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An open letter to those who think we should “get over” Trump

Like many of you, my heart sunk into my stomach and churned as I watched the votes come in for Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. I felt the universal pain of anyone who has been discriminated against—women, immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the LGBTQ community, those with disabilities, and the numerous other groups that Trump has been able to offend in such a short amount of time. The sharp pain of the sexual assualt survivors that had to hear this man say that men can “do anything” if they are rich or famous enough. The loss of hope in the children who want to change the future…

It is no secret that I am against what Trump stands for. I cannot simply look past his unreleased tax records, countless lawsuits, and hateful comments toward many groups that I myself or my friends belong to. I have heard some of the people who voted for him say that we can’t take his words too seriously. It’s easy to say this if these words don’t affect you directly or jeopardize your own safety and ability to live freely in this country. I have always been taught to judge someone by their actions and so far, his harsh words have matched many of the things he said that had me so worried.

We were already living in a world where the environment is deteriorating, people are shooting in schools, and groups are divided because of hate. Instead of working on plans to make things better, this president has already created a ban for Muslims, furthered plans to build a wall between the US and Mexico (God help me if I cannot get my avocados), taken away protection for transgender people, and appointed people to his cabinet who are unfit, uninformed, and inexperienced. For any position in this country, you need to have a certain set of skills and experiences to receive the position. It doesn’t make sense as to why this rule isn’t being followed for government positions.

I love this country and one of the beautiful things about it is that we accept those who are different. My grandmother came to this country, like many others, as an immigrant trying to make a better life for herself and her future children. Everyone wants to feel safe and I get that, but spreading hate and shutting people out will only lead to them becoming mad and even more hateful toward us. This can be seen throughout history, which tends to repeat itself. It is also important to note that more guns will not make us safer. They will lead to more deaths and mass shootings, especially since the House approved to do away with background checks for gun sales. Look at the gun deaths for other countries who have stricter gun laws and compare it to the US. There is clearly a problem when the US has about 3 times the gun deaths of any other country and is the world leader in gun violence. That is not something we should ever be proud of. Regulation is key and there needs to be more education about the use of guns and other means of protection in order to decrease these rates.

I am worried about terrorism but the fact of the matter is that most terrorist attacks come from our own citizens. The chances of a terrorist attack being carried out by a refugee is 1 to 3.6 billion per year, which is extremely lower than the chances of getting struck by lightening twice. Refusing refugees who have no other place to go and will die without leaving their country will create hatred against our country. If we open up our country to refugees and help them get through their tough time, we can create more allies and not enemies. Take a look at the current standards for the vetting process. It is extremely difficult already for a refugee to get into the country and there is little to no chance of a terrorist being able to get through that rigorous process.

I highly encourage anyone who stands by Trump’s policies to read the research and not just what they see on their friends’ newsfeeds.

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As you can see, the most reputable and unbiased sources are the ones in the middle. It just so happens that NPR is one of them and Trump wants to cut funding for it, along with the arts. It seems as though any news that disagrees with Trump or calls him out on his lies is “fake news”. Trump even called CNN fake news when it is clearly a reputable source.

Like I said, I am a proud American, but that does not mean that I have to agree with whatever the president does when I know it is wrong and will have detrimental effects on many different people. Just like any employee would be expected to educate themselves about their position and the issues at hand, it is Trump’s responsibility to consult with others instead of just signing off bills. Whether the president is a democrat or republican, they need to learn to consider what is best for the people as a whole, rather than favoring one particular demographic. Our country was built on fighting against injustices such as racism and inequality. We are also built on the idea of free speech. What the president has done within his short time in office has made me very scared for the future of many aspects of the country that I live in and love. We need to look at the research and understand what is going on instead of blindly believing everything we hear. Although everyone is entitled to opinions, there are some things that are just facts and we need to be aware of these if we want to change our country for the better. We need to treat others with respect and keep everyone safe. We need to promote love and not hate because hate just creates death, war, and even more separation from one another. This country is about coming together no matter what race, religion, sexual orientation, or political party you fall under. Everyone is created equal—not just white men, straight men, Christian men, or men at all—everyone.

 

Connecting Experience in a Residential Eating Disorder Center to the School Psychology Field

I recently wrote an article for the Florida Association of School Psychologist’s Winter Newsletter. I have reprinted it below so that my readers can see it. You can also check out the actual newsletter here.

