Do You Need Others to Make You Happy?


Well, do you?

Personally, I think yes and no. I mean, social relationships are important. Having a group of people around you who love and care for you—family, friends, significant others… They make life more colourful.

In all fairness though, I’m an introvert. That is to say, I don’t mind being alone most of the time. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say I prefer it. But that’s not to say that I don’t need people in life—I do.

In high school, I used to be really insecure about losing friendships—that my friends would leave me or develop better friendships with other people.

The result of that? I became clingy. I needed constant reassuring that the people in my life intended to stay in my life. And I mean, no one likes a stage five cling-on. I felt like I was constantly defining myself by who my group of friends were, and when I was alone, who was I? I felt so part of a unit that, when I was alone, I felt weirdly incomplete.

For example, when I was doing things alone, I was genuinely bored. I didn’t know how to enjoy things by myself. I thought, “What’s the point of having experiences if you have them all by your lonesome?”

So, when starting university, I made a conscious choice to not let people have that kind of effect on me. To make a real effort to define myself by my own standards. I wanted to feel like a whole and complete person all the time, not just around others.

So, I began doing things on my own: commuting, sitting alone in lectures, going to the library alone, etc. That’s not to say that I went out of my way to not spend time with people—if I happened to bump into someone I knew, of course I hung out with them. The difference now was that I just wasn’t constantly looking for people to fill every moment of every day.

At first, it was super uncomfortable. I mean, I had no one to talk to. It was just…boring. But you know what they say (whether it’s in reference to this point or most others)—it just takes time. And surely enough, it slowly got better. Over time, I felt more and more comfortable doing things on my own, and now when I’m in a situation where I don’t have friends around me to lean on, I’m completely and utterly all right.

Again, that’s not to say that I cut my friends out completely—I still see them and hang out with them a lot. And they’re still very important people in my life. The major difference now is that I don’t need to be around them constantly to feel good about myself. The time I spend with them now is not the only time I’m having fun. I can do it by myself too.

So, “Do you need others to make you happy?”

By the way I’ve been rambling on, it sounds like I’m about to say “No, all you need is yourself!”, right? But I’m not.

Social relationships are still important. We just need to be careful to not define ourselves based on them. It’s important that we have people to spend time with and have fun with, but it’s also important to make sure that those aren’t the only times we’re having fun. There needs to be a balance.

Yin and Yang, my friend. Yin and Yang.

These relationships should be there in your life because you want them, not because you need them. Ya know what I’m saying?

So, then…

Do I need others to make me happy? Heck nah.

Do I want others in my life who make it better, richer, and happier just by being in it? Heck yes.

Driftwood Friendships



When we’re five, six, eight years old, our friendships don’t have many criteria. You like playing with the same toys as I do and love colouring outside the lines? Great! Bestest friends forever. As young tiny children, we collected friends like candy. We had lunch with them during our break time, we played with them during playground time, and we exchanged juice boxes when we didn’t like what our mother had packed for us. Friendship as kids had an aura of innocence around it—long-lasting relationships with no end in sight. You grew up with the same people through elementary, middle, and high school. In middle school, you started developing personalities but your group of friends had become so familiar to you, there was no need to find new ones. You shared new secrets with them and had lots of sleepovers and just as much laughter. But then high school came along and things started changing; your relationships with your friends started wading through deep waters and into this weird realm between friendship and acquaintances.

There are so many reasons why friends just drift apart no matter how strong they think their bond is. One is that personalities really start to show themselves and you begin to realize that the group of friends you had since second grade have almost nothing in common with you. But you can’t just leave them behind. After all, they know everything there is to know about you and they never left you behind for anything. It would be so hard to find a new group of friends who accept all your weird and quirky habits as they do, so you stay, but then things get quiet because you find less and less to talk about and the only thing you have in common is that math homework. You stay because you’re comfortable and they’re familiar. But friendships also fade away because of distance. People say long-distance relationships are hard, but who said they’re only talking about romantic relationships? Platonic relationships can be just as hard to maintain. Your schedules no longer match, you’re in completely different time zones, and finding time to fit in Skype becomes a struggle you don’t want to face anymore. It starts with Skype every week, to Skype once a month, to Skype when you have time, until occasionally catching up on WhatsApp becomes regular.

