Monday, April 17, 2017

We Need to Talk to Teenagers About Mental Health

Okay, my title is a little broader than what this post entails because it's too long to say "We Need to Talk to High School Students About Mental Health, Specifically Anxiety and Depression," but that's what I'm focusing on here. Of course I think everyone could stand to be a little more educated about all type of mental illnesses, but I don't know enough about them to fairly discuss them. FYI, I also don't know very much about depression because it's not something I deal with, but I will mention it in this post because it is just as common as anxiety and should definitely be talked about. 

(Also, I was planning on putting like one or two photos of me from high school in here for context, but then I took a trip down memory lane and had way too much fun reminiscing, so you get to see a lot more of me than you planned. #sorrynotsorry) 

It's has only been a few years since I left high school, so I remember being a teenager and how it is a really hard time for a lot of reasons. Mental health can be something adults and teens both neglect because as a teenager, you are experiencing so many changes and fears and stresses that it's easy to think everything you're going through is totally normal. And a lot of the time, it is. You can be anxious about a test without actually have an anxiety disorder. You can be depressed about breaking up with your girlfriend without having depression. But it is still very possible to have one of these in the form of a real mental illness, so it is so important that teenagers know what symptoms to look for and how to get help. 

To start off, here are some stats for you: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "in 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17." The NIMH defines a major depressive episode as "a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image."

The NIMH also reported that 25.1% of 13 to 18 year-olds suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 5.9% of 13 to 18 year-olds have a severe anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include not only general anxiety, but post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and different phobias. Only a fraction of teens with anxiety and/or depression are being treated for it.

There are a lot of reasons to talk to high school students about anxiety and depression, but first off a huge one is that mental illness (usually depression) is often linked with suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth ages 10-18, and each year there are over 5,000 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12. 

That was really hard for me to write. How sad is that? I know not every suicide attempt is because of anxiety or depression, and not every teen with anxiety or depression thinks about suicide, but it is definitely a factor, and I firmly believe if teens knew more about resources and help they could get, that rate would go down.

As I've gotten older and have gone through this sort of "journey" of realizing I have anxiety and learning how to deal with it, I've thought a many times about how much easier this would have been if I had simply known more about anxiety when I was younger and started experiencing symptoms.

It wasn't until I got to college that I had even assumed anxiety was a possible way to explain how I felt. I thought anxiety, and mental illness in general, was narrowed to severe cases that only a doctor could prescribe. Even after I read and learned a lot more about the illness, I still didn't think it could apply to me because I didn't realize how common it was and the different forms it could take. Doing this research on my own was a) pretty lonely, and b) harder because I didn't have a confident confirmation that my anxiety was valid. It would have helped so much to hear just one other person say "this is normal and it's okay."

I'm not going to go over all the different types and symptoms of anxiety and depression here because it would take way too long, but we NEED to talk to teens about them, along with solutions and resources that are available. 

This is me in high school. I had a big group of friends, most of whom I had known since elementary school, and I was actively involved in many clubs and sports with them. I did student government, was on the cross-country and track team, was a member of National Honor Society, helped start a club, and I was a member of WDFY (drug-free youth). I did well in my classes and had good relationships with my teachers, and I was actively involved in my church and youth group. I was really happy.

What you can't see is the sometimes crippling anxiety I dealt with on a daily basis. Every night I would struggle to fall asleep because I was so worried about things I had done that day and things I would do tomorrow. I had intense, vivid nightmares at least once a week. Every day I stressed out over what I wore, how I looked, and what people thought about me. What I considered to be a stupid comment or action would haunt me for days. Every day I wondered if my best friends, people I had known and loved for years, still liked me. 

Class presentations would make me sweat and shake, so much that once I had to physically hold me leg because it was shaking so badly. Every single class period I would wonder if we were going to get into partners or groups, and I would frantically figure out who I could partner with and what to do if they chose someone else. Walking down the hallway I felt like everyone was staring at me and judging how I looked or how I walked. In sports, I worried not only about how I performed, but what people would think of me if I didn't do well in a race, and how they would compare me to my friends who did better then me. 

