Colin Justin

@colinnotjustin | contributor
I am an instructional technologist and former search and rescue volunteer / wilderness first responder living in the Pacific Northwest. I was first diagnosed with ITP at two years of age. After decades of physical and mental health challenges, I want to reach out to others to normalize the experience of being sick, which is after all the experience of being human.
Colin Justin

Finding Beauty in My Depression

I care so much about other people and the world — so much so that I am deeply affected by news about others’ suffering, the destruction of our natural environments and even historical tragedies. If I didn’t grieve for all of these things at my very core, I might not be as depressed, but I also would not have such strong feelings about the things that matter to me. I don’t think I would trade this depth of feeling for a cure. I can see beauty in desolate things. Because my mood is usually melancholy, I feel at home in places like burned-out forests, barren winter fields and lonely deserts. I can see how special these places are because they reflect my emotions, and not everyone gets to experience that unique kind of beauty. I’m introspective and philosophical. Thinking often about heavy topics like death, healing, the nature of mental illness , and why I should keep on living reveal that I am attuned to my own values and beliefs, even if I often struggle with them. I’m always turning over the puzzle about myself in my head, examining every piece carefully. I’m determined to understand the past. I really care about how the past has affected me, which means I want to learn from it. I’m not afraid to think about things in the past that were painful, even though this process is discomforting. This means I care more about truth than about being comfortable. I can envision a better version of myself. Part of depression is wishing I were different than I am, which means I have a good idea of the type of person I value! It means that I really want to be a good person, and that is the first step to actually being a better person. What beautiful things does your depression say about you?

Colin Justin

Finding Beauty in My Depression

I care so much about other people and the world — so much so that I am deeply affected by news about others’ suffering, the destruction of our natural environments and even historical tragedies. If I didn’t grieve for all of these things at my very core, I might not be as depressed, but I also would not have such strong feelings about the things that matter to me. I don’t think I would trade this depth of feeling for a cure. I can see beauty in desolate things. Because my mood is usually melancholy, I feel at home in places like burned-out forests, barren winter fields and lonely deserts. I can see how special these places are because they reflect my emotions, and not everyone gets to experience that unique kind of beauty. I’m introspective and philosophical. Thinking often about heavy topics like death, healing, the nature of mental illness , and why I should keep on living reveal that I am attuned to my own values and beliefs, even if I often struggle with them. I’m always turning over the puzzle about myself in my head, examining every piece carefully. I’m determined to understand the past. I really care about how the past has affected me, which means I want to learn from it. I’m not afraid to think about things in the past that were painful, even though this process is discomforting. This means I care more about truth than about being comfortable. I can envision a better version of myself. Part of depression is wishing I were different than I am, which means I have a good idea of the type of person I value! It means that I really want to be a good person, and that is the first step to actually being a better person. What beautiful things does your depression say about you?

Colin Justin

Finding Beauty in My Depression

I care so much about other people and the world — so much so that I am deeply affected by news about others’ suffering, the destruction of our natural environments and even historical tragedies. If I didn’t grieve for all of these things at my very core, I might not be as depressed, but I also would not have such strong feelings about the things that matter to me. I don’t think I would trade this depth of feeling for a cure. I can see beauty in desolate things. Because my mood is usually melancholy, I feel at home in places like burned-out forests, barren winter fields and lonely deserts. I can see how special these places are because they reflect my emotions, and not everyone gets to experience that unique kind of beauty. I’m introspective and philosophical. Thinking often about heavy topics like death, healing, the nature of mental illness , and why I should keep on living reveal that I am attuned to my own values and beliefs, even if I often struggle with them. I’m always turning over the puzzle about myself in my head, examining every piece carefully. I’m determined to understand the past. I really care about how the past has affected me, which means I want to learn from it. I’m not afraid to think about things in the past that were painful, even though this process is discomforting. This means I care more about truth than about being comfortable. I can envision a better version of myself. Part of depression is wishing I were different than I am, which means I have a good idea of the type of person I value! It means that I really want to be a good person, and that is the first step to actually being a better person. What beautiful things does your depression say about you?

