“Feed” Review by a recovered anorexic

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I was filled with excitement upon the discovery that Troian Bellisario had written, produced, and starred in a film, inspired by her own struggle with anorexia nervosa. The film has been the most accurate film, to date, to portray the struggle of an eating disorder. A common misconception among the uneducated is that eating disorders are inspired by vanity. The reality, as the film correctly portrays, is that eating disorders are primarily about control. Anorexia is an attempt to gain control through extreme food restriction. This idea is brought about through a thought, a voice. The voice initially appears to be a friend and be looking after your best interest. This voice, or alter ego, requires obedience in exchange for perfection. The price initially seems small. But, obedience soon becomes deadly. Disobedience results in punishment by extreme anxiety or rigorous exercise without replenishment of food. The voice encourages one to reduce hunger by sleeping, fill up on liquids, or in extreme situations, purge through vomiting or use of laxatives.

The idea to personify Olivia’s eating disorder through her late brother, Matt, is genius. Audience members who have never struggled with the disease fail to comprehend why one would listen to such a destructive voice. But, in personifying ED as a trusted confidant and ultimately, a “safe” person, the audience may be able to comprehend why such a narrative may seem appealing. Matt, initially, is friendly and comforting. He encourages her to make sacrifices in order for her to reach her goals, such as losing sleep to study vigorously in order to maintain valedictorian status. The requests surrounding food initially begin as requests to “save” food for him, leading Olivia to bury uneaten food under the tree in the backyard. Towards the middle of the film, he becomes aggressive. He refuses to let her eat, even within the eating disorder facility where is she is receiving inpatient treatment. He encourages her to commit suicide. The voice begins to contrast sharply from the initial voice we met at the beginning of the film. This is how ED integrates himself into the life of victims. ED secures his role as a trusted friend and later reveals his identity as a masked murderer. Hence, portraying this “voice” as a brother can ultimately connect to an audience who is unable to comprehend from a level of experience

The end of the film was ultimately an eye-opening experience for me. “Eating Disorder Matt” visits Olivia on her first lunch allowed outside of the facility. He plays a song on the jukebox. Olivia closes her eyes and takes a deep breath to find that ED has left, as she struggles to eat her salad without anxiety. This was eye opening and validating for me, because it reaffirms that ED never really leaves. ED is an addiction, just like cocaine or heroin. I am an addict. Every single day I struggle not to derive my self-worth by what I put in my mouth. An addict can be “clean,” but they will always be an addict. I have been “clean” from ED from a number of years, but, I will always be an addict to counting calories, extreme dieting, and dangerous exercise regimens to create an illusion of being in control of my life. In the same way you would not take an alcoholic to bar, I am required to stay away from calorie counting apps, health magazines, and special diets. A person who has never struggled from an eating disorder may find these helpful. These items could result in fatal tragedies from me. I often feel a high from starving myself. I feel powerful. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this is not healthy. But, neither is the “high” derived from narcotics.

What makes my addiction so difficult is that I can never disengage from it completely. Heron and cocaine addicts must completely be off their drugs. But, I see food every single day. I eat three times a day. Thus, staying “clean” requires more effort than any other addiction. Every day, I battle with the voice that calls me a “worthless piece of shit” for eating a chocolate chip cookie. Every night, I battle with the voice that tells me I’ll be worthy once I weigh less than 100 pounds. I’ve learned to ignore ED. I know he’s dangerous. But, his tactic is to enter with compassion, love, and confidence: everything he is not.

When ED appears, I have to remind myself of the the time my heart almost stopped one night or the time I was leaning over a toilet seat for eating what I thought was too much Halloween candy. The film feed was brilliant. It exposed ED’s many disguises. It was “spot on” in portraying the true nature of living with the disease, and the lifelong struggle of being one of ED’s victims.

 

 

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Review on the Finale of Pretty Little Liars

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Months ago, I said goodbye to one of my long-time favorite shows and character. I discussed how my love of the show stemmed from a love of mystery and served as a parallel to my own life. It held up a mirror that glamorized the flaws, imperfections, and blemishes. I too, had a high school stalker who would send anonymous e-mails. It was discovered that the person behind the facade was someone who I considered, at the time, to be a close friend. The reveal of Mona Vanderwaal as the infamous first -A was inexplicably familiar. I also grew up with a very huge secret being held from me. The series made secrets look sexy instead of painful. It made betrayal seem exciting, rather than abysmal. It portrayed grief as suspenseful rather than despairing. Pretty Little Liars provided me with an outlet to face personal betrayal, secrets, and grief, without an ounce of pain. This only lasted up until the end of the first half of season 7. As Mary Drake held a shot Spencer in her arms and revealed to her that she was her biological mother, I too felt like I had been shot. For years, I had used this show as a crutch to deal with secrets and standing in front of me was the biggest secret that had ever been kept from me. It shattered that mirror with the glamorized version of me and I was forced to look into a mirror that portrayed the truth. I was hurt. I was betrayed. For the first time, I was angry and no one seemed to understand why, except for Spencer Hastings.

The approach of the finale was a bittersweet event for fans across the world. I was devastated that I could not watch live because I had class: Counseling Skills and Techniques. But, I waited patiently and after class, drank a coffee that would keep me up all night. I already had sided with fan theories that Spencer’s twin would be the masked villain behind Monopoly Alive! It seemed to make the most sense, as a new character would be able to fill in previous plot holes, while at the same time, appease fans with a familiar face. Plus, I was excited to see Troian act as a double. The idea of making one of the Liars have a secret twin had to be done. The book series is wrapped around twins and as a writer myself, I see how it could lack taste to take the finale in another direction. I. Marlene King has already made the show her own, separate from the books. So, there had to be a tribute to Sara Shepard in some way. After all, without her, there would be no Pretty Little Liars. But, here is where writing a show that stretches across nearly a decade is different from writing a book series. The show aired for seven years. For me, these seven years took place from ages 19-26. Fans who started watching at 14 are now 21. The finale did not reflect the maturity and growth that realistically took place over seven years! Season one was written for teenagers (and young adult stragglers, just like my 19 year old self) and so was the finale. It was written for the audience that the pilot attempted to hook. It wasn’t written for the current audience, seven years later.

