Tag Archives: Laura Collins

Practically Imperfect in Every Way by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

(illustration by Laura Collins)


Confidence is an elusive mistress. She courts me with her feminine wiles, her perfectly catted eyes that hide behind heart-shaped sunglasses and full, redder-than-red lips. She wears her dark hair in victory rolls that sit high atop her head as she lifts her chin up and walks through doors with assuredness that makes men cringe.

She is me in my fantasies.

In reality, my eyeliner looks like I’m a Black Swan reject and my lips are forever feathering, as I burn my fingers on my curling iron while my “rolls” split and fall. I’ve misplaced my heart-shaped sunglasses to parts unknown and I’m constantly in a rush, so I shrug and accept it as “good enough” before slumping my way out the door and always making sure other people enter doorways before me.

Confidence is my fantasy.

But confidence is more than just appearances and badass makeup. It’s partially about how you present yourself to the world, but it’s also about how you think of the world and your place within it.

As previously stated, confidence is my fantasy.

I don’t think I can remember the last time I felt 100% sure about something I’ve done. Confidence is a fleeting feeling for me—my moments of triumph are often blocked by moments of total doubt and self-consciousness. Praise always makes me feel sheepish—when I’m congratulated on a job well done, all I can focus on are the ways in which I don’t deserve the praise and what I could instead be doing better. In terms of the “larger picture,” I’m constantly questioning about my place in the world; my inner voice is loud and full of commentary on society and how I can change it, but I find it hard to verbalize those thoughts in a way that will get others to listen. When I do talk, I feel that others aren’t interested in what I have to say and that I’m instead rambling on like a damn fool for no reason.


Confidence is only unattainable because I keep blocking myself from attaining it.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in this. It has been proven that women have lower self-esteem on average than men, and often disregard or downplay any hard work they’ve done to achieve their goals. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of the book Womenomics, have noticed that, after talking with multiple highly successful women in America, that most women regard their success as luck or some other attribute beyond their reach. In an article published a few years ago in The Atlantic, the two women also noted there is a vast confidence gap which separates the sexes and that “compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities.”

So not only am I totally devoid of confidence, I’m also completely unoriginal in feeling that way. In all of the ways I wish to have camaraderie with my fellow women, this is not one of them. Another reason for women’s lack of confidence in our abilities comes from our apparent need to be perfect. Shipman and Kay state that “underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”


Perfectionism is the ultimate confidence cancer. Nobody’s perfect—even Mary Poppins. “Practically perfect in every way” my ass—you know, practically perfect because she acts as stand-in mother for the terrible, terrible woman who’s being such a shitty parent because she’s too preoccupied with fighting for women’s rights. Or how Ms. Poppins forced children to believe they were liars instead of allowing them to freely expand on the limitless possibilities of their imaginations. She had a pretty bitchin’ pair of purple shoes, though.

Maybe cultural and pop cultural cues constantly reinforce this need for maternal perfectionism as the ultimate goal, leaving us non-mothers to feel as if we only truly have one end goal in our collective lives, causing one existential crisis after another. Maybe this lack of confidence stems from a more scientific place. Much research has been done to explain why there is this notable gap in self-esteem between men and women and there is even scientific evidence provided in that very same article from The Atlantic. MRI studies have shown that women tend to activate their amygdala—the brain’s “fear center”—more easily in response to negative emotional stimuli than men do, suggesting that women are more likely than men to form strong emotional memories of negative events (those social media trigger warnings aren’t something to fuck with). Basically, women will constantly think back on negative events of the past more than men. I, as I have already mentioned, try not to talk on behalf of all women but goddamn if that isn’t true.

But what does all this science mumbo jumbo prove? That I’m predisposed to worry myself into a tizzy over every little move I make or word I utter until I render myself mute and motionless out of fear of making a mistake or overstepping my boundaries? That only weirdo, blind-to-the-world’s-pressures, robotic alpha-females can conquer this fear of confidence until they become feminist icons and I’m just not meant to be one of them? Is it that what I really fear is confidence itself and, in turn, confident, outspoken women? Or have I just fetishized it/them to a point that it’s a weird, masturbatory fantasy that achieving it wouldn’t make it as fun to ruminate over?

Am I overthinking all of this? Is that what I’m just supposed to do because I’m a woman?

Here’s something I am confident in: my inability to answer everything. I’m also confident in my stubbornness and unwillingness to accept that I’ll never have the gait of a women who knows what she wants and where she’s headed, who doesn’t stumble over her own words or start to cry when she’s overly passionate about something. I’m confident that fantasizing about my future self as a self-assured woman is a source of temporary happiness for me on a daily basis, and a goal I still look forward to attaining.

I’m at least 70% confident that I’ll be 100% confident someday.

Hanging on the Telephone by Jamie L. Rotante

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Hanging on the Telephone by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

Illustration by Laura Collins

Being a neurotic, socially anxious person, there are a lot of day-to-day tasks most people don’t give a second thought to that become nearly earth-shattering crises to me. One of the most major things that plagues me to this day is the phone. Most people don’t jolt up like a meerkat every time the phone rings, then have to coax their stomachs back down from their throats once we know who’s on the other line and what it is they’re saying. I am not most people—though this wasn’t always the case.

