Dear Diary …

Writing as a way of learning about yourself

The way we document the events of our lives has changed from a way of saving our private thoughts and memories to an action that is shared with the world. We switched from pen and paper to smartphone cameras and social media. However, there are still benefits to writing in a journal and expressing the mind with pen and paper.

… they said: “stop taking pictures”

Nowadays, with being constantly connected to others through social media, some people tend to think that the events in our lives, our greatest memories, are meant to be seen by other people on the internet. Other people also share pictures of their vacation, so we should do it as well, right? The answer is: it is up to you. The important thing is not to put pressure on yourself. Don’t allow the thought of taking the perfect picture for the internet to distract you from gaining pleasant memories.

Sitting down in the evening and writing in a diary is a good way of raising awareness of your actions throughout the day. Writing about your conversations can help to reflect on your relationships with others. Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves how much impact our environment has on us.

… I think I haven’t done anything today

Through writing regularly, we can also track our productivity and overall, how we are living. Having nothing to write about can mean that we spent a lot of time doing something that might not be worth mentioning, like browsing through the internet for most of the day. We can reflect on that and figure out if it was just procrastination or exhaustion after events or tasks of the past days. Flipping to prior pages is enough to find out. While reading through those entries, we can also see if we spend most of our days living exactly the same or take the necessary time to meet friends, travel and make memories. Writing almost every day that we’ve spent eight to twelve hours working or studying and only having the energy left to lie around afterwards is what makes the contents on social media so interesting to us. Instead of experiencing certain things for ourselves, we rather watch how others do it.

… I’m feeling better now

Writing can be calming and ease the mind. We can be honest with ourselves and let our emotions flow into the paper. As already mentioned, diaries raise our awareness, not only of our actions but also of our feelings. Sometimes, we might think that the issue that is bothering us is not important to us. “Let’s forget it and not bother others with talking about it.” Our diaries will never be bothered. These abstract emotions get a physical form on paper and become visible. If the same issue is mentioned several times, we can do something about it.

The diary gives us the opportunity to learn about what makes us happy, what is overwhelming, and what should be changed in our lives. We get to know ourselves better and that’s why documenting daily events in your diary has way more advantages than sharing it online.

Author: Merve Cevic

Bend It Like Buddha

Yoga as a Form of Mindfulness and Its Effect on Mental Health

 “Just do yoga.” –  A phrase that might just be all too familiar to anyone who has struggled with their mental health before. Suggestions such as this can be frustrating, as mental health is much more complex than this. So, how could a bit of twisting and breathing help with that?

Yoga is widely known and is practiced by millions worldwide. But it is much more than just complex bodily figures. Mindful Yoga in particular, has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of many mental health disorders. So let me bend your perspective on Yoga.

Yoga: more than overpriced sportswear

The term Yoga derives from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning “union”. As a philosophy it originated in the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization around 2700 BC, before striking roots and flourishing in India. Often only reduced to a form of exercise in western countries, the philosophy of Yoga includes not only the body but also the breath and mind. The body postures (asanas) are used to prepare the body for the following meditation. The goal of yoga is the unity of body, breath and mind to achieve well-being.

A brief look at Mindfulness

Mindfulness was not invented by apps such as Headspace but is rooted deeply in Buddhist tradition. As a central aspect of meditative training the Buddhist understanding of mindfulness is defined by a strong focus on the body, feelings and thoughts in the present moment, cultivating acceptance, emotional balance, and well-being. A modern concept of mindfulness as a therapeutic practice was developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn with his Mindful based stress reduction program (MBSR). Taking inspiration from the Buddhist tradition, it fosters non-judgemental and non-reactive focus on body and mind in the present moment. Next to other studies, one study conducted on Norwegian university students, showed the effectiveness of MBSR, after students reported a decrease in mental distress after the program. MBSR has also been used to support treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression and can even be linked to neurological changes in the brain.

Mindful yoga: “a method to stop thought waves”

Due to its mediative aspect Yoga is part of the MBSR program. It is important to note, however, that not all mindfulness is Yoga and not all Yoga is mindful. Mindful yoga includes mind-body awareness and paying close attention to your thoughts and bodily sensations as you move through your practice. Applying Buddhist mindfulness teachings, it puts the emphasis on observing rather than reacting. Studies show that mindful yoga fosters awareness of yourself and your surroundings and encourages patience and compassion for yourself and others.  It also helps accept external circumstances and is linked to a higher distress tolerance.

How Yoga helps with my mental health

Apart from increasing my strength and flexibility, Yoga has become a stable rock I hold onto, when waves of anxiety overcome me. It allows me to focus on my body and breath and let go of internal and external distractions. I believe, Yoga is a celebration of what the body and mind are capable of, while encouraging patience and self-compassion. The beauty of Yoga is, there is no one way to do yoga, there is a variety of types for everyone. And while it should never be a substitute for professional treatment, Yoga can be something you gift yourself and your well-being.

So, roll out your mat; inhale, exhale and let it go.

Author: Svenja Gleich

How much do we matter? – A midwife’s Coronavirus experience

Over the course of the last three months, a lot has changed in our daily routines. The sudden lockdown and stay-at-home orders have affected everyone in Germany. While many students, myself included, were able to stay at home and rejoice in the comforts of “easier” exams and a two-minute commute from bed to desk, essential workers were not so lucky.

Essential Workers during a pandemic

Undoubtedly, every single essential worker deserves more than just applause and praise for keeping our country going. And surely a million articles could be written about the heroic people that braved the storm and still made sure everyone was safe, healthy and provided with everything they needed. However, I want to focus specifically on a group that has often fallen under the radar in the last months: midwives.
For clarification purposes, midwives are women and men (yes, they exist) that take care of expecting mothers before and after they give birth.