Being adopted myself, I’ve been in the position of meeting new people who look exactly like me, who I once knew nothing about. So, having a secret twin doesn’t seem far fetched to me. What does seem crazy is that Mary Drake never mentioned that she gave birth to twins. Once the cat was out of the bag, why lie anymore? Why keep anymore secrets? Suppose she didn’t know whether or not her daughter was alive. It would not make a difference. I know of plenty of people, unfortunately, who are surviving twins. People who have passed or have been assumed to have passed are generally not secrets. This part was not thought out, as most of the writing on this show.

The finale was practically a plagiarism of The Parent Trap. A British twin? Really? Of all the unique and endless ideas of how to incorporate an unknown twin into a storyline, they chose one that was practically already taken. Apparently, the UK, in PLL land has a population of about 20 people because Wren happened to stumble upon this twin at a bar and had it not been for this one meeting, Alex would never have known about Spencer. Poor Wren, in reward for his efforts, was murdered and turned into a diamond. Wren’s storyline honestly made me incredibly angry. So many unsolved mysteries in this show that were devoted no time to, but they decided to kill a character who goes as far back as the pilot. His death served no purpose to the storyline. It was just placed there for shock-value. Shock-value is great, but not when you have an assembly line of unanswered questions.

Alex Drake’s story was absolutely tragic. She was sold to a couple in England. The couple no longer wanted her and left her in an orphanage. She ran away from the orphanage at the age of ten and lived on the streets, fending for herself. The evil orphan storylines made for some good movies. So, I’m not surprised that PLL writers couldn’t think for themselves and create a more unique motive. At the point of the finale, Alex was aware that Mona was Charlotte’s killer. So, why go to elaborate lengths to build an underground dungeon, sabotage Aria’s wedding, and lock up her sister? Being abandoned as a child can lead to attachment issues and maybe a bitchy attitude, but there’s no correlation between being abandoned and then investing thousands upon thousands of dollars on stalking your twin sister and her friends.

Did anyone else notice that nobody reacted to the fact that they were seeing double? Ezra didn’t even seem shocked that he was locked in this underground dungeon of a Spencer doppelganger. At the very end, the girls never even mention Alex once. The finale never showed the reactions of Spencer’s parents to the fact that Spencer has a twin. Not to mention, Peter Hastings is Alex’s birth father. Does he not have the right to know that he has yet another daughter? Knowing the Hastings, they would have been happy to take her in. Alex could have lived happily ever after with the parents she so desperately needed, the sister she never had a chance to grow up with, and the friends she wanted. They forgave Charlotte. Apparently, her transgressions were forgivable because she was trans and marginalized. But, being abandoned and living on the streets is not understood as a tragedy in Rosewood.

I thought that perhaps, this summer, I would be able start watching the show from season one and catch every clue that led up to Alex Drake. But, unfortunately, A.D. was never the head of the operation. She just showed up late in the game. It seems like such a poor plot to have three separate bullies, each with the same exact approach. It would have been more realistic and believable for one villain to have had several minions, controlled through blackmail. These four girls never did anything so terrible to merit the same abuse over and over. They really did not piss so many people off. Sure, someone could be a victim of circumstance, but… three times? It would have required less suspension of belief to have made A.D. or Uber A the antagonist of the series, rather than the antagonist of the season. If she were just the villain of the season, there was no need for thirty extra episodes. Additionally, there were clues along the way that led fans to believe that A.D. had been in charge throughout the series. Mona, herself, referred to A as a team. The plot holes in Charlotte’s story paved the way for the fans to believe that she was lying.

We all held out hope that the finale would captivate the appreciation of fans. This group of writers got to work with such an incredible cast, which I had the pleasure of meeting. The tragedy of the series was truly that these talented individuals could not work with a plot that reflected their incredible attributes.

 

 

When It Rains, It Pours

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These words have never rung truer to me than in the month of July 2017. I listen the song, “Praise you in this storm,” by Casting Crowns. In the past, I’ve listened to this song and most of the time, it brings tears to my eyes. I begin to reminisce on all of the “storms” I’ve been through, those I’ve lost, and the times that my heart has been torn, and can’t help but to feel emotional at the thought that God has never let my side through it all.

What I realized this month was that, yes, I’ve been through some tragic events in my life. But, I’ve never been through a real “storm.” I defined a storm, on my drive home today, as a series of negative unexpected events that occur within a short period of time. Granted, none of the events can compare to losing a loved one or being impacted by illness. But, these events were, nonetheless, unexpected, and took me by surprise. For the first time, the song rang true to me. This was a storm. Instead of crying, I was praising God. Instead of worrying, I was expressing gratitude. I’ve come to realize the temporary nature of this life and material possessions. I am grateful that my soul is sealed and that I’ve been counted worthy of salvation. I am to be a child of God, a redeemed and sanctified new creation. Believing this truth has set me free from the chains of valuing happiness in terms of money, superficial friendships, or simply when things are “going my way.” I am saved, sanctified, and redeemed, whether or not I am unemployed, abused, rich or poor. I am loved regardless of whether I am suffering or happy.

