Halloween: Celebrating Youth! . . . And Anxiety?

I recently read a BuzzFeed post that pointed out some of the apparent highlights of Halloween at university. Top of the list was looking sexy, shots, shots, shots, and making awesome group costumes. Now, I bet most of us can probably plead guilty to at least one of these. But we should also stop and ask ourselves why?

I absolutely love Halloween!

Because of these three ladies . . .

Source: http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/will-there-be-a-hocus-pocus-2

Source: http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/will-there-be-a-hocus-pocus-2

And for every replay of this . . .

Source: http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/10/25/happy-treehouse-of-horror-day/586353_f496/

Source: http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/10/25/happy-treehouse-of-horror-day/586353_f496/

And, do I really have to explain?

Source: http://www.harbordvillage.com/pumpkinfest

Source: http://www.harbordvillage.com/pumpkinfest

I love the smell of Halloween from the leaves on the street to the brisk night air like an invitation to breathe. Most of all I love Halloween costumes. The candy is good, too.

It used to be that all I cared about was my costume. I changed my mind every other week: Batman, Dracula, Batman, Dracula, a Mummy, a Zombie, Batman, wait I’ve got it—Dracula!

Then something changed. It became important to have a really good costume. A well-done, clever costume. An aspect of social competition had been introduced. It was no longer solely about me and my costume. It was about how my costume might impact them. Some of my friends started saying, “Halloween is lame!” It had become a social challenge that they refused to contest.

I think Halloween is a celebration of youth. A night for children to run around. A night for kids to eat candy. A night for teenagers and adults to put away their busy thoughts, and put on a costume. It’s a night to dress up like Miley Cyrus or Rob Ford or the cast of Orange is the New Black, if you want. It’s a night to act less serious and have a laugh.

But why do many university students say, “No, I’m not dressing up. I don’t like Halloween very much.” Is it really just for kids? Is putting on a costume so far below the seriousness of academia? Or is it a social issue that leads to anxiety?

I think the notion of celebrating youthfulness is unexpectedly stressful. As a university student, it’s like being asked to celebrate being you. It sounds nice, but it requires that you step out into a suddenly competitive social spotlight.

Some of us stay far away from this spotlight, others want to look sexy, or think they have to drink, or rely on the close company of a friend group. Either way, I think the anxiety drives us to miss the deeper importance of celebrating youth, which is to relax and have fun.

Last year, a group of friends and I dressed up like the characters from Clue. It was a lot of fun. Looking back I see how social anxieties were at play. They always are.Clue

This year we are being the villains from Batman. I have been working hard on my costume, and it feels almost as genuine as when I was a kid. I really do love Halloween. But I am not worry free, and I doubt I ever will be. But at least I can stop, take a deep breath of crisp autumn air, and think about why.

Happy Halloween, U of T,halloween

-Stephen

 

Health and Wellness . . . Yes Please! (Attack of the Appendix)

So this happened, and now I can laugh about it. (#laughUofT) It started with a stomach-ache on Thanksgiving Monday. I must have eaten too much mashed-potatoes and apple-crisp. But the pain lasted overnight, concentrating on the lower right side of my abdomen, and by Tuesday afternoon it was even worse.

I just knew it—Appendicitis, my only weakness!

appendix doodle

 

After some thought, I decided to go see a doctor. The U of T Health Clinic is down at 214 College Street, and they prefer scheduled appointments. It was too far for me to walk (all hunched over and groaning), so I went to an Ontario Clinic on Bloor Street.

The thing about Walk-in-Clinics: Expect to wait. Bring a book, a magazine—your notes on how to solve world hunger—because it’s going to take a while.

Of course, I brought nothing. So for nearly two hours I did nothing by writhe in gut-wrenching agony (No, I’m just being dramatic). But seriously, it was gut-wrenching agony!

Oh, and don’t forget your Health Card.

At last I saw the doctor. She asked does this hurt and I said yes. Then she asked does THIS hurt and I said YES! So she wrote me an ultrasound referral for the hospital and sent me on my way.

