A Laur by any other name 🌹

That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,

Though having a family name makes such a loving bond concrete.

For 18 years I resided under a roof of abuse and pain,

But through such struggle and homestead strife, a warrior I became.

I kept my family’s secrets. I told myself “be tough.”

Until I realized the fight was bigger than me, enough was finally enough.

Families come in shapes and sizes, no two exactly the same.

But the role of a family is to raise you up, and to that family, I dedicate my name.

Today I start anew, off to new heights I go,

Grandpa, I wish you could see me now.

I am a Serpico.

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In the end, it really does matter…

I wasn’t always the happy go lucky girl I am today. Growing up, most of what others knew of me was a facade. I would wake up with the weight of the world on my shoulders, pull up my big girl pants, and go out and face the day. On the surface, there were no red flags that would make someone think, “Hey, that girl is dealing with some serious shit.” In fact, I’d be the one you’d pick out of a crowd that seemingly had it all together. That’s the thing about mental health, it comes in all shapes and sizes. The happy, the sad, the A+ student, the football player, the female, the male… Everyone is vulnerable.

There’s no such thing as a mental health check up, but there should be.

We take care of our physical health, our dental health, our gynecological health… why is it so hard to take care of our mental health? I’ll tell you why. Because sometimes, we don’t even know that there’s a problem. Sometimes, we’re so deep within our own issues that we become blind to life outside of them. Sometimes, the mental health issues we’re dealing with aren’t even our own. We’re just experiencing the trickle down effect of living with someone who is depressed. Or has a problem with substance abuse. Or has a personality disorder. But we don’t feel like we can claim these problems as our own, so we sweep them under the rug and keep living surviving.

Other times, we’re fully aware that we’re not living a mentally sound life. It’s been said that awareness is therapy, but awareness alone is not enough. Sometimes awareness is just enough to scare the shit out of us. We’re aware that there’s a problem, but do not think that there is a solution. So we turn to drugs. Or self harm. Sometimes, when we want to escape the mental hell we’re living in, we pour all of ourselves into something that we love. Some people find solace in expression, so they turn to art. Or dance. Or music. After the release of “One More Light”, Chester Bennington said in an interview, “If it weren’t for music, I’d be dead. One hundred percent.”

I can’t tell you what the answer is, because each person has to find it within themselves. What I will tell you, though, is this is impossible to do on your own. Asking for help isn’t as easy as it seems. You may feel embarrassed or vulnerable. You may think your problem is way too big, and nobody could ever understand. You may think that no matter what you do, nothing will change. But I’d like to slap that sort of thinking out of your mind.

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If you take one thing out of this post, let it be this: you are not alone. There is so much living out there to be done, don’t spend your time on this earth trapped in a mental prison. You deserve so much more than that. There are so many people out there ready to help you, you just have to take that first step.

I spent some of the toughest days of my childhood listening to Linkin Park. Their music made me feel like I was not alone. Like I wasn’t the only one who could experience such anger. Such disappointment. Such raw emotion. Looking back, it makes me realize that Chester Bennington had to have put up one hell of a fight. My heart is truly saddened to hear the news of his death, but it saddens me even more to think of the internal struggle that he carried with him for 41 years.

After Chris Cornell’s suicide, Chester Bennington said, “I pray that you find peace in the next life.” I wish the same for you, Chester.

Things aren’t the way they were before
You wouldn’t even recognize me anymore
Not that you knew me back then
But it all comes back to me in the end.

This is not a political rant, but rather a piece that has been written from a place of love, understanding, and compassion… 

Two nights ago, I fell asleep on the couch between my mom and sister watching the map of the USA turn red… blue…red… blue…

At about 3am, I woke up to the headline, “Donald Trump, president of the United States.” My heart sank into the depths of my stomach. I looked at my mom, who was still awake, and always has some words of wisdom to offer. She was silent, shaking her head in disbelief. I looked at my sister, who was fast asleep. Tranquil. Unknowing.

I went upstairs, and I cried.

