Category Archives: Mental Health

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (Part 2)

Now that the sappy part of this essay is for the most part over, apologies for my sentimental outpourings, I would like to move on. From the rather unfortunate circumstances that English found me in, to where we are today.

With not much more to do through my formative years than watching Doctor Who, Sherlock and Downtown Abbey while imitating the oh-so-charming accents I heard in these programmes, I would accumulate a rather large vocabulary, as well as a British accent. These days, when people hear me speak, in a classroom setting or elsewhere, they usually assume that my accent stems from a year abroad. And I won’t hide the fact that it does inflate my ego just a little bit every time I get to correct them and say that I am in truth self-taught (I leave out the traumatic abandonment part of the story most of the time; it simply doesn’t have as nice a ring to it, and, in my experience, tends to drag the mood down quite a bit).

The first time I did visit an English-speaking country was after secondary school. It had been my wish to visit London for years, and so finally at the age of fifteen, I travelled there by myself (a decision that my mother was surprisingly on board with). There had always been something about the city that had drawn me to it, and the night I arrived, it took no more than a single sighting of the city lights reflecting in the pitch-black Thames water for me to completely fall in love. I really believe that on that trip I left a piece of my soul in the night sky over London.

Since then I’ve visited the city three more times and still it never fails to take my breath away. So weirdly familiar, like I had always been there, or maybe meant to be there – it’s a sense of home that doesn’t need a domicile to feel real. All this accompanied by the fact that not standing out as a tourist, at least in my mind, and being able to stroll around and pretend to belong there just gives me the greatest feeling of accomplishment.

While in London with my mum last year, she let me handle all the talking (as well as the navigation on the underground, one of my guilty pleasures when in the city. What a joy it is to know which way you’re going.). She was fascinated by me chatting with a member of staff at the Camden Market tube station, mostly, she told me afterwards, because I kept using ‘slang’ or simply colloquial language (I suspect she meant I had developed a bit of a habit of using the greeting ‘hiya’ ever since I had briefly visited Huddersfield the year before). The pride in my mother’s eyes at seeing, or rather hearing, her daughter confidently communicate in a foreign language was not only the greatest reward for my efforts thus far, but also the best motivation to keep pushing myself to be better and to hopefully one day complete the perfection of my English.

Having received a certain certificate from some supposedly smart people better qualified to judge my abilities than me which says, black ink on white paper, that I am already a level C2 when it comes to English, both written and spoken, also boosts my confidence that my goal is really achievable in my life time.  English is a huge part of my life. From writing my first poetry in sixth grade to unironically reading Shakespeare plays today, it has given me more than could ever fit on two pages. It may be words, words, mere words to some, but for me it’s a matter from the heart.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp

Words, words, mere words or how the English language took over my life (part 1)

My first contact with English must have occurred somewhere in kindergarden.  As I was only four or five at the time, my memories are admittedly hazy. But I remember a tiny children’s book, colourful and made of cardboard, telling all the toddlers in attendance that some people refer to a Katze as ‘cat’. Not that we cared much – there were sandcastles to build and a whole world to be discovered.

Growing up in a small village in the south of Germany with both my parents native speakers of German, my overall contact with other languages was limited. The only open restaurant in town was owned by a Turkish family, so I learned the word ‘merhaba’ before even being aware of the existence of ‘hello’. So it wasn’t until primary school that I started learning English formally. At that age – I was seven in first grade – I really had priorities other than acquiring a second language. There were letters to learn, trees to climb and, unfortunately, basic maths to wrestle with.

All of this was about to change, however, at secondary. Having developed a deeply-rooted hatred of mathematics and any sort of natural science, I was already drawn to languages and the humanities, but for the time being, my relationship with English still hadn’t moved past the ‘at-least-I-can-do-this-instead-of-division’ stage. But life was about to hit me, and it was about to hit me hard. And, once again, my priorities shifted. Where before there were friends to meet and fun to be had, there was now fear to be felt and a childhood to be lost.

