Artist Profile: Many Rooms

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ

By Gretchen Sterba

Many Rooms, the one woman act of Brianna Hunt strums softly on her guitar sweetly singing, “I bet you're looking for a sorry / Well I'm looking for one too / What goes on inside your heart / What makes you do the things you do?” Her song “The Father Complex”, one of six songs she recorded for her EP entitled “Hollow Body”, has over 123,000 listens on Spotify and was a crowd favorite when she toured the midwest last fall. She will soon embark on a nationwide tour starting in September with Baltimore based rock band, Have Mercy.

The 21-year-old Columbus, Ohio based artist sat down with Hooligan to talk about the importance of her faith, embracing her depression and other personal burdens in her music, and breaking into the industry as a woman.

Brianna grew up in a conservative Christian household in Carlsbad, New Mexico and first discovered music through her mother who played music in her church’s youth group. As soon as Brianna got her hands on the guitar and started practicing, the rest was history.

After performing an original song in her school’s talent show in third grade, writing lyrics and poems became more than a hobby—they were a passion that would carry Brianna further to where she is today.

During her sophomore year of high school, she met a group of seniors that encouraged her to start showcasing her talent by playing local shows. Unlike being in a densely populated urban area like Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago, Brianna stood out in her small town by being one of the only women in the area to start pursuing her dream of becoming a working musician.

After her first experience performing in a small New Mexico coffeeshop when she was 15, Brianna felt the much-needed support from her friends to push forward and write more music. She was exposed to bands like Emery, Underoath, and The Chariot, who ended up being pivotal in her writing process.

She made the decision to move to Nashville for about a year to further her connections, but realized that due to the large community of musicians trying to break into the industry, getting her work heard would be a more difficult process than she was anticipating. After hearing about the underground Christian-music festival, Audiofeed, through friends, she decided to perform on the impromptu stage for an open-mic there, and from there, things as a solo artist began to look promising.

Brianna began to open up and express her vulnerabilities in her music, believing it created a sense of community with listeners. She knew she wanted to share her music, but she felt limited in her options. Recording in a studio required financial backing that the aspiring artist didn’t have. She sought for answers from God and asked to receive a sign that would tell her if music was her destined path.

“I kind of broke down and was like, ‘OK God, if you don’t want me to do music then just tell me what you want me to do and show me what you want me to do,’” Brianna says.

The day after her self-proclaimed crisis, Brianna says a friend contacted her and asked her if she wanted to record an EP at a home studio in Texas. Feeling like this was her sign, Brianna saved up money, moved to Houston, and traveled up to Denton, Texas, to record each of the six songs on the EP within a week.

“I recorded that and it was under the band name Captain which was really lame and I hated it, but I got really bad at coming up with that stuff, so I released it and it was out for a year before I got signed and re-released it,” she said.

Right before Brianna got signed to Other People Records, an independent record label based in L.A., she went to a show with a friend and met the members of the band, Souvenirs. While talking to the band, her friend mentioned that Brianna’s sound resembled the band Daughter.

“[They were] like, ‘What? Give me a C.D.,” Brianna recalls. “The band commented on my Instagram and was like, ‘Do you mind if we share this around?’ I thought they were just going to show it to some friends, and then two weeks later—this was last August—I get an email from Other People Records and they were like ‘Hey, we’re really interested in your EP.’”

The label’s owners, Thomas Williams of the metalcore band Stray From the Path, and Jesse Barnett from Stick to Your Guns, indicated the label was not all about making money, but rather, about making “good” music. Brianna was in.

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ

When her EP Hollow Body was re-released in 2015, Brianna knew that she had made a conscious and brave decision. She thought that laying out all her vulnerabilities and questions she had, through her music, could be healing to others. In the EP namesake song Hollow Body, she calmly sings through her experience of the feeling of having someone take the life out of her and having to recover.

The lyrics hit deep: “It's tucked right underneath my feet / My brittle bones they can't contain / The weight of when we speak your name / But in spite of everything / I curse you with the breath you gave me”.

While her words resonate with listeners because of universal themes of hurt and anxiety, many people may not know that the artist has trichotillomania, which started in high school.

