Returning From a Leave

It’s hard to return from a leave of absence. It’s even harder to come back knowing that you feel worse than before.

Let me explain: I took a leave after fall semester last year because of unbearable circumstances and experiences that rattled my emotional core. I could write an entire book on the events leading to my leave, but this is sufficient for now.

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What NOT to Say to Someone Suffering from Depression

Trigger warning: This article talks about depression.

In a given year, depression affects about seven percent of the American population. With many millions suffering from it, most people likely know someone who is depressed.

There is a stigma surrounding depression, and a lack of understanding from people who don’t experience it. As a result, even when people think they are comforting and helping, they often end up making the sufferer feel more alone and misunderstood.

Some comments come from a good place, but are misguided due to a lack of information about depression. Depression is the result of a combination of biological and environmental factors; imbalances in brain chemistry, trauma, and other things beyond a person’s control can contribute to them having depression. Unfortunately, many people associate depression with grief or regular sadness, and what they say about it reflects that. These comments aren’t cruel, but they are uninformed.

Other comments are quite insensitive and outright mean or rude.

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Life and Death on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

4/8/15 - Pine Ridge, South Dakota
When I stepped out of the tiny airport in Rapid City, I felt culture shock; 
I’ve never seen so much nothing. Now in the car, the yellow grasses fly by 
in a blur as rock formations roll on like waves. This place is unlike any I’ve 
experienced, but it does hold its own beauty. As the mist settles on the black hills, 
there’s this quality about the plains that reminds me of water, a familiar stillness, 
not unlike the ocean at dawn.

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School Climate: Creating Spaces Conducive to Children’s Learning

We often talk about a student’s love of learning as being crucial for their success in school. But what about their love of school itself? In recent years, educators have begun thinking more and more about the impact that a school’s feeling can have on how well children perform, something experts call “school climate.” Broadly defined, school climate encompasses “the feelings and attitudes elicited by a school’s environment”. These emotions create a subjective viewpoint for students, parents, and faculty members towards the school that shapes how much they feel tied to the institution.

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Let’s Talk About Minority Mental Health

I grew up with the idea that mental illness wasn’t real. “It’s an excuse,” my mom would say to me, “You’re lazy, so you have ADD. You want to complain, so you have depression.” In a predominantly Asian suburb, this was a piece of common knowledge imparted by our traditional parents. I heard about people committing suicide on the news, but they never looked like me. Everything I’d been taught suggested that our race was not susceptible to this strange, imaginary illness.

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Female Freshmen: Perceptions of Danger

How do you feel late at night on Locust Walk?

Do you feel like you’re in danger? Do you think your college campus is perfectly safe?

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” [1] Many different actions fall under the category of sexual assault.

Women in college are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in general—23.1 percent experience assault during their college years, as well as 5.4 percent of men [2]. And scarily, according to a 2015 report, 20.8 percent of female undergraduate students (and 4.5 percent of male undergraduate students) at the University of Pennsylvania have experienced unwanted sexual touching [3]. This year welcomed a new freshman class to Penn—the Class of 2020. With these frightening statistics, it would be understandable for women to feel apprehension about this potential campus danger. However, perceptions of this underlying threat seem to be very mixed within the freshman class.

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Reflecting on the Mindfulness Journey

This concluding post marks my 11th post of this semester for my weekly column, Mindfulness Monday. The two biggest takeaways that I have discovered as a mindfulness columnist are 1) You don’t have to be meditating just to be mindful. Any situation is an opportunity to introduce mindfulness, and 2) nothing is permanent.

My mindfulness journey has surely been a spectacular ride. My role as a columnist has not only allowed me learn and grow as a writer, but also meet so many inspiring individuals along the way. Throughout the journey, I was able to explore the mental wellness community on campus and beyond, as well as document some snapshots of my life through the lens of mindfulness. It was by far one of the most meaningful activities that I’ve ever devoted myself to doing.

In the beginning of the semester, I set out to explore what mindfulness means and how it relates to our daily lives. Although I wouldn’t say that I’m now a mindfulness “expert,” I’ve definitely gained a lot of invaluable insights, all of which have helped me grow and develop as a person. One of the biggest takeaways of my mindfulness journey is the idea of flow– the idea that everything is temporary. And I can’t stress just how important this idea had been in helping me get through the semester.

When we talk about mindfulness, we often associate that idea with nature. And the image that immediately pops to mind is oftentimes that of a yogi meditating in nature. Although we can surely achieve the state of mindfulness when we mediate or do yoga, what I have learned is that we can be mindful in just about any activity, if we choose to.

Mindfulness is a mindset we can use to go about living our daily lives. We can be mindful in the way we eat, in the way we read, and in the conversations we make with others. This means that we are engaged and actively tried absorb ourselves in those moments and experiences. Yet, the beauty of the mindfulness idea is that we don’t necessarily have to be “mindful” in every exact moment. The world is essentially fluid and dynamic in nature, and we are free to both wander and lose ourselves in this world and in our own thoughts. As long as we’re able to find meaning in the things that we do and give ourselves the space to relax and wander, we are mindful.