But then there are those friendships that are like a whole piece of driftwood that broke in half for no reason other than it happened—friendships where two people are joined at the hip and for no other reason than life or fate, they break apart and float in separate directions. It’s very likely that this is on the list of “some of the worst tragedies that have happened to people” because there is just no explanation for why it happened. Sometimes people come into your life just to leave you and you come into their life just to leave them so soon. These are the ones with lasting impacts—the ones that drift apart so slowly you could swear there wasn’t an exact moment when everything changed.

If you have a friendship that is worth a thousand moons, hold onto it like the world holds onto gravity because both don’t exist without the other.

Please Don’t Take Offence… I’m Just a Little Weird.


We all have those days when we just don’t feel like talking to other people. It’s not that we don’t like them… It’s just that the particular day you’re having is what you would define as an “off day”. Perhaps you’re bummed out by an unpleasant mark or you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Perhaps conversations with others have never come easy to you, simply because you’re shy or you don’t know how to carry a conversation and respond to social cues. Or, you avoid talking to others in any way possible, in which case, I’m afraid to say, you’re a socially awkward person. Take it from someone—yeah, me—who is just now starting to explore what it means to have dynamic and meaningful discussions for the first time as a young adult. Yes, many of my attempts at conversation come across as forced and uncoordinated, but they reflect the kind of person I’ve been for most of my life.

I’ve always struggled to make conversation with others; it’s been a constant struggle of mine ever since I outgrew my overconfident personality in grade school. That doesn’t mean I’m rude or that I dislike other people—I’m just a little unsure about how to respond and act around others in social settings. This tendency of mine to shy away from talking to others has led me to live a quiet lifestyle: I read a lot of books, watch a lot of YouTube, I don’t attend very many parties or social gatherings and I rarely use social media. Does that mean I’m weird? Well… Maybe a little, but by no means am I a rude or inconsiderate person. I often go out of my way to accommodate others, even if they choose not to acknowledge it. It’s just the way that I am: I’m an introvert who makes subtle attempts at being extroverted. They may not always have the desired effect, but they are just that: attempts to finally put myself out there.

If these qualities are reflective of you as well, socially awkward weirdoes unite! But seriously, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Try to outgrow your necessity to avoid conversations, and instead find some other way to interact meaningfully with others. At our core, we all have the desire to get along with everyone. Sometimes that gets lost in translation, or by an apparent inability to communicate effectively.

To those that love to talk, please don’t take offence. We socially awkward students just take time to come out of our shells. Please don’t confuse our reluctance to share information with abrasiveness—we want to get to know you, but we might not know how to do so effectively. We all have ideas that are worthy of being shared. Just remember to be patient and to give others a chance, because there is surely some social context in which we all feel a little weird.

Social interaction, Our Long Lost Friend



By myself, as usual.

I spot an available Mac in the Mac lab in IB.

I slide into a chair and fire up the computer, tea in hand, iPhone tangled in wires, earphones rested in ears.

I click on Microsoft Word.

I see the girl to my right lean towards me and whisper:

“Can you watch my bag?”

What do I say?

  1. NAH.
  2. *tight head nod, still staring at screen*
  3. *look over and smile* Of course!

Ten points if you guessed the second one.

Ah, the day-to-day struggle of a UTM student. Watching other people’s things, participating in class, taking public transit, being a group member—a series of social interactions. I don’t know about you, but as the years have passed and I’ve developed into an average third-year UTMer, I have become less and less inclined to interact with people even though my day is full of potential interactions.