Eating disorders are not just about food— they are related to many other factors such as ADHD, allergies, trauma, substance abuse and/or a myriad of mental illnesses. Walking into the residential center as a counselor, I did not expect to also gain experience working with women with substance abuse and serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. These women have taught me more about life in six months than anything I have learned in school. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from working here is how to keep my sense of self as a human rather than trying to be the completely together and collected therapist that I thought I had to be. While in this center, these women have experienced sickness, death, and as many ups and downs as life has to offer. It is impossible not to become affected emotionally. During this time, I met some of the kindest humans I have ever met in my life. Most of them would care about others so much more than they would themselves that it led to neglecting their own needs. This became more than a job for me. Instead, it also became a lesson to improve my own self-care and most importantly, how to be human while still being supportive and professional. Going into the field of psychology, I had this false idea that I needed to be somewhat emotionless in order to be a good professional. I heard horror stories of friends who visited professionals who then went on to speak about their own problems and completely overshadow the patient and the issue at hand. I was always careful not to self-disclose, until I realized how beneficial a little self-disclosure could be for a patient. It is important to validate the patient’s feelings and let them know that they are experiencing them in a way that is different from others, but it is also good to let them know that they are not alone. Since perfectionism and eating disorders usually go hand-in-hand, I make it known to my girls that I am not perfect. I acknowledge my mistakes when I make them and I use these opportunities to let them help me become a better professional. This becomes a great way of modeling because many girls who have eating disorders are overcritical and have a tough time handling feedback. Instead of continuing a group therapy session that I know the patients aren’t getting anything out of, I make sure to ask them what they need at that time or what they would specifically like to get out of a group. This allows the patients to feel like they are being heard. Since each group of women is different, this discussion allows me to understand the needs of this specific group so that I can cater my groups to them specifically. It is also a great way to turn around a group that is not participating. Sometimes asking the patient what they need or what they would like to get out of a therapy session can not only ensure that both the patient and professional are on the same page, but it lets the patient know that you care. This is especially beneficial for the adolescents, who may not think that they have any say in their treatment or their lives in general. It is so important to allow the adolescent to know that they can have control by choosing to improve their life. Their parents and school faculty members are just tools that they can use in order to guide them toward the right path, but ultimately, they need to be the ones who make the decision that they want to recover. One of the most beneficial things for my own research was asking the adolescents about their experience at school. I realized that many of them had so many different options when it came to where they could stay for lunch. Many of the girls expressed that they would stay in the library, where food was prohibited, in order to work on homework or avoid eating lunch. I would ask them what they thought would help girls who are struggling with an eating disorder be noticed by someone who could help. They said that they would be more likely to confide in a peer than an adult because they were so used to telling the adults they were okay when they really weren’t. They also expressed that it could be very uncomfortable for them to talk to an adult that they haven’t built a relationship with, but a peer with a specific position such as a peer counselor would make the experience much more comfortable. We also discussed how in order to speak to a peer counselor, they would have to fill out a form or go through an adult to start the process. Other girls expressed that they did not have any friends to eat with, which made it easier for them to hide and just not eat their lunch. We discussed the possibility of there being designated leaders in the library or the lunch room who would eat with students who didn’t have anyone to eat with or who were struggling with something in their life. Since adolescence can be extremely difficult and many people may not know what someone else is dealing with, these peer leaders can help inspire hope in students who need it. These peer leaders can be trained to recognize signs of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidality among students. They could also be there for students to come up to or would approach students who look like they need someone to talk to. During this discussion, when we were sharing ideas and thinking of new ways to help others, I saw the eyes light up in my adolescents for the first time. Their eyes were full of this new hope for the future and pride in the new program they have created with each other. It also helped fuel my inspiration because I was stuck in trying to figure out a way to target students who are struggling with an eating disorder when it was so easy for it to go unnoticed. I’ve had to sacrifice some of my holidays and free time in order to work with these women. Although some days can be draining or difficult, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’ve taken the time to get to know the women who are in the center, beyond their eating disorder, and I have learned just how kind, caring, and loving they are. If I had a magic wand that allowed my patients to love themselves and took away all of the obstacles in their life, I would surely use it. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so I must be patient and help them get through it, one day at a time. I have found the importance in saying what you mean inside of waiting until it’s too late. These girls can come and go so quickly, some complete the program ready to tackle ED and take on the world, but others leave without feeling confident that they can recover. Sometimes just letting them know that you believe in them can make a huge difference in their world. All of these are lessons I will surely take into my future experience as a school psychologist because having one positive adult in a child’s life can change their perspective and allow them the confidence to succeed in their academic and personal lives.

Gilmore Girls Revival (Spoiler Alert)

If you are a fan of the classic show, you have probably already binge-watched the 1st season of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. And if you haven’t, stop reading this and go watch it right now!

There were many things I loved about the revival. I loved the nostalgia and the famous lines that were brought back such as “I smell snow”. I also loved how Lorelei and Emily were going to therapy together. As a future psychologist, I really wish this went further and actually helped their relationship. I feel like it would be a good way to patch up some of the grudges that both parties hold for each other and finally come together. I didn’t like how Emily still resented Lorelei for getting pregnant so young, especially because without that event, Rory would not be in their lives. I understand how difficult that must have been but come on you have to forgive eventually.

I liked how they brought many people from the series back. I especially loved the memorial for Rory’s grandfather, who died recently in real life. This made it especially heartfelt and emotional. This scene was especially dramatic and it helped to show just how broken Emily was.

I noticed that there were a lot of strings left untied (besides the ending of course). This is why I feel like there has to be another season. There was a scene where Emily woke up at noon and seemed to be very disoriented. I was immediately wary because I thought that they would go in the direction of Alzheimer’s with that storyline and prepared for the worst. But they didn’t address that incident at all and she seemed to be fine after. Yes, it would be heartbreaking, but now that I think of it, it would be good to shed some light on the topic. Also, because they didn’t have Lorelei and Emily patch things up through therapy, this could be a great way for Lorelei to finally have a motive to set things right with her mother. It would also teach her some responsibility.

I also was confused when Emily mentioned a terrible letter that she thought Lorelei wrote for her. This was not talked about again, so I feel like it would be helpful if we knew more about this letter and who sent it so that Emily isn’t harboring a grudge over something her daughter didn’t even do.