I could go on and on since anxiety really affected all aspects of my life. But all throughout high school, I didn't know it was anxiety. I thought either this was how everyone felt all the time, or that I legitimately was a loser. Neither reason made me feel any better. I wasn't able to start healing until I learned about what I had.

Talking to teenagers about anxiety and depression isn't going to cure them immediately if they have it. But knowledge is so, so important. There are so many outlets and options out there for people struggling with mental illness, from friends and therapists to online chat rooms and videos and everything in between. I was at my lowest point with my anxiety less than a year ago, and since accepting I have it and trying to figure out what makes me feel better, I have seen so much improvement in my life. It's still something I deal with every day, but it is manageable now. I feel so much better about my life, and I know I can keep finding new ways to be even happier. 

It doesn't have to be a lot. A couple of class periods in health or an assembly about anxiety and depression can significantly change someone's life. It can even save someone's life. Give those struggling in the dark a glimmer of light they can hold onto, and let them know things can and will get better. No one should feel like they have to work through something like this alone. 

(And okay, okay, here are a few more high school pictures of me because I know you're dying to see them.)

(This photo isn't necessary, I just really liked my letterman's jacket.)

You're welcome. Also thank you for humoring me. But I'm dead serious about the article--talk to teens about mental health!

xoxo Anne

Monday, April 3, 2017

How Eating Healthy Has Helped My Anxiety

I'm going to start this post off by saying I used to hate reading articles that professed things like "Change your diet and cure your anxiety!" or "Eating a handful of cashews daily will make your mental illness disappear!" (yes, I did read that once). So when I write about my anxiety I try really hard not to make definitive statements like that, because everyone's experience is different. Doctors don't prescribe the same medication to every cancer patient.

So. Eating healthy has not cured my anxiety. (I wish, amirite?) But it has helped me in a couple of key ways that I think are significant enough to share. Two ways, to be specific.

#1: Eating healthy makes me feel better physically. No matter how well we actually follow a healthy eating plan, I don't think anyone can deny that eating a balanced diet makes them feel better than when they eat nothing but junk food. I mean, it's science. Your body needs certain nutrients to function correctly, and when you don't give it all the nutrients, you feel sluggish and tired. I'm not going to sit here and say my diet is perfect though. I love Doritos as much as the next girl and can't go to bed without having a handful (or three) of chocolate chips, so I wouldn't consider myself a health nut by any means.

Back in January I was watching a bunch of health food documentaries and realized my diet could definitely use a health boost, so I decided to go vegan for a month. I don't know if I'd consider it a life-changing experience, but I am really, really glad I did it. Cutting out meat and dairy wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it'd be, and I found a lot of awesome plant-based recipes that I still turn to regularly. The biggest thing I got out of it was that I now try to focus my diet on whole foods, which can be challenging especially as a college student with such a hectic schedule, but ultimately makes me feel so much better. I also like being able to really eat as much as I want because when I'm snacking on strawberries and almonds I don't feel guilty if my snack break lasts a little longer than I planned. That also helps with my anxiety- I experience a lot of guilt around food (which is really unhealthy and something I'm continuously working on), but knowing I can't rationally feel bad about eating two apples instead of one gives my mind one less thing to dwell on.

Physical health and mental health totally go hand in hand. When I feel good physically, I feel better mentally, and one of the reasons is:

#2: Eating healthy makes me feel less conscious about my body. Body positivity is something I am constantly on a roller-coaster with. I have days I feel great and days I feel terrible, but most of the time I'm somewhere in the middle. I've mentioned before that my anxiety manifests itself a lot in my confidence and insecurities, so what I eat can really affect how I feel about myself. (Again, I know that's not healthy, but you know, anxiety.) That being said, I don't follow a strict diet and I let myself eat junk food and sweets here and there. But when I try to keep most of my diet clean, it helps me in a couple of ways. First, eating healthy keeps me at a fit and healthy weight. Second, and more importantly, when I eat healthy I know I'm taking care of my body how I should. When I know I'm healthy on the inside, it automatically makes me feel better about my outward appearance regardless of my weight or how I feel like my jeans are fitting that day. And once again, it gives my mind one less thing to freak out about.

