Growth + Social Issues

Articles about life, growth, social issues, and trying to find meaning, humor, and connection in it all. ★

8 Ways You Can Help Fight the Loneliness Epidemic

Originally published by Tiny Buddha, April 18, 2023
By Meg Hartley

“The antidote to loneliness isn’t just being around random people indiscriminately, the antidote to loneliness is emotional security.” ~Benedict Wells

Emotional security. The feeling of being at home in the presence of another. Safe to be who you are, good times or bad. Feeling seen and seeing the other clearly, accepting the other’s whole lovely mess. It’s good stuff, and it can be hard to find.

In fact, ever-increasing loneliness stats have led many experts to describe the problem as epidemic. You might assume it was caused by the pandemic, but it was a crisis long before lockdowns and social distancing.

In 2018, Cigna conducted a survey of U.S. adults and found that loneliness was at 54 percent, already at epidemic levels. Since then, it shot up to 61 percent in 2019, with three in five Americans reporting feeling lonely, and now sits at 58 percent—we’ve got ourselves a big problem. And it’s not just the fact that it’s unpleasant to feel disconnected from others and not have anyone to talk to; research also shows it’s also bad for our health.

As someone who went thirty-seven years not knowing I’m autistic, for most of my life I’ve hidden a lot of who I am (masking), making it impossible to feel truly connected and seen. So, despite formerly frequent socializing, I’ve been exceedingly familiar with feeling lonely for most of my life.

However, when health issues took me out of the day-to-day world altogether in 2015, I was surprised at how much worse it got. At first, rarely interacting with others was largely a much-needed relief, but a few months in, things got dark. I was communicating with the people I knew so little—sometimes it’d be months—that I felt ungrounded, like I could just disappear, or die, and no one would even know I was gone.

When I did get to talk to the people who I then considered close, it often felt like I wasn’t really allowed to talk about my life anymore because it’d become too sad. (So cringe. Positive vibes only.)

Even with the support of a therapist, feeling so alone in what I was going through made me feel like my life didn’t matter. And it’s not that I was associating with awful humans, it’s just how we’re socially conditioned. Society prioritizes seeming-pleasantness to a severe degree, and as a result most folks have no idea how to hold space for the hard stuff. We just aren’t taught to be emotionally equipped for providing that kind of support; instead, the general example is to repress and deflect.

It’s like we’ve decided compassion is inefficient and awkward, instead honoring placid insensitivity as a virtue. And, as a result, people feel like it’s not safe to talk about what’s really going on in their lives, what they’re really thinking and feeling. This, of course, creates loneliness.

Eventually, after half a decade of dealing with severe health and life trauma in isolation, I was diagnosed with autism, which was amazing in many ways… but also a core-shaking thing to handle with only the support of online groups and a telehealth therapist who had dozens of other clients. It was too much to process, and I had a nervous breakdown.

Afterward, I accepted that I needed to work harder to find people I could regularly and, especially, authentically connect with. It took some time, but I eventually found aligned friends via reaching out to people I didn’t actually know all that well (yet) but had met through very authentic circumstances.

Routinely talking and connecting with them has changed my life. I’m still homebound for health reasons, and it’s still hard, but despite still being without human company like 95 percent of the time, I don’t feel like I could just float away anymore; I now feel warmly and safely connected, even seen and understood.

Honestly assessing if I had people with the bandwidth to connect regularly, that also know how to hold the kind of safe-feeling emotional space I need, was the first step to having consistent connection with people who let me be my whole self; relationships that do provide that precious and hard-to-find feeling of emotional security—progressively replacing my loneliness with connected perspective, understanding, and acceptance.

If your honest self-assessment comes to the same conclusion as mine—“I need to confront this loneliness thing”—these sorts of authentic-connection-seeking efforts can do the same for you.

8 Ways to Combat the Loneliness Epidemic

1. Honestly assess your needs.

Do you feel lonely? What do you need to feel socially connected? Which interactions leave you feeling drained and which ones lift you up, making you feel less alone? Do you feel safe to be your whole self with the people in your life? What are some characteristics of those who’ve made you feel safe?

2. Reach out (and reach back).

Once you’ve got an idea of what you need, reach out to someone who makes you feel relaxed, safe to just be you, and see if they want to catch up. Maybe they’ll be down for it, and maybe they won’t, but keep trying.

If you don’t really know anyone you feel safe to be authentic with, try joining like-minded activity groups or using a platonic friend-finding app. And if someone who seems safe reaches out, don’t let fear stop you from reaching back.

3. Set and respect boundaries.

What you need from someone and what they’re able to provide might not mesh. It’s important to understand that some of us are comfortable with having open, potentially vulnerable, conversations, and others prefer to stick to more shallow waters. And the same is true for the reverse.

It’s okay to prioritize time with those who connect in a harmonious way and also to distance yourself where needed. Life is pretty demanding and people can only do so much, so try not to take it personally if people can’t meet what you need, and let others (gently) know when you can’t meet theirs.

4. Practice ‘holding space.’

Make sure you’re present enough to really listen and ensure you’ve understood and/or been understood (we rely far too much on easily misinterpreted nonverbal communication).

Learning to stay in the moment—resisting deflection, going into judgment or fix-it mode—is crucial to creating authentic connection in your life (and that includes holding space for your own honest, but difficult, emotions).

It can be scary to hold space, and/or ask someone to, but we need to get over our societal fear of awkward experiences; isn’t it worth it when it could lead to connection, growth, and clarity?

5. Resist the pressure to lean on small talk.

It can be tempting to stick to trivial matters, but it’s not without harm. I concur with the take on small talk that Natasha Lyonne shared on an early February episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers:

“I don’t believe in it. I would say I aggressively don’t like it. I think it’s damaging to society as a whole… it’s like John Lennon said, just gimme some truth. I think it’s really dangerous because when you ask a person ‘How are you?’ their only option is to lie aggressively, right? Society says you’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, I’m good’ and keep it moving, but you’re not good, are you?”

It’s isolating that we’re expected to talk in pleasantries, especially since it often happens even in relationships considered close.

6. Gossip doesn’t count as connection.

In the same interview, Meyers fights for small talk as a segue into shit-talk, and Lyonne suggests that maybe instead of talking about other people they could segue into some other talk (she suggests inanimate objects, which I don’t hate).

Our society depends on gossip far too much. People very often rely on it to judge another’s trustworthiness, a fact that is manipulated all the time. And if you’ve ever played the game “telephone,” you know it’s not exactly a science to depend on hearsay.

Real conversations, asking direct questions, can be intimidating—but it’s a hell of a lot better than writing someone off because of what so-in-so told so-in-so. Also, gossip isn’t connection. It might feel like fleeting togetherness à la “we hate them,” but you know your shite-talking cohort’s talking about you as well. It’s fake. If gossip’s the primary mode of convo, you’re just flapping jaws.

7. Reflect on and articulate your feels.

When we don’t understand why we feel alone, it makes it much harder to address, so it’s unfortunate that introspection is underrated in our society (sometimes even ridiculed, which is revealing).

Gaining emotional awareness and being able to express our feelings is key to reducing loneliness. To quote sociological researcher Brené Brown, “The more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing, and feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected and alone we feel.”

When we don’t have the words to describe our emotional experience, emotional communication becomes foreign—but by gaining emotional awareness and vocabulary, that kind of connection becomes possible.

Crucially, we must know that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that we feel, as many of us are taught that emotions like anger or fear aren’t okay. They are. Using tools like the emotion wheel, journaling, and therapy can be of great assistance, as well as opening up to trusted others and holding space when they open up to you.

8. Know (and love) yourself to connect authentically.

Finding relationships where I felt supported the way I needed to be involved a lot more time getting to know myself than I thought it would; tons of self-reflection and, ironically, solitude were necessary for me to find the self-acceptance it takes to have any shot at finding authentic support.

To again quote Brené Brown, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”

As far as how to get started on fostering self-love, I think all love grows from appreciation, something many of us find hardest when it’s pointed in our own direction. Appreciate your efforts to choose growth by reading articles on a website like this over mindless scrolling, or reaching out for connection instead of your favorite escape. And acknowledge your needs in addition to your efforts. You deserve love (the whole you).

Self-reflection and cultivating emotionally secure relationships inherently involves vulnerability, but our social norms dictate staying away from that—safe in the shallows of small talk, leaving the depths to be explored in fifty-minute therapy slots by a complete stranger who won’t have the same security with you (if you’re lucky enough to have the coverage).

While therapy can be very helpful, emotional support shouldn’t primarily be found at a price as one of many clients on a therapist’s roster. We need to have the emotional tools to express our feelings and support another’s.

And, in addition to our individual efforts toward authentic connection, we, as a society, need to recognize the costs of mass loneliness and prioritize having a populace that knows how to be there for each other in good times and bad. It’s time to learn how to allow space for authentic connection in our lives and relationships. We need it, we deserve it, and we can do it.

Do You Constantly Think and Worry About Your Relationships?

Tiny Buddha, 2016
By Meg Hartley

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” – Paulo Coelho

Sometimes it’s easy to define ourselves by our roles and relationships.

We can look at ourselves as a daughter, or someone’s employee, or so in so’s husband. These things mean a lot to us, and we often subconsciously use a variety of behaviors and mental constructs to protect these roles and relationships.

It can take form in innocuous ways, like buying clothes you don’t really want or feigning interests in order to fit in. (Go sports team!) But it also affects more serious things, like how we view ourselves, what we think we’re capable of, and what goals we pursue.

A common theme in movies is the mid-lifer who suddenly realizes they’ve made all of their decisions in life to please other people. It’s reflected in the zeitgeist so often for a reason—because it’s a common occurrence, and an easy trap to fall into.

My realization that I was doing this started taking shape with several ah-ha moments over the last several years, but it became palpable during an entrepreneurial workshop almost a year ago.

We all were assigned a personality test to take at home before returning the next morning. Mine said something like: You think with your heart and are excellent at building thriving relationships.

I thought that was a lovely-sounding result, but the next morning I got a bit of a jolt from the woman putting on this portion of the workshop.

“Ah, you’re a blue!  You constantly think about yourself in relation to everyone else.”

“I do not,” I replied, embarrassed.

“But you do. What are you thinking about when you fall asleep at night?  Your relationships. You wonder if everyone’s okay. You wonder how you affect others. You wonder what they think of you.”

I must have been nodding, because she said, “See? That’s thinking about yourself in relation to everyone else. Their approval means a lot to you, and that’s how it manifests in your mind.”

That irritated me in a huge way.

I ignored her for the rest of the day, fuming about how someone could say something so mean—and because of a silly little test that didn’t say anything about wanting approval! I was still thinking about it when I got home, all riled up with indignance.

Then it hit me. I’m a fan of Jungian psychology. I’m not an expert or anything, but I like the way that dude thinks.

He espouses the philosophy that our irritations and overreactions point to key truths about ourselves; when something or somebody really gets to us, it could be because it’s pointing to a truth about ourselves that we don’t want to see.

I had noted people-pleasing tendencies before, and I had made great strides! I no longer fake-laughed at things that I didn’t find funny.

I no longer thought of others, or their judgments, when making personal style decisions. And I no longer cared about being as thin as others, after struggling with eating disorders for years.

These things were a big deal to me, and it took focused effort to make these changes. I thought I was done! Then some random person goes pointing out the other-focused thought constructs in my brain like she can see them? What the what, man? Pssssch.

I tried to ignore it. Tried to pretend that it wasn’t there. But once something like that is pointed out, life tends to keep pointing it out to you.

I eventually leaned in and decided to do something about it. I’m a lover of meditation and mindfulness in all forms, so invented a mindfulness game of it.

