Laura Mustard Is The Self-Love Indie Artist You Need To Listen To Today

Laura Mustard has the rare ability to become your friend before she even speaks a word. 

Fresh-faced, clad in a long-sleeved button-down, and smiling broadly, Mustard looks every bit the burgeoning Nashville songwriter, radiating a quiet but palpable charm that immediately draws you into her.  Humble through and through, she doesn’t speak a word about the array of instruments behind her, even though the multi-talented singer-songwriter features each and every one in her sophomore EP, Treehouse, which is slated for release this September.  Mustard, did, however, speak profoundly about self-acceptance, body positivity, and personal growth, all of which have influenced her upcoming EP and will continue to inspire indie music devotees.

1. Hi, Laura!  It’s nice to meet you.  Tell me a little bit about yourself and your sophomore EP, Treehouse.

“I’m from Connecticut originally but now live in Nashville.  When I was 6, I read the “Goosebumps” book Pianos Can Be Murder, and I started begging my mom for a piano.  In high school, I played percussion… Singing in high school led me to doing open mics in college and joining two bands, Stillbridge and Silvertone 5 [where I played drums, piano, and keyboard and performed vocals]. Then I went to Nashville on vacation, fell in love with the songwriting community, and decided to move there.  Since then, I’ve been songwriting and releasing EPs, [including] TreehouseTreehouse is about self-acceptance and each song on the EP addresses that idea from a different angle.”

2. What are some of your biggest musical inspirations behind Treehouse?

I grew up listening to a lot of Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer, and Sam Cook, but lately, [I’ve] been getting more into Bluegrass and Folk, listening to Railroad Earth and Green Sky Blue Grass.  [My favorite folk and bluegrass groups] inspired Treehouse.”

3. Treehouse has been described as “a fresh collection of songs about the journey to self-acceptance.”  How have you grown in self-acceptance throughout your life?

“It definitely has been a big journey from not talking about [my struggles to being open about them].

Part of it [was] getting to know [myself]… the good things about [me] and also [my] pitfalls…. I [did] years of quiet introspection and reading and meditating that helped me love myself.

I think the first time I talked about the medical stuff in elementary school and middle school, there was a negative response, but as I got older, I learned that I shouldn’t care what anybody thinks.  I learned to kind of override that [self-doubt] and speak up.”

4. Your music video for Treehouse’s lead single, “Nobody’s Road” includes shots of the medical supplies you use, and you’ve shared that this is your first time publicly talking about your medical history through your music.  What influenced your decision to speak up about your medical life and include it in your work?

“Growing up, I didn’t really talk about [my medical history] with anyone outside of my family.  [Now], I’m trying to break down that instinct.  And because this is a new album with more emotion, I think that [being vocal and vulnerable about it] is… a good direction to go in.  

“Nobody’s Road” is an autobiographical song, and [my medical devices] were such a big part of my life [that] it sort of felt disingenuous to leave [them] out.  I had a second of hesitation about whether or not I want to be honest about it, but I thought it was important… for people with catheters and urinary issues… to see those things on screen and know they aren’t alone.”

5. Your vulnerability in your music is compelling and highly relatable.  What advice do you have for people who want to remain open about their struggles but have difficulty speaking up?

“…Journal about [them], and get to know yourself. Once you write about [your struggles], it’s easier to speak up about [them] and share.  Knowing that you’re [perfect the way you are] but also knowing where you can improve too [is also key to sharing more about yourself].

6. You’ve established yourself as a champion of self-love and body positivity.  What would you want people struggling to love themselves to hear when they listen to Treehouse?

“There is [usually] a struggle [to love yourself, and [my EP] Treehouse captures that struggle in different ways.  The song “Treehouse” is about escaping and avoiding [the struggle to love yourself, while] the song “Eager” is about laughing… at your flaws and… mistakes and not tak[ing them] seriously.  It’s very tongue-in-cheek [and is about]… making friends with yourself, [which] I hope other people can do… too.  And “Nobody’s Road” is more about how everybody [struggles with something]. It makes me [love myself], and I hope it makes other people [love themselves] too.”

7. How does your sophomore EP, Treehouse compare musically to your debut EP, Ramble On?  

“[When I wrote] Ramble On, I’d been living in Massachusetts for 5 years playing open mics, so I could test [my songs] out on audiences.  But… I haven’t shown too much [of Treehouse] to the world.  This is also the first EP on which I’ve used co-writers, both of whom live in the Nashville area.  Ramble On was a little more cohesive because I wrote all those songs on my own, [while] this EP has more of a country feel [with some Motown and folk influences].”

8. How have you grown musically and personally since you released your first EP, and how does that growth translate into Treehouse?

“For one thing, I was [working towards] getting to the self-acceptance, journaling and meditat[ing] and [learning] Buddhist teachings when Ramble On came out.  But now, moving to Nashville and having that independence was a big step towards self-acceptance.  And also, speaking up about my medical history helped me accept myself.