Imagine yourself as a first-year student. You just got out of high school, super-involved, super-excited. You hop off the bus; you thank the bus driver. You walk into lecture; you smile at the prof and your peers. You take a seat; you try and make conversation with the people next to you. Someone asks you to watch their bag; you smile and say okay and wonder if your new best friend just asked you to watch their things. The possibilities! The people! Life!

Naiveté. Yes, I am blaming university for my decreasing social skills and general life excitement.

Personally, as the years have passed, I prefer to stick my earphones in my ears, keep my head down and text through the hallways, and grunt as opposed to talk. Often, I find that I don’t want to say things anymore, don’t want to meet people anymore. Is something wrong with me, or do the years of solo studying, music-listening, texting, reduced social events, and oversized classes have an isolating impact on the average UTMer?

I’m going to guess the latter. Haven’t you seen the posts on Spotted? You know, the ones about being sad and not having made any friends at UTM.

Let’s think back to my impromptu list of social interactions that we all have in an average day, and some more: passing your bus driver, sitting beside people in lecture, being a group member, buying food, coffee, or a book from a cashier. These interactions are what we make of them, and, personally, I haven’t made much.

I’m not going to advise you to join a club. I’m not even going to advise you to do a 180 and magically keep your head up in the hallways and smile at everyone.

I think that it’s more important to make the few social interactions that you are presented with worthwhile. Think of them as practicing your social skills in the little time you get to be social on campus, for the real world.

You know, the place with jobs and lives we all work for in our time here.

Can we make a pact to work on our social skills together? University should not be the land of retreating into our shells—these are supposed to be some of the best years of our lives.

So, the next time we get off the bus, let’s thank the bus driver. Let’s say “hi” to our cashiers, let’s put our hand up once in lecture, let’s smile at two people a day, let’s create quality small talk, let’s make eye contact with people we talk to, even the people who ask us to watch their things.

Together, we can get our social skills back, UTMers! This is not the end of our personalities.

Tackling the Abyss – Life After University

“So, What’re Your Plans After University?”


Should I be a scientist?

Should I be a teacher?

Should I be a building???

Should I be a cat?????

Ah, the great existential question. Perhaps the most important of our young adult lives—and certainly one on all our minds as we near the end of our undergraduate careers and prepare to be launched into the bloodbath that is the job market.

The truth is, the possibilities are endless. All we really have to do is weigh our preferences with our talents and skills, and match those up with real world opportunities.

So then, what is it about this question that makes it seem so absolutely terrifying?

Personally, I think it’s fear.

The fear of incompetence. The fear that what we are setting out to do is beyond our measure of talent and ability.

We fear that a few years from now, we’ll be struggling while our friends and classmates are thriving—that we’ll have to return to the herd hanging our heads in defeat because we failed. I mean, we’re terrified that we’ll be knocking back a few with all our accountant and lawyer friends who knew exactly what they were going to do and who they were going to be right from freshman year, and who now earn six-figure salaries. (Guess who’s picking up the tab tonight…)

And this fear can be all-consuming—if we let it.

As a third-year student myself, I feel like I’m standing right at the edge of the cliff, preparing to take the plunge. And the closer I get to the summer of 2016, the more time I spend trying to tackle the uncertainty of life after university. I find these thoughts and fears flying through my mind on almost a daily basis. Scratch that—definitely on a daily basis. Multiple times a day, really.

What is it that I really want to do in the world? Where can my degree take me? Will I be earning enough money to lead a comfortable and happy lifestyle? Is this field something I can see myself in for the next 40 years or so? Will I be good at it?

And believe me, there are times when I get so confused and frustrated in trying to figure out my life that I just want to curl into a fetal position and let the emotional roller coaster take me where it may. (If you ever find me in this position—you now know why. Do not be alarmed.)

With that said, there are a couple of things I think is important to keep in mind.

Número uno: It’s not about the money.

Okay, kind of. Money is important, because we need it to survive and exist in today’s consumer-driven culture. But really, money is not everything.

