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Posts tagged mental health
L A B E L S
Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me

Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me


When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief or nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Would you agree with me that we typically feel compelled to label: people, items, emotions, experiences, ideas…pretty much everything!

Sure, there’s value in labeling. That’s how we’re able to know what the hell we’re referencing. Otherwise, our convos would take twice as long trying to describe what we’re referring to, and it’d all be one continuous scene of The Little Mermaid (“Whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20!”). Obnoxious and frustrating to the max.

Labels are part of our culture - in every sense of the word (personal, professional, legislative, judicial, pop culture, music, etc). They contribute to the infrastructure upon which society is built, upon which laws are passed, upon which food is sorted and Netflix is categorized. When I’m browsing for new jams, I don’t want to have to scroll through a shi* ton of random opera ballads to get to my preferred music.

Labels make our lives easier and more efficient. They allow our brains and bodies to navigate through life more effectively amid the onslaught of information we’re blasted with every second of every day. They help us make sense of the world, with all of its complexities.

They also can bestow us with a common purpose. It can offer a sense of belonging/pride/commonality/community, particularly in the case of nationality/cultural identity/etc. It can provide a cause/entity to cheer for, a common point to rally around. They give us traditions, and opportunities to connect with other similar people.

However…

These benefits (efficiency, simplicity, community, pride, etc), can come at a price.

It can become problematic/limiting/divisive/misleading/self-defeating when we apply this labeling compulsion with no consciousness, awareness, flexibility, or fluidity. When we tattoo those labels, so to speak, making them costly, painful, and time-intensive to remove (I really took that tattoo metaphor and ran with it, didn’t I?). Labels can also mask our universal commonalities and pit us against the “outsiders.”

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Society values clarity and decisiveness. We’re prompted to label people as good or bad, right or wrong, successful or non; same goes for ideas, etc.

This dichotomous and limited way of thinking doesn’t account for complexities: within individuals, within groups, within the world in general. People do good things. People do bad things. Life isn’t always black and white.

And I want to live in a world where people’s gender/race/skin color are irrelevant. Just because I may be regarded as a privileged white woman doesn’t mean I’m not allowed an opinion or a say or a hope for a more inclusive world.

Furthermore, it limits our growth and happiness, and clouds our view, when we apply labels to ourselves! Particularly regarding our identities. We’re conditioned to establish our identities on factors such as our skin color, our profession, our IQ level, our prevailing temperament, our body type, our gender, our music taste, our religion, our political affiliation. Lawd help us if we step outside our established identity: a straight male shaking it at Zumba, a Republican voting for a Democrat, a bodybuilder loving the ballet, a grandma digging Metallica.

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It’s easy to feel locked into a label and feel pressured to maintain that image. For example, men in certain cultures (looking at you, ‘Murica) are typically discouraged from expressing emotion - especially in the military. To cry is considered weak and “sissy la la.” What kind of bullshit is that?! Think about it: They are discouraged from expressing HUMAN EMOTION.

I’ve previously discussed the dangers of emotion repression, and the takeaway is: it ain’t good. Those emotions don’t just disappear into the ether - they fester and make their way out eventually and demand to be addressed.

Former Army Special Forces Green Beret Greg Stube acknowledges this in his stellar book, Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team. He was fully indoctrinated in the masculine military, “rub some dirt on it” (he actually uses those words) mentality…until he almost died in Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006. He was finally forced to grapple with what it means to be human, to be complete, and to be truly strong: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Having repressed that facet of being human for so long, he was knocked for a total loop when he was blown to smithereens by an IED (improvised explosive device) and forced to accept a very different reality, one in which he couldn’t just rub some dirt on it and soldier on. Through soul searching, reflection, and personal “come to Jesus” talks, he came out on top - and acknowledged the importance of transcending certain labels to embrace and cultivate what it means to be human, and what it means to be truly strong.

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So what happens when something happens and the label no longer fits?

We get fired. We go bankrupt. We get voted out. We get sick. We flunk a test. We gain/lose weight. We experience an existential criss that triggers re-evaluation of our priorities/affiliations/beliefs.

Like Greg Stube experienced, it can be devastating, if your identity is tethered to that label. Suddenly you start wondering who you really are, if not your label(s). If I’m not a high-powered lawyer/straight-A brainiac/size 0/Christian/president/husband/etc, who am I? What’s my place in the world? What do I have to offer? Am I still worth loving? So many of us feel conditionally loved, whether we realize it or not. We’re led to think (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) that we are accepted/loved because of those labels: doctor/Mormon/star athlete/parent/do-it-yourselfer/subject matte expert.