I think it would be interesting if Emily were to have to live below her normal means. Although Richard is gone, there is no income. She needs to be a little more frugal instead of giving money to Lorelei and Rory whenever they need it. I also think it would help if they had more of an incentive to work for it, especially Rory! It is not normal for a 32-year-old Yale graduate at the top-of-her-class to be homeless and jobless. At least get a waitressing job or something to pay the bills!

And about Rory…this made me really upset! Yes, she did have a past of going for the bad boy and even being the other woman, but this was a long time ago! You would think she would learn by now. Especially because she seems to have a large moral compass. Last time we saw her, she was off to cover Obama’s campaign for president. I would think she would be getting into more serious political journalism and working for the New York Times or traveling the world to cover severe injustices. I think that this would have been a great way to show that she is trying to make the world a better place. It would have also made up for the lack of diversity within the entire show (which is a whole different story). I could see the old Rory covering the Syrian refugee crisis and even traveling to war-stricken countries in order to get the real story. I do like that she is a creative writer, but she is so much more than that in the old series. I think it would have been okay if Rory was having a “where do I go next” crisis after being so successful as a journalist, but she was unexpectedly lazy within the last ten years. This was extremely out-of-character for her.

Logan? Seriously? I’m unapologetically Team Jess and wanted more of an interaction with the two. I believe he was Rory’s soul mate and that they would have a great life together. Maybe they both would become writers, who knows? But they had to stick her with Logan who is basically an ass and just reinforcing her non-productive behaviors. I could see them having a painfully boring life and being able to solve all their problems with money. It also goes against everything her mother fought for when she decided not to grow up rich. Rory won’t agree to marry Logan but she has no issue sleeping with him when there’s someone who is engaged to him. Makes perfect sense.

I felt like it was unbelievable for Lorelei to actually think that she was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The girl cannot go one day without needing people around her. What would she do without Luke constantly fixing things she didn’t even know were broken and there was no mention of how she was going to get her coffee fix! Even some instant coffee would make this more believable. She also doesn’t seem like she’s ever been camping a day in her life, so there’s that and she would not have access to a food place either. It would have been more believable if Lorelei went to find herself on some kind of European food tour or adventure. It would also be amusing to see her interact with people who don’t speak her language and learn more about herself on the way.

How do these girls still eat an amount of food that qualifies under the binge-eating category and not gain weight?! This was completely unrealistic. You would think maybe Jackson and Sookie would open up a farm-to-table restaurant and provide them with fresh, healthy food but no. I love junk food and there’s no shame in that but the amount that they are eating would surely give anyone some type of health problem.

There was also a good amount of shaming in this revival. There was a scene where Emily Gilmore calls a woman with Bipolar Disorder a “nightmare”, which is highly insensitive and ignorant. Then Lorelei and Rory body shame every guy at the pool! You would think that with their love of food, they would understand and be a little more empathetic. Lorelei also jokes about “trigger warnings” which are common for sexual assault victims and those with PTSD. I understand the attempts to be cute but it just did not work.

Although it was 2016, it didn’t feel like 2016. Where was the mention of the ridiculousness of Donald Trump running for president? I would have expected Rory to be covering Clinton’s campaign trail, due to where she left off in the original series.

I did enjoy the Kirk bits but we did not find out if he married Lulu! This was something I was even curious about when the original ended.

I thought it was a little out-of-character for Lorelei to be so against Rory writing a book about their lives. Lorelei is usually very open with people, so why would she be so against it now? You would think she would be excited to be written about since she loves the spotlight. It would be more like Emily to forbid her private details from getting out in public. She could have used her reputation in the community and the DAR as an excuse and then had an epiphany that it was something that needed to be written when she told off the DAR and moved to Nantucket.

While there were many things that needed to be fixed (diversity being the main one), I did enjoy the revival. I think it gave me that sense of what the old series didn’t when it ended and provided a lot of nostalgia for me. I also thought it was super smart that they decided to air it on Thanksgiving weekend. This made it easy to watch when you’re home and gave me a designated time to binge-watch the episodes, rather than taking out time from my busy schedule. I really do hope that the series comes back and maybe even with Rory’s baby already born. It certainly adds a very interesting dynamic to the show now that four generations are included.

What a Trump presidency means for sexual assault victims

Congratulations to those of you who decided that this man who has been notorious for bullying those with disabilities, trash-talking people of other races and religions, and disrespecting women would be a better president than a woman. Now, anyone with a heart would recognize that he is wrong for our country but let’s take a look at something deeper. What does it say if our president already has many sexual assault charges against him before he enters office? During the infamous “bus” conversation with Billy Bush scandal, it was clear that he does not respect women or their right to have a say in what happens to their bodies. This is clearly evidenced by his pro-life views and comment stating that “you can do anything” to a woman and get away with it if you have some sort of high status.

I remember that week being a huge trigger for every single woman who has had an experience with sexual assault. I spoke to my adolescents at work and they were all terrified of the idea of Trump as president. How are they supposed to feel safe when their own President is not punished for sexual assault? How are they supposed to flourish in a world that is constantly shutting them up and telling them to “get over it”? We already have a system that favors the rapist over the victim. Cases like Brock Turner, Anita Hill, Jameis Winston, and those in the documentary Audrie and Daisy have exposed the horror that life becomes once the victim speaks out.

