Color Therapy

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The week before finals my first semester of freshman year, the dining hall right next to my dorm made a major and marvelous change: every table was covered with gigantic sheets of paper and adorned with Crayola crayons. It was great because most (if not all) of us hadn’t colored at the table since we were ordering off the kids menu, and for a few minutes, we could take our minds off finals and scribble next to our plates.
You see, Bolton was on to something – finals, obviously, is the most stressful time of the semester because it kills students’ brains. And coloring is brainless – that’s part of why it’s so empowering. Even though some people say that coloring books kill creativity, they’re great for therapy because you don’t have to make any decisions grander that what color crayon you’re going to use next. You don’t even have to follow the rules. Your parents didn’t care when you didn’t color inside the lines, did they? No, because they wanted you to be happy, so they hung your masterpieces on the fridge or even framed them regardless of whether you filled the lines in neatly or scribbled all over the page. And that made you really happy.
Coloring is therapeutic for me because I can feel myself pushing my problems out through the colored pencils. For 15 minutes, I can cast whatever I’m worrying about (so, you know, everything) away and just focus on getting a job done, and nobody is going to assess my performance because well, criticizing how somebody filled out a coloring book is kind of ridiculous. Maybe you’re super anti-coloring book and hating everything I just typed, but you know, coloring works for me. It really does.
So, what did I think when I came across a Lisa Frank coloring book that’s selling for a dollar last night?

  1. LISA FRANK. MY CHILDHOOD AND THE DOLPHIN STATIONERY I LOVED.
  2. I can’t believe Urban Outfitters isn’t selling this same book for $15 yet.
  3. Okay, but really, this is the only coloring book in the whole dollar section, and I think I’m supposed to take it home with me and use it.

I didn’t even flip through it until after I got home, and do you know what I found? Leopards. Puppies on a giant heart in a checkerboard dimension. Angel kittens in angel kitten heaven.
And then I saw it: a cow and her baby. This was the first page I was going to color, and it was going to make me feel better.
And you know what? It actually did.

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Lack of Focus

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I have a nasty habit of being all over the place – well, I guess you’d call it more of a personality trait than a habit, but my point still stands. If you need better evidence, just take a look at the majority of papers and drafts I’ve gotten back from my professors. Somewhere there is a “lack of clear focus” or “these ideas aren’t tied together” scribbled in the margin. To be honest, the only situation I’m really good at fixating in is anxiety attacks, and I certainly don’t want to make a life out of that.

Journalism school terrifies me sometimes because I feel like everybody has a trademark: there are the fashion-obsessed, the foodies, the music junkies, the editors-in chief, and the technologically savvy mass media people, and they all have outlets in which they represent themselves accurately and wholly. And then there’s me, the one who blogs almost anything from recycled homework to rants about stupid people and ideas she really doesn’t agree with. And I don’t know why, but I feel like trademark people just have everything together and are taken way more seriously because of it. Just thinking about it frightens me (go anxiety theme). My fingers are even trembling right now.

But I have to stop thinking about things like this, because I don’t think I can ever be one of those one-track people. I can’t even pick a single favorite color or food. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a trademark. It’s a quality I envy and don’t think I can ever have, just because of my history, genealogy, and influences.
Everything about me is a multiple. I consider myself multiracial to a degree, or at least multicultural – if I can’t qualify as multiracial because I look white and middle eastern is technically white on every standardized test I have ever taken (even though I check both “white” and “other”), then I’ll just settle with spicy. My home life is split in two. Ever since I was six and my parents split up, I’ve had to live under a joint custody. My shrink says I’m a dichotomy between an old soul and a child. I’m a double major because I couldn’t decide whether I liked literature or writing stories more – I like words! Why can’t I just like everything about words?

One hundred percent of me agrees that I’m not cut out to be one of those one-track people, and at least now I am entirely agreeing on something. I like too many things. I like words. I like eating. I like humor. I like sleeping. I like clothes. I like music. I like traveling. I like playing psychologist. I like taking pictures and recording things. I like people (well, sometimes). I think most of all I like liking things. It’s way easier to narrow down a list of the things I hate: bees, brussels sprouts, not being warm enough, being the tallest person under the umbrella, and numbers. See how much easier that was for me?

I don’t know if dualities are the way to get noticed in the real world and the future, but I guess I’m going to have to deal with it, because even though not having a clear focus makes me look really juvenile, I kind of like not having a trademark.
So from now on, I’ll just sell myself as someone who likes everything excluding that list above, because god forbid I will ever write a story about something like beekeeping.
I’ll work this.
Or, I guess I should say these.