I won’t go into the details about what happened when I was twelve, as my incredibly dramatic, sad story isn’t the subject of this piece after all. The reason I’m bringing up this stage of the journey at all is its significance for my relationship with English. You see, it was at this moment when change became inevitable and I was forced to suddenly grow up and function. When the outside world became chaotic, I, god-like, chose to create a new world, a world inside my head, a world filled with obsessions and hyper focus, just enough to keep me sane. When I turned down invitations until I was simply not invited any more, when I was alone – that’s when it found me. A language that allowed me to express through writing what I could never say out loud, a language that let me run away with the Doctor, a language that would bring me the songs that, after hours of exhausting translation, would bring me the messages I needed to hear to survive. A language that opened up an online community in which I felt a little less alone, where others felt what I was feeling and where I could once again escape it all, at least for a little while.

English found me in my darkest place and carried me through it.

Author and picture: Lea Meerkamp

When depression meets love: a toxic cocktail

Nowadays, mental health is an issue which gets a lot of coverage. However you rarely hear about the people suffering with the sufferers. I was one of those people, for two years, and have finally decided to write about it. I met this girl at school, a couple years ago now – and honestly, I was hooked. We got friendly very quickly before the summer, but the contact dried up during, and I slowly forgot about her, till the start of September 2016. She got in contact again, and from then on we grew gradually closer, till one night, the 12th January 2017, when this wonderful, lovely, slightly odd girl finally told me. She was clinically depressed, and had been for three years, I should really leave her alone, she’d understand – but I loved this girl! So of course, I stayed.


The Beginning
The hardest thing in all of this was actually properly dealing with a clinically depressed person. Every day was a challenge with her, and most of the time I barely got a response from her that was longer than three words. The mood swings, the recklessness, and the non-existent will to live was extremely hard. It got worse when she would describe exactly the pit of blackness she was feeling. All the while I was dealing with this new information, I kept her secret, I felt it only fair when she trusted something so valuable to me – Which made dealing with everything even more difficult. We did have a simple coping mechanism though. Get drunk, and all the blackness went away, for a few hours. That was when we shared the most with each other, and grew closer. Some of the stuff she would say would shock me, but mostly make me sad beyond belief that however hard I tried, I couldn’t save her, all I could do was be there. So I was, even if I went mad in the process.


Hope
Summer 2017 was a time for hope. We were both moving on to new things, new lives. Away from the old, bad memories. To make some new ones. We spent a lot of time with each other toward the end of the summer, just having fun and dreaming for the future. We were both happy, she had something to focus on. Soon enough came our last time together before we both left, she for Frankfurt, me for Augsburg. That last night was a dream. We made promises to keep in contact, to always be there for one another. As I stood at her door, as she shut the door, I looked at the rising sun, and started to cry. Was this the beginning of the end?


Pain
At first, everything was good. She was truly happy in her new home, her techno parties, she had everything. I was happy she was happy. Then came the MDMA. I knew, as soon as she told me, that she wouldn’t be able to control herself taking it – euphoria for a depressive person is like a drug itself, right? Here, I could do nothing to stop her, and it seemed to be the end of us. But a few months later, after getting back speaking, I visited her in Frankfurt, and that day in itself felt too good to be true – sure was. As time went on, it seemed that all we had discussed in Frankfurt, all the things we wanted to change: there would be better communication, healthier ways to deal with her bad days, etc. seemed to have been forgotten. Then came another depressive phase, and by June 2018, everything crumbled.


Fin
She started taking Ecstasy excessively. I wanted her to get help – she wouldn’t. After a period of silence, I wanted to know what was going on, how she was, and I got told that she was ”happy” now and didn’t need me. That was how it ended. In September 2018. Now as I’m writing this, I’m slowly getting better, but the feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness still strike. The only unanswered question I have, is ”Why?”

Author: Conor Schiffer

Picture: Filz Özer

International Workaholics Day

It couldn’t fit any better, could it?  Exams are coming up, so most of us only seem to turn into real workaholics when studying towards the end of the term. How fitting, then, that today, on 5th July, we can all celebrate International Workaholics Day! Personally, I‘m not sure whether we should celebrate or commiserate…

Worka…what?!

A workaholic is a “person to whom work is extremely or excessively important, esp. one who voluntarily works very long hours; a person addicted to working” (OED).

