Recently I added a section to the website for books that I’ve read and highly recommend. But I think it’s important to talk about the books that I am planning to read, especially during these crucial times where we could all use some more guidance and education. As we enter a new era of social justice, people of all shades, shapes and sizes would benefit from educating themselves on some of the post pressing issues we face both in the U.S. and the world.
YES, I’m talking about racism.
Make no mistake, racism is a global issue, affecting people in all corners of the world— this much I know, but I’m no expert. In fact, I find myself in desperate need to become more acknowledge on the subject, and on ways I can be an ally. Coming from a Dominican household, I’ve seen first hand how Dominicans and others in the Latinx community are inherently racist toward people with deeper skin tones, regardless of the person being Latinx or African American.
And while most of my posts are opinion pieces, I don’t want to overstep in a topic so delicate and crucial to the health and welfare of our society. Instead, I’ve purchase the following books; The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
My hope is to gain a better understanding of the Defund the Police movement and what the alternative would look like. And also to dive deeper into the stories and perspectives of black people in different circumstances.
I encourage everyone to pick up a book by a black author, or on the subject of racism and inequality. We can all continue to grow and learn, no matter how knowledgable we are now.
Director of the Personality and Self-Knowledge Lab at the University of California, Simine Vazire, told The Atlantic in 2017 that the only thing a personality test can tell you is what you already know. And that’s it folks; no mystery here, that is my thesis.
But let’s unpack this, shall we? Okay, first things first, let’s all agreed that the majority of people LOVE personality tests. According to Dr. Jennifer V. Fayard, the reason why we are so fond of personality tests is because “we want to learn about ourselves, feel that we belong, and understand others.” That seems reasonable.
#1 We’re gullible.
The number one reason to be weary of personality tests is our own susceptibility to the Barnum effect. The Barnum effect, as described by California State University, Fullerton, “refers to the gullibility of people when reading descriptions of themselves” assuming they are different and unique, even if it is a generic description given to many people. This phenomenon is especially true of big name personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.
Both the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram are widely recognized psychological tests created by a pair of psychologists and authors, respectively. The tests are promoted by household names like Ford, and are incredibility popular with HR departments. This recognition and prestige give its test takers a high confidence margin when they receive their results, especially if it aligns with the test taker’s own beliefs. What’s more interesting though, are the vast majority of people who accept the results even if they do not agree.
In her piece, Why Do We Like Personality Tests, Even the Bad Ones?, Dr. Fayard explains that one of the reasons why we accept inaccurate results is because we are biased in the way we process information about ourselves. This brings us back to the Barnum Effect, if we can relate to the results in some way, we are much more likely to accept them, even if they don’t exactly fit our perceptions of ourselves.
#2 We don’t know how to use personality tests.
There is an unfortunate disconnect between the intended utility of personality tests and how they are perceived. Dr. Vazire points out that personality tests are in fact meant as a tool for reflection; they do not offer any new insights on who you are, what your values are, how you would handle any given situation, etc, etc. Personality tests can not “see into your soul” they can only summarize your responses and group them together. In fact, Dr. Fayard argues that we are so trusting of our results, that we attach them to our identity and subconsciously fit them into our personality, whether they were truly accurate or not. Because we are so blindly accepting of our personality test results, it becomes hard to discern what came first: our personality traits or the personality test that outlined those traits.
#3 Personality Tests, by design, are BS
This is the killer. Most personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram, are founded on complete horse manure (to keep it PG13). Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? First, the Myers-Briggs was developed loosely on the work of Carl Jung, who pre-dates the scientific revolution in psychology, and thus did not use the scientific method to test his theories. In other words, Carl Jung based his theories on his own subjective experiences, as did the creators of the Myers-Briggs.
The other problematic aspect of the Myers-Briggs is it’s failed test-retest reliability. In psychology, and all sciences, it is important to get the same results over and over again to prove the reliability of any given instrument, drug, hypothesis, etc. The Myers-Briggs test has been shown to give different results to the same people who’ve taken it more than once, despite no major changes in their personality.