Musically, I got more comfortable with co-writing, and now that I’ve been doing that for a few years, I feel comfortable putting [my songs] out with the other co-writers in Nashville.  We [all] had a lot of fun in the studio producing Treehouse. There was a tin can phone and a glockenspiel involved, and we really got into it.”

9. As a pop-folk singer-songwriter, you release music with a distinct sound that’s often missing from the pop world.  How does your music stand out from the songs that other artists are producing today?

“It’s [been] interesting to watch pop change over time, to see pop become influenced by rap and hip hop and R&B.  Even country has become more of what pop used to be.  My music has a more acoustic feel [than most Top 40 songs], so it’s a sound that you don’t usually hear on pop radio.  [That type of sound] is missing from th[e] pop space.”

10. We’re currently living in some frightening, uncertain times.  How do the themes in Treehouse tie into the current state of the world?  Why is this a message that we need to hear now?

“The Treehouse EP is very positive, which is helpful when we’re going through times like [these].  The song “Treehouse” in particular is about escape, so it can help other people get away from what’s going on in the world and find self-acceptance.  Sometimes I [even] listen to my own songs during this time [to escape!]”

As our interview drew to a close, Laura smiled warmly, thanking me for my time with the same bright demeanor she possessed from the moment I first (virtually) met her.  It’s clear that in the Nashville indie scene, Laura Mustard has it all — talent, poise, and vision — and she’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Featured Photo via lauramustard.

Even In My Darkest Moments, I Believe That Life Will Get Better

The world feels pitch-black, heavy in its seemingly constant fog.  I am clawing at stability, grasping above the rising waves in complete darkness.  But somewhere in the ebony night, I can just make out a glimmer of light because I believe that life will get better.

The world feels harsh, unforgiving in revealing its inner workings.  I am lost in the midst of doubt and disbelief, wondering if I can shield myself from the nagging thought that maybe I will never be enough.  But deep in my heart, I choose to press on because I believe that life will get better.

The days feel monotonous, tiring in their unceasing routine.  I am worried in the wake of my exhaustion, afraid that maybe, I will never discover the powerful sense of fulfillment for which I constantly long.  But even as I begin to shut down, I promise myself to never stop searching for the key to contentment because I believe that life will get better.

The hours pass slowly, as if time is frozen.  I am weakened with every passing moment, fighting the anxious thoughts that threaten to infiltrate my mind, willing myself to breathe steadily, to desperately grasp at any iota of calm I can feel.  But even as I struggle to breathe, as I wonder if my humanity is failing me, I attempt to lure myself into a timeless, hazy serenity because I believe that life will get better.

The minutes are unceasing, as if they are taunting me in my breathlessness.  I find myself longing to feel again, to feel time rushing by, to feel purposeful, to feel whole, to feel fulfilled, to feel distressed, to feel angry, to feel anything besides complete numbness.  But as the minutes drone on, as I long to feel sentient again, I discover a spark swelling deep within, urging me to hold onto every moment because I believe that life will get better.

As the weight of the world bears down on me, threatening to break me, I realize that maybe, the darkness enshrouding me isn’t the heartbreaking ending I constantly feared; it’s the bittersweet beginning of a life of opportunity, happiness, and fulfillment.  I hold onto hope in the wake of my struggles because I believe that life will get better.

Even in my darkest moments, I believe that life will get better.  And, as the weight of the world bears down on you, as you claw at stability, numbly wishing for a life of fulfillment, I hope you believe that life will get better, too.

Featured Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash.

A Day In The Life Of A College Student With Anxiety And Cerebral Palsy

7:25: I awaken and shower, pondering my future as the warm water rushes over me.  Do I take a service year, or go into advertising as I’ve been planning?  Will I be employed when I graduate?  Why did I decide to leave college so early?  I’ll be leaving my friends behind.  I’ll be leaving the life I know behind, all as a third year.  What do other third year college students muse about in the shower?  Certainly not graduation.  I’m defying convention, but is that the best choice I could have made for myself?

7:54: I scan through all of my available clothing options, finally settling on a navy blue floral dress and white flip flops.  I discard possible choices based on a myriad of factors that make sense only to me.  My mind is a perpetual pro-con list.  I am analytical to a fault.  I search for my favorite necklace — silver with a heart — to wear with the dress, and worry that I accidently threw it away.  “Calm down, you have much bigger fish to fry,” I think.  I give up looking.  This outfit will suffice.

8:10: I blow-dry my hair, return to my bedroom and eat breakfast, checking Facebook while I eat.  A sudden jolt of worry rushes through me.  Where are my glasses?  What if they’re crushed somewhere?  I decide that they’re probably just fine, and I keep eating.  I find my glasses after I eat.  Good.

