What making friends in New York has taught me about forgiveness

I hate when people tell me “you’ll understand when you’re older.”

I am older. At least a year older than I was last year. And the year before that. And so on. I’m edging up to 24, and I would like to believe I’ve learned a lot about life and love and moving on and looking forward. Especially over the last few years as I’ve transitioned from a life of the simple, southern, waitress to the grad student stumbling around New York City trying to learn to keep up with the pace.

But maybe they’re all right. Maybe everything only makes more sense as time passes. Maybe it’s not a single experience that provides you with all the necessary insight on particular area of life, whether friendship or relationships. Or even insight on yourself, your beliefs or desires.

Every time I reach a moment in my life where I think, “Okay, I know how this works,” or “I’m confident in my ability to handle situation X,” I make a traumatic mistake. Or at least in my mind they’re traumatic. My anxiety, which was previously the only element of my being that I was certain was only conquerable over time, tell me that they all are anyway.

And when this happens I learn the same lesson over, and over, and over again. I am going to make mistakes. I’m going to say words I don’t mean, and act on things that I shouldn’t. I’m going to make the wrong decision at what I feel is the right time, or the right decision at the wrong time. I’m going to trip over my own feet, and my work won’t always be 100 percent perfect. I’m going to unintentionally hurt someone, and someone is going to hurt me. I’m going to get irrationally upset over something minuscule, or say something minor and evoke that irrationality in someone else. These things are going to keep happening no matter how much I analyze, and overanalyze, and analyze again, all the lessons I’ve encountered over the past 4 or 5 years. These shake ups will keep happening even when I was so sure I’d learned enough to pilot through them from prior turbulence.

Time, and only time, is going to help me learn how to cope through and navigate my mistakes.

Most recently, however, there is one lesson I’ve stumbled upon that I do believe is the most important to making mistakes. Acceptance and forgiveness.

 Personally I would consider myself a forgiving person. I don’t like holding grudges, because I believe that negativity is a waste of energy that could be more positively distributed elsewhere. I guess this is a prominent ideal that has stuck with me through the past several years of blindly steering through young adulthood.

But until I moved to New York, I don’t think I had actually befriended many people who hold so much acceptance and forgiveness in their hearts; in different ways than I do. I’ve never been able to speak so freely about my mistakes, and feel comfort and warmth on the other side, rather than cold or heavy walls. I was always too scared. I always thought, “I need to figure this out myself, and learn how to cope with X situation on my own next time, more appropriately, more maturely, etc., etc., etc.”

It could be my difficulty with trust, but I’ve never maintained relationships with so many people that honestly reach their hands out and say, “let me help you through this, I can listen” or even convey to me that it’s actually okay to make a mistake. It’s okay to be human, and it’s okay to fall.

I’ve always considered forgiveness important for positive energy. But what I’ve learned, with time, with healing, with new friendship and a transition into (what I hope to be is) a new and better person, is that forgiveness isn’t only intended to block the negative emotions or circumstances.

Forgiveness, I now believe, is the most important component for love.

Through the friendships, the relationships, I’ve formed in New York, I know that  “hey, this will make more sense when you’re a little older,” as often as I roll my eyes at that statement, doesn’t quite signify what I think it may. Most of the time, it’s an opening to enlightenment on some of the most significant pieces of love.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere

The first time I traveled to New York City I was a tourist. It was around this time in August two years ago, though it wasn’t nearly as hot as it is now.

After only two days exploring the streets, I fell in love with the exciting feelings and the constant hustle the city offered, and officially made the decision that I was going to live there.

At the time I was still pursuing my undergraduate degree in South Carolina, right in the very same city that I had grown up in. I had always dreamed of getting out, but wasn’t sure if I had the strength to.

I tried leaving once when I was freshly 18. But even in Charleston, 3 hours away, my anxiety, my irrational fears of failure, of unfamiliar interactions, of being alone, of my new environment in general, it all got the best of me. After only 6 months I returned home to finish school.