“I lived all throughout high school thinking that if people knew about it, they would think I was a freak, and that [I was the] only person that struggled with that,” Brianna revealed.

But after Brianna decided to post a picture on Tumblr showing off her newly shaved head to symbolize “starting over,” influenced by her frustration with the disorder, she had countless girls message her and disclose that they were going through the same thing. Finally, something clicked.

“I realized ‘Oh my God, because I opened up about this, I was able to make people feel comforted in the fact that they have the same struggle,’” Brianna says. “And [I] made them feel less alone in their struggle. That’s really important.”

Because of her strong Christian faith, Brianna originally started to do music as a ministry. She still has that goal in mind, but doesn’t want to put herself in the “worship music” genre.

“I wanted to do something that could cater to all backgrounds,” she says.

By making her lyrics and sound sincere, she wants the music to be about other people being able to relate, and less more about her personal standpoint.

“I realize that’s what I want to do because that’s what’s going to make people feel loved and feel cared about,” she says. “Not me just being like ‘Jesus loves you’ because that doesn’t fix their problems. Once it [the music] stops being about other people, I’m not going to do it anymore because that’s what I need to do in my life. That’s what I feel called to do - make people feel comforted and less alone.”

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ

BY MORGAN MARTINEZ


But being able to share her struggles and open up comes with its hardships—especially when it comes to being a female musician who puts her heart on the line every time she releases a song.

“There’s a subconscious sense of having to prove myself,” Brianna stated. “I have to be better than people expect because I am a girl.”

Since she also started off in her hometown as being one of the only girls pursuing music, Brianna said she started to become “territorial” and judgmental when it came to other girls who shared her same dreams when she realized music is what she wanted to do.

Her religious upbringing also bled into the belief that women were never oppressed, so Brianna was turned off from feminism for some time, but while writing and experiences started to become visable through her music, she soon started shifting her beliefs and views on feminism, as well as religion.

“In the past two years I have had to reexamine myself,” she said. “[I] pretty much relearned Christianity, Jesus and the gospel and realizing that Jesus never hated those people. I had to recognize that I [didn’t] like women and it was really dumb. It stems from my own insecurity with myself. I had to recognize that I [didn’t] like women’s self-love and happiness because I didn’t have much love for myself.”

Brianna also said that when she was a child, she had this perception that there were only a limited number of spots for solo women artists, which also created disbelief in respect to her craft.

“I had to be unique and do something different but there are plenty of guy acoustic acts that are good enough on their own, so why do I think that there’s only room for me?” Brianna questioned. “There’s not. There’s room for so many girls and I need to encourage that.”

From feeling self-righteous through valuing the teachings in The Bible, Brianna looked back and took the time to reflect at her present self, and realized she was no longer the same person as the one she was growing up.

“I realized that we’re all imperfect and what I needed at the time was somebody to care about me and tell me it’s okay,” she says. “Basically fucking up and making mistakes is what helped me have more compassion towards people. I sin all the time, so who am I to tell someone else whatever they’re doing is wrong when I got my own shit that I have to deal with?”

By defying those stereotypes and classifications, Brianna feels confident in her music and herself, despite also dealing with her own personal struggles. By being influenced and inspired by artists such as Julien Baker and Daughter, she understands that there is often a misguided belief that artists like herself adopt a “sad girl/acoustic jam trope” and although Brianna said she embraces it, she also tries to work against it because she wants to encourage others to do the same.

“I want to challenge people to think differently and I don’t want to just be about making sad music,” she said.

She recalls one incident at a show where someone came up to her after hearing her perform and told her, “I hope your life gets better.”

“The thing that helps me deal with sadness is writing and then I’m able to disconnect from it after I write about it,” she says. “It’s like a growing process for me. I’m not just sad, I’m generally a pretty happy person. Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s a bunch of things.”

As for advice for young artists who might be in Brianna’s shoes? She encourages them to “just fucking do it.”

“You don’t let yourself be discouraged by people who are doing it better, because there’s always someone who’s better than you, but that’s not what it’s about,” she advises. “It’s about you, your own process, because nobody’s the same. Whatever you have to say is important and there’s somebody out there who needs to hear it.”