So there you go. Like I said, I'm still going to eat chocolate every day and make waffles on Sunday morning, but my life is significantly better when the majority of my diet is healthy. I'm going to keep it up the best I can!

As always, thanks for listening,

xoxo Anne

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

8 Scriptures to Read When You Need Some Comfort

Religion is and always has been an important part of my life. And I've debated talking about religion on this blog because I want to make my content available to everyone and not exclude people who aren't religious, but I think it's fair to talk about something that means so much to me.

I often turn to scripture when I'm feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or any other negative emotion. The scriptures give endless valuable information to those who believe in them, but if I could sum up what they make me feel overall in one word, it would be comfort. In such a crazy, unpredictable world, it's always nice to get a reminder that God loves me and cares about me. So here are some of the verses that always give me the most comfort.

Matthew 19:26

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 11:28 

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Isaiah 40:31 

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

John 14:27

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Psalm 27:1

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Joshua 1:15

“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

Ether 12:27

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Mosiah 4:9

“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

Hope this lifted your day up a little! 

xoxo Anne

Monday, March 20, 2017

Obligatory Post

I've been trying really hard to write at least one blog post a week, which sounds a lot easier than it actually is. It's not the writing part, though, it's figuring out what to write.

Life is sort of at a pleasant stagnant for me right now. Nothing particularly amazing is happening, but nothing bad is happening either. Life is good.

I guess I have one thing: My anxiety was pretty bad yesterday. It was just making me feel very nervous and unsettled. I love church, but sometimes it gets very overwhelming because I have to be around a ton of people I sort of know but not well enough to run up and chat with them. There's also a lot of room-switching, which means figuring out where to sit every time. And treats afterwards mean mingling with people I don't know very well. It'st just a lot sometimes.

So yesterday I went to church, but halfway through the first hour I just needed to get out of there and go somewhere by myself. So I left early, which I've never done before unless it's been a "legit" reason. That was the thing though- I finally realized that my mental health is a legit reason. It's the same as me leaving early if I felt nauseous or had a really bad headache. So I left early, drove to look at the temple for a few minutes, and then went back to my apartment to read my scriptures by myself.

Do what you need to take care of yourself.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Has Helped Me With My Anixety

You know that weird limbo you find yourself in sometimes where time feels like it's flying by, but at the same time so much is happening that you're surprised every time you look at a calendar? That's where I am right now. I think this is the fastest I've felt like a semester has gone by since I started college. And to be fair, everything seems easy to me after last semester (aka the worst semester of my life) but still, I can't believe we're almost halfway done with March! 

That being said, I know it hasn't been very long since 2017 started. Like, 2 1/2 months. But I've been thinking a lot lately, especially in the past couple of weeks, how much my anxiety has improved this year, and I feel like I should wait a little bit longer to say "this is what helped" but I've seen so much improvement this semester that I decided there's no harm in talking about what's helped so far. I still have anxiety, and it still gets really bad sometimes, but overall I have felt a lot better this semester than I have in a long time.