Tanja, a self-employed midwife from Bavaria, recalls the beginnings of what will eventually surely be the prologue of a Steven Spielberg movie. “We were suddenly the only port of call and source of comfort for new mothers, not just professionally but also on a personal level. Most times, their husbands could not be with them in the delivery rooms. On top of that, the entire family is often present in the time after a birth but could not help because of the social distancing rules set in place.” At the same time, they were ordered to only stay with the mothers and babies for as short as possible, which felt like a strange internal dilemma of wanting to be safe and also wanting to give the mothers all the support they were not currently receiving, she explains.

Midwives especially were in a difficult situation because they had to move from family to family despite the no-contact rules which technically forbade anyone from visiting another household. “And on top of that, of course the families had vulnerable newborns that could easily get sick. Plus, we had to be extra careful since they had just left the hospital and were at a higher risk of having contacted Covid-19 already.” Tanja recalls.

The technological side of things

Another area of trouble was the gymnastics courses they offered to mothers after birth. “Fortunately, we were able to do the courses online almost immediately, but that brought with it its own set of challenges. I’m not a very tech-savvy person and of course, when you’re in such a strange new situation, everything that can go wrong usually does.” Laughing, Tanja remembers: “In the first session, we started about 15 minutes later than we wanted to. My colleague’s camera didn’t work and I couldn’t access the video conference at all because my e-mail provider had spontaneously shut down their site. In the end, both our kids held our cellphones for an hour because that was the only way we were able to access the course.” Since then, not only has the technological aspect gotten much smoother, but Tanja also jokes that she’s now an expert at angling the laptop perfectly so that no one sees the chaos in her room.

“All in all, we’ve dealt with the situation as best we could,” is the conclusion Tanja offers. “In the beginning, we really wondered how much us midwives matter. It seemed like every new rule put in place somewhat ignored our existence and focused on everyone but us, but eventually we were able to piece together how we should conduct our work.” When asked what the hardest part was for her personally, the answer is “Probably the huge weight I felt with regard to the comfort I wanted to offer these women but couldn’t. Pregnancy is often already a very scary time for them, and then to suddenly feel like they had to figure everything out on their own with the occasional phone call and the significantly shorter visits we conducted was a source of frustration for all of us.”

The moral of our newfound appreciation

While this pandemic is certainly not an occasion to be thankful for, it’s safe to say that our attention has had to shift to aspects of our society that we didn’t focus on before. Not only are essential workers finally receiving the attention they deserve, but like midwives, many professions have finally started being viewed as irreplaceable. Something we can take away from these months – other than a 1,5 meter distance being ingrained in our heads – might be a newfound awareness for just how difficult and important the work done by nurses, retail workers, midwives (and many more) is in our society. In the months coming, perhaps we can all do our part to make sure that we show this appreciation not only in clapping at a certain time every day, but also make sure they are treated fairly and also finally paid as much as they deserve.

author: Sarah Fiebig

“Don’t make me grow up before my time” – The Timelessness of Little Women

„I just feel like, women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!”, Saoirse Ronan says with tears in her eyes, “But I’m so lonely.” Now I’m also crying. In case you’re wondering where this quote is from – it’s Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. The film hit US cinemas on Christmas Day last year, was nominated for seven Oscars and finally came to Germany in late January. Since then I’ve actually watched it twice at the movies, that’s how good it is.

Originally, Little Women is a children’s book by Louisa May Alcott that first came out in 1868 and received a second volume a year later. The book is considered a classic and has been filmed and re-filmed several times. Even though it came out forever ago, I managed to get half the people I know hooked on it. Here’s why you should do the same.

“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”

Little Women tells the tale of the lower middle-class March family: the father is away fighting in the American Civil War, and mother Marmee takes care of their four daughters by herself. The Little Women couldn’t be any more different in personality and life goals. The second volume Good Wives portrays them as young women who are trying to accomplish said goals.

There is Jo, an aspiring writer who does not want to get married. Yet, she has to come to realize that everyone around her seems to be changing: her family and friends all grow up, think of marriage and children and she keeps clinging to the past.

Her youngest sister Amy was probably the least liked sister to most readers prior to the 2019 movie. She’s an artist-to-be, at times annoying and vain and has her mind set on marrying rich. The movie actually manages to turn her into a fan-favourite.

The oldest sister Meg is more of a romantic – she gets married at a very young age and faces the kind of problems you would expect: child keeping and making jam. The usual.

Last, we have Beth. She is a very shy character and is the kind soul of the family. Luckily for her, she is always supported by her sisters and they would all happily throw a punch for her.

The movie very beautifully combines the stories from their childhood and alternates them with the ones from their adulthood. The flashbacks are tinted in warm, rosy colours, whereas the present ones are rather blueish and cold. This alternation manages to bring together innocence and growth, as well as optimism and reality.

“Girls have to go into the world and make up their own minds about things.”

Little Women in itself is a timeless story, especially regarding its themes and topics. For one, you have a differentiated portrayal of feminism, which is even more amazing considering that the book was written in the 1860s. It will positively break your heart (to quote my brother at the movies, crying: “You should have told me it was going to be so sad! You can’t let me watch this without warning me first!”).

Another theme is the whole growing up business. You know … the one you’re probably also trying really hard to figure out. There’s this movie scene where Amy says “I’m a failure” and Laurie replies “That’s quite a statement to make at twenty.” The story reflects really well the struggles of becoming An AdultTM and figuring out who you are, while also dealing with a constant shortage of money, time and sleep (please tell me it’s not just me).

The film manages to literally convey all of this in two hours. Yet, if you are still doubtful about whether you really need to watch the movie, let me mention the cast – a movie that has Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep should be worth watching regardless of its content. And I stand by that.

author: Lea Metzner

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