Check out Many Rooms on tour with This Wild Life, Have Mercy, and Movements this September and October

Click here to stream "Hollow Body" on Spotify.

Artist Profile: Ainee Fatima

Photo by Jacob Kaufman 

Photo by Jacob Kaufman 

I’m inches away from approaching Ainee Fatima to ride the train over to Edgewater for our interview, and I’m fangirling. I remember reading an article about her in Seventeen Magazine—being the first hijabi in the publication—and seeing how inspirational she was in her community, as a poet and activist.

After stalking her Instagram full of stunning selfies, I grew to find out that she was even more beautiful in person. Her dark eyes glistened in the summer sun, outlined by winged eyeliner and full lashes that complement her thick, natural brows.  

I told her later I read an article about her online from years ago, and there was a comment where a woman condemned her for wearing lipstick, claiming it was a sexually insinuating gesture, especially for a Muslim woman.

The 25-year-old rolled her eyes and took a sip of her summer blended tea, and told me that is one of the biggest misconception about wearing the hijab—that women solely wear it for men.

“Even the whole idea, ‘You wear makeup to look good for guys’, like no I don’t spend $25 on lipstick for a guy to notice my lips,” Ainee said. “People have a problem with every single thing women do. It’s not like a Muslim thing, it’s a women thing.”

But makeup isn’t what Ainee is really known for. Nearly seven years ago, the Indian born poet and now graduate student at DePaul, competed at Louder Than a Bomb, a month long slam poetry high school competition in Chicago, and won. 

That poem, a little over three minutes long, would eventually send her to the White House in 2010 where Hillary Clinton would mention her in a State Department dinner where young Muslims were highlighted for their accomplishments. Three years later, Ainee would be the first Muslim hijabi featured in Seventeen Magazine as a part of the “Chime for Change” a global campaign co-founded by Beyoncé and Salma Hayek. No biggie.

Shortly after, Ainee’s presence blew up on social media. She managed to have nearly 70,000 Tumblr followers and 10,000 Twitter followers. Since then, Ainee has gone off the grid pretty much on all social media and has since transitioned from poet to a poetry educator at Poetry Pals, a non-profit youth organization based in Chicago.

Ainee and I talked for nearly two hours about rediscovering her faith, misconceptions about women in her community, and living a life full of racial hardships, but finding solace and comfort in writing and coaching slam poetry, as well as advocating for young Muslim women.

The oldest of five siblings, Ainee was born in India but moved to Brooklyn, New York, when she was two. Spending most of her elementary school years there, she moved to Lincolnwood, Illinois when she was in second grade. Although she came from a strict, Indian and Muslim background, she starting being mistreated because of her culture and religion when September 11th occurred. Feeling straggled between two different worlds, having to balance her Indian and Muslim identity while also living in America, that day redefined her life from that point on. 

“I was eight or nine when grown people would honk at me through their cars and would yell stuff like, “Go back home” or “You’re a terrorist,” Ainee remembers.

While enrolled in a Muslim private school, Ainee was required to wear a hijab as a part of her school uniform. Baffled and confused, she didn’t understand why she in particular had to take on that cultural and religious milestone in her life. She often questioned herself, wondering why her brother didn’t have to wear it, and what part about her hair enticed men so much that she had to cover it?

blueberry looks

A photo posted by ainee (@ainee.f) on

Because of the inequality Ainee felt about men and women in her religion, shortly after leaving private school, she made the decision to stop wearing the hijab.

“I grew up with religion being like this whole ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, you’re going to go to hell’ type of thing. I grew up with the image of God being a crazy judgmental being who doesn’t like you for some reason,” Ainee said.

Being turned off religion and her culture for several years, Ainee began to try to fit in with fellow public school classmates. She would tell people to call her “Annie” because she thought it was easier and didn’t sound so Indian. She traded in her former private school uniform for band t-shirts and converse while she threw herself into the group of “white punk, Emo kids”.

During her freshman year of high school in English class, instead of listening to her teacher discuss figurative language and classic novels, she would bury herself in her notebook, writing.