I went through a phase when I was about eight years old where I became obsessed with the telephone. If It rang, I’d spring up from whatever I was doing (even if it meant missing out on some quality afternoon animated programming), and run to the kitchen to grab a hold of the phone before anyone could pick it up. It was more or less the pre-message board, child equivalent of “FIRST!” My over-eagerness to answer the phone was followed by awkward conversation—I never really thought it over past the introductory lines—but I still enjoyed being the first one to say hello. Fortunately, the calls were, more often than not, from telemarketers who would butcher my mother’s first and last names, not looking for much in terms of conversation. This did, however, provide me with a funny story to tell to my family after I hung up, and even in my tender youth I was a sucker for a funny anecdote.

And it wasn’t just answering the phone that gave me my jollies; I liked making calls, too. My uncle Frank informed me of a trick he’d heard about when he was younger: if you dial 6-1-1 before your home phone number, you’ll be able to call your own phone. The concept of being able to call myself was enthralling, so I would try often. Dialing 6-1-1 actually just called an automated customer service center, but that didn’t stop me from trying at least ten times a day, every day, hoping that one day I would be able to buck the system and make a breakthrough to finally achieve the goal of having a much sought-after conversation with myself.

It probably comes as no surprise that during one of my daily attempts, I wasn’t being as cautious as usual. My finger slipped and hit a wrong button. When I heard the phone on the other side start ringing, I thought my day had finally come—then there was a voice. Not my voice, but a man’s voice. “Hello, 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?” I panicked and hung up the phone, hoping that not enough time had passed for them to figure out who called.

It took less than a minute for them to call back. This was the first time I was not eager to immediately answer the phone. I ran into the kitchen to see my grandmother with the still-not-cordless receiver to her ear, confused. “Emergency? No, no one called from here about an emergency…” I had to silently mouth to her that it was me and I didn’t mean for it to happen. It was not long after that incident police dispatchers started taking mistake calls like that a lot more seriously—something I blamed solely on myself. That was my last foray into playing with the buttons on the telephone.

During those same years of my youth, I started to lose many older relatives who were close to me—quite a lot of them in what felt like rapid succession. Those calls were the worst. I’d answer the phone to a relative’s voice sounding a lot less cheery than I had remembered, forgoing small talk in favor of having me put an adult on the phone right away. That always meant some form of bad news. If it wasn’t a distant voice of a family member, it was coming home to a sad, hurried message left on our answering machine, following whatever joke answering machine greeting my mom and I had created. It got to a point where I could only associate the phone ringing with an announcement of death—and so each time the phone rang, I’d be downright frightened of what bad news was going to come from the other side.

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I became conditioned; every time the phone rang, my heart sunk. I’d cower in fright, close my eyes, and pray for good news. This went on for years to come, until my family got caller ID, which allowed me to rest easy when I knew it was a frequent-caller family member or a telemarketer, only being worried when it was a number I didn’t recognize. Over time, I got less frightened, though I still wasn’t the best at making conversation. This became a slight disadvantage to me when I started working part time as a receptionist at my college’s Performing Arts Center. If someone called in with a question I couldn’t immediately answer, I’d panic, stumble over my words, then settle on providing most likely incorrect information because it would just take too long to find the proper response.

My worst experience came when a Q&A scheduled before a performance was moved to after the performance. I was tasked with cold calling all members of the Center—whether or not they were planning on attending—to let them know of the change. I had to breathe deeply and give myself a silent pep talk before each call before finally stumbling my way through the message. Despite my inadequacies in speaking, I grew less afraid of the phone—until one night when we received an alarming call: my uncle Frank had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Too afraid to go, I stayed at home and waited for news. This led to a week of waiting for the phone to ring until we received that final, upsetting bit of news. If there was ever a reason to hate the phone before, this further propelled my disdain for it.

Is it unreasonable to associate something as menial and integral to day-to-day life as the phone with something as major as death? Of course it is—but that’s exactly why it happens. Rational thinking often has to try and squeeze its way through the tiny filters of a neurotic person’s brain. My phone-related panic attacks aren’t as critical as they once were, but that’s not to say I don’t damn near jump out of my skin when the phone rings at work. Or that I don’t say a silent prayer when I feel my cell phone vibrate a few more times than it should if it were just a text message (in the cyclical nature of life, those calls are still usually from telemarketers).

Maybe one day I’ll get over this fear. Maybe new technology will come and make phone calls obsolete. It’s already starting to happen. And I’ll probably learn to fear that new technology, too, though I’m not there yet. As it turns out, receiving bad news over Facebook isn’t all that great either, but without having to speak, I don’t find myself constantly on high alert whenever my phone lets me know that I’ve received a new message or text. Sometimes, despite my fears, I do miss the days of my later youth when I embraced talking on the phone—namely hours spent going on and on about nothing to my friends. Now it’s replaced with a quick group chat message here or a dumb GIF there. As our conversation grows gnarled and more cynical by the minute with quick responses on email and Slack, I find myself getting that “get off my lawn”-type nostalgia for person-to-person talks, despite my relationship with the phone.

Until, of course, something goes wrong and I have to place a call to a bank or credit card company—then I wish all I could do is send a funny five-second video clip of a child throwing up her arms in confusion or a dog drinking coffee in a fire and let that do all the talking for me.

Confronting Abuse: Dealing with People Accused of Sex Abuse in DIY Spaces by Will Kenneth

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Confronting Abuse: Dealing with People Accused of Sex Abuse in DIY Spaces by Will Kenneth

Illustration by Laura Collins

The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh was gut-wrenching to watch. We fought bitterly to oppose his nomination, then watched a man accused of sexual assault be confirmed to a lifetime judicial appointment in the highest United States court.