It was twelve noon. I had tutorial at two o’clock. But Health and Wellness has to be #1!

Source: http://www.uproxx.com/tv/2012/10/supercut-rob-lowe-chris-traeger/

Source: http://www.uproxx.com/tv/2012/10/supercut-rob-lowe-chris-traeger/

So I went to Toronto Western Hospital. Before I could be treated, I had to get a University Health Network card, which required:

>  Health Card Number

> Driver’s licence or official I.D.

> Name of Family Doctor

> Medical Insurance plan

I had forgotten the name of my family doctor, so I had to call my mom. Calling your parents (especially my mom) from the hospital is a very delicate task. Do not, as I did, begin, “Mom, I’m at the hospital.” ‘Cause parents go like this:

Source: http://hannahitsapalindrome.blogspot.ca/2013/03/gifs-that-needed-to-exist.html

Source: http://hannahitsapalindrome.blogspot.ca/2013/03/gifs-that-needed-to-exist.html

With my blue UHN card, I went up to radiology for an ultrasound. Wrongo! Ultrasounds are customarily booked six weeks in advance. The nurse sent me down to the Emergency Ward. And, once again, I played the waiting game.

Source: http://www.snarksquad.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/why3.gif

Source: http://www.snarksquad.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/why3.gif

I was brought into Emerg a little after five o’clock. My girlfriend arrived, which made everything better, and eventually I had an ultrasound (skip to 2:10). Then the doctor came back with the results. I had Appendicitis. There were three options:

> Do nothing.

> Take antibiotics.

> Have surgery

All of a sudden I had to make a decision. I had been following the advice and recommendations of professionals all day, but now they fell silent. The doctor was waiting for me to tell him what to do.

I chose surgery.

Now I feel much better. I have three small scars, but the pain is gone. It’s strange. Having to decide whether I needed surgery has become the most striking aspect of the whole experience. It was like I had graduated.

I had to take responsibility for my own life! (Oh gosh, Steve, really?) Yes!

As a student, I find it easy to take my actions for granted, to assume everything will work out fine in the end. But being a student is not unlike having surgery. Both are choices. Both have risks and consequences. And although you may feel rushed into them, both have the final purpose of helping you. Tough decisions are with us at every turn. It’s our job to make them responsibly. I think I’ll remember that.

 

‘Til we meet again, U of T,

Photo Credit: Leah-Jade Emmerson

Photo Credit: Leah-Jade Emmerson

Stay diamond!

-Stephen.

Everybody Likes a Gathering!

How goes it everybody?

Hopefully everyone out in U of T land are killing their midterms and papers this week. Speaking of midterms… what’s with that term “midterm” anyways? I think we need to strongly consider changing it to “First Tests” or something, I mean Midterm assumes that you are already midway through the semester, and last I checked we were just 5 weeks in. Also how can one have two midterms? Are you attempting to persuade me into believing that there can be two middles of the semester? have you lost your minds completely? Stop speeding up on me University, time is already going too fast and I still have no idea what I’m going to do post-Grad!

Sums it up nicely

Sums it up nicely

Alright so now that we have the rant portion of the post already covered and out of the way let’s move onto something more productive shall we?

Even though we are all swamped this month with paper’s and tests, it’s nice to get your head out of the library/classroom and check out an event or two on campus. This month First Nations House has a major writing event being held on the 24-25th appropriately titled “Indigenous Writers Gathering”. The purpose of the event is to, of course, promote indigenous writing, storytelling, and rhetoric but it also includes events featuring authors who focus on stronger fiction, non-fiction and creative writing skills in a more broad sense. Therefore the programming is not geared specifically and only towards those of Aboriginal ancestry. It’s not just a great opportunity to get out and meet some professors and award winning writers but also an opportunity to go to an event which you can write about for an assignment/paper. Multiple times, in a variety of my courses, I have been required to attend and then report on an event around campus.  If you are in a similar situation than this is definitely the event for you.

