Relationship vs. Grad School: I chose to be selfish

The winter holidays have come and gone, and at least 10 of my Facebook friends have gotten engaged. 2016 begins as another year starring me, myself, and I (and my two cats), but the thing is.. I chose for it to be that way.

Six months ago I moved to New York City as a 22-year-old recent grad, on track toward earning a master’s degree in journalism. I was brand new to this fast-paced city of 8 million strangers, and was thrown into a demanding program with roughly 100 other experienced and skilled candidates. Two or three weeks in, I was already feeling my head slip under water trying to balance deadlines, learning new technology, falling in line with the motions of the city, etc., all while simultaneously trying to maintain a long distance relationship.

I had tried the long distance thing before, knowing it typically failed. But I honestly believed, possibly in a naive sense, that I loved this person enough to make it work. I had been with them for three years collectively, and the program was only a year and a half. With so many people in my hometown getting married, engaged, having kids in their early 20s, I thought it made sense to simply follow suit once I earned my degree.

But the weight grew to be too heavy, and the stress of juggling everything was making me feel physically sick. I found myself having to choose between my work and my relationship in one too many scenarios, which felt a lot like making a choice between myself and someone else.

After the first few months of being constantly frustrated I had to ask myself – why did I move to New York in the first place? Not to settle down, that was for sure. The move in general was a life lesson to me. Despite the social norms of the south I was used to, I realized that right now I am too young to worry about being with someone forever. As many times as I’ve felt that I had gone through the “I’m just figuring it out” stages of life, it was clear to me that I wasn’t finished with them. I didn’t want to look at someone that I did care for as a hinderance on my life, so I ended it.

Selfish? Maybe.

I’ve finally come to a conclusion in my life where I feel that being selfish isn’t necessarily bad in every situation. I’ve made countless decisions over the years worrying about how they would effect others, always considering the wants and feelings of those around me before my own. But when it came to this, when it came to my future, my career, and my potential to grow as a professional, young woman in this huge city of opportunity, I chose to be selfish.

You could call me cold, heartless maybe, but I see myself as more powerful than ever. You see, we are part of a generation that has more opportunity at our fingertips than generations before us, and I’ve always believed in seizing that opportunity. I’ve never been interested in settling down early for the sake of social norms, or “settling”for anything, really. I think that drive and that ambition should be seen as a value to another person in my life. If it isn’t, I’m going to keep working until I get to a point of success where I’m satisfied, with or without someone else at my side.

Once I reach that point, whether I’m 25, 28, or 32, I genuinely believe the rest will fall into place.  And well, if it doesn’t, I still have two cats.

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Gun Violence and Mental Illness: I Am Not Your Scapegoat

 Another mass shooting, and another call for an answer to mental illness. We all have our convictions on gun control, and although I could compose a lengthy list of reasons for why I am in favor, that’s not the battle I’m here to fight. I want to discuss  a time of darkness where we’ve pointed our fingers at mental illness yet again.

Only 4 percent of violent crimes in the U.S. can be attributed to mental illness , but this population can often be blamed as a leading cause every time a mass shooting makes headlines. Each time tragedy strikes, a chorus of politicians sing a song of “mental health problems” in America. Mental health awareness is a problem in America, but not because of violence. This attribution is not only false,  but it is also an injustice to the  43 million adults suffering from mental illness in the U.S. Nearly one-fifth of our fellow citizens face an existing stigma for their conditions, and yet more wrongly accused looks of disapproval fall in their direction each time we need something to fault for violence other than guns. This doesn’t include the vast majority of people who are afraid to seek help due to the negative connotations attached to the term “mental illness.”

This is where I have to be biased, but only because I have to be. I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve fought battles with irrational fear and panic for the past six years. When I often believe I’ve beaten the condition, it will creep up through triggers of stress or discomfort. My most recent episode occurred when I moved to New York City. Almost every night for the first month, I was crippled with constant panic attacks. I will go as far as to admit that I have been prescribed two different medications over the past two years to combat these horrific experiences.

Despite that, I’m often able to overcome the anxiety each time it flares, and I would like to assume I live a fairly successful life. I try not to let it hold me back from the dreams that I want to chase. Even though I’m relatively open about the condition, at times I still feel embarrassed to speak about it. “I don’t want people to think I’m crazy, or weird, or unsocial,” I will think, but at the same time I want to stand up for those who need to reach out for help. It’s a shame for anyone to have to feel that way. Every time I testify with my story of how I came to terms with anxiety, I have people privately contact me, admitting their own conditions. I’ve had friends who have suffered, and I’ve watched others struggle from a distance. It makes me realize how many people are out there that are afraid to speak up. Then even if they did, who is there to help?