The drawn-out confirmation process was like watching a car crash in slow motion. We knew it would happen and we couldn’t stop it. Those of us watching from the sidelines became collateral damage.

We turned to social media to cope, and in turn shared stories of sexual trauma to help grieve and find commiseration.

Reading these stories and talking to friends about their assaults and abuse broke my heart, but what surprised me (and it shouldn’t have) was how many of them involved people or shows in the punk community.

I want to believe that shows and festivals and DIY spaces can be safe for everyone, but just because we’re all into DIY punk together, doesn’t mean we don’t have predators walking among us.

We can choose how we react to information that someone might be a sexual predator in our midst. Too often people seem content to either bury it, or just don’t know what to do with that information.

Of course, believe people who come forward about their sexual abuse. If you learn anything from the brave actions of Christine Blasey Ford, it’s that sex abuse survivors have next to zero to gain and everything to lose. Several news outlets reported in October 2018 that Ford and her family were still unable to return home due to ongoing threats against their lives.

I’m going to outline some practical steps you can take to support survivors of sexual abuse.

Fellow Band member

If you hear someone accusing one of your bandmates of committing sexual abuse, the best thing you can do is listen to the people saying they were victimized and ask the band member to step away.

What you risk by staying silent or doing nothing is potentially putting your fans, other bands, and anyone you work with in danger every time that person is with you. You also risk losing people’s trust in you and damaging your reputation as someone who remains silent about sex abuse.

If you don’t know how to respond to the accusations online through social media or in a press release, consider using this form I’ve written for you below. I can’t know your situation, but I believe this is one way you can approach it. If you choose not use to the form, or have a better idea of how to move forward, at minimum remember to be empathetic to those speaking out.

“We recently heard allegations of sex abuse committed by (band member). While we are trying to gather more information about what happened, we’ve asked (band member) to exit the band. We don’t want to put our fans at risk by bringing (preferred pronoun) to our shows. If you believe you have information about what happened or would like to share a story of your own with us, please contact us at (your contact information). We will keep anything you tell us in confidence.”

If the accused is the main songwriter or band leader, and there’s no way to have them step aside, you should quit the band and try to convince everyone else too as well. You might not be able stop the person accused from doing shows for long, but you can at least protect yourself and protect others by announcing your departure. If you’re making a social media post or press release, consider using my form below. As I mentioned above, this is one way to get ahead of this and do the right thing. You don’t have to use the form, but when speaking with people, remember to be empathetic and to listen to those coming forward.

“We recently heard of sex abuse accusations committed by (band member). While we are trying to gather more information about what happened, (I decided/list of band members decided) to exit (name of band). We don’t want to put our fans at risk by continuing to play shows with (band member). If you believe you have information about what happened or would like to share a story of your own with us, please contact us at (your contact information). We will keep anything you tell us in confidence.”

Quitting a band or a project is a tough decision to make. After all, you put a ton of time and energy into making it the best you could, and starting over is no easy prospect. However, the people coming forward are also struggling with their trauma. Quitting the band will help make them feel validated that they made the right decision to come forward. Plus, you don’t want to be known as somebody who condones sex abuse through silence.

Band Promoter/ Venue Owner/ Festival Owner

If you booked a band at your venue or festival, you can choose who gets to play there. Just as you choose not to book white power bands, you can choose not to book bands that have been accused of sexual assault. Did you fuck up and book one? Consider stealing this form I wrote for you. Again, you don’t have to go this route to try to correct your mistake, but at least remember to be sympathetic and listen to people speaking out.

“People have been telling us that (band) on our bill (date) have been accused of sexual assault. Out of a sense of caution for everyone who will be at (your venue/ festival), we decided to drop them from our lineup that night. We take accusations of sexual assault seriously, and we want to ensure a safe environment for everyone at (venue/festival).”

If you have a contract in place and can’t drop the band from your lineup (that sucks), announce that you’re willing to offer refunds.

“People have been telling us that (band) on our bill (date) have been accused of sexual assault. Unfortunately, due to standing contracts, we are unable to cancel the event. We take accusations of sexual assault seriously, and we want to ensure a safe environment for everyone at (venue/festival). We will be offering refunds to anyone who feels uncomfortable attending, and we will not allow them to play here again in the future.”

While the most important part of taking these actions is to protect people in your space, you should also consider that if you don’t, those same people will stop attending, playing, and working your events. No one wants to be somewhere where people who have been accused of sexual assault are welcome.

If your employees or business partners of these spaces, and they don’t respond well to accusations of sex abuse, get out of there. I’m not saying quit your job right away, but if they don’t see a problem working with people accused of sexual abuse, then they probably won’t give a fuck about what happens to you.

Attending Shows

Ultimately, spaces for these bands cannot exist without all of us. We each have a small slice of responsibility to withdraw support from bands or organizations that have been accused of sexual assault or condone those acts with indifference.

On a personal level, I would love to go see TSOL on tour next year. Jack Grisham’s music, and even the music TSOL made without Jack, is something that I have fond memories listening to as an impressionable baby punk in my teens.

