Student Experience Of Mental Health On Campus

5.08.2017

By Scott Chasen

Aungelina Taglia came back from the library with a friend and ate a grilled cheese sandwich. She left some crumbs on the plate, a mechanism she uses to cope with her anorexia, but could feel an anxiety attack coming on. She typically didn’t eat late at night, a rule she’d broken that Monday.

With an anxiety attack imminent, Taglia did what she always does. She lied to her friend and told her she was going to hang out with someone else. She got in her car, an appropriately named Ford Escape Hybrid, and drove down 23rd street, past the QuikTrip on Haskell and onto K-10, in hopes of calming herself down.

Some 14 miles later the feelings of nausea had started to fade. Taglia pulled off the side of the road at the Lexington exit in DeSoto, turning around and making the trek back to Lawrence and texting a few friends before falling asleep. The drive, which she’d make again after waking up in the middle of the night, has become far too common in her life.

“I’ve only told my friends that I’ve done that once,” she says of the drive she makes three to four times a week.

Awareness of mental illness is something that is more present now than it has been in past years; more students are being diagnosed with mental health disorders and more are seeking help for the things they identify themselves. According to Christian Vargas, a licensed psychologist and outreach coordinator for the university Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), an estimated 10 percent of the KU student population will have gone through CAPS this year, continuing with a recent pattern of increase. Yet, even as more initiatives exist to help students suffering with mental illness on campus, many difficulties for those students, including the stigmatization of mental illness and lack of understanding from those on campus, remain.

When students like Taglia tell their friends what they’re dealing with, too often the response is one of surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t be — according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness more than one in four young adults (between ages 18-25) have a diagnosable mental illness — but students often find their friends have their own internal definitions of what someone who is mentally ill should look like and are even skeptical about hearing they have a friend suffering from those same conditions.

That’s part of why Taglia, who has also been diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, lies to her friends. She recognizes at least part of her hesitancy comes from the experiences of when she’s tried to open up, only for her friends to struggle to comprehend her feelings. As she recalls the memories, she bites her lip and forces a pained smile, fiddling with a hairband on her left wrist.

The first reaction that pops into her head is about one of her tattoos. On the underside of her right wrist is a semi-colon, a symbol representing perseverance and the movement against self-harm. When friends ask about it, she explains its meaning, only for them to ask who she knows that’s actually dealing with those issues, often times in a lighthearted tone that only adds to her frustration.

“It’s like people don’t think you can function … if you suffer from mental illness,” Taglia says. “They’re integrated with you every day in your daily life. You just don’t realize it.”

TagliaTat

* * * * *

Nowadays, when she isn’t working one of four jobs on and off campus, Taglia spends much of her time focused on the topic of mental health and poverty. Her interests in the field originate from her high school experiences. By her freshman year, she was taking care of her mother, who was on several medications for mental health disorders. But Taglia was struggling too, and was hospitalized after she was found attempting suicide freshman year.

Two years later, it was her mother who was in the same scenario. Taglia was pulled out of class one day by three police officers and taken home, where she was told her mom had threatened suicide and locked herself in the house.

Taglia went up to her front door, eventually getting inside and calming her mother down. The two went to a hospital where, by the end of the day, her mother had been released. Reflecting on the experience, Taglia was baffled that given what had just transpired, her mother could so quickly be deemed “mentally competent” and cleared to go home. She wanted to understand the systems that were in place and why they were, in her mind, failing. Years later, it’s her continued dissatisfaction with the system that is at least part of the reason why she isn’t currently undergoing treatment.

For her, a big problem comes with the nature of how things are treated on campus. She says through her research she’s become aware of the resources to help students struggling with mental illness, but often times they only serve to help after something has gone wrong. In her view, this lack of preventative care creates a new problem for universities, leaving too many students who need immediate help from a potentially overextended staff.

“If they’re not in the preventative stage and they’re just in the after stage of trying to help people,” Taglia notes, “there’s going to be too much in the after stage to take care of.”

To be clear, this problem isn’t unique to KU. More and more, it’s happening nationwide. In fact, a recent petition launched by Jacqueline Basulto, a Columbia University alumna, asked for expanded mental-health services at 20 different universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia. In February, her university responded, pledging to strengthen its mental health services, offering mental health training — a similar initiative to KU — and creating a mental health awareness week, according to a New York ABC affiliate.

Similarly, at KU wait times can be an issue. Though Vargas notes “urgent needs will be addressed the same day,” one student in particular, Christine Waisner, says she was unable to get help she needed within a time frame that worked for her.

Waisner, now president of the mental health awareness group Active Minds at KU, wasn’t always vocal in the mental health community. Diagnosed with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Waisner found it difficult to connect with friends about what she was going through. When she did reach out, the response was usually disappointing.

“So many people just blew it off or they’d be like, ‘Eat a hamburger,’ ” she says.

