How Social Media, Happiness, and Mental Health Are All Part of the Same Narrative

By May 29, 2015 Just Me

Trigger Warning: Mention of suicide and suicide prevalence.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of images and conversations popping up in my  Facebook feed to the tune of “Keep any unhappy news off of face book. You are bringing everyone down.”  Stuff like that up there. In the past, I may have nodded in agreement, perhaps smirked at the snark and scrolled on. But recently, I been thinking a lot about the roll social media plays in society.

The other day I was listening to a podcast by author Gretchen Rubin who’s famous for writing The Happiness Project (which I have read but that’s for another day). The topic of social media came up and her co-host and sister Elizabeth Kraft, mentioned that she found out someone she considered to be a good friend was moving to Italy via a Facebook post. That struck me as both strange and completely normal at the same time.

The way we communicate is different than it was in even the recent past. I graduated from high school almost 10 years ago to the day. We had MySpace (Facebook was a baby bird populated solely by early adopters) but  at that point in my life, I called my friends on the phone or loitered in the mall if I wanted to talk to them. Social media wasn’t a way to communicate daily. It was kind of like your bedroom wall displayed on the internet for everyone to see. Texting was a thing but smart phones weren’t so it was tedious and only worth doing if you were killing time in the back row of Algebra class. Now, I don’t even have my phone number on my business card because I would rather communicate via email and answer exactly 0% of calls from unknown numbers.  We used to see each other, not Facetime but actual face time. We would  call each other on the phone in tears or yelping in joy or make an emergency lunch date to talk in person whenever something big, good or bad happened. Now we find out that our friends are moving across the ocean only because a carefully tended Facebook algorithm decided it was important enough to climb to the top of an ever propagating overload of information.

Which brings us to another topic, which is mental health.  Many of you have probably heard about the very tragic story of Penn State freshman Madison Holleran who ran and flung her self off the ninth floor of a parking garage and onto the street below.  Since her highly publicized death, her family and friends have scoured her life, including her social media accounts,  looking for insight into what make Madison leap that night.  Her instagram shows a normal, even popular,  successful track athlete training, going to class, drinking a lot of coffee, and partying it up as most coeds do their first year away from home. Her diary tells another story, one where she is literally begging for help. What if she had been more open about the severity of her depression in those days leading up to her death, would she be alive? If it was socially acceptable to post “emo” material to Facebook would someone have been able to de-rail the swift moving train that took Madison straight off the side of that parking garage?

Social media is an amazing tool. It brings us together in ways that were never before possible. We can video chat with friends on the other side of the nation, share photos with a friend who in in Africa serving in the Peace Corp or the Army. We can meet people to collaborate with and even find jobs. It’s also a false front to a very complicated maze that makes up a whole person. It’s our best, most interesting selves. Exciting trips. Luxurious meals. Social events so fancy even Scarlett O’Hara would find herself green with envy. White wedding dresses, adorable puppies, and round-checked babies with perfectly coiffed hair and clean faces.  Posts about broken down cars, paychecks eaten up in entirety by a single month’s rent, spending a Friday night alone for the umpteenth time, a particularly viscous fight with a trust friend, the struggle to get a developmentally delayed child the resources they need to succeed, or another negative pregnancy test after a year of trying, are too raw, too honest for social media consumption.

Then the  problem with the way we consume social media is then two-fold.

The first is that we are looking at the crem de la crem of a life, and even then we feel compelled to run them through a filter, making them even more shiny  and perfect than they really were.  We look at other people’s posts and uploads and we translate that into them being more happy and fulfilled than we are. Even knowing that we meticulously cultivate our own accounts, we can’t seem to grasp that most people are probably doing the same thing.  Science tells us that the more we consume the worse we feel about our own lives. A study done by the University of Michigan showed that anxiety and loneliness amongst college aged people increased with their Facebook use. At 28, I’ve found myself feeling that way frequently, to the point that I almost deleted my Facebook page until I realized I needed it for work anyway. How much more would I be affected by it if I was a teenager and social media had been deeply engrained into my life from the get go? How impossible would honesty about feelings of depression and suicide be if I was constantly surrounded by perfect prom dresses, hunky quarterback boyfriends, and smiling supportive parents?

The second is that because the way we communicate has shifted, and some topics aren’t approved via these next methods, issues that need to be talked about aren’t being talked about at all. People feel unable to share how they are truly doing on Facebook or in real life because they feel isolated in their struggles.  That well-maintained feed on information we put out online is creating riffs between people unnecessarily. We might be sitting with a friend talking about a trip to an exclusive resort in Jamaica when we really want to talk about the fact that a five-year romantic relationship is in such a disarray we don’t plan on sitting next to each other on the plane. The listener might be able to help or even have something just as heavy weighing them down , but instead she’s waiting for her turn to talk about a weekend in Palm Springs because for all she knows, your life is just how it looks online.  No one wants to be the only person who can’t seem the keep their head above water at a pool party where everyone else is skinny and beautiful and sipping on a martini.   No one wants to be vulnerable alone.