In an interview for the documentary movie American Hardcore  (full disclosure: I only read the book), Jack describes himself as a rapist. The movie was released in 2006, and since then our community is less willing to overlook stories of rape. To the best of my knowledge, the interview raises questions that have gone unanswered. Was he joking? Was he calling back to a previously unknown assault that went unreported? Was he talking about the time he married a girl in her teens while he was in his mid-twenties (which also sounds pretty predatory)? I don’t know. Honestly, I can’t imagine any answers that would sit well with me. I can’t know what he meant. As a matter of good praxis, I’m going to sit the TSOL show out. Solidarity with victims of sexual assault is more important to me than one night of fun, especially if it means having to compromise my values.

Moving Forward

As a cis-het-male, I have the freedom to mostly not worry about being sexually assaulted, but that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about everyone else.

As a community, I’m glad we’ve started asking for more from each other, but some people haven’t gotten the memo yet. I hope this column provides helpful tools to deal with people accused of sexual abuse. So honestly, I’m going to ask you to share this. Email it, print it out, or share it on social media and give it to your friends, bandmates, business partners, loved ones, et cetera.

I’m not asking you to share this to get some kind of ego boost or to get likes on a social media platform. I want us to use this as an example for how we should treat people who are accused of engaging in predatory behavior. Words are meaningless without action. I’ve outlined basic tools to talk about what we should do, and it’s up to you to decide how to use them. I just ask that you do something instead of staying silent.

We have the ability to shape our community spaces, and we need to make them safe for everyone to contribute to them.

//

Will Kenneth loves to attend The Fest every year. He lives in Jacksonville, FL. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)

The Big Sleep by Jamie L. Rotante

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The Big Sleep by Jamie L. Rotante

An examination of my history of using sleep as a method of anxiety avoidance.

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

When I was in high school my favorite extracurricular activity was napping. I spent a good portion of my teenage years in the depths of slumber. I didn’t have many part-time jobs, I sure as hell didn’t participate in any team sports, and I definitely wasn’t going out partying or on dates. Most of my free time was spent wrapped up in a blanket, snoozing my life away.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time; most teenagers are lazy (at least that’s what I told myself, I know now how untrue that is) and the “best years” are, in all honesty, pretty damn tough (this, on the other hand, is very much true). You study for eight hours, presumably get tormented for (if you’re lucky) only one to two hours in that time, spend most of your waking life trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be after those four years are over, and you deal with parents who just don’t seem to get it.

So, yeah, exhaustion is kind of par for the course. Plus, I wasn’t alone. A lot of my friends also took pride in their slumber. It’d be like a challenge between my friends and me to see who could sleep in the latest. Over the summer it would get really wild—I’d be impressed with my waking up at two in the afternoon to only be bested by another friend who’d clock in for the day at five o’clock. We didn’t have anywhere to be, and time, at that point in life, didn’t seem very fleeting, so why not spend most of it in a dream world where everything is just a little bit more exciting?

As I got older, I’d grow to learn that sleep wasn’t really just from exhaustion—it’s a solution. To boredom. To consistency. For avoidance. It’s a bad habit that runs in my family. My grandmother was known to sleep when she’d get upset—it would sometimes take multiple people to wake her up in the morning. In my formative years, my mom would often retire to her bedroom mid-day, exhausted and in need of space. It was hard for me to understand as a child why she wanted to sleep more than spend time with me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it wasn’t her not wanting to spend time with me; instead, it was easier to sleep than to deal with the stress of her newfound (and unexpected) motherhood. I get it—I’m guilty of the same. If things are rough—sleep it off. If time is ticking a little too fast—don’t fight it. Go with it and sleep it all away. There will be another day tomorrow. Another chance to deal with what’s bothering me. Another opportunity to face challenges, as hopeful as that may be.

Nowadays, I think of naptime as a luxury I can only award myself if I feel I’ve truly earned it—or if I’m sick and have no other choice. And even then, I feel like any hours spent sleeping midday is time that could be better spent doing something, anything, else. Sleeping instead of productivity is a real-world nightmare, but even if I reject the notion of sleep, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m living to my fullest potential. Even to this day I find myself lying vertical on the couch in place of confronting deadlines. If I sit on my couch in my living room and start to think ahead to my workload, my eyes instinctively begin to shut, my body to slouch. My internal clock falls off the wall for the night and any sense of urgency is trumped by a desire to sleep and get away from it all. And if I do manage to fight the sandman off, my time is instead spent mindlessly scrolling through my phone, playing some stupid app or another, until my eyes get heavy from staring at the screen.

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That being said, the opposite is also true. Nothing upends my week more than an inadequate amount of sleep. As much as having a jam-packed weekend of fun and friends is great, it interferes with the amount of rest I’ll have to gear up for the next work week. Some of my worst anxiety attacks have happened when I’ve allowed myself to stay out late or party too hard on a Sunday night (a very rare occurrence), weekend me not caring enough about what Monday me will think. Waking up burned out on a Monday morning isn’t a good look on anyone—but for me, the mental exhaustion it causes is far worse than any physical tiredness.

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So what have I learned? All the health tips aren’t lying—it is important to get the right amount of slumber, especially if you have anxiety issues. I’ve also learned that sometimes sleeping it off does help. When the anxiety quells late at night or the emotions run high in the wee hours of the morning, falling asleep to turn it all off and press the reset button for the next day is the best possible option. Sometimes those dreaming hours are the exact recipe needed to unwind. That being said, I’m also making strides to not only defer to sleep as a cure-all, especially when it is instead a roadblock to creativity, productivity, or an escape from issues that need to be handled.

