Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

“Remember the times you could have pressed quit but you hit continue.”


Today I had a panic attack.

I felt it coming… there was anxiety building in my chest for most of today but I figured I was just anxious… it happens sometimes. Small spurts of anxiety caused by nothing. I put in my headphones, blasted Anna Nalick’s “Breathe” and concentrated on my own breathing… an anxiety remedy that I discovered when I was a teenager. Despite my best efforts, I had a panic attack.

When I felt the attack coming, I left my desk and went to the park across the street from work to deal with the attack and calm myself down. I made things worse by getting upset over it… I have literally no pressure on me today. There is no logical reason for me to have an attack. I was extremely disappointed in myself. It has been so long since I’ve had an attack and I associate them with a really dark time in my life. I’m a happy person… why am I still dealing with this? I’m finally ‘normal’ and I’m having a panic attack? Is this how life will always be? No matter how much happiness I have in my life, I’ll still be prone to panic attacks? I thought this was something that I was done with.

Anyone who has anxiety knows that worrying only makes it worse. For those who have never had a panic attack… I’ll try my best to explain. Your chest starts tightening – almost as if you’re having an allergic reaction. You have a hard time breathing and your body starts to get numb. It feels like everything is closing in on you, you get dizzy and there’s this feeling of impending and endless doom. When I was younger, I seriously thought that I was dying during an attack. You couldn’t convince me that I was going to be okay. Now I know the symptoms and can recognize it as anxiety… but it still doesn’t make everything go away. If you’re not medicated, then you have to find a way to calm yourself down… which can prove to be hard when you’re freaking out about freaking out.

I was initially disappointed. I can’t find the right words to explain how I felt. I tried so hard for so long to be purely happy with life and now that I’ve achieved that, I feel like any setback jeopardizes my happiness. While I was walking in the park, I thought of Shane Koyczan’s poem, “Instructions for a Bad Day”.

“So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and you’d never make it through. Remember the times you could have pressed quit but you hit continue.”

I told myself I could get through this. I’ve made it through much worse. Instead of being disappointed, I tried to figure out why I felt anxious.

I realized it was because of this weekend. I had such a wonderful weekend. On Saturday night, I spent endless hours with some of the best people I know. Everything felt good… I was peaceful, content and most importantly, completely at ease with myself as a person. I never have to try around them. While I was lying under the stars with a fire keeping me warm and a band keeping me entertained, I was so proud of myself. I was proud of this life I’ve made for myself. I was proud of the decisions I made and my strength through it all. I was proud that I had these people in my life.

Today I wasn’t ready to go back to work. While I never want to go to work, today was different. Today was really hard. It was the contrast that triggered the panic attack. I’m sick of being miserable during the day and I know that I deserve more. I just wanted every day to be like this weekend. I wanted these people to be around me at all times. I wanted to be appreciated and happy and proud of my life. I’m terrified that I’ll never find that balance. I’m ashamed that I preach happiness yet allow myself to be subject to a life I’m not proud of from 9-5.

I listened to Shane’s poem over and over again. I let his words sink in.

“Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices breeds silence… Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on.”

Hope in these situations is not enough. I have a hard time letting other people know that I need help. I’m the one who gives advice… the one who others go to… the one who preaches happiness. I’m not supposed to fall like this. I’m not supposed to be sobbing in a park unable to get my shit together. I knew that it was temporary… I knew that it wasn’t a reflection of my life… I had hope that things would feel better eventually. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to admit that you’re falling apart and aren’t sure if you’re going to be okay.

So I texted a close friend of mine who knows me all too well. I would say her name but I’m afraid that she’ll gouge my eyes out and feed them to bears (that should give everyone enough of a hint as to who this is.) What did she say?

“Whenever I’m really dreading work I like to tell myself it’s because my life outside of work is going so well that I’m feeling the contrast more heavily. Which is a good thing.”

Sometimes she can read my mind so well that I’m sincerely concerned she implanted a device in my ear while I was sleeping (something she’s probably capable of). In Shane’s poem, he says this:

“Be forthright. Despite your instinct to say ‘it’s alright, I’m okay’ – be honest. Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose. If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong.”

Say what you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity. I want to be known as happy and strong… but to continue that streak, I have to reach out when I’m falling. I have to let people I trust know that I need help. I know all too well that everyone has been there before… I’m not perfect and others won’t expect me to be. No one is going to be disappointed because I’m having a bad day. Anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed about. It’s a disorder that I live with. It’s genetic. My friend literally made me cry by pointing that out in the most beautiful way… “You’ve come so far with your anxiety, let this be a reminder of that.”

About four years ago, I didn’t think I could ever be happy. I thought that was an emotion for someone else. Something that I felt as a child… but now it’s over. Today I am so damn happy… bad days are just a reminder of the pain I no longer feel daily.

One panic attack doesn’t mean that I’m no longer happy. It just means that I’m human.

You can still be happy despite your disorders or conditions. Life can still be good.

Happiness is always an option.