I once read a Buzzfeed article and something from it stayed with me. It was about a nurse who documented the things the elderly would say on their deathbeds, and specifically what their biggest regrets were—the most common of them being that they had spent too much time trying to earn more and more money, and not enough time with their loved ones.

Am I alone in saying this gives me chills?

Lesson? Do not waste your youth trying to obtain wealth—the best kind of wealth is in the form of experiences and loved ones. I mean, no one on their deathbed is gonna talk about how happy they are that they still have a million dollars in the bank.

Número dos: You answer to you.

And no one else. The only standards you have to live up to are your own.

You decide your life. You decide what it is you’re going to do and how you’re going to spend your time. If you truly believe that the only way you’re going to be happy in the world is to obtain mass amounts of material wealth—hey man, by all means, go for it. You’re the only one who has to live with your decisions at the end of the day.

I realize this blog post was a bit of a whirlwind experience, but if there’s anything you take away from it, I hope it’s this:

  • You can do whatever it is you want in the world—you just have to know what that is.
  • Establish your priorities, and keep in mind the grand scheme of life.

How To: Absolutely “Kill” a Presentation


So your prof assigned a presentation and you’re tired of Googling presentation tips. You’ve come to the right place, grasshopper.

November is my least favourite month—university students are loaded with tests, quizzes, midterms, assignments, essays, and, yes, presentations! As a third-year student in CCIT, English, and French, I’ve been through my fair share of presentations and have about three this month, too. Throughout my journey, I’ve picked up three all-encompassing tips on turning your daunting presentation into a breeze.

Read on, and the next time your prof says “presentation”, you’ll be volunteering to go first.

There are two components to any presentation: the verbal and the visual. My usual method is to create the verbal part first, then decide the visual part.

                       1.  Ooh, Kill ’Em: Verbally

The key to the verbal aspect of your presentation is simplicity. The verbal part of your presentation shows how well you know your topic in terms of how well you can explain it. If your topic is complicated, divide it into sections.

Tell your audience what section of the topic you’re about to talk about and, briefly, why it’s important. You don’t want to confuse your audience with complicated jargon (Google: “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand”). Define difficult words and break your topic down to its simplest terms.

Ensure eye contact with your audience (or random eye-level wall corners), a clear voice, and a smile now and again. Use cue cards with maximum three points on each card. Sometimes, I only write a sentence per card. Speak with passion—if you sound interested, your audience will be too.

                        2.  Ooh, Kill ’Em: Visually

The key to the visual aspect of your presentation is also simplicity. You’ve probably heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint”—I know I have. But PowerPoint is not a “deadly” visual as long as you keep your slides simple.

With any visual you choose (skits? Prezi? PowerPoint? Posters? Hand gestures?), take the main point of your presentation and make it explicit. Save the text for talking points; the visuals are your clarity tools. Keep a two-colour minimum on your visuals, and minimize text to stress only the main points of your topic to your audience. You can limit yourself to one point, or one word, or one picture per slide on a PowerPoint, for example.

And remember, a presentation is not just an assignment worth marks for a class.

I mean, that’s one way to think of it. But a presentation is literally anything that you present, or anything that you show other people.

You present yourself to the world every day through how you dress, how you speak, what you say, and even how you walk. Store branding presents a store to consumers. The Internet presents information to people with Internet access. Any situation where communication is happening is essentially a presentation.

I like to think of communication with a simple goal in mind: what do I want to get across? What’s the point?

The underlying component of your presentation once you figure out your goal is creativity.

                         3.  Ooh, Kill ’Em: Creatively

Even the key to the creative aspect of your presentation is simplicity: using a simple, straightforward design. How are you going to get your point across to a lecture hall full of your peers, to a potential employer in an interview, or to the date that you have tonight?

The best part about presentations is that you get to be creative: papers and tests have formats, but for the most part, presentations don’t. You can use the space in the room, your peers’ participation, your group members if you have any, posters, skits, props, anything! For the brief time that you present, you are in complete control—how will you use it?