I urge you to take a second and try to imagine what life must be like for anyone, man or woman, who has been sexually assaulted must be like. Having to carry on with work or school because you don’t want to let them ruin your life but at the same time feeling broken, used, and worthless. Being told to “move on” when you are constantly bombarded with flashbacks of the incident and terrified that it might happen again. Not being able to sleep because of the nightmares and not being able to trust anyone. Try to imagine what that can do to a person. They literally become a shell with nothing left inside because society has told them it is not acceptable to talk about it so they have to become numb just to walk around without breaking down.

Make no mistake, the women I work with are strong. It was never their fault. The assault led them to turn to alternative methods to numb or forget the pain. They suffer from eating disorders as well as PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. It’s heartbreaking that they would have to turn to these methods because being open about it just isn’t acceptable in our society.

You can see the pain in their eyes, the way they carry themselves, and the fear they describe when they talk about men and the possibly of dating in the future. You can feel their despair when you sit down with them when they are breaking down and have no idea how to get the horrible experience out of their minds. Needless to say, their lives can never be the same again.

Many people still defend this man stating that they are “just words” or seem to not classify this as sexual assault. I assume the ones defending him would be other white men who have never been victims of sexual assault or women who clearly cannot empathize with a woman who has been assaulted. These are the same individuals who hold the belief that women are objects instead of people and do not deserve the same amount of respect or rights because of their gender.

But I urge you to read stories of sexual assault victims. Try to see it from their point of view. Be grateful that you were lucky enough to never have to go through anything they do. Be kind to people who feel hurt and scared after this election because you never know what they have been through or are going through.

Yes, we do have to move on eventually but give people time to grieve and make sense of things. This is a decision that affects so many different people and although it may not affect you, it may affect someone you know. And if you care about that person, please let them voice their opinion just like our 1st amendment freely allows us to do. Recognize that there are going to be populations of people who are hurting from this and allow them to feel it.

In order to move on, we need to protect our rights as people. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even if something may not make you happy or fit your culture, religion, or personal views, you do not have the right to control others. Just let that person be who they are. Is it really affecting you? Do you really need to fixate on what someone else is doing with their life? Stop the hate. Hate will just break you down and hurt others. Focus on making yourself happy and making yourself a better person because that is how we will actually make this nation great.

The Power of Your Story

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Throughout centuries, stories have been passed down from generations in order to teach a lesson or to show others what life was like during that time. We’ve had exceptional writers such as Dickens and Hemingway whose ideas transformed the way people thought about society in their day. Authors such as J.K. Rowling have given us hope for success if we only keep trying. They have also opened the doors to our imagination so that we can experience magical worlds and hear stories of people who may or may not have existed.

Now that we have the Internet and the world of social media, everyone has the power to write their own story. It is not just an option for the educated, wealthy, or those with popularity. Although this can be a dangerous thing, it is also a beautiful one. We can learn lessons from ordinary people and get a glimpse of what life is like from their point of view. We can learn about what life is like for someone in a war-torn state like Syria or someone who is struggling with the loss of a loved one or a physical or mental illness.

Whether we choose to write it, tell it, publish it, or keep it to ourselves, each and everyone of us has a unique story that only we can tell. We can choose the words we put into it and whether it’s going to be a comedy or tragedy. This may seem odd because we cannot actually control what happens in our story or who is in it, but we can control the way the main character reacts and behaves throughout the story.

Our main character can be a protagonist or antagonist. They could also be the narrator explaining how others live their lives and placing judgement on how they do so. They could be observers or doers and can choose to let certain people into their lives or push them out.

It is up to you. Do you want to be the hero, the victim, or the villain? Sometimes we can play more than one role or all three if we are having an internal crisis with who we are. What truly makes the difference is not only which one you decide to be but how you write the story as well. Do you write it as if you had no control over your own life and blame others for your unhappiness? Do you write it with definitive labels that will never change and negative feelings that will never get better? Do you complain and whine or do you belittle others to make you feel better or more accomplished? You may even be your own worst enemy fighting yourself and stopping yourself from completing the task or making the journey that you’ve always dreamed of.

Or do you take a different approach? Do you accept that you have flaws but that you ultimately are the one who is going to be in charge of your fate and your happiness? Do you write with positive words and give yourself credit when it is due? Do you express gratitude to those in your life that may not be here forever?

The point is that you have the power to create the person who you want to be around every moment of every day. If there are things you want to make better, you have the power to do that. You can transform yourself from a victim or villain into a hero. There is no point within your story where you cannot make it better unless you give up. Sometimes it takes choosing to be the hero everyday of your life and writing thousands of positive words to combat the millions of negative ones. But it can be done. You just have to realize that the power is always within you and no one else.

Should I go on a Cruise?

(Disclaimer: I apologize for the morbid cover picture but my sick sense of humor made me do it.)

So you are planning a vacation and wondering whether or not it would be best for you to go on a cruise. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

How much time do you want to spend in each place?

Would you rather try to see as many places as possible in a short amount of time or to take your time and try to get the most out of each city?

How much time does the cruise spent in the ports?