I started watching my mind for other-oriented thoughts, and then I imagined shooting them down with the gun from the 80’s Nintendo game, Duck Hunt. Pew! Pew! I shoot them thoughts right down:

Imagining an argument with a family member: Pew! Pew!

Comparing myself to someone else: Pew! Pew!

Wondering how I’d explain myself for doing something: Pew! Pew!

Overanalyzing lack of reactions to my Facebook post: Pew! Pew!

(A few things that don’t count: non-judgmental relationship reflection, hoping people are happy, and forgiving others and myself.)

It might sound silly, and maybe for you it would be, but for me, it’s worked wonders.

It’s helped me find my center. I feel like my whole life I’ve been off, getting tossed about in the storm of others’ wishes, real or imagined; flung around in subtle manipulations, others’ or mine; and thrashed into the ground by judgments, spoken or merely assumed.

The benefits of cultivating a centered perspective like this are immense. For one thing, it leaves us free to cultivate inner-direction—to focus on the things that really matter to us, the things that we love to spend time on, the things that make us sparkle.  

I’ve discovered that we can adopt a centered-perspective as homebase. It had been there the whole time, this calm and peaceful mind, this quiet in the eye of the storm.

I had frequently visited it, usually while meditating, or by way of painting, or even via chore lists done in a zen-like fashion; but we can learn to operate from this place all the time.

My mind still swerves into the storm, but less and less. It’s noticeable, and feels odd, far from being a filter for life or a perspective to see it from, like it was before.

And once we spot mental constructs in this way, we stop identifying with them, and they can’t sweep us up like they used to. They lose power as new neural pathways are created, bringing with them new ways of thinking and of approaching life.

Try to spot your other-focused mental constructs going forward. Recognize when you’re dwelling on arguments, comparing yourself to others, or looking for their approval, and shift your focus back to yourself. Find your center.

Know that you’re more than how you affect the people around you. You’re more than what other people think of you. If you can focus a little less on who you are in relation to everyone else, like me, you might find yourself less stressed and far more fulfilled.

How to Live a Full Life and Smile Your Way Through It

Tiny Buddha, 2014
By Meg Hartley

Photo by Irina Patrascu

“There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.” – Tom Robbins

I recently had my thirty-first birthday. I am officially in my thirties. This leads to reflection; what have I accomplished with my time as an adult?

I recently started over yet again, making this the fifth state I’ve lived in seven years. I have a roommate, half of the stuff in my room is hers, and I’m temping for a living. I was more prosperous at twenty friggin’ three…


If you were to see a photo of me at the age of eighteen next to a current photo, you’d notice a few changes. I’m obviously older and have gained some weight. I finally got those braces off, and my skin cleared up nicely.

However, if you were super-perceptive you’d say, “The young one is nervously smiling. She doesn’t look genuinely happy.” You’d be correct. 

The young one is bulimic. She doesn’t believe in herself. She has no clue who she is. She’s recovering from the trauma of her mother’s suicide. She babbles about boys, gossip, and that’s about it. After nearly everything she says, she glances at those around her like, “right?”, and a nervous laugh sputters out.

Poor dear. She’s scared to death and she doesn’t even know it.

I, the older and curvier one, am honest to goodness happy. Even though things in life don’t look just how I’d like them to yet, I’m excited to see how it plays out.

I know I can have, be, and do whatever I want; I have faith in myself, the forces of life, and divine timing. I’m enjoying checking out experiences as they arrive, and I feel grateful for what they are teaching my soul. That nervous giggle has transformed into a satisfying and hearty belly laugh.

So how did I go from a fake laugh to a real one, and how can you, too?

1. Embrace rock bottom.

I left my hometown in Alaska to go to college in Vegas, sans the childhood friends that handled my traumatized self with kid gloves. I hid in booze, drugs, and boys the best I could; but depression started bubbling halfway through the year, and quickly ignited to a full-on boil.

I binged and purged daily. I would scratch my skin until it bled, because the pain hurt less than the thoughts it was distracting me from.

It all finally erupted and I realized I had to stop hiding and numbing myself. In facing my depression and self-hatred head on, I was able to rebuild my life from a new foundation. It wasn’t easy, but letting myself hit rock bottom was the key to my growth and healing.

If you are having a difficult time, if it feels like everything is crumbling, it’s okay. Weak structures need to break down in order to be rebuilt with strength.

Release the pieces of you that are no longer self-serving, knowing that you are not your past. You are whoever you choose to be, and going through the hard parts just makes that person all the stronger.

2. Create dreams and goals.

Compared to that first year, the rest of college went by fairly uneventfully. I was soon a college graduate, with a corporate job, living with a man I loved. These things were all dreams up until I got them, but as dreams often go, once they came true I quickly outgrew them. I wanted more.

I spent a lot of time articulating what I wanted, trying situations on in my head like outfits. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to move to California on my own, make another 12K a year, and organize fundraisers for charity. So I did.

Then I wanted more again. That’s how dreams go. Love, appreciate, and enjoy them when they come to fruition. Your heart will eventually stir again, signaling time to conjure up some new ones.

3. Take risks.

After a few successful charity fundraisers, being flown to New York twice in recognition, and writing about it all in a national magazine, I realized Southern California didn’t suit this here Alaskan chick. I decided to move to Colorado. The branch of the corporation I was working for serendipitously shut down shortly after that decision.

I used my severance package to start over in Denver. I didn’t know anyone, and I had never been there.  I wanted to see how I’d react to the challenge.

If you never put yourself out there, you’ll never have the space you need to truly grow. Exposing yourself to life’s contrasts is crucial to living it fully, and you can’t do that without involving a little risk.

4. Make the best of any situation.

I thought the lay-offs I witnessed were an isolated incident…it was 2008. My confidence approached arrogance as I surfed into Denver. What I didn’t know is I was riding the first tidal waves of the recession.

I was honest-to-goodness shocked that no one cared about my three years of corporate ladder climbing.  Shocked! I tried desperately for a year, getting only one interview out of hundreds of cover letters. It should have been the worst year ever. It was incredibly stressful, don’t get me wrong, but it was also one of the best years yet.

I met some the raddest people I know, soaked up all Denver had to offer, dreamed new dreams, started meditating, and learned that when I sought strength internally, it was always there. It wound up being a year of delightful transformation.

It’s always our choice what we make of any situation. We can stare at our worries and fret; or we can figure out how to enjoy even dire circumstances, while doing our very best to correct them.

When I could try no longer, I had to head back home to Alaska. I could have done so with my tail betwixt my legs, but I went tail a waggin’ and my chin held high.

5. Face yourself.

Returning to my small hometown was really challenging. I felt like everyone thought they knew me, even though I’d been gone for nearly a decade. I hated the feeling of trying to overcome these preconceived notions; yet at the same time, I was projecting old experiences onto others right back, assuming I knew who they were.

I felt confined, and defined. My joie de vivre eventually faded, slowly, almost too slow to notice; but by the time I left I could barely summon a spark.

I felt incredibly alone, like the only person I had to turn to was myself—which was okay, because turning to face ourselves is exactly what we have to do to overcome the darkness.

Shadow work, or “casting a light on your dark side,” is best done during tough times. Think about how why things are so dark; how did you contribute to it? Ask yourself if you have patterns in your behaviors, thoughts, or beliefs that are getting in your way.

What emotions are you experiencing? Isolate them, and then lean in to them, really feel them. This will help you process them, and only then will they be released, allowing you to move on.

6. Truly and wholly love yourself, all of yourself.

I’ve messed up, many, many times. I chose the proverbial scenic route, for sure. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the missteps I’ve made. You know what? I love myself for it. Those “mistakes” have led me to a place of true self-understanding and knowledge. We can only ever truly love what we truly know.

Embrace your detours, as they are life’s clearest education. We may not choose to learn the hard way in the future, but we should never regret our past. Own it.

Apply the wisdom that you have gained from trying experiences to create awesome ones. Most importantly, have a sense of humor about it all; the hard times, the great times, your achievements, and your shortcomings. They make you you, and you are beautiful.

So I sit here, thirty-one, six months into starting over in Portland Oregon, nary a possession to my name, with a sense of fearless excitement about what’s coming. I live to grow, and I grow to live. I am open to whatever experience life has in store for me, ready to get a great laugh at whatever’s coming next.

What I Learned in Prison.

Meg Hartley for Elephant Journal
January 17, 2015

I readjusted in the metal bunk, smashing my funny bone on a locker in the process.

I tried not to cry out, and looked to my pillow for solace, then remembered its extremely used condition. I flopped my head on the cot and remembered the day’s events.

I had spent seven excruciating hours alone in a room with a toilet and a camera, discovering my body’s reaction to prison was not only to develop a fever, but to overcome the hormones of Depo, delivering my first period in years. Eventually a guard came and got me.

He escorted me to a room where my outfit changed from orange to blue, but not without enduring the most demeaning ten minutes of my life. They discovered no drugs in my bumhole and no used sports bra big enough for these ta-tas.

Freshly suited up, they walked me past two port-a-potties to a tent-like structure. I walked in to a few women watching TV. One snarled, “there’s no f*cking room.” An older lady, who happened to be an ex-advertising client, waved the woman off and walked me to my bunk, even showing me how to tie the sheet.

As soon as she went back to her spot in front of the TV I felt the conversation move towards me, but without including me. Do you know that feeling? Suddenly everyone in the tent seemed to be ignoring me, yet talking directly to me.

They talked about the other girls dorm and how mean they were to new inmates, telling awful stories. I was pretending not to listen when a woman yelled directly at me, “Who cares how new people are treated? I hope your four days are f*cking hell, white bitch!”

I told myself to just be cool.

I took my nose out of the book I was pretending to read and said, “I’m sorry, were you f*cking with me and I wasn’t paying attention?”

She let out a little snort, and said, “she’s cool.” Success!!  I turned my attention downward—somehow I had managed to not pee myself. Double success! The conversations went back to normal volume and gratefully had nothing to do with me.

In any group of people there is usually at least one person born feeling like “the leader of the pack.” This tent definitely had one—she was the one who had nearly made me whiz my unflattering pants. When she spoke, which she did, incessantly and abrasively, the majority of the other girls turned and listened as if these words could change their entire life’s trajectory.

When a girl spoke, she’d look back to the leader for approval.

I continued to listen. These ladies were much, much, rougher than me. They yelled and talked about “beating ass”, while punching random things for emphasis.

I like yoga, inspirational anything, and get really upset when I encounter even fictional violence. I felt very out of place and didn’t want to belong, but also wanted to be present in the experience.

You know? If we’re going to be somewhere—be there.

I adjusted in my bunk again, trying to look involved.

After the conversation moved onto Oxy, specifically the intricacies and impossibilities of smoking it from a toaster, I realized I really didn’t have anything to contribute.

I put my face to my elbow and tried to meditate.

A quiet, centered peace was not in the cards for me that evening.

I kept panicking about prison scenes in movies, worries about what everyone in my small hometown was thinking of me being there and serious concern about where that gross pillow had been.

Eventually I dozed off, then awoke to a light on my face.

Seconds later a prison guard was being referred to as “little princess” and his flashlight had gone from counting gals in bunks to the spastic motions of a boy happy to have the girls notice him.

I wondered what this guy’s life was like outside of the prison, since he seemed to really enjoy this obviously degrading attention. “You know you love me” cooed the leader as the guard suddenly remembered what he was doing,”eight, nine, ten.”

I awoke again with the sense that people were talking about me—to me? To me.

It was time for breakfast. It’s mandatory to eat, they let me know. I slipped on my prison-given socks, put my feet into the Ked’s-looking appointed shoes and tied my dirty hair into a knot. We moved out of the tent into slightly fresher air, tinged with the port-a-potty scent.

