. Guess I’ll soon be hopping on board with Frost.

For someone who considers herself a realist, this is one pretty idealistic declaration—that I know. But hey—I want to live life. Not keep up; not die trying.

That’s what makes all the difference.

– mkh