In her sophomore year, Waisner attempted to make an appointment at CAPS, but the then-one-month wait time was enough of a deterrent that she opted to go off campus. By the end of the year, she’d dropped out of school, taking the end of the spring and the summer to work through some of her difficulties.

Since then, others have identified a similar problem. Harrison Baker, who was on the Student Senate subcommittee for mental health in the 2015-16 school year, put together a report on some of the problems across various colleges, finding many campuses were understaffed and underfunded. “It’s not specific to KU,” Baker says. “But here’s what students across the nation are facing, and it’s no different here at KU.”

Through working with then-Student Senate vice president Miranda Wagner, Baker helped produce a bill to give that subcommittee more power, eventually turning into its own advisory committee with power over the mental health fee. As a chair for the committee, Baker pushed for a $9 increase to the student fee for CAPS to offset what he described as an “unacceptable” student-to-therapist ratio.

Entering 2016, Baker said, the ratio was about 2,200 students for every mental health professional. He said a more ideal number would be anywhere from about 500 to 1,000 students per professional, with the lower end of acceptability being about 1,500 to 1.

But as much as the issue seems it could be fixed by hiring more therapists, that doesn’t solve the underlying problems. It’s important for a university to be properly staffed to help students after a traumatic event, but it’s equally important to focus on helping students before they get to that point.

And that’s where students like Waisner try and pick up the slack.

Waisner returned to KU for her junior year in 2016, ready to get more involved on campus. She looked on the Rock Chalk Central website, picking out the group she now presides over, at least in part by chance. “I went on the database with all the organizations on it,” she said. “You know, it starts with A, so it was at the top of the list.”

From there Waisner rose through the ranks, tabling with the group a few times before becoming an event coordinator and eventually president. Among the projects she’s overseen has been an initiative to fight rising suicide rates nationwide by trying to put the national suicide prevention hotline number on the back of the student ID cards, in addition to the campus police and health services numbers.

The group also helps in other ways, meeting in person to provide members a forum where they can engage with others in conversations about mental health. Other events for Active Minds at KU include presentations from guest speakers as well as panels about various disorders, among other things.

“No matter what the event is,” she says, “it does tend to end up being a place where people are having conversations that they usually don’t have or don’t feel comfortable having.”

* * * * *

While Waisner lauds some of the progress that has been made on campus, she’d still like to see more of it. One area she says she feels passionate about is “mental health days” — allowing students to seek help for mental illness without being penalized for missing class. However, because of how the university is structured, the systems set up to help the students, like the Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC), aren’t able to mandate leniency for a student who misses class because of a mental-health related issue.

Deborah Meyer, associate director of the AAAC, says one of the biggest problems her office has in helping students can be working around a professor’s policy. “We know the importance of participation in the learning process,” she says. “If the instructor has that as part of their syllabus, we’re going to have a really difficult time justifying (that) you don’t have to come to class.”

That can be one roadblock for the office, which Meyer said has seen a recent influx in students with mental illness. In fact, over the last few years, she notes, mental illness has become the second most common reason students contact the AAAC behind only attention related-issues.

However, that increased awareness does not always mean students are fully willing to share their experiences with mental illness. If they opt not to disclose the specifics of their condition, it forces the AAAC to advocate for them while leaving the professors in the dark. Other students may simply choose to learn how to best advocate for themselves, rather than opening up about their difficulties to the office.

“I still believe there’s quite a social stigma around disability, period,” Meyer says. “Everything is on a continuum, but some students do not want to talk about having an attention deficit issue, they don’t want to talk about a learning disorder, they don’t want to talk about a visual or hearing impairment or they don’t want to talk about a mental health disability.”

That puts the professors in a difficult position. When things aren’t explicitly stated, it’s hard for many of them to know what the right actions to take are when presented with students who seem like they’re struggling. Likewise, some professors struggle to identify the signs of mental illness, but it isn’t necessarily for a lack of caring.

“They want to help,” Meyer says. “They’re not exactly sure how they might be able to.”

* * * * *

While some struggle to broach the subject of mental illness, others like Dan McCarthy, a KU journalism advisor, view the topic differently. He feels no such qualms engaging in a conversation about mental illness, even when a student hasn’t explicitly brought it into the conversation.

“Having experienced it, having had profound first-person primary experience with that situation, I have always been willing kind of just to blow through that,” he says. “I graduated a very depressed person and then proceeded to spend three years very, very depressed.”

Part of McCarthy’s experience in the educational system comes from what he describes as teaching by the lash — this idea that some institutions “are very celebratory about the ways in which they are cruel and vindictive and pointless, hurtful to students.” Simply, he detests the idea that students should be challenged unreasonably under the guise that the challenges are “getting you trained for the future world,” something he says can add to a college student’s stress level.

For that, McCarthy’s advising goes beyond just picking classes and getting a student in and out of the office as fast as possible. He’s always willing to engage in a deeper conversation, and has even made it a point to go through Mental Health First Aid training.