We were corralled into the next barricaded area where I saw a girl I knew from school.

Still the prettiest. Still the meanest. Owning it. She even still had a gaggle of minions following her around, just like in middle school. I thought about the personalities that thrive behind bars and wondered what other bullies I went to school with were up to.

We got back to the tent after a meal I can’t even describe (“meat” surprise?) that left me both hungry and bloated.

I tried to dive into the novel I was very lucky to get my little hands on, eventually learning to focus on the story amongst the jarring conversation and constant RealTV violence.

I got swept up, it was sweet and sad and I had to fight to keep tears from running down my face. The theme song to a physics-based sitcom I love distracted me with great timing and no one was at the television. I got a lovely-banket-cozied twenty minutes before someone abruptly changed the station in my face to see if a cage fight was on.

I crawled back into my bunk and continued to observe the relationships going on with these women and the outside. There was a lot of crying, and yelling. One woman who spoke of violence even more than the others was on the phone with her girlfriend much of the time. The inmate’s girlfriend had cheated on her and with a man. She screamed about “dirty d*ck” while visibly crying but not audibly.

A woman in her mid-twenties spoke to her boyfriend with tears streaming down her face, holding the phone with a tight desperation. I later found out that she was a heroin addict throughout her teenage years, but had cleaned up several years ago. She recently had an awful miscarriage and failed to report the non-narcotic medication to her parole officer. For that she got seven months in prison.

They talked to each other. About the fights they’ve been in. The drug busts. How they miss drugs. What they’ve done to get drugs. Who they’ve harmed or stolen from. The children they couldn’t care for. The abuse they’d inflicted and endured.

I wondered what could happen if someone were to convince them that they can have a better life. That they deserve better. That being angry at the world only makes it feel like the world is angry at you.

I was also afraid of drawing attention to myself and actually getting my ass kicked or my glasses broken. So, I behaved as a polite peanut gallery—sometimes adding to whatnot and laughing when appropriate, but mainly just pretending to sleep or attempting to meditate.

Three days went by like this, attempting to hide in plain sight.

But it by bit, I got to know the women. By the last night I had let my walls down, as had even the fiercest of the felons. I slowly let my unguarded personality out and the behavior was reciprocated. As we communicated without fear of our differences we bonded over the experience that we were sharing.

Let me tell you, being incarcerated is one hell of an experience to share. Lots of facets in that one.

Angry yelling turned into straight up giggling. About jail, about life, about it all. Giggling with women whom I had deemed terrifying on first impression. That last night I finally felt comfortable enough to tell some random story involving a golf cart, ’shrooms and Vegas.

The especially violent woman turned to me after and said, “Seriously? You’re f*ckin’ funny? You’ve been f*ckin’ funny this whole time and weren’t f*ckin’ talking? Daaaaaamn, dude, not cool!”

I laughed and wondered what the experience would have held had I been truly unafraid the whole time. When my time was up I said, “I’ll miss you guys, surprisingly,” I nearly reached out for hugs—seriously.

As I walked out of the prison I felt incredibly alive, grateful and educated on many levels.

I learned that when I behave with candor it encourages others to do the same, making it a whole lot easier to see each other clearly. I am strong enough to handle pretty dubious situations with relative ease. Releasing judgement of a moment and allowing it to just be can make even a hard time’s passage graceful.

No matter where I am, I have the ability to maintain presence.

To get a top sheet to stay still on a bunk mat—tie the ends.

And, of course, after enjoying hoppy brewed goodness—always call a cab. I stepped into that moment’s particular cab and “It’s All Right Now” played loud on the radio. I sighed to myself and thought, “yes, yes it is.”

Being Homeless in Long Beach

Meg Hartley for Long Beach Post
DEC 15 2017 8:15 PM

I never thought I’d really become homeless. Even in my last months in my apartment, as I was months late on my rent at the time, I still didn’t think I’d end up here, not really. Even after my landlord couldn’t take it anymore and (very politely) evicted me, I was still sure something would happen before it got this bad.

In the fall of 2015 I almost died from B12 deficiency, which is something I had never heard of. It’s often thought of as an old-timey illness that we don’t get anymore, like rickets or scurvy. It used to be a highly prevalent cause of death and paralysis. I have a couple of genetic mutations that make me predisposed to nutritional deficiency, though it probably started as a congenital condition.

B12 is responsible for the health of the brain and nervous system. Since the nervous system is located throughout the body, symptoms can manifest in many ways. Mental illness is one of the frequent manifestations of B12 deficiency. Since my levels got so low at a young(ish) age, it’s probable that my mother was deficient when she had me, passing on the deficiency. She, Linda Darlene, committed suicide in 1997—a lack of B12 likely fueling her bipolar disorder. A vitamin could possibly have saved her, a teeny little vitamin. It’s infuriating.

I was extremely lucky to get a diagnosis, and even though it took 33 years I feel very grateful for it. I had gotten Obamacare and was able to see a naturopath for the first time, who found the deficiency on her first try. At first my symptoms fell away like magic, but after several months of stabbing myself in the legs with hydroxocobalamin, my progress plateaued.

Doctors ruled out all of the other options before a rheumatologist finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia just last spring. I had started to wrap my mind around the disease, and what I could do about it, when I was evicted.

A few doctors had suggested that I move from Portland, Oregon to a hotter and drier climate. So when a college friend offered to move to Santa Clarita with me I knew I had to take her up on it. During this time, as I focused on doing my physical therapy exercises as much as possible—which wasn’t nearly as much as I wanted—I was very drawn to Long Beach. At first it was probably due to growing up with Sublime, but I’d also do internet searches for things like “hottest beach in California,” or “the cultural Portland of California” and Long Beach would pop up over and over.

While I marvelled at how miraculously my body was reacting to the 100+ degree weather, I also balked at the sameness of the Santa Clarita area. The businesses are mostly corporate, and even the local ones felt generic. The whole place seemed to cherish it’s, to me, blandness, happy not to offend anyone, nor impress them.

I didn’t spend much time thinking about that though, as I had bigger fish to fry: I had upped my exercise time by 2.5 times and was feeling better and better, noting that my recovery time from doing things like grocery shopping was getting shorter and shorter. I still feared overdoing it though, as doing so caused flares which brought such horrific pain that I had to deal with suicidal thoughts as well.

After nine weeks in Santa Clarita, I had overstayed my welcome. This revelation came about quite explosively, ending with a very large man yelling through my door, “Get the fuck out or I’ll fuck your shit up!” I didn’t stay to find out if he meant my stuff, or my person. I left in a very dramatic and clandestine fashion, with as much as I could carry; around dawn, before everyone woke up.

The aforementioned suicidal thoughts had been a frequent threat even without flares, and I was concerned, but figured I’d get my California Obamacare set up and be at a shrink’s office in no time. Unfortunately, I’m still figuring out my coverage, and my suicide risk went from Googling “Will 23 amitriptyline kill me?” to wondering, “What can I drive my car into fast enough to kill me, but hurt no one else?”

I checked myself into the nearest mental ward.

It was my second time in 2017, the first being after I received my second disability denial. I honestly used to judge people on disability, if only subconsciously, assuming that many were scamming the system, that they were lazy. I feel like we are taught by our society to feel that way. Now that I’m not only familiar with severe and chronic illness, but also the convoluted and infuriatingly slow social security system—my views have completely changed.

Getting on the California State Disability Insurance Program literally takes years, it seems as if the system is meant to discourage people. That they hope we’ll give up or die before receiving it. And if you do eventually get it, it’s barely over $1,000 per month, which doesn’t go a long way in these parts. Or Oregon. Or anywhere else I’ve lived.

In the meantime, five days of group therapy, mild tranquilizers, and lots of sleep at the mental ward helped loads. My aforementioned genetic mutations make it hard for my body to process toxins, so I react to pills, among many other things, differently than most people. Because of this, I can’t remember large portions of my time there (or my mental ward stay in Portland), and the day of my release is fuzzy at best, I have no idea how I got there, but I do know that a kind non-profit offered me a hotel voucher for the evening.

The next morning I could still feel the pharmaceuticals in my body as I headed back to the non-profit, refreshed from a good sleep and hopeful that I could get another voucher. They couldn’t give me another, and my reality hit me very hard as soon as they said no. I got hysterical again, then eventually apologized and left, headed to my 1993 Toyota Camry. And, naturally, she wouldn’t start.

I cried for at least an hour, sitting there outside the non-profit, no doubt making them feel very uncomfortable. Eventually I calmed down and ordered the tow service that my insurance company offers, luckily for free, because I had $1.82 in my bank account. They towed me to a nearby repair company and I called a couple of friends who had reached out. They tried to get me a hotel room but the hotels required the hotel guest to pay.

I was in a CVS when I realized that I was really and truly homeless, that I’d have to sleep in my car that chilly evening. I, yet again, became hysterical. An angel of a man who worked there asked me what was wrong and I tearfully told him, then he offered to buy me a $20 blanket, bringing four over and asking me which one I wanted. That softest of all soft blankets got me through the first night sleeping in my car. That, and, a makeshift pillow made from one of my headrest covers.

Once I had the “pillow” and I lied down I realized I was okay. This wasn’t so bad. I’m pretty short, so only kinda cramped. I even had an episode of The Good Wife downloaded and ready to watch. I felt so silly for making such a big deal out of it, for making all of those people suffer because I was so scared. I told myself I was just “urban car camping,” and slept surprisingly well.

The kind manager of the repair shop got my car running again for free, noting that it was just a “band-aid fix,” and he also gave me permission to park there that night. After I set up an online fundraiser for myself, I headed out to clear my head and make a plan. I wandered about a bit aimlessly, ending up in front of a store called “Buy Buy Baby.”

Something about that sign, or rather everything about it, made every fiber of my being scream, “What the fuck am I doing here?!”

By the time I got back to the repair shop, I had decided that I would leave Santa Clarita; but that I would stay in Los Angeles County, where my body liked it and where my insurance had finally become active. So I did another internet search, “homelessness in Los Angeles county.” And the first article that came up heralded Long Beach as the only city to lower their number of homelessness when it had gone up everywhere else. A little more research, and Long Beach it was.

Meanwhile, for the fourth time since the health crisis, my online fundraiser had already raised over $1,000. My friends are so amazing, as is the community in my hometown of Juneau, Alaska. I’m so bonkers grateful, there is no way that I would have survived all of this without them. No. Way.

So I headed out, no longer flat broke, on my way to Long Beach. It was a Friday night when I got here, and as I searched for parking downtown I wondered if I had made a horrible mistake. It felt dodgy even though I couldn’t place why. (An Uber driver would later tell me that it did indeed used to be dodgy, but had been cleaned up over the last decade. He said that’s what I was probably feeling, assuming that I held intuition as something real, which I very much do.)

I awoke the next morning after not sleeping much at all, as every little noise seemed like it was danger, even though it kept proving to just be drunken people feeling jubilant. Everything hurt as I woke and I felt dismayed at the realization that, of course, the homelessness organization I came here for was closed for the weekend. I decided to cheer myself up by checking out Naples, the lovely little Italian-inspired island with canals.

After checking out those little islands, which I highly enjoyed, I took the time to hang out at Mother’s Beach for a while. Afterwards, feeling rejuvenated, I parked my car in the residential area of nearby Belmont Shore and hung out at a coffee shop until it got dark. As I sat there I noted the 24-hour Jack in the Box across the street, for restroom needs, as well as good street lighting. It seemed pretty safe. I decided to give it a shot.