9:05: I print out my résumé for my Leadership class because today is the day we learn about résumé formatting.  My computer isn’t printing my document, and an unfamiliar notice lingers on my screen.  I call my family in desperation for any type of help, but I can’t reach them, which frustrates me further.  “Why can’t you pick up your phone?” I cry rhetorically.  “I can’t do this! I need this printed!”  My roommate hears me and asks if I’m okay, and I immediately feel guilt wash over me.  My anxiety is challenging for everyone.  I wish I had control, but I never feel in control at all.  Anxiety runs my life.  We print the résumé out with a different printer, but I can’t help but think that my roommate doesn’t deserve anything I put her through.  My anxiety isolates me.  My anxiety harms others.  My anxiety makes me feel like a monster.  When I leave for class thirty-five minutes later, I still have tears in my eyes.

10:05: I arrive at my Memory and Cognition class and sit down in the second row,  Today, we are learning about attention theories.  The class fascinates me, and I take quick, furious notes throughout.  An hour in, we have a ten-minute break, and my professor chats with me about my internship because I’m one of his research interns this quarter.  When we return to the material, he states that some actions we take are unconscious, like walking.  “I guess I’m doing heel-toe right now, but we don’t have to think about things like walking and talking,” he says.  I realize that he is speaking from a place of incredible privilege.  Some people can’t walk heel-toe without having to focus on their gait.  They’re not wired that way.  People like me.  I doubt any of us intend to reveal our unconscious biases, whether they’re racist, sexist or ablest, but we need to be cognizant of them in order to change.  I realize that I’ve taken my own abilities for granted on numerous occasions, and I walk out understanding not only attention, but the power that our unconscious holds over our schematic biases.

11:45: I arrive at my Leadership class early.  We spend the entire class learning how to properly format our résumés.  I realize that mine is out of order, and I worry about finding time to reformat it.  I hold a mixture of hope and self-doubt inside of me as to my future employment prospects, and I hope that someday soon, my résumé will be the golden key to unlocking my dream job.  All of my senior classmates are interviewing, and are so close to becoming employed.  I feel insecure in comparison.

1:15: I arrive at my apartment, quickly heat up food and eat.  Twenty-five minutes later, I rush off to the psychology lab, hoping I can arrive before my first participant is slated to be there.

2:00: I arrive at the lab, let my participant into the room and run through the informed consent and study procedures.  I study for my Food Science midterm while I wait for the participant to finish, and I debrief them afterward.  The study runs like clockwork.  “It has to be methodologically sound,” I think, “because I don’t want to ruin my professor’s study.”  My eyes fall on the corkboard in the room above my head.  Thumbtacked to the board is a slip of paper with the words “You are important.”  I don’t feel important.  I don’t even feel happy today, but the words make me smile.  We all have a piece of us to share with the world that will make the world a better place.  We are all important, whether we recognize it or not.  I greet my next participant with a smile on my face and a renewed sense of faith in myself.

4:00: I stop at a small store in my apartment complex to pick up a snack.  I arrive at my apartment, and study for tomorrow’s Food Science midterm for the next three hours.  I feel a wave of exhaustion run over me.

7:00: I rest my head on my notes, and fall into a dreamless sleep.  Maybe I should rethink studying on my bed!

10:00: I jolt awake, feeling completely disoriented.  I worry about the three hours of my life I could have spent studying for the midterm, and I decide to make myself a very late dinner.  I eat ravenously.

11:00: I decide to take out the trash, but my roommate’s in the kitchen, and we chat for a while.  I still feel guilty about making her worry about me earlier.  I hate the guilt and I hate the anxiety, but I feel powerless to stop them.  I take out the trash, shower and prepare for bed.

12:05: I listen to music before falling asleep.  Seemingly out of the blue, three words stick in my mind: I’m an overcomer.  I fall asleep with a renewed sense of hope in tomorrow.  I know that I am naïeve to assume that there will be a tomorrow, as so many people do not have that luxury, but I understand that I can overcome the difficulties of today if I strive to use the tomorrow I’m fortunate to have to better myself.

Featured Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

Why Fireworks Are Difficult As A Person With Cerebral Palsy

Ordinarily, I forget. I forget about the fireworks. I forget about the sudden bursts of noise. I forget that the Independence Day festivities begin before July 4th and last for days after.

I forget about the effect unexpected sensory stimulation has on my jangled nervous system.

Every year in early July, I am jolted awake from my denial with a bang. A pop. A boom. I have cerebral palsy, and thanks to my idiosyncratic neurological wiring, I also have a sensitive startle reflex.

I flinch at unexpected, loud sounds. I jump. My body tenses. A seemingly unquellable surge of anxiety rushes through my heart.