Last month, I was going through something absolutely terrible and frightening. I was experiencing sleep paralysis on a daily basis. Sleep paralysis is when the brain awakens, but the body is still asleep, and paralyzed. Because the conscious and unconscious are not as separated as when one is fully awake, sleep paralysis sufferers will experience dreams in a state of being awake. These dreams are usually terrifying. I have done enough research to know that these dreams are NEVER pleasant. If you search the web, you can find articles and documentaries with visions ranging from an old hag to little girls. My dreams always included a dark figure on top of my body. Some people stick with the limited medical and scientific explanation. However, there is such little information regarding paralysis, why it happens, and why the dreams are always so unpleasant. I, myself, have experienced dreaming while awake during sleep deprived eras of my life *cough cough finals week.* When someone does not get sufficient sleep for an extended period of time, they may begin to dream while awake. This is usually not so dramatic. You may think you see a bug when there isn’t really a bug. But, this very common. There’s a reason that we need to sleep. However, thinking that you see a bug or mixing up colors is nowhere as terrifying as seeing dark figures coming into your room and hovering over your paralyzed body. Science can’t explain the horrors. I believe that these attacks, as many nightmares, can be spiritual. I believe that the forces of evil can prey on those who are not sober and vigilant. This is why the bible warns us to be both of these things. Someone without sufficient sleep can exhibit similar symptoms as a drunk individual. Car accidents are caused by exhaustion just as often or more than those that occur as a result of drunk driving. Just like “players” prey on women with low-self esteem, and con-artists prey on the weak, so does Satan and his demons prey on those who are not appropriately armed. Not guarding your physical well-being could lead to attacks just as much as not guarding your spiritual well being. But, my reason for not guarding my physical well being, I believed, was justified. I working nights teaching English as a Second Language to make ends meet. I was not getting paid through the summer for my teaching job last year, but, that never stopped the bills from coming in. I was still responsible for: rent, cable, internet, electric, renters insurance, phone, and car insurance. On a part time job, I was not going to make ends meet. So, I was working a split shift. Because of the vast time difference working with students abroad, I was working early morning and late nights, relying mainly on naps to get by. It was during these naps that the paralysis/attacks occurred.

Two medical doctors attributed the diagnosis of these dreams to PTSD, specifically after a sexual abuse incident that occurred when I was 18. For years, I told no one because I was ashamed. Today, I know I was in no way responsible for this and the only person responsible for rape is a rapist. This was no one else’s fault but the abuser. Any events that led me to be in that place at that time were unfortunate, but not my fault or the fault of anyone involved. But, our society loves victim-blaming, hence, the label of “at fault” followed me and others for years. Without going into too much detail, the other person accused of being at fault was point the finger simply for driving me to the location to where it happened. I was blamed for not screaming, although I was terrified and threatened. Nobody ever blamed the person who committed the crime. So, there was solitude that came with being invalidated and then there was silence that came with the shame.

Along with that diagnosis, I will share another more physical and less stigmatized diagnosis. I am not a period shamer. Fifty percent of the population menstruates so please get over it. I have a condition called menorrhagia. It is characterized by unusually heavy amounts of bleeding during menstruation. I’ve had this for a few years. I’ve learned to share this with employers, as it could be classified as a disability, tell friends and family so they are aware I’m not dying. It can be a sight for sore eyes to witness passing out after turning extremely pale. I’m not anemic, naturally. That is, my body produces sufficient red blood cells on it’s own. But, because of the loss of menstrual blood, I am characterized as anemic when I’m menstruating. The blood count can drop dangerously. This can create symptoms like: bags under eyes, nausea, sensitivity to light, need for sleep, excessive tiredness, etc.

On a weekly basis, I was training for my job for this upcoming school year. This became my third responsibility after working and school. Yet, this was a training program, so four hours a week was not a heavy burden to bear. I was fired before my contract even started because the employers were not willing to take on an employee that had this disability. I was asked to sign a contract in March stating that I would work at this school for the next school year. Salary requirements were outlined and signed by the school principal. I purchased, with my own money:

  1. A background check
  2. TB skin test (about $150), which caused uncomfortable itching
  3. School supplies and classroom decor
  4. Uniform

I also quit my job at the last school where I was working and relocated to an apartment near the school. I liquidated my savings in order to pay for the apartment and very basic decor (a couch and a bed). I now have 95 cents in my savings account. Today, my account is overdrawn after paying car insurance, and I have not had lunch or dinner. It’s 7pm. All this because the school no longer found me worthy as an employee after discovering this disability and simply because they did not like the bags under my eyes. None of this was based on work performance, because work had not even started. We simply arrived to the trainings to take notes and explore computer software. Makeup, I figured, was not essential. PTSD and menorrhagia cost me nearly $10,000, emptied my bank account, left me unemployed, and nearly homeless. Not to mention, I could have been looking for another job since March. I was taken out of circulation for nearly six months.

Yet, this termination was a blessing in disguise. A living arrangement was settled where I could financially help my grandparents, while living in the efficiency in my parent’s house, a space far bigger than my apartment. I can also live with all my pets simultaneously and not worry about having to take “turns.” I now have my own parking space, my own entrance, and pay less than half the price as I was paying in the apartment. This leaves room for travel and saving money. I’ve also been freed from the burden of being a teacher. I respect those who stay in the profession, but it was not for me. This is why I’m graduating with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration. I thought that maybe I could continue being a teacher throughout the course of my master’s degree so that I could have a more flexible school schedule.