I’ve never considered myself a political person. Republican, Democrat, Left, Right, Red, Blue, Donkey, Elephant… to me, we’re all humans. Humans living in the United States, with the freedom to be whatever we aspire to be. With the freedom to do so with pride. We each have our individual stories, making us who we are. We’ve developed different world outlooks based upon these backgrounds, and we have the freedom to celebrate these differences, and to speak out about them. To me, that’s what makes America, America.

It bothers me when I see people on social media telling others; OMG shut up already. The election is over! Deal with it! Signing off social media until this BS is over. Hashtag peace sign.” Some may argue that social media is not the place for politics. But, as someone who has been taught to “use my words”, I ask- where should we voice these opinions?

No, I don’t agree with people attacking each other based upon their beliefs. In fact, I highly oppose it. However, let’s have educational conversations and consider one another’s viewpoints. Learn from them. Grow from them. And with that, here is my own:

First and foremost, my stance is reflective of the psychosocial implications of a Trump presidency. There are people out there who know way more about politics than I do. But, when it comes to feeling helpless, feeling lost, or feeling alone… I consider myself an expert in the field. Educational credentials are one thing, and I’ve got plenty of em, but as far as personal experience goes, that is knowledge that has no bounds.

In the post I have written on World Mental Health Day , I gave insight into the mentally unhealthy life I once lived. My home was under a tyrannical rule, led in such a way that makes it easy for a girl to stop believing in herself. There is a concept in psychology called learned helplessness, where an individual that has been exposed to an inescapable, repeated, painful stimuli will fail to learn how to get out of such a situation, and in essence, make helplessness their default response.

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States serves as a trigger for me. As someone who has broken the cycle of learned helplessness, I’d like to remind anyone reading that it is possible. You are not helpless in this situation, as defeating as it may seem. Don’t lose hope. You’re not alone. What terrifies me though, is the implications on those who are currently living in an abusive household. If Trump’s presidency can trigger someone who has successfully removed herself from a tough situation, it breaks my heart to think how women are feeling that are living with their husband who tells them that they’re not good enough. How daughters are feeling that are getting stricken by their fathers: physically, mentally, or emotionally. It is hard enough to break the cycle of abuse. To try to muster the courage to do so while seeing Donald Trump rise to power, that is an uphill battle. 

Eleanor Roosevelt has once said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent….But boy, will they try. The list of communities that are proclaiming that Donald Trump is not their president are sending a very powerful message. Rather than dubbing them unpatriotic or “sore losers”, let’s really stop to think about what they’re trying to say. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine you were a teenage boy who grew up knowing that your sexual orientation isn’t the same as the masses. Imagine being of a race, religion, or social profile that doesn’t fit the mold. The Trump campaign hasn’t exactly sent out a message of unconditional positive regard. Empathy is a key personality trait of leadership, and those that are proclaiming #NotMyPresident feel this lack of empathy to their core.

We must not lose sight of the great progression that our nation has made in understanding and advocating for women, minorities, the environment, immigrants, the LGBTQ community. A Trump presidency does not erase this. In fact, my hope is that it will propel us to work even harder to support the organizations that are fueled by empathy. Celebrities such as Nick Kroll and John Mulaney have even spoken out on social media about such organizations that would truly benefit from the kind hearts of other empathetic souls. (Those organizations can be found here). It is awesome to see those in the public eye that have transformed their sadness and anger in a constructive way. I believe that is what we all should be doing. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel angry, or scared. But wallowing does not solve any problems. Neither does blame, or backlash. As Gandhi has once said, we must be the change that we wish to see in the world.

Social learning, as introduced by Albert Bandura, is a concept of social psychology that highlights the influence of role models. Call me crazy, but I believe the President of the United States should be the creme da la creme of role models, and as it stands, the thought of that terrifies me. If I had a child, I would not want them to look up to Donald Trump as their role model. While his tactics have led him to financial success, and may even render successful in helping the economy of the US, it goes against the ethics and morals of what we hope to instill in our generation, and those to come. I have heard children describe Donald Trump as a bully. Whether their opinions are based off of what they’ve seen on TV, or heard in their households, this is the picture that is painted in their malleable minds. According to Corinne Gregory’s blog,  Obama’s 2012 budget included a commitment of $132M in funding to anti-bullying. Let’s hope that in that time we’ve developed and fostered some sound coping and resiliency methods, because we sure are going to need them.