The Mental Health First Aid course is offered both on campus and at the Bert Nash Mental Health Community Center. It aims at helping people learn how to engage in a conversation with mental illness, as well as how to listen without passing judgment, assess if a student might be at risk to commit self harm and encourage appropriate help, according to its mission statement. The training fills a need, Waisner notes, for faculty members who are “sick and tired of watching their students struggle and not knowing how to help.”

Several advisors have already gone through this training. According to Abby Coffin, director of the Undergraduate Advising Center, 25 of the 27 people in her office had already gone through it before May, while the other two had signed up for a future session.

Still, the training isn’t mandated to this point, and it doesn’t appear it will be in the near future. Part of the problem is that there isn’t a single centralized power directing the collective group of advisors. “We technically all don’t have one boss,” McCarthy says.

Without a mandate, the responsibility to help students struggling with mental illness falls on the faculty, advisors, professors and those who interact with students. And while the early numbers for the Mental Health First Aid Training have been promising, both Waisner and Taglia said they’d like to see it become mandated.

As for future initiatives, there are other things in the works at KU. Among the newer steps being taken is the creation of a Peer Mental Health Educator group, which is currently being developed by CAPS. Vargas says the group will start in the fall and feature “10 diverse students” working 10 hours a week and “providing outreach presentations, peer support and active listening at several locations around campus,” among other things.

For the present, though, the same problems remain. There’s still the idea of how people think about mental illness and the challenge of simply getting to a point where more work is being done on the preventive side than in the after stages. And there’s still the idea of mental illness as a whole and the responses many students experience when they try to engage their friends in conversation about it.

“There’s a separate part of the community that I feel people shove the mentally ill in,” Taglia says. “They think of them as a whole separate part of society.”

She continues on before pausing a moment to gather her thoughts.

“The systems that are in place right now,” she says, “aren’t working.”

How It Feels… To Get Shot With A Taser

5.08.2017

How It Feels2

By Shane Jackson

Caleb Dickey, a Security Forces Member stationed in Topeka, was shot with a taser gun last June in the security forces training room at Forbes Field. This is what it feels like.

For a brief moment, I consider the possibility that TSgt. Holloman is a mind reader.

Even though my exterior shows no fear, my mind is racing. I question if I’m really going to go through with this. So I’m surprised when Holloman, who is standing just a couple feet behind me, with a taser gun pointed directly at my back, asks me for reassurance.

“Are you sure you really want to go through with this?” Holloman asked.

The question shifts me back into focus. I know there is no backing out now. Not when I watched four of my buddies go through the same experience just the day before. Not when I may have to shoot one myself someday. I need to know what it feels like, so I shake my head yes.

After all, I had just spent about 30 minutes doing my stretches. My friends had advised me to do this. Nobody could describe the initial feeling, however.

Even though I sat in this very classroom and watched all four of them go though it, I couldn’t fathom what that initial shock was going to be like. Each of them was tasered once and had different reactions. Nearly every single one of them had shouted out profanity as they went to the ground. Not me though.

Still, it happened so quickly.

“Taser, taser, taser,” Holloman said.

Immediately after I hear “taser” for the third time, my body locks up. I suddenly can’t find my breath. For five seconds, my entire body is immobile. Or at least they told me it was five seconds; I swear it felt like 50.

SSgt. Thomas and SSgt. Romstedt bring me down to a blue mat, and I can’t hold back any longer. I let out a huge exhale just before the fifth second. I can breathe again, though my body burns in pain as if I just completed a 12-hour workout.

It wasn’t long afterward I began to gain movement. The classroom full of students watched me the entire time as I started to come back to normal. They are left with a visual image, while I have a more permanent reminder. Two scars remain engraved on my body from where the taser gun split in that short amount of time. I have a scar on my left shoulder, the other is just above my right butt cheek.

Several months have passed since I was shot with a taser, and I haven’t had to use mine at my job. But if that day ever does come, at least I will have a vivid idea of what happens when I fire that weapon off.

If Met Gala Celebs Were Your Professors

5.05.2017

By Rebekah Swank

It’s nearly finals week, and by this point in the semester you have a pretty good read on your professors and their personalities. There are good ones, bad ones, and ones that make you want to walk blindly onto Jayhawk Boulevard with the hope of getting hit by a bus. Here they all are as the 2017 Met Gala attendees. Because fashion.

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Lily Collins wearing Giambattista Valli

Lily is the professor you admire because she really has her shit together. She has six degrees, is head of the department and gets your assignment graded within a day of you turning it in. She’s a hard ass, but you respect her for it.

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Lily Aldridge in Ralph Lauren Collection Custom

Lily Aldridge, on the other hand, is the young, hip, fun professor you want to be. She completed her Ph.D. dissertation in Marrakech, and she doesn’t let you forget it. She wears stilettos or boots everywhere she goes, and you hope to one day run into her at a bar.