It can also imply that someone really enjoys the work itself or that they simply feel obliged to do it. That’s quite something, don’t you think? Certainly, we all sometimes, somehow feel a certain ‘pressure’ when it comes to work. But a workaholic comes in early, stays in late and sacrifices health and their relationships with their loved ones. Not only once, but very often. I dare say – constantly. Relaxation simply isn’t part of their vocabulary, literally. This may work out for a certain time.

But let’s face it: a healthy work-life balance is vital!

Help! I know a workaholic!

While reading this, you might have a friend or relative in mind, or you might recognise your own workaholic behaviour… In that case, you’ve already made the first step towards a better work-life balance. Remember some of the following advice that may help to be a diligent, hard-working student who can combine work and time for revitalization

  • Give your body and mind enough time to relax. This sets free more energy than you might think at first glance.
  • Set yourself a certain time limit to finish your work effectively, instead of spending too much time working ineffectively.
  • Reward yourself by organising a meeting with a mate that always cheers you up.
  • In case you have got up the wrong side of the bed: stop working for a day. Don’t force it! Try to relax and start all over the next day.
  • Remind yourself of one very essential fact: nobody’s perfect! It’s human nature to set goals you can’t attain sometimes!

Remember, we get up and go to work every day to earn the money or to study for a job in the future in order to enjoy the rest of our lives. Why not start enjoying now? Being hard-working definitely earns respect, but you only live once, right?

Text & Picture: Maximiliane Hil

You can’t weigh beauty

I always had the feeling that social media were dominated by young women with a skinny frame and flawless bodies, thus setting the standards for “beauty”. But when scrolling through Instagram lately, I see more and more photos of overweight women proudly showing their curves and flab. They smile into the camera without any shame. And also pictures, in which models reveal the magic of photoshop, flexing and perfect lighting, fill up social media. “Where do they get their confidence from?” I asked myself. Then my eye hit the…

…#bodypositivity

Body positivity is a movement used to show self-empowerment. It’s a way to liberate people from the social stigma of what a body should look like. It’s all wrapped up with the idea that even if your body doesn’t comply with what society deems to be beautiful, it isn’t necessarily something that needs to be fixed. Over the last few years, more and more people have become part of the movement. It promotes the idea that all bodies are beautiful, equal, deserves respect and that everyone should feel confident in their own body.

BodyPositivity

Reality

Unfortunately, not all bodies are treated in this way. Because of all the stigmas such as fat people being lazy, overweight people are hired and paid less on average. As a nation, we have to understand that not every body looks like perfectly-shaped fashion images. Not every woman is blessed with big breasts and no cellulitis. The social pressure to look the way society expects you to affects people of all sizes, but, in fact, many overweight people must deal with harmful comments on a daily basis.

Importance

Body positivity is often questioned by people who accuse the movement of simply glorifying obesity and sending people to an early grave. As a nation, we are overweight and this is a really huge issue. But making people feel miserable about themselves won’t work. And, fat shaming is extremely harmful and science has proven that it leads to weight gain. If you feel terrible every time you look in the mirror, you won’t be motivated to make a change. We need to accept our body before we can move in the right direction. For example, non-judgmental acceptance will allow people to make smart choices like adapting a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Shame on the other hand will just prevent them from fixing the problem and lead to irrational decisions such as crash diets. The sooner we accept the reality without adding extra negativity, the better we can deal with the situation.

Advice

For the people who have struggled with their figure for a long time, loving and accepting their body might seem like a Herculean task. One of the reasons is that our society and the media work against this acceptance by only showing flawless bodys, which isn’t an accurate representation of our society. And statements such as “real women have curves” and “strong is the new skinny”, only express how one body shape is superior to others. But by spreading the message that every body type is worthy of respect and by using models of all shaped and sizes, growing self-love would become easier. So, stop shaming others and show your body some love by accepting it with all its strengths and flaws!

Text & Pictures: Victoriy Fairley

What coming out taught me about tolerance

I’ve always thought of myself as a very tolerant person. I’m not a racist. I’m not scared of Muslims. One of my best friends is transgender. I could never even begin to understand how anyone could dislike a person just because of their skin colour, religious belief or sexual orientation. I told myself that there just had to be something seriously wrong with those people.

IMG_0568..