After that first visit the decision to move to New York City, though initially impulsive, was driven by two ambitions. On one hand, I wanted to prove to myself that I could get out of this town, where it seemed everyone was bound for their entire lives, going through the motions of the slow, steady, southern day to day. That’s not a bad life to live by any means, but it wasn’t the life I wanted for myself.

That leads to the second reason. In almost every aspect of my life I’ve kept a perfectionist mentality. I wanted to be the best at whatever I was pursing at the time, even if I couldn’t come close. It was (still is) borderline irrational.

In high school I obsessed over strength training and tumbling courses for most of my cheerleading career. I spent hours teaching myself piano by ear and practicing my Christina and Beyonce to take a shot at every talent show and pageant in school. I even tried for American Idol once, but obviously I didn’t make it to Hollywood. In undergrad I would work 3 jobs at a time while attending classes full time, just to show, only myself really, that I could handle anything.

My middle school cheerleading coach once said something that summed up my determination. I wasn’t even remotely the best on the team. But my knees would bruise from the constant initiative to I throw my self backwards and land my tumbling pass. Even after hitting the ground most times, I jumped over and over and over again until I would finally land it.

“If I had 24 Katies, that put that effort in, this would be a better team,” she said once. That has stuck with me since.

I may never be the strongest, or the smartest, or the most talented, but I was going to damn well try to be.

When I decided on journalism for my career path, the same rules applied. Where else would you try your hand at becoming the best than working among the best in New York City?

I decided graduate school was my only opportunity. The focus shifted to scholarships and excellent grades. That was the ticket to the Big Apple.

My parents were hesitant about the idea at first. For one, they knew my history with anxiety. As driven as I am, it often holds me back from moving forward.

“Now we’re not going to send you up there so you can just come home like in Charleston,” my mom would say.

I assured them that this was the only way I could move forward in this career. I wouldn’t just come back. I couldn’t.

I worked hard to make NYC a reality, but in the end, I’m unbelievably lucky to have parents as supportive as I do. They are undoubtably my biggest fans.

Now, it’s been a year since I officially made that move.

One year, but really it’s felt like much more.

I’ve gone through a serious, long distance break-up, redirected my career twice, wrote stories on places I’d never heard of, interviewed people I was afraid to approach, learned to shoot videos, discovered a new love for data viz, worked an internship in the city, discovered how the economy works, changed my mind on about 100 different life decisions, and dealt with the painful process of finding a new apartment, all over the past 365 days.

All of that, but the most impactful thing has been the friendships and connections I’ve made.

Any time I stand on the border of a transitional point in life (even  as a naive 23-year-old) I wonder what else people could possibly teach me.

And honestly thanks to them, I’ve learned more about myself, my strengths and my faults, over the past year than I have in my whole life.

I’m inspired each day that I spend in my graduate program by the talents and the passion of the people I work with. Sometimes I get comments about my work ethic (the irrational, perfectionist nature still exists), but really, I look up to all 90+ of them.

There have been times I’ve questioned myself and my place here. But some of these special people have taught me to believe in myself. They’ve taught me it’s okay to feel emotions, and at the same time they’ve taught me more about how to laugh and relax. They’ve taught me not to give up on myself. (Some of these are specific <3)

It hasn’t been the easiest climb, but I owe it to these sensational folks for pulling me up.I can’t say that I’ve conquered my anxiety, and I know it’s something that will always be a part of who I am. I still get scared. I still fear failing. I still constantly worry about things normal people would never think about it, and sometimes am embarrassed to even discuss. It can consume me. And occasionally, I do feel alone in that.

But as I complete this first year, I am confident enough to know that I won’t turn back.

I did it. I made it out.

Will I be the best journalist? Maybe not, but I’m still striving to get there. What I’ve really learned to focus on is becoming the best version of myself as I can be.