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Kendall Jenner wearing La Perla Haute Couture and Kim Kardashian wearing Vivienne Westwood

Kendall and Kim are like those TAs you love to hate. They are rude, not helpful and after you ask them a question, you suspect that they are talking about how stupid they think you are. When they are subbing the professor and realize no one has completed the assigned readings, they promise not to tattle on the class, but then they tell the professor and get the entire class a pop quiz.

5

Rihanna wearing Comme des Garçons

Rihanna is the professor we all want to have. She doesn’t take attendance, curves every test, cancels class on a semi-regular basis and doesn’t require students to take a final. She curses, and she admits when she is hungover. She is beauty and grace. She is a queen.

6

Joe Jonas wearing Elizabeth Kennedy

Joe is that cute professor you have a crush on. You try to pull a Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls and dumb yourself down so you have an excuse to talk to him, but he sees right through you.

7

Jaden Smith wearing Louis Vuitton

Jaden Smith is that kooky professor who terrifies you. In the middle of his lecture, he says things that are weird, off-putting, gross or a combination of the three. He’s a creepy dude who wonders why he even holds office hours because no one ever comes.

8

Zoë Kravitz wearing Oscar de la Renta

Ah, Zoë. She is the older professor you could talk to for hours. She seems to have all the knowledge and wisdom in the world, and you can’t hear enough of it. If you have to talk to her after class, you end up staying for 30 minutes longer than you had planned because you two get swept up in conversation.

Heard on the Hill

5.04.2017

HOTH crop

  • “I’m like espresso. I’m hot and bitter.”
  • “I wish kisses had caffeine, except then I’d be up all night.”
  • “EXCUSE ME, I have a shoebox full of frozens!”
  • “I’m metamorphosing into the most beautiful gay butterfly.”
  • “Yesterday at Arby’s…”
  • “Come to the wings and bingo thing with me…you vegetarian!”
  • “I’m gonna drink this wine out of the bottle because I’m troubled”
  • “Omg can I smoke with someone please? I’ll pay you I swear.”
  • “I wasn’t blacked out but it was a very dark shade of brown.”

How it Feels…To Fall From a 12-foot Ladder

5.01.2017

By Evan Riggs

How It Feels2

One year ago, 20-year old Dylan Galliert had the scare of a lifetime when he fell from the top of a 12-foot ladder while he was working in Scott City, Kansas. This is what it felt like.

It was Wednesday, Feb. 17. I don’t remember the fall, or going to the intensive care Unit in Scott City. I just remember waking up in the airplane on the way to Wichita. Just a few hours earlier, I had fallen off the top of a 12-foot ladder, and broken two vertebrae in my back and two in my neck.

I was doing electrical work for the new Loves in Scott City, and I was running a pipe through the wall for a water heater. I hit my elbow on the trough that the wire goes through, and after scuffling on the ladder, I blacked out. They said I fell onto another electrical panel that almost ripped my ear off. It turned me around and threw me on a spool of wire, which is what broke the bones.

At first I felt more fear than pain because I was on morphine. But I was in a lot of pain when the morphine wore off three days later and I was coherent. My head was ringing, and I had a sharp shooting pain from my neck down to my back. It was definitely the worst pain I’ve ever felt.

I had very little feeling in my upper body, and I could hardly move anything. I was scared, wondering what was going to happen to me.

A day or so later, I was able to start rehab, but it was just the doctors moving my legs, toes and arms while I lay in bed. It felt like my body wasn’t even there and I could hardly move anything.

My rehab started a few days after I got to Wichita. The doctors started by moving my legs, toes and arms while I lay in bed. Then they moved me to the edge of my bed and tried to get me to be able to bend my knees again. I had to completely relearn everything. I had to re-learn how to walk, and how to grab things with my hands.

I almost threw up the first time I stood up. The rehab probably took four weeks, and I absolutely hated it. I hated rehab because it took so much out of me.

By the end of March I had finally returned home. I’m back working my old job, but I can’t climb tall ladders.  My right hand is still really tight, so sometimes I can’t even open it. And I still have no sensation from my left side to the bottom of my ribs.

Everything is going pretty well, I only wish I had full use of my hand.

Masculine Pinsecurity

4.25.2017

By Matthew Clough

Nathan Clem has just signed an apartment lease for next year with his girlfriend, Rena Stair. After dating for nearly two years, they decided it was time to give living together a shot. He’s already been preparing for the move by collecting kitchen supplies, buying brand new bedsheets, even building a coffee table with one of his friends.

There’s just one more step he’s making in his preparations: getting a Pinterest account.

Clem, a junior from Baldwin City, Kansas, says his sister first showed him the app, and he thought it was a cool way to organize ideas, especially for planning home décor options and DIY projects. The app curates content for you from around the web based on topics you’ve indicated interest in. He was careful to not tell too many people he was using it, though. “I just thought, Pinterest is more for women and I didn’t want to seem too feminine,” he says. “It does carry a certain connotation.”

