I woke up this morning feeling sick to my stomach, with the urge to basically “word vomit” all over my blog. My headspace has been completely blocked the past few days. I was planning to post about protein powders and coffee and a low-FODMAP muffin recipe this week, but all of that seems like such B.S. in the grand scheme of things right now. I can’t do that when real problems are weighing on my heart.

I’m sorry if this post is depressing or sad, but I think it’s an important conversation to be had. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. I’m a believer that instead of hiding from our fears, we should confront them. Without confronting them, there is no chance for change.

I am privileged to live in an area and to have grown up in an area considered to be safe. The biggest threat that people think of when they think of California is the occasional earthquake. Other than that, things are supposed to be good. I grew up in the suburbs in the Bay Area, and now I live in sunny L.A. Happy, health-focused, first-world-problems L.A. Do we even have any real problems here? Who knows.

As I went on my daily walk around my neighborhood yesterday, I felt really on edge. I realized how tightly I was grasping the pepper spray hidden in my pocket, attached to my keychain. The sky was gray, and a bulldog jumped out of nowhere and started barking at me. I jumped, frightened, and my nails dug into my skin so hard that they started bleeding. I realized how hard I had been clenching my jaw, without even noticing. That’s something I have been trying to work on for awhile, now. The jaw clenching.

The day before, I had gone on this same walk with my friend Alison,  and we spent the walk talking about her extremely stressful week. Last week, her car was broken into while it was parked in a tandem spot in the parking garage of her apartment building, right next to UCLA. She had spent the week dealing with the police, car insurance, the car company… you know, all of that.

I still can’t wrap my head around what happened. Someone got into the parking garage and broke into a bunch of cars – not just Alison’s. Probably about 10 cars. The man broke the windows of some cars, but other cars were unlocked. He stole a bunch of things – nice sunglasses, wallets, expensive cameras, clothes, and other items. He got the keys to another car and tried to drive away, but he couldn’t do it because it was a stick shift. So then he moved onto another car, which happened to be the other car in Alison’s tandem spot. After getting into that car, he found Alison’s spare key, took it, and stole her car. That’s the car he left the garage with and drove around for a few hours. He hit multiple cars while driving around. Her car was later discovered crashed on Sunset Blvd. All of the airbags had been deployed, and there was blood on some of them.

There is video footage clearly showing the man breaking into the cars in the garage. Someone also got a photo of him as he left the scene of the crash. However, he still hasn’t been identified.

Alison is still in disbelief that this happened, as am I. I kept telling her, “I can’t believe this actually happened to you. It sounds like it’s out of a TV show.” The man stole the car at 6 A.M., which was the same time Alison was supposed to leave for an early yoga class. She happened to snooze her alarm that day and ditch yoga. She just kept saying, “Thank god I didn’t go down there and go to yoga.” Who knows what could have happened? Would he have run away if he was about to get caught? Would he have hurt her, hammer in hand? God forbid something worse happened. I told her, “At least it was just your car, and not you.” How sad is it that I have to say that?

Meanwhile, she was telling me how the whole experience has made her feel extremely paranoid and on edge recently. She’s double checking everything around her  – anxious about walking down the street, locking the doors, being around people she doesn’t know, small noises made in the apartment. I wish I had words of comfort for her, but I didn’t. Why did he do it? What was the point? Was he under the influence? We want to make sense of the things that threaten us, but we can’t. And that drives us mad.

The paranoia is a feeling I know too well, and one that I have spent my entire life trying to forget. One that I try to forget because I spent too much of my life not being able to function normally due to that crippling fear, and one that I try to forget because I also realize that I am privileged compared to so many others. It feels selfish to let myself wallow in my fear when I know that.

Talking about Alison’s situation made me so sad. My stomach was twisted in knots. What kind of world do we live in? Sure, it was just a car getting stolen. Sadly, there are much, much worse things that happen to people every day. But it’s just not as simple as her car getting stolen and totaled. It represents something more.

I had just finished up recording a podcast episode with Olivia Vella, a middle school student from Arizona who wrote an amazing monologue about self worth and the pressures she feels as a young teen in today’s world. If you haven’t listened to her monologue, you can do that here. It went viral on the news, and for good reason. It brought me to tears.