I work best in a setting that allows me to think and evaluate from the comfort of my own office. I like a mix of working with others and then retreating to the office and self-reflecting. Teaching never gave me the opportunity to process, which I so desperately needed with the repeated exposure to excessive yelling and misbehavior. I seldom had the opportunity to think of different strategies when a student did not understand the strategy recommended in the teaching manual. It’s a job that requires improvisation on a constant level. I can improvise when needed, but relying on improvisation to do your job effectively a daily basis simply just doesn’t aid to my well being. So, I am beyond grateful to God, who in His infinite wisdom, saved me from more long-term repercussions. Sure, right now it may feel like I’m paying a high price. I lost all of my money and struggling is an understatement. But, the struggle is temporary. I will gain meaningful employment soon. When I move out of my new little and more affordable apartment, I will be able to purchase a home in California, like I dreamed, rather than the one-bedroom apartment that was eating up my teacher’s paycheck. This misfortune was temporary. It would have been much worse if I had proceeded with the plans I had in mind. I would have been miserable at work, living a paycheck to paycheck life and saving no money for the future.

Today, I was involved in a car accident. The entire front of my car has been smushed in. My tires were effected. The breaks on my car are not working properly. I don’t even have enough money for a snack right now. At the moment, I’m unemployed, hungry, and broke. But, God is still good. God is still God and I am not. A bad day in the Lord is worth more than a life of fortune in the world. He is my God and I will not curse Him in this storm, I will praise Him eternally, on heaven’s shore. This suffering is temporary and the wicked will not surpass me. I’m filled with glee and filled with the Spirit, so much that physical hunger does not even effect me today. I trust in His love, in His promises, and I am truly happy. This is truly love. This is truly joy.

I’m Not Bubbly, I’m Still Great

IMG_7343I’m not bubbly. That doesn’t mean I’m not cheerful, happy, optimistic, or kind. It does not mean that I am rude, inconsiderate, or mean. In fact, I’m often complemented on my kindness and empathy towards others. I simply outgrew a lot of the characteristics I held as a child. I stopped seeing the world through a child-like lens at a point in my life. I don’t mean to suggest that bubbly people are childish. They simply have an ability to see things the way that children see them. Being bubbly is a great characteristic. Being around such people makes me feel as though I can shelve my problems and treat myself. Bubbly people remind me that I need to take care of myself. Their smile is contagious. Their presence in this world is vital.

But, the presence of people like me in this world is also vital. I am approachable. My smile may not be as contagious, but my presence is calming. I may not be the one who pops a bottle of champagne to numb the pain, but I will talk it through with you at any hour of the day. Your burdens don’t weigh heavy on me. The need for people like me is just as important. A just balance in this world is a beautiful thing.

When we continue to pretend to be someone we are not, to wear masks, and convince ourselves that we are different, we lose sight of the beauty we already possess. We live our lives being punished just for being ourselves. This was my story. As a classroom teacher, I pretended to be a different person on a daily basis. Living a lie drained me of every ounce of energy I had. Every day,  the weight of the world became heavier and heavier.

For the entirety of my career, I’ve been punished for being who I am. For not singing enough, for not smiling enough, for not crafting enough. I’ve never been thanked for listening more, being more perceptive, being more organized, or being more on task than most other teachers. My second grade class knew fifth grade level vocabulary words. But, the world of education doesn’t value that. They value fake smiles and coloring sheets. They don’t value student behavior. They value the extra curricular that a teacher can take on.

I gave myself permission to admit what I’m not and value what I am. There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with my work performance. I’m just not what our education system looks for in a teacher. I am, however, what many other people look for. I’m hardworking, dedicated, and focused. I’m serious, understanding, patient, yet quick to finish tasks. I like to do, not to lead. I like to tuck children into bed, kiss them goodnight, make them sandwiches, watch TV, read them books, and listen to their ideas. I don’t like to give them worksheets, grade their papers, or monitor the volume of their voice. I love teaching children about God, His promises, and help them find joy in the person God made them to be. I don’t like teaching them reading, math, science, and social studies. I like to interpret their behavior and help them find meaningful alternatives to poor choices. I don’t like moving their name up and down on a clip chart.

I can’t think of anything more exhausting than faking “passion” for so long. I hate being a classroom teacher. That’s okay! There’s many other things I love. I love administrative tasks. I love counseling. I love helping. I love hard work. I love writing. I love music. I love children! There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just not a bubbly person.

 

 

 

Interethnic Adoption Experiences

Go ahead, look it up! The topic is virtually non-existent. There is a plethora of information about interracial adoptions and it’s effects on children, parents, and even society alike. We are familiar with stories of families who have adopted children from China or children from foster-care, whose race differs from their own. But, these are a far cry from what happens in private adoptions. I would like to discuss my personal experience being an interethnic adoptee, a person who was adopted by parents whose ethnic identity differs from her own.

If I were black, it would be apparent that my race was different from my family’s. No one would be trying to convince me to assimilate into the culture that I was adopted in. In fact, I’m sure that people would see it as insulting to tell me such a thing. However, I do bear a resemblance to my parents that is stronger than just the color of our skin. For this reason, I face a societal challenge.

For one, adoption, in this country, is an institution that is clothed with shame and secrecy. When shared, it is not uncommon to be met with uncomfortable looks and preconceived notions. There are various reasons for this. For one, adopted persons are the only people who have their birth records sealed. No other person, in any other situation has their birth certificate sealed from them. Sealing people’s records and making them unattainable permeates a culture of secrecy. Secondly, there is an assumption that adoptive parents are deemed to have a crown of sainthood because they chose to raise a child that they did not bear. Society often paints adoptive children in a negative light. News stations or magazines delivering news of crime will never fail to mention that the person who committed such a crime was adopted, if that person is. It’s easy for one to think: “Wow, look at those adoptive parents. They took him/her in, and this is how he/she repays them.” Such media exposure permeates the idea that adoptees are rebels and that adoptive parents can do no wrong. If you are reading this, and you are a rational person, then, I’m sure you know that this is BS! Adoptees come in all shapes and sizes. Are there adopted people in jail? Yes. Are there adoptive people who have committed heinous crimes? Of course! Are there adopted children who have made monumental strides in society? Yes! Look at Steve Jobs, for example. Are there abusive adoptive parents who have made life unbearable for the children they adopted? Yes. Are there excellent adoptive parents who have raised happy and healthy children? Absolutely. But, this is not depicted in the media and is most certainly not the general consensus of society.