Presentation is an art—get creative!

Why Social Media Kinda Sucks Sometimes



I used to wish that I lived in the ’90s. Everything I cherished, adored, and stanned for were from the ’90s: Ghost World, My So-Called Life, Sex and the City, Before Sunrise, Degrassi, plaid. Everything. Of course, my romanticized vision of that decade was influenced by the multitude of ’90s television shows, movies, and pop culture I consumed throughout my teenage years. In the media I consumed, everything seemed so much better, easier, simpler. But, the main thing that attracted me to the ’90s, aside from the fact that all my pop culture faves existed in that decade, was that social media did not exist.

I was talking to my sister recently and she asked me if I would attend my high school reunion. I immediately replied “no” because…what for? It wouldn’t be like in the ’90s where you’d spot Ashley at the mall, then squeal and hug each other because you hadn’t seen her since graduation 20 years ago. I still see my peers. On Facebook. On Twitter. On Instagram. What would we talk about that we already didn’t know from social media? I mean, I know what post-secondary school they attend, what job they have, and even what they had for lunch the other day.

And it’s this sense of hyper-connection, this sense of being plugged in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, that I wanted to escape from in my teenage years when I longed to live in the 1990s. I wanted to travel back to a time where you could meet a stranger on a train and instead of having your eyes glued to a screen, you’d strike a conversation, bond over shared interests and then wander the streets of Vienna talking about life. But as I’ve grown and matured, I realize that this yearning was a result of a very romanticized and narrow picture of the 1990s. These movies and shows only showed a facet of life. And these glimpses are questionable because, as we all know, the media does not have the best track record when it comes to depicting reality. Also, most of these media that I consumed were from the perspective of white, middle-class people. My experiences would definitely be a lot different in the 1990s as a black woman.

But… I have to admit, I still long for simpler times. Not necessarily the ’90s, or any other decade for that matter—I just long for a time when social media isn’t such a dominant part of my life. I’m constantly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube—you name it. And it’s not always just for fun. Sometimes I need social media to interact with classmates about a group project or to communicate with colleagues for work purposes. It’s not just social media (although the majority of the time I spend on the computer is dedicated to it), it’s the Internet as a whole. I live on the Internet. My life is the Internet. In some ways, I love these spaces. These spaces have broadened and continue to broaden my social awareness and consciousness. I love being part of a community of feminists and womanists on Tumblr. I love reading my Twitter timeline on Thursday nights when Scandal is on television. I love that I can keep up with things that matter to me through my page feed on Facebook. And I love that YouTube introduced me to a variety of quality web series that feature people who look like me.

But social media, for all its perks and benefits, can also be very isolating. Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook can trick you into thinking that everyone is off in Hawaii living a fabulous life while you, the loser, sit in a darkly dimmed room watching them have the time of their lives on a 5” by 2” screen. In my daily life, I probably communicate with human beings 80% through social media and 20% through face-to-face interaction. This places me in a weird space where I feel as if I don’t have any authentic connections with people because our connections only exist in a “superficial” realm situated in the World Wide Web. And this creates, for me at least, a false sense of closeness, which can be very lonely and depressing.

I no longer wish to live in the ’90s but man, I sure love how Angela could just meet up with Rayanne and Rickie without having a million conversations about it beforehand on Facebook.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just a loser. But I can’t be the only one that feels this way… Right?

What Does Mental Health Mean to You?



Mental illnesses come in all shapes and forms, from the anxiety monster troubling your brain before an exam to a complex chemical imbalance that goes by the name depression. It’s true that the stigma associated with mental disorders is slowly being eradicated, but so much of society still views mental disorders as something within our control or something logical and easy to solve. So much of society sweeps mental illnesses under the rug labeled “crazy” and so much of it has been buried with the phrase, “you’re just overreacting”. What people don’t realize is that the more you repress a disease without treating it, the stronger it will come back.