She’s the first seventh-grader I’ve ever brought on the podcast, and she is wise beyond her years. Talking with her was eye-opening for me in many ways. I cried for a long time after I interviewed her, because bullying, peer pressure, teasing in school, feeling like you’re not good enough – those are all issues that I’m extremely passionate about. Things I and so many others struggled with growing up. I remember the depression it caused me as a teen, and how much that truly shaped me as a person. It hardened me. It kills me that these issues are just getting worse for teens nowadays. I am desperate to do anything to be part of a change.

And that’s what that podcast was about, but then she mentioned something else. I asked her if she was afraid of high school, and she said yes. My heart broke a little more. When I asked her why, she said something along the lines of, “Well, if the drama is like this now in middle school, I’m afraid it will be worse in high school. That, and also I know about the other things. I know there are school shootings and kids go missing and get hurt, things like that.”

The school shootings. Kids going missing. People being physically hurt.

This is what horrifies me. People shouldn’t be afraid to go to school. Why is going to school like going into war? You don’t know if you’re going to come back. I’ve thought about this a lot from two different sides. I’ve had my own experiences of being terrified to go to school. I was afraid of getting shot, never knowing what would happen. I remember being in a lockdown in middle school and realizing how little control I had over atrocities. I thought I was supposed to be safe in my suburban bubble in Catholic school, but I wasn’t necessarily. You never knew when something was going to hit. More frightening things happened throughout my educational experience, all leading up to last year’s UCLA shooting. It affected so many of us. Why are these things happening? Why do people want to cause pain?

Hearing Olivia say that she was scared of those things was so hard for me. I really can’t articulate it. Like, shit. This girl already has to deal with bullying and teasing and ridiculously difficult teen drama and emotional turmoil. As if that stress isn’t enough, she is literally scared that she will die going to school.

I don’t have words.

So those things happened, but obviously I haven’t even mentioned the recent attacks in London. The Manchester attack and the attacks on the London Bridge have broken so many of us. These horrible acts of violence make me afraid. They make me lose hope. I can’t understand it or comprehend it.

And these are just a few of so many attacks. But what makes them stand out to a lot of us is that we think, These weren’t supposed to happen here. The same way I feel as though I am supposed to be safe here. The truth is, we all know that there are areas of the world where things are not safe. Where every single day, it’s a battle zone. Every single day, people are used to feeling like they could die at any moment. But so many of us are privileged and lucky to not live in those places. So it’s scary as hell when that safety net has a big hole in it. Like, aren’t I supposed to be protected in pretty Santa Monica? At prestigious UCLA? At this huge concert in Manchester? We take our safety for granted, and we assume we are entitled to it. When that gets pulled completely out from under us, it’s disheartening. If we can’t feel safe here, now, then can we ever?

Meanwhile, I’m watching The Keepers on Netflix. A nun was killed, and priests were raping young women at a school. They got away with it. It’s a sickening story, but brings to life all of those stories I heard as a young girl at Catholic school. People joked about them as stereotypes, even though it did really happen to people. People made jokes about it as if to say, You don’t actually have to worry about that. That doesn’t happen anymore. Even so, I remember going to Church at Catholic school, and on a deep level I was always frightened of priests. They made us go into those dark confessional boxes, and my heart raced while I was trapped alone with a priest. If they were really just “stories,” why was I so afraid? An eight-year-old girl should not be afraid of a religious sacrament.

Despite all of these atrocities and injustices, we never think it’s going to happen to us. It all feels so detached and far away. It’s on the news. It’s someone else. But it’s not. It could happen to you, your best friend, your mom, your brother, the person standing next to you. It could happen anywhere.

I’ve talked before about my struggles with my anxiety disorder. Growing up, it was extremely crippling, and I didn’t understand why everyone else around me wasn’t crippled by the same fears. My fears came in different phases. It was mostly natural disasters at first. I didn’t want to live in a world where something uncontrollable could attack me at any time. There would be no escape, and no one could prepare or help me. There were months on end that I didn’t sleep because I was convinced the house would light on fire and I would die. I was five. There were months I had anxiety attacks every day because I was nervous someone was going to pop out of my closet and murder me. I was seven. Then I was afraid of earthquakes. As I got older, the coming of 2012 genuinely destroyed me. About a year leading up to the day in December, my panic attacks got worse. I was literally researching submarines. My mom laughed at me, but I was serious. How could I save myself? I couldn’t live in this world. I didn’t want this natural disaster to take my life. I was losing control. There was no way out. How could I go on?