Image

The Indigenous Writer’s Gathering also has a lot of momentum from it’s past years success, if you have a second, check out this short review of last year’s programming. I hope to see some of you there :)

Well, stay in there everybody.  This wave of “first” tests and papers will be long gone in just a few short weeks.

Shak

 

 

What Comes After Pain?

Forgiveness Project 1

The F Word: The Forgiveness Project Exhibition in Hart House’s main hall.

In the peaceful main hallway at Hart House, there hangs a series of panels that depict murderers, mothers, former gang members and an archbishop. This seemingly eclectic collection of photos and stories seeks to “explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people’s lives.” As part of the Wounds into Wisdom series of tri-campus events this year, The F Word: The Forgiveness Project Exhibition highlights exceptional stories of what comes after pain.

There were many different, including some very surprising, reactions to the idea of what comes after pain and whether forgiveness, or otherwise, was an appropriate response. One perpetrator felt asking for forgiveness added “insult to injury” to the relatives and family member. Robi Damelin, whose son was killed while serving in the Israeli army, urged the army not to take revenge in the name of her son upon hearing the news of his death.

Mariane Pearl whose husband, the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was “murdered by a militant Islamic fundamentalist group” said that she had no reason to forgive her husband’s killer, that forgiveness was “too lame an answer for extreme situations”. She instead has chosen “to win some sort of victory over the people who have hurt [her]” by continuing to live and value life.

Conversely, Azim Khamisa found what was called for was forgiveness, and then some. Azim offered a job to his son’s murderer at the foundation Azim had set up in his son’s name after he realized that “there were victims at both ends of the gun.”

Walking through the exhibit, I found it to be more moving that I thought it would be. After all, these sorts of conflicts are things I have studied for the last four years as part of my Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies program. But many of these stories and reactions to the conflicts were deeply personal and certainly beyond what I had expected to find while wandering the halls on campus.

Stories like the ones in the exhibit reminded me of a great quote from journalist Nahlah Ayed in her book, A Thousand Farewells:

“People are not quotes or clips, used to illustrate stories about war and conflict. People are the story, always.”

Particularly when we’re immersed in theoretical academia, this sentiment can be an easy thing to forget.

Forgiveness, on a day-to-day basis, can also be easily forgotten. One of favourite stories of everyday forgiveness comes from a friend who saw her wallet being stolen out of her bag while she was giving a presentation in class. Instead of calling the thief out (as I likely would have done), Toronto-based poet and artist Paloma wrote a poem called “to the man who stole my wallet”, part of which is excerpted below.

i am not so angry

as you expect

me to be.

 

those sixty-one dollars,

i am happy to

give you.

 

please buy yourself something

that makes you happy

and something that makes

you full.

 

the quarter with the triangle of turquoise

I was keeping,

for my sister who collects coins.

 

maybe your sister

collects coins.

The ability to see the person within the perpetrator is what humbles me both in this poem and in The F Word exhibit. It is something for us all to keep in mind as we navigate what comes after pain.

-Kay

—–

The Forgiveness Project was founded by journalist Marina Cantacuzino, with photos taken by Brian Moody. The University of Toronto version is a joint collaboration between Hart House, the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, Hillel of Toronto (U of T), Ask Big Questions and the Multi-Faith Centre. Exhibits can be seen from Sept. 20th – Oct. 16th at Hart House (main hall) with additional panels at Hillel of Toronto, the Multi-Faith Centre, First Nations House and in the lobby of 215 Huron St. Further information for the exhibit, along with info for the related movie screenings and conflict resolution workshops may be found here.

Essay Writing Dos and Don’ts

Warning: Now entering Essay Alley, a two-month span of the academic year known for an increase in essay-related stress, anxiety, and all out no-good-not-niceness. Luckily, the unofficial U of T Essay Writing Dos and Don’ts is here to help. (Have essay advice? Share it #UofTessaytips).

In my second year I took the Innis College course, Writing English Essays. An intermediate, hands-on course, I learned many skills and techniques of persuasive writing. Most useful, however, was the T.A.’s suggestion that we all read The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (the author of Charlotte’s Web). It’s a little guidebook to clear, concise, stylistic writing, and I would highly recommend it!