Moving right along, we have the Enneagram. This test was created by a former Jesuit with degrees in English and Philosophy along with his co-author, a scholar in East-Asian studies. It may very well be that these two co-authors are highly versed in the scientific method, and psychological research, but if they are, it is nowhere to be found as far as I can tell.
Regardless of this fact, the Enneagram has many of the same shortcomings as the Myers-Briggs, including the oversimplification of our personalities. Both the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram use a “this or that” tactic to uncover our personalities, yet as it turns out, humans are more complex than that (who could have guested it?). The reason why these tests are developed in such a way may have something to do with our own desires to make things simple. In the words of Dr. Fayard,
When we interact with a person we know to be a member of a particular category or someone who seems like they belong to a category for which we have a schema, that schema is automatically activated and, like a script, guides our interactions with them. If we are familiar with the personality types in these systems, once a person tells us they are an ISFJ or a 7, we have a built-in template for how to understand them.
In other words, we are using personality tests as a coping mechanism to help us compartmentalize complex individuals into nicely fitted boxes— and not to mention ourselves as well!
The Bottom Line
It seems that this argument comes up every few months between some of my die-hard personality tester friends and I. I’d like to point out that taking a silly personality test for fun is all good and well, but it becomes problematic when we start to depend on them to understand ourselves. When we accept any given explanation for being the way that we are, that explanation starts to manifest itself. The fact is, we do not do something or act in a certain why because we are “ISFJ,” it’s quite the opposite! There is a reason why personality tests are unpopular amongst most psychologist. The test cannot define your personality, it does not have the answers; you have the answers and you know yourself better than you think.
The Dark Side of That Personality Quiz You Just Took by Paul Bisceglio of The Atlantic
The Barnum Demonstration by California State University, Fullerton Dept of Psychology
For the past three weeks I’ve been “quarantining” at my mom’s house in New Jersey where my brother, his wife, and my grandmother are currently staying. Needless to say I’ve been living outside of my comfort zone and outside of my normal routine. It seems I am always confronted with my own privilege, biases and overall financial security whenever I leave my bubble in DC to visit family in inner city New Jersey.
My biggest struggle at the moment, besides the obvious, is my increasing eco-anxiety. According to the American Psychological Association, “eco-anxiety” can be defined as a build up of stress and anxiety in relation to “actual or potential impacts of climate change.” It could very well be the fact I’ve only recently started my low-waste, eco-conscious journey, but the amount of food waste, un-recycled recyclable items, and just overall poor waste management at my mom’s house is so upsetting to me.
As I said, this no doubt has to do with my own privilege and bias as someone who has amble time to research and educate myself on climate change and my impact on the environment. At the same time, I find that my family, for example, is not interested in change. Not knowing is one thing, but not willing to change is a completely different thing.
Another thing I’ve noticed living with my family again, is the sheer amount of unnecessary purchases made. Sometimes I wonder if it is due to a sense of insecurity from having grown up without amble resources, or a psychological side effect of income insecurity. Having been the first person in my family to grow up with all the comforts of “working class America,” I can see a clear disconnect between my family and I. On the one hand, I can understand how scarcity as a child can leave a permanent fear of instability, but not having experienced it myself, I can’t relate.
Of course this is only speculation, and I am not a trained psychologist, so I think the only thing I can do is to continue to educate both my family and anyone else willing to listen.
To end on a positive note, the current situation and major shutdowns have also created an opportunity for us. Everyone on the internet keeps saying life will not be as it use to be, it wasn’t working and it needed to change. The planet is starting to feel that change, and we get to witness glimpses of it. I think we’ve been so use to our surroundings that we never stopped to think about what life could be like without significant pollution, smog, and poor air quality. Now that we are able to see the possibility of a cleaner tomorrow, if nothing else, it should motivate us to do better.
I wanted to write something inspiring this week, and preferably something completely unrelated to the current situation but it seems that everywhere I turn it’s all about Coronavirus. I can’t even rub my eyes without freaking out wondering when was the last time I washed my hands.