In the middle of the semester, her teacher, Mr. Bellwoar, got so fed up with Ainee, he asked her what was in her notebook and surprisingly she let him read it. Mr. Bellwoar wound up being the sponsor for the poetry slam team at the high school, Niles West, and advised Ainee to join. Small problem though—Ainee had absolutely no idea what slam poetry was. While he explained to her what the concept was—taking months to write, edit and rehearse a poem, then performing three minute long poems on stage and getting judged for it—Ainee’s trepidation of exposing herself got the best of her and she declined to join.

“For the rest of the year, he would make me read everything out loud in class,” Ainee said. “We read Romeo and Juliet, and he always asked me to be Juliet. I got so annoyed, I was like why is he always picking on me? But then I guess he was trying to see if I could actually read out loud and perform.”

Sure enough, after wearing her down in another class he taught her during summer school, Ainee was recruited to join the poetry slam team, featuring all new members.

Ainee recalls writing about “vague, teenage” ideas at first: changing the world, hating everything and everyone, and thinking you’re different from everyone else. But Mr. Bellwoar pushed her for more. He told her to focus on an experience she had and tell it like a movie.

Safe to say, Mr. Bellwoar’s words of wisdom definitely changed Ainee’s ideas for writing. She wrote a piece entitled “Ramadan Reflections”, a real-life experience poem she performed at Louder Than a Bomb in 2009. Coming from a religion that doesn’t allow premarital relationships and the importance of protecting chastity, life hit Ainee when she met a boy from high school that caused a tug-of-war between being obedient to her religion, but also struggling with feelings of intense passion and love for him. 

In between the period of preparing for Louder Than a Bomb, Ainee started researching Islam again on her own: she started reading the Qu’ran, finding out what wearing a hijab really meant for women, and soon made the decision to start becoming a hijabi solely because she wanted to do it for herself and not anyone else. 

It’s inevitable—especially in a town where there is a melting pot of different cultures—to have misconceptions about culture, especially when it comes to Muslim women and their representation in society.

Ainee would often get attacked by white feminists on Twitter telling her that her religion is “backwards” because they see it as if women are wearing hijabs, it’s oppressing for women and like many people, think it’s a statement of men having ownership over them. But Ainee puts those haters and the stigmas to shame.

“The way I look at hijab, it helps you deal with your beauty in a different way,” Ainee said. “There’s men who think the hijab is beautiful, so do I stop wearing the hijab? The idea that it protects you, [by saying] you won’t get raped, you’ll get respect. But you have places like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where women are getting raped left and right while even wearing the whole face covering. It’s not about beauty, it’s about men having power over you.”

A prime example of misrepresentation is Ainee’s own sister, Ruhi, who also wears a hijab. She joined the gymnastics team at Niles West, and managed to be involved in a sport where women wear tight clothing and usually wear makeup during meets. But of course, negativity was thrown her way for her appearance.

 “It made people angry. They would say, ‘How are you going to wear hijab and flip around and wear tight clothing?” Ainee said. “But why are you focused on that? Why aren’t you focusing on her talent of being a gymnast? Hijab doesn’t change the way people treat women. And taking it off doesn’t change it either.”

 As the four months of constant editing and rehearsing her poem for Louder Than a Bomb passed, the day of finals finally came to an end. Niles West took the win that year, beating out Chicago Public Schools.

“It was really weird for these kids from the suburbs to win,” Ainee expressed. “We were up against kids who faced gang violence, drug problems at home and really, really bad environments. They found solace through writing. But I think what made us stand out was that, yeah we were from the suburbs, but we were mostly kids of color. And we have our own set of problems here in the suburbs, growing up in very white neighborhoods. Not knowing what to do with that, being subjected to bullying.”

Ainee then recounted times of being bullied throughout high school, especially on the bus rides home when she would get called “curry”. There was even one girl in particular who found her Facebook at the time and called her a “bean burrito wrap”.