Last semester in late September was the worst my anxiety had ever been. I was in a really dark place, and luckily I was able to find some relief through music and writing, but it was a really, really difficult few months for me. And I know that my schedule had a lot to do with that-- my anxiety manifests itself mostly socially, so things like phone calls and conversations with strangers really aggravate it. And I was in a situation where I was making around ten phone calls a week to complete strangers before interviewing them, each call never failing to make me shake and sweat and panic. Writing for my school's newspaper was a required class for my major, so there wasn't anything I could do about it, but that leads me helpful thing number one:

1. I'm doing things that make me happy. We are all going to find ourselves in situations we don't like that we can't control. I mean, I'm studying journalism for goodness sakes, so I know I'm going to be calling strangers for the rest of my life (even though I never want to work for a newspaper again). For me, the joy I get out of writing and telling stories makes it worth it, which is a big deal. But when you can control what you're doing in your life, whether it's your job, your major, or how often you go out with friends, do what makes you happy. My friends tease me a lot about never socializing, but I need a lot of time by myself to decompress. I am completely happy with where I am as far as my social/volunteer/school life goes, and being OK with that balance has been key in improving my anxiety.

The next thing is another situation that isn't always controllable. I didn't even control this, it just happened and I got really lucky.

2. I have my own room. Every semester I've been at school so far, I've had to share an apartment with five other girls and share a room with one other person. Last semester I was in an apartment with only four girls, and even though I still shared a room, it was really nice to not have so many people around. Then one girl moved out, and the odds were in my favor and I got my very own bedroom. And my goodness, it is hard to describe what a luxury that it. Sharing a room always made me really anxious because I was constantly worrying about being too loud or having a light on too long or when I should ask her to turn the light off or if my stuff was in her way or feeling like she was judging my side of the room or if she could see what I was doing on my computer or a million other things that don't really matter, but you know, anxiety. I also got a lot less sleep last semester because as sweet as my roommate was, she was super loud in the morning and tended to have a lot of alarms go off for no reason. 

But seriously, just being able to come home after a long day of being surrounded by people and know that I can be completely alone for a few hours is indescribable. I've really needed this.

The last thing I'll talk about has a little bit of an intro: From January 10th for February 10th I was a vegan! I had read about it a lot over Christmas break and decided to try it for a month. I was going to write a blog post about it, but I honestly didn't have a ton to say since it wasn't really life-changing for me. The thing that surprised me the most was how easy it was most of the time (I used to hate vegans for saying that, so don't hate me) and how I just felt better overall. I didn't lose weight or see changes in my skin or anything, but I definitely felt better about what I was eating. 

That being said, being vegan has left an impression on me, and I don't try anymore, but I still find myself eating vegan 80 or 90% of the time out of habit. I'm not saying being vegan will cure your anxiety, but:

3. I've been eating healthier, and I know that has played its part in making me feel better. It's pretty simple actually: eating healthier makes me feel better overall, and that includes not only physical well-being but mental well-being as well. I don't worry as much about gaining weight or dying of heart disease (I wasn't eating that unhealthy before but you know, anxiety.) because I know what I'm putting in my body is good for me. I've also been making sure I work out a few times a week, and that combined with healthy eating has made me more confident in myself overall because I know I'm taking care of my body. 

Like I said, I'm not 'completely healed' or anything. I still worry constantly about everything, but I also notice little changes because they are significant to me. I will chase any relief from my anxiety. 

That's all. Thanks for reading, and I wish all of you lovely people the very best. xoxo

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hey You!

Yeah, you.

Here's a picture of a sunrise to remind you that the sun rises every day.

Tomorrow is always a fresh start.

You're doing better than you think you are. I promise.

If things aren't working out right now, they will soon.

Keep fighting for what you believe in. Keep fighting for yourself.

You da bomb.


Monday, February 27, 2017

A Typical Day with Anxiety


Since I've started talking about it, I've been realizing how difficult it can be to explain what it's like to have anxiety. Even after I spend hours crafting a long post or filming a video that I feel like accurately portrays what I want it to, I still get comments like "Well, just stop worrying about it." Sigh. So I'm going to keep trying different ways you can look at it to get a better idea of what this is like.

My anxiety seems to manifest itself mostly in social situations and by making me incredibly self-conscious. This post may seem almost comical because even when I look back through it I think "why would I worry about that," but hopefully you can see just how exhausting even mild anxiety is and be more forgiving to people who deal with these thoughts every day.

A Typical Day with Anxiety

Wake up. What time is is? Did I oversleep? 