Last night, after getting off the subway, I walked past a cluster of people writing notes on post its and sticking them to the wall. The #subwaytherapy messages had one outstanding message: love. That’s the note I’d like to leave this post on. As water was to the wicked witch of the West, love is to hatred. Easier said than done, of course. But we’re given one life— and it was never promised to be a fair one. There will be obstacles thrown at us that seem bigger than our body, with this election being one of them. Live life with a loving heart, an open mind, and an empathetic soul… even when you feel like you are the only person in the world. I promise that you are not. Seek help when you need it, and don’t give into the the temptation of arguing with the ignorant babble others. No matter who our president is, never forget that you are a beautiful soul who is worthy of the world.

-Lauren DiTo, MS-Applied Psychology, PhD Student- General Psychology

Imagine an alien came down to Earth, and asked you to describe the taste of water. How would you do it?

Trying to describe the nondescript taste of water, to me, is the equivalent of trying to describe what it’s like to live in an unhealthy mental state. There is nothing to compare it to. It just is.

Now, imagine this alien takes you back to their planet, and gives you a taste of what water is to them. Suddenly, you can describe what you have been drinking your whole life by comparison. You have gained a fresh perspective into a different world, allowing you to reanalyze your baseline norm.

I did not have a comprehension of how detrimental my mental state was until I learned what positive mental health was. This is a petrifying thought. For 18 years, I lived in a figurative cage— bounded by the confines of mental health. I went for physicals every year… I was a healthy specimen. I was an honor roll student, had hobbies, interests, and a great group of friends. Yet, I was ridden by anxiety—- but that was my norm. I was use to the apprehensive fears that would keep me up at night, because that’s how everyone feels, right?

My anxious mental state was just a drop in the bucket compared to the bigger issues surrounding them. For 18 years, I dealt with problems that were bigger than myself. They all revolved around one thing—- mental health. But, it was not my own mental health that consumed me, it was my Dad’s.

Have you ever met someone who had behaviors so ridiculous that you just attributed it to, “oh, that’s just who they are.” Well, let me tell you, one glance at the index of a psychology textbook will tell you, there is a rhyme and a reason for everything.

I know of many people who have grown up with a parent or loved one that was ill. Disorders of the heart, brain, muscular or skeletal system are apparent, but disorders of the mind or personality are not so easily recognizable. Sometimes, in the most frustrating of cases, the disorders aren’t even recognized by the person who is suffering. In these cases of denial, the suffering falls upon those around them. Suffering becomes a part of everyday life, but you learn to put on your big girl pants and deal with it, because everyone is dealing with something, no?

I am here to tell you, nobody deserves to suffer. You are more than your circumstance, and there is always a way out. Sometimes, you have to fight like hell, but I promise you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone says that life is short, but I think that discredits time spent suffering. I know there are people who look at me, and judge the life that I live. But you know, I wouldn’t challenge these people to try on the shoes that I have once walked in, because they have trekked through a dark, painful, and treacherous past.

Yes, life is short, and there will be suffering that we cannot control. That is inevitable. But we must recognize the things that we can work at— with mental health being at the top of this list. Sometimes, this means making hard decisions, and doing things we don’t want to do— such as seeking treatment. The ratio of those who would benefit from speaking with a mental health professional and those who actually do is incredibly skewed— which I personally think is a MAJOR underlying reason behind many of the problems in our world as a whole, but I digress.

The fact that #WorldMentalHealthDay is trending is a victory for the entire world. Between the election, clowns, and everything in between, we can scroll through a feed of support for those who know what it is like to fight an internal battle. Today is a day that we recognize the warriors who have overcome wars within themselves, and more importantly, letting it be known that you are not alone. There may not always be answers, but there is always someone who will listen to you. Who will understand you. Who will support you. Who will let you know, you are not crazy. No one deserves to feel that the weight of the world is resting on their shoulders. No one deserves to think that “grinning and bearing it” is any way to get through life. You deserve happiness. You deserve mental freedom. You are entitled to your health.