The emotional writing, editing and rehearsing process of writing “Ramadan Reflections” quickly paid off. Soon after graduating from Niles West in 2010, Ainee received an invitation from the White House. An intern of Hillary Clinton contacted Ainee after seeing her performance of her poem on YouTube, and wanted her to come to Washington D.C. to attend an initiative to highlight young innovative Muslim community around the world.

“I think I was one of the youngest people there,” Ainee told me. “One guy opened up a freaking orphanage in Pakistan and I was like, ‘I wrote some words, why am I here?’”

After being recognized by people in the national government, Ainee had the realization that maybe writing wasn’t sufficient enough for her—perhaps she could be a voice for something bigger.

Also during that period of time, Ainee started to getting invited to speak at Muslim organizations. Ainee remembers someone telling her that the organization had seen her “Ramadan Reflections” poem, but didn’t want her to necessarily talk about the flaws or the troubles within the Muslim community, but that turned Ainee off.

 “I was like, that’s not me, I’m not gonna be your poster child for issues within the community,” Ainee said. “They would pay me and stuff, so I wrote a couple of times I wrote really bad poems just for their satisfaction. I felt like a freaking sell out.”

Ainee then took to social media, making a name for herself, blogging about interfaith issues on Tumblr and being a feminine young Muslim woman working at Ulta who branded herself as a "Badass Muslim Girl." Subsequently at the time, Ainee stopped writing. While having to balance her presence on social media and then returning to Niles West to help coach for the new poetry team, she found comfort in helping others write, even if she didn't.

Ainee kept her attention on her platform, not only on social media, but making sure she could make a difference to young Muslim girls in real life.

That’s when an email that changed her life entered her inbox. Seventeen Magazine contacted her and offered to fly her out to New York for a day trip to feature her in the May 2013 issue and talk about “Chime for Change”, a global campaign to showcase awareness for young girls and women around the world.

Although it may have appeared that Seventeen was being revolutionary by featuring the first woman hijabi in their publication, Ainee begs to differ—and for good reason.

Even though her flight was paid for as well as her hotel, Seventeen didn’t compensate Ainee and the two other girls who were featured. Ainee remembers meeting another girl who was being featured for the article, and was being recognized for holding benefit concerts for children in Africa; but was white.

“You really have to censor yourself so much to get ahead in this industry,” Ainee confessed. “You can’t complain. You can’t be like, ‘I think this is wrong that you’re not having a black girl show what she does for her own community.’ You’re talking about a white girl holding benefit concerts for African children. It’s super white savior-ish.” 

Ainee was also told by people at Seventeen that they were going to provide clothes for her and she told them she ran a large to extra large, claiming “I wasn’t the skinniest girl ever”. When she showed up to the photoshoot, they had nothing in her size. Meanwhile the two other girls featured were smaller than Ainee, and were accommodated.

After returning from her trip, Ainee concluded the whole effort to contact her and have her featured just wasn’t genuine. When the feature came out, numerous events were in the works for “Chime for Change”, but Ainee was never invited to any of them. At the end of the day, she felt like it was purely a publicity stunt to make the magazine look more progressive. 

It wasn’t all bad, though. Ainee gained press for her appearance in the teen mag, and had people contact her, even mothers, thanking her for being a role model to young Muslim women and have real representation in a magazine where young white girls are predominantly advertised.

Obviously because of the article in Seventeen, Ainee’s social media presence was booming more than ever. And to most people, it looked like an envious lifestyle: being popular on the internet, having your accomplishments be recognized in a renown magazine and being well-liked by so many people while online. But as time went on, Ainee didn’t start to see it as fulfilling. 

“I think people think it’s like this glamorous life, that you’re internet famous,” Ainee said. “But I’m a college student who’s broke as hell; I live in a suburb and commute to school like everyone else—it’s not as glamorous as everything thinks it is.”

Because of the constant pressure to be held to a certain standard online, as well as the time consuming time spent on her blog and other social media accounts, Ainee took a step back and deleted all her accounts, with the exception of Instagram.

“It felt like being on TMZ,” Ainee expressed. “Everyone’s watching your every move. If you don’t say something about an issue, they’re like, ‘Oh you don’t care about it.’ I’m like, I do care about it, what do you want me to do?”