I couldn’t understand why no one else was as afraid or anxious as I was about these things. I felt silly, so I tried to hide it. I slowly learned ways to cope. Mainly, that meant avoiding things on the news and in the world around me. Those reminders just heightened my anxiety attacks, and at that point there were too many days I had stayed home from school, playing “sick,” just because I was so afraid of the world around me. I couldn’t breathe. My parents didn’t know what to do with me, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. But I knew I couldn’t live like this. So I avoided. I consumed my mind with school and sports and books and other topics so I wouldn’t have time to think about those things that scare me on a really deep level. I still do that.

I am scared and saddened by a lot of things in this world, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve really started acknowledging how I think and behave because of those fears. It’s in the little things. When my jaw clenches, my fingernails dig into my palms, and my shoulders raise.  I go to the movies, and I feel nervous. My breathe always quickens when the lights turn down, ever since the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012. Part of why I hate going to concerts is because I’m always nervous something is going to happen. My stomach twists in knots. Same thing with theme parks. Is there really enough security?

I think about my behavior patterns in school. I would take “strategic” routes and sit in certain seats where I felt like I would be safe if something happened. I think about how I’m not sure if I ever want to have children someday because I don’t know if I can deal with the anxiety of sending them to school, where their safety is never guaranteed. And how could I bring someone into this world if they are going to feel that fear and anxiety that I felt every day? I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, let alone my child. I shouldn’t feel like sending my child to Kindergarten is as risky as sending them on a battlefield.

I think about people who are less privileged than I am, and I feel so selfish because I am afraid of all of these things, but so many people have it much worse than me. Am I allowed to feel afraid? Yes, I am. But I feel guilty.

Beyond that, I am sickened by the fact that it’s not just natural disasters and war to be scared of anymore. I am afraid of other humans, who are choosing to create more atrocities and more terror than would already naturally occur in the world. I’m already anxious about a tsunami, but why do I have to add the fear of someone randomly shooting up the grocery store while I’m shopping? What kind of world is this? Why are people going out of their way to cause pain and suffering?

Growing up, my mom would say, “There’s nothing you can do. You just have to hope for the best. There’s no use worrying about those things when you can’t control them.”

For some of us, it’s not that easy. For some of us, we’re wired to worry. Others are not wired to worry. But it scares me that at this point, they’re worrying too. We are all vulnerable. So what do we do? Do we just ignore it? Can we change it? How? It’s natural to avoid it, because there is not a clear way to change it. All I know is that we cannot become desensitized to the violence or the pain, and it seems like that is what is happening in the world. The world acknowledges it, but then it tries to forget. Yes, we have to move on with our lives, but I believe we also have a responsibility to remember and to make a change.

I asked Olivia if she thought there was anything I could do to help, in terms of the bullying and feelings of low self-esteem in middle schools.

It truly took me aback at how simple her answer was. She said, “Just continue to be a kind person. Smile at people when you see them and say hello. Make them feel loved.”

Could it be that simple?

As I thought more about it, maybe she is right. At the end of the day, that’s the way we are going to have to solve this problem, when you think about it at the deepest level. We are going to have to be kind to each other. Everyone. While we might not be able to stop natural disasters, all of these man-made atrocities can, technically, stop. No, they probably won’t end completely, but that’s not the point. They are rooted in hate, amongst other things.

It’s going to take a lot more than one act of kindness, one smile, or one hello to change the state of the world we are in. But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least try to make a change. Just because the problem is big, doesn’t mean we give up.

All I can do moving forward is try my best every moment to make the people around me feel respected and loved. To not take any moments for granted, to appreciate the good in life, and to not give up on changing the things that disappoint me. I refuse to feel hopeless. I will not let my fears define me, but I will not ignore them. Ignorance does not inspire change.

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