I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It’s become the easiest place to keep up with the hustle and bustle of everyone’s lives- I can see the latest pictures of my cousin’s baby, find audition postings for plays, and watch cute bunny videos. I can send messages to family members who live halfway across the country, see all the cool art people have been working on, catch up on the latest news stories and everyone’s take on them. You can definitely find a sense of community while using social media.
Sites like Facebook and Instagram are definitely beneficial to me- when I’m in a good headspace. When I’m doing well, I’m able to comment on people’s pictures and status updates, I can objectively read articles that are shared, and I can be a part of the online community at large. When I get those random bouts of depression and anxiety, however, social media becomes more of a hindrance than anything.
Depression and anxiety makes socializing hard in general. Socializing online is no exception- at least for me. My view of everything becomes so much more cynical; pictures of my friend’s getting engaged reminds me that I’m still not married, pictures of my friends hanging out makes me wonder why I wasn’t invited, and those positive quote posts make me want to throw my phone across the room. The most detrimental thing I do, though, when I’m depressed is venting about my life in a status update, not necessarily for attention, but as a means of throwing a lifesaver out into the dark, looking for a friend. It’s at that point that I’m at my most vulnerable.
I’m definitely not alone here. Out of curiosity, I created an online survey to learn more about my social network’s social media habits and how it affects their mental health.
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For me, my mental health has always been a struggle. I have what is called major mental illness, which means I am diagnosed with over five mental illnesses including schizoaffective disorder and autism spectrum disorder. I’ve been in 18 short-term mental hospitals, starting as young as 4 and as recent as age 16. I was also in Worcester State Hospital for two and a half years. While I was there, I really began to do well for the first time, and about a year and a half later I was introduced to PPAL. I remember my first day at PPAL. They were super welcoming. My first memory at PPAL was having chicken and broccoli alfredo for dinner, which is one of my favorite dishes.
It seemed like maybe just a one-time thing, but week after week I kept going, and it wound up being a huge support for me. When Youth MOVE accepted me for my first internship in 2018, it paved the way for me to have more independence than I’d had in years. When the internship ended, it resulted in going to PPAL and doing other things independently.
PPAL has been supportive of so many milestones. These include stepping foot inside my house for the first time in three years and eventually working my way to unsupervised passes, which led to triple overnights.
The staff and youth at PPAL are amazing. They get so excited for me — even the small things are worth celebrating. It’s just infectious. I get so much support here at Youth MOVE, but I also just have fun! PPAL, I don’t know what I’d do without all of you. The support is and will always be incredible.
by Meg Markert Parabicoli
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Hi, my name is Alan and I’m transgender. Ever since I was a little kid, I always knew there was something different about me. I just didn’t know what it was at the time. I was once told that I was a tomboy, and just went along with that. I thought being a tomboy was the closest I could get to being a boy; I didn’t even know that the word transgender even existed.
When I was in elementary school, all the kids saw me as “that one kid” almost all the time. I would be asked if I was a boy or a girl because of the way I was dressed and acted. Every time someone asked me that question, I would answer with “I’m a girl! I just dress like a boy!” The only reason I would reply with that is because my family was always telling me that, and at the time I thought adults were always right. Boy, was I wrong. You see, most of my family is either Catholic or Penticostal, except for my mom and older sister, thankfully.
My family would always talk to my mom about me, worried that would turn out to be trans in the future and that I would go to Hell because of it. Of course, they didn’t tell me any of those things because they still have manners, which is nice. For the longest time I hated them, and after a while I distanced myself from them. My mother couldn’t do that because she partially took care of my grandma and I understood; I mean, she can’t just abandon her mom because of me. So the only relative I actually visited was my grandma, the most religious out of all my family members. Over time though, I grew to ignore the fact that she didn’t accept me, and eventually I did the same thing with all my family members.
Did it annoy me? Yes it did, but I decided to be the bigger person and tried to repair the broken relationship I had with my family. Over time, my relationship with them got better and better. Recently my uncle told me that he would call me Alan, my cousin is referring to me as a ‘he’ now, and my grandma actually referred to me as a ‘he’ a few times – but she then went back to referring to me as a ‘she.’ But it is progress, and I’m thankful for that. And to all the kids like me, things really do get better.