Check phone. No, I'm OK. Today is going to be a long day. I have a lot to do. I hope I don't get called on in class. What if I do get called on? Do I know the material well enough? Maybe I should study before class.

Look through social media. I feel like everyone is doing fun things and I'm not. I should do more fun things. I should get out there more. I want to join a club or something. But what if I say something stupid on the first day? Everyone will remember that for the rest of the year. Plus I wouldn't know anyone and it'd be weird to join halfway through the semester and what if no one likes me and then I'd have to plan it around my school and work schedule...I don't think it's worth it.

Get out of bed. Shower. What should I wear today? It's going to be cold in the morning but warm in the afternoon, so do I dress for the cold or for the heat? If I wear a sweater everyone's going to stare at me when it gets hot. But if I wear a t-shirt everyone's going to stare at me as I walk to school and wonder why I'm crazy enough to wear a t-shirt when it's cold outside. 

Get dressed. Put on a jacket. Walk to school. Why is no one else wearing a jacket? Everyone else is in short-sleeves. Am I literally the only person on campus who wore long sleeves today?Everyone is looking at me. I should stop and take off my jacket. But then everyone would think that I wasn't smart enough to check the weather this morning. I'll just get to class quickly. 

Walk into class. Only a couple people are already sitting down. Am I in the right class? I know this is my sixth week of school, but what if I'm not in the right class? Or the professor changed rooms today and I didn't get the memo? Do I recognize any of these people? I don't recognize them. I'll sit in the corner so if this is the wrong class I can leave without anyone noticing.

Other people start to arrive. I recognize her. Thank goodness. This is the right class. I hope we don't have to get into pairs for anything. I don't know anyone here. Who should I ask if we have to partner up? That girl looks nice. Shoot, her friend just sat next to her. Oh, please don't make us pair up.

Professor starts teaching class. I have a thought about that. But no one else is raising their hands about it. Maybe it was a stupid thought. Besides, I never talk in class so if I talked this one time everyone would be super surprised. What if I stutter or something? That would be embarrassing. It's probably not worth it.

Nearing end of class: I hope he doesn't go overtime. I can't be late to my next class. I'll walk in and everyone will stare and watch me until I sit down. My professor might say something to me and then my face would turn red and I wouldn't know what to say and that would be so embarrassing. 

Walking to next class: Everyone is staring at me. Is my backpack unzipped? Is my fly down? Is my shirt getting pulled up? Is there something on my face? Is my hair sticking out? Are my jeans too short? Am I walking funny? Do I look angry? Just stare at the ground and keep walking.

Next class: I'm hungry. But if I eat a granola bar the wrapper will be loud and I'l annoy everyone. But if I don't eat anything my stomach will growl and that will be annoying too. I'll just drink a lot of water. But then I'll have to go to the bathroom and I'm meeting someone for lunch in an hour but if I go before I might be late and I hate it when people are late so I can't go before and risk it but I don't know if I'll have time afterwards. 

Next class: It's getting cold in here. I want to put on my jacket but it's in my backpack and I'd have to unzip it what if it gets caught on my zipper or something and people notice? And what if I'm putting it on and I can't find the other sleeve because I do that a lot and I'm this awkward person struggling to put a jacket on and people tell their friends about me after class? I'll just wait.

Meeting a friend for lunch: Where is she? I'm here at the right time, right? And at the right place? Why hasn't she texted me? Oh no, did I come here on the wrong day? No, it's the right day. Well, I'll just sit here and try to pretend like I'm doing something entertaining and I'm not a loser who doesn't have any friends. I feel like everyone is staring at me again. They probably feel sorry for me.

Friend arrives. Eat and talk: I wonder if I eat weird. Some people look weird when they eat. Am I one of those people? Did I get my reading done for my next class. Oh crap, I forgot. I hope there isn't a quiz. And if there is I hope it isn't one of those where we have to grade each other's work because the person grading mine will see that I missed all the questions and they'll think it's funny and think I'm a slacker or I'm stupid.