Being in the academic system for quite a while, anxiety has become second nature not only for myself but also for so many of you. Being told you’re a great student all your life, only to end up procrastinating due to being a perfectionist who is afraid of failing and getting average grades, really internally frustrates you to the point where you’re hardly making it. I know how hard it has been for me in the past year moving to Canada from a completely different education system. Not only was I in my last year of high school, but I was applying to universities too, which meant I had to adjust in this foreign system, make no mistakes, and continue my streak of grades good enough to get into the top universities here—the pressure was unforgivable. Having three panic attacks in the span of a few months took a toll on my mental health—I couldn’t get out of bed to study, I was depressed beyond understanding, every day ended in tears and the next day went by slower than the last… In the end however, you begin to latch onto the smallest of positive outcomes, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others.

In Canada, suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds, which is unfortunately a pretty big number. The reason for this ranges from suppressing internal struggles due to societal pressure to bullying, harassment, academic pressure, etc.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety are just a few of the diseases that plague so many of us today. The worst feeling comes with not knowing why you’re feeling hopeless or upset or hollow; it comes with time passing so slowly coupled with your movements being twice as lethargic and lagged. But all people want to know is why? If we all had the answer to that, we would be well on our way, as far from disorders as possible; however, it is not socially acceptable to lie in bed all day because you cannot find any strength in you to push yourself out of bed. It is not socially acceptable to hand in a paper late and not lose 5% because your fingers couldn’t understand your brain. You must mask your symptoms in order to function in the outside world.

The treatment for mental health needs to become better than what is feebly offered to us right now. Research into mental health problems should be just as rigorous as research for cancer—it should be given its due diligence. A balance needs to be constructed between being told you’re overthinking your own illness and having it glorified to the point that all everyone is interested in is being your saviour. It is not a problem to be solved overnight—I am still learning how to not let it control me. It requires patience and understanding from those who are willing to stay and help.

Please Don’t Read Me



I have one of “those faces”. I feel like recently in particular, I’ve had to say to people, “No, don’t worry. It’s just my face.” See, I have chronic “bitch-face”. It suuuuucks.

What’s bitch-face?

Well, beloved reader, bitch-face is basically when someone constantly looks like they want to drop kick a baby off the Grand Canyon while eating ice cream. Or, to put it to you this way, you know your face during traffic in the second hour when you’ve given up? Yeah, that face—that’s bitch-face. It’s having that face constantly—when you’re happy, sad, angry, very tired, and usually when you forget to have an external emotional reaction to something.

It never used to bother me until one night when my brother was talking to me about his relationship. I must have looked disinterested, because he looked at me finally and said, “You don’t actually care do you?” To be honest, it was an emotionally charged conversation and I did care, but I was thinking mostly about how to respond and forgot to actually do that.

I realize this makes me sound like a robot, and I’ve actually been called that before by people that still love me, but that’s—I guess, in a way—what bothers me about it. See, I joke about bitch-face a lot, but I really do mean it when I say it’s just my face. I’m terrible to read, because I’m an introvert and because I’m not good at expressing my feelings externally. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel things. It just means I don’t like to put my emotions on display. I don’t cry in public, I don’t yell right away when I’m angry, and I don’t always say, “I love you”. I feel like I don’t show enough excitement because I don’t flail about screaming, and I don’t know why I am the way that I am, but I know that if I’m going to be that person that’s okay with who they are, then this is a part of me that I need to be okay with. And for me that’s really hard—in fact, it’s probably the thing I struggle with the most, that I’m willing to admit.

So, reader, I don’t know if this is a rant, or a plea or something else, but I do know that I don’t like being read, solely because I feel like most people get it wrong. I do feel things—a lot of things—but on a very private level. I do believe that I’m not the only person that’s like this. I think we all have private and public selves, but some people are just better at expressing themselves than I am. I do think that we have to be okay with who we are, even if it’s not something that’s easy to be okay with and, in a way, maybe for all of us, that’s our struggle.