The other day I had a “Virtual Happy Hour” with my two good friends and we really struggled to find anything else to talk about. It just seems that it’s everywhere, engulfing us with darkness and sucking all the air from our lungs— symbolically and literally.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m pretty anxious about it, although I’m young and heathy, it’s hard to say who would survive and who would fall victim to this thing. That sound dramatic but in my defense, my mom keeps the news on 24/7 and when she’s not watching the news, she’s praying. I get it…those are her ways of coping. At the same time, they seem to be having detrimental effects on my mental wellbeing.
Super uplifting right?
I’m constantly preaching about the benefits of cultivating your own happiness and I truly believe that the power of positive thinking can transform the negative Nancy in us all. But that’s assuming we’re dealing with our run of the mill, everyday lives. It’s hard to keep that same “glass half full” mentality when facing a world wide crisis.
You see all the posts on social media and other platforms about “counting your blessings” and “being thankful for [fill in the blank]” but the reality is that all of our lives have been so dramatically effected, that we can’t help but feel sorry for ourselves.
On the other hand, I’ve seen several posts/rants/quotes saying “It’s okay to mourn, it’s okay to feel sad, it’s okay to be unproductive,” which I find also disturbing because of the sheer amount of people who were already mourning, sad, unproductive before this happened. How are those poor souls faring in this even more isolating, deteriorating, devastating world?
To excel or to retreat?
The problem with social media and online posts/rants/quotes is that they are usually all encompassing— they try to be a “one size fits all” solution to problems that are so complicated. Of course, posting my own personal opinions on the internet makes me just as guilty, but I want to point out that everyone doesn’t need to take all the advice that’s thrown at them.
For me, getting up early, getting “ready” for work, staying on a schedule, trying to meditate, trying to be as “normal” as possible, has really helped me cope with the madness, but that might not be the case for everyone. To get to this point, I really had to take a step back and ask myself what I thought I needed to get through this. For a while I didn’t have an answer and I really wasn’t sure what would help. I realized the important thing was not the answer but the check-in.
My current routine might be working for now, but could be failing in a week. That’s why the check-in is so important, giving us a chance to reflect and readjust. During coronavirus and always, we need to be checking in with ourselves— being truthful about how we are coping and adjusting to our own needs.
I like to consider myself someone with high functioning anxiety— someone who can keep her cool under pressure and stress. My mom always says “A ella no la mata nadie,” literal translation, “No one can kill her, ” what she really means, “Nothing phases her, she can’t be bothered.” For me, this “unbothered” state of mind is a defensive mechanism that keeps my anxiety at bay, although these days, despite all my best efforts, I have not been coping well at all.
No need to remind everyone of the encroaching pandemic spreading like wild fire all over the U.S. and the world. These highly uncertain and fear inducing days are causing even the most level-headed, non-anxious person nightmares and headaches.
I’ve rid myself of a week long headache just today. My head felt like it was ready to explode, I constantly felt on-edge, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, my workload felt overwhelming, my spirts were low, my body felt heavy and tired. I was consumed by “proving to my boss that I am working hard,” worrying about job insecurity, worrying about catching coronavirus— or worse, spreading it because I’m asymptomatic. I was working long hours, not taking breaks, not eating properly, not feeling motivated and overall miserable.
If there’s a solution, no need to worry, if there’s no solution, no point in worrying.
Some time ago I was introduced to this quote, If there’s a solution, no need to worry, if there’s no solution, no point in worrying,” and it really resonated with me. Of course, sometimes we can’t help but worry. This week I was listening to the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris, and his guest, longtime meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, said something along the lines of “our fear is rooted in the unknown, things that are yet to be seen,” which also resonated with me in the same way. I think, like many, I’m on a large scale contemplating the fate of all humanity, and on a personal scale, fearing my future and that of my friends and family. What I am coming to terms with is my smallness in all this, my fear of what’s to come, and my inability to control what is happening all around me.
Calming my Anxiety through Mindfulness
So what are we working with here? What I realized was that, as Sharon Salzberg suggests, I was spending too much time worrying about the future, and not enough time and energy on the things I had control over. Using the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer (secular version), “May I have the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” I’ve recently decided (as recently as yesterday), to focus my time and energy on things I CAN change.