Colin Justin

Finding Beauty in My Depression

I care so much about other people and the world — so much so that I am deeply affected by news about others’ suffering, the destruction of our natural environments and even historical tragedies. If I didn’t grieve for all of these things at my very core, I might not be as depressed, but I also would not have such strong feelings about the things that matter to me. I don’t think I would trade this depth of feeling for a cure. I can see beauty in desolate things. Because my mood is usually melancholy, I feel at home in places like burned-out forests, barren winter fields and lonely deserts. I can see how special these places are because they reflect my emotions, and not everyone gets to experience that unique kind of beauty. I’m introspective and philosophical. Thinking often about heavy topics like death, healing, the nature of mental illness , and why I should keep on living reveal that I am attuned to my own values and beliefs, even if I often struggle with them. I’m always turning over the puzzle about myself in my head, examining every piece carefully. I’m determined to understand the past. I really care about how the past has affected me, which means I want to learn from it. I’m not afraid to think about things in the past that were painful, even though this process is discomforting. This means I care more about truth than about being comfortable. I can envision a better version of myself. Part of depression is wishing I were different than I am, which means I have a good idea of the type of person I value! It means that I really want to be a good person, and that is the first step to actually being a better person. What beautiful things does your depression say about you?

Community Voices

Write a short acrostic poem using the world “love.”

<p>Write a short acrostic poem using the world “love.”</p>
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Colin Justin

4 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Psychiatric Service Dog

You may have heard of psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) from stories about veterans with PTSD using these canine helpmates to integrate back into society after experiencing severe trauma. Or perhaps you’ve even met someone who uses a PSD and are wondering if this might be a good intervention for you. As you’re considering this important decision, there are some questions you can ask yourself and your mental healthcare providers to get yourself started out on the right foot. 1. Am I Able to Work With a Service Dog Right Now? Look at the traits of successful service dog users outlined by Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, a very useful all-volunteer peer support community. Highlight the items that you’re not 100% sure about to discuss with your therapist or another doctor familiar with your disability. Ironically, people with disabilities who would benefit most from a service dog sometimes face barriers to this very solution because of their disabilities. For example, you may need support getting out of the house to exercise and socialize your dog. Service dogs are also a very expensive commitment. If financial problems, symptoms, or lack of support are major barriers but you would still benefit from a PSD, your therapist can help you figure out how to problem-solve, or determine whether it’s better to wait a bit longer in your recovery process before getting a service dog. 2. Would I Benefit From the Work or Tasks a PSD Can Perform for Me? One key difference between Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) is that PSDs are highly trained to monitor and focus on their handler in every situation so that they can perform trained behaviors that help with your