This isn't in focus either. Get it?

This isn’t in focus either. Get it?

Ode To Babies

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Before I get carried away writing this, I need to establish that I am not a baby person. Being near babies freaks me out. If baby anxiety is a real thing, then I definitely have it. If I hold or touch a baby, it will immediately start fussing or crying – I call myself the anti-baby whisperer – and it terrifies me. I don’t want to have any kids, but I feel like if I did have a baby, I would go into anxiety overload because I wouldn’t be able to give it what it wants or make it like me. Some people are great with babies; then there are people like me.

Around 10 months ago, a baby came into my life. It’s a more intimate relationship than most of the baby situations I know of, which are limited to my aunt and uncle having two babies in the past five and a half years and all the teen moms I stalk on Facebook. No, this baby and I shared a father – that’s right, I am 20 years old and have a 10-month-old half-sister.

Our relationship was pretty stunted for many months, because the majority of time I am away at school, and she is two hours away at my dad’s house. I don’t think I existed in her memory for the first six months of my life, because, well, I wasn’t there for it. What’s a weekend-long visit home to someone who hasn’t even developed a long-term memory yet? So for a really long time, our relationship kind of went like this: I thought she was cool because she is smart, but I hated it (key word: panicked) whenever she cried or became upset around me because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it except tell someone she liked a problem was going on; she didn’t really know who I was, and if I held her or something she got scared.
Note: I will say that she liked me shortly after she was born. This might have been because I tried to communicate with her by imitating her facial expressions.
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But then something wonderful happened: winter break. I had three and a half weeks off from school, and that meant I actually had time to bond with the baby. Almost every morning (um, okay, afternoon) after I woke up, I would just go to her room and hang out with her. Mostly I watched, because that’s what I’m best at  when it comes to babies. Watching her try and learn to walk and grasp the pronunciation of many syllables made me think of how difficult being a baby actually is.

If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend observing the interactions between babies and animals

If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend observing the interactions between babies and animals

Think about it. I will admit that when my half-sister was born, I was extremely envious of her because she got to sleep all day long and I didn’t. She didn’t have to worry about school for a few years. All she had to do was chill at home and play with toys and enjoy having such a short attention span.
But I was wrong. You know what babies spend the majority of their time doing? Trying to be just like you and me. This whole time, I have been envious of someone who dreams of accomplishing tasks I find fairly simple, like speaking, writing, and eating without having someone force a spoon down my throat.

Don't mind me, I'm just being a genius

Don’t mind me, I’m just being a genius

Babies just want to be people – they are incredibly aware of what separates themselves from the rest of us, and they are constantly trying to change it. Babies are always babbling not to amuse us, but to communicate with us. I think they know most of what they’re saying is complete gibberish, but they’re probably telling themselves that after so many mistakes, real words will start to come out. It’s fascinating. It’s science and psychology and – yes, I’m going to say it – Paradise Lost and Songs of Innocence and Experience in real life. Babies have the luxury of being completely innocent, but they cast it aside for knowledge because they want to be like the older people they aspire to be like one day.

Babies are driven little geniuses that should not be taken lightly. 

But the best part is that she doesn't mind my camera

But the best part is that she doesn’t mind my camera

Look, I Have Goals!

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Oh, the I’m-back-at-school-and-have-no-motivation-but-extreme-anxiety-and-I’m-always-tired blues are here once again. They’ve actually been here for a while. How long ago did school start? Three weeks? Okay, then I’ve been in a funk for two weeks.

Despite how intensely I hate schoolwork, things are going pretty well. Actually, scratch that. School is terrifying me. But outside of school? Yeah, things are good. I’ve become addicted to Gossip Girl, so that should fill any void I’m feeling in my life. I joined a paper, so people besides my Facebook friends are reading my work. My highly offensive and hilarious work that will probably come back to bite me one day. Whatever – clips are clips, and I finally feel like there’s some purpose in my life.