It was just after midnight on the morning of July 4 when I heard the earsplitting, telltale sound of celebration. A burst of noise so loud, it seemed to shake every fiber of my being. Immediately, reflexively, my left leg tensed and jumped. A stabbing, piercing pain gripped my heart, and my breathing felt shallow. The music I had been listening to seemed to fade out, growing increasingly distant as it became overtaken by my frazzled nerves. I willed myself to relax, but I felt perpetually tense.

In that moment, my mind flashed to the millions of Americans sleeping soundly, dreaming in red, white, and blue of sunny beach days, backyard barbecues, Pinterest-worthy parties, and the very fireworks that rocked me to my core. In that moment, as I lay awake fighting to stave off my anxiety while the majority of the country waited in gleeful anticipation for the highlight of Independence Day — the fireworks — I felt completely alone.

But I am not alone.

The startle reflex (also termed “Moro reflex”), an involuntary physical response to unexpected sensory stimuli, is exceedingly common in children and adults with cerebral palsy. Although the Moro reflex typically lasts from birth to 3 to 6 months of age, this response generally remains into adulthood for those with cerebral palsy, due to the neurological differences present in those who live with the condition.  The stimuli that can evoke this response include loud or unexpected sounds and abrupt environmental changes — making unexpected fireworks a prime trigger for the startle reflex in those who are living with cerebral palsy.

Nearly 800,000 Americans live with symptoms of cerebral palsy. Nearly 800,000 Americans may grapple with jumpiness and muscle tension at annual firework displays. Nearly 800,000 Americans may struggle to relax after fireworks are unexpectedly launched in their neighborhoods, not solely on the 4th of July, but for days prior and days following.

So today, I remember. Today, I remember that many Americans struggle with loud firework displays and hissing sparklers. Today, I remember those who are jolted awake by late-night festivities, trying to quell the sudden tension, the jumpy muscles, and the sharp onslaught of anxiety brought on by the startle reflex. Today, I remember that I am not alone.

Today, I hope you remember, too. I hope you remember to show respect, care and empathy for your family, friends and neighbors who may be grappling with the extra sensory stimulation the month of July brings. And if you struggle with the startle reflex, I hope you remember that you are not alone.

I am not alone.

You are not alone.

We will conquer this month together.

Featured Photo via Pexels.

This Is How You Can Defeat Your Fear With Passion

I stood huddled on the risers as the music swirled around me.  The pure ring of soprano voices floated through the air.  The brassy timbre of the altos meshed flawlessly with the warmth of the tenors’ voices and with the deep reverberation of the baritones.  Together, we swelled softly to a cadence, as would a gently rolling sea.  We became one, our hearts connected in the pure expression of song.  A tingling sensation of warmth coursed through my body as the song progressed, and I felt pure, unbridled joy.  In that moment, I acknowledged the truth I had been denying for so long.

I had been running away from doing what I loved.

December 11th, 2015 was the first time I had sung onstage in well over two years.  Why had I given up something about which I was incredibly passionate?

In my first year of college, when I decided to stop singing, I convinced myself quitting was absolutely necessary because I would run out of time to grapple with all of the new challenges of college: studying for difficult classes, living away from home, and making my own decisions.  In the deepest recesses of my heart, however, where I hide every part of myself that I strive to protect from the world, there lie a wildly disparate answer.

I was terrified that I would fail.  I worried that any audition I would face would end in tears softly streaming from my eyes.  I assumed that the heavy burden of failure would drag down my heart until I reached the point of complete numbness, unable to feel any longer.

I now understand the truth I had been denying for the longest time.  The deepest sadness lies not in failure, but in distancing yourself from your passion.  The purest happiness lies not in success, but in wholeheartedly embracing your passion, in engaging with it, in sharing it with the world.  This realization sparked my reaction to the news that my high school was having an alumni performance for former members of the jazz choir.  I fully knew that my life was a hectic whirlwind of assignments, midterms, and projects, but I immediately felt compelled to participate, to sing, to use my voice to invoke positivity, joy, and high spirits as I had done for so many years before.

I sang.  I sang despite having taken a grueling final just hours before that had left me feeling as though my energy was wholly depleted.  Prior to the performance, my mind was clouded with a thick, seemingly impenetrable fog.  I worried relentlessly over my grades, my future, and my career.  What would become of me if I failed to earn the grades I wanted?  Would I attain the success for which I constantly strive?  In an instant, however, my perspective shifted radically.

The moment I stepped onto the risers, the previously blistering heat of the stage lights caressed me.  The audience’s warmth and radiance fueled me.  The first note flowed confidently from my mouth, radiating pure love and passion.  As the song progressed, I felt revitalized and uplifted.  Nothing else mattered except this moment, in which I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fifty other alumni, and our voices became one.  I sang from my heart, because I knew in my heart that no matter how many obstacles, trials, and tribulations stand in the way of pursuing my passion, no one can take the song out of the singer.  