disability. Trained service dog work or tasks are necessary for public access (the ability to go into places that aren’t pet-friendly). But how can a service dog uniquely help you? Work with your therapist to come up with some areas where you are still struggling. Consider how a support person could act to help you in these areas. For example, if a support person could remind you to practice coping skills when they observe warning signs in your behavior, there’s potentially a way for a PSD to do the same thing! One format for coming up with tasks is: “I need my dog to […fill in the blank…] when […fill in the blank…] happens, so that I can […fill in the blank…].”Here is an example of service dog work I came up with using this model: “I need my dog to nudge my hands when they are shaking so I can use my dialectical behavior therapy skills.” It’s very important that your service dog’s training is customized for your psychiatric disability. Some of your plans may need tweaking, and there have been rare occasions where a service dog has worsened someone’s symptoms rather than helping, such as by triggering episodes because of handler anticipation. You definitely do not want a medical alert that accidentally reinforces symptoms rather than decreasing them! That’s where your therapist can help the most: by finding work and tasks that are healthy and safe for both you and your dog. 3. How Can I Cope With the Downsides of Extra Attention From Having a Service Dog? Being accompanied by a PSD will sometimes bring with it negative attention. If you would like to read more about this and see an example of a negative public interaction, Psychiatric Service Dog Partners has many resources about public access with a service dog. Having a PSD is a lifestyle change, and you may need to develop or learn some new coping skills for dealing with unpleasant, invasive conversations, or even people trying to prevent you from accessing public places with your PSD. It’s important to discuss this with your therapist because everyone will have different challenges in this area. Are you most worried about the reactions from friends and family? Is going into public your biggest fear? How will it affect you if strangers try to touch your dog and invade your personal space? How will you feel about many strangers asking you about your dog and often about your disability? You can “cope ahead” by rehearsing some of these scenarios with your therapist and determine how to set healthy boundaries with the public and with important people in your life. 4. Can My Doctor Provide Me With the Necessary Documentation for a Psychiatric Service Dog? I would personally recommend discussing this question last, because some providers will be skeptical about why you are asking for documentation. If you show you have done your research and are thoroughly committed to improving your recovery with a PSD, they will be much more likely to help! You may need your provider’s support for writing letters legally required to keep your dog in no-pets housing or bring them to work. You may also need their support to fill out more detailed paperwork if you are applying to get a dog trained by a professional service dog program. Not all mental health providers are informed about service dog laws, so you’ll want to read up on what’s required before having this discussion. This will help both of you be more confident in interacting with the public and negotiating things like housing and employment accommodations. Finally, consider joining a peer support group to guide you on your way. With these questions in mind, you’ll have a much better chance of becoming a PSD user. This can be a rewarding, fulfilling, and life-changing journey if you have the support you need to succeed.