And you know, they say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Well, that’s what Frank Sinatra said at least.

Why everyone should read the Stanford victim’s letter

Outrage over the light sentence given to Stanford student, Brock Allen Turner, has only intensified after the verdict was announced last week, as it very well should.

Turner is only receiving six months of jail time for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster over a year ago, which is basically a slap on the wrist for violating a person’s body without their consent.

What’s more unsettling are the comments stated by Turner’s father, claiming his son was paying a “steep price for 20 minutes of action.” Okay, sure, Mr. Turner, six months in jail is certainly overstepping the crime, unequal to the lifetime of paranoia and shame that his victim will have to experience. You must not have a daughter.

This entire case reexamines the tireless dilemma of rape culture. Women are often blamed for their own misfortune when it comes to rape for behavior and clothing that is ‘too sexy’ or wearing items that are ‘too revealing’. We get ‘too drunk,’ rip our clothes off, and throw ourselves on to unsuspecting men we don’t know.

Evidently, we ask for it.

But the result of this case and the response of Turner’s father clearly can indicate that this behavior from men is a learned one.

The most important factor powering the attention and call to action on this case is the victim’s statement to her attacker, released in full by Buzzfeed on Friday evening.

This woman remains nameless, as most rape victims are. However, for the purposes of this post I want to give her a name, because I believe she deserves to be called something more than “unconscious woman assaulted behind dumpster.”

I’m going to call her Audrina,  which means noble strength.

Audrina’s letter is over 7,000 words, but it’s worth the read of every one of them.

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” she starts her statement.

She runs through the painful account of the night of the crime, and heightened emotions of the morning after. It’s difficult to read without feeling uneasy, but it takes everyone through the detailed motions of what the experience was exactly like. You can almost feel the pain for her, although I’m sure none of us could ever actually come close.

Not only does she vividly expound on the event, but she touches on the misery of reliving the encounter over and over again in court while Turner tries to defend his actions.

Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney’s questions that would be invasive, aggressive, and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers.

 When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? 

Those were only a few of the questions Audrina mentions in her letter.

And society wonders why women don’t bother coming forward about sexual assault. When the situation is turned around on the victim, it sends a message to women everywhere that they are the root of the problem of rape.  When it is HER fault that a man couldn’t control himself and is now facing significantly minor consequences in his future, it makes the rest of us feel like nothing can be done if, God forbid, it happens to us. The physical, emotional, and psychological pain that comes from rape and sexual assault is completely incomparable to the attacker’s experience, and yet so seemingly insignificant.

But this is where Audrina is a hero.

She did speak out, despite virtually losing her battle. Even with no direct identity, she has a voice.

On the other hand, as a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.

I don’t know how often or how long cases like these have to happen for a solution to be set into motion to solve this rape culture and evident privilege. But I feel confident that this woman’s message will have an impact. I only hope that the courage she revealed and the influence she can make will bring her peace of mind, despite her own injustice.

I hope this serves as an example to encourage other women to come forward and fight for what’s fair. I hope this shows that words can be more powerful than the judge, more powerful than the verdict, and more powerful than the attacker. And as for men, I hope this explicit account from the victim’s point of view can give an idea of what kind of trauma assault can cause. I hope it instills understanding, but also awareness of the strength of a woman’s voice.

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

With this letter as a spark, let more lighthouses shine.

Flickr - …trialsanderrors - The lighthouse of Fenerbahçe, Constantinople, Turkey, ca. 1899

How mental health conditions actually make you a superhuman

May is my beloved, beautiful, birthday month. Ironically, it is also is mental health awareness month.

As much as I love the month of May with all my heart, the blossoming spring season doesn’t diminish the impact my anxiety and panic disorder has on my daily life. Despite my own battles, I try to set an example for those struggling with depression and anxiety and urge them to come to terms with these illnesses the best they can. They’re no different than any other medical condition.