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This also applies to emotions. Let’s say you’re known as the carefree, happy, optimistic one. The one who sprinkles sunshine wherever you go and elevates the mood in any situation. You’ve learned to effectively play this role. But what happens when you have a bad day? Or even a bad year? Are you supposed to deny yourself feeling those “negative” emotions?


When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
— Gary Zukav

What you resist, persists.


Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
— Pema Chodron

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Which leads us to emotion labeling. Emotions aren’t positive or negative; emotions are emotions. Emotions are natural and wide-ranging, and most importantly: emotions are messengers. They come and they go, so we should let them move through us, view them with curiosity and no attachment, and discern their message. By denying/ignoring/repressing them, you are stunting your growth, preventing your freedom, and blocking true happiness.


Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion. Witness it. Allow it. Release it.
— Crystal Andrus

Ultimately, as the opening quote indicates, labels separate: us from each other, us from ourselves (our true essences). While they do serve a purpose, it is crucial for us to be aware of them and fluid in our allegiance to them. As long as we interpret them loosely and keep an open mind, we’ll all be better off.

xx,

-w-


Once you label me, you negate me.
— Soren Kierkegaard

Ya F E E L me?

Now on to the second Great Untruth, as outlined in The Coddling of the American Mind (an amazing book I read and first mentioned in an earlier post):

Always trust your feelings.

[Note: This relates to your emotions, not your intuition.]

Don’t get me wrong, emotions are helpful. Emotions are valuable messengers, revealing what’s going on below the surface, in your subconscious. They illuminate unhealed/repressed/insecure/etc parts of your being.

However, it’s imperative you view them through the right mindset: tools to increase your self awareness and heal yourself. Means to make you even more of a BAMF (bad ass motha you know what). Doing so requires willingness and discipline. It can be all too easy to give in to your initial feelings of anger/envy/contempt/fear/etc. But nope - be stronger than that.

If someone says something says something that rubs you the wrong way, or triggers feelings as resentment or rage, ask yourself:

  • Could I possibly have misperceived their words/intent?

    • Maybe I misheard them, or misunderstood them. Maybe they misspoke, thereby concealing their true [pure!] intent. Did they offend you unintentionally? [Have come across the wrong way? I know I have!] Try not to assume!

  • What can you glean from your emotional reaction?

    • Why did it affect you so strongly, in that way? Did it hit a nerve with you based on some past slight, of which the person is unaware? If so, this is a great opportunity to resolve the issue(s) within yourself

Do yourself - and others - a favor by going that extra step to check your automatic emotional reaction. If you operate off pure [initial] emotion, you’re limiting your self/interactions/connections and dooming yourself to a life of victimization, hurt, anxiety, and ostracism - regardless if these emotions are justified.

And so what if they are justified?

What if the person actually was intending offense? By reacting hostilely and lashing out (as tempting as it can be), you only deepen the divide and nurture the status quo.

Again, try to avoid assumption. If something rubs you the wrong way, respectfully acknowledge your possible misperception. This allows them: 1. an opportunity to clarify; 2. an opportunity to learn and see how their words/reasoning could be misconstrued and negatively impact others. (Wouldn’t you appreciate the same opportunity, if roles were reversed?) This likely heightens their awareness, thereby hopefully bridging the gap, lessening those divisive lines, and decreasing the likelihood of it happening again, to you or someone else. And maybe they stand by their assertion and maintain their racist/sexist/homophobic/ etc intent and view. It is what it is.

At least by responding with love and respect you can rest assured you’re not contributing to the problem. You can hold your head high knowing that by choosing to respond with love, you’re doing your part to soften the divide. And don’t get me wrong - sometimes you need to show a little fire to emphasize your point; but if you’re all flame and fury, you’re only exacerbating the situation.

A great principle to live your life by is the principle of charity: interpret others’ statements in their best, most reasonable form, not in the worst or most offensive way possible. The ease with which you do this shows how solid within yourself you are. If it’s still challenging - time for some self reflection, amigo.

And while you’re self assessing, try not to label emotions as negative or positive - they’re just emotions! Like, I said, they’re tools to help you become happier, healthier, and stronger. Means by which to become S O L I D.