I walked out to my car and got into the front seat. I checked to make sure no one was looking, then I moved, or rather flung myself, into the back seat. It was a Saturday night, so the drunken passers-by were, again, frequent. I froze everytime a group went by, scared they’d…bother me, I guess? Is it illegal to sleep in your car? (Something I’ll Google only once I’m homeless no more.) Only one fellow noticed me and said something to his friend, who replied, “I’m sure she’s just sleeping it off.”

Monday finally arrived and I called the Multi-Service Center before heading over. The woman asked me where I became homeless, and I told her Portland, Oregon. She told me that they only help those who became homeless in Long Beach and hung up apologetically.

So, unable to go back, I went down there and lied.

After a very frank conversation with my social service helper, I left with a few shelter flyers and the shower times. He didn’t seem particularly hopeful about my finding an affordable apartment, especially since I had no income. But at least there were shelters to call home until I got my life sorted.

I called a women-only shelter and learned that you had to go there in person at 8:00AM to get on the waiting list. I did so, and a couple of very kind and very busy women got me signed up to stay there that night. I relaxed into my seat a little, excited that I could go back to bed. Nope. The shelter was closed until 10:00PM, opening only after mandatory church service and dinner.

But first they needed to have me shower and change into fresh clothes while they washed what I was wearing. They gave me choices for much needed shirts, shoes, and pants that were actually pretty cute. After the best shower ever, I left the building in adorable purple pants, a yellow t-shirt, and gladiator sandals.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep in the meantime, I headed back down there at 6:40PM, right before the church service started. What looked like a relatively safe block in the daytime seemed straight-up sketchy at night. I wondered if I, and my car/stuff, were safer at Belmont Shore, but eventually figured that if a car was going to get robbed it probably wasn’t my hoopty from the early 90s.

Besides the smell of beer and cigarettes, I really enjoyed the service. The preacher kept interrupting himself with lines like, “Praise Jesus!” and “Halleluyah!” Most of the audience was right there with him, all wrapped up in the sermon, while others nodded off or grumbled. The room was full of people from both the men’s and women’s shelters as well as neighborhood locals.

At one point the preacher said something that particularly moved me and I noted someone nodding in agreement, just like I was, and I felt profoundly connected to them, to the preacher, to the moment. That feeling made it seem like everything was going to be okay, that I’d find my way through this mess. After the sermon, I followed the crowd towards the dining room. I wondered what to do next but heard someone yelling, “Doors of Hope ladies, up here!” I did as directed and was warmly welcomed by the other ladies at the front of the line, smiles on our faces as we eyed the already-plated dinner tables.

The dinner was quite good, as was the conversation, though I mostly listened. Afterwards we, finally, went to the dorm. Around 30 twin-sized beds filled the room, reminding me of orphanage movies from my childhood. The kind women from that morning were organizing everyone’s required showers, but since I’d done that earlier I was free to take my sleeping medicine and lay down in that tiny but glorious bed.

After a great sleep, at 6:00AM the lights went on. It was Thanksgiving day. I felt pretty good, always a nice surprise from a malfunctioning body. I didn’t know how I’d spend that day, how I’d solve my problems, or even if my car would be waiting for me outside—but I felt grateful indeed.

My Sex Life Needed Some Time Off: Lessons from Abstinence

by MEG HARTLEY for SheKnows

AUGUST 25, 2016 AT 8:00AM AM EDT

Last month, 20 long months of celibacy came to an end. It didn’t start out as intentional at all. I went through a rough breakup, did the “woo-single!!” thing for a few months, and then I just really had no desire to date.

So I didn’t. Before that, there were only a few hookups, but only because I’d wait so long that I’d get so horny I’d think I might lose my shit — so I’d go out and get some. A couple of years went by like this, not putting any effort to dating, not meeting anyone by happenstance, just kind of shrug-ishly uninvolved. At one point, I Googled to see if asexuality was a thing that develops later in life. It’s not.

It didn’t help that last fall a naturopath diagnosed me with severely low B-12, which causes the protective myelin sheath around the nervous system and brain to deteriorate, leading to systemic nerve damage. It’s a big ole bummer, and definitely not a turn-on, let me tell you.

More: How a vitamin deficiency nearly paralyzed me

I’ve been homebound due to my illness for 10 months now, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on life, like, a lot a lot. I’ve been in three romantic relationships with a lifespan of over a year — but there weren’t any that quite made it to two years, and one was in high school… so I don’t know if it even counts. I was always intensely focused on romance, but very rarely actually involved in genuinely intimate romantic relationships; the very thing I thought I wanted so much.

I lacked game. That had to do with it, no doubt. I lacked self-worth. That had a lot more to do with it, for sure. But I also think that on a deeper level, I knew I wasn’t ready to find a life partner, that I needed to figure out a lot of stuff on my own first. I needed to deal with pain from my childhood; I needed to really ask myself what I wanted out of life. I needed to figure out what I really believed in.

But I didn’t want to do that. That’s hard.

So I’d subconsciously focus on crushes as a way to avoid dealing with my shit — up until five years ago. I remember talking to a friend after a big breakup, telling her that I didn’t even remember what kind of music I liked anymore, that I had compromised so much of myself, I couldn’t even remember who I was.

But my life has changed completely in the last five years. All of this quality time alone while being homebound has especially brought me closer to myself in an incredibly centering way. It’s taught me how to move from my own center rather than reacting to others’. It’s given me space to define what I value in relationships, what kind of a lifestyle works for me and what I — me, and only me — truly want out of life.

I realized that in the years where I had been desperately looking for someone to love me, I was also concealing myself — the very person I wanted them to love. And who can truly love you if you don’t even reveal who you are? It’s impossible and very silly. I see that now.

It felt so real before, though, this fear that if I went for the things that I really wanted, if I revealed who I really was, I’d be rejected. It’s such a common fear; it just reeks of humanness. We hide from each other, and then we whine that we’re misunderstood.

I’m getting healthier and I’ve finally started dating again. Just one guy. It’s hard to say if dating’s easier for me than it used to be, whether I’ve grown so substantially and become so self-accepting that getting to know someone is actually easier and more fun or if he’s just a goodie who gets me. But I’ve also noticed a stronger and more fearless ease of authenticity in my interactions.

I can definitely say orgasms are easier to come by in your 30s — that’s not a rumor. (Or perhaps years of starvation have made my body more grateful for sex?) It’s lots of fun without that old nagging thought, he wouldn’t like me if he really got to know me. I hope he will, sure, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care — because I like me.

Why ‘marijuana’ should have always been called ‘the gage’

By Meg Hartley
Published on November 14, 2019· Last updated July 28, 2020

In the 1930s, two distinct potential futures existed for cannabis in the United States.

Cannabis was no stranger to us at that time. Cannabis tinctures were widely available at pharmacies, but people weren’t accustomed to getting high off of those tinctures. Things were changing as Mexican migrants and the (largely black) jazz subculture started to enjoy smoking cannabis as a way to relax and unwind.

Our cultural pendulum swung over to Anslinger, shaping the trauma-filled world of cannabis that we now live in—but if it hadn’t, that “satanic” jazz music might have shaped our world instead.

This might have been just fine and dandy, had it not been for a man named Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the US Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He got the gig in 1930, so when alcohol prohibition ended just three years later, it looked like he was out of a job—until cannabis came into his crosshairs. Anslinger was also openly racist and extra motivated by the idea of turning its predominantly black and brown consumers into criminals.

There’s many horrid quotes by Anslinger that sum up his revolting position, but this succinct one is the most powerful to me: “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Cannabis gets a new name

Anslinger was a man with a mission. He was going to save his job, and he was going to lock up a whole lot of people of color while he was at it. Ol’ Harry knew that turning people against cannabis would take some real spin—he needed a bad guy, and granny’s arthritis medicine wasn’t going to be it.

Cannabis needed a total rebranding. It needed a whole new name.

Cannabis would have continued to be called “the gage”—a name that gives credit to some of the jazzy creators of our cannabis culture, rather than give homage to the man who did everything in his power to squash it.

“Marihuana” was the moniker that he ran with, transforming the beloved herb into an evil drug that caused “Reefer Madness.” To illustrate this PR spin, I’ll use another Anslinger quote:

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind…Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”

As you know, our cultural pendulum swung over to Anslinger, shaping the trauma-filled world of cannabis that we now live in—but if it hadn’t, that “satanic” jazz music might have shaped our world instead, and no one would be talking about “marijuana.”

Cannabis would have continued to be called “the gage”—a name that gives credit to some of the jazzy creators of our cannabis culture, rather than give homage to the man who did everything in his power to squash it.

Smoking the gage with vipers

Portrait of Stuff Smith, Kelly’s Stable, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946 (William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress)

The gage has found itself beloved in many creative circles, but in the early days of jazz it was muse, subject, and therapy tool, all-in-one—a splendid inspirational force that penetrated the culture. As a muse, it inspired open thinking and lengthened time, allowing “vipers,” cannabis-loving jazz musicians, to mix it up and add more notes.

As a subject of jazz lyrics, there’s a whole catalog of early jazz songs dedicated to the gage. Take these lyrics from “Viper Mad” by Sidney Bechet and Rousseau Simmons:

Wrap your chops round this stick of tea 

Blow this gage and get high with me 

Good tea is my weakness, I know it’s bad 

It sends me, gate, and I can’t wait, I’m viper mad

And here’s some choice lyrics from Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys, “Here Comes the Man with the Jive”:

Where’s the man with the gage?

There is a man from way up town

Who will take away your blues

And any time the man comes round we like to spread the news

He is known from coast to coast to every cat alive

And any time they give a toast is to the man who brings the gage

Whenever you’re feeling small, don’t care for this life at all

Light up and get really tall

Here comes the man with the gage

Speaks the truth, doesn’t it? And to illustrate the point of cannabis as a therapy tool, I’ll quote the the man who’s perhaps the anti-Anslinger, father of jazz, Louis Armstrong: “It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro. It makes you feel wanted, and when you are with another tea smoker it makes you feel a special sense of kinship.”

But in the end, the penalties for illegal cannabis were too much even for even Armstrong, leaving us these fine words on the matter:

“Well, that was my life and I don’t feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you sure was good and I enjoyed you heap much. But the price got a little too high to pay. At first you was a ‘misdemeanor.’ But as the years rolled on, you lost your misdo and got meanor and meanor (jailhousely speaking). So bye bye, I’ll have to put you down, dearest.”

Attempting to make good

It shouldn’t have happened like that. People in undeniably challenging positions—like a black community just a couple generations after slavery—not only had this cultural treasure taken from them, but then the community at large was further punished with the horrific effects of the the war on drugs.

Looking at the baby cannabis industry now, it’s hard to argue that attempts at social equity have been successful (or anything more than lip service).

Changes won’t happen in the industry overnight because people replace a word, but perception matters, especially to people choosing who’s going to sit in their corporate boardrooms. If we start refusing to say Anslinger’s “marijuana,” perhaps it could create some cognitive dissonance in those rooms, a bunch of white Boehners finally realizing they don’t know WTF they’re even doing in this scene.

Probably not. But changes in lexicon do drive conversation. They matter. Perception has already shifted worlds for “cannabis” despite the fact that it’s only been a few years, and many still don’t even know what it is. (Though confusion isn’t wholly unhelpful in a PR switch, ask ol’ Harry Anslinger…) Having another politically-correct term in the mix could help shed light on the POC communities currently being ignored by the industry.

In some dreamy alternative universe without Anslinger, the popularity of getting high off of cannabis in the US would have came to be right as alcohol prohibition ended, perhaps tempering the way Americans now treat booze, making us a nation with far less drunken ills.

But we don’t live in that world, we live in one where this plant has gone through a hell of a journey to accomplish legal-ish status—and we’re still calling it by the name beloved by those who banned it.