1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime. At least one person you see during your day to day activities suffers from a mental health condition, and yet there is still such a stigma attached to these disorders.

To be fair, it took me years to accept my own condition, and honestly I am still learning to deal with it. I’ve always had irrational fear for as long as I can remember, but I never thought it was anything more than me being a huge baby about literally anything that made me uncomfortable.

Then the more stressful my life became as I grew older, the more these fears played a part on my physical well being. In high school I had my first panic attack, and I remember it vividly. My heart raced, my hands cramped up, my stomach tightened, and I thought I was dying right then at the age of 17. But I wasn’t, they told me at the ER. It was only anxiety.

Only… 

Anxiety isn’t only a mental health condition. It’s a real deal kind of difficult and scary. For several years after that first panic attack, it crippled my life. I was afraid of everything from car rides to meeting new people to failing a class… all to the point of where it would make me physically sick. It was so intense that I had to leave my undergraduate college after my first semester because I couldn’t be away from home. I NEEDED to be comfortable.

But I made the decision for myself to fight the condition. I had so many dreams and aspirations for myself, I couldn’t let this kind of fear hold me back from achieving them. I fought by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and traveling to Europe alone to study abroad for a semester, an ocean away from home and familiar faces. There may be students out there who take a semester abroad for an extra long vacation, but if you knew how utterly afraid I was of airplanes at the time, you would know that wasn’t my reasoning.

I did it to see, hear, feel, experience something different than I was used to, and learn to adapt to new surroundings.

That was two years ago… and to this day it is still the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life.

I credit my experience abroad as a major milestone on my road to overcoming my anxiety. Though I haven’t conquered it completely (and probably never really will) without pushing myself to do something that scared me in this way, I would have never been able to begin to accept that this condition is just a part of me. It makes me who I am, and sometimes it does get difficult, but finding that acceptance helps you learn to cope with it.

I still visit doctors about dealing with my anxiety, and soon will be starting counseling. But that’s okay. Accepting is the hardest part for people out there who suffer from these conditions. But I’m here to tell you that you can still lead a normal life and find help, too. I’m living proof.

Now I live in New York City, go to graduate school, and meet new faces all the time. Someone with panic disorder living in NYC may not make much sense. But this is where my dreams live.

I’m not letting irrational fear take them away from me.

In honor of mental health awareness month I’m sharing this story in hopes that some of you out there potentially suffering from depression or anxiety or any other condition, will find a path to peace with who you are. There are millions of people out there just like you, so don’t let the stigma keep you from expressing your feelings and thoughts. It actually makes you that much more beautiful of a person.

During my most recent visit to the doctor concerning my anxiety, he told me that high-functioning people tend to have this condition. So really, that means my anxiety isn’t a dismantling condition at all. It means I’m a superhuman. It explains everything about my perfectionist nature and deep emotions.

And if you’re a superhuman too, just embrace it.

I spent years in second, now I’m putting myself first

For almost four years I was in second. Now I’m finally putting myself first.

I’ve been on this fence of writing this blog for quite sometime, but was always worried about putting a person I loved so much in a negative light. They had power over me in that way, I would always bend to their will until I found myself broken. I didn’t want to tarnish the divine image they’ve created for themselves. But no matter how much you love someone, it is never an excuse to let yourself be emotionally abused. And now I’ve fully come to understand that lesson.

In the beginning I played the role of the other woman, regrettably. It was the possibly the worst situation I had ever put myself in. But I was young and easily manipulated into believing that behind the shadows I actually meant something more. I longed for the day I would be the only woman.

“You came along and showed me everything I was missing,” are words I would hear. I held onto these words with everything I had, giving them more depth than what they actually meant on the surface. It didn’t seem real. For months I was full to the brim with guilt and anger. This is the last time I would tell myself over and over again. But I couldn’t stop. I was an emotional crutch to this person, at the cost of an emotional wound for myself.