Now! The unofficial U of T Essay Writing Dos and Donts:

Do: Give it time.

http://buzzfeedanimals.tumblr.com/page/4

http://buzzfeedanimals.tumblr.com/page/4

I have written essays the night before they were due. And I’ve written essays weeks in advance. Which do you think resulted in a better essay? Allowing myself time to reconsider and re-contemplate my arguments has always proven beneficial. An essay is a presentation of our thinking in words, and our thinking is constantly changing and developing. We need time to get it clear.

Don’t: Summarize or list facts.

http://natgeo-gifs.tumblr.com/post/31358180042

http://natgeo-gifs.tumblr.com/post/31358180042

Sometimes a summary of events may feel necessary to situate your arguments. I always ask my T.A. or professor about this. Most say that summaries are a boring, unneeded waste of words. Listing facts may also seem beneficial because it fills space. But a list of facts is not a developed argument. To write a good essay we must try to show our thinking.

Do: Engage arguments.

http://olympo.tumblr.com/post/9053065525

http://olympo.tumblr.com/post/9053065525

This is easier than it sounds. Just about every subject has previously established arguments made by scholars and students in books, papers, and journals. Find these. Read them. Pick two or three that are pertinent to your thesis and discuss them. Agree or disagree. Explain why you think so-and-so’s point is invalid, and then argue for your own ideas!

Don’t: Plagiarize.

http://jalapenoandolive.tumblr.com/post/63381014971/monday-via

http://jalapenoandolive.tumblr.com/post/63381014971/monday-via

Obvious! But also very serious. For academic, argumentative, critical writing there is no greater offence. Just imagine doing it in person: Some guy next to you says something brilliant, and when it’s your turn to speak you simply copy what he said, but you claim it’s your own idea. I don’t think so.

Do: Analyze the particular.

http://littleanimalgifs.tumblr.com/page/6

http://littleanimalgifs.tumblr.com/page/6

What do I mean? Find something small and work outwards. When I write an essay on a novel, I try to focus and build my arguments from particular passages that extend to broader themes within the book. For a history paper, I would centre my analysis on a particular event, person, or act, and draw outwards. Small is big. The particular argument informs the general assumption. Try it!

Don’t: Bribe your professor or T.A.

http://televandalist.com/post/43606450500

http://televandalist.com/post/43606450500

It just doesn’t work. Money, chocolate, theatre-tickets, a bottle of 50-year-old scotch—it’s all been tried. Unfortunately, the most effective gesture to receive that longed for A+ is a well-written essay.

Do: Pick an exciting title.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/wildlife-photos-from-the-nat-geo-photo-contest

http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/wildlife-photos-from-the-nat-geo-photo-contest

A professor of a friend of mine said that until students become famous, our best form of marketing is an exciting essay title. Wise words. I always check with my professors about title etiquette. Some are traditionalists.

Don’t: Lose sleep.

http://cineraria.tumblr.com/post/55964955759/sleepy-kitten-frida-youtube

http://cineraria.tumblr.com/post/55964955759/sleepy-kitten-frida-youtube

Handing in a late paper is not the end of the world. Nor is getting a B, or a C, or even a D. Sometimes we just get stumped and can’t think anymore. During third year, Essay Alley hit me hard and I had to ask my professor for an extension. If it’s necessary, DO IT. But ask earlier than later.

Do: Try to enjoy it.

http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/post/58178637114

http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/post/58178637114

When I’m stumped and scattered, I close my books and get out. I go see a friend. I talk about my stupid essay! And it helps. An essay is best when it’s written positively, when the mood is right.

 So remember: we’re students, we’re trying, and we’re lucky to be here.

 

 

‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!

-Stephen

Sweating: Another Thing You Can Do With Friends

Goals are easy to make, and easy to break. So I sometimes slump into the habit of multitasking in order to cram everything in my schedule. Every time I multi-task, I end up doing everything in a mediocre way. Yet, sometimes killing two birds with one stone isn’t such a bad idea. What about going to an exercise class with a friend? I’m able to socialize while getting one step closer to achieving my goal to get active. What if that friend is actually the teacher?   Well, it turns out that a dear friend of mine is starting out as a cycle fit instructor. Given that I’m also a newbie, can anyone say quid pro quo?