Fear of failure is crippling.  It robs us of talent and denies us happiness and passion, but it can be overcome. By embracing every part of yourself, recognizing your true talents, and believing in the infinite possibilities of your own success, you can defeat fear with passion.  As long as you quell your fear and gently nourish your best qualities, your passion will blossom.  Strive to recognize your strengths.  Strive to become your personal best at whatever strikes your interest.  Strive to use your talents to better the world, to promote happiness and encouragement.  Even when life is at its bleakest, never give up your passion.  Your passion is an integral part of your identity, and nothing, not even fear, can take it away from you.

Featured Photo via Pexels.

4 Simple (But Powerful) Ways To Be An Ally To The Mental Health Community

Only 25 percent of people with mental illness feel that others are caring and compassionate towards those with mental illness.  This perceived lack of kindness towards people with mental illness is informed by the centuries of oppression people with mental illness have faced at the hands of those without mental illness — institutionalization, damaging medical procedures, ill treatment and isolation.  However, by examining your own language, actions and biases, you have the power to spread empathy to people with mental illness and become a caring and supportive ally, which will help change perceptions of mental health conditions and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness.  Here are 4 simple ways to become a strong, compassionate ally to the mental health community.

  1. Listen when someone discloses their mental illness — and show empathy.

For many people, disclosure is one of the most challenging aspects of living with mental illness. In our society, mental illness is still widely considered unfit for discussion.  This attitude can easily provoke fear in those who want or need to disclose their mental health status, but you can help alleviate the trepidation surrounding disclosure by showing empathy.  If someone chooses to open up to you about their mental health, understand that it is likely difficult for them and know that one of the best things you can do is listen and respond with care.  Be aware of others’ emotions when they are disclosing (Do they seem nervous?  Emotional?  Hesitant?) and try to put yourself in their position, responding to them how you would want someone to respond to you.  Lean into the conversation.  Do not interrupt anyone while they are disclosing their mental illness and only respond to clarify how they are feeling.  Your words and actions during disclosure will allow others to freely discuss their mental health at an incredibly vulnerable time, which will establish you as a safe confidant, and in doing so, will begin to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

2. Educate yourself about the history of the mental health stigma.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is rooted in a long, sordid history of oppression, but understanding the history behind the current attitude towards mental illness will help you understand why many people living with mental illness feel silenced in our society and will reinforce the importance of eliminating the mental health stigma.  For centuries, those with mental illness were routinely subjected to being gaped at by the general public in “freak shows,” institutionalized under unlivable conditions, or outcast by their families and left to fend for themselves on the streets.  With the rise of the frontal lobotomy in the 1950’sas a potential “cure” for various mental health conditions, many people living with mental illness were forced to undergo this “treatment,” which, by today’s standards, violated medical ethics.  Consequently, those who underwent lobotomies experienced dulled emotions and behavioral changes, which significantly reduced their quality of life.  Society’s attempt to cover up the history of oppression people with mental illness have faced heavily contributes to the oppression people with mental illness still face in society and to the silence surrounding mental health.  By educating yourself on the deeply-engrained prejudices surrounding mental illness, you will arrive at a more thorough understanding of why so many people feel pressured to remain silent about their mental illnesses — and become inspired to change the long-standing narrative of oppression for people with mental illness.

3. Change the language you use to describe mental illness.

Language is powerful.  The language you choose to describe both people with mental illness and unpleasant occurrences in everyday life can change deeply-rooted perceptions of those with mental illness.  Certain words, like “crazy” and “insane,” harm the mentally ill population because they have devolved into terms used to denigrate those with mental illness and reinforce the deleterious stereotypes that contribute to the mental health stigma.  Choosing replacement words for the stigmatizing language in your everyday vocabulary (For the words “crazy” and “insane,” “wild” and “ridiculous” are effective alternatives) is a small but powerful step towards reducing the stigma and promoting equality in our society.

In addition, refrain from using mental illnesses to derogatorily describe everyday inconveniences or other people.  Mental illness and the stigma surrounding it is serious, but carelessly “name-dropping” mental illness in conversation trivializes a long-stigmatized group of health conditions.  Your tidy friend is not “OCD.” The rapidly-fluctuating weather is not “so bipolar.” That slender girl across the street is probably not “anorexic.”  And that never-ending traffic likely does not truly make you want to “kill” yourself.  These phrases, as well as others like them, delegitimize legitimate aspects of mental illness with which many people struggle daily.  Taking care in the language you select and choosing accurate, edifying and respectful alternatives to stigmatizing phrasing communicates a powerful truth — that you stand with the mental health community and are committed to reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

4. Know what your friends with mental illness need from you in times of crisis — and respect their preferences.

Helping a friend with mental illness in a time of difficulty or crisis can be challenging, but it is a powerful way to not only show that you care about their well-being, but also to demonstrate that you are an ally to their community.  In moments of crisis, you may be unsure of what is happening or afraid of saying or doing something unhelpful, but asking your friends with mental illness what they prefer you do will allow you to better understand how to help them through the challenges of life with mental illness.