I’m very grateful that I was given the opportunity to explore this very concept of mindfulness. The simple reminder that things in life come and go has given me a lot more personal freedom to explore, learn, fail, grow, and move on. Whenever I went on Canvas to check my grades, for instance, I was always reminded by the thought that all those grades are temporary. In fact, there is nothing in life that is permanent; there is nothing in life that stays forever. Think winter breaks, embarrassing moments, relationships…etc. There is really nothing in life that is solid or fixed. And that is how mindfulness has helped sustain me throughout the semester. I have learned not to get too attached to my own failures, mistakes, rejections, and troubles. It is also because of mindfulness that I’ve come to fully embrace myself as a work in progress. Instead of striving to achieve perfection every day, I strive for mindfulness. I strive for meaning. I strive to live my life according to my own values and set my own pace.

My experience writing for IMPACT as a mindfulness columnist this semester has surely taught me a lot more than just a basic understanding of mindfulness. It has also taught me how mindfulness is a living philosophy in which every person can define and internalize in their own way. As I conclude my final post, I would like to thank my readers and hope that you all enjoyed reading about my mindfulness journey as much as I enjoyed reflecting on it.

Even though this is the last article of the semester, I encourage further exploration and incorporation of mindfulness beyond the conclusion of this column. I wish you all the best with your finals and papers. Remember, nothing is permanent. Your struggles are temporary. And so are grades.

Good luck!

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Spring Fling Haiku

Photo Courtesy of Linda S.

Because this year’s International Haiku Poetry Day (April 17) happens to coincide with Spring Fling, I decided to write a poem about Fling that is composed of many haiku’s. The theme of which is, of course– mindfulness. I hope you all had fun flinging last weekend, and I hope you’ll enjoy my poem.

 

Get up, get dressed, get

out to fling. And smile at the

sun for here comes Spring.


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Active Minds INSPIRE Event Raises Awareness for Mental Health on Campus

“Not everyone has mental health disorders, but everyone has mental health,” said Jasmine Paz, the co-host of INSPIRE. “[It] is not something that anyone can ignore. Not when it affects you. Not when it affects your friends. Not when it affects your family. And not when it affects your peers.”

Last Saturday, I joined Active Minds at the Rodin rooftop for INSPIRE, the organization’s biggest mental wellness event of the year. It was started two years ago by Active Mind’s former President, Devanshi Mehta with the aim to bring community together and inspire one another. For this year, INSPIRE presented 3 video stories and featured several performing arts groups and student speakers in which different perspectives on mental health were brought to life. As Kathryn DeWitt, Co-President of Active Minds said, the event has “captured the anguish and the joy of life that occupy our inner thoughts… Made visible the invisible, heard the unheard, and empower the disempowered.” In this post, I’ll attempt to capture the essence of several performances and talks so that you too can be inspired by them.

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Peter Moon, Co-President of Active Minds, challenges the way we use language. Essentially, we are free to express and say anything that we want. However, he notes that we need to be mindful whenever we do so. Think about how might a victim of rape feel when she heard someone say: “I got raped by my chem test.” Think about how might an OCD patient feel when the phrase “I’m so OCD” is casually thrown about. As Peter described, it is “belittling” to those who had to face those struggles, so be careful with your words.

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In her spoken word poem entitled, Stigma, Crystal Delmonico shared with us her personal struggles with suicide. She recounted episodes of her family and friends who had taken their lives and encouraged hope throughout her performance.  “Mental illness is here. But we may think not me, not you, not a single person in the crowded room,” she said. In the end, she urged all of us to destigmatize mental illness and always reach out if we ever need help. One major take-away from her speech is the knowledge that there is and will always be hope.

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Makayla Reynolds was the last student speaker of the night to brave the stage. In her monologue, she talked about her difficult childhood and walked us through her story of recovery from depression. She was forced to “master ramen noodles at the age of five” and internalize her own struggles growing up and didn’t seek treatment until she was 15. “All that I can say is that you really got to keep going,” she said. “There’s no quick fix for any mental illness…[And] I don’t think there’s any university policy that is going to eliminate mental illness or that is [going to] fix any type of battle that students have with mental illness. I think it really starts with us, so that is why I stand here today.”

Other performances that night include Zoe Stoller’s spoken poetry, Arts House Dance Company’s “Summer” dance piece, Dischord’s a acapella on Sia’s Reaper, and two songs brought by Tong Pow and Megha Nagaswami.

Throughout the program, Active Minds also played three videos that gave voice to Bailey Scott, Carson Keller, and Jack Park, who have all battled with mental illness in the past. Together, they shattered the silence surrounding mental illness and encouraged others to open up and share their experiences as well. Click on their names to listen to their stories.

One of my favorite quotes of the night came from Makayla. She said, “At the end of the day, we are all equals, and even though struggles come in different shapes and forms, I think that struggle is struggle and pain is pain. So the most you can do and the least that you can do is reach out.” And with that, I’ll leave you with a reminder from Active Minds. “If you know anyone who’s been affected, reach out; if you don’t know anyone who’s been affected, ask. People’s response may surprise you.”

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