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I’ve always been told I’m bright. I’ve been told I’m intelligent; that I’m wise beyond my years. I always did well in school. I was valedictorian of my high school class. The only reason for all that, however, was academia was the only distraction I could delve into to escape my trauma.
In the 6th grade, I was sexually assaulted by one of my classmates. I remember being terrified of him. I can still see the look on his face and feel his hands on me when I’m having a particularly intense flashback. No one at my school acknowledged it. In fact, they all told me I was lying, and that if I told anyone else it would result in consequences. I can only assume they were protecting their reputation, and it proved to me that although school is supposed to be a “safe place,” it certainly isn’t.
I lost a lot of friendships; endured bullying, name-calling, pushes in the hallway, and uncomfortable stares. I was lost, stuck in the hell that was my head, with no way to reach out. No one believed me, and no one seemed to see an issue with pretending nothing happened. They didn’t file a police report (which is illegal) and I felt like I had no escape route. So I dived head-first into obsessing over my grades.
I got called a lot of names for this as well: know-it-all, teacher’s pet, all the usual suspects. But it was much more bearable than the other names like whore, slut, and liar. I was considered so bright and talented by all my teachers, which was a relief, because when I started at this school, I was told it was unlikely that I would graduate high school due to the intensity of my symptoms.
Leaving high school was equally the happiest and scariest day of my life. On one hand, I was finally free of being in a space that re-traumatized me every time I stepped foot inside. On the other hand, I had to figure out a future. Everyone kept telling me I’d do so well in college and that I had a bright future ahead of me. However, I let my trauma sit too long: college ended up being too much for me and I ended up withdrawing.
Despite all of the trauma and what I called “failures” at the time, I learned so much. I have a job I love, I have people who love me and support me, and I’m finally looking into returning to college to get a degree in early childhood education, with the intent to become a kindergarten or first grade teacher. I want to be a good influence and a role model for young children. I want to create a safe space for students to learn their academics, as well as life lessons.
I still have really, really intense flashbacks, nightmares, and reactions to my trauma at times. But I’m looking forward to a long, successful life ahead. I’m so excited to grow, learn and teach.
Rae LaBrie is our guest blogger. They currently work for PPAL and serve on the Youth MOVE National Board of Directors. They aspire to be a teacher in order to share their wisdom and support the emotional and academic growth of young people.
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I’m terrified of change. Weird, right?
It’s not that I don’t want things to change, especially if they’re negative. I just get scared. What if I try to plan everything out and something goes wrong? What if I end up looking like a fool? I would rather go to a familiar place than switch things around because people think it got “old.”
Another thing I’m scared of is: what if I’m going to show something I did to somebody else, or present it in front of a class?! I would be so embarrassed. I absolutely hate reading out loud, asking question in class, and even just being in a line. I am not confident in my ability to share with other people. I don’t like to be the center of attention or have all eyes on me.
This is how social anxiety makes me feel. It keeps me from asking for help when I don’t understand something. I’d rather just get it wrong if it means I don’t have to speak out loud or possibly be laughed at. I would rather leave something as it is so there’s no chance of ruining it.
In the past year, I have been facing my fear of socializing by joining Youth MOVE groups. At first I didn’t really talk to anyone, not even the staff. Now I am talking with almost everyone here. When a new member arrives, I try to welcome them because I know how it feels to be one of the new youth and/or young adults to come in. When I came, only the person running the group was trying to get me engaged, but I feel it might have been better coming from another peer.
Even though Youth MOVE has helped reduce my social anxiety, I don’t believe it will ever fully go away. If you are having a hard time, I think it would be in your best interest to look into groups in your area with like-minded people. There is no shame in trying to get help.
Eleana is a young adult who has been connected to Youth MOVE for over a year. She likes to draw, do hair and makeup in her spare time, and loves her dog very much.
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