So if things are going well, then why am I making new expectations for myself? Well, firstly it’s because I’m 20 now, and there are things I’ve just got to learn to do, like cooking. There’s so much more to food than just heating it up and putting sauce or cheese on top, and since I’m such an avid fan of Real Simple already, I’d like to get to the point where I can actually follow a recipe without fucking something up.
I’ve also been anxious as hell because I already feel like I can’t keep up with school. I kind of suffer from this scheduling problem where I don’t consider the consequences – and the workload, in particular –  of the classes I sign up for. I just love to make things complicated, and working on two degrees at once is becoming an issue for the first time. What becomes a priority? How can I choose between my two great loves? And no, I’m not copping out and declaring a minor instead – I was born to be an English major… it just happens that I was born to be a journalism major too.
If I can get off my ass and sort things out, school won’t be as much of a problem. My anxieties are easy to fix. All I have to do is act now. God, I sound just like my dad. I didn’t mean to ramble on so much.
Anyway, here are some things I’m aiming to do:

  1.  Be more organized with my tasks, and keep an actual day planner instead of scribbling some odd words in an unlined notebook. I actually already started this and went against my own advice – I’m using a free UGA planner, and it makes me feel like the biggest freshman. But don’t worry, I’m going to pimp it out and make it match my “wrong neighborhood motherfucker” notebooks.
  2. Learn to cook something of sustenance and start eating more super foods. I’ve warmed up to eggs in the past year, but I need to keep expanding if I want to have more energy. Oh, and since I’m 20 years old now, I should probably start liking vegetables.
  3. Build up some muscle in my arms. Hey, I’m tired of not being able to lift things! Something tells me street team might be able to help me with this a little.
  4. Write something every week. Thankfully, this won’t be an issue since I’m writing for a paper now and will get kicked off if I don’t turn anything in.
  5. Own my points in class discussions. I don’t think this will be so hard if I read Joyce’s work more closely, look over the poems I’m assigned more than once, and try to make myself open to any interpretation. Also I should remember to bring magazines to class so I don’t look like an idiot in mag writing.

I’m feeling good about these – and I’m not stressed, like I usually would be, and that’s amazing. I didn’t just set goals that will help me out tremendously. I set realistic goals, and I didn’t set an insane amount of them.
I’m fairly confident I can do this, and that makes me feel safe. It makes me feel great.

20 Things It Took Me 20 Years to Learn

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I’m turning 20 on Wednesday, and oh my god that’s five days from now, isn’t it? Crossing over to a new set of numbers feels weird. I think turning 20 is a normal thing to feel weird about, based on the reactions I see from others who have crossed that threshold.
I’m trying to be somewhat philosophical about it or at least just feel like an adult and not a scared little kid in an adult’s body. Here are the important things I came up with.

1) Don’t waste your time on people who aren’t worth it. This is much easier said than done, but once you stop trying to appease people, you end up being a lot happier. Also, don’t change who you are to fit in. If you have to change, then the friendships you’re going to “gain” won’t be real.

2) Smile and mean it. I try to take the time to smile at everybody who makes eye contact with me. I look at it this way: say you’re just walking down the sidewalk and somebody smiles at you. It feels nice, doesn’t it? Making other people feel nice makes you feel nice.

3) Nothing is wrong with having different interests. Everyone likes something that’s a little “off” or isn’t mainstream or popular. There are communities of people who share your “weird” interest. Find one!

4) Know when to ask for help. I’m very stubborn. Perhaps its a Middle Eastern thing. Walking around a store and refusing to ask a sales attendant where something is one thing, but when I’m upset about something or confused, I need to remember that I’m not alone.

5) Eat and be merry. Two years ago, I cut my food supply drastically. I’m honestly not even sure why. I hated myself for doing it the whole time, and even though I gained the weight back, I still have a hard time forgiving myself. There is absolutely no point in depriving yourself. I’m not saying you should go eat a double cheeseburger every day (you’ll develop coronary disease or clog up your arteries, and you won’t appreciate how good double cheeseburgers are if you eat them every single day!), but please, don’t torture yourself. When you lose that weight, you only feel disgusted with yourself for the means you took to get there.

6) Don’t fear solitude. Years ago, I saw a girl about my age now sitting by herself in a restaurant. She ate Indian food by herself and read a book, and she oozed confidence. I’m trying to be this girl. Doing things by yourself is actually empowering because it teaches you not to wait around or depend on others.

7) What is painful is most difficult to write about. It’s also the best material. I’m talking about stuff that’s so painful it physically hurts your stomach to even think about writing them down. But try it. Nobody has to see what you’ve written, and you’re conquering negativity.

8) Manage your messes. I’m still at teenager at the moment, so I definitely have the potential to be messy, but I’ve noticed that I can’t think well when I’m around a mess. Just take a little time each day to straighten something up. It produces a good sense of balance.