With the extra time Ainee gained from deleting most of her social media, she was able to fully immerse herself in coaching at Niles West. There, she met two Muslim girls who were on the team and told Ainee she was the reason and inspiration for both of them joining. Young girls would even come up to her at Louder Than a Bomb and gush to her, admiring her for having the courage to speak on stage about boys they liked, or even struggling with wearing the hijab every day or even wearing makeup.

 Her recognition didn’t stop at that competition, either. While Ainee was in attendance, she saw that for the first time two Muslim schools had joined the competition and cited Ainee as their influence. That was one of the reaffirming reasons why Ainee believed social media wouldn’t be the key to her success; it was the real life actions and accomplishments that she wanted to pursue in order to make a difference in her community.

 In September 2015, Ainee was offered a job as a poetry educator at Poetry Pals, a program where children (ranging from third-sixth graders) from three different schools (one Jewish, one Catholic, and one Muslim) write about their religion through poetry. Then at the end of the month, all the children come together to share their work, while simultaneously raising awareness about the similarities within the three religions.

Embodying unity and understanding instead of conflict is the main theme Poetry Pals exudes, and Ainee helps them express themselves through poetry and storytelling. 

Ainee said she believes organizations like this will help children appreciate other cultures, instead of belittling or judging ones that are different from person to person. 

“You have a Muslim, Jewish and Catholic kid writing about their religion, trying to find similarities in them and these are like 10-year-old kids that can do this,” Ainee said. “We have people fighting wars over religion and if kids can get together and successfully talk about their religion and be happy about it and find similarities and learn from each other, why can’t adults?”

So what’s next for Ainee? First off, she’s possibly in the works of collaborating on a book with a fellow Muslim woman to write poems about things “brown girls” deal with. To Ainee, that’s the most important role she wants to do in her life; to be a voice in the community amidst young Muslim girls.

 “Worrying about fitting in when you’re run by beautiful white girls, blonde hair, blue eyes while these brown girls get overlooked—it messes with your sense of beauty,” Ainee explained.

Recognizing and defying patriarchal values in her religion is also something Ainee wants to vocalize to young Muslim girls as well. She said she thinks there is more to girls than marrying men and having that be their ambition in life when they’re capable of their dreams.

“I grew up in a culture where women should be quiet, [where] your only goal in life is to get married,” Ainee said. “Even after having done all these accomplishments, even in my own family, they’re like ‘Oh, but you’re not married yet.’ I could cure cancer and they’re like, ‘You’re not married yet.’ We’re worth more than our relationship to some man.” 

Whether she knew it or not, because of her writing and performing, Ainee became a social activist and made an impact on young Muslim women from all over because of her perseverance and experiences, good and bad.

“Whether it’s writing or not, that’s what I want to do—just help young girls gain a sense of awareness that they’re a lot more worthy and powerful than what anyone says.”

On The Strength of Seeking Help

By Gretchen Sterba

I’m sitting on a chair, covered in brown scratchy wool. I’m wearing a flannel in the 85°F summer weather because one of the directors of the program thinks everyone in the program should “cover up.” The walls are an eggplant white, an offbeat color for a treatment center. I was at least expecting a melancholy shade of either yellow or blue. A girl who has short hair that’s blue, the kind of color you would see coming out of a paintball gun, is sitting across from me in the circle of chairs knitting, her foot tapping rapidly in a state of anxiety. I look closer and stare at the multiple scars of self-inflicted cuts on her chest.

I look at the white board behind her and read in my head the list in purple Expo marker.

9:30 a.m.: “Name, Rate (1-100), Emotions, Current struggles, Skills Used/Achievements.”

Two years ago when I was here—a treatment center for people facing problems in depression, anxiety, substance use, eating disorders, etc.—I was a senior in high school. I had just had my heart broken for the first time, got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, started gaining back all the weight I lost after months on Weight Watchers, starting my senior year of high school. I was lost in the world at eighteen. After finishing attending group therapy sessions and learning type of skills to manage our mental illnesses during my time there, I thought I was golden. I was in there for less than a month, missing school all day at this outpatient program (partial-hospitalization, to be exact) and I was about to return to high school, my beloved dance team and company, ready to finish this year off because college was on the horizon.