I CAN change what I focus my energy on, I CAN change my daily routine, and I CAN change the way I’ve been approaching my workload.
Using the principles of mindfulness, I’ve been focusing more on the tasks at hand, adopting the mentality that nothing is more important than what I am doing at that very second. Literally taking things moment by moment; task by task, day by day. I’ve started waking up early again, creating a routine, exercising, and taking breaks. I started practicing compassion meditation; working on cultivating love and kindness for myself and others. It sounds a bit flowery but the repetitive nature of the meditation has helped calm the anxious voice in my head and turn my attention to something more positive.
As you repeat the phrases in the meditation, your goal isn’t necessarily to “send good vibes,” instead it’s about fostering feelings of compassion towards yourself, the people around you and everyone else. I’ve found variations of this meditation, but this version is the one I’ve been using.
Love and Kindness (Metta) Meditation
Repeat to yourself 3 times
May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be at peace
Think of someone special/important in your life, or someone you don’t know personally but admire, visualize this person and repeat 3 times
May they be happy, May they be healthy, May they be at peace
Now expand to your entire neighborhood, community, city, state and beyond, repeat 3 times
May we be happy, May we be healthy, May we be at peace
Happy meditating! 🙂
When it comes to money, I have two goals: build wealth and pay off debt. To achieve these goals, my money is calculated down to the last dollar. You want to know what I didn’t calculate for? Coronavirus. The only other time I’ve been around for a major recession I was 16 years old. This time around, when the recession inevitably knocks on our door, I’ll be kicking myself for not planning.
They say (they being the “experts”) that you should have at least 3-6 months of living expensive in your emergency fund, yet according to the financial site MagnifyMoney, of the Americans who have savings accounts (because many don’t) the median savings is $4,960. In other words, from the 50% of Americans who do have a savings account, only 50% of those have over $4,960 in their savings, or in other, other words, about 75% of Americans have fewer than $4,960 in savings. Not only do I not have $4960.00 in my savings, but that amount would only cover my expenses for a month and a 1/2—maybe…
Let’s do some math
I make $50K a year in my regular 9-5. After taxes I make $3K a month. Unsurprisingly, I have a ridiculous amount of debt, starting with student loans. Here’s the breakdown:
|Income to Debt Ratio|
|-Credit Cards (Minimum payment)||$137.00|
After I deduct all my fixed expenses I’m left with $658.00 a month. Of those $658 I also pull some out for sinking funds, my Acorn account, and unexpected expenses (I’m looking at you medical bills!). So really, I’m looking at around $350-$400 a month, you know for food and gas and basic day to day survival. Not really sure where I’m suppose to pull emergency fund savings??
In the name of transparency, I am “saving money” through my 403(B) retirement plan, my Acorns investing account, my Capital One 360 CD, but none of these channels are easily accessible (which is how I like it!) and would not be quick and easy ways to get a hold of money should there be an actual emergency.
Let’s be real, I never really gave it much thought! If you think about it, my goals are focused on the future (building wealth) and on the past (paying off debt), but if I don’t start focusing on the present, any little thing could annihilate all my financial goals. This really hit home when $h*t hit the fan with this pandemic. We are at such a vulnerable time right now, whether it’s our job security or our health on the line, it’s so important to be prepared.
What Can I Do Now?
Not knowing what the future holds, I’m definitely going to take some measures to prepare for the worse. Based on the information I know so far, I plan on 1. Calling my student loan provider and halting my student loan payments. Because the Federal government announced it would freeze interest on federal student loans, you can temporarily go into emergency administrative forbearance without penalties. Doing this for at least 2 months will save me $400.00. 2. I am going to call my other loan providers for my car note and my personal loan to see what I can do to halt or lower my payments during this crisis. 3. I am going to throw that “stimulus check” right into my savings account.