Sometimes the cruise will go to a port that is far away from the main city. The ride there could be costly in itself and could only leave you with a few hours to explore before you have to head back. Take Paris for example. It takes about 5 hours to get to and from Paris from the port Le Havre. That means you might have only a few hours to actually explore the city which puts many limits on what you can do. Not to mention the long lines for the popular sites and the fact that you will probably want to get something to eat. I would highly recommend getting a fast pass for these attractions and checking to see when the cruise will be at the certain port and when certain attractions are closed. I saw one cruise to Paris that docked there the only day during the week that the Louvre was closed, which was a big deal-breaker.

It is also good to know whether or not the ship will stay in that port for the night because that means you could have more time there to explore.

Do you care whether or not you spend the night there?

If you are looking forward to seeing a place for it’s nightlife, you are most likely not going to be able to experience it on a cruise, since they usually leave the ports before nighttime. However, there are some exceptions to this.

What does your budget look like?

Cruises are known for being more economical if you are leaving from a port close to home. This way, you can avoid paying for plane tickets, hotels, and even food. These are all huge expenses that can hike up the price of a vacation very easily. It also allows you to save some money so you can put them toward fun excursions.

What would you like to do on vacation?

If you want to relax for the most part, party, and do a little exploring of the city, then a cruise is probably better for you. You’ll get a ton of free entertainment on board which will allow you to skip the expenses of finding things to do within a city. If you would rather spend time in the city exploring, seeing museums, and eating, then it’s probably best for you to stay at a certain location.

Would you like to stuff yourself to outrageous proportions without paying for it?

Cruise all the way!

Do you have kids? Do they make you want to drink a lot?

Three words: unlimited drink package (because I care about your sanity).

Do you like heading to the front of the ship and screaming “I’m the king of the world!”?

Um, do it.

Do you need to buy nice gifts but want to buy something on sale or without tax?

Go to a duty-free shop on a cruise!

Do you have any fear or anxiety of boats?

If it is to the point where you cannot get past it, then I would spare your family and friends the headache and skip the cruise.

Do you like cheesy, loud, and somewhat obnoxious parties, shows and karaoke?

I’m looking at you cruise entertainers.

Do you want to be able to drink without getting lost or having to drive?

Then a cruise is perfect for you!

Is your name Jack and did you win a cruise of a lifetime in a bet that you could never afford on your own?

Yeah, I would skip it.

Is your name Rose and you don’t like sharing your space with anyone and make promises that you cannot keep like that you won’t let go?

Don’t you dare get on the ship.

Yes, it had to go there. I hope this has helped you make your decision on whether or not a cruise is for you! In all seriousness, please post any additional questions below in the comment box.

Guide to Traveling Chicago Solo

Chicago. Chi-town. The windy city. There’s no wonder why it’s referred to as the “Jewel of the Midwest”. The shiny and reflective structures, mind-blowing architecture and sophisticated museums make it one of the best cities to visit in the U.S.

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare completely on my own, as I had a conference for the American Association of Suicidology there. My biggest blunder was booking my flight way in advance without realizing I would be spending Easter there—meaning I would be completely alone and almost everything would be closed very early. Nevertheless, I used that extra time to finish up some school work since I knew I would be arriving about an hour before class started. I also did some research on where I should visit first and what to put on my priority list. Here are some things that I was able to see:

University of Chicago

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I didn’t originally plan on visiting but the university is right next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House. The wait was about an hour, so it gave me enough time to explore the university. I try to explore as many universities as I can so that I can see what campus life is like around the world. Since my boyfriend is going to be a future architect, his passion has definitely influenced me to want to see more art and famous buildings around the world. The school reminded me of what an Ivy League school would look like—castlelike structures, old chapels, and strands of ivy draping over every side of the buildings. They also had two beautiful libraries that I could not wait to get a glimpse of. One of the libraries reminded me of something you would find in Hogwarts—spacious and incredibly ancient and prestigious. The other library was extremely modern, much so that I did not know it was a library until I looked further within the structure. It was entirely made out of glass and you could see students working and reading. It was not open to visitors but I was glad I got the chance to see the exterior in person. My favorite campus surprise was the food trucks. I ended up going to the truck with the most people in line (usually means it’s the best) and I had a spicy kimchi taco which was delicious and extremely affordable. Overall, it was a great way to kill time and see some new things.

Robie House

This is a house that has a lot of history and is now part of the University of Chicago in order to keep it preserved. It is actually one of the first “modern” homes and inspired so many other similar styles that are still used in homes today. When you go in, they will tell you that you cannot take pictures unless you pay for a photo pass. Play dumb. Don’t waste your money on this and wait until your guide turns around or the group leaves so that you can take as many pictures as you want. They are just trying to get more money out of you, which isn’t right.

The Bean (Cloud Gate)

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Nothing is more iconic than the famous Chicago Bean. This structure allows you to get amazing pictures of yourself and the Chicago skyline. The whole point is for you to interact with the sculpture and create something unique.screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-12-56-35-amIf you go underneath, it becomes even more abstract. You can lie down and take pictures or take a video around the bottom perimeter to get some cool views.

Millenium Park
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This park was absolutely perfect for taking a leisurely walk or a morning run. I would come here to eat breakfast (a healthy one consisting of donuts and hot chocolate) and stare at the magnificent views of the city and of the Bean.

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There’s even a gorgeous silver bridge that takes you from one side of the park to the other.

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This amphitheater is perfect for performances and springtime picnics. They would also show free movies here and have events so the public can gather together. It’s literally a small town feel in a big city.