Last week, I bumped into a friend of mine, Megan. Since we’ve both gone off to our separate areas of study it’s been hard to find time to hang out with her. In absolute shortened form, this was how our catching up went:

Me: “I’m the MoveU writer for the Life@UofT blog this year.”
Megan: “I’m instructing a spinning class at the AC this year. It’s twice a week, and a drop-in.”
Both of us: “Wow, I’m proud of you!”

And for some reason, nothing else but a synthesis formed in both of our minds:
“LET’S SUPPORT EACH OTHER! YEAH! AWESOME! GREAT!”

Queue in the screaming of joy moment you have with friends. — VIA HOLYGRAILOFGIFS.TUMBLR.COM

Queue in the screaming of joy moment you have with friends. — VIA HOLYGRAILOFGIFS.TUMBLR.COM

And the deal was done. I promised her that I would go to her class that week, and so I did. That meant getting over my fear of going to the Athletic Centre. I’ve only gone there once so far during my two years at U of T. I was honestly nervous about going in, and had my doubts. Since I was going into a drop-in class for the first time in a while, I was worried about whether I would be able to keep up with the rest of the class. Also, I would have to take the Queens Park and Hart House crossing path, where the zombie line of cold-ridden students still march to class (see last week’s post to get what I’m talking about).

But alas, the crazy things you do for friendship. So I did what any other (semi-) normal university student would do: blasted “Eye of The Tiger” in my iPod, and headed on out to the good ol’ AC.  I entered the Pedal Zone to see her perched on the bike seat, poised to lead class, like she’d been doing it forever.

Row by row, I thought it was daunting. - VIA MRSTASHAB.TUMBLR.COM

Row by row, I thought it was daunting. – VIA MRSTASHAB.TUMBLR.COM

Since I tried spinning classes two summers ago, I wasn’t  nervous about trying something new, but I was apprehensive being vulnerable. It was my first exercise class in a few months, so I had to break out of the mould of being self-conscious. As I slid my feet into the pedals and strapped them up, I felt the butterflies in my stomach. I knew that I was going to be the first one to break the sweat in class.

Why can't I just sweat and own it? -VIA REACTTIONGIFS.COM

Why can’t I just sweat and own it? -VIA REACTTIONGIFS.COM

Yet, the thing is, vulnerability is also empowering. Every time I jump into something, I end up becoming more confident because I allowed myself to take that risk. When the class began, I decided to hit the pedal and turn up the resistance metre. Since I’ve only just been getting back to the groove of being physically active, the first set of cycling hills were a little too much for me. But what I like about spinning is that you get to go on your own pace, and if you slow down, it won’t be as noticeable because you control the settings on your own bike. You’re not holding anyone back, and you’re not pushing yourself beyond your limits. So by the fifth cycle up the “hill,” I didn’t care anymore. I felt like I was alone, and competing with myself for as long as I could take it.

And yes, I was the first one to break the sweat. But I owned it. As our class picked up the pace, I felt like I was gaining strength throughout the ride. I felt like if I was telling the whole room:

“OH HELL YES I’M WORKING OUT, AND SWEATING. CAN’T STOP ME NOW!!!”

Leave the cycling to me. – VIA GIFBIN.COM

But instead, I’d humbly patted my forehead with a towel, while looking at my cycling machine’s resistance metre.

Then suddenly, everyone stopped pedalling, and class was over. And as I looked around, everyone else was either taking swigs out of their water bottles, or patting their sweaty bodies with terry cloth towels. I wasn’t alone after all, and even if I was, I just didn’t care anymore. I got off my machine and headed to the front of my class to give my friend a nice, sweaty hug and we had a brief chat. It turns out she also had her “I’M GOING TO OWN MY SWEATINESS” moment too. I guess you’re not alone in doing anything when you have a friend along.