Lull in conversation: Oh no, we ran out of things to say. What do I say? Say something. I'm so boring. I bet she only joined me for lunch because she felt bad for me. She probably doesn't want to be here. She doesn't really want to be my friend. She probably goes back to her friends and jokes about how awkward I am. No, that's mean. She's too nice to do that. But she still probably doesn't want to be here.

Next class: I have that movie thing on Friday. Why did I agree to do that? No, I like these people and I should hang out with them. I spend so much time by myself. I should get out more. But I like spending time by myself. What if there are people I don't know? What time should I get there? What if I can't find parking? What if I go to the wrong apartment? What should I wear?

Work: I'm only going to know a few people there I bet. I'll just talk to them the whole time and follow them around. But what if I annoy them? I know I annoy people when I do that. I'm like a child. What will I talk about? What if the people I know leave for something? What if they aren't there at all? What if I have the date wrong? What if I say something stupid? What if I make a joke and no one laughs? What time should I leave? How can I get out of it?

Getting home: Finally. Alone. 

Falling asleep: Hey, let's worry about that party again. *Repeats every thought of the day. Remembers how I raised my hand in class and my professor didn't notice so I had to put it down all awkwardly even though everyone noticed. Thinks about what my interview is going to be like for a job I might apply for in two years. Relives that time I slipped on the ice and fell off the bus in the seventh grade. Thinks about how I'm never going to accomplish anything because my ideas are all stupid. Also thinks about how I'm not working hard enough at my goals so I need to step that up.* Crap, I've been laying here for three hours. I'm going to be tired tomorrow and I have a lot to get done. *Worries about being tired until I finally fall asleep*

Congrats if you made it this far! It's a lot, and this isn't even half the thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis. I know a lot of it is ridiculous and believe me, I spend a lot of time talking myself down from the anxiety highs I get. But my point is that I can't control these thoughts, and neither can anyone else with anxiety. It's frustrating and annoying and exhausting. So just keep in mind that you never know what someone is thinking or going through, so be nice to people. :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

How Living in China Changed My Life in America

Exactly one year ago today I said goodbye to my parents and boarded a plane that would take me across the Pacific Ocean to live in mainland China for the next four months. I was scared and excited and not prepared at all for what I was going to experience.

Living in China was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. At times it left me sick, exhausted, afraid, and missing my friends and family more than I ever had before. But without a doubt it was also one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I wouldn't change my experience for anything in this world. I learned so much about myself and the world in a way I wouldn't have anywhere else. So in honor of my one-year mark, here are five ways living in China changed my life in America.

1. I became more confident in myself and my opinions.

I've always been someone to hide my opinion. Anytime I was in a group of people (who weren't my family or closest friends) and we were discussing anything from where to eat or what we should do a group project on, I was the one who stayed pretty silent throughout the whole discussion and then just agreed with whatever idea I liked the most, even if I had one I thought was better. I have always struggled with a fierce need to be liked by everyone, so I never wanted to share my opinion if I didn't think every single person would agree. 

This is how I started my time in China. I was teaching with five other girls my age, and we ended up doing pretty much everything together for those four months. This put my in a situation where I had to voice my opinion if I ever wanted to do anything I liked, since I was unable to go anywhere or do anything by myself. Slowly I started participating more in discussions, starting out with where I wanted to eat or what time we should go grocery shopping. Later in the trip I found myself suggesting things like what city we should travel to or what we should do when we were lost in an unfamiliar area surrounded by people who didn't speak English. By the end of the trip I even found myself bringing up suggestions I knew would go against what another person wanted, and I was OK with having that discussion about what we should do. This was huge for me. Even my fellow teachers, who had only met me at the beginning of the trip, said they noticed a change in my confidence by the end of our time in China. 

I'm still shy and pretty non-confrontational for the most part, but not being crippled by the fear of expressing an unpopular opinion has continued to increase my confidence and will help me a lot in life in the future.