Let’s get to the most important part…

THE FOOD

You obviously can’t leave Chicago without trying the deep dish pizza or Garrett’s Chicago style popcorn.

Garrett’s popcorn: Chicago Mix- cheddar cheese and caramel. Sounds very strange but it goes together better than peanut butter and jelly. Trust me.

Lou Malnati’s: Giordiano’s is also a very famous contender here but they do not offer personal pizzas. I prefer a smaller, thinner crust so this pizza was absolutely perfect for me. There’s a bit of a wait but it’s totally worth it.

Donuts: Stan’s, Firecakes, and the Donut Vault are some of the most famous donuts in the Chicago area. I personally only tried the last two and I preferred Firecakes for the funky flavors. The presentation is also gorgeous making them pretty much Pinterest famous.

The Girl and the Goat: This is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Chicago. Although I did not get a chance to go here due to my limited budget, it is highly recommended and I will go there when I visit again.

Beatrix: Very upscale yet affordable and great service. I met up with a friend here and the waiter even gave us a free drink since he saw me looking at her engagement ring and thought we should celebrate. The food and dessert were both delicious. I got the salmon with mole sauce and the chocolate cake.

Where to Stay

I stayed in a quaint Airbnb apartment which was really affordable, but I wish I would have realized that anyone could rent out the other private rooms. That made things a little uncomfortable but I was completely safe and had a lock on my own door. I stayed near the University of Illinois at Chicago and it was super close to the train station which made traveling a lot easier.

Transportation

I went back and forth from using the train, Uber, and cabs. Once I was downtown, Uber was extremely cheap and efficient for getting to all of the sights I wanted to see quickly. I also did Uber Pool which made rides even cheaper (about $5-7).

Sights

Get the Chicago GO Pass and you are free to see many popular sights such as the John Hancock Observatory, the Willis Tower and skydeck, as well as many museums. You can’t miss the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses many famous paintings and is where Ferris Beuller and his friends share a deep moment looking at the art. The pass also included a beautiful architecture cruise along the Chicago River, where I learned about the history of the architectural boom after the Great Chicago Fire. Who knew that fire could pass through a river?

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The Art Institute. The Chicago GO pass got me to the front of this line.
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Walk over the city on the glass SkyDeck
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Tilt over the skyline at the John Hancock Observatory (P.S. Don’t buy the photos. Just pretend to talk to the lady and take the pictures on your phone since the screen is at hip-level. It already costs extra to do the tilt so might as well get more out of it.)

Where to Shop

Magnificent Mile- The Rodeo Drive/5th Avenue/Grafton Street/Oxford Street/Worth Avenue/Bal Harbour/Ginza of Chicago. This was the only area I walked alone at night.

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If you have more questions about visiting Chicago, feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible! I was only here for a week but I was able to get a lot done considering a lot of my time was also spent at a conference.

National Suicide Prevention Week

You may or may not already know but Sept 5th-11th is National Suicide Prevention Week.

Sept. 10th is Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day

Why does this matter?

The national suicide rate is rising (it has increased from 10.5 in 1999 to 13.0 in 2016).

It’s the 2nd leading cause of death for college students and those from ages 15-34.

It’s the 3rd cause of death for ages 10-14 (the suicide rate has been rising for middle schoolers, especially females. Bullying is associated with suicide.)

Every 13 minutes, someone dies by suicide

There are about 117 suicides per day

Over 40,000 Americans die by suicide each year

Native Americans are almost twice as likely to die by suicide

17.7% of high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide within the past year.

8% of high school students have made a suicide attempt within the past year.

It is an issue that affects people regardless of socioeconomic status, race, and other demographic factors.

(CDC, 2016)

How do I know if someone needs help?

If you see someone that seems upset or is just not acting like themselves lately, don’t be afraid to ask them how they are feeling. If you are still concerned, ask if they are thinking about suicide, if they have a plan, and if they have intent or the means to do it (such as pills or a gun).

Use the mnemonic “IS PATH WARM”:

I S

I Ideation

SSubstance Abuse

P A T H

P Purposelessness

A Anxiety

T Trapped

H Hopelessness

W A R M

W Withdrawal

A Anger

RRecklessness

MMood Changes

What do I do if someone needs help?

  • DO NOT leave them alone
  • If you really need to leave, call someone and wait until they can come help
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Ask if they have intent to harm themselves
  • Ask if they have a plan
  • Ask if they have access to dangerous objects or lethal means
  • Use your judgment—just because they say no or “I’m fine”, doesn’t mean it’s true
  • Contact a mental health professional (preferably their own)
  • Help them call the Prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
  • Call the mobile crisis unit in your area
  • Physically bring them to the hospital or a crisis center
  • Call 911

Why doesn’t anyone want to talk about suicide?

There are many reasons for this and the main one is that there is a stigma around mental illness and suicide that makes people feel like it’s not appropriate to talk about it because it will show weakness or make people uncomfortable.

Many schools, parents, or administrators have the belief that talking about suicide will cause more people to attempt suicide; however, research overwhelmingly shows that the opposite is true (Gould et al., 2005; Robinson et al., 2013).

Not talking about suicide will lead to more suicide attempts and completed suicides. 

Suicide isn’t an idea that comes out of thin air. It comes from an overwhelming amount of stress, helplessness, burdensomeness, and many other factors.