Then the other woman left the picture. But I still wasn’t enough. I was still treated like a secret, told I was something more but was given nothing to show for it.

“Hopefully one day,” I was told. But I still acted like a girlfriend. I spent many nights by this person’s side as they cried, several days listening intently to their struggles and hopes. I dropped everything in my life to make certain I did whatever I could to make them feel important and special. I wanted them to see all the qualities I saw in them. In return I received hollow hopes.

They’ve lead a difficult life, so I sympathized with them. It’s okay he is this way, I tried to justify everything, trying to make myself the love he was missing in his life. He’s just confused, everything will work out.

I spiraled into a major depression, beating myself up over why I wasn’t good enough, what I was doing wrong to be in second place. Second place to nothing. I constantly asked myself what I could do better, what would make me the woman that this person, who I loved so intensely, would want to be with?

I devalued myself. And not only that, but I was harshly judged on every mistake I made over the years. Despite the fact this man didn’t even want a relationship with me, he still judged every action I made. He made me feel smaller than anyone could.

I’ve spent years trying to build myself and fight through that pain. I studied abroad, focused on school, and now moved to New York, all as distractions to push myself forward. If I couldn’t have the love I desired, success was the next best thing.

Right before I moved something clicked for him. I was actually leaving, moving on with my life, and suddenly he wanted to hop on board. After three years of hoping, crying, fighting for this person I longed for, for so long, I was finally the person they wanted.

Finally, I was good enough.

But things were rocky when I left. In another blog I wrote about how I struggled to balance work in grad school and my relationship, and I folded for my career. I shutdown emotionally to focus, but I never truly stopped loving this man. After a few months of learning to live life in the city, I thought about trying again.

I reconnected with him. He told me “wanted to miss me.” He wanted to see if his “feelings would come back,” come back while he pursued another woman with me waiting in the wings. I was in the situation I started at over three years ago. I was second, again.

But this time, I’m cutting the rope that I’ve been so scared to sever all this time.

 I can finally see this man for who he really is, and see myself for more than I ever have. Regardless of how much you love someone, how much they’ve been through, how much you want them to feel special, there is no justifiable reason to let them walk all over you. There is no reason to devalue yourself for the sake of someone else.  There is no reason to endure that kind of emotional abuse.

And now I feel free. I feel as though shackles that have enslaved me for the past three plus years have been lifted. I feel strong. I feel like a fighter. And I feel like I can finally learn to really love myself.

I can put myself first.

And I will never let anyone make me feel like I’m in second, again.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m working on it.

I’ve lived in New York for almost nine months now. It’s a little difficult to find a place to start when I think how much my life has changed since then.

I’d like to say I’ve learned a lot about life and love in the city, but really I’ve just found that I’m still in the flux of figuring myself out. I would love this blog to be about how I’ve developed into a strong, independent, working woman and inspire you all. A woman who is on her way to changing the face of journalism, one data viz project at a time. But I’m not quiet there.

I know at home in South Carolina there are a lot of people, friends and acquaintances, who are impressed with my life in NYC. “I’m so jealous of your Snapchats, Instagram, etc,” are some things I hear pretty often. But the truth is, I am no hero.

I’m making mistakes daily, and am awkwardly tripping over my own feet on my rush to class every single morning (because I am always late).

But I can tell you all that I’m discovering exactly the woman I want to be. In a few ways.

One is in my work, of course. I’m surrounded everyday by talented and driven women and men. It’s refreshing to be a part of program (as unbearably tough as it can be at times) full of individuals so creative, innovative, and dedicated. I’m occasionally approached by others about my work ethic, but really it is all of them who inspire me. Gradually I’m learning to become more confident in my work, and become a leader. And one day I will be.

Another is in my character. I want to be a woman that others can look up to, one respectful of myself and of others. I’ve seen, and in the past have regrettably been a part of,  catty attacks on other women. At times it seems natural, but it’s not necessary. I’m in an environment now where women lift each other up more often than put each other down. We’re often undervalued enough as a gender, so it makes no sense to me to undervalue each other when we all have so much to offer. I never want my presence among other women to send a message like “you can’t do this” or “you’re not better than me.” I want that message to communicate “you can do anything.”