He’s not the only one who feels this way. According to a Pew Research Center study released at the end of 2016, 45 percent of online adult women use the virtual bulletin board site, while only 17 percent of online men do. This comes after statistics released by Pinterest that claim its male user base in the U.S. increased by 73 percent over the course of 2014.

Among college men, there’s a mix of reactions to Pinterest. Some say it’s a place for “arts and crafts bullshit” or “a platform for people who want to build personal fantasies.” But other men like Clem think it’s useful for everyone.

“Nathan came up to me, and he was kind of shy about it. He was like, ‘I don’t want to be weird or anything, but I think it’d be a really great idea if we shared house ideas with, like, Pinterest,’” Stair recalls. “At this point we had already decided we were going to live together next year,” Clem says. “I just thought it would be a good way to save ideas.”

Still, it’s clear that the concept of men using Pinterest has some taboo connotation. Simply searching “do men use Pinterest?” on Google yields a slew of articles about the site’s largely skewed demographics. But more interestingly, it also brings up the related searches “is Pinterest for guys too?” and “manteresting,” which is a website similar to Pinterest but with more sexy cars and hilarious videos, according to its Twitter. (Instead of “pinning” things to boards, you use manly nails.)

Perhaps more than anything, these searches convey an insecurity among men in using the virtual bulletin board. The most revealing thing about them is the perceived cultural necessity of assigning gender to things that are objectively genderless.

Hyunjin Seo, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas who researches social media, says that the visual nature of Pinterest may be one reason more women are using it than men. “Think of the topics that more align with visual-based social media sites,” she says. “Fashion, food, travel and so on. There’s more women than men that share content on social media on these topics.”

The visual appearance of Pinterest itself may be part of the reason men shy away from it, although its design doesn’t necessarily cater directly to women. The site is plain white and upon logging in you’re greeted with a collage-like scattering of content. Manteresting, by comparison, looks essentially identical except for a black background. Houzz is a home design site that boasts slightly more male users than Pinterest; its design, like its content, is more architectural.

Instagram is interesting in that its interface is entirely visual-driven, yet according to Seo, the proportions of male and female users are very similar. Although women still outnumber men on the platform – 58 to 42 percent as of 2016, the gap is nowhere near as wide as it was several years ago, Seo said.

Some college men maintain that appearance has nothing to do with it. Conan Lee is a freshman from Overland Park, Kan., who studies illustration and uses the site for inspiration. “I have a sci-fi board and a fantasy board, for stuff like character design and concept art – ideas for drawing,” he says. Another student, Murphy Smith from Westwood, Kan., does not use the site but says “If I want something that seems to be similar to Pinterest, I just go to Reddit.” That site is significantly less structured in appearance than Pinterest.

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Regardless of appearance or perceptions, Clem remains adamant in the value of Pinterest. He and Stair have been organizing apartment decoration ideas and projects to take on together over the summer while they prepare for the big move. “I think people should use it no matter what society thinks,” he says.

 

 

How It Feels…to Flip Your Car

4.24.2017

How It Feels2

By Hallie Holton, 22, KU senior majoring in strategic communications, as told to Jackson Vickery

It was a Friday night when I flipped, my car that is.

I was driving 80 miles per hour on I-35 South, excited to get into Fort Worth, Texas, for my friend’s 21st birthday weekend. Only 45 minutes out and two miles from the Oklahoma-Texas border, I was feeling pretty great considering it was 11:30 p.m.

There wasn’t much to look at on the road. The last memorable sight was the sunset I saw a few hours before. My auxiliary chord and Spotify playlist were enough to get me through the tail end of this trip.

“Willie,” my car’s name, was in cruise control as I was sailing in the left-hand lane. The lights from the WinStar World Casino captured my attention. My head and eyes continued to follow those lights as my car started to drift left.

The bowl-sized rumble strips caught me off guard. The car was shaking. Within mere moments I had overcorrected.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god,” I repeatedly screamed.

I could see the grey hood of my car nosedive into the ditch, which acted as the divide between the sides of traffic. During the flip I felt like I was floating until the car jolted to a stop.

My hands were grasped tightly to the steering wheel for 30 seconds until I started feeling myself. No cuts. I looked for my phone, which was previously in the cup holder. It ended up in the middle console. Phone in hand, I looked out of the window watching cars fly by in the opposite direction I was.

I unbuckled and unsuccessfully tried to open the driver side door. In this minute and a half window, cars had stopped to see what had happened. A man in his mid to late 30s came over and asked if I was okay. He too couldn’t open the driver’s side door.

As this was going on, my insides started shaking. I kept trying to take deep breaths and reassure myself that I was fine.

The man says from the back end of my car to come and walk through the trunk. I was barefoot. Holding onto whatever I could and stepping on glass that scattered the inside of the car, I made my way out. The last thing I remember seeing was the tripod-style lamp my mom had gotten me for my house back in Lawrence, left in the back of the trunk.