The Bottom Line
I’ll never forget the 2 years my dad was unemployed during the 2008 recession. For me, planning and thinking ahead is a great was to reduce anxiety about the future. Reducing or postponing those 3 payments could help me build up a small emergency fund of $400.00- $1500.00 for the ghost of recessions to come. It also makes me feel proactive and productive during these times of uncertainty and unrest. Other things to consider are calling your credit card companies, internet provider, cell phone provider, and any other services you pay for to see how they can help. It may sound clique at this point, but we really are all in this together and I’ve found in my experience that companies are usually willing to work with you, especially during times of universal turmoil.
I’ve been obsessed lately with YouTuber and skincare enthusiast, @susanyara, and her channel Mixed Makeup. She’s constantly talking about the importance of self-care and feeling good about yourself. I have to say, I’m here for it. As someone who has always loved makeup and skincare, I was a bit hypocritical of people like Susan who spend ALOT of money on products and services that the “average” person would consider high end. Now I see that my perspective was too narrow, Susan says all the time on her channel, “If you can afford it, then why not? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel luxurious.”
I agree and disagree with that statement. Sure, if you have enough money and are financially secure enough to purchase the most high end, luxurious products for your own self-care, then why not? But I also don’t think it’s wise to go off spending on unnecessary luxuries just because. It’s one thing to buy a very expensive product that really works and a completely different thing to buy something fancy because, say, it smells nice. The latter, in my opinion, is mismanagement of funds.
Now, for us less lavished souls, self-care is obviously still important, and it’s not just about looking good. It’s a psychological phenomenon; when you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, your entire outlook on life is positively effected. Not only that but taking care of yourself from the inside and outside creates a ripple effect that motivates you to also eat better, be more active and, vis versa.
Fitting it into the Budget
Unfortunately most of us cannot afford a $120 moisturizer or an out of pocket visit to the chiropractor. What we can do is budget, plan and adjust to our needs. For example, it is recommend to get a professional teeth cleaning every six months, but what if you don’t have insurance or your insurance doesn’t cover dental? It is also recommended to get monthly facials and to work out frequently. How can we fit everything we are “suppose” to do into our busy schedules and, most importantly, into our tight budgets?
If we had all the richest, then why not? The harsh reality is that we don’t, and yet, it’s still important to do something for ourself in the form of self-care. I like to pick at least three things that are important to maintaining my self-care routine while not breaking the bank.
This one I have trouble actually doing and it’s the one that’s the easiest to do because it can be virtually free. The problem with working out at home for free is that I am not motivated to do it. When I know my hard earned money is involved, I am more prone to working out. First I find the most affordable gym in my neighborhood, my current gym is $24/month. Then I calculate that if each work out is less than something unhealthy that I’d rather be doing, my money is being well spent. For example, a medium dirty chai latte from Starbucks coffee is about $6. In this case each workout should be less than $5, meaning I’d have to go at least 5 times a month or about once a week. This is a realistic goal I can reach and it keeps me motivated to at least justify me spending $24/month on the gym instead of something unhealthy like chai lattes. This doesn’t necessarily mean I would have spent those $24 on Starbucks instead, it’s just a little Jedi mind trick I pull on myself to get motivated.
Skin Care Products
Skin care has always been important to me, but never to the point where I wanted to spend a ton of money on it. Now that I have more wiggle room in my budget, I’ve been putting more effort into it. I keep this expense in check by first, making a very educated purchase. If I am going to put the big bucks into a skincare product, I want to make sure I am buying the right thing for my skin type and needs. I will thoroughly research products before purchasing them. Once I find the right product, I won’t buy right away! I will fit the purchase into my next paycheck’s budget, or the one after that, depending on the price. I don’t generally do this with all my purchases, but if it’s a big ticket purchase (anything over $30) then it’s worth budgeting for.
Some people might regard dental cleanings as an obvious “must,” but as someone who did not have insurance for a while and couldn’t really afford a visit to the dentist, dental cleanings were more of a luxury. I am fortunate enough to have insurance at this point, the problem is that my teeth are very weak and all the time I didn’t get cleanings did me no favors. In fact, my dentist recommends I get dental cleanings every 3 months instead of every 6 months. Because this is a top priority for me, I make sure I budget for the 2 extra cleanings that I need to pay for out of pocket. The key here is planning ahead. Once I book my next cleaning, I know it will be an extra $60 out of pocket, so I can can either save up for it in the three months leading up.