The last thing I’m learning is to value myself as a single individual. Past relationships have made weary and weak, but I’m beginning to discover that it’s okay to still be finding myself, solo. Within this concept I’ve found acceptance and forgiveness for those relationships, because it’s all part of the learning process. It seems silly to hold a grudge against someone you once told “I love you” to. Though you and said person may not understand each other at this stage of life, it doesn’t mean that experience wasn’t once a major part of your past. A part of making you, you. I think it takes more strength to forgive, than to resent.

And that brings me to my real final lesson. Strength. Though I may not be 100 percent strong right at this moment, I’m getting there, gradually.

I hope to write the “How I became a kickass leading woman in the journalism industry” blog for you guys one day, but for now you’ll have to deal with the “Hey I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m working on it” post.

We need to talk about rape

 I was talking with a friend of mine a few days ago, a guy friend, about a plan he was devising to create a dating app similar to Tinder. He wanted to build an app with solutions to the prominent issues that the current online, match making site had.

“The biggest problem for girls is they don’t want to be raped or roofied, and the biggest problem with guys is they don’t want to be catfished. So…. to fix the guys’ problem….”

I didn’t let him finish that thought before I interjected with “Oh, so don’t fix the fact that women are being raped by participating in online dating?”

“Yeah I mean, that’s just too difficult to do,” he responded.

Is it too difficult to keep men from luring women in through dating apps and websites to rape them? I don’t want to compromise the integrity of a friend of mine, because it isn’t particularly his fault to think this way. Society has made rape and sexual assault a taboo topic.  It’s “embarrassing” or “inappropriate” for women to have discussions on their experience with rape. It’s unsettling to feel like there’s no answer to sexual abuse for the fact that men, quite frankly, don’t want try to find an answer.

So, let’s talk about it.

Recently performing artist, Kesha, has been in the public eye dealing with her court case to get out of her contract with Sony. The case was brought on over the ordeal of her claims that producer, Dr. Luke, had sexually and physically abused her. She didn’t even want to get out of working with Sony altogether, but simply asked to record an album without interference from Dr. Luke and Kemosabe. Yet in her case, the judge ruled against her. Another instance where a woman’s claim of sexual assault is dismissed, where her words weren’t enough proof.

In a study done by the Department of Justice  on Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization of College-Age Females, 80% of students and 67% of non-students surveyed didn’t bother to report cases of sexual assault to police. Reasons for not reporting a case included believing the “police couldn’t do anything to help” or “fear of reprisal.” I read these statistics and try to wrap my mind around a man in fear of reporting any crime committed by a woman because he was scared of retaliation. Would that even happen? Why would women feel comfortable making their case for sexual assault when high profile cases like Kesha’s are clearly dismissed?

 Kesha isn’t the only one undermined by sexual violence in the work place. From personal experience, even from the age of 17, I’ve had cases where male managers have said crude things to me in person, via text, etc. I was put in situations  where I could playfully brush it off or lose my job. Sometimes I wonder, what would have happened if I would have spoken out? When the result is typically a scenario like Kesha’s, where NOTHING was done, where she is expected to play nice or see her career crumble, it makes it very difficult to believe that anything beneficial would have come from it.

What is it going to take?

We, women, need to come forward and talk about rape.  We need to make people uncomfortable, like we have felt. 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence, and who knows how many unreported numbers could be factored into that statistic. Our voices are a lot louder than they were decades ago. We have power to make it known that we are not the perpetrator’s of rape, we “don’t ask for it,” and we deserve our cases to be taken seriously.

We need to work to get to a point in society where fear of being raped isn’t “too difficult” of a scenario to solve in dating apps, or any case, period.