When high school ended, I enrolled in a Big Ten school that I ended up hating, and applied to my current college about a week into my freshman year. Over the course of two years, a lot has changed. While you’re in high school, you’re told change is upon you with adulting and such, but you never really think about it ever— the idea that your actions will always have consequences, how you treat people actually affects the shit out of them, and your mom isn’t always going to be there to make your doctor appointments or do your laundry.

I guess when I was discharged out of the treatment center senior year, I left everything I learned there. I physically felt better, more upbeat and happy that people shared the same feelings I felt, but I can’t remember myself utilizing the positive ways I was taught to cope in depressing, dark situations. Thus, it led me back to their young adult program in the summer of upcoming junior year of high school.

Then I became an advocate for myself. I was the one who decided to get myself help. This year, especially, has been one of the most difficult years of my life. I worked a job that I loved, but I was also stressed out  because of the intense hours and high pressure atmosphere, which led me to shedding weight. This was all in addition to school, and having a crazy roommate who made me feel incompetent in my own apartment.

I started to cope in negative ways, false attempts to try and nurture me temporarily. I wanted to become numb to my problems because I didn’t believe in my own ability to face them. I had no faith in myself, because I was unable to love myself. I started to live like it was Groundhog Day; going to class, work, class, then work again, finally isolating myself in my room until I fell asleep.

I began realizing that all the adults and teachers who said that change was upon us when I was eighteen were actually right. I started reading more, formulating opinions on culture, feminism, politics,  and I grew up a little. I also started losing friends one by one, like leaves dropping off autumn trees. I grasped the fact that everything and everyone is temporary. The people who I put so much love and trust in ended up leaving me, and I wallowed in my pity and found no positive, healthy ways to get out. I was stuck in that cycle for months, it felt like a lifetime of pure sadness, there was no hope of being happy.
 

Finally, at the end of my sophomore year of college—after blowing large sums of money on these short-term coping mechanisms and mindless activities, deciding to stop taking my anti-anxiety medication because I thought it wasn’t helping, having to excuse myself from class to go puke in the bathroom because I was so anxious, only being able to eat one small meal a day because I never had an appetite—I vouched for help. This was not me. Where the fuck was Gretchen?

I came to my mom, shaking and in tears, telling her I needed help. I was sick of being aggressive and irritable, unproductive, secluded and wallowing in my depression. I told her I needed to go to a place, not just once-a-week therapy, but a place where I would be able to get real, consistent, stable help.

On my first day of PHP, when I sat on the uncomfortable chairs and observed the girl with the blue hair, I felt instantly relieved to be among people who were here, struggling with their various issues, not wanting to get out of the bed in the morning, like me.

One guy told our group that he was anxious and had panic attacks before family functions. Check. Another girl said she was struggling with problems of self-hatred and self-hate. Check. She shocked me, because she came in with her grande Starbucks, sporting a Dutch braid on her gorgeous blonde head and a slim, naturally tanned body. I felt a bit guilty that she had shocked me, because we are all taught that all people have problems and battles we’re not aware of at face value. She was a prime example.

When it was my turn, I expressed my concerns openly and honestly, because I was in a safe space. Now that I’m about to have the third week of being a patient/client there under my belt, I really have learned so much. By learning skills, which I thought were totally elementary and lame at first, I already feel in control of myself. When I feel anxious, I do a skill called “grounding” where you use one or all five senses to keep you distracted from your toxic thoughts and focus on the present. I talk to both sexes in group and at breaks and almost always seem to find a type of relief because I know they really know what it is like to feel depressed and anxious every day. Just knowing someone is there and that you’re not the only person in the world who feels lonely, friendless, and fucked up, is empowering and reassuring in itself.

Being vulnerable is not always easy.

One of the hardest parts is admitting you have a problem and getting professional help. So whoever is reading this (probably my family members on Facebook), I hope you decide to act on your strength if you feel like you’re losing yourself or going through trauma, because the strength is there. It always has been.