Colin Justin

How to Support Someone With Religious Trauma During the Holidays

The “season of lights” is supposed to be about getting a break from the winter blues! So why does it have to be so stressful? Comfort food, festive decorations, fun songs, presents; what’s not to like? Yet, for people who have experienced trauma related to religion, the stress and depression of the holidays can go beyond worrying about shopping crowds, air travel, meal planning or less-than-enjoyable house guests. Religious trauma syndrome is not an official diagnosis, but a term coined by Dr. Marlene Winell, a specialist in human development and family relations, for a condition “comparable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but specifically induced by toxic religious experiences.” I would add that shadows of these experiences persist for many years. As she discusses in her book “ Leaving the Fold , ” these traumas can include physical or sexual abuse within a religious setting. LGBTQIA + people are especially at risk and increased religiosity has been associated with higher levels of suicidal ideation in this group. Bear in mind, your loved one may not ever bring this up — part of the problem is feeling unsafe about sharing their authentic feelings with others. Here are some ways you can be a valuable “support person” to a loved one who is planning on attending family gatherings during the holidays: 1. Start a new tradition. You don’t have to give up beloved holiday traditions to support your loved one, or worry about modifying them to avoid emotional pain. Chances are, they don’t even want you to give up something that important to you. Rather than worry about retrofitting your traditions into a “religiously neutral” family gathering, try something different. Now is the perfect time to start a new tradition that will build fond memories, restore connections and provide a safe way for family members to reconnect with one another. For example, you could choose a more neutral holiday, like Labor Day or New Year’s, for an additional family get-together. Or you could add activities to an existing get-together that your loved one might be more comfortable with, like creating birdseed cookies for the trees and bushes in your yard, or a board game night. Maybe host a family reunion in a new place you would like to explore that no one has been to before. This is assuming, of course, that you already have reason to believe that your loved one is open to spending time in a larger family group. It’s important to emphasize that this event or activity does not replace what your family usually does for the holidays. Over time, hopefully, it will naturally fit within the wonderful collection of traditions that are a part of your family. 2. Build flexibility into your gatherings. One way to cultivate a feeling of safety and support is to build flexibility into your plans. For example, if you have a choice between hosting at a relative’s house that is in an isolated place a long drive away and one that is more centrally located, choose the latter. You might consider driving an extra car to gatherings if your loved one does not bring their own so that they can leave if they need to without inconveniencing anyone. If you usually serve a sit-down meal with a set menu, try doing the meal buffet-style so that if your loved one chooses not to eat certain foods, it won’t seem like an affront. Many families also have the expectation that all family members will be there for the entire event, if that has always been the tradition. Now might be a good time to reevaluate that expectation. This could benefit everyone: as families grow and change, couples with small children might need to leave early, or students might need time in their restricted academic break schedules to visit friends they have not seen in a very long time, or perhaps your family has gone from single faith to multifaith. As your family grows, this flexibility will help new members to feel welcome and included. Changing traditions and expectations around traditions can feel scary. The fragmentation of schedules and the possibility of some people spending less time with the group than usual can feel like the family itself is fragmenting. Bear in mind, though, that in the end, the increased flexibility is likely to make family members more likely to want to come together. They will feel less stress and they will appreciate that their needs are being respected. 3. Let your loved one take the lead. It’s important that your loved one is able to decide for themselves what activities they feel comfortable participating in and what topics they feel ready to discuss. For example, they might be fine singing traditional songs in a non-religious context, like the living room, but be unable to tolerate this activity in a religious service. Or they might not be able to tolerate listening to holiday music at all. Each individual needs the freedom to manage their exposure to things that trigger traumatic memories so that they can be fully present with you as the person you know and care about. If your loved one seems uncomfortable, it’s OK to ask them if they’d like to step out with you for another activity, like grocery shopping or a walk. Sometimes, it can be difficult for people with trauma to articulate their needs, and this gives them an “out” without having to expressly state to anyone that they’re being triggered or leave suddenly without explanation. And if they decide that they are not attending at all, make sure to let them know that their feelings are valid and that you love them whether or not they are able to come. Talking about what happened in the past can be an important part of the healing process. Communicating openly is part of a healthy family dynamic. But this type of difficult discussion is best left to a less stressful time than the holiday season. If this is important to you and your loved one, try and set aside dedicated time for it later (and consider counseling). When my family has shown me respect and support despite not fully understanding what I have experienced, I feel loved and cherished. I still feel anxiety over simple things like wrapping paper and the smell of fir trees, but my level of avoidance has diminished over the years. Without a doubt, my sense of meaning regarding the winter holidays is complex and mixed. Most important to me is that I am given permission to be who I am and decide for myself what this time of year means to me.