If you are unsure of how to help a friend with mental illness, wait until a calm moment to ask if there is anything you can do to help them when they are having difficulty with aspects of their mental illness.  Understand that this is a raw, vulnerable conversation for your friend with mental illness, and be patient and understanding if they seem hesitant to discuss their mental illness.  If your friend seems receptive to your support, listen to how they prefer you help in times of heightened emotion or crisis and respect their preferences by following through with their wishes in difficult moments.  Since no two people with mental illness — even with the same type of mental illness — are alike, this conversation is particularly important, as it will allow you to individualize your responses to your each of your friends with mental illness so that they will all feel safe and supported during challenging times.  Understanding how people with mental illness feel in moments of crisis and knowing how you can respond is a powerful way to not only be a supportive friend, but also a strong advocate for the mental health community as a whole.

That only 25 percent of people with mental illness feel that others are compassionate towards those with mental illness is seriously alarming.  But always remember that through your attitude, language and actions, you have the power to become a caring ally to the mental health community, to change perceptions of those living with mental illness, and to work towards a more compassionate future.

Featured Photo via Pexels.

 

 

 

Why I Won’t Apologize For Loving 2010’s ‘Party Pop’ Music

I have a confession to make: One of my favorite things in the world is jamming out to early-2010’s “party pop” music. You know, those songs with catchy electronica vibes? Those songs about dancing, drinking, and drugs? Those songs everyone makes fun of now because they’re “so old?” Listening to those upbeat dance songs is my guilty pleasure, and I will never apologize for it.

I’m obsessed with early-2010’s “party music” now because I never fully got to enjoy it when I was in high school. Despite the fact that I spent my high school years (and honestly, every moment thereafter) stone-cold sober, my overprotective mother refused to let me listen to anything that referenced drugs, alcohol, or sexually provocative behavior, which meant missing out on all of the good songs on the radio. Thankfully for my music taste, my mom didn’t always have the keenest ear for provocative lyrics or drug references, so I did get to enjoy some of the best music of the early 2010’s, but the moment she discovered that a song was the least bit inappropriate, she would ban my sister and I from listening to it on the radio.

Honestly, I found this ridiculous. What was her extremely straight-edge teenage daughter going to do, get a fake and start staying out all night drinking and clubbing? But I was obedient, and I knew I had bigger battles to fight than what was playing on the car radio on the way to Mock Trial practice. So, instead of becoming a (still fairly straight-edge) teenage rebel, I enjoyed my favorite tunes at school as they blared from the quad at lunchtime.

When I was 17, my dad let my sister and I make Pandora accounts, and a whole new world of (slightly inappropriate) music opened up. At last, I could listen to anything I wanted with headphones in, the beat pumping, and no one telling me “no.” But I was nearly an adult, so listening to songs with provocative lyrics no longer seemed as alluringly illicit as it had when I was 14 and looking to start a quiet teenage rebellion.

The “party songs” I loved as a teenager have never left my playlist. I might be the only one who still has “Last Friday Night” on their phone and actually listens to it, but I don’t care in the slightest. I refuse to feel ashamed about my guilty pleasure because why should anyone feel bad for loving something that makes them feel alive? While everyone else is vibing on Cardi B and Dua Lipa, I’ll be jamming to 2010’s greatest hits, living out my “teenage rebellion” fantasies… just a few years late.

Featured Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash.

The Walk That Almost Wasn’t

“When you turn that tassel, you’re moving on, not just from college, but also from all of the emotions that come with it,” she pronounced with gentle sagacity.  Her eyes seemed locked on mine as she spoke, as if this was a lesson meant for me… and me alone.

She knew.  She knew my reservations about attending my college graduation ceremony.  She knew that I had been struggling through college. She knew just how fervently I longed to move on.

I wonder if she knew in that moment, as she lectured on the cultural significance of rites of passage, that she had the power to change my perspective?  I wonder if she knew that she would forever alter the course of my graduation day? I wonder if she knew how serendipitous this moment was, how, at the most fortuitous time, she spoke the words I secretly longed to hear?

A few months prior to my college graduation, I began to seriously contemplate not walking in my graduation ceremony.  My increasingly cemented decision to forgo walking in my college graduation was borne out of feelings of insecurity and shame.  My perfection-addled mind had wrongly convinced me that graduating with anything less than highest honors was an abhorrent dishonor, a dishonor so undeniably shameful that it could never merit walking across the graduation stage.  If the long-awaited graduation booklets were to suggest that I would be graduating with “great honors,” as opposed to the coveted “highest honors,” I would not be attending my graduation ceremony.