Like Christmas or vacation or any other big expense, the best way to incorporate self-care into your budget is to plan for it. In my (limited) experience, impulse shopping, poor planning, and throwing your money into things you aren’t committed to, can be your downfall. When your budgeting, sticking to just the essentials is the goal. Start by considering self-care an essential, then prioritize your top self-care needs and incorporate those into your budget.
In a previous post I briefly touched on the Buddhist concept of “The Middle Way,” in relation to love and relationships. The gist was that we should neither rush into falling in love nor reject love altogether. Instead, we should slowly progress towards a meaningful love.
The middle way isn’t just relevant to love, it’s the overarching philosophy that governs Buddhism. The Buddha developed the Eight Fold path, to help us live the Middle Way life. You can further condense the Eightfold path into sub-categories; Ethics, Meditation and, Wisdom.
I am neither Buddhist nor do I believe everything in the Buddhist religion. While many people see Buddhism as a “way of life” or a “philosophy of life” and despite being mostly a non-theistic religion, Buddhism is still a religious journey for many who practice it. What I found most intriguing what the religion was the Buddha’s insistence that he was not a God nor should you take his teaching as truth, rather, you should explore them for yourself and then make a judgement. I find many of the teachings a good map to navigating life and understanding our own short-comings. For me, Buddhist teachings are something I incorporate into my arsenal of life lessons, and my favorite by far is the idea of the Middle Way.
Incorporating the Middle Way Into your Day to Day
It seems like extremism is the new way of life these days. Politically speaking, it’s obvious—you have your alt-right, progressives, etc. Even the moderates can’t be seen mingling with the “other side” for fear of political suicide. But beyond that, you have the vegans and the extreme sports enthusiast. I’ve even heard bookworms say, “oh yeah, I read that 400 page book in a day.”
The problem with extremism is obviously that it can lead to terrible things (terrorist groups, stealing farmer’s livestock to “protect them,” etc) but more than that, it’s that life is complicated and trying to fit everything into neat binary lines is not possible. Take for example, abortion. You are either pro-choice or pro-life, right? But what about the pro-lifers who get abortions? They are hypocrites, right? Well what about the pro-choicer who says they would never get an abortion…are abortions okay for you but not for them? Are abortions just for the poor and the unfit? It’s…complicated.
The point is that we cannot live our lives so rigidly. Life is messy and the answers aren’t always clearcut. In my personal life I confront this all the time. For instance, I am borderline obsessed with living a non-toxic, organic, natural lifestyle. The problem that I face is that it’s extremely hard to be a purist. Because of the society we live in and because of abundance of information that’s out there, I find myself overwhelmed and frankly confused about what is “the right” way to be non-toxic and natural.
AGAIN, the problem was that I was taking it to the extreme, I wanted to rid myself of all the toxins in the world and all the unnatural things that we use in our daily lives. This is technically possible, and some people have accomplished just that, but it isn’t very practical, or cost effective, or even the safest bet. The biggest hurdle though, was that it was stressing me out and giving me major anxiety. So sure, I could do it, but at what cost? What I realized was that it was OK to utilize some of modern society’s tools, as long as they were safe, non-toxic and good for the environment.
I reached this realization by sitting down and really analyzing what my goals were and also listening to the other side. I’d done all the research and learned so much about non-toxic living but I hadn’t been objective enough to hear out the other said, and as the buddha would say, make my own judgement.
Here is a good example
In the natural beauty world at large, essential oils are the holy grail of literally everything, from cleaning your face to acne treatment to moisturizing, etc, etc. The reasoning behind using essential oils is that they are a naturally derived product that substitutes harsh artificial fragrances and is safe to use on skin.
THE TRUTH IS…
Essential oils can be safe to use on your skin and in your household cleaning products and diffusers, you name it, HOWEVER, essential oils are also extremely potent and can be very irritating if used directly on the skin. Not only that, essential oils take up a huge amount of natural resources to produce, making them eco un-friendly. So while I do like essential oils and believe in their benefits, it’s so important to me to use them in moderation and be mindful of their negative effects.