Melissa Razdrih

Anxiety Can't Be Blamed for Amy Cooper Calling Police on Black Man

It started with a chance meeting in Central Park. A woman named Amy Cooper had been walking her dog, off-leash, in a part of the park that required dogs to be on a leash. Christian Cooper, no relation, was sitting on a bench nearby watching birds. Mr. Cooper asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog in accordance with park rules. And that’s when the exchange became racially charged and potentially deadly. You see, Ms. Cooper is white, and Mr. Cooper is black. When Ms. Cooper decided to vehemently defend her entitlement, her perceived “right” to walk her dog without a leash instead of cooperating with the reasonable request made by Mr. Cooper, she did the thing every Karen does to uphold white supremacy. She weaponized her whiteness against Mr. Cooper. A video taken by Mr. Cooper shows Ms. Cooper, speaking fast, telling Mr. Cooper, “I’m going to call the police and say an African American man threatened my life.” And then, she does the unthinkable. She does it. She called the police and said just that. Amy Cooper, the white woman who called police on a black man during an encounter involving her unleashed dog, has issued an apology. That man, Christian Cooper, tells CNN “while she may not consider herself a racist, that particular act was definitely racist.” pic.twitter.com/4mxakOVK5l— CNN (@CNN) May 27, 2020 Now, in an attempt to find an explanation for her behavior, arm-chair psychologists on Twitter have decided that based on her actions and mannerisms, she may be “having a manic episode,” or “suffering from a panic attack,” or even run of the mill anxiety, suggesting we should have more compassion for Ms. Cooper because she was anxious or “having a bad day.” And that brings me to the article I feel compelled to write to the well-meaning white folks who want to try and fit Amy Cooper into a box that makes sense with their worldview. Breaking news: She’s not “crazy,” she’s a white woman in America. Before you get defensive and smash that comment button, think about this. Michael Harriot, a contributor at The Root, said in a recent article, “To exist in America is to obey laws written by white supremacists that adhere to a Constitution written by white supremacists that reinforce white supremacy. And unlearning something that has been constantly confirmed by what is literally the most powerful institution in the world is a difficult — if not impossible task.” Alas, it wasn’t mental illness that caused Golfcart Gail to call police on a black father coaching his son in Ponte Verde, Florida. It wasn’t anxiety that prompted BBQ Becky to phone the cops on a black family having a cookout in Oakland, California. Permit Patty wasn’t getting the vapors when she called police on an 8-year-old black girl in San Francisco (and then lied about it). It certainly wasn’t a panic disorder that led to the murder of George Floyd this week in Minneapolis or the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in the weeks before in Brunswick, GA. It was white supremacy and racism. Mappingpoliceviolence.org says, “Police killed 1,099 people in 2019. Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.” When Ms. Cooper said “an African American man threatened my life,” what she meant was, “I can have you killed right now.” There’s a long and violent history of white women weaponizing their whiteness against black men and boys. When I think of Ms. Cooper, I think of Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old white woman who accused 14-year-old Emmitt Till of making a pass at her in 1955. A despicable act that resulted in the boy’s brutal murder. BBQ Becky, Golfcart Gail, Permit Patty and now Dottie Dog-Choke are all Carolyn Bryant, and their actions remind us what our country really suffers from. In this case, it is not an issue of mental illness. It’s an issue of racism the likes of which mirrors the pre-civil rights era Jim Crowe America. As a neurodivergent Latinx woman in the United States, it’s offensive to hear someone call this “anxiety.” It stigmatizes people with mental illness, who are statistically more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it. Sarah Flourance, who goes by the handle @BookishFeminist on Twitter said: “Ok, we’re not doing this. Amy Cooper was NOT having a panic attack. I have panic disorder, and the level of dissociation you experience during panic attacks leaves you without the executive functions to, let’s say, CALL THE COPS. Stop using disability to excuse blatant racism.” Ok, we’re not doing this. Amy Cooper was NOT having a panic attack. I have panic disorder, and the level of dissociation you experience during panic attacks leaves you without the executive functions to, let’s say, CALL THE COPS. Stop using disability to excuse blatant racism. pic.twitter.com/s5Ieddblhj— Sarah Flourance (@BookishFeminist) May 26, 2020 Her tweet includes screenshots of people suggesting that Amy Cooper was having a panic attack, or dealing with anxiety. No, this isn’t mental illness. Sure, she might have felt anxious about being confronted in the park for not following the rules (in an interview with CNN, Mr. Cooper described the interaction as one full of “conflict and stress”), but the action she subsequently took — to call the police and intentionally say she being threatened by an African American man who was not threatening her — goes beyond anxiety. Her assumption that a black man was threatening her, and the action she then took, was entirely a toxic symptom of systemic racism and structural oppression that many white people choose to ignore on a daily basis, and so it is allowed to remain unchecked. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Without justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who perpetuates it.” That’s a quote I think of every day in this darkest timeline of American history. Today, it’s Christian Cooper, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Tomorrow, America’s black youth. It ends when white folks and white presenting folks do the work to unpack their privilege. If you’re someone who saw that video and said, “Hey, maybe Amy Cooper was just having a panic attack?” Pull on that thread, it’s a good place to start. Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Atlanta, GA. He was killed in Brunswick, GA, and the story has been updated.