As I walked out of the AC and passed the zombie-students of the Queens Park and Hart House crossing, I decided to march along with them, not feeling dreadful this time. Yeah, my tendons were aching, and my feet were burning, but my heart was racing, and I felt conditioned. I did not feel sluggish or gross inside (however,  I can’t say the same for my sweaty exterior). I felt jumpy and revived. I didn’t just break the sweat, but I broke the lazy mould that I was encompassing myself in for months. I did my first class, and for that, I’m proud.

The song of the physically active newbies - VIA   ZELABELL.TUMBLR.COM

The song of the physically active newbies – VIA ZELABELL.TUMBLR.COM

 

-Amanda

 

 

Shall We Go Out to the Theatre?

Last week I went to Hart House Theatre to see the play Bone Cage. Written by Catherine Banks, it’s a picture of Canadian youth, chilling, sad, funny, and poetic. It’s one thing to be a Canadian youth, another to see my fears and anxieties played out on a stage. But that is neither here nor there, and we shant be saying another word on it, shant we! The important thing is that I went out to a U of T event (#tryitUofT What events have you gone out to recently?)!

Hart House Theatre doodle

Does everyone know about Hart House Theatre? It’s a little bit like the Isla de Muerta, in that it cannot be found except by those who already know where it is. Well, not exactly. It’s just below the main entrance. Right there!

Source: http://filmschoolconsortium.com/school/university-of-toronto-%E2%80%93-the-hart-house-film-board/

Source: http://filmschoolconsortium.com/school/university-of-toronto-%E2%80%93-the-hart-house-film-board/

Constructed in 1919, the Hart House Theatre is truly a gem of the university. As a nationally recognized theatre it showcases the work of new and established playwrights, while maintaining a strong devotion to Shakespeare. In high school I saw Macbeth at Hart House, featuring at the end (spoiler alert) Macbeth’s severed head. Fifteen-year-old me was very impressed!

Source: http://i.perezhilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/nick.gif

Source: http://i.perezhilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/nick.gif

Hart House Theatre also offers a lot of involvement opportunities for students, whether it’s casting calls, paid job positions, or on-going volunteer openings in the theatre. In February, Hart House Theatre will host the U of T Drama Festival, a week of original theatre written, produced, and performed by U of T students. Apparently Donald Sutherland got his start right here on the Hart House stage. Look there he is!

Source: http://harthouse.ca/about-us/history/

Source: http://harthouse.ca/about-us/history/. But I like to think it is. Either way, he did get his start at U of T, so if theatre is your bag then you’re certainly in the right place!

Well, maybe it’s not him, but I like to think it is. Either way, he did get his start right here at U of T. So if theatre is your bag then you’re certainly in the right place!

Hart House is just one of many outlets for theatre enthusiasts at U of T. There are also the college drama societies and groups:

Trinity College Dramatic Society will be performing Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile in November, an imagined encounter between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in which they chat about genius!

VCDS is currently holding auditions for Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. I read this play in first year philosophy and it rattled me, yep, like a snake!

New College’s New Faces is at it again with IMPROV sessions every Tuesday! And I’m sure they’ll be bringing something to the 2014 Drama Fest.

And the UC Follies are concocting another year of . . . well, everything from sketch comedy to live radio plays!

All of these societies, groups, and companies are hoping that YOU will audition, volunteer, or at least (if you’re an old geezer like me) come out a show and enjoy the magic of U of T’s theatre life!

 

‘Til next time, youths and younglings, stay diamond!

-Stephen

TEDxToronto: The Choices We Make

Image

Steve Mann and the evolution of wearable computing.Credit via Creative Commons: Angeline Stewart

Steve Mann and the evolution of wearable computing.
Credit via Creative Commons: Angeline Stewart

 

The fifth annual TEDxToronto conference, themed The Choices We Make, was held last Thursday at the Royal Conservatory of Music. The mix included innovators like U of T’s own Director of Urban Design, Rodolphe el-Khoury, who showcased IM BLANKY (a blanket that monitors your sleep habits) and U of T Professor Steve Mann, who has been wearing computers since before it was cool (or even a popular concept, since he is considered the ‘father of wearable computing’).