Do Anti-Drug Campaigns Actually Work?

By Meg Hartley
Published on June 11, 2019 • Last updated July 28, 2020

In the late 1990s, schools in New York set out to keep their kids safe from drugs. They partnered with a youth program to distribute pencils with an anti-drug slogan that read: “TOO COOL TO DO DRUGS.” This was all well and good until students sharpened their pencils, morphing the message:


People mean well. They really do. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and anti-drug youth programs are no exception.

Remembering other messages from the war on drugs, much of the information was wildly off-base—which actually led to me largely writing off adult warnings in general, as they seemed ill-informed and untrustworthy.

And it turns out, I wasn’t the only kid who conversely wound up more likely to use intoxicants after exposure to anti-drug programs and messaging: When the effects of a largely government-funded national youth anti-drug media campaign were studied, scientists discovered that not only did the near-billion-dollar program not work, it had the opposite effect on some youths. This boomerang effect resulted in youths who were exposed to the ads being 4% more likely to use intoxicants.

When theorizing why, some relate to my perspective—that exaggeration ruined the credibility of the messaging. Others posit that the heft of the widespread campaign unintentionally led to the perception that “everyone’s doing it,” making it more socially appealing.

So, what’s it like nowadays? While the anti-drug messaging for people who grew up in the ’80s wasn’t as bad as the Reefer Madness propaganda from the ’30s, today’s messaging hasn’t progressed as much as I was hoping to discover. Yesterday’s “This is Your Brain on Drugs” is today’s Stoner Sloth, but things are changing.

Cannabis Education in a Legal-ish World

I recently saw a table for the popular anti-drug program D.A.R.E. on my way into a grocery store and laughed because their logo remains completely unchanged—despite the fact that it has now become an ironic symbol, daring people to do drugs. I was stunned that they could still be so unaware.

After repeated studies showed that the ubiquitous D.A.R.E. didn’t work, and sometimes had the opposite effect, D.A.R.E. enlisted the help of a program called keepin’ it REAL (kiR). I spoke with Michelle Miller-Day, PhD, President of the organization REAL Prevention, which created kiR. D.A.R.E added kiR’s evidence-based program to their curricula in 2012, and has also added videos, with separate content for rural, urban, and suburban youth.

Miller-Day says the fearmongering of the past is indeed behind us. “Instead, the emphasis in prevention today is about social and emotional competencies to handle things like responsible decision-making, positive and negative risks, communication skills, stress management and mindfulness, and emphasizing social support in dealing with stressful situations that often lead youth to self-medicate.”

This time, science says they’re onto something with this report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

D.A.R.E. reports that it continues to improve, telling Scientific American in 2014 that they want to be on the “cutting edge of research and science.” However in 2015, they shared a satirical article claiming, “4 Teens Become Pregnant for Every Joint Smoked,” so one wonders if they’ve actually stuck to their old fearmongering policy. (D.A.R.E. declined requests for an interview.)

What’s the Science on How Cannabis Affects Teen Health?

Teens are highly capable of discerning whether what they’re being taught is a load of shinola. Actual facts, and their context, are crucial in developing credibility with teens who employ critical thinking—a skill so often taught in the very schools using these anti-drug programs.

If you’re a regular Leafly reader, you probably know where this is headed—we need more science on how cannabis affects health. How exactly it affects a teen’s body isn’t yet conclusive and some studies are misleading.

Teens With a Low IQ

This long-term study from Duke University on people in New Zealand reports a lower IQ in teens who use cannabis, however, it’s troubled by a problem many cannabis studies face: the chicken-egg dilemma. Situational and/or health conditions that already exist can lead someone to use cannabis for relief and self-medication in some way—a connection between a health issue and cannabis doesn’t mean that the plant caused the condition.

In the New Zealand study, the teens already had lower IQs. Dr. Gregory Tau, a psychiatrist and drug abuse researcher at Columbia University, told NPR: “It’s very possible that there’s something very different to begin with among teenagers who tend to get into trouble with marijuana or who become heavy users. They could have subtle emotional differences, perhaps some cognitive functioning differences … It may be hard for them to ‘fit in’ with a peer group that’s more achievement-oriented.”

Dr. Tau concludes that these differences could predispose a teen to turn to cannabis to cope with something difficult—here, having a lower IQ than peers—not the other way around.


Similarly, another popular claim is that teen-use causes schizophrenia—this has been debunked by many for the same chicken-egg problem, with sufferers using cannabis to self-medicate for their condition.

Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome is a condition that can develop in people who’ve used cannabis heavily for a long time. People with this condition develop cyclic vomiting, intense abdominal pain, and an overwhelming urge to bathe in hot water for comfort. And while that may seem like the fantasy of an anti-cannabis organization, there’s no anti-drug scare tactics or exaggeration in that description—I actually had a roommate who unfortunately developed it.

However, there’s a popular misunderstanding in this regard as well. Experts in teen drug education have shared that syndrome’s frequency nearly doubled in Colorado after legalization, a highly troubling statistic at first glance. But the condition takes several years of cannabis use to develop, and the study was done just one year after legalization, so not enough time lapsed between legalization and the syndrome’s rise.

What Should We Be Telling Youths?

To me, it’s a mystery why organizations aren’t telling kids about the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This network of receptors that exists throughout the body—with concentration in the brain and spinal cord—is responsible for maintaining the correct balance of all other systems in the body. (It’s the reason cannabis is so useful medically.) We know frustratingly little about the ECS, as the medical field has ignored it for decades, but we do know it’s a big deal.

The ECS does plays a significant role in adolescent development. As a fighter of fibromyalgia, one of the conditions thought to be caused by ECS malfunction, I wonder if the 19-year-old version of me, who did regular gravity bongs (out of an enormous Cheetos container) and spent most of her time in the circle, totally screwed current-me over.

Who knows, maybe I’d have better health today if teen-me had been exposed to science-based messaging regarding cannabis, like this program’s “Delay, delay, delay,” rather than an egg on a frying pan, which actually left me with oodles of questions.

So how does one effectively communicate the importance of a potential risk to someone during a stage of life when they feel invincible and rebellious? Something that may be potentially harmful in the future may not be pressing to a teen desperate to have all the experiences right now. But this communication is important.

The biggest strides of progress in this realm will be clear and conclusive facts. So, it’s up to scientists, and those who fund their studies, to give educators the tools they need to inform youth about how cannabis can affect their lives and bodies.

And for now, D.A.R.E.—perhaps a redesign is in order?

My weight made me invisible and I kind of miss it


SheKnows, AUGUST 9, 2016 AT 8:00AM AM EDT

My weight made me invisible and I kind of miss it
Vincent Besnault/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I was at a dinner party, distracted and zoning out a bit, when I realized the person talking was doing so directly to me. I thought maybe I had missed a question, but I quickly realized that he was talking generally, but staring only at me for some reason.

I tried to figure out what was going on. We had just met, so this wasn’t an inside joke or anything. The conversation continued, I remained quiet and he kept looking at only me every time he spoke. What the heck was his deal?

I suddenly remembered feeling like this when I was much younger. A waiter came to the table and only stared at me as he took everyone’s order, and then I was relentlessly teased about him thinking I was cute. “Oh!” I suddenly realized, “This guy’s checking me out, hello.”

I was once accustomed to this innocuous-but-awkward behavior, and to related behaviors that weren’t innocent at all, but it had become rare in the last five years or so — something I attributed to gaining 45 pounds. And you know, I really didn’t miss the attention. I didn’t miss strange men following me home, or suggesting that I might have sex with them for money or touching my person and then accusing me of being grumpy when I asked them to stop.

I became accustomed to the weight, to my new power of invisibility, after years of counting calories since struggling with eating disorders. I loved this new freedom of eating whatever I pleased. This acceptance of food turned into an interest in food and an appreciation for quality food. I moved my body plenty, and I was in pretty good shape. The only difference is that I was a size 12, when most of my life I had forced myself to be a 6. I felt empowered by this acceptance of myself and my body type.

Then one year ago, in an attempt to curb some medical symptoms that were growing out of control, I made a drastic change in my already pretty healthy diet. I went organic and plant-based (with some meats), cut out gluten and dairy and minimized sugar and processed foods to barely any. This winter I also did a candida diet to restore health to my gut — two months of no carbs or sugar at all, not even starchy veggies.

These things, combined with frequent nausea and an improved ability to metabolize food properly, have caused me to drop 30 pounds. I became homebound due to an illness at 176 pounds, and by the time I started venturing out regularly again, I was 145 pounds. It’s been fascinating to be able to compare the experience in such a contrasting before/after kind of a way.

I’ve been primarily confined to doctor’s offices and grocery stores, but I’ve consistently been confused as to why I’m being stared at with weird dreamy smiles or lecherous glares, neither of which I’ve regularly seen since my 20s. Men, in general, seem to be nicer now, often going out of their way to help me; while I’ve noticed an ice from some female strangers that must have been deemed unnecessary during my plump years.

It’s like being chubby was an invisibility cloak, and now it’s gone. I’m still female and aging — so I’ll probably get a new one in no time, but for now, I’m learning to love my ironic gift of weight loss (doesn’t it seem like as soon as we no longer pine for things they become ours?) and doing my best to stop feeling a desire to hide.

8 Quotes from “Say Anything” That Teach Us How to Rock at Life

Lifehack, 2014
By Meg Hartley

A 35-year-old version of Lloyd Dobler from the movie Say Anything is my total dream man.

All passionate, and kind, and genuine, and funny, and full of heart. *Swooooon.*  A version of him is out there somewhere, just waiting for me with his boombox and sweet hopeful smile…ah.

Say Anything is pretty much perfection. I love it so so very much. It’s not only got everything great about the 80′s coming-of-age flicks, but it is also arguably one of the most quotable movies ever.

But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Here are 8 quotes from this awesome movie that teach us how to rock at life:
  1. Lloyd Dobler: How many of them really know what they want, though? I mean, a lot of them think they have to know, right? But inside they don’t really know, so… I don’t know, but I know that I don’t know.
    I wish that I knew that I didn’t know when I was eighteen!  In order to find the answers to life’s big questions, we must first know that there are indeed questions to be answered.  Three very precious words are the gateway to all knowledge – I don’t know.
  2. Lloyd Dobler: You must chill. You must chill.
    Wigging out has never accomplished anything, plus it’s really obnoxious.  Don’t be a spaz.  Breathe deep, stay calm, and think clear.
  3. Lloyd Dobler: I am looking for a dare to be great situation.
    Ah, I love this one!  It makes me wanna do a fistpump!  I am looking for a life to be remembered. A life that improves the lives that surround it. A life that expands my soul.  It feels empowering just to say it, “I am looking for a dare to be great situation”.  BOOM!  Espavo!  Mediocrity is not something we have to accept – and the world benefits most from those who refuse to.
  4. Constance: There’s no food in your food!
    Joan Cusak is so wise.  I wish she were my older sister. Processed food is hard for our bodies to extract nutrition from (if it has any to begin with).  It’s best to not eat anything with ingredients too long and crazy to pronounce.  The fewer and simpler the ingredients, the better.
  5. Lloyd: I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.  I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.  You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

    Sometimes it feels like those are the only options in this crazy ass society, but there’s more, there really is!  What do you love?  What makes time fly?  When do you feel ‘in the flow’?  Tenaciously pursue that thing with all of your heart – and answer phones, or deliver pizza, or whatever hustle you can rustle – until you can make some dough doing what you love.
  6. Lloyd: She gave me a pen.  I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.
    Pens are important tools that show us that we have the power to create the life we want, and that the world is just our blank page.  Nah, I’m totally kidding! This is just a really great quote, and I couldn’t bear to leave it out.
  7. Lloyd: Why can’t you be in a good mood?  How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?
    It’s easy to forget that we have control over the thoughts we think, which yield the emotions we feel.  We can choose to be in a good mood and enjoy the day, regardless of the circumstances.  What’s the worst thing that could happen if you chose to focus on the positive instead of having yourself a pity party?
  8. Diane Court: Nobody thinks it will work, do they?
    Lloyd Dobler: No. You just described every great success story.
    Challenging society’s norms, taking risks, and daring to defy others’ expectations is the only way anything great has ever been done.  Follow your heart and screw what other people think!