Melissa Razdrih

Anxiety Can't Be Blamed for Amy Cooper Calling Police on Black Man

It started with a chance meeting in Central Park. A woman named Amy Cooper had been walking her dog, off-leash, in a part of the park that required dogs to be on a leash. Christian Cooper, no relation, was sitting on a bench nearby watching birds. Mr. Cooper asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog in accordance with park rules. And that’s when the exchange became racially charged and potentially deadly. You see, Ms. Cooper is white, and Mr. Cooper is black. When Ms. Cooper decided to vehemently defend her entitlement, her perceived “right” to walk her dog without a leash instead of cooperating with the reasonable request made by Mr. Cooper, she did the thing every Karen does to uphold white supremacy. She weaponized her whiteness against Mr. Cooper. A video taken by Mr. Cooper shows Ms. Cooper, speaking fast, telling Mr. Cooper, “I’m going to call the police and say an African American man threatened my life.” And then, she does the unthinkable. She does it. She called the police and said just that. Amy Cooper, the white woman who called police on a black man during an encounter involving her unleashed dog, has issued an apology. That man, Christian Cooper, tells CNN “while she may not consider herself a racist, that particular act was definitely racist.” pic.twitter.com/4mxakOVK5l— CNN (@CNN) May 27, 2020 Now, in an attempt to find an explanation for her behavior, arm-chair psychologists on Twitter have decided that based on her actions and mannerisms, she may be “having a manic episode,” or “suffering from a panic attack,” or even run of the mill anxiety, suggesting we should have more compassion for Ms. Cooper because she was anxious or “having a bad day.” And that brings me to the article I feel compelled to write to the well-meaning white folks who want to try and fit Amy Cooper into a box that makes sense with their worldview. Breaking news: She’s not “crazy,” she’s a white woman in America. Before you get defensive and smash that comment button, think about this. Michael Harriot, a contributor at The Root, said in a recent article, “To exist in America is to obey laws written by white supremacists that adhere to a Constitution written by white supremacists that reinforce white supremacy. And unlearning something that has been constantly confirmed by what is literally the most powerful institution in the world is a difficult — if not impossible task.” Alas, it wasn’t mental illness that caused Golfcart Gail to call police on a black father coaching his son in Ponte Verde, Florida. It wasn’t anxiety that prompted BBQ Becky to phone the cops on a black family having a cookout in Oakland, California. Permit Patty wasn’t getting the vapors when she called police on an 8-year-old black girl in San Francisco (and then lied about it). It certainly wasn’t a panic disorder that led to the murder of George Floyd this week in Minneapolis or the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in the weeks before in Brunswick, GA. It was white supremacy and racism. Mappingpoliceviolence.org says, “Police killed 1,099 people in 2019. Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.” When Ms. Cooper said “an African American man threatened my life,” what she meant was, “I can have you killed right now.” There’s a long and violent history of white women weaponizing their whiteness against black men and boys. When I think of Ms. Cooper, I think of Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old white woman who accused 14-year-old Emmitt Till of making a pass at her in 1955. A despicable act that resulted in the boy’s brutal murder. BBQ Becky, Golfcart Gail, Permit Patty and now Dottie Dog-Choke are all Carolyn Bryant, and their actions remind us what our country really suffers from. In this case, it is not an issue of mental illness. It’s an issue of racism the likes of which mirrors the pre-civil rights era Jim Crowe America. As a neurodivergent Latinx woman in the United States, it’s offensive to hear someone call this “anxiety.” It stigmatizes people with mental illness, who are statistically more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it. Sarah Flourance, who goes by the handle @BookishFeminist on Twitter said: “Ok, we’re not doing this. Amy Cooper was NOT having a panic attack. I have panic disorder, and the level of dissociation you experience during panic attacks leaves you without the executive functions to, let’s say, CALL THE COPS. Stop using disability to excuse blatant racism.” Ok, we’re not doing this. Amy Cooper was NOT having a panic attack. I have panic disorder, and the level of dissociation you experience during panic attacks leaves you without the executive functions to, let’s say, CALL THE COPS. Stop using disability to excuse blatant racism. pic.twitter.com/s5Ieddblhj— Sarah Flourance (@BookishFeminist) May 26, 2020 Her tweet includes screenshots of people suggesting that Amy Cooper was having a panic attack, or dealing with anxiety. No, this isn’t mental illness. Sure, she might have felt anxious about being confronted in the park for not following the rules (in an interview with CNN, Mr. Cooper described the interaction as one full of “conflict and stress”), but the action she subsequently took — to call the police and intentionally say she being threatened by an African American man who was not threatening her — goes beyond anxiety. Her assumption that a black man was threatening her, and the action she then took, was entirely a toxic symptom of systemic racism and structural oppression that many white people choose to ignore on a daily basis, and so it is allowed to remain unchecked. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Without justice, there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who perpetuates it.” That’s a quote I think of every day in this darkest timeline of American history. Today, it’s Christian Cooper, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Tomorrow, America’s black youth. It ends when white folks and white presenting folks do the work to unpack their privilege. If you’re someone who saw that video and said, “Hey, maybe Amy Cooper was just having a panic attack?” Pull on that thread, it’s a good place to start. Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Atlanta, GA. He was killed in Brunswick, GA, and the story has been updated.