I understood that my resistant attitude towards my impending graduation was extremely disrespectful, not only to the time-honored cultural institution of graduation ceremonies, but also to the students who had worked diligently to graduate with “great honors,” “honors,” or no honors at all.  But, my refusal to walk at my graduation ceremony stemmed from a far deeper insecurity: the pervasive fear that my barely-perceptible cerebral palsy would become glaringly apparent as I walked across that stage on my graduation day. The prospect of appearing disabled in front of thousands of festive onlookers terrified me, so I needed an excuse for my reluctance to walk that would not reveal my carefully-concealed disability.  Tying my decision to not walk at my graduation ceremony to my potential inability to obtain the most prestigious honors possible seemed like an infallible way to soothe my insecurities about publicly presenting as disabled.

One day, during office hours, my Family Psychology professor broached the topic of graduation and asked if I was looking forward to my upcoming graduation ceremony.  I hesitated as I mulled over how on Earth I should answer the inadvertently challenging question. I couldn’t possibly let on how insecure I felt about my grades, and I worried that if I disclosed the truth — how anxious I felt about my cerebral palsy “showing” publicly on my graduation day — my disability identity could overshadow my humanity.

“I’m actually considering not walking in graduation,” I said, fervently attempting not to reveal my mounting anxiety.

“Why not?” she replied.  “I’m sure your family would love to see you graduate.”

A pang of guilt immediately washed over me as I thought of my family, who, for the past several weeks, had been valiantly attempting to convince me that I just had to walk in my graduation.  But, I felt a far stronger conviction to escaping my insecurities than to earning my family’s approval.

“They would,” I responded carefully.  “I just don’t know if walking in graduation is really my thing.”

“You wouldn’t want to regret not walking in graduation,” my professor said knowingly.

The conversation soon shifted to midterms and finals, but I was deep in thought, contemplating my decision and its possible repercussions.  Was I foolish to impose conditions on walking in my graduation ceremony? Was publicly appearing imperfect, either academically or ability-wise, as grave as I had imagined?  Would I regret not participating in such a significant rite of passage?

A few weeks later, as my professor spoke, directly to me, it seemed, on the symbolic nature of graduation ceremonies, I was immediately struck with a change of heart.  Walking in my college graduation would provide me with the opportunity to let go of the insecurities, the anxiety, the depression, the internalized ableism, the loneliness, and the secrecy — and move towards a life of freedom from my mental confines.  I craved the opportunity to turn that tassel, to celebrate the trials and triumphs that led to my greatest achievement, and to relish in the chance to begin life anew. Why should I deny myself the ability to move on?

As I turned to leave the lecture hall, I paused, strode up to my professor, and said, smiling, “You’ve convinced me.  I’m going to walk in graduation this June.”

On my graduation day, as walked across the stage, as I caressed the delicate tassel dangling from my cap, poised to turn it from right to left, I was overcome with emotion, struck with sheer gratitude for the professor who encouraged me to transcend my insecurities and move forward in life.  The moment the tassel reached the left side of my cap, I resolved to leave behind the emotional pain I felt throughout my time in college.

After the ceremony, my Family Psychology professor asked me how I felt having walked in graduation.  The sense of lightness, freedom, and joy I had felt was indescribable, and no words could fully express my gratitude for her role in my journey to the graduation stage.  As I fought back tears, I finally spoke the words on my heart, even in their inadequacy in conveying the power of the moment.

“It felt amazing.  I’m so happy I walked today.  Thank you for everything.”

Featured Photo via Pexels.

This Is Why I’m Slowly Learning How To Cry Again

I’m trapped in a paradox, silently screaming to be rescued, but slowly giving in to my own ensnarement.  

In shedding myself, I’ve forgotten how to shed tears.  

It’s seemingly a predicament with no desert of complaint, a masochistic desire in a world that glamorizes an emotionally bland utopia.  Perpetual happiness. A lack of tears. An absence of pain.

But I’m suffocating under the weight of my smiles, drowning in the deception of the convincing appearance of my own comfort, entrapped in an everlasting emotional desensitization.

I no longer dwell in a glass castle, secluded from the searing pain of vulnerability, but I remain comfortably numb.  I shed tears as I began to chip away at the fragile walls surrounding me, but my protective dwelling has long since shattered around me, leaving me with nothing but the powerful guise of comfort.

I’m hardened against my own life story, unable to feel the pain of my past amid the blinding bliss of complete openness.  In becoming unashamed to live honestly, I have grown unflinching, unfeeling.

I long to feel my cheeks burn again, to feel the ache of tears hovering in the corners of my eyes, to taste the abrasive saltiness of my teardrops as they roll too far down my face.  To feel my chest heaving as I struggle to choke out words, my breath clamorous in the wake of my tears.

I long to feel the raging headache lingering after my all my tears have subsided — the relentless, all-consuming reminder that nothing, not even the gentle sting of teardrops, is without consequence.  A headache that burns with such a dull ferocity that the only respite from the unending pain is a long nap — a restless sleep that soon becomes deep, filled with the peaceful haze of pleasant dreams.