2. I became more accepting.

Everyone is different. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the idea that our lifestyle is the best one and that our choices are the smartest. And while I haven't really implemented any of the typical lifestyle choices I saw in China, I feel like I accept other people's choices more willingly now. Maybe it didn't work for me, but it works for them just great, so who am I to judge? 

3. I became more appreciative of the United States. 

I know we have a lot of problems in America right now. We're not perfect, our leaders aren't perfect, and honestly we make some pretty stupid decisions. But I cannot stress enough how good we have it compared to other countries. China is communist (they call themselves socialists so their government's kind of confusing, but as far as control goes they are pretty communist) and while I didn't deal with the government ever, there were things even I could notice. The level of poverty: Our coordinator who worked for the school in China told us the average teacher there made the equivalent of about $24,000 a year, and being a teacher was considered a pretty decent job. The inability to leave the country (it was possible, but very difficult. Most people who are born in China spend their entire lives there). The control over religion: We were told from day one to never talk about God or our religion. Doing so could get us arrested. The whispers when the government was brought up. The control over the internet (all big social media sites and anything Google-related is blocked unless you have a VPN). The times where the internet would crash for days at a time, and when we asked about it we were told quickly that the government controls it and when they are doing something they don't want people to know about they shut it down. How creepy is that?

So yeah, I understand there are a lot of things going on right now that make people want to complain and declare publicly everything wrong with our government. And yeah, if you disagree with something, by all means state it. Freedom of speech is what the U.S. was founded on. But be glad you can. Freedom of speech is not a luxury everyone has. I went to Thailand after China, and if you say anything offensive or negative about their king you will be arrested immediately and maybe even killed. We can't even imagine what that kind of control is like. 

I don't want to go on a huge rant, but we are so, so, so lucky to be living in the United States of America.

4. I became more adventurous.

There's nothing like running around a foreign country for months where no one speaks the same language as you to make you feel like you can do anything. Before my trip going to the airport in general made me nervous. By the end I didn't give a second thought to following a grumpy lady down an alleyway (OK, maybe that's not a good thing?) or getting of a bus at a random stop because why not? I walked across a balcony on the edge of a cliff completely made of glass. I trusted taxi drivers with my life to get my down a mountain at 70 mph. I ATE A SCORPION, PEOPLE. 

I'm still a grandma on the inside (love me an early bedtime and Netflix on a Friday night) but if I got the opportunity to drop everything and jump on a plane to a different country tomorrow, I'd do it. 

5. I became more aware of the world.

The biggest reason I wanted to travel was to experience a different culture first hand. Even so, and being the obsessive planner I am, I studied China like nothing else for months leading up to my trip. I read books, blog posts, and magazine articles about everything from what food to try to what to pack to "Basic Chinese Every Tourist Should Know." I spent hours on the internet scrolling through photos of Beijing, Yangshuo, and Hong Kong. I watched videos of people my age backpacking through the country. I thought I had China in my pocket before I left.

You probably saw this coming, but China was nothing like I expected. In a way it was--the dumplings were fabulous like the blog posts said and it was dirty and crowded like I had been told, but nothing I read or watched could have prepared me for what it was actually like to live there. That being said, I'm not going to try to describe it here either. (If you really want to read some of my experiences though, check out this post about the ups and downs of China, or some of my travel posts.)

I don't want to make this post crazy long, so basically there is a huge world out there and reading about it is not the same as experiencing. I totally get that traveling isn't even an option for a lot of people because of a dozen different factors, but if you ever get the opportunity, jump at it as fast as you can. China opened my eyes to completely different lifestyles, levels of poverty I have a hard time thinking about, squatters, corrupt governments, incredibly generous people and some of the most delicious food I've ever had. Some things I experienced were good and some were bad, but all of them made me more aware of what a huge and magnificent world it is out there.

OK, a thousand pictures, sorry. Lots of love, China. Hope to see you again one day. xoxo