Choose not to be harmed - and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed - and you haven’t been.
— Marcus Aurelius

I’m a big fan of stoicism and Marcus Aurelius.

Don’t let others control your mind and cortisol levels. There will ALWAYS be offenses and offensive content (especially online!). Good news! It’s not up to you to right every [perceived] wrong, and school those with whom you disagree. (How easy would it be for them to change your mind? It’d likely be just as tough to change theirs.) As we strive to lessen hatred and heal divisions, we must all pick our battles and ignore some of what we see, and just carry on with our day - if only for your own sanity’s sake!

Shine on, babes.

xx,

-w-





What doesn't K I L L you makes you....
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learn how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.
— Van Jones


It’s undeniable: Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are skyrocketing.

Why is this?

I recently read a book called The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

This book explores causes of and antidotes to:

  • Fragility of today’s youth

  • Decline of free speech

  • Elevated rates of depression, anxiety, self harm, and suicide, particularly among today’s youth

The book starts off with three Great Untruths that seem to have spread widely in recent years:

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

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These Great Untruths are negatively impacting everyone. Anyone who cares about youth, education, or democracy should be concerned about these trends.

This post will focus on the first Great Untruth (specifically regarding fragility): What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Contrary to current popular practice and belief, children are antifragile. They NEED to be exposed to various challenges and stressors (within limits and in age-appropriate ways) or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to function successfully and engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions (Failure to Launch, anyone?!).

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You are not a fragile candle, you are a fire - so welcome the wind by seeking out ideologically different speakers and ideas.

Though parents/teachers/caretakers/administrators have good intentions by shielding and protecting kids from physical/mental/emotional/psychological hurt, doing so actually does more harm than good. Grossly expanded conceptions of trauma and safety are now used to justify overprotecting youth of all ages (even many college kids who now claim the need for safe spaces and trigger warnings lest words and ideas “endanger” them).

Safetyism is an obsession with eliminating threats (both real and imagined) to the point where practical and moral concerns are overruled. Safetyism deprives young people of the experiences their antifragile minds need, thereby making them more fragile, anxious, and prone to seeing themselves as victims.

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The authors discuss how children today, on average, have far more restricted childhoods than their parents did, though the parents grew up in far more dangerous times. This is due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Fear for children’s safety (though children are safer today than at any other point in history)

  • Heightened educational standards and requirements, from preschool through high school, particularly to facilitate college admission

Both of these factors result in less exploratory play time and more structured, supervised time. The authors note helicopter parenting combined with laws and social norms that make it tough to allow kids unsupervised play time may negatively impact their resilience and mental health.

Basically, when we overprotect children, we harm them. Overprotection makes them weaker and less resilient in the future. As with most things, it’s about balance. You don’t want to neglect them, but you don’t want to overmonitor them, denying them the thousands of small challenges, risks, and adversities they need to face on their own to become strong and resilient adults.

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Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.

Foster antifragility by giving kids the gift of experience so they can become autonomous, resilient adults. Recognize they need some unstructured, unsupervised time to learn how to judge risks for themselves and practice dealing with issues like frustration, boredom, and interpersonal conflict. The most important thing they can do with that time is to play, especially in free play, outdoors, with other kids (away from screens!). There may need to be an adult nearby for children’s physical safety, but that adult shouldn’t intervene in general disputes and arguments.

The authors even recommend encouraging your children to walk or ride bikes to and from school at the earliest age possible, consistent with local factors like distance, traffic, and crime. Ask your school to provide a way for kids to check in and out, to track children who trek to school independently without needing to use a smartphone to monitor them.

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If you like the idea of allowing your young ones a little more leash length, but are worried the neighbors will report you, visit LetGrow.org to print a “Let Grow License” to send with your kiddos. This informs any (well-meaning!) busybodies your child is not lost or neglected, and is allowed more free rein (in compliance with state law). Learn what the laws in your state require by typing “state laws” into the site’s search box.

As previously mentioned, it’s not just about physical safety; consider your kids’ emotional, mental, and psychological well-being. You can fortify them by encouraging your children to engage in a lot of “productive disagreement.” Instruct them how to communicate respectfully. Teaching them how to give and take criticism without being personally offended is an essential life skill.

In the next post, we’ll discuss the second Great Untruth: Always trust your feelings.

xx,

-w-

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Write here…










Copy of d a r k . 2. L I G H T
Concept and images by me  Model: Byron Hunt

Concept and images by me

Model: Byron Hunt

I don’t live in darkness. Darkness lives in me.