See? Best movie ever.

How Losing Someone’s Approval Can Set You Free

Lifehack, 2014
By Meg Hartley

I recently read about an athlete who made it all the way to the Olympics despite loathing their chosen sport. They committed their entire life to seeking one tiny, yet colossal, sentence—I’m proud of you.  At some point, we all have someone we want to please, whose approval means the world to us.

I have an incredibly clear memory of the person I wanted approval from telling me I was intelligent, the kind of memory that stays crystal clear because you’ve recalled it so many times. I had parroted someone’s opinion about buying a Canadian soda. “We should really support our own economy,” ten-year-old me said.  I had no idea what that meant, but I was looked at with approval, and my heart glowed. It felt so darn good.

I loved that feeling. The approval of my hero.  It was nothing like the Olympic athlete, but I made some very big decisions based what might make them proud. I was hugely affected by wanting their approval.

Four months ago this person removed me from their life. It hurt. A lot.

However, in life there is rarely hurt without growth.  I recently reflected on myself and my behavior since then and noticed something—I feel free.

After a period of denial and upset, I accepted that this is just how it is.  I cannot have their approval.  They don’t “get” me.  They never have, and they probably never will.  It’s not my fault, and it’s not their fault either—it simply is what it is.

This realization made me see how often I was modifying myself according to the thought, “what would they think?”  It was shockingly frequent.  This person had become an archetype for all kinds of people, and I’d been censoring myself constantly to avoid judgement.  I suddenly felt like I’d been a half-assed version of myself my whole life!

I’d been using the desire for approval as an unconscious excuse for hiding.  My excuse was gone as soon as I realized it existed (as often happens with our shadow aspects).  I had no one to point at for holding me back from being truly wholehearted.

It was time to authentically step into myself and stop hiding who I am from others.  Even if that person seems likely to be met with judgement.  Even if what I really want to do with my life is incredibly intimidating and involves being extremely vulnerable.

Sometimes I miss the ol’ days when I had surrounded myself with judgement-protecting walls.  When I could think to myself, “you can’t judge me, psssch, you don’t even know me.”  It was safe there with no one seeing “the real me”—safe, and maddeningly, suffocatingly constricting.

Are you hiding?  I hid in approval-seeking.  Do you hide behind a veil of aloofness?  A carefully crafted image?  Perhaps well-timed jokes keep people from seeing you?  Maybe you hide behind judgment.  We all have our ways, and it can be really scary to let them go.

The thing is though, as long as we prevent ourselves from being truly seen, we will never be truly understood.  Connection with others won’t be wholly authentic, and we will edit ourselves because we fear potential thoughts in other people’s heads.  It’s really pretty silly.

It’s okay to not be accepted.  In fact, you will never be accepted.  If you finally gain the approval that was so dearly wanted, it will be lost from someone else.  (Yourself, likely.)  You will also miss out on connecting with people who really do see you, and who think you kick ass.

A messy falling out isn’t necessary to be freed from wanting someone’s approval.  You don’t even have to tell them that you no longer care what they think of you.  Just go ahead and do what makes you happy, be unapologetically yourself, and go for the things you really want in life.  Do your thing, and let them do theirs. 

12 Tips from a Gorilla, Re: Global Calamity

He’s got some changes in mind.

Medium, Nov 11, 2020

If you visited a zoo, and a gorilla started talking to you, what do you think they’d say about humanity? Think they’d be cool with the modern state of affairs?

According to Daniel Quinn, author of 1992’s award-winning Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit — the answers are a whole lot, and hell no.

Image for post
Courtesy of Giphy

Ishmael features a man being taught about the world by a gorilla, one who divides humanity into two types: the Leavers and the Takers.

The first philosophy puts humans within the web of nature, working consciously to only take what they need; and the other puts humans as the world’s ruler, free to take whatever we can.

If the events of 2020 have left you questioning the way our society does things, or are interested in living a more conscious life — this should be your next read.

Here are a dozen (very hard-to-narrow-down) quotes from the book:
  1. “The premise of the Taker story is ‘the world belongs to man’. … The premise of the Leaver story is ‘man belongs to the world’.”
  2. “And every time the Takers stamp out a Leaver culture, a wisdom ultimately tested since the birth of mankind disappears from the world beyond recall.”
  3. “I have amazing news for you. Man is not alone on this planet. He is part of a community, upon which he depends absolutely.”
  4. “The obvious can sometimes be illuminating when perceived in an unhabitual way.”
  5. “You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live… I think there are many among you who would be glad to release the world from captivity… This is what prevents them: They’re unable to find the bars of the cage.”
  6. “The world of the Takers is one vast prison, and except for a handful of Leavers scattered across the world, the entire human race is now inside that prison.”
  7. “Donald Trump can do a lot of things I can’t, but he can no more get out of the prison than I can.”
  8. “They put their shoulders to the wheel during the day, stupefy themselves with drugs or television at night, and try not to think too searchingly about the world they’re leaving their children to cope with.”
  9. “Diversity is a survival factor for the community itself. A community of a hundred million species can survive almost anything short of a global catastrophe.”
  10. “We’re not destroying the world because we’re clumsy. We’re destroying the world because we are, in a very literal and deliberate way, at war with it.”
  11. “The mythology of your culture hums in your ears so constantly that no one pays the slightest bit of attention to it.”
  12. “I think what you’re groping for is that people need more than to feel scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.”

Can you envision a version of yourself you find inspiring?

What about the world?

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Juneau, My Two-Faced Love.

Southeast Living, 2018
By Meg Hartley

“Chicken Yard Park,” Meg Hartley 2011

Living in Juneau Alaska is akin to staying in a dysfunctional relationship. Just when you feel alone, neglected, restless, and totally dismayed at the thought of your love; and even start to panic because there is literally no road out – it’ll turn on the charm, totally embodying everything that made you fall in love to being with.

As if Juneau could just sense you thinking about leaving, months of rain-meets-snow that soak to the bone and sting the skin fade away; replaced with sights of sun-soaked stunningly green mountain peaks. After barely catching precious light before darkness poured into your very soul, you are no longer pining for brightness. Now for months your love’s light will never leave your side. Nights once spent binge-watching transform into romantic lakeside cabin adventures, and bonfires on the beach with the amazing personalities that your love attracts when they finally reveal their warmth.

Juneau has always insisted on only showing its achromatic side for half the time you’re together. Grey on the ground as cold as their shoulder, grey in their constantly weeping skies, even grey consuming their majestic peaks, hiding their glory. And just when you start searching for a more suitable life partner – they become a colorful and vivid sight that you can’t stop staring at.

Your love is now a kaleidoscopic projection of various ravishing intrigues; plank-covered hikes through scenery so beautiful it’s surreal, lush forests with bears, meadows filled with wildflowers of every hue, and ferry rides to quirky towns filled with some of your favorite future memories.

All of a sudden there are twice as many people spending time with tuo amore, dousing its once cold shoulder with attention and admiration. As you walk down the familiar Main Street of your love, right into their heart – a floating city of fans loom ahead, filing in. They buy trinkets made in China and poke the loyal locals with unnecessary umbrellas, asking about the elevation when they arrived by boat.

You exchange glances with others who know the complicated nature of this love. You are enamored with Juneau for all that it hides, as well as the things that it boasts. The contrast of your experiences are what make you so close, it’s the kind of love where even if you do leave – you can never quite leave it behind. After all, it’s only when you’ve trudged through the depths of someone’s darkness, that you can truly appreciate their light.

A Step-By-Step Guide For Mapping Out (And Achieving!) Your 2017 Goals

MindBodyGreen, January 6, 2017
By Meg Hartley, mbg Contributor

A Step-By-Step Guide For Mapping Out (And Achieving!) Your 2017 Goals
Photo by Stocksy

Word on the street is that 81 percent of resolutions fail1, and a number of us start losing steam even within the first week of January. One of the main reasons we don’t achieve our goals? We get busy and forget about them! Here’s one foolproof, step-by-step way to make sure that doesn’t happen again this year:

1. First, map out your top goals for your year.

What are the first things you think of, or what have you already written down? If something seems random, note it anyway, as it could be your subconscious peeking out. Then purposefully move on to other “outside” areas: health, hobbies, relationships, love, work, etc.

2. Then it’s time to move on to “the invisible you.”

What qualities would you like to work on cultivating this year? Have you been hearing repetitive feedback from those around you? Maybe it’s time to listen better or to say what you mean. Pick at least one.

3. For each experience or quality that you’re cultivating in 2017, choose an image.

Choose one that makes you think of the idea in a quick glance, ideally that also makes you feel inspired. For example, if it’s listening better, don’t pick an image of someone droning on and another trying to focus, pick one that makes you think of why you want this thing in your world—something that makes you think of harmonious relationships at work and in life.

Then, you’ll write text for each image. In the text for each image remind yourself of why this is a positive addition to your life, “A reliable car that gives me freedom to go wherever I please.” Also, articulate specifics that’ll help you focus over the year, like if you’re working on bringing new relationships into your life, what kind of qualities do you want in them? Warmth, ambition, kindred interest in Star Wars? Yes, get that specific.

4. Set your Pinterest board to private, or keep your board somewhere personal.

It can be easy to account for others’ opinions if you think it’ll be seen, if only unconsciously. This is about your life, your goals; this is about YOU. (Though if you’re involved in a team, this is a great group exercise, too!)

5. As you go about 2017, look at your board at least one time every week.

Assess progress, next actions, and make a plan for the week to take action. Having the ability to look at your vision for the year in a quick and enjoyable way will keep your priorities at the front of your mind, and your focus where it needs to be.

The reason most people didn’t achieve their dreams? They were busy doing other stuff and forgot. This year it’s on you: Don’t forget!

How Tarot Cards Saved My Life

Meg Hartley for Ravishly


CW: graphic suicidal thoughts

I love the tarot. This deck of 78 archetype-based cards has been a guiding force in my life for a few years now. I start each day by drawing two cards for guidance, and then further consulting the deck sporadically with specific questions in mind. 

Last fall, one of those specific questions saved my life.

Let me back up a bit: this has been quite the year. In addition to current homelessness and health debacles, I’ve been to the mental hospital twice. My mother died from suicide 20 years ago, and I have clinical depression — something I’ve described as “suicide thought storms.” It’s something that I shamefully managed on my own with meditation and cannabis for over a decade, but couldn’t handle alone any longer once my body became excruciatingly painful due to fibromyalgia and severe B12 deficiency, which nearly killed me in 2015. (Because it can do that.) 

In the spring of 2017, about a year ago, I had to check myself into a hospital for several days because I feared that I wouldn’t survive the night. I had just gotten a denial of Disability payments, a hope I’d been clinging to far too tight, and felt utterly without hope. And it happened all over again last fall, hopelessness to the point of very literally wanting to give up. I moved to California between the two incidents (for my health) and was staying with a friend from college. Two days before the second time, I had gathered that they were going to kick me out — and I didn’t know anyone for hundreds of miles. 

I was going to be homeless. 

The thought was too much; it had been so hard for so long. I just couldn’t do it. I decided to kill myself. I rather peacefully accepted that I couldn’t take it any longer. That it was finally time to end all the pain and struggle once and for all. 