I walked across the lanes of traffic to a couple’s car. I sat there with my bare feet dangling, saying to myself, “Shit. What happened? Did I hit something?” The gravity of what just happened didn’t hit me until I saw my overturned car in the grass.

After that, multiple paramedics came to ask me if I needed to go to the hospital. The only scratch I had was a tiny one on my foot from the broken glass. A frenzied phone call with my mom followed, who was thousands of miles away in Seattle. She made sure to talk to every individual I did.

Before leaving, the paramedic asked if he could get anything from my car. I asked for my KU duffle bag and Birkenstocks. This was the last trip someone would take to my car.

I had gone on a lot of road trips before – St. Louis, Chicago, Gulf Shores. That night, “Willie” wouldn’t make it to Dallas. I was lucky though.

My car was totaled, but I was thankful for everyone who had helped me, from the paramedics to the state trooper to the couple who drove me to Fort Worth that night instead of spending their night at the WinStar.

The state trooper was right – if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt that night could have turned out much worse than just a cut on the foot and a headache the next morning.

Head on the Hill

4.20.2017

HOTH crop

  • “He sounds like he has a cat up his nose.”
  • Person 1:”Stop singing about president Putin!”
  • Person 2:”But he’s my best friend.”
  • Person 1:”Shut the fuck up”
  • “Do I need to know his name? No. I just need to know his body.
  • Person 1:”I’m just endlessly eating food, I need help.”
    Person 2:”NO you need sustenance.”
    Person 1:”Damn you’re right, I can’t argue with that logic.”
  • Person 1:”Guys, Mahershala Ali was the first Muslim to win an Oscar!”
    Person 2: “Wait, I thought he was black.”
  • “Your uterus is probably like Chernobyl.”
  • Person 1: “Who even invented tequila?”
    Person 2: “Someone who wanted to see the world burn.”
  • “What is it with white people and not staying with the stove?”
  • “I clock in, take a nap, go to the wheel, and then clock out.”
  • “I just remembered my grandmother uses Royal Crown as mouthwash.”

dis / connected

4.19.2017

By Cody Schmitz

social-media-1806995_960_720

Two years ago, Leyli Beims was starting her freshman year of college, had thousands of followers between her Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Vine, and Facebook accounts, and was just learning to cope with severe depression. But as she logged in to her social media circles in search of connection, Beims says she was met with an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy.

“Comparing myself with others on social media fueled my depression,” Beims said. “When I was home alone on a Saturday night, I saw my friends having fun at a party or cuddling with a boyfriend. And that kind of content just made me feel worse and worse about myself.”

Beims, now 21 and a junior at Washburn University, says deactivating all of her social media accounts in early 2015 was an answer to a question of mental health. In vulnerable moments, as Beims scanned a virtual highlight reel of her friends’ lives, she felt completely alone. The problem with modern social media use, however, is just how widespread these feelings of isolation have become.

Benjamin Stodt, a researcher in the department of cognitive psychology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, co-authored a study about the consequences of heavy social networking in teens. The study focuses on “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out on experiences that one’s friends may have and post about online. Stodt says, “The results of our study showed that having more severe symptoms of depression and anxiety lead to a higher experience of FOMO and a more excessive use of social media. This overuse could lead to further intensification of mental health problems.”

According to a study performed by the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, Canada, children and teens who used social networking sites for more than two hours a day also independently reported high levels of psychological distress, a poor self-rating of overall mental health, and suicidal ideation.

What makes this statistic even more alarming is that compulsive social media use as described in this study is no longer an anomaly in modern teens. According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teens say they go online daily, and 24 percent go online “almost constantly.” Stodt says that — while most individuals use social media as a functional and inherent part of everyday life — “research indicated that a small amount of younger adults and teens show problematic social media use. Although an ‘internet use disorder’ or ‘internet communication disorder’ is not officially classified as an addiction, past research has shown that these behaviors share common symptoms with other substance-related or behavioral addictions.”

Before she deleted her accounts, Beims says she found herself compulsively refreshing the familiar apps in order to feel a connection to the outside world. But what she saw online only fed her feelings of disconnection.

“People get so worked up about a million different issues, and then they dump all of their thoughts on social media. And then you as a user ingest all of that anger. Ingesting all of that toxicity all day long paints the way you see the world,” Beims said. “I got hooked on that high emotion, so I kept going back to it. Even when I wasn’t online, I was thinking, ‘What am I missing? What are people posting?’ That’s how our world is set up right now. You never get any peace of mind when you’re doing that.”

Finding peace on the web may soon be a dream of the past. As politics grow more polarizing, so do our Facebook posts, according to a study performed by Facebook scientists and published in the journal Science. In fact, the months following the 2016 presidential election have seen Facebook, Twitter, and Google implementing new features in order to stop the growing trends of fake news and online harassment, according to NPR. But adding new ways to mute certain sites and individuals may not be enough to quell the often overwhelming sense of negativity that can be found online.