We’ve all faced darkness. Sure, some more than others but we’ve all been there, experiencing it ourselves/encountering it in others.

We’ve also all experienced challenges and struggles; again, to varying degrees.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you have in your bank account. It doesn’t matter if your social life is poppin’ or if your abs pop. Darkness is equal opportunity. It affects people of all classes, of all races, of all backgrounds.

Some people have enough inner light to repel it. Yeah, they might feel down and out for a bit, but ultimately, the light triumphs. Glow baby glow.

For some people, the darkness permeates, and sometimes it’s harder to shake.

It doesn’t matter what your experiences are - being a human can be tough stuff! Just as we’re advised not to compare our highlight reels - we also should avoid comparing our “lowlight reels” so to speak. Our behind the scenes. Our challenges and obstacles. Our sucker punches life throws us.

We’re all on different journeys, with different psyches and pasts and mindsets and cumulative experiences. Maybe you’re a single parent eking out a life for yourself and your young. Maybe you’re a cancer patient fighting to keep a smile on your face and a resolve in your heart. Maybe you’re a teenager navigating your way in a world of bullies and heartbreaks. Or maybe you have a fantastic life by all general standards yet still feel empty.

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How beautiful is the relationship between the moon and the dark night sky. So contrasting, yet so incomplete without each other.

It’s all hard!! Try not to compare your “hard” and try not to feel guilty for feeling knocked down by life sometimes.

Just accept! Accept your emotions. The more you deny yourself feeling them, the stronger they become. As they say, what you resist, persists.

Life offers ebbs and flows. Peaks and valleys. No two experiences are the same - even within your own life! It depends on your current mental/emotional state.

Think about it - sometimes an issue that would normally knock you on your face barely fazes you, while other times, merely dropping a pen can elicit instant rage and a “F M L!!!!!!!!!!”

And the comparison can flow the other way too! Try not to diminish/discredit others’ experiences. Just because someone hasn’t confronted the same quantity/quality of challenges as you doesn’t mean their life is easier. Like I said, it depends on their current mental/emotional state, which depends on multiple factors: their upbringing, their relationships, their health, etc. Shoot, even their current spot on the hanger scale! We truly have NO idea what people are working with and feeling. So let’s all hug - or at least high five - one another - and show kindness and empathy.

It fascinates me how we all have inner worlds to which no one else is privy. Every time I pass someone on the street, I want to know their story: challenges they’ve overcome, accomplishments they’ve achieved, etc. WE ALL HAVE STORIES.

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I myself have experienced my own share of darkness. I’m definitely an empath, so when i feel, I friggin’ F E E L. And I take on other people’s energies/emotions. This sensitivity is both a benefit and a drawback. I appreciate it because it allows me to relate to and care for people on a whole other level (you fellow empaths can relate!), but it also gets me down and stresses me out. I feel the injustices of the world so acutely, particularly as they apply to others. Almost always, when I’m bumming/stressing, it’s on another’s behalf.

I’m still working on setting the boundaries for worrying about others, but as far as my personal darkness - my tried and true method for banishing the blues and maintaining a lasting zest for life - no matter my current situation - is facing it. Not denying it, or fleeing it, or resisting it. Leaning into it. Analyzing it. Letting others in. I’m a big advocate for therapy (and if you’ve tried therapy but didn’t connect with your therapist - keep looking! Vibing with your therapist is key).

And finally, be G R A T E F U L. Gratitude is deceptively powerful. So simple, so cliche…yet SO TRANSFORMATIVE. It truly makes all the difference. It may take significant effort initially to adopt an appreciative mindset. It’s a muscle you must strengthen, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

My trick is whenever I encounter a sucky situation or draining emotion, I think of three things for which I’m thankful. It’s straight MAGIC. It kicks those good vibes into gear and lights you right up.

No, really. Try it.

I also think of three ways the situation could be worse - and THAT also is profoundly effective. Suddenly, you’re feeling pretty dang good about your current status.

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To deny your broken bits is doing yourself a great deal of injustice. It is the broken parts of you that grew you the most.

You’ve heard it before but that’s because it’s da TRUTH: Every challenge/obstacle/hardship you face is a b l e s s i n g. It’s an opportunity to grow and evolve. To get smarter, stronger, and better. To relate to others and inform your future experiences.