9) Listen to your body. If you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open, you should probably go home. If you feel like shit, don’t go to class. You won’t be able to absorb anything anyway. Pay attention to the things that don’t feel right. I’ve felt overly weak or tired before, so I looked into it and started eating more protein and iron. It made a huge difference. The little things like that really make an improvement.

10) Don’t underestimate the power of small talk. I once asked a man if I could pet his dog and ended up with his business card. I asked my dad’s friend how his job was going and ended up getting a tour of Teen Vogue’s headquarters in New York. Just say something. You never know what you’ll get out of it.

11) Actively tackle whatever is bothering you. Complaining or feeling sorry for yourself won’t fix anything. Get to the root of your problem and try to solve it. Is the problem really big? Just pick a section of that root.

12) Challenge your fears. This is especially useful if your fear is intense. Sometimes I get in these moods where I’m afraid to go outside or speak to people, and I give in, but it ends up making me feel worse. A good step to getting over your fear is stepping up against it and proving it wrong.

13) Break habits. Having routines is comforting. It can also limit you. Try doing something else or in a different way occasionally, just for the hell of it.

14) Let serendipity take its course. I’ve noticed that a lot of people go out and search for something, particularly a romantic companion. Major magazines will tell you the best places to meet future boyfriends. It’s ridiculous. Just step back. Don’t try. Some of the best friendships and relationships you have just come out of nowhere.

15) Follow your passion. Don’t let what others think allow you to doubt yourself. This one can be a little difficult, especially if your family is against you. I know that my family accepts my wanting to be a writer, but I don’t know how seriously they actually take it. Getting caught up on what they think isn’t going to help me out any, though. I just want to do what I love.

16) If you work hard, don’t forget to play too. For the longest time, all I cared about was school. I still put school way up there, but I’m not as insane about it as I used to be. Wanting to do well is a good thing. Wanting to be so perfect that you’re depriving yourself of everything else is a bad thing.

17) Being there for somebody goes a long way. People you care about are going to encounter painful situations that you might have absolutely no experience with or wisdom about. It might be bankruptcy. It might be divorce. It might be suicide. You can still help even if you don’t know the right thing to say. Just be there and show that you care. That is one of the most important things you can do.

18) Just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful or terrifying. Anxiety is a bitch. Oh, it is a bitch. Any possibility that crosses your mind can become horrifically warped and leave you hiding in bed. I always feel stupid because I’ll get hung on up something that isn’t real. But in a way, it is real, because I’ve come to believe it so strongly.

19) Everybody has problems. Some people are just better at hiding them than others. I learned this one years ago but for some reason, I keep forgetting about it. Try to consider what others are going through too. And know you’re not alone.

20) Love who you are. I went through a stage where I did not want to see my reflection at all. Then I started doing this thing where I’d stand in front of a mirror before I took a shower and examine myself, thinking I could be happier if and only if some aspects of my body were different. What do I do now? I think something nice about myself every time I look in a mirror. I’m working on building some positive reinforcement, because the last thing I need to be hung up about it a reflection. It’s just light. 

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I never think any big events in my life are going to happen. I didn’t ever see myself graduating from high school or moving to Athens or accomplishing some huge task. I did it last week with Bonnaroo.
I’m currently doing this with Austria, and I’m becoming scared because I just realized that I’m leaving in 18 days. 18 breakfasts. 18 nights where I’ll wake up at odd intervals. 18 (well, probably fewer) showers.

I’m trying to pull together a list of things I need for this trip. Ideas. Plans. A level head. A plug converter. My big bottle of Ibuprofen. It’s hard to find Ibuprofen in Europe, so I’m going to bring a huge bottle and deal it. Just kidding. I’m going to share it, and that’s how I’ll win peoples’ hearts and friendship over there. 

I’m getting nervous because it’s hard for me to imagine what my life is going to be like over there because, well, I’ve never been to Austria. I hardly know any German – I’ve been slacking on studying it. It might get really cold there. I’m going to miss people and there won’t be anything I can do about it. I’ll be a whole ocean and several countries away. Mostly I’m afraid of ending up alone. What if nobody likes me there? I’ve got some bad qualities. 

The one thing I have complete confidence in is the literature class I’ll be taking. I’m great at English and I’m very passionate about words if you can’t tell. I know I can say something impressive and be able to bond with people who get starry-eyed over the same writers, books, and punctuation marks that I do. I think I will make a friend in my literature class. I need to, actually. I can’t be reserved like I normally am since all of this is going to happen over a span of six weeks instead of a semester. I’m got to give myself a crash course in branching out to other people, and that happens to be one of the things I’m worst at.