According to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, a majority of adults now get their news from social media. Alyssa Soto, a junior at the University of Kansas, says Facebook is one of her primary sources for staying on top of current events, but she’s finding it harder to keep up as her feed is flooded with bad news and strong opinion. “I like to know what’s happening in the world, but I also find it to be overwhelming. The majority of what I see is negative,” Soto says. “I usually leave Facebook feeling drained.”

These feelings of helplessness in young adults magnify when they are observed with a wider lens. Close to 3 million American teens had one or more significant depressive episode in 2015, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Almost 6.5 million have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stodt doesn’t think a simple solution like banning smartphones in schools is the solution to such a complicated problem. “Communication through mobile devices is integrated into today’s society, and not every young adult suffers from consequences because of smartphone use,” Stodt says. “Nevertheless, we have to use our devices consciously in order to maintain control over them. Choose to put the smartphone aside and have a face-to-face conversation. Self-regulation is a necessary skill for internet use without negative consequences. Our research showed that these skills can be key competencies to prevent problematic use.”

Two years after first disconnecting from social media, Beims says she has made great strides in managing her depression through regular therapy and medication. Beims also attributes a significant portion of this shift to the release she felt after removing social media from her daily life.

“The peace of mind I felt after deleting my accounts changed everything,” Beims said. “Being on social media really is carrying something around with you. All day long I used to carry around my Twitter and Instagram feeds, and it never led to a positive feeling. To have that weight gone and to be able to think about things that mattered to me — one day I was suddenly like, ‘I am really into my life.’ And after a while, when you are just really working on school and really forming connections with people offline, you think, ‘Oh. I haven’t even thought about what’s happening on Facebook.’”

The Ultimate Glossier Super Pack Review

4.18.2017

By Rebekah Swank

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I have been using the Super Pack for about three and a half months, and I can say with confidence that Glossier has stolen my heart. When I began this (kind of expensive) venture, my expectations for these three serums were low, but I was still hopeful. My skin was cluttered with small zits and terribly dull, but I think these serums have helped improve both of those problems.

At the beginning of my experiment, I was using Clean & Clear Continuous Control acne cleanser with benzoyl peroxide twice a day. However, a month ago I started using Alba Botanica Good & Clean Toxin Release Scrub, along with St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Green Tea Scrub and Aveeno Positively Radiant brightening cleanser. I’ll use one of the scrubs in the morning, and one at night, and follow each of them with the gentle Aveeno cleanser. I still use the Clean & Clear cleanser with a Clarisonic brush if I fall asleep with makeup on, or if I feel like I need extra exfoliating, but I typically only use it two or three times per week. I believe using products with more natural ingredients in combination with the Super Pack has boosted my results.

What I love most about these serums are the ingredients. Each serum has natural, gentle ingredients that help skin reach its healthiest form. Although my blemishes haven’t vanished completely, I can definitely see a difference in the texture and brightness of my skin.

These serums also go a long way; meaning I’ve been using them for nearly four months and I am only about half-way through each bottle. Because they are so concentrated with magical vitamin goodness, you only need to use three to four drops every day. That makes coughing up $65 plus shipping for these bad boys a little easier.

My favorite serum is Super Pure, which helps with blemishes and irritation. It flushes out impurities from makeup, junk food and alcohol—it’s like a free skin pass to do whatever you want! It feels light and clean on my skin, and I think it’s the Super with the best results.

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The Supers are a great, less expensive starting place for people looking into high quality skin products. They really do take care of your skin. However, I probably won’t purchase all three of them at the same time again. I like Super Pure and Super Bounce way more than Super Glow, so I will most likely buy those separately. I highly recommend the Super Pack; it’s easy to use, easy to incorporate into your routine and feels phenomenal on your skin. Overall, I give it 8.5/10.

How It Feels…To Be Racially Profiled

4.17.2017

By Nashia Baker

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Four years ago in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, University of Kansas law student Rhavean Anderson was stopped by police and racially profiled during a run. This is what it felt like.

It was about mid-day on Thanksgiving Eve of my freshman year, and as I got ready for my 7-mile run that my coach assigned for the holidays, I saw my mom cooking away to prep for Thanksgiving Day, and I knew I was finally home. It was the first time I’d been home since I joined the KU track team earlier that fall as a middle-distance runner, and it was a much needed break from school to visit my family in Memphis, where I was born and raised.

I let my mom know that I was headed towards the main street in town, stretched, popped my headphones in, and took off. I was about 2.5 miles into my run when I felt eyes stinging my back from a Memphis squad car, creeping up behind me. I didn’t pay it any mind until the police car sped past me and parked in the middle of my path ahead.

Two white police officers stepped out of the car, stopped me, and coldly asked, “Why are you out running?”