Acknowledge, accept, and honor your challenges. Be grateful for them, for they’re specifically what you need to evolve. Customized launch pads to strength, success, and wisdom.

xx,

-w-

*This post is not meant to discredit the use of psychotropics. Take control of your own health and please also consider consulting a psychiatrist/other mental health professional if necessary!











W E I R D O
Model: Lily Cuoio  Images by Whitney Ann Photography

Model: Lily Cuoio

Images by Whitney Ann Photography

We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird.And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it LOVE.
— Dr. Seuss

Normalcy is an illusion.

We’re all different from one another. We’re all one of a kind. Who’s to say what is acceptable? Did we elect a Normalcy Nazi who decides what is and is not allowable? One who sets the standards to which we must conform to be considered normal? (If so, I’m staging a coup d’etat - WHO’S WITH ME?!)

See what I’m getting at? It’s all subjective y’all!

It’s weird not to be weird.
— John Lennon

You do you! If you still do care about what others think, that’s okay - no judgment here. But I highly advise you to join the “Don’t Care Club” because it is a truly liberating way to live.

Try to slowly wean yourself off of contemplating how others will perceive you. It’s a muscle - exercise it. Just like with regular muscles like quads or biceps, some people are born with stronger “so what” muscles than others. Does that mean you’re doomed to a fate of weakness in that particular area? Hell to the no. Just do exercises to strengthen it. BOOM.

For example, if there’s an outfit you REALLLLY want to wear but feel people would consider you under/over dressed - you wear that outfit! I do it all the dang time. I’m almost always over-dressed for events. Is it because I’m unclear on the proposed dress code, or unsure of what others will be wearing? N O P E. It’s because I choose to honor my style. And when you live in a smaller city like mine, you must create your own opportunities and grab any chance to wear those bougy heels you just got. Will you get looks? Most likely. But try to learn to be okay with that discomfort. I’ve been fortunate in that I was born with a pretty strong “screw it” muscle, but it still gets tested time to time. There is an ENTIRE WORLD on the other side of your fear of judgment. A pretty rad world, I gotta admit.

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If you’re a parent, hopefully you’ll extend this freedom to your kids as well. I’m not a parent myself but can appreciate how tough it is, so these next words are by no means parent shaming or judging. I was talking with a friend once who didn’t want their kid to do a certain (common!) extracurricular activity for fear others would perceive the kid as a weirdo or a nerd.

I urge you to ask yourself what message this sends your kid? That they must repress/deny their interests/talents in favor of others’ opinions? For fear of earning a certain label? What if that activity lights your kid up like nothing else and brings them pure bliss - would you still deny them the opportunity? Or what if the kid has world class talent in that area, and you’re blocking that opportunity for a bright future purely out of fear of a short-lived junior high/high school status? This also sends a message of conditional acceptance, and discourages authenticity.

What a beautiful world we live in BECAUSE of variety. Think of most of the musical/literary geniuses out there. Many of them admit to being ostracized in school for being different - yet look where that weirdness got them!

What makes you different or weird - that’s your strength.
— Meryl Streep

Plus, out-of-the-box thinking is what generates societal and technological advances! Creative thinking is usually what yields ingenious solutions to problems.

And what about nature? Think of all of the different flora and fauna on earth. How boring it would be if we only had brown cats and red tulips (adios carne asada, peace out pepperoni pizza, ciao calla lillies).

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One of my best amigas handled a related situation with her daughter brilliantly. Her daughter wanted to wear her shoes on the “wrong” feet: her left shoe on her right foot, and vice versa. Rather than immediately shutting her down, my friend gently responded with a compromise that honored her little girl’s uniqueness, but also accommodated the typical way. She replied by acknowledging her daughter’s individuality and creativity, and offered, “The typical way of wearing shoes is with your left shoot on the left foot, and right shoot on the right foot. How about when you go to school, you wear them that way, and when you’re not at school, you can wear them how you would like?” Well played.

One of my major life approaches is to live and let live. As long as your weirdness doesn’t cause hurt or destruction, what’s the harm?

Be weird. Be random. Be who you are. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.
— C.S. Lewis

Know this: You can count on others having an opinion, no matter WHAT you do. But are you ready to reclaim your power and your life? Stop letting others control your life for you, via their judgments?

It’s not really my problem if they think I’m weird.
— Sid Vicious

Have the courage to live your truth!!

Love you, you weirdos.

xx,

-w-

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