I’ve gotten better at budgeting my sleep time wisely (removing my comfy napping couch from the living room in favor of my desk has also helped—I’m much less likely to lie down in my bed early on, instead forcing myself to sit at my desk and actually work.) I’ve also learned how much more I appreciate getting home from a fun night out with more than enough time to get a good night’s rest. But the balance is what’s key; sleep is important but, unless absolutely necessary, shouldn’t take precedence over carving out time to spend with friends and loved ones. I’ve still got a lot more to learn and still need to get better at the whole budgeting my time thing, but I’m getting there, one snooze at a time.

Waking up, however—that’s a whole different story. I’ll save that for another time; I’m far too tired now.

 

Problematic Mental Attitude by Jamie L. Rotante

Problematic Mental Attitude by Jamie L. Rotante

Problematic Mental Attitude by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism and Other Fun Stuff

Illustration by @lauracollinsart

PMA. Maybe you’ve heard it shouted on stage by a muscle-bound lead singer of a New York Hardcore band. Maybe you’ve seen it sloppily graffitied on a street corner—it’s three letters that pack a punch, and the command is simple: Positive Mental Attitude. In short, it means that even when the chips are down, you focus your mind on persevering. Get your head right and your life will follow. Think positive and good things will happen.

But goddamn if it’s not easier said than done.

A bit of history: the concept of PMA came about in 1937 by self-help author Napoleon Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich. While never actually using the term “PMA,” the book does develop the importance of positive thinking in relation to wealth and success. It’s the philosophy that having an optimistic disposition in every situation in life attracts positive changes and increases achievement. It’s also become the premise for pretty much every self-help book that’s come out since, using the notion that having a simple set of principles—if implemented correctly and with enough persistence—will guarantee success regardless of the person’s background or social status.

But is it really as easy as all that?

Problematic Mental Attitude by Jamie L. Rotante
For me, that’s a big fat no. And I’m sure there’s no surprise in me stating that—I’ve already divulged in-depth my own issues with negative thinking. I’ve even touched upon the notion that PMA seems to be the obvious answer to countering my intrusive bad thoughts. If I just try envisioning the good and embracing the positive outcomes, won’t that keep my negative thoughts at bay? Or, at very least, strike enough of a balance between the two? The truth is I attempt this at least once a day. I spend a lot of my time daydreaming about the future—imagining myself in better scenarios and with an abundance of happiness. I hope for positive outcomes for those around me, too—envisioning my friends and family living their #bestlives. I commit to the dreams and hope that they’ll transcend reality and manifest themselves as truths, even while my brain tries to poke holes in that imaginary happiness with nugget-sized craters of fatalistic reality visions.

But envisioning those positive scenarios actually does help. Not by some magical force or by crude mentalist tricks, but by attracting positive people and happiness and deflecting anyone who wants to impede on that (even if I do spend a lot of time agonizing over those who try to actively stomp on my happiness). I do believe that spending a lot of time being outwardly miserable will only bring forth more misery. I do think that putting on a happy face and trucking on even when things are rough helps to bring on good tidings and better outcomes.

That being said, countering all the bad shit in the world takes a hell of a lot more than just thinking about it all going away.

Let’s also be honest: shouting PMA at people and telling them that it’s a simple solution to their issues is a pretty privileged thing to do. It’s not fair to assume that the answer to everyone’s problems is to just imagine themselves being better and then they’ll be better. That mindset is just laced with victim blaming. Sorry, Napoleon Hill, but having a good mindset might not be the key to wealth and success in spite of your societal standpoint. Sometimes your social class does define you and it takes way more than just invoking the positive to change that. There’s often an element to the PMA movement that implies that we’re all starting from a level playing field, which is just way off base, both in terms of physical and mental attributes.

And on a personal level, I also think that pushing forward even when times are tough and deflecting the bad to think about the good can be agonizing. Sometimes an uphill battle can go even slower when you feel like you’re suffering in silence. The last thing you need is someone to tell you to just change your mindset the moment you open up about your problems, as if the answer is an easy one you’ve been ignoring all along.

That’s not to say that I think PMA is disposable or a bad motto to follow—there are quite a lot of good aspects of it that I sincerely try to implement in my daily life. A big part of having a positive outlook is putting effort into leading a meaningful or purposeful life, especially in which one works toward a higher cause. Many modern theories of self-esteem explore discovering value within ourselves. We can discover this personal value by using our unique strengths to contribute to the happiness of not only ourselves, but to others as well. It’s about focusing on the positive as a means to acquire the skills to be able to deal with the harder times of life in fuller, deeper ways—both for ourselves and our communities.

Problematic Mental Attitude by Jamie L. Rotante
PMA, even in the hardcore sense, is often heavily rooted in civic activism. When active, rebellious positivity is used to counteract injustice, that’s an excellent deployment of PMA. And when you can combine PMA with an awareness of your own privilege and use it to help others, that’s the best possible combination.
In the end that’s my biggest motivation for staying positive and forging forward; if I can help myself, I can help those around me—especially those who don’t have the same privileges I have. It’s the awareness that we’re not all born of the same class with comparable backgrounds and upbringings. It’s the awareness that not everyone can just think positive and change their statuses in life—but that those who have even the slightest more access to the tools to create change can use that PMA to help others. And using a positive mental attitude to create positive change is a damn good feeling.