Funding for mental health has been cut state to state. There are more mentally ill people in prison, than there are in hospitals. Even with suicide rates being twice as high as homicide rates, care and consideration for mental health awareness is often overlooked.

I believe John Oliver says it all.

With that, I challenge those politicians targeting mental illness as the key concern for mass violence. Do something about it this time, but don’t do it with intentions to hide this country’s undeniable obsession with guns. Do it to save thousands that suffer from illnesses that are just as serious as any other medical condition. Do it for the people with serious conditions, that are treated as though they are less than human. Do it so the countless number of people that are in fear of coming forward due to wrongful judgement will finally have the faith to seek affordable and beneficial care.

You can keep your guns, but #IAmNotYourScapegoat

#StopTheStigma

Grad School: It’s not for the faint of heart

I started graduate school for journalism, J-school some may call it, less than a month ago, and yet I feel that I’ve aged 30 years in that time. Moving from South Carolina to New York is nothing less than thrilling, but when the honeymoon phase is over and the workload begins to pile it undoubtedly hits hard.

I jumped into this scenario somewhat impulsively, with a desire to become something other than mediocre. I finished my undergraduate degree with better than average grades and worked diligently to get there. I imagined I would conquer grad school with the same stride.

Well, my friends, graduate school seems to not be for the faint of heart.

I, at least, considered myself to be a fairly decent writer. That’s what I wanted to pursue, and that’s what I enjoy doing. Well journalism is much more than that these days, as I obviously already knew. I expected to learn more fundamentals other than writing, and even wanted to learn some new skills in digital work and video. But what I have come to realize is that I have much left to learn, even in areas that I had confidence in prior to my move.

I’m beginning to learn interactive basics in coding, touching on photography and photoshop, and actually going into practice by starting to report in my assigned community district of Mott Haven in the South Bronx. It’s dense, and that’s putting lightly. And it’s only been the first two weeks. I could be weak for admitting that I’m already questioning my worth in this program, or I could be strong by being able to publicly come out and express that self dilemma. Whatever you, as a reader, decide in that aspect, you should know that even with my doubts I would never give up.

That’s where I come to discuss what I’ve really learned in the past two weeks.

1.) No one cares where I came from. They only care what they can make of me from where I stand now, and for the future. I could have way less experience than a majority of these other candidates. I could be from a small town in the south, where I had essentially been my entire life in a very comfortable state. I could feel as though I’m entering a completely different world where I not only have to learn to adapt, but have to be out learning new skill sets for my future career at the same time. No one cares about that. They set the same bar of expectations for everyone, and I need to meet them.

2.) You can not be scared. Being a journalist requires you to talk to people. I have been shy all my life, and have grown to be more outgoing at a turtle’s pace over the past few years. Once I actually get a conversation going, I enjoy interviews and talking to people from all walks of life, which is a big factor in why I’m heading down this career path. But it’s the initial stage of contact that is comparable in feeling to Michael Myers staring me down in the distance that keeps me hesitate from interaction. My motto for the next few months, inspired from orientation (and also Nike), is going to be “just do it.” You have to. I know the worst that can happen is an awkward rejection that I can just laugh about with a friend over wine later.

3.) I need to accept that sometimes I will fail. Being a competitive, stubborn, perfectionist by nature, this a topic for an entire other blog in general. However, it is relevant here, so I had to at least mention it.

4.) It is going to be overwhelming. It’s graduate school. But I’m not the only one feeling it. There have been times over the past couple weeks where I’ve felt that I have to be the only person sweating bullets over finding my first good story, but I’ve noticed others are also stressing over different areas of the coursework. We’re all in this same big boat together, sink or float.

My head may constantly be pounding from research, my eyes may be strained from staring at a computer for hours, and the days may seem just a tad bit longer, but at the end of the day I find myself back at the same point of happiness with joining this program. After accepting the difficulties ahead, I can look forward to the experiences I will get practicing this wonderful craft of journalism in the vast playground of New York City. Sometimes I’ll fail, but sometimes I’ll succeed; all while (hopefully) achieving the ultimate goal of an amazing career in the process.

Sink or Swim: The first weeks in New York

To start this blog with the phrase “just a small town girl” may make my life sound like the beginning of a Journey song. But as cliche` as it sounds, it could very well be the kicker to a story about my move from the quiet, southern lifestyle I knew only two weeks ago in Spartanburg, SC, to the noisy, crowded, and hustling city streets of New York that I’m starting to learn now.

Every life altering transitions comes with its own set of learning experiences that not everyone is quite ready to encounter, but I love them. As anxious of a person that I may be, at the end of the day when I look back at the lessons I’ve learned from an adventure or new experience, there is nothing I would rather do. The thing about New York City in particular is that I don’t think I will ever stop learning.