I was going to take all of my Amitriptyline pills and never wake up.

But for some reason, I gave myself a tarot reading before taking them. I’ve been doing my readings for about four years now, ever since a professional blew my mind with her accuracy and helpful wisdom. They’ve helped guide me through the hardest times of my life, keeping me hopeful before my diagnoses — during all of the terrifying cancer tests, all of the painful waiting. And then through two years of near-complete isolation when I was too ill to leave my studio apartment without help. Being able to connect to my inner wisdom in such a clarifying way gave direction to my intuitive feelings, enabling me to use them, rather than just ‘having feelings’ about potentials.

Once again, they came to my aid again last November. I laid out a Celtic Cross and for the “What lies above” card, the best possible outcome for my lethal plans — where I expected to see the “Death” card — was the four of swords reversed. 

The four of swords is a resting man that appears dead. When a card is reversed, it refers to the negative aspects of the card. A common interpretation for this one: a coma. The other cards also laid out the situation with great accuracy and told me nothing of mortality or endings, but instead to work harder and be more realistic. That might sound like a downer of a read, but I found it to be empowering — if something is my fault then I have the power to fix it! This positive thought flew through my mind, then was quickly drowned in the river of mental despair.

But it was enough. 

The flash of hope spurred indecision about my fatal plan, getting me to Google to see if I actually had enough pills to do the job; and it turned out that I didn’t. I just would have wound up with severe brain damage or…in a coma. Without a gun, which I feel like I should be legally prohibited from purchasing, I didn’t have any way to do it with a guarantee. I fell asleep, eventually, desperately trying to think of other ways I could successfully do it in the morning. But when I awoke the depression had lifted to survivable, thank god.

About 36 very rough hours later I again checked myself into a mental ward for my own safety, homeless, but not without hope.

My Chronic Illness Left Me Broke And Homeless, So Meditation Is My Medication

Meg Hartley for Ravishly

(Photo courtesy of the author.)
(Photo courtesy of the author.)

I’m currently homeless and have been for a month now. My body stopped working right a few years back due to fibromyalgia and injury from severe B12 deficiency (cause that’s a thing), and long story short — maintaining a job when you’re calling in sick all the time is very hard, impossible even, and getting on disability usually takes years, if it happens at all. It’s real sticky-wicked to have your body become unpredictable and tortuously painful. And the financial mess that comes with it creates one hell of a situation. 

So here I am. Homeless.

I often wake up with the sun as it pours its first light into the backseat of my 1993 Toyota Camry. On these days, like today, and the three before, it takes a very long time to actually get up. My body feels like it weighs hundreds of pounds, each bone crushing the one under it as I slowly unfold myself from the fetal position. I go in and out of consciousness as I try to get up, too awake to really sleep, but too sleepy to really wake.

Eventually, I gather myself into a sitting position and reach into my bag of clothes that live in the passenger seat. Even though the windows are usually too foggy for anyone to see me, getting my pajama shirt off and my sports bra (can’t handle underwire with my new bod) on stresses me out every single time. 

Once I’m dressed and have wrangled my hair into a top knot, I pull my tarot cards for the day and do a short meditation on them. Today was The Magician in reverse, reminding me to focus my energies on the things that I want to bring into my life, like a book deal; and not the things I don’t want, like ill health and no place to live. The second card was The Star, directing me to stay hopeful. 

The first order of daily business is to empty my bladder and charge up my devices: my phone, my tablet, and my vaporizer — which I use for medical cannabis. Whether in a library or a coffee shop, the latter makes me nervous every day, just as much as potentially flashing a passer-by. I’ve yet to have a single person visibly notice, and if someone were to recognize my lil’ PAX vaporizer, it’s probably just because they use one, but it’s nervous-making nonetheless.

I get as much as I can get done in these first few hours while charging my devices. 

My nervous system pain is reset by sleep, with morning being as good as I’m going to feel, and the pain getting worse as the day goes on. This really sucks on days like today, where it starts out so horrible. Bonkers days like this are for finding home/job leads and for creative work, the kind of work that gets me closer to a book deal. The days where my head’s on a bit tighter are for any freelance client work I’ve got, errands, applying for jobs I have no idea if my bod will let me perform, and other reaching-out oriented fuck-up-able items.

When my pain levels get to near-crying, I pack it up and head back to the little neighborhood that I’ve declared as “home.” It’s a residential area with a busy street going through the middle, lined with all kinds of various businesses. This means that there are all kinds of random cars parking in this area, so it’s not the kind of neighborhood where a newcomer would be noticed. It’s also well-lit and seems very safe.

My view.

I try to get there before people start getting home from work. My car is very loud and my out of state plates further make us stick out, so I like to sneak in early before everyone’s out walking their dogs and chatting with the neighbors. I hop into the backseat and lie down, covering myself with one blanket and plopping the other, more fluffy blanket, on my middle — hiding my face from anyone walking by, aided by a little sun-blocker shade on the sidewalk-facing back window. I also have a larger shade covering the windshield — the store only had a conspicuous zebra-print one, so I make sure to put it snazzy-side in.

Most days I just lie in my backseat for hours and hours at a time, just as I did back when I had a bed — too overwhelmed with pain and other symptoms to do anything else. 

I feel lucky that I have such a rich internal world. Though I still battle clinical depression and other more typically unpleasant thought patterns, for years before this health debacle stole my external life, I worked with mindfulness and meditation to create a sanctuary-like headspace. My mind is now much like an amusement park: there are definitely some funhouse mirrors up in there, and a quite-terrifying horror house in the back, but the bulk of it is quite amusing indeed.

Once the neighborhood settles down for the evening, usually after several hours, it’s dinner time. I have a genetic mutation that requires a special diet: no gluten, no dairy, and as organic as possible. Breakfast consists of a handful of brazil nuts, and my lunch/dinner is jerky and snacks like snap pea crisps and trail mix. Dark chocolate is always involved, often eaten in conjunction with bulk-section gummy bears or bites of an apple. This deliciousness, combined with a couple of episodes of The Good Wife, is often the highlight of my day.

My tablet’s battery usually bunks out before my bodily energy reserves, but sometimes it’s the other way around, either way leaving me with several more hours before I finally pass out despite the pain, with the help of several prescriptions. My second round of just lying there is more meditation-oriented, and I work to focus and calm my mind, sometimes getting lost in beautiful and timeless breaks of stillness; but other times I fail, getting lost in memories and my own stories about them.

Eventually, usually, sleep and I meet.

And then I do it all over again, hoping that today will be the day that I find a way to make an income with my body behaving like this.

Today will be the day that I find a place to live. Today will be the day that I find the action that propels myself and my situation forward. 

*Editor’s Note: We here at Ravishly want to help Meg in anyway we can. If you’d like to help Meg, too, you can tip her via

5 Reminders to Help You Support a Seriously Struggling Friend

Yogi Approved, Guest Author Meg Hartley, 2017

We all know the struggle. Do you know someone who’s hurting? Do you want to help, but fear it’ll create drama in your own life?
Whether it’s a health problem, a heart-wrenching breakup, financial woes, or any other struggle, we want to be there for our friends. These tips could help!

Hard times will test your relationships, and it’s all too common for people to find themselves facing the struggle alone. It happens to the best of us: we want to help, but distancing ourselves from friends in the thick of it is, unfortunately, the societal standard.

Why is it So Damn Difficult to Help a Friend Through the Struggle?

Friends have distanced themselves from me when I needed them, just as I’ve also been guilty. A friend of mine was struggling with serious health issues a few years ago, and it took me six months to call. I still feel remorse for not being there for her. So why do we do this?

The struggle of others can trigger our own unprocessed emotions and also bring up fears.

The struggle of others can trigger our own unprocessed emotions, and bring up fears and all the behaviors that fear comes with. Sometimes struggling friends are spiraling out of control and, especially if you aren’t currently close to that person, it feels like a good time to draw some boundaries.
But then there’s the other times.
The times where someone needs and wants help. There’s a specific problem, the person knows it, and they’re looking for solutions. In this situation, we have an opportunity to truly be of service to someone, even if all we can do is simply listen.
When we help others, we feel empowered, capable, and meaningfully connected. These are opportunities that remind us that no one can do it alone, and that no one should be expected to.

Here are 5 Things to Remember to Help You Support a Struggling Friend

From someone who’s been on both ends of this pickle, consider these tips to help out a friend in need.

1. Be Cool

Emotional conversations can be stressful, so try not to come off anxious. Plan to meet up somewhere safe where you can really talk and bring up their struggle.
Before you meet up, think about what you’d do if you were in your friend’s situation.
Do they have a quality support system? Is there any way you can help that you’re comfortable with? Be prepared with solutions if they’re available, and be ready to listen.

2. Stay Positive

If applicable, share a similar struggle of your own and describe how you got through it in a positive way . . . but don’t glamorize it. Sometimes people define themselves by their struggle and think it makes them more interesting, and you don’t want to encourage this.
Be understanding, but gently guide your friend back to how they might fix/heal the sitch when the conversation circles back to the pain. Stay solution-oriented, which might mean helping your friend seek out professional help.

3. Bring Friends

This isn’t something that needs to be done alone, and it’s likely the kind of problem that could use multiple perspectives. If you bring someone else, be sure the person is a close mutual friend, or maybe a professional who can help in some capacity. This person needs to be trusted.
Oh, and don’t make the company a surprise. Make sure your friend knows you’re bringing someone else.

4. Don’t Judge

When your world collapses and you aren’t handling it well, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. Make sure you provide your friend relief from that, and take some time to reflect on how awesome they are before you see them.
Make it clear that you’re there to help from a place of zero judgement!

5. Check Yourself

Check in with your own emotions before you see your friend. Does their struggle trigger you? Pay careful attention to your thoughts and feelings, especially afterwards. If you’re severely triggered, it’s best to seek out your own healing before you help your friend.

6. We All Struggle, So Let’s Have Each Other’s Backs

Deep, emotional conversations are easy to avoid. We have our own sh*t to deal with, right? The thing is, helping a friend through their struggle may be what you need to figure out yours. Space away from your own problem is where you wind up feeling empowered to solve them.
When you’re there for a friend, you develop meaningful, lifelong relationships. Also, if you haven’t yet had your hard-knock times . . . you will, I promise. And when you do, you’ll want to have a friend by your side.
Thanks for your bravery and compassion, and good luck!

6 life lessons for introverts who love people-time

Guest post by Meghan Hartley, 2015

I am an outgoing introvert. Oxymoron, you say? Nope, you said wrong!

People frequently clump shyness and introversion together as the same thing, but it’s not. It was an “ah-ha” moment when I learned the actual definition of introversion. It has nothing to do with shyness, which is a fear of social situations.

An introvert is someone who is introspective by nature. Engaging in said introspection is what recharges an introvert. Being alone to sort through one’s conscious feelings and thoughts is imperative to the introverted person. Extended social time is draining to an introvert. When shit hits the fan an introverted person generally doesn’t say, “I need to call so and so now,” they say, “I need to be alone, bugger off!”

There’s a range of introversion (like everything, ’tis a very gray world, not black and white), and some introverts would really prefer everyone bugger off most of the time. Then there are people like me who adore people-time, but get exhausted from it. I love connecting with others. I need to connect with others. I adore telling stories and shooting the shit. I’ll get just as cranky if I go a couple days without decent conversation as I do if I don’t get my recharge time! It’s a very careful balance, and one that perplexed me before I pinpointed exactly what was going on.