I once saw someone say people who posted negative anecdotes to social media were blinking neon arrows that said “Needs attention!” All posts to social media are calls for attention. Look at me. Look at my beautiful life or my beautiful latte or my beautiful new car. Its unfair to punish someone for seeking out actual heartfelt attention, perhaps needed attention that could prevent them from harming themselves under dire circumstances or an imbalance of brain chemistry.

In the United States, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people ages 10-24. Every year suicide is responsible for more young adult deaths than AIDS, heart disease, cancer, stroke, pneumonia, chronic lung disease, and birth defects, combined ; everyday approximately 5,400 youth suicide attempts are made. Mental health issues are not isolated to young people. In fact, according to the CDC suicide is the 10th leading cause of death across all age groups in the US.

Someday my kid is going to have problems that are much more serious than scrapped knees and school yard disagreements. And she’ll probably have an account on whatever Instragram looks like in 10 years. I’m not sure if social media will change even by the time my now four year old is deemed old enough to delve into it. It makes us feel good to know other people think we lead almost perfect lives. I would love to see more openness and willingness to accept that sometimes people need others to help validate and regulate their feelings and sometimes the only way we have to communicate with people is through social media.

I’d like to try and experiment. Post a photo from a social media account in the comments but give the whole story. Not just the smiles but the 100% true story. This is mine. Harper and I fight about her hair all the time. She hates having her hair brushed and I hate brushing it because I know how much she hates it. She screams like I’m killing her before the brush even touches her head and there are days where he hair goes unbrushed because I don’t have the energy or the patience to deal with it. It took over an hour to her this braid done even though she begged me to do it. It should have taken like 10 minutes instead it was an hour of empty threats and tears.  Not a big deal but not the idyllic scene that plays through your head when you think of a mother, daughter hair braiding session.


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Hate is Easy but Love is Strong : “Hate is… It’s too easy. Love. Love takes courage.” – Hannah Harrington

By May 9, 2015 Just Me, Motherhood

Often this world seems so full of terrible things that I can barely stand it.  I see things I cannot unsee and I read things I cannot unread. Today was one of those days. Homophobia, sexism, racism, bigotry engrained into society, so deep under the skin of American culture that it skirts by unnoticed under the guise of humor or opinion.

When it comes down to it, hate is easy and love is hard. There are things in this world that are easy to love. Babies, ice cream, and snuggies all come to mind, but on a whole life is easier when we allow ourselves to judge and vilify rather than to understand and accept and dare I say befriend.  Hate is easier than choosing to love someone who is different :  someone who kneels before a deity whose name feels foreign in your mouth, someone whose skin contains more or less melanin than your own, someone who chooses a real honest love over your idea of convention , someone who communicates in a language that is alien to your ears. Hate is easier than looking into ourselves and seeing the prejudice that lies their in a comfortable bed we’ve built around it. It takes a lot of energy but very little thought. Hate, like water, takes the path of least resistance.

Sometimes this world feels so tarnished that I am embarrassed to have brought a child into it. I look at her and my own fear churns wildly . What seed of hate will be planted in her when I am not around? What racist or sexist comment will take root in the still forming gyri of her brain and grow until it’s as much a part of her as those big blue eyes that are so open and accepting of the world around her?

Hate is dark and pungent and pervasive but it cannot snuff out love entirely. The little light of hope and understanding is a tiny firefly in a pitch black field on a night with no moon.  But that light is bright, it is different, it is unmistakable, and it is impossible to ignore.  And love is stronger. A life preserver in a wide, wild sea. It floats in spite of the choppy water, it buoys the tallest waves.  It refuses to sink, even under the weight of an entire ocean.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it most eloquently when he said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And so on nights like tonight I will squint and search for that little lightning bug. I will cup it gently in my palm and give it a safe place to rest for its work is important and its journey is long.

Photo Credit : Digital Photo

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What a Morbidly Obese Person Would Like You To Know About Being Overweight

By April 28, 2015 Guest Posts and Interviews, I Would Like You To Know
What I Would LIke You to Know

This is the fifth in a series of guest posts in a series called “I Would Like You To Know”. In an attempt to create a space for people of all races, religions, creeds, ethnicites, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, and socio-economic statuses I am seeking guest blog posts. If you would like to share your unique background, I would love to hear and share your story. Email me at Rachel[@] with your name, a link to your blog, and a brief synopsis of your story with the title “As a _________ I would like you to know” in the subject box. You fill in the blank and the subsequently the gaps in our collective knowledge.