Yalda Safai MD

You Are Worthy Simply by Being Yourself

I find myself in a perpetual state of anxiety. I return home after a day of work as a resident psychiatrist, only to find myself feeling anxious and guilt-ridden for wanting to watch TV. “Am I achieving enough?” This is the constant question occupying my thoughts when I take time to unwind. I hold a medical degree and master’s degree and am working through completion of my residency. However, I find myself constantly anxious about not doing enough, not achieving enough. My feelings are not unique… We live in a society that equates busy with important, awards accomplishments and is obsessed with achievement. A society that has made us believe we must justify our existence with contributions, achievements and productivity. We punish ourselves for not accomplishing what we think we should as quickly as we should. We become depressed when we fail, anxious when we quit and guilt-ridden when we don’t try. When and how did we turn into a society obsessed with achievements? The breeding of an anxious society starts in childhood. We instill the neurosis in the most impressionable, our children, through rewarding based on external achievements and punished based on the same. We reward higher grades with importance, with self-worth. We numerically rank our children by intellectual ability and make them to believe they are somehow sub-par for failing to score high on an arbitrary numerical grading system that sets apart those with superior “intellectual abilities.” We learn that underachievement equates to shame, and with intellectual and athletic superiority comes pride. We learn from a tender age to compare and compete, which only strengthens when we step into adulthood. As we move into adolescence and adulthood, the constant stream of social comparison seemed to chase us around via the internet. We are made to believe that high achievers are everywhere. We sre bombarded with images of peers who appear to be accomplishing seemingly great things, in high-paying jobs and “impressive things accomplished.” We are constantly reminded us of everyone else’s accomplishments and prosperous lives, while making us believe that our time is wasted if we are not producing. The specific accomplishments vary from person to person, but they tend to have the same theme: to be extrinsic, glamorous, public and “insta-worthy.” Somewhere between chasing goals, checking off check-lists and creating vision boards, we unknowingly as a society have tied our self-worth to our achievements. We have come to find validation and self-esteem through outside, visible accomplishments. The problem with tying self-worth to be a reflection of personal achievement is that it leaves us feeling perpetually incomplete and constantly searching for wholeness. The thirst for achieving and accomplishing never ends. There is always more to achieve, higher mountains to climb and more money to be earned. Make no mistake, achievements are wonderful! After all, they represent hard work and deserve to be praised. However, we have learned to take that 60 second dopamine rush and quickly start chasing after the next big thing. The problem arises when we start to live for and tie our worthiness to productivity. Self-loathing arises when we realize we can never be fully fulfilled as there is always someone smarter, faster and more accomplished. Along with the realization that we can never be enough, we have come to be anxiety-ridden, suicide-driven, and as Elizabeth Wurtzel put it, so called “Prozac Nation.” Achievement is blatantly valued above health. Phrases such as “I haven’t slept in days” or “I’m too busy,” are worn like a badge of honor and viewed as virtuous. When in reality, they are extremely detrimental to our mental and physical wellbeing. The point is not to stop aiming for greatness. On the contrary, ambition is what keeps society from stagnation. It’s about stopping the pattern of punishing ourselves for not accomplishing what we think we should as quickly as we should. It’s about not giving into social pressure and high expectations. It’s about remembering that educational and career achievements don’t define our identity and self-worth. We cannot keep feeding the connection of self-worth to personal achievement, or the idea that we are not already whole simple by virtue of being alive.