Other highlights of the day included Dr. Ivar Mendez and his robot-physician which allowed him and the audience to live-stream into a hospital in Nain, Labrador and old-school food preserving guru, Joel MacCharles, whose blog Well Preserved teaches you the kind of food tricks and preserving techniques your grandparents used back in the day.

Livestream with Dr. Ivar Mendez via his robot-physician in Nain, Labrador Credit: Alex Goel

Dr. Ivar Mendez and TEDxToronto audience ‘visit’ Nain, Labrador hospital via robot-physician
Credit: Alex Goel

It was my second time attending the Toronto version of the conference and I was surprised, as it hadn’t been noticeably prominent last year, by the number of speakers who chose to discuss their complex relationship with mental health during their TED talk. More power to them, quite frankly, given the stigma that is often attached to mental health disorders.

Clinical social worker Debbie Berlin-Romalis recently disclosed her eating disorder to colleagues at The Hospital for Sick Children and was amazed at the number of them that confided to her that they had similar disorders. In her TED talk, she emphasized that,

“Honesty is contagious. We inherently want to share but what holds us back is fear and shame.”

Award-winning Canadian musician Matthew Good discussed his bipolar disorder, which had been diagnosed later in his life. While he mentioned that music had been also influential in his life, he made clear that creativity and mental health disorders are far from co-morbid. Most importantly, he said that creative processes can be difficult to distinguish from mental health disorders, a blurred line that can make it hard to figure out when to seek help.

One of the talks that had the most resonance with the audience was Mark Hennick‘s talk Why We Choose Suicide on how his early suicide attempts informed his work as a case manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association. He recognized how a “contraction of your perception” can overwhelm you during depression and that,

“if I knew then what I know now, it probably wouldn’t change much… sometimes it’s not what you know, [because] what you feel takes over.”

He encouraged those in the audience to do two things:

  1. Stop saying “commit suicide” as if it is more a criminal issue than a health one. He noted that no one has “committed suicide” since the early 1970s, when suicide was decriminalized in Canada.
  2. “If you’re thinking about suicide, keep thinking about it. And then talking about it. And then doing something about it,” was Mark’s other piece of advice. By changing the way we think about suicide, we can effect change, he urged. For those contemplating suicide, he asked them to be leaders in this important conversation.

Indeed, these talks were timely as World Mental Health Day is on October 10th. U of T’s Health and Wellness department has introduced the Blue Space campaign this month to provide positive space for conversations about mental health and well-being.

Though there is a long way to come, as recently documented by The Varsity, in the mental health support U of T is able to provide to its students, creating safe spaces for conversations about mental health is one such support we can provide those in our diverse communities. Talking about mental health openly and honestly is one choice we can all choose to make.

- Kay

Put your phone down: Excessive texting and phony emotional support

Despite group study sessions, project collaborations and other similar forms of encouragement by professors to increase interaction in the classroom, the bulk of our academic work is done in isolation. In fact, some of the most anxiety-provoking tasks –such as studying and writing an exam—are often the loneliest. Understandably so, otherwise, how else would we be assigned individual grades if our intellectual endeavors could not be differentiated from each other’s?

To overcome this solitude, students reach to their phones for emotional support via texting. I’ve done this many times during my university career whenever a lecture bored me to tears, or when it was 3am and the only work I had done up to that point was next to none. It made me feel better to be reassured.

Oh, the irony.

Oh, the irony.

Texting can be a beneficial way to cope with stress because it allows you to receive support no matter the location, and it helps take the emotion out of communicating difficult messages because your friends can’t hear your voice1. In fact, moderate texting has been shown to facilitate student maintenance of support networks and interdependent learning2.

But it has become observably excessive. Libraries that used to hum a tune of mouse clicks, keyboard taps and textbook pages flipping, now warble with the sound of frantic fingers on mobile phone keyboards and the occasional vibrating notifier of a new message.