I’m not a fan of stereotypes in general, but I know as human nature we often find ourselves subconsciously preparing for how certain groups may act, or perhaps treat us if we’re a little different than they are. The stereotypes that southern people place on northern groups is one that paints a picture of cold, rude, sweet tea hating people, that I have come to find is very untrue. Well, I’m not sure about the sweet tea part, but the former is definitely inaccurate.

Coming from a more suburb area where a vehicle is an absolute necessity, the subway system has been a puzzle for me thus far. The expression on my face during my first few trips must have given that away, because I had several people offer to help and give me directions without my asking. There was one woman who gave me directions, made sure I got off on the right stop, and even walked me to my transfer train before going into the complete opposite direction to begin her own day, all while giving me advice to conquer public transit in the future. This interaction was the first step in really diminishing the southern stereotype of New Yorkers.

Today was our second day of orientation at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and at least I personally felt thrown into the fire, as we were assigned go out to talk to random New York residents and produce a story on a particular topic by a 5:30pm deadline. I have barely talked to ANYONE since I have moved to New York City, and now I’m going to start by jumping straight into reporting?

I guess you could say I was pretty nervous and not expecting many people to talk to me, but everyone I approached with my “HiI’maJournalismStudentPlzAnswerMyQuestion” spiel was surprisingly, openly inviting in having me to sit and chat with them. It was interesting, hearing the viewpoints of different people about an important urban matter specific to these city residents. And it wasn’t just, “hey, let me ask one question and I’ll move on.” I sat and had lengthy conversations with these strangers. It made everyone seem so real and so human.

These experiences combined reiterated what I’ve been telling myself for the longest time. People are just that, they’re people. The northern, southern differences, the cultural differences, the racial differences, they may make us all different, but in unique and wonderful ways that add a necessary and beautiful diversity to the world we live in. But what we all have in common is that we are all human, with the majority of us having good intentions and intuition. For whatever reason, we’ve learned to focus on the small percentage of negatives about each other. We take the bad experiences and actions made by a few, and peg them to entire group of people. When in reality, that isn’t a real reflection. It’s a fun house mirror distortion.

Today we were asked “what do we want to do as journalist, what do we want to accomplish?” And many of us said, “we want to change the world.” I hope this is the way we can do that. I hope the advancements of technology and the evolution of journalism can bring the stories of different people to life for what they really are. To clear the distortion, reflect the reality of our positives, connect us with our similarities, and embrace our differences.

It’s funny, for the longest time since I’ve chosen this profession as a career path, I’ve wanted to tell the stories and share the voices of people who need to be heard, to better society, as a way to change things, and create a more positive way for communities to see each other. Now I sit in a room everyday with 111 graduate students who want to do the same thing. I sit in a room of people who are all very different, with different backgrounds, with different languages, of different race, culture, gender, etc., who all share the same common goal of making an influence.

And I can honestly say, it’s empowering.

Here’s to You, Sparkle City


 In the seemingly short, few weeks that remain before my departure toward a new journey, and a new life, in the city that never sleeps, I find myself in constant reflection of the small, southern town I currently reside in. Spartanburg, South Carolina, do I call you home?

I find myself wondering what makes a place “home.” Although I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived and matured in this place for the past thirteen years. I’ve had all the most important firsts, as well as the meaningful childhood, adolescent, and young adult experiences all right here. I’ve not only gotten older, but I have grown here.

In those years that I transitioned from high school to college to post grad, I had no desire to continue to be a part of the southern small town lifestyle and rituals. I loathed it at times, and believed that the only way I would ever honestly be happy is if I eventually broke away from it. I felt trapped. But now that my escape is in clear sight, I’m starting to really see the value in the town that I’ve called home all this time. Everything about it has made me who I am.

Not only have I grown in Spartanburg, but Spartanburg has grown too, and grown on me. I’ve witnessed so much progression here that it makes me proud to be a member of this community, even if only for one more month. Spartanburg has transformed into a home for creativity. The arts have made an impact on the city landscape, which in turn has made a more active downtown area. Local businesses are beginning to pop up more rapidly, allowing us to support ourselves. Effort is genuinely being shown by city leaders to support the ideas of local residents. This sense of community grows stronger with each new project that emerges. A spark of excitement emerges when I think about the future of my hometown. It makes me eager to visit in the years to come to see how local leaders will continue to make an impact.

Just a couple years ago, there wasn’t much to downtown Spartanburg. A couple restaurants here and there, a few events, and a solid amount of vacant buildings. I remember how bored I would get over long weekend nights, and how much that made me want to get out, and be a part of something bigger. And although I am still eager to take on the step of my life in New York City, I no longer detest this small, or growing rather, city that I was raised in.