With that being said, the sealing of the birth certificate encourages one to “pass off” what “appears” to be true. If my amended birth certificate says: Cristina Fernandez, born to Isabel and Jose, from Pinar del Rio and Santiago, Cuba, then what tends to reflect back is: “why make life hard for the people who adopted you? Why don’t you just let yourself pass as their biological daughter and tell people that you are Cuban. After all, you’ve been raised by Cuban people. So, what’s the big deal?” Allow me to tell you why this is insulting, if you are too big a fool to not have understood why already. I am not perfect. Why? Because I am a human being and by that logic, I am an imperfect person who makes mistakes on a daily basis. I can’t say that I have committed any major crime in the eyes of local law enforcement. However, in God’s eyes, we all fall into error in comparison with Holy and Righteous Almighty Creator. On that same note, my parents are also human beings who have made errors throughout their life. Please do not get me wrong. I don’t intend to write this post as a complaint towards my parents, or to make a list of everything they’ve ever done wrong. That’s irrelevant and quite honestly, unnecessary. My point is that we all make mistakes. Holding anyone in such high regard because you deem something that they have done as a “good deed” borders on idolatry. So, I beseech you… please do not idolize me or anyone else that you deem is a “righteous person.” We are just people. My parents choice to adopt had nothing to do with infertility. It was a calling from God, and as usual, He is to receive the glory… not my parents and not anyone else. So, to tell me that I need to “make their life easier” by lying about my genetic make up and my ancestral heritage is actually quite a sinful transgression of God’s law. People who argue for this also fail to see beyond the present scope. If I, one day, have biological children, they too will carry that heritage and so on. So, this “secrecy” can only go so far. Secondly, denying people of celebrating cultural traditions puts you at a loss of learning and loving people beyond country borders.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words “you’re Cuban,” be told to me with condescending looks. As if somehow, I’m “rejecting” Cuban-ness. Cuban is not a religion. Cuban is not even a race. Cuban is a nationality. I was not born in Cuba. I was born in The United States of America in St. Petersburg General Hospital and my name at birth was Tiffany Lynn. A sample of my cheek cells will CONFIRM that I have 0%… allow me to reiterate that… ZERO PERCENT… trace of any hispanic ancestry. None. I was raised by people who I have zero genetic relation to. But, they are my family. Family is not made up by DNA. It is made up of love, memories, and connections. But, the fact of the matter is that society is asking me to accept an ethnicity to which I have ZERO affiliation to JUST BECAUSE I have a spiritual, emotional, and legal connection to people of that ancestry. To illustrate, think about people in your life who you are not related to, but love dearly. Oftentimes, close friends become family. Imagine that you are hispanic, but you’re best friend is Korean. Obviously, because you have a Korean best friend, you will probably take interest in his or her interests, and expose yourself to Korean food and art. But, does that mean that just because you love your dear friend, you now must identify as Korean to the world, including the census and demographic questionnaires? Can’t you love your friend and his or culture, but still take pride in your arroz y frijoles con platanos maduros y tostones? The logic surrounding their arguments is flawed beyond repair.

My personal experience being an Irish/Native American/Middle Eastern woman (according to the DNA swab test from ancestory.com), living amongst a mostly Hispanic culture has presented some challenges. The stories I share have NOT come from my parents. In fact, my parents aren’t fools enough to think that my food preferences and music tastes are a threat to our relationship. But, in the Hispanic community, I’ve faced adversity and discrimination. In part, I believe that a huge part of this has to do with Hispanic people not being open to adoption on a cultural level. Obviously, I don’t speak for everyone. My parents are Hispanic people who chose to adopt. But, as a culture, it’s looked down upon. When I’ve expressed my own interest in adopting a child from China (for which I am currently on a waiting list), I’m met with condescending remarks, such as “just wait to have you’re own so you don’t have to deal with adopting someone else’s kids.” These same people literally lose all the color in their face when I say “I’m adopted.” Dare I say, they don’t even apologize. Not being able to have biological children in the hispanic community is like a curse. Thus, there is even more pressure for children adopted into hispanic families to conform to this status, in order to expunge that shame pointed towards infertile mothers. This idea has been echoed throughout so many conversations with Hispanic women. This cultural view towards adoption is one struggle that I have had to face, and I must say, the most offensive.

Statistically, Miami houses a large portion of Hispanics, particularly Cubans. Thus, a lot of Cuban people are never forced to associate with other people who are not Cubans. In fact, a lot of people are not even forced to learn English, which further decreases your chances of making meaningful relationships with other non-Hispanic people. Therefore, the culture and traditions are relived, generation to generation, without exposure to other cultures and traditions that differ from their own. This has presented issues for me because I have had a lot of exposure to diversity in college and in graduate school.