Writing about being fat is tough. I don’t mean that it’s tough emotionally – even though that’s true – or that it’s difficult to find the right words. Writing about being fat is tough because most people are well intentioned when discussing it, absolutely everyone has an opinion about it, and, at least on this topic, nearly everybody is full of bullshit.

But I’ll give it a shot anyway.
First, a bit about me. I’m a 32-year-old American living in Canada, a former teacher, former professional poker player, and novelist. I lived in South Korea for three years and was given the “Teacher of The Year” award in Seoul. I taught Shakespeare and Lois Lowry and Jerry Spinelli and How I Met Your Mother and Taylor Swift and How The Grinch Stole Christmas to middle school students who listened with rapt attention (sometimes, anyway). At the poker table I’ve joked with Chinese aristocrats who would spend half a million dollars in a weekend. I watched guys win – and lose – enough money to buy a house on the spin of a roulette wheel. I once personally lost over $3,500 on a single hand of poker… and still ended up ahead by the time the game was over. And that’s not a lifetime bio – that’s one year of my life.

I’m not trying to brag. I just want you to know ahead of time that I am a whole person. I am smart, funny, focused, and hardworking. I’m sarcastic and cynical and loving and compassionate. My friends and family know this. Unfortunately, most other people don’t, because, well, I’m fat.

Let me be clear. I’m not chubby. I’m not husky. I don’t need to lose a few pounds. I am “holy shit look at that guy,” “dead in ten years, surprising no one” fat. I’m 5’8’’ and, at my highest weight, was 383 pounds. I am never not the biggest guy in the room.

I’ve always been overweight. Even at my most active – as a middle school wrestler – I looked like a fat kid. Even though I was faster and stronger than anyone else my weight and doing over a hundred sit ups a day as part of 3-4 hours of strenuous daily exercise, I still had a gut.

The temptation now is to share with you all the things I’m doing to lose weight, exactly how active I am, what I eat, and every other contributing factor to my weight, in an attempt to justify myself. That’s how it always goes. The questions, which are sometimes implied and sometimes asked outright are, “How the hell did you get so fat?” and “Why don’t you stop being fat?!”

Ah, if only it were that simple. A lot of times you’ll hear someone say, “just eat less and exercise more, and you’ll lose weight!” This is the point where the fat people reading chuckle, and the skinny people don’t get the joke.

I don’t weigh this much because I decided I’d rather die of a heart attack for a hot dog than live a long and healthy life. No one makes that decision. For those of us who are morbidly obese, food is an addiction. Take a second to really soak that in. Addiction. Telling someone who is massively overweight to simply eat less and eat better is like telling a lifelong alcoholic to have fewer beers or a meth addict to do fewer drugs. It may be truthful advice, but how that works out is a lot more complicated.

Food is everywhere. Go for a walk in the city, and half the businesses you pass will be pubs and convenience stores and McDonalds. Watch TV and characters are eating in half the scenes. Half the commercials are food advertisements. My gym even has vending machines in the lobby.

Hell, even the weight loss clinic – where I go for weekly support meetings and as part of a medically supervised fast – has a vending machine and a coke machine in it. It’s like having your AA meetings in a bar. Because every building is a bar. And you have to drink a beer or two a day to survive. While battling alcoholism.
Food is in our social rituals. Go to Christmas with the family and spend all day eating. Go to the movies and grab some popcorn. Hang out with friends and hit the pub or order a pizza. Wake up in the morning and have some coffee to jump start the day. Stay up late working and get some soda or some junk food to keep going. Spend a day at the mall and hit the food court for a break. Even our weddings and funerals center heavily around food.

These rituals, along with the brain chemistry of consuming large amounts of sugar, fat, and salt, make it indescribably difficult to stop once you’re addicted. When I wake up in the morning I essentially have two options – spend the entire day completely unable to focus, obsessed about food, unable to think about anything else, angry, irritable, essentially incapacitated, OR have some fatty unhealthy food, and be my normal smart, funny, focused, capable self.

Eating healthy does not help. I can have a healthy, nutritious breakfast that tastes far better than any crappy leftover pizza or shawarma. It doesn’t matter. Even after being completely full, my brain still torments me unceasingly, seeking the buzz that comes from junk food. It’s not a lack of calories or nutrients. It’s a mental and physical addiction to the pleasure the body receives from high sugar, high fat food.

For the addicted, it’s really that overpowering: Become an incapacitated, tormented rage beast incapable of processing emotion or performing basic life functions, or have a burger. It’s no surprise that a lot of people choose the burgers.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be healthy. I’m not saying we shouldn’t lose weight. Guys like Chris Farley and John Candy were dead in their 30s and 40s, and that’s way, way, too soon. Our food addiction is killing us. I know it is. I can feel it in my body. But let’s stop pretending the solution is as simple as eating a bit less pizza and buying a treadmill.