I just end up fantasizing every time I try to construct a controlled thought about Austria. Instead of thinking about how to make friends, I think about things like how often I’ll be able to eat gelato and how I want to rent a bike and ride it around Innsbruck every day I’m there. It’s funny that I’m thinking this way, because usually I’m very rational. Actually I’m never rational when it comes to thinking, because that’s how anxiety manages to take over me so easily. 

What is good advice for studying abroad? What is a good way to make people like me? Does anybody have any recommendations for where I should go and what I should see in Europe, particularly Vienna and Germany? Or anywhere that’s close to where I’ll be? What kind of food should I try? 
Any advice – or any statement that will calm me down, really – would be much appreciated.  

 

Under Pressure

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Something very strange happened to me today.
I had just finished my last final. It was easy. Really easy. All I had to do was translate three short paragraphs’ worth of material: two from Farsi to English, and one from English to Farsi. Straight out of the textbook. Probably the easiest final I’ve ever taken.
I walked out of the room and down the stairs. I went outside, deeply inhaled the scent of warm, wet sidewalk (which I really love for some reason) several times, and started walking towards the bookstore so I could take my textbooks back.
Everything should have felt perfect. I was done with school. Done! And halfway finished with college! Another year closer to becoming a writer. Well, at least writing professionally. Another year closer to true independence and living for myself, because I cannot wait to embrace that cheesy stage of my life. My summer had officially started. I should have felt elated, right?
Wrong.
I felt drained, and the tension in my arms and stomach increased. My shirt started feeling tighter and tighter, and my heartbeat sped up. I was about to have an anxiety attack for no reason at all, and that scared me even more.
Whatever happened to me really troubles me. I am all about reason. I’m ridiculously rational, and even before I was an English major, I was known to seriously overanalyze things. I feel like everything I do revolves around reason. I’m uptight. Sometimes I come across as spontaneous, but realistically, I don’t think I have it in me. I can’t do something without thinking it through first. The only exception to that letting something I shouldn’t say slip out.
I think the anxiety I put myself through over very justifiable worries is ridiculous, even though I can’t bring myself to stop it. This, however… this was just terrifying. All I can call it is a panic attack, because it practically came out of nowhere.
The whole time I was panicking, I kept thinking about how I can’t really comprehend or retain things that don’t relate to writing. It’s like my brain won’t let anything else in or even pay attention to it. I have to be reasonable and at least say I know it isn’t true, but I feel like writing is all I’m good at. It’s all I can really show for myself.
Like school, I’m not really good at school. If I were good at school, I wouldn’t be stressed out about it all the time, right? And people. I’m terrible with people. I can’t even talk to people. And my body. I put shit into my body. I’m clumsy and awkward and uncoordinated, and my stamina is ridiculously low. Possibly because of all the chemicals I have to put into it, because even my brain sucks at doing its job. My own brain, the center of my being, cannot keep me stable. Sometimes I just feel like a huge failure.
With writing it’s different. Words are the one thing I’m really confident about. I can write a story and push my opinion on people without ever actually stating it. I can write a mean paper. I’m really good at analyzing literature. I can recognize the roots in words that belong to different languages. My brain’s a little shot right now, so I can’t really come up with good evidence, so just trust me on this one. I’m a literary genius. I’m not a journalistic genius yet, but I’m catching on pretty damn quickly. Words are my forte.
They’re also my life. All I ever do is think. And my thoughts aren’t really pictures, they’re words. I’ve noticed that words are the only thing that calm me down when I’m really stressed out. I don’t even have to be near a piece of paper or a keyboard. If I start writing sentences in my head, I immediately feel better. I’m not joking when I say I depend on words, because I really feel that way. Words have saved me from feeling sick, pressured, and well, dense again and again.
I think words are the only way I’m going to be able to get through my anxiety. You know, my big anxiety. Not just one little attack, but the fact that I have them so frequently and can completely go off the edge in a matter of minutes. Waking up several times every night from nightmares and not being able to go back to sleep because I start worrying is the big anxiety. There is ample evidence that shows I can’t tackle the big anxiety on my own, not even with medication or anything like that; I can’t overcome this if I’m just Sarra who takes a pill to make something go away. I have to be more than that. I have to be Sarra who utilizes words and channels them into saving her from the big anxiety. I really don’t think there’s any other way.