In the Cuban tradition, it is virtually unheard of that someone live on their own before they are married. In fact, it’s almost like an abomination. I have done the unthinkable! Usually, people like this are those who like to party and have intimate relations with unmarried partners, none of which interest me. For one, I’m an introvert. Secondly, my relationship with God is my priority, and the two instances mentioned above would directly impact that relationship in negative ways. So, why did I move out? For one, I wanted to live closer to work. Another reason is because I cannot afford, physically, emotionally, and financially, to keep up a house in Miami on a teacher’s salary. Lastly, because I felt that it would drastically improve my relationship with God. All of these reasons, to an observer looking in, seem like responsible adult choices. I’m not a teenager. I’m 26 years old. My goodness, I’m bordering 30! I have a career and a master’s degree. I’ve proven that up to his point, I’ve made nothing but rational, adult choices. Now, stay with me. Being exposed to other people that have moved out for similar reasons exposed me to the truth that not everyone who moves out before marriage is some type of stereotypical slutty and irresponsible person. Sound logic would follow in that: can you imagine a 50 something year old bachelor or bachelorette living with their parents simply because of a stereotype? Not necessity or because you want to care for elderly parents… but just because of a stereotype? Of course not! What if you were an orphan? If that logic doesn’t apply to them, it should not apply to me either. Meeting people who have left home for the sake of education and maintained their core values to heart showed me that the stereotype didn’t fit most people, in general. I’ve made some friends who have traveled across BORDERS (meaning that their family is not even in the country) who have kept true to their values and certainly are not partying or having sex with multiple strangers. Interestingly, I had this one girl in my class, who was Muslim. I believe that she was about 21 at the time and was interested in getting married. In her culture and traditions, the idea of dating is non-existent. You are pretty much either engaged, or friends. There’s no in between. Although she was miles away from family, she was interested in marriage following this same tradition, despite the fact that in the states, a dating relationship typically precedes marriage. My point is that she was heavily exposed to a different way of life, far from family, and yet, still chose to keep that way of life, despite societal pressure. Meeting her was an awakening that this stereotype and way I had been taught to think was wrong. But, many of those Cubans, which I spoke about earlier would likely not find themselves exposed to a population diverse enough to question these concepts that they have been taught throughout the years. So, to many people in Miami, I’m the “rebel,” so to speak. This label has caused some havoc not only from family members, but, the average person I come into contact with, such as hairdressers, supermarket clerks, etc.

Another difficult area has been that of supreme loyalty to the family. In the Cuban culture, loyalty to family is everything. It’s common to hear “la madre es lo mas grande que hay,” or “a mother is the biggest thing there is.” With all due respect, God is the biggest thing there is. Neither one of my moms is bigger to me than the one who created me and put me in her womb. I may look like my mom, but I’m not created in her image. I am created in the image of God. How do I define family? Blood relatives? No. Adoptive relatives? No. Family are the people who have visited me when I was sick in the hospital. Family are the people who cried with me through deaths, broken hearts, and severe menstrual cramps (those who know me know I suffer from a condition of severe cramping where my knees lock and I can barely move). Family are the people who love you unconditionally, regardless of your major in school, your job, or the color of your hair. Family sees your soul, much like God does. With that being said, I do have blood relatives that I consider family. I have adoptive relatives that I consider family. But, I also have blood and adoptive relatives that I don’t consider family. It’s nothing personal. I either don’t know them or their only relationship to me is based on personal attacks and abusive behaviors.  For goodness sakes, I have had “family members,” which I’m using the term VERY VAGUELY, call me, my mom, and my grandparents to GOSSIP about this blog and get this… I’VE NEVER MET THEM! Haha. They called to gossip that I was being disloyal to the family by advocating for open records, despite the fact that I have never spoken ill of my family and made it quite clear that having a piece of paper does not change the facts that already are. Although the records are sealed, the facts still remain. Having the records open will do nothing more than facilitate a plethora of current difficulties for adoptees, such as passport status, social security status, citizenship status, and birthright status’ (as for tribal affiliation and Jewish affiliation. But, this supreme loyalty to the family has caused discrimination against adoption advocates in the community because their desire to own their identity, rather than having one’s family own their identity, is a form of Cuban heresy. Many Cuban people believe that only Cuban parents really love. Just the other day at the nail salon, I encountered a very well intentioned woman who said just that. Controlling people, making others stay home until they are married, and expecting undying loyalty is often masqueraded as “love.”

The way that a lot of Cuban people were treated back in the 1960’s and 70’s in excusable. Many American people called Cubans derogatory names like “spicks.” My mom can tell you stories about how she was bullied by American children and made to sit in separate classrooms for the “Hispanic kids.” Although my family is noticeably white, they reject that identity because there has really been no connection to other white people in the country. “American White people” are like a different race in the Hispanic community. They go by names such as: “los gringos, los Americanos, etc.” None of these are really derogatory names, but the message is clear: there is a barrier. I get it. I more than get it, I feel it. I’ve been met with comments more times than I count about how Americans are “different” and it hurts. I’m loved by my family, obviously. But, I’m not loved by the culture I was raised in. I’ll never fully fit in, and it goes past the blonde curls and hazel eyes. I’m not “really” Cuban. For goodness sakes, I entered their culture in the most shameful way possible: adoption. Similar to biracial people, I somehow feel like I never fit into each group, at least not completely. My cousin married a great woman, from Jacksonville. The rehearsal dinner was in Miami. The caterers were Cuban. At the rehearsal dinner, the bridal party pretty much stuck together and the groom’s party did the same. I was sitting with the groom’s side, well.. because their my family. lol. The caterer said to me as he handed me the plate: “yo pensaba que tu eras del lado de los Americanos.” Translation: “I thought that you were from the American’s side.” That distinction was made so incredibly clear to me that night. I wasn’t sitting with the bride’s family because I didn’t know them, not because of our shared or lack of shared cultural ethnicities. The distinction between Hispanics and “Gringos” in Miami is undeniable. But, for people like me, it means not fitting into either one fully.

Naturally, I find that people from the island are extremely racist. Any Cuban-American in Miami will tell you that their parents have had “the talk” with them about the provision of bringing home someone that’s black. The fact that I literally VOMIT at the thought of racism makes me a “liberal” in many Cuban people’s eyes.