As redundant as it may sound, being positive is key to being happy—but only if we’re not forcing ourselves to be positive, instead choosing to live that PMA and share that positivity with the world around us.

@jamieleerotante

 

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but I’m a pretty neurotic person. Maybe it’s my proclivity for crying, my obsession with the end times, my fear of being happy, or just my general, unending sense of uneasiness that tipped you off, but overall I’m a pretty off-center person. Here’s another fun fact about me: I currently do not go to nor have I ever been to a therapist. And that’s not because of any sort of aversion to them or to the psychological process it’s… well… it’s like this…

I believe in the positive and remarkably helpful effects of therapy—yet I find myself fear-stricken with the idea of moving forward and actually going to a therapist. It’s like going to a job interview but instead of explaining the boring minutiae of your day-to-day work life and career history and hoping they don’t judge you too harshly on it, it’s the intricate goings-on inside your fucked up head and hoping that they do. Here’s what scares me about therapy—and it’s not the naive notion that I won’t be “fixed” or that the highly qualified person won’t tell me what I want to hear—it’s the same anxiety that drives most of my neurotic thoughts… what if they don’t like me?

I’ve heard some psycho-horror stories: A therapist falling asleep while the patient was explaining their day; doctors who aren’t paying attention or belittle their patient’s problems; others who pay a little too much attention and are too hands-on. What if my doctor thinks my problems are childish and doesn’t take me seriously? What if they joke about what I’ve said with their friends? Sure, that’s legally prohibited, but who really can tell? What if, on the other end of the spectrum, they diagnose me too quickly and try to push me to take medication I don’t want?

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante
I completely believe that the right pills can be incredibly effective and helpful to those who need them, but I’m also frightened about taking anything that can become addictive or change my brain chemistry. If they work, great. But what if they have an adverse effect? Also, swallowing pills gives me anxiety. My throat closes up as soon as they enter my mouth and I end up gagging, spitting them out or—ugh—chewing them. There’s a reason I never take anything larger than seasonal allergy tablets and baby aspirin. But we’ll save that story about my fear of hospitals and the entire medical practice as a whole for another day.

So how do I cope? Well, writing, for one. Putting my thoughts onto paper helps me understand—albeit from a very crude, rudimentary standpoint—what’s going on in my head. Sharing these thoughts with the world (which, for some reason is easier than just sharing them with one person, who knew?) and hearing from people who feel the same helps me lose that sense of isolation that so often triggers my anxious thoughts. What I’ve also noticed is that, because there are so many people out there like me, there’s been a huge movement over the last few years to bring mental health awareness and therapy to our fingertips. Apps, websites, podcasts, and more exist solely to provide tips, guided meditations, and even therapy sessions to people in their own homes.

Look Out Honey, ‘Cause I’m Using Technology by Jamie L. Rotante
I’ve tried a few. I’ve downloaded countless apps for guided meditation and daily affirmations. I forget to make the time to meditate. I get the text alerts with my “feel-good” advice in the morning and curse them from disrupting me from over-sleeping. I sign up for the email lists that do the same. I scan the tips: Create a vision board. De-clutter. Organize. I’m trying. I’m trying to do that digitally too, but these new therapeutic email lists are contributing to my mess. I see the emails keep piling up—the stress of an overfilled email inbox sends me into a panic. I filter the messages by sender and start to power my way through them, but they keep coming faster than I can mark them as “read.”

Very recently I took what was probably the biggest step in my attempts to get digital self-help: I actually spoke with a therapist through video chat. It was part of this special intro program that gave users a ten-minute session to chat with a therapist of their choosing. Admittedly, I picked one at random, not entirely understanding what the whole thing was about in my quick read of the website during my lunch break. I assumed I’d watch a video she had pre-recorded or it would be a group chat, sort of like an online lecture or a livestream, with everyone asking questions and her answering what she could. Instead, it was a real therapist giving ten minutes of undivided attention to me.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I almost bailed. Nervously, I hemmed and hawed so our ten minutes wouldn’t involve anything too serious. I asked her about how to approach therapy and coping with generalized anxiety. She was incredibly kind, patient, and promised to send me a link with tips that she actually recommends, as opposed to so many of the emails and websites that offer self-help rituals that may only benefit the person writing them. I have not yet received that link and I’m still too nervous to try and ask her for it, but that chat made me feel like I could do this. Maybe. Even if it’s just by starting out with video chats and taking it from there.

What the therapist I chatted with also gave me was a sense of confidence in my search. She was upfront and honest—yes, there might be some therapists out there who I won’t “jive” with, but there are also many who I will. It’s daunting to put yourself out there in the wild like that, but it doesn’t have to be a hopeless cause. And if just those mere ten minutes of talking made me feel better, I can only imagine what a full hour—or even a half hour—would do. Yet, putting myself out there and open to less-than-savory experiences is still intimidating, though no longer seemingly insurmountable.

Maybe one day, when I’m incredibly rich and famous, I’ll start an app kind of like Tindr or Bumble—maybe I’ll call it Brainr—that lets users swipe through a database of highly rated, effective therapists in your immediate area and you can match with ones you feel can help you the best. Maybe go on a trial therapy run with them; find a bar with a comfy chaise lounge to relax in while you unload all your dreams, fears, and paranoias, and hope that the person on the receiving end treats you with kindness and doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, send you on your way, and send you an inappropriate picture in the morning.