Since we have a skincare theme going, let’s mention retinol. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that helps in anti-aging. It is found in many conventional skincare products. Many “clean beauty” products use retinol alternatives…but not for the reasons you think!* The hard core natural, non-toxic living community would never indorse or recommend something like retinol because like, Cocamidopropyl Betaine which is derived from coconut oil, anything that is chemically altered is considered “unnatural” and subsequently, “unsafe.”
THE TRUTH IS…
There have been countless scientific studies on the use of retinol and it has been found to be safe across the board. Like essential oils, it can be very potent and irritating to the skin, but it is not harmful if used as directed. As mentioned, retinol is derived from Vitamin A, which our bodies naturally produce, making it also something that our body naturally produces. After having done all my research, I concluded that retinol is something I’d like to try—an ingredient I would have likely never learned about if I’d strictly stuck to the natural beauty community.
The Bottom Line
What I’ve learned is that there is no right or wrong, we are constantly learning new things and adapting. The Middle Way has taught me that you should never pursue nor avoid something to the point of deteriorating your mental, spiritual or physical health. Trying to be 100% natural in an environment where consumerism thrives caused me more stress than benefit. This is not to say I don’t strive to live a natural, non-toxic lifestyle anymore, it just means my definition of that goal is more flexible. The Middle Way is synonymous with balance; don’t not pursue your goals and don’t allow your goals to become self destructive.
*Clean beauty products use alternatives to retinol because of how potent it can be. Alternatives are usually gentler on the skin and also less effective. Learn more from Allure mag’s 11 Retinol Myths That Derms Want You to Stop Believing.
Erin’s mom woke up early to make her and her brother, Bobby, pancakes before school. It was a big day. Erin and Bobby were taking their SATs today— well re-taking, Erin was retaking her SATs and Bobby was taking them for the first time. She’d already taken them junior year but wasn’t satisfied with her score. She’d actually scored pretty well, but that score wasn’t getting her into an Ivy league. Erin’s mom knew how much it meant to her so she made sure they were up and ready well before they had to be and made them pancakes as an extra special treat.
The night before Erin couldn’t sleep. She kept having nightmares about missing the test, she’d wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and panting, frantically looking towards the digital clock on her desk. “Omg,” she’d breathe out, “It’s only 3:25 a.m.” Around 4 she woke up again in the same panic. This time she didn’t go back to sleep, she thought to herself, I’ll just wait it out. But around 4:30 she fell asleep again while reading. At 6 a.m, her mom came in to wake her, she awoke startled and looked around for the clock. “Relax hunny,” said her mom, “You have plenty of time.” Erin looked at her with tense eyes. In resignation she let herself fall back onto her bed and took a deep breathe, “Thanks mom.”
Bobby wasn’t nearly as anxious as Erin, he was naturally smart and found school relatively easy. While Erin studied for months, Bobby picked up the study guides once or twice before the test. Not only was he not worried but he really didn’t care. With his grades and his sports history, he was a shoe in for Ohio State, and it all worked out because he always wanted to stay close to home. He’d maybe apply to a few other schools in the area, but that was just for fun, he was definitely going to Ohio State, no questions.
Erin really didn’t have time to care about Bobby’s master plan, she was too busy worrying about her know problems. Her mind was racing, Ok Erin, pull herself together, you can do this, you have to do this, this is the last thing you have. If this doesn’t work out, that’s it, just take your life girl, this is it. Nothing else to lose. I don’t think I can do this. Ugh snap out of it, you can do it, you have to do it. This is it…
Erin’s mom watched her from the archway between the kitchen and the living room with furrowed brows. She had a sense that something was not right with that girl—she worried too much about her grades, despite being at the top of her class, she obsessed over controlling every aspect of her life, she didn’t have friends, her boyfriend dumped her—she was going through a teenage breakdown for sure.