Although there is no set number of texts that makes one an “excessive texter”, a relative definition of one, would be when text-messaging becomes such a pervasive activity that it starts interfering with other aspects of life. For example, a student that attends a lecture only to engage in a horde of text-message conversations instead of listening to the professor (We’re all guilty. But don’t worry, studies show a negative correlation3 or no correlation4 between texting habits and GPA. You should still listen though. I know you paid for your unlimited texting, but you paid for your education too!)

Excessive texting has been shown to interfere with sleep and thus lead to depression and decreased well-being5. Frequent student texters were also found to be more likely emotionally burnt out than less-frequent texters6 and paradoxically, feel lonlier7.

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So stop staring at a screen and look for some face to face interaction. Even though moderate texting is beneficial, it is still too superficial of a means to cope with stress because you can only say so much in a text8. Talking through issues with a friend helps you process your feelings and thoughts more thoroughly. Friends are also a great source of alternative perspectives.

Celebrate World Mental Health Day with U of T on October 10th by participating in Unplugged Hour from 12pm-1pm. Take time away from all your screens and instead, connect face-to-face with a friend!

October is also about building on your strengths! Check out all of the programs our campus is offering to support students mental health and wellness. Get out and try something new, meet new people while having fun!

Bye for now, and stay well,

Gloria

Tackling Tutorial In An Arts Degree

I had my first tutorial session last week. Being in my final year of an arts degree, tutorials are nothing new to me, but they still can fill me with a certain amount of anxiety. It seems every year I go, “What? Tutorial? NO!! I hate them! Anything but talking! I’m going to die!”

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My T.A. this week suggested that we aim to say two to three meaningful things each class. Quality not quantity, as the old mantra goes. But how exactly does one do that?

Over the years I have gathered a few tips and tactics to help tackle the dreaded arts tutorial. I thought I would share them.

#1 – Do the readings. I find that most discussion based tutorials will assign particular sections or passages for the tutorial, not the whole book. I never read the whole book. Well, that’s not true. If I have the time, or if I really enjoy it. But mostly I read what is necessary to participate in discussion. I can usually find the selected readings on my course syllabus, and if not I just ask the T.A. “Hey, did you want us to read any particular parts?”

#2 – Notice the interesting parts. Doing the reading is great, but picking out a few intriguing details can be really helpful. For a tutorial, I hardly ever worry about grasping the whole picture, the T.A. can always help with that. Instead, I find one or two interesting points. How do I know they are interesting? Because they’re interesting to me! Crazy, right? Reading with my own interest in mind means I go to tutorial with a few things that I genuinely want to talk about.

#3 – Learn to know nothing. This one takes some practice, but it’s very useful. Socrates said it: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It’s an idea that alleviates all the stress and embarrassment from not knowing something. I love admitting that I don’t know the answer. I love asking questions when I’m uncertain. Here’s the thing: If I don’t know something, it is only because I haven’t learned it yet, not because I’m stupid.

#4 – Become a politician. Like it or not, a crucial aspect of academia is argumentation. It can, however, make tutorial much more interesting and worthwhile. Arguing is fun, when it’s civil. So I listen to my peers carefully, and if I find fault in his or her ideas, I jump in. Here’s the trick: Relax. Listen along. And just talk. Give others a chance to speak, but don’t bother raising your hand (unless your T.A. has rules for that stuff). A lighter mood always makes me feel more comfortable sharing my thoughts. After all, none of us is a specialist yet, not even the T.A. We are amateurs. We are trying to think. Let your brain out!

#5 – Build the discussion. I try my utmost to follow what my classmates are saying. It’s the worst when people are just waiting for their turn to speak. Waiting for a participation point. It’s boring and rude and a waste of time. I would much rather have a conversation. That is what “saying something meaningful” means. It is the ability to follow the ideas of your classmates, and let your own ideas change, either in agreement or disagreement, along the way. Then think about it. Get the right wording. And jump in!

I’m looking forward to my next tutorial. But I should go. I have readings to do.

 

‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond!

-Stephen