I long to feel the catharsis, the calm after the storm.  The moment I discover that I am still living, breathing. The moment I realize that life will continue on — no matter my disposition — and the problems consuming me will eventually reach a resolution.  The moment I consciously choose to live — without regrets, without tears — until the teardrops sting at the corners of my eyes once again.

But, as I stand amid the shards of my glass castle — the remnants of my vulnerability scattered at my feet — I discover the extent to which I have contributed to my longstanding inability to feel pain — the dreary, yet piercing, discomfort of my tears.  I am lost, directionless, drowning in an open sea — the sea of my own openness — desperately wishing I could trade my unflinching rawness for the ability to restore my glass castle — the ability to feel, the ability to cry.

As I continue to drown in the paradox of my unflinching honesty — my inability to truly feel as I continue to shed myself — I cease my silent screams to be rescued from my ensnarement.  At long last, I resolve to rescue myself — by allowing myself to feel again.

I’m slowly learning how to cry again, in the hope that someday, I will rediscover the bittersweet taste of my own tears — the stinging salt of my teardrops cultivating the sweetness of true vulnerability.

Featured Image via Pexels.

5 Things I Say As A Person With Mental Illness (And What I Really Mean)

Although our society has made significant progress in de-stigmatizing mental illness, the stigma surrounding mental health conditions is still prevalent for those living with mental illness.  The ubiquitous mental health stigma may cause people will mental illness to fear opening up about the reality of their conditions or to downplay the severity of their most challenging moments out of fear of judgement.  Understanding the truth behind your loved ones’ words will allow you to support them in their most challenging moments with mental illness. Here are 5 things I say on my most difficult days with mental illness… and what I really mean.

 

  1. “I’m OK.”

When I’m struggling with mental illness, I’m not particularly enthusiastic about my life circumstances, but I don’t necessarily let on that I’m having difficulty, either.  I often say that “I’m OK” or “I’m fine” when I’m at my lowest to avoid vulnerably speaking about my mental health.  I may tell you that “I’m OK,” but the truth of the matter is that I’m certainly not OK.  In these moments, ask if I’m really OK or question why I’m “just OK,” and I’ll be far more likely to open up about my mental illness and accept your support.

 

2. “I already ate.”

If I tell you that “I already ate” or that I’m simply not hungry, I most likely have not eaten all day.  If I skirt questions about my eating habits, I am probably struggling through a depressive episode, grappling with body image issues or slipping back into disordered eating, and I’m reaching for any possible reason not to nourish myself.  If you notice that I haven’t been eating, even if I insist that I have, hold me accountable by gently encouraging me to eat.  With some kind accountability for my eating habits, I’m likely to follow through with your request (and feel a bit better after I’ve sustained myself).

 

3. “I’ve got to go.”

If I’m at a gathering and insist that I have to leave, I’m likely battling social anxiety or sensory overload.  When socializing becomes a struggle or my surroundings become too overwhelming, I tend to politely declare that it’s time for me to leave so that no one suspects I’m having difficulty managing my mental illness.  If I leave your party early, please know that my actions don’t reflect poorly on you.  I’m always thankful to be included and love spending time with you, but if I suddenly insist that “I’ve got to go,” my mental illness is calling, and I need some time away to refresh and recharge.

 

4. “It’s all too much.”

If I somewhat ambiguously admit that “It’s all too much,” I’m having a particularly rough time coping with the demands of my mental illnesses and their collective impact on my life.  My mood is likely at an all-time low, my anxiety may have dramatically spiked, and I may be fighting to see the fulfilling aspects of my life. If you catch me admitting that “It’s all too much,” know that I’m slipping into a dark place and that more than anything, I need you.  Check up on me, try to discern what specifically is overwhelming me, and show me compassion and empathy. Resolve to stay by my side until I reach a more manageable mental state. In those moments, I may not fully show how much I appreciate your presence, but your love in my darkest moments means more to me than I can express.

 

5. “Thank you.”

It’s difficult for me to fully convey how much I appreciate love and support in my life with mental illness.  Often, a simple “thank you” is laced with underlying meaning — an eternal sense of love and gratitude. “Thank you” means that I deeply appreciate your commitment to my health.  “Thank you” means that I am inexpressibly thankful that you’ve helped me through my darkest moments. “Thank you” means that your kindness in the wake of my fluctuating mental health has left me unable to adequately convey how much you mean to me.  “Thank you” means that I adore your irreplaceable, kind spirit, appreciate your wholehearted empathy, and will unconditionally support you through your struggles, just as you unconditionally support me through mine.  “Thank you” means that I see you,I love you, and I am tremendously thankful for everything you’ve done for me.

Featured Photo via Pexels.