At the kitchen table, Erin cut her pancakes into neat little squares and began eating them one at a time, always adding one drop of syrup before popping it into her mouth. Every so often she’s check her wrist watch only to see not a minute had passed.
“RELAX Erin, it’s just a test, it’s not life or death,” retorted Bobby as he rolled his eyes at her.
“Shut UP! Yes it is! Ugh, you don’t know anything, you stupid child.,” she snapped back as she adjusted her position on the chair.
Bobby looks at her like she’s lost it, “Oh please, what’s the worse that could happen? I don’t even know why you’re taking this dumb test again, your score was nearly perfect.”
Erin takes a deep breathe in and out, “That is the point, it wasn’t perfect.”
“Yeah genius, it doesn’t matter, that score will get you into anywhere, what’s wrong with you?”
“Okay, okay, enough you two,” interjects their mom, “Bobby, leave your sister alone, we all handle stress differently.”
Bobby shakes his head as he gets up to take his plate to the sink. Erin stares at her watch again and quickly finishes the rest of her squares before getting up too. They grab their things and head for the car. Their mom gets into the drivers seat and drives out of the driveway towards school.
As Erin’s mom pulls up to school, Bobby and Erin start to collect their things. She stops in front of the main entrance, “Thanks mom!” They both say in unison as they jump out of the car. Bobby, who’s taller, walks away much faster than Erin.
“Hey Erin!” She looks back at her mom and sees her waving, signaling to come back. Erin is confused but heads back towards the car. “Get in Erin,” says her mom.
“Wait, what? Mom, come on, I’m going to be late!”
“No you aren’t, get in the car, now!”
Erin is frustrated but she knows better than to disobey her mom. She reluctantly gets back into the car, only to watch her mom drive off as soon as she closes the door.
“MOM! MOM! What are you doing? What’s going on?!” Erin is on the verge of a pain attack, the test starts in 20 minutes and she needs to be there 15 mins before. Her hands start to sweat, her head starts spinning, she’s not sure if she can feel her lips anymore.
“ERIN. Erin. Erin. Calm down Erin. Stop breathing so fast, take deep breathes. DEEP BREATHES Erin.” Her mom slows down and pulls over. Erin finally manages to get her breathe back to normal before she starts crying, “Mom, why are you doing this to me! You’ve ruined everything!”
Her mom grabs her hands and looks at her, “Erin, Erin, listen to me. You are not well. What were you seeking to accomplish in there, huh? I talked to your college counselor, he said your scores were outstanding, he said you had a very high chance of getting into any school you wanted. So why go to the trouble of taking the test again, hunny?”
Erin looked at her mom through hazing eyes, “It wasn’t perfect, mom, I need it to be perfect, don’t you understand?”
Her mom looked at her with sorrow, “Is this about Teddy? You know, I called his mom, she said he was very sad about your breakup. He said to her that he thought he wasn’t good enough for you and you expected too much from him. Hunny, I think you’ve become obsessed with perfection. You know, no one is perfect and that’s okay.” Erin was sobbing in her hands at this point. “Hunny,” began her mom, “I’m taking you to see Dr. Simone. I think you could use some help. I know you want to be perfect and I know you want to go to the best school and I know life’s been kicking your butt lately, but that’s what I’m here for hunny. It’s my job to pay attention, it’s my job to help you or find someone to help you. You are not alone Erin, you are loved and you appreciated.”
Erin looked up at her mom for a second. She saw her looking back at her with love and kindness in her eyes. She’d forgot that look. She’d forgotten people cared about her. Erin was so wrapped up in her own head, trying to prove to herself that she was worthy, trying to hold on to the rope so she didn’t fall off the ledge, that everyday she felt more and more alone. She thought if she could get a perfect score on this test, she could prove to that she was good enough. But what she really needed all along was for someone to pay attention, someone to realize she was struggling and closing control. It’s not a feeling she could easily explain, it was as if the world was slipping out of her hands and she had no control over it. She felt along, useless, worthless. She was lucky someone was listening, watching, paying attention. She needed Dr. Simone, she needed her mom, she didn’t need to retake that stupid test.