Lastly, the undying loyalty to the Catholic Church has also been a ostracizing factor for me. I’m not Catholic. I was excommunicated from the Church upon request because my undying loyalty belongs to the God of Israel, whose breath of life is rooted in Jerusalem, not Rome. I don’t pray the rosary. I don’t take communion. I don’t eat pork (which that in itself automatically disqualifies me as Cuban, right? lol). I felt sick to my stomach sitting in a room with a large group of people, feasting over ham on a pagan holiday. It didn’t feel right to me. I was having a complete crisis of conscience. But, yes, hold your gasps. What you must understand is that in Cuba, there was very limited religious freedom for a very long time. Due to landmarks (which help tourism), Catholicism was not barred as heavily as other religions. The island also houses a lot of religions based on spiritism that were rooted out of Catholicism, so hated by God, as expressed in Deuteronomy 18:9-13. But, this is all that people had access to for so very long! The belief in God is innate, as we are made in His, so to cling on to the spiritual provisions handed to them was absolutely natural. I’ve had the privilege to live in a country where I have religious freedom, and thus, I’ve read the Holy Scriptures. I throw away any culture and tradition for the sake of God Almighty, even eating a long-time diet staple. Not being Catholic has also caused many Cubans to decide to disassociate with me.

I share this story because I hope that it gets to the hands of others with similar experiences. With so little information about the effects of the inter-ethnic adoption coupled with the pressure to conform and topped with expectation of adoptee loyalty, it’s no wonder that so little information is available.

 

The Most Common Misconceptions about Mental Health

 

Unfortunately, the media and pop culture have painted a picture of mental health issues that is incorrect, leaving the public uninformed. As a double major in education in psychology and a future school counselor, I feel a responsibility to share with you a more accurate portrait of some of the most popular mental health concerns today.

First, depression. Most people think that depression is a synonym for extreme sadness. In reality, people with depression are not always sad. Those with depression have lost an ability to feel. Depression is a sense of numbness, hence, an inability to enjoy things that one once enjoyed. Being numb can sometimes be more frustrating than feeling sad. Feeling numb can make one forget what it feels like to be alive. It is easier to trigger sadness than it is to trigger happiness. Happiness happens in the moment. To illustrate, try remembering one of your happiest memories. For me, it was the 90’s. My cousin and I use to play all day during the summer, go in the pool, and watch cartoons. My grandmother would make us hamburgers and hotdogs and we would say we were at the best summer camp there ever was, “camp Mima.” My mom would take us to get ice cream at Carvel and we would take our dogs with us, Philly and Sammy. I’m blessed to say that I had an incredible childhood full of love and laughter. I look back and I feel a mix of emotions: joy and nostalgia. Of course, my situation may be different because the person I shared all of these memories with has passed on. The feelings of nostalgia are amplified and can feel like sadness. How quick, though, did a happy memory become somewhat cumbersome. It is difficult to re-create a happy memory. Sadness, however, is easy to recreate. A sad memory can instantly bring us to tears, which is why people cry during movies. This is where we get the idea that depressed people are “sad.” The bottom line is that when one is depressed, sadness is the easier emotion to recreate, hence, taking them out of their “numb” feeling. Depressed persons are more likely to pick a sad movie because they crave emotion. The lack of serotonin in the system does not allow for proper functioning and regulating of emotions. So, often times, medication is prescribed.

This is different from temporary depression, such as grief. When one is grieving, the emptiness and hollowness in your being is a reaction to the loss you have experienced. You may experience this numb feeling as a defense mechanism to your sadness. Your body craves a break from the crying. While you may have a decreased appetite, your body will eventually realize you are starving, so this feeling of numbness gives you a “break” from complete sadness, so that you will muster up the ability to get out of bed or eat a meal. But, this does not imply that you have a chemical imbalance or a lack of serotonin in your system. If such symptoms persist past a certain point, according to the DSM, then it would be appropriate to seek medical attention.

In order to show respect for people who battle with depression, please don’t say “I’m so depressed” just because you lost your bracelet. You are spreading ignorance and you look like a fool. 

As for anxiety, I can speak from personal experience. I have generalized anxiety disorder. It is a fairly genetic condition. It can also be brought on by traumatic experiences that are re-lived through exposure to certain stimuli. I was first diagnosed with anxiety in 2012 when I almost got into a car accident due to having to pull over and throw up due to anxiety in traffic. Just the other day, I was crossing the street in downtown Miami to find my knees shaking at the crosswalk. Movie theaters make my heart race (generally, dark and loud places make my heart race). On one occasion, crossing the street in miracle mile, I could feel my stomach doing backflips and I nearly went blind for a few seconds. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not a “feeling.” It is a condition. My body produces excess adrenaline, causing fight or flight responses during something as minimal as crossing the street or watching a movie at the theaters. Without aide from medication, I typically want to hide out from the world, in fear that anxiety will strike. For this reason, people who do not handle their anxiety typically develop agoraphobia, a fear of leaving their homes.

I mean, just imagine for a moment, that you experience disabling anxiety when you cross the street. Agoraphobic people feel that if they leave their homes, a panic attack is waiting around the corner.

Everyone feels anxious. People with generalized anxiety disorder, however, feel anxious in day to day living. Typical pre-presentation jitters could cause vomiting and temporary blindness or deafness. Typical to people with depression, lack of serotonin, along with excess of adrenaline, play a role.

But, why do we say that anxiety and depression go hand and hand? Well, people with anxiety may fall into depression, not because they have no interest in activities, but because they want to participate, but live in fear. Similarly, people with physical conditions, like someone who was in a horrific accident, could suffer from depression if they are physically unable to do activities they once enjoyed. I have never suffered from depression. That is not something I have ever had to struggle with. But, I do suffer with disabling anxiety. I’m not broken. I’m just imperfect, just like you.