Some suicide threats are not taken seriously because people say they just “want attention”. If they are seeking attention by threatening suicide, there is clearly something wrong and they need to get help. There is still a possibility that they could attempt.

People who battle suicidal thoughts have most likely battled mental illness like depression, or even significant trauma and PTSD.

People who have been struggling with suicidal thoughts can look happy, have jobs, and blend in with society. There isn’t a way to “look” for someone who may be suicidal.

People with suicidal thoughts have had to be strong and hold in their feelings for years. They may have the idea that keeping those feelings in means they are strong, but in reality, it takes much more strength to get help.

What can I do to raise awareness?

It starts at the core of being kind to everyone. You never know what silent battle someone may be struggling with, so always keep that in mind. Think of ways throughout the day that you can make life just a little bit better for someone else.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to tell people how you feel about them. There are too many times when people end up saying nice things at someone’s funeral or on their Facebook page when they are gone. What if they were able to see those things while they were still alive? What kind of impact could that have made on their life?

Let people know you appreciate them and tell them what you specifically like about them.

Remember, suicide is preventable. We just need to work together in order to help them get help.

Share the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, facts, videos and change your profile picture banner to support suicide prevention this week.

Participate in an Out of the Darkness walk to support the cause

Resources

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

National Suicide Prevention Week 2016

http://www.sprc.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/?gclid=CKuwoNDM_s4CFcQehgodGg0FnQ

http://www.samhsa.gov/tribal-ttac/resources/suicide-prevention

http://www.nova.edu/suicideprevention/resources.html

http://www.suicidology.org/

References

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db241.pdf

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.PDF

Suicide Statistics

http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/mentalillness/joinerpresentation.pdf

Gould, M.S., Marrocco, F.A., & Kleinman, M. (2005). Evaluating iatrogenic risk of youth suicide screening programs: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of American Medical Association, 293(13), 1635-43.

Muehlenkamp, J.J., Marrone, S., Gray, J.S., Brown, D. L. (2009) A college suicide prevention model for American Indian students. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(2),  134-140. doi: 10.1037/a0013253

Robinson, J., Cox, G., Malone, A., Williamson, M., Baldwin, G., Fletcher, K., O’Brien, M. (2013). A systematic review of school-based interventions aimed at preventing, treating, and responding to suicide-related behavior in young people. Crisis, 34(3), 164–182.

Solo Travel to Japan

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Traveling to Japan alone (especially as a woman) can sound intimidating at first but it is actually a lot easier than you would think.

It’s super safe

For the most part, the Japanese are very polite and proper. You don’t have to worry about pickpockets as much as you do in Europe. The crime rate is also under 1%, so chances are that you are probably living in a city that is much more dangerous than Japan.

It’s super clean

Do not litter but do not expect to find trash cans everywhere either. I do not know where the trash goes, but keep a plastic bag for your trash with you at all times because you never know when you’ll actually find a trash can. You will usually have to wait until you find a bathroom. Oh yeah, and there usually aren’t paper towels or air dryers either so keep a small washcloth or hand sanitizer with you.

Speaking of clean, the locals do not like germs, so many of them may be wearing masks around their nose and mouth. This does not mean they do not want to talk to you if they are a worker but it is an extra precaution since it is frowned upon to take off from work. Always make sure you are polite and courteous if you need to sneeze or cough.

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The train system is easy and efficient

The trains are always punctual and there is usually a train coming within the next 10-15 minutes. The train stations also have signs in English and the workers can usually point you to the right destination.

If you want to travel around Tokyo, get the Pasmo Card and put about $20 on it. You can get this pass at any train station. For travel outside Tokyo, get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This will allow you to take the bullet train (Shinkansen line) to cities all over Japan. You need to make sure you buy it before you get to Japan. You either won’t be able to do this once you are there or it will be a big pain.

Don’t use cabs or even Uber, as it is much more expensive in Japan.

*I was able to use Google Maps by renting a Pocket Wifi. It cost me less than $100 to use for the whole time I was there (10 days). I was able to see where I was going and it even allows you to figure out what train to take.

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Be adventurous with the food, but know what you are eating

Google Translate is very helpful for this. You can take a picture of the text and it will tell you what is on the menu. Sometimes there are things on the menu that you would not normally eat at home (horse meat) and would care not to. Either way, it’s good to know.

As far as recommendations go, my personal favorite was walking through the Nishiki Market and sampling all of the fresh food they have to offer. Be sure to get the Okonomiyaki and try some sushi. Supposedly, the Tsukiji Market is the best place for sushi.

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Where to stay

The hostels in Japan are immaculate and will cost you about $30 per night. They also have strict rules, security and a safe in each room. Air BnB is also a great option.

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Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura)

Sakura means that Spring is here! Don’t expect to see these beautiful views unless you go during a very specific time of year. Prime time is late March-April but see specific guides for each area.

Key places to see 

TOKYO

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Harajuku District: Filled with creative and fun outfits and people. A haven for anything Kawaii (cute) including Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and anything cartoon or anime-related. Check out the colorful food like crepes and be sure to visit one of the cat, rabbit, owl, or even snake cafes! The cat cafes are adorable and allow you to relax and play with cats while enjoying some coffee.