Welcome to the minority group

And then this happened: I came out. Now, here I am, newly out of the closet and getting used to being part of a minority group. I’ve never been different from what our society considers to be the norm. Only now do I realise how easy life is when you tick all the “normal” boxes. White? Tick. German? Tick. Christian? Tick. Heterosexual? No tick here.

What happens if you can’t tick all the boxes? That’s right, all of a sudden you depend on other people’s open-mindedness. But what I’ve learnt is that for my life to work out I’m the one who has to be tolerant. I can’t change the reality that some people are homophobic. For some reason I will probably never grasp, the thought of two girls or two boys loving each other is scary, revolting and wrong for some people. I could just stay away from homophobes, you might say. Why should I waste my time and energy on those people? But what do you do if those intolerant, homophobic people are people you love?

 

Here comes the life lesson

I came to the conclusion that if I deserve tolerance, so do others and I’m as much a recipient of tolerance as I’m a giver of tolerance. So far so good – now to the tricky part. It’s all quite honourable to decide that everyone deserves tolerance. But I can tell you it’s not as easy as it sounds. I always thought tolerance comes naturally to me because it perfectly fits into my worldview. However, when I came out to one of my closest friends who happens to be very religious it was the end of easy-peasy tolerance for me.

She told me that homosexuality could be healed if only you trust in God. I don’t agree. I believe with all my heart that if homosexuality was a life choice, there wouldn’t be any gay people left on this earth. Being gay sucks. It’s complicated, scary, exhausting. So when I sat there and listened to my friend tell me about her views that go against everything I believe I realised that tolerance is painful. It’s actually not a natural and easy thing. It’s horrible and upsetting and challenges your innermost values.

 

Be brave!

IMG_0588

All the more reason to make an effort for it. My friend and I tried to understand each other. We failed. I don’t understand her and she probably has difficulty understanding me. But that’s OK. Because that’s where tolerance comes in and has helped us save our friendship.

Tolerance doesn’t mean agreeing with things you believe to be right anyway. That’s easy – anyone can do that. Tolerance means accepting people whose values you consider to be wrong and listening to opinions you ‘despise’. It’s only natural that people struggle with that. We just have to be brave enough – or should I say tolerant enough – to try anyway.

 

 

Author and Pictures: anonymous

New year, new me

You might think it’s a bit late for a New Year article, but is it really? It’s only one month into 2017 and I don’t know about you, but I’ve already ignored half of my New Year’s resolutions at least once. If experience in the past few years is anything to go by, though, I’ll have to wait until next year to give it a go again. But there’s a way to break the trend and still achieve your goals. Yes, even today!

16216043_1494622783905241_462350366_n

Less chocolate, more sports

Judging from the commercials and articles I see around this time of the year, the top resolutions are: being healthier (including doing more sports, losing weight and downing smoothies for breakfast), as well as classics like quitting smoking. Being more organized is also a favorite, at least for me anyway. I don’t know how you feel, but the Christmas holidays, including New Year’s Eve, are (also) exceptional compared to other times of the year. So this might be the worst time to start working on goals that you want to continue to work on when you’re back in your normal routine. But that doesn’t mean
that you shouldn’t have them.

Start next Monday 

Know the feeling when it’s 3:11 p.m. and you have to study, but you just can’t because 3:11 isn’t the right time? You have to wait until 4 p.m.! I think most of us struggle with our resolutions in a similar way. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to wait a whole year to achieve your goals. There are so many new beginnings: start in the next hour, next Monday, next month – whenever you feel like it!

Small steps 

Needless to say, goals require a plan, and plans require to-do lists (written on pretty paper because that makes you more organized, of course). Instead of writing “Be a perfect student from next week on“, you might prefer “set aside fifteen minutes a day to keep track of assignments“. This not only sounds more doable and motivating, but actually ticking off things on your list will give you a good feeling.

16295384_1494622767238576_1732264789_n

Help! 

Still thinking this won’t work for you? It’s time to look for someone you can tell what you’re about to do. Whenever I tell someone about my plans, I get motivated on the spot. The next time you see this person, you’ll obviously want to tell him or her about what you’ve done since you last saw each other. And answering “Hmm…nothing“ doesn’t feel too good, does it? Let’s try to achieve our goals together (in 2017, not 2018)!

Author & Pictures: Laura Annecca