Please don’t say:

  • You’re too young to have anxiety 
  • What could you possible be anxious about?
  • Medication is really not very good for you.
  • Why do you have anxiety?

Because the answer is:

  • Anxiety has no age (Additionally, I know a lot of people much older than me who have less responsibilities than I do)
  • I have a genetic predisposition to anxiety
  • If I didn’t take medication, I would end up having to pull over in traffic to throw up, I would be unable to cross streets, I would have insomnia, and be at risk of becoming agoraphobic
  • Anxiety is just as much a part of me as my height, my hair color, and my eye color. I’m not “going through something.” I have a neurological condition
  • I’m not crazy. I’m in my right mind. I am very emotionally healthy. But, the excess adrenaline clouds my judgement and causes racing thoughts (ex: call someone. they don’t answer. they must have gotten in a terrible accident)
  • I don’t have anxiety because “something happened to me.” Just like some people are born with diabetes or blind, I was born with anxiety. Just because you cannot see it or touch it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. 

 

OCD

Lots of people think that OCD means obsessively neat. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a need to perform certain rituals in order to ease anxiety. For some people, this does involve having things in a certain place, organizing, or excessively washing one’s hands. For some, the “rituals” include having things in a certain place, asymmetrical balance, washing hands a certain amount of times, etc. These rituals can differ from person to person. The definition of obsessive compulsive disorder is not “fear of germs” or “super neat.” Samantha Pena shares her story.

In order to show respect for people with OCD:

  • do not self diagnose yourself with OCD
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for neat or orderly
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for clean

 

My Goodbye Letter to Pretty Little Liars

Not too long ago, the video Shay Mitchell made, bidding farewell to the almost decade long running show, Pretty Little Liars, went viral. The video was met with comments from faithful fans, just like myself, admitting that the end of the era has brought them to tears. I am shocked and bewildered at the fact that a television show can mean so much to so many people, including myself. So much, that it’s ending would bring me to tears. After watching Shay’s video, I promised myself that I would, too, write my own letter saying farewell to this phenomenon that made the way into our hearts via the small screens.

I’d like to take you back to the year 2010. I was a sophomore in college. About a year prior, my medical history, my ethnicity, my nationality, my genetic make up, the wrinkle in my nose, my laugh, my eyes, all crumbled down before my eyes with one word: adopted. Simultaneously, one of my closest family members was battling cancer at the age of 19. I had started college a year prior. It was a time filled with changes. With those changes, came an earnest and strong desire to hold on to just about anything that was consistent. But, the changes only came faster. It was a difficult era, understood by only a few. Most people know us as “late discovery adoptees” or “LDA’s.” It’s a minority group within another minority group. Despite not being in my particular situation, I had one friend who stood beside me and helped me work through all of my confusion and unsettled emotions regarding the changes in my life. Her name is Erika Gobbi. On one lighthearted night a week, we would watch Pretty Little Liars in her dorm room. Although at the time I had no interest in the show, I enjoyed making this trip once a week to talk between commercials. After the season 2 finale, revealing Mona as A, the show piqued my interest and I watched all episodes up to that point. From that moment on, the emotions on this show touched me in a special and particular way, some consciously and some unconsciously. I fell in love with this cast, with it’s characters, and what each has taught me.

Dear Spencer,

Over the last 7 years, I saw a person on my screen who I always was, but was always afraid to admit: ambitious, intelligent, kind of nerdy, and generally more classical. I think that growing up, if I admitted the potential I was capable of, I would be held to a higher standard, and I was afraid to fall from that standard. So, I hid behind a personality that was not my own. I saw you, for years, struggle with feeling different from your family members. I saw you fall in love with Toby and understand the essence of true love at a young age. I understood your life in a way that I have not been able to relate to any character I have come across. I cried along with you when you found Toby standing over your kitchen in the infamous black hoodie. I worried alongside you when you missed the early admissions deadline to UPenn and cried with you when you didn’t get accepted. I felt your pain when Aria did not believe that Ezra was dangerous. I related to you and the fire in your eyes as you spent hours searching and searching for clues that would lead to you A throughout all 7 seasons.For the past 7 years, I cried with you, I laughed with you, and searched for answers with you. I was proud to say that Spencer Hastings was my alter-ego. When you were shot in episode 7X10, I watched with suspense, as my heart raced. As an adoptee, I’ve seen it all along. I knew Mary was your mother.But, when I heard her say the words, it resonated with me and I finally understood our connection. You were the girl I always was, but too afraid to be. But, you were also the girl who didn’t know. You were the girl who lived my reality, down to being that LDA that nobody quite understands.

Consuming myself in the mystery of A and your family’s  involvement was a means to exploring my own family’s well kept and haunting secrets. There were days that I searched endlessly for theories that would provide the perfectly tied up answer to A and his or her motives. I did this because I hoped there was a master theory to my own life. That there would be a perfect answer tied up in a bow as to why so many secrets.Your life allowed me to glamorize secrets and lies. But, as I watched Mary hold you on the night you got shot, I came face to face with the answer to the riddle that is both our lives. People lie because they afraid. People treat you as lesser than because they are intimated and uncomfortable with what is different. There was no greater mystery or explanation.  But, coming face to face with the harsh reality that this was the truth and there was no episode that would reverse all the pain and the sorrow by somehow tying up a series of events, was an experience that drew me to tears. For the first time, I didn’t hide behind my pain through a TV show with shocking revelations. I came face to face with the grief I had been living with, but never expressed. The grief of being treated poorly by some, lied to by others, and had secrets kept from me from the people I trusted the most. Thank you for allowing me to grieve with you. Thank you for allowing me to see the person I always was, but was too afraid to be.

As the show comes to an end, Spencer Hastings remains in Rosewood, a place that I can’t access or reach, but remains in my heart.