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Senso-ji Temple

Japan New Year

Meiji Shrine

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Tokyo DisneySea

This was definitely one of the coolest experiences. If you love Disney, this will surely be a treat because it’s everything you think you knew about Disney in Japanese! Be sure to go to DisneySea because DisneyLand has rides that are very similar to the ones in the US. They have live shows, new and exciting rides, and exotic food. Be prepared to get lost and go through a few workers to find someone who speaks English.

Don’t miss the Big Band Beat like I did. You have to go to the “lottery” to win tickets and if you don’t, you have to wait in line. Be sure to line up early because the line will probably be full by fifteen minutes before the next showing.

Watch the late night show because it is just phenomenal. Seriously. My mouth fell wide open and I’m 23.

Take a ride on Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ride the Indiana Jones one too if it’s open.

Ah, yes. The food. Frozen beer, flavored popcorn, and character mochi. Just check out this awesome blog for details.

A ticket to DisneySea will cost you about $70 which is a deal when you compare it to the $100+ tickets in the US parks. I suggest you make a day of it instead of wasting your money at one of the swanky hotels.

KYOTO

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Kyoto is undoubtably one of the most beautiful spots in Japan. Spots to see are Nijo-jo CastleShimogamo-jinja ShrineThe Golden Pavillon, and Ryoan-ji Temple. I missed the Monkey Park but that is on my list for next time.

OSAKA

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend a lot of time here but I went to Osaka Castle which I really liked. I also missed the Osaka is famous for its nightlife and food as well.

NARA 

I did not have enough time to go to Nara but there are a lot of cool temples and deer here.

Tips:

If you are going to be staying in someone’s home (a friend, airBnB, an exchange family) it is polite to bring a small gift from your home country

To easily calculate Yen to Dollars without taking out a calculator or converter, take off the last 2 digits of the price.

For example, if something is 5300 yen, you know that it will cost you no more than $53. It will not be completely accurate, but it is pretty close (actual price is $51.15). By using this method, it makes it more likely that you will stick to your budget because you are actually calculating the higher price.

Eat where the locals eat

This is usually where you are going to find the best and most authentic cuisine. Check out one of the rotating sushi bars. They are very fresh and delicious. You only pay for what you pick up and eat and it gives you a chance to try many new things for a very small price.

Stay in a hostel

This is the best way to save money and meet new people. Most hostels have a curtain and a nice sized bed with lockers to keep your space private and secure. They also have strict rules about noise, safety, and cleanliness.

If you make the journey to Hakone to see Mt. Fuji, bring a bag and do not drink heavily before the ride

I do not get car sick easily but this was one rough ride. I could barely keep my lunch down and I was so glad I didn’t drink too much the night before. A bag would’ve made me feel a lot more relaxed.

Also, don’t expect to actually see Mt. Fuji

A lot of times, it can be covered by fog. Make sure you check the weather in Hakone beforehand to maximize your chances of seeing the majestic mountain up close. The cruise and skytram are the best ways to see it.

Organize your coins before you go up to pay at a store or on the bus

Don’t be that tourist who holds people up by not counting their change or having the correct amount beforehand. Put your coins in a place where you can easily access them and if possible, have specific areas for different coin amounts.

Common blunders:

Don’t be late for your train

The train system is very efficient and when it says it’s leaving at 5:04, it leaves at that very moment. They usually have another train within 15 minutes if you are in a large metropolis but if not, it could be a longer wait.

Never use a driving service

The trains are usually faster than traveling by car and a lot less expensive. Take the bullet train to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo or risk a $200+ fare.

Do what the Japanese do

If they bow, bow back. This shows a sign of respect, even if you are not familiar with their culture or language.

Do not talk on the phone near shrines, temples, or on the train

This is seen as extremely disrespectful

Watch out for bikes!

They are everywhere and you can easily get hit if you are not paying attention

Skip the Robot Restaurant

It’s an extremely cheesy tourist trap. Especially if you are going alone and have no one to laugh at it with.

Don’t get off the toilet until the spray feature is turned off

Do I really have to explain this humiliating story?

Allow extra time to get to your flight if you are traveling from other cities

If you use Google Maps, it might be tracking the faster bullet train which is more expensive and mainly just for Japanese locals and business people. Give yourself more time than you think just in case.

Don’t ignore other tourists who speak the same language as you

This is a great opportunity for you to get to know other people and learn different things about Japan from their perspective. I’ve had the best conversations by speaking to strangers and it has enriched my travel experiences immensely. It also helps prevent you from getting too lonely in a place where you are the foreigner.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes before stepping into a temple, someone’s home, or onto a tatami mat

The Japanese are very strict about this rule because they believe that germs are carried in from your outside shoes. Some places will have slippers you can borrow inside but it might be more sanitary to buy your own and carry them in your bag with you. They also make for a very cute keepsake.

Don’t buy too many gifts

Chances are your suitcase is already full if you are traveling alone and you will probably only be able to easily roll around a carry-on. Don’t make life hard on yourself to the point where you can’t bring everything back or you have to spend a bunch of money shipping everything back home.

Never ever tip

It is considered extremely rude and implies that the workers do not get paid enough.

Before I actually did it, I never thought that I could get around Japan on my own. You learn a lot about yourself and meet very interesting people along the way. It also teaches you to have patience and become tolerant of others and yourself. It was a tough experience but I am glad I got to play the role of a foreigner. It definitely teaches you what being in a new country that doesn’t speak your language is like.

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