Update and extra thoughts: I am currently being medically treated for my obesity. I attend a weekly support group where each of us are monitored by a team of doctors and medical professionals as we undergo a three month fast – 900 calories a day of protein shakes, no other food – along with six months of intensive behavioral therapy. I’d say it’s working. After almost two months with no food, I’d say the overpowering, crippling desire for fatty food has diminished by 50% thanks to the physical detox and behavioral training.

The program has what is considered an extremely high success rate of helping people lose weight and keep it off. That success rate: around 30%.
* * *
Isaac Jourden is the author of the novel Petty, which on the surface is about a young aspiring con artist working in an amusement park, but actually about a bunch of assholes trying to figure out how to be adults. His interests include board games, writing, cooking, Doctor Who, and being a parent. He writes occasionally on these topics at

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My Kid’s Bad Behavior Made Me a Better Parent

By April 23, 2015 Family and Friends, Le Guppy, Motherhood
Little girl laughing and playing at the beach

For a while, Harper’s been struggling with what we refer to as random bouts of bad behavior. On the whole she’s always been pretty level-headed. In fact she never threw a single temper tantrum until she was well past the 4 year mark. Mostly it made being a mom pretty easy. Sure there were sleepless nights and that time when she puked up hotdog all over me. And once she took off in a full sprint at Disneyland. She is kind, energetic, and empathetic. She is curious and interested.  She is very spirited, very opinionated. She gets that from her mama but she was early to talk and her vocabulary is fairly extensive. She is able to tell us how she feels and what she needs.

But for a while, she didn’t. She was suddenly none of those things. She was difficult, disruptive, and dare I say a little mean. She didn’t care how anyone around her felt. And the littlest request of correction was sending her into what can only be called a fit of rage. No person or item was safe or spared. I’m embarrassed to say it would usually end in yelling, on her part and mine. And tears, for both of us. It was exhausting. I felt like a bad mom, and she felt like a bad kid.

The problem was me. Yeah, I’m admitting it. Publically and hesitantly. There are a lot of parental checkpoints I pass through with proficiency. Every night I check her teeth for stray sugarbugs. I dutifully hold her in my lap as she weeps through vaccinations. She eats her vegetables and likes them. I avoid red dye and processed foods. I make her play outside and limit how much time she spends in front of the TV. Check, check, check. I hug her and kiss her and tell her I love her every single day. Flying colors. What was missing was my time. Undivided time.

I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of times I’ve answered her requests with “Not right now.” or “I’m too busy.” I am busy. I’m a writer and I run my own fledgling photography business . Even so that’s not a good excuse when your child is so desperate for 100% of your attention that they will get it by any means necessary. It wasn’t until I heard her talking to her imaginary friend Lucy on her imaginary cellphone that I put the jigsaw pieces together. I was tapping away on the computer on the living room but I could hear the sounds of Harper playing in her room. Legos forming castles and space ships. Tiny pots and pans clanking together and then clear as the bell “I can’t play with you right now. Don’t you see how busy I am with these emails?” punctuated with an annoyed huff. She nailed it. I could hear every perfect intonation as though it was straight from my own mouth.

The next time she threw a temper tantrum. I hugged her. I didn’t yell and I didn’t exile her to the designated time out spot on top of the washer. She was angry and she struggled and then her ever lengthening arms wrapped around my neck in reciprocation. A tiny little olive branch in the middle of an overwhelming storm. When she calmed down we talked. We talked about being angry and being sad. We talked about what reactions are acceptable and which ones aren’t. Later that day as I attempted to coax her into nap, a battle in and of itself, she curled into me, cheeks still tear damp and whispered “I’m sorry, Mama.” so softly and sweetly that I had to strain to hear it, even in the dark quiet of my bedroom.

Four is hard. Her body is growing. She is getting taller and smarter. Her life and schedule are more complicated. Her brain is expanding and her reality is forming. And it wasn’t about me. I was so angry that she wasn’t listening, that I forgot to listen. I had expected grown up behavior from my four year old and when I didn’t get it, I assumed she was doing it to punish me for my shortcomings as a parent. She wasn’t, she was just asking for what she needed in a fail proof way, by acting crazy.

I’ve adjusted my work schedule so when she’s home I wait until she’s drooling into her Scooby Doo pillow pet to settle in with projects that require large chunks of time. Outside of a few emails, clients have to wait their turn. We are working on communicating but even when upset, her outbursts are tiny sparks in comparison to the infernos they were just a few weeks ago. She can still be a real peach and I think that’s part of the age.  Like I said four is hard but it won’t always be like this. In fact in a few months she will be in kindergarten 5 days a week and I will miss these meandering days full of playdoh and laundry basketball and chasing down the ice cream truck before her dad gets home from work. For now, I am embracing 1000 daily questions and pleading eyes begging me for one more round of lava boat. I’m listening this time. Pinky promise, sealed with a kiss.

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