I support you, Spartanburg. I support the efforts to make this city more urban, active, safe, and fun for all. I hope to see this progression flourish in years to come to put this area in the running along side Greenville for growth in South Carolina. It may take time, but my faith for this place, that was almost non-existent, has increased two fold over the past years I’ve observed its growth.

Here’s to you Sparkle City, you’ll always be home.

#LoveWhereYouLive(d)

Enough of the Blame Game

Two days ago something terrible happened in our state, and in our country. The past two days have been struck with grief and anger as a result of a young man’s senseless, hate driven crime that left nine people dead. Nine innocent people, who were in a place that no one would imagine would be a scene of a violent act such as this. A church of history and community that has faced adversity before and still stands, and undoubtably still will.

Regardless of your religious affiliations, political oversight, or the color of your skin, we can all agree that what happened in Charleston was truly heartbreaking. There are no other words for its description other than a racist act of terror. The man confessed himself that what he wanted was a new spark to reignite the fire of racial hatred in our nation, and that is exactly what he aimed to spread. He told people he wanted something “big,” like previous accounts of discriminational controversy. He told them he wanted to start a racial war.

Over the past two days, I’ve seen words of hope, peace, and support. But I’ve also seen words of ignorance, paranoia, and politically driven nonsense. Regardless of laws, conservative and liberal views, what happened in Charleston was inhumane. Things like this keep happening in our own backyard, and we continue to point fingers at each other and our leaders, our media, and this gets us absolutely NOTHING done. There’s no productive discussion, there’s no growth or learning, there’s only blame. We are in a dark time in our nation that we refuse to move on from.

What we have to do first is accept that there is a problem. That is the biggest step towards change. Regardless of what people want to blindly believe, racial tension is still something that exists in our country. It’s obvious. And if you say you’ve never seen it before, you’re lying. But what’s bigger than that, as I’ve expressed multiple times before, is the lack of empathy that exists in our society. Minds are closed. There is a lack of an ability to step into another person’s shoes and see their perspective, to learn and accept their way of life, and learn to compromise and adapt to living together, in equality. That goes not only for black and white, but all types of people who share this country, even this world.

We accept the problem, we change our perspectives, and we can begin to grow from there. Together. Equally.

If not, these things will keep happening. The unproductive blame game will continue. More devastating events will occur and we will back here, arguing with each other about who’s views are right and wrong, instead of actually doing something about it.

And that’s where Dylann Roof will get what he wanted. By dividing us, into being unproductive and unchanged.

We ARE, unfortunately, one of the only advanced nations where things like this continue to happen so frequently. That is the truth.

This is the time we need to do something.

We have to be willing to actively accept change, decide that some ideas are better to be left behind, that some ideas need to be adopted, and move forward for what’s best in our concept of ‘goodness’. For a better nation, and a greater example for a better world.

Stand together, or fall apart.

The Idea(s) of Courage

Courage(n.) – the ability to do something that you know is difficult OR dangerous

This is the definition of this term in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

I’ve witnessed a lot of discussion about this word over the past week as it, and controversy, has surrounded the seemingly earth shattering Caitlyn Jenner reveal.

What is courage?

In reality, we all have different ideals for what courage could be. As the definition states, it is the ability to do something that you know is “difficult” OR “dangerous.” Realistically, Bruce, or Caitlyn rather, did live up to the textbook definition. Facing the adversity of a transgender reveal to the public is obviously difficult. This was proven by the backlash.

By this definition, depending on who you are, countless situations could be considered courageous.

You could be a member of the military, as I’ve seen many post this ideal in comparison with the Jenner idea of courage. But, you also could be an individual with social anxiety giving a speech on your beliefs to the public. You could be a citizen of a dictatorship protesting for rights. You could be a preteen facing a bully. You could be a patient battling illness, physical or mental. You could be an alcoholic overcoming addiction. You could be a victim of sexual assault facing their rapist in trial. Etc., etc. All of these things, at least to the individual, take courage. They all take an effort or ability to do something difficult or dangerous within each individual situation.

When the people participating in these situational acts of bravery want to share publicly what they’ve gone through and the difficulties they’ve faced, it can spark inspiration in others. This is what is important.

I’m not saying you have to be inspired by Caitlyn Jenner. As the point of this may be, each of us has our own ideal for courage. But there are countless members of the LGBT community who have become inspired. There are going to be people who are no longer afraid to express who they really are, despite the criticism, and behave how they honestly feel in reaction. That is courage.

You know what else could be considered courage? Accepting lifestyles you don’t understand or necessarily agree with. It can certainly be difficult, maybe even dangerous in other areas of the world.

I may have zero interest in your family, celebrity, or your new show, Miss Jenner, but I’ll say that I do consider you courageous. The wave of acceptance to come, however, now that is something I truly want to see.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what…”

“….You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
– To Kill a Mockingbird