Until that day comes, I’ll keep reading those emails. I’ll keep downloading those apps. I’ll follow other like-minded people on social media and read their stories. Maybe I’ll even make another attempt to video chat with a licensed professional who understands, but take it a little more seriously next time. I’ll start serious research into the most compatible mental health professionals in my area. And, as always, I’ll keep writing.

The Crying Game by Jamie L. Rotante

The Crying Game by Jamie L. Rotante

The Crying Game by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

I’m a crybaby. I have no qualms about admitting this. Most people who know me probably already know this fact and those who don’t—well, they just haven’t spent enough time around me yet. I was in the first grade when the Chronic Crying™ began. It was a Monday, right after my mom’s thirty-first birthday, and we were nearing the end of the school day. As a “treat,” my class was watching one of those animated VHS tapes—the ones made specifically for Catholic schools. Nothing out of the ordinary was going on, but then something hit me: I really missed my mom. She hadn’t gone anywhere; I just missed having her nearby. I kept replaying in my mind how happy we all were just one day prior. For the first time in my young life, I felt the emotional pangs of nostalgia—even if it was only for the weekend. I missed the happiness we felt being all together. I missed not having to be separated by school. I just… missed. And before I knew it, before I could explain it or even begin to fathom it, the tears came gushing down my cheeks.

The Crying Game by Jamie L. Rotante
My teacher noticed and pulled me aside to ask me what was wrong. I think I managed to stammer out some BS about the dumb animated dog film we were watching. Maybe I blurted out that I missed my mommy—that part is fuzzy—but the truth was, I really had no idea what was happening. Unfortunately, this was a confusing sensation I’d have to learn to get used to, since this became par for the course every day for the last two months of the school year.

The crying episodes got so bad that my teacher had me step outside the classroom with her. She pleaded with me to stop. She begged me and asked what it was she was doing wrong. That only made things worse. Knowing my unexplained sobbing was also causing confusion and sadness in others just filled me with even more upset. I had no answers—it just seemed to be something beyond my control. Days where I’d successfully avoid crying (or, at very least, avoid letting anyone see me cry) were triumphs. I eventually made it to the end of the school year and spent a (relatively) tearless summer.

Second grade brought with it a renewed attitude, until one day when the tears inexplicably started up again. My teacher, a different one from first grade, pulled me aside and told me she heard about my episodes. She wasn’t about to deal with me crying every day. I could sense my classmates’ groans and snickers at my expense—they, too, were tired of my shit. That’s when a new sensation swept over me—one of extreme shame and embarrassment. And that feeling plugged up those tears because, in that moment, that was a far worse feeling than sadness—and one I could easily understand. Thus ended the crying saga of my eighth year of life.

Thinking back on it now, it’s kind of astonishing how little my educational system cared about the well-being of one of its young students. Instead of having a formal sit-down with my mother, it was only mentioned here and there as an aside. Instead of having me sit down with the school’s psychologist, I was instead scolded, shamed, and made to feel worse about what was going on. There were no further attempts to unpack what was going on with me. It seemed like the only way to solve it was by making me feel as though I were doing something bad. I’m sure there was nothing malicious behind it—just teachers underprepared for dealing with the needs of an apparently emotionally fragile child—yet it still seems like something that could have been handled with, pardon the pun, kid gloves.

For the rest of my educational career I’d only cry in certain circumstances, likely for fear of being embarrassed. The crying usually accompanied panic attacks which struck me in the wee hours of the night during my preteen years. Other than that, it took a lot to get me to a point of breaking down. High school left me unfazed; I’d balk at the other young women who got emotional over fights with boyfriends or receiving low grades. Maybe it was my keeping online journals to write out my feelings that allowed me to better understand my emotions than I ever had before. Maybe my life was just pretty all-around okay, but for some reason I was an alarmingly even-keeled and unemotional teenager.

It wasn’t until college when I experienced losing someone very close to me for the first time that I felt true sadness again. And with that loss came an emptiness, an impending sense of doom that set me sail on an emotional tidal wave. Suddenly, it wasn’t just sadness anymore that caused me to cry. It would come from anger, frustration, nerves, existential dread and, the one I hate the most, absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Crying is weird. I still find it hard to quantify what will or won’t make me cry. When I’m angry, the tears come rushing out before I have the chance to control them. When I’m sad, there’s no telling when the crying will actually begin. But the worst is feeling completely out of tune with my body and my emotions. As confusing as it was to not understand why it started or where the tears were coming from is just as bad as not knowing why they won’t. Berating myself and feeling that utter internal sadness, knowing that if I could just allow myself to cry—just really sob—it would make all the difference. But it’s always in those moments when the tears refuse to freely fall. It’s when I, shockingly, want to cry I can’t.

The Crying Game by Jamie L. Rotante
One thing I’ve learned from being a crybaby is that a good cry every now and then can actually be a positive thing. It’s reinvigorating, an enigma—simultaneously exhausting and rejuvenating.  It makes my face and red and puffy yet also exfoliates the pores or some shit. I don’t know. That might be a lie, but, either way, crying can feel really good when it’s a release of pent up aggression or long term sadness. I’ve also learned that it still kind of sucks to get caught crying in public and my total fear of complete embarrassment will often cure that. Maybe I’m not really all that different at thirty than I was as a scared and confused eight-year-old. I just now have more constructive ways to channel my feelings. But I won’t give up working on understanding myself better—I owe it to the sad little girl I used to be.