To sum up, folks on this area of the intro-extroversion scale (ambiverts) need to have quality people-time, just as much as we need to have quality no-people-time. If either side weighs too heavily we feel “unsorted.” Bajiggity. I know that’s not a real word, but I find it perfect to describe the anxious-emo-crankiness that I get from unbalanced people-time expenditure.

But I’ve done some research on this topic, primarily by feeling awkward at social commitments, just to give fellow people-time loving introverts these tips…

Figure out CaveTime

Sort out how much awesome alone time you personally need. For me it’s three good chunks (four-ish hours) a week, at least. Any less and the bajiggity sets in. I generally enjoy even more!

Make time for CaveTime

Actually schedule it, and commit. It can be hard if something comes up to be like, “oh, no, I have plans to hang out by myself.” But remember that it’s more than that. It’s what you need to recharge and maintain a balanced and pleasant mental landscape — it is very important. If you do need/want to do something else, reschedule CaveTime and make sure to fit it in later.

Make CaveTime plans

How exactly are you going to spend your treasured alone time? If the answer is “I dunno… dinner and hanging around the house,” that’s not good enough! What are you going to cook? Are you going to watch a movie? Pick out a really good one in advance. Are you going to do something creative? Get amped about whatever you’re making. Will you hike? Where? Find new music? How? Pin it down. Planning a proper night will help you commit to CaveTime, as well as making sure that you get the most out of it.

Kick FOMO’s ass

I used to have a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, it’s totally a real thing). I had a really hard time saying no to invites, then I’d wind up feeling awkward — wishing I was home with a paintbrush, or a notepad, or Netflix, or whatevs. Now I say “maybe.” Maybe is a truly magical word.

Pick your people-time carefully

Check in with yourself to see how you feel after spending time with someone, or a group of people. You will find some people to be more draining than others. Choose people that you have a genuine connection with. I wrote an article here awhile ago about pros and cons of coupling and a few of you commented that you’ve found partners that don’t even count as “people”! Like, you can CaveTime with them there and still feel recharged! Mannnn, that’s sexy.

Try going out alone

I find that I often enjoy quality introspective time, as well as snippets of fun and interesting conversation when a book is my only partner in crime. Sometimes I show up early when meeting friends so I can recharge a bit before hanging.

Prepare for people-filled times

Wedding weekend? Vacay back home? These things are a delightful nightmare for me. I have a total blast, but don’t recharge for a few days, then all of a sudden I feel super-duper bajiggity, and wind up missing out on being present for some really great times. Boooo. Recharge beforehand, make excuses to hang out solo at opportune times, and chill out CaveTime when the event is over.

Why I stopped giving a shit about my size

Guest post by Meghan Hartley, 2015

Recently a friend and I were chatting, and the conversation got around to dieting and working out.  She was feeling bad because she missed a workout and there we were, eating.  I shrugged and honestly said how I feel about the whole topic, “I don’t care anymore and I’ve never felt more beautiful”.

Just a little over a year ago something shifted in me. It was one of the first things I stopped giving a shit about whilst applying the philosophy of “fuck it“. Health is important to me, don’t get me wrong.  I just really don’t care what size I am, and I am SO over wishing I was smaller.

The times of my life when I was at my thinnest I was also at my unhealthiest — skinny doesn’t equal healthy for everyone.  I remember living at the top of a hill when I was super thin, and how winded I always felt when I finally made it to the top.  Totally feeling like I was going to DIIIIIE.  I visited that hill last month, ’bout thirty pounds heavier, turned, and enjoyed the view… then realized I felt friggin’ awesome.

If it wasn’t about my health, then what was my desire to be thin about?

It was part of the over-arching issue that was contributing to so many other struggles — the need for approval.  It took me a very long time to realize that it really didn’t matter how skinny I was, or how many boys thought I was hot, or how fancy my job was, because I really don’t give a shit about that stuff.

My motivation for succeeding at these things had to do with other people’s opinions of me — and they are really none of my business.

People don’t become happier because they gain the approval of people they hardly know.  People become happier when they truly know who they are, and they fully embrace that person.

Back to the conversation with my friend…  As I noticed the dude behind the bar nodding with approval at my comment, she said, “you’re the second… um, shapely friend of mine to say something like that this week, it’s making me think.”  I was nearly offended, I could feel giving a fuck coming right back at me, it was zooming in my direction… and fast.

Then I suddenly recalled saying something like that to a friend right before I stepped into a new version of myself, a happier, and much more confident one.  I realized that this slightly offensive comment was representative of my accomplishing one of my most favoritest things — helping a homie out.  I smiled and said, “glad I could help.”

Single-living vs. couple-living: one woman’s pros and cons

Guest post by Meghan Hartley

I’ve been single for the bulk of my adult life. I like to date guys who are like me, and I’m apparently kinda weird because I don’t meet them too often… and when I do it’s rare that I also want the sexy fun times with them. Why must you be so picky, hoo-ha?

C’est la vie, I’m quite satisfied with the single life. (Besides sexually, obviously.) Though I’ve really loved loving and living with my menfolk, too. They are very, very different lifestyles.

I’ve been having a funny feeling that I’m going to meet someone soon, and it’s leading me to wonder if I even really want to. I’ve been contemplating single versus couple life a lot lately…


As a single you get to buy whatever you want without considering anyone else’s desires or judgments, and that’s friggin’ awesome. I had potato salad and a smoothie spritzer last night and it was delicious — I highly doubt my boyfriend would agree to that dinner.

My lettuce always goes bad. I know, I know, maybe eat more salad that doesn’t involve potatoes and mayo. But even when I eat super healthy-like, I still can’t get through it in time! How many salads can a person eat? Don’t even get me started on those amazing Trader Joe’s avocado bags that are somehow only like four bucks for six lil’ avocados that I can’t possibly consume in a few days. Food isn’t sold to feed one lady before it goes bad, it’s sold to feed groups of people.

When I cook something wildly impressive there’s not usually anyone there to tell me how good it is. When I cook something wildly impressive the leftovers are ALL MINE.

Points for couple-living

I Facebook way too often

I miss having a witness to all of the inane but entertaining things that happen every day. Do the people I went to high school with and old co-workers really care that there was a spider in my room but I lost it? Surprisingly, yes. That is a very universal fear. But still, I post way too much shit like that on Facebook because there’s no one there experiencing it with me. Must connect with someone about the scary spider!

Points for couple-living

I have complete control over Netflix and Hulu

Tired of a movie ten minutes into it? Veto’d. Want to watch two hours of Friday Night Lights? Totally doing it. The Game Changers documentary on Anna Wintour? Devoured. Millionth viewing of “I AM”? Done. Someone there to veg with? Nards.

Points for single-living.

I really like my alone time: I need it to recharge

I’m one of those people who respond to invites with, “I have plans, sorry,” when the plans are just chillin’ around the house with no one there. I really LOVE it. No matter how much I loved my exes, I felt kinda drained always hanging out with someone. Yet at the same time we had so much fun I had a hard time not always hanging out with them.

Points for single-living.


I can do whatever I want whenever I want to do it without checking in with anyone.

Points for single-living.


(Besides the aforementioned sex part, that’s clearly better in couple life.) No one fucks up my top sheet! Why do people do that? I don’t get it. It’s soft, and I don’t have to wash my comforter nearly as often. According to my flings in my early twenties, it would seem that ALL dudes do this. Just stop it. Respect the top sheet.

Points for single-living.


So comfy and glorious. I love it so much. Being a little spoon is quite possible the safest, coziest, most bestest thing in the entire world.

Points for couple-living


I actually love this too. I can’t explain it. I find it very comforting.

Points for couple-living


Fuck it. Bring him on.

Fake it ’till you make it, unless you’re at the doctor: 7 lessons for the chronically ill

Guest post by Meghan Grunow, 2016

If you told me fifteen years ago that one day I’d be smoking weed and watching movies all day, and I’d be upset about that fact, I wouldn’t have believed you. However I suppose even in my stoner hayday if you told me that was the only thing I could do, I’d have considered it for a minute, but eventually declined.

I’ve fallen ill, I guess that’s the word — ill. I’ve fallen worthless is what it feels like. Not that I’m not fabulous on the inside still, I’m awesome, but my body has taken to no longer working, so the fab’s pretty hard to show.

It started out with getting what I thought was the flu a few times a year, in 2009. The number of “flus” crept up, and up, and up. This fall it never left, and a whole miserable host of symptoms had piled on by then, it’s truly been a nightmare. It seems to be something with my nervous system, I’m currently awaiting the MRI results of my brain. If you ever wonder how to make time cease to move… oy!

Vacuuming isn’t hard. But when you have a chronic condition that causes fatigue issues like I do, sometimes it falls by the wayside. There are… Read more

Health-wise, a good day is where I’m able to cook a meal and do some dishes, or draw or write, for an hour or two. Many days all I can do is just lie here — as sound is irritating, and my arms are too weak to hold a book. I’ve taken a liking to bird watching. I think I’ll keep it.

This has been such a bizarre experience, but I’ve learned some things along this journey…

1. You have to be your own advocate and medical researcher

Which can be really difficult when it feels like every single friggin’ thing in your body is malfunctioning. But it’s not actually every single thing, it’s tons of individual things, and we are the only ones who have access to exactly what those symptoms are. Make lists. Research. Don’t rely on one source of information, always cross-check. Bring up all possibilities with your doctor. If they poo-poo ideas for no good reason, find a new doctor.

2. It’s stupid that we have to pick between MD’s and naturopaths

I’ve picked one or the other over and over and neither way has worked — I think they need to be a team. Our health system is bonkers. I’m trying for a naturopath as well as a specialist this time.

3. People will have opinions on your condition

Projection is when we subconsciously take our experiences and project them onto others’, assuming their experiences and motivations are the same as our own. People will assume your illness is the same as theirs, people will think you’re faking, people will think you’re terminal. Unless what they are saying is along the lines of, “You are such a badass, I’m sure you’ll beat this, how can I help?”, or helpful and pertinent suggestions, just ignore them. They mostly mean well, but they can be really distracting. Eyes on the prize.

4. Fake it ’till you make it! Unless you’re at the doctor…

I’ve found that trying to pretend I feel good when I have to leave the house is helpful. It can distract me from my symptoms for short periods, makes me feel emotionally strong, and it feels better than the alternative. (I am of the smiley and friendly variety and not accustomed to scowling in public. People scowl back!)

However, I was doing this fake act at the doctor, which muddied the waters. I kept wondering why they didn’t seem to be listening to my words: “this has completely stolen my life,” “this is very urgent,” “extreme pain.” I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously at all.

As things have progressed my ability to “fake it” is disappearing. And now my docs are taking me seriously! Jeebus. I’m real in front of doctors now. Even though there’s a bit of me that’s incredibly desirous of pleasant social interactions — that’s not the time or place. Save it for the cab, and be real with the doc.

5. But don’t cry

They’ll think you’re hysterical and call “anxiety issues”. Unless you’re a man. Then your condition must be really bad.

6. You’ll learn about your friendships

I thought I had a great crew of friends in Portland, people came to my parties, and I had more invites than energy to attend them. Of that big ol’ gaggle of peeps… know how many I’ve seen since it got bad three months ago? TWO.

I’m not sure what to do about this. Maybe I was spreading myself too thin friend-wise, and not putting in enough time? Or is this just what happens when we get older, and lives get crazier? One thing’s for sure, I’m going to take finding a partner much more seriously once this is over…

7. Solitude

As a single person living alone, I’ve been all by myself like 98% of the time since it got bad. However, being a single person living alone is my doing — I like solitude. I don’t like to be around people when I’m miserable and cranky. (See: #4, also likely contributor to #6.) This time has really cemented my relationship with me; I know myself really fucking well, and I love myself dearly. No matter what that MRI says, I think that that fact is going to help me get better.