//
Jamie L. Rotante
Twitter: @jamitha
Instagram: @jamieleerotante
Facebook: JamieLeeRotante

Laura Collins
Instagram: @lauracollinsart

The Charlie Brown Mindset by Jamie L. Rotante

Charlie Brown Mindset Jamie L. Rotante

The Charlie Brown Mindset by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

“I think I’m afraid to be happy because whenever I get too happy, something bad always happens.” –Charlie Brown

My life has been, to put it simply, pretty good. Sure, I’ve dealt with my share of loss and failure and rejection but—and I can assure you I’m banging my knuckles across wood until they’re bloody as I write this—no more than most people. However, if you were to film the movie of my life through the lens of my brain, oh boy, would it look a whole lot different.

You see, I have this problem: I like to call it the “Charlie Brown dilemma.” Whenever I feel moments of pure, unbridled happiness (even fleeting moments of happiness) they’re almost immediately accompanied by a sense of overwhelming dread. I like to be happy—who doesn’t?—but I often find it hard to really enjoy those transitory happy moments.

Contentment creeps up on me when I least expect it: when the sun hits my face at just that perfect angle, when a song comes on which reminds me of summer, a certain scent that transports me to a spring of my youth (side note: I think I might also have Seasonal Affective Disorder but we’ll save that for another time), and I just stop and allow myself to briefly bask in it. Maybe I’ll do an introspective celebration of a recent goal I achieved or of some goal just within my reach. I stop, smile, reflect, and just get… happy.

Then it happens. The next thought follows almost immediately after—or intrusively during—my silly little internal happy dance. The ever-dreadful, “What next?” question posits itself in my brain and reminds me there is a balance to all things in this world… and with this good, there must certainly come a bad. What about one, sticking obstacle that might prevent me from obtaining almost-in-my-reach goal? What about those outstanding circumstances surrounding an already-achieved goal that could rear their ugly heads and turn everything on its ear? What if something tragic happens tomorrow and completely consumes my very being, wiping away any of my good feelings and memories from existence?

Ah, yes. It’s those fickle little “circumstances beyond my control” that manage to consistently break me to my very core. Illness, death, terrorism, war, freak accidents, apocalypse, a smallpox epidemic, a bigpox epidemic… anything is possible, especially when it comes to impeding upon my personal happiness. What if I’m so busy celebrating an insignificant victory while someone I love is suffering and I don’t even know it? What if my personal fulfillment comes at the cost of someone else’s loss? Who am I to be happy, really?

Of course, I’ve found more often in life, it’s when I start to really feel bad for myself—when work is piling up, when there are endless chores to do, when there are deadlines that seem impossible to meet—life decides to smack me in the face with something bigger than I think I can handle. Like an earth-shatteringly subtle reminder that there are circumstances outside of me and my way of life, and challenges that are much harder to endure. Events which completely make reaching any sort of deadline obsolete or cause me to rip up any to-do lists because there are more important problems to face. It’s not when I’m content the universe hurtles problems and misfortunes in my direction—it’s when things are already rough. So why? If I know this to be true, why do I deny myself my splurging moments of sheer enthusiasm and happiness?

I think it stems from my ever-present anxiety. Even when everything is seemingly copacetic, my anxiousness pokes at me from within with the “what ifs?” and negative thoughts. My anxiety wants to breed more stress and, as they say, misery loves company. So even if everything seems hunky-dory, it’s my nature to find the holes within that happiness and peel away at the potential stress-inducing situations that could occur, or could be waiting for me on the other side.

The reality is, when things are going my way, they tend to stay on a streak. When I acknowledge how good things are, better things continue to happen. PMA is a way of life for a reason. It’s not allowing positivity to break through which summons up bad vibes and cause unwanted events to occur; it’s instead negativity breeds more negativity, which makes me aware of just how selfish I’m being. Because denying myself happiness isn’t selfless—instead it’s supreme selfishness. I’m thinking of my current emotion, dwelling on the potential bad, and turning a quick moment of happiness to be a pity party of hypotheticals. It’s the worst kind of selfishness—it’s ego masquerading as some kind of weird joy martyr.

…so now what?

I, like another witty, balding child comic pal Calvin, demand euphoria. I yearn for total calm and complacency with no interruptions from stressful situations. But, let’s face it, that’s just too damn unrealistic. If our comic and cartoon pals can’t achieve it, how can us mere humans? Maybe those small moments of happiness aren’t big enough to wipe away the bad shit in this world—but how could anything? Circumstances beyond my control are just that—beyond my control. What’s the use in dwelling on what can’t be controlled? Instead, it would be much more worthwhile to allow my awareness of my own personal happiness enable me to be a positive change among others in my life. Why not turn those “selfish” moments of happiness to selfless acts of kindness toward others?

Lucy: Why do you think we’re put here on earth, Charlie Brown?
Charlie Brown: To make others happy.

Of course, as I’m writing this and thinking about how happy I am to have almost completed it, the truths I’ve learned about myself, and the steps I can take to improve my well-being, all I keep thinking is, “Great, now you’ve learned to conquer this—what awful thing is going to happen to you tomorrow?” “How wrong are you prepared to be?” “What if no one likes this or agrees?”

There’s still time for me, yet.

“I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.”

Me too, ol’ Chuck, me too.

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@jamieleerotante, @lauracollinsart