I looked at them, took my headphones out, and cautiously stated back, “I’m a track and field athlete. I’m out training.”

They continued by aggressively asking, “…You’re a college athlete? So where do you go?

I looked down at my outfit covered in crimson, blue, Adidas, and a large Jayhawk on my chest, and said back, “The University of Kansas…”

The questioning continued for about five minutes, but all I could think about was what I could be doing wrong. I was running in daylight, because everyone knows not to run in the dark in Memphis, and I was clearly jogging. But I didn’t want anything to escalate, so I kept answering to their satisfaction until they finally let me go.

As they drove off, I looked ahead, put my headphones back in, and got back to my run. When I got home and told my mom what happened, I could feel the anger welling up inside of me and I could see the confusion in her eyes.

Being a Jayhawk, a college student, an athlete, daughter, and more – those things won’t save me. But the color of my skin will not stop me.

Heard on the Hill

4.13.2017

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  • “You look like a young Santa Claus.”
  • “You can never have too much moonshine.”
  • “Microwaving any longer than 3 minutes is cooking. That’s just not worth it.”
  • “You only call her when you need a ride. And it’s not free because you pay her in sex! You’re a fucking prostitute!”
  • “Bears are the seals of the animal kingdom.”
  • “I wanna go to a Chinese buffet, but only, like, a nice one.”
  • Person 1:”I’m just endlessly eating food, I need help.”
    Person 2:”No, you need sustenance.”
    Person 1:”Damn, you’re right I can’t argue with that logic.”
  • “You’ll be a really pretty grandma, not now but when you’re a grandma.”
  • “I’m going to start drinking my own tears to help the environment.”
  • “I’d cut off my left tit to get out of that situation.”

Stick and Poke

4.12.2017

 

By Melissa Yunk

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“You do not want to poke too far to make yourself bleed but far enough to hear an audible “pop” when you pull the needle out.”

Rachel Bennett, a senior from Basehor, cringes at her friend’s words, but continues to wrap her sewing needle with some thread. She finishes sketching a small tree on her wrist, dips the needle in the bright green ink and gets to work. Stick. Pop. Stick. Pop.

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Bennett and her friend are giving each other stick and poke tattoos in her friend’s attic, surrounded by burning sage, discussing witchcraft.

“I was not initially planning on giving myself a tattoo, but I like to think of myself as a spontaneous person so it didn’t take much to change my mind,” Bennett says.

Stick and poke, or DIY tattoos are not a new trend—they’re common in jail cells across the nation—but they are the latest thing in tattoos among young adults and on college campuses.

A simple Google search makes it clear how much of a trend this is. In a matter of seconds, you’ll find quirky how-to videos, endless tattoo ideas on Pinterest and Instagram, and even DIY kits in stores such as Etsy and Amazon.

But you don’t need a kit—it’s possible to do at-home tattoos using common household products. All you need is a sewing needle, some thread and ink.

Caroline Roe, a sophomore with eight stick and pokes, has perfected the process. After cleaning and shaving the area of the tattoo, she does a rough sketch of her design idea. She then sticks the needle in the eraser of a pencil and wraps the thread around the sharp end of the needle to hold the ink.  After putting together her tool, either she or a friend continuously pokes over the sketch until it is finished.

A small stick and poke can take around two hours, approximately four times as long as a traditional tattoo. They also fade faster than professional tattoos and tend to hurt more. Roe says the consistent speed of a tattoo gun needle often helps numb the pain after a few moments. However, when tattooing yourself, the inconsistent speed and depth of the poke makes pain constant and more intense.

Roe also has a few traditional tattoos, but likes the DIY method because of the extremely low cost—practically free—and artistic freedom. “Sure, parlors might be more clean and it is nice supporting artists,” Roe says. “But I really like the spontaneity of stick and pokes and being able to have full control of the designs.”

However, sacrificing the cleanliness of a tattoo parlors is not such a good idea. Kim Ens, director of clinic services for the Douglas County Health Department, talked about the risk of acquiring infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and even HIV when using unprofessionally sanitized needles. The only way to guarantee a needle is sterile, she says, is to use a brand new one. Bennett sterilized her needle by running it under a flame and wiping it with rubbing alcohol.

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“It may not have been smart,” Bennett says. “But it was something.”

Ens added that ink that is not diluted or meant for tattoos can also lead to variety of infections or allergic reactions, so it is important to use the correct ink. “Overall, my opinion is to not do it to yourself,” Ens says.

Despite these concerns, there is still appeal behind stick and poke tattoos, whether it be the elongated adrenaline rush, the comfort of doing it in your own home, or the gritty appearance both girls spoke of.

“I feel brave and accomplished after finishing,” Bennett says. “Sure, slightly endangered but the feeling of doing it and being proud of something I made is worth it.”

How It Feels…To Be Told You’re Dying When You’re Not

4.10.2017

As told by Rick Donnelson to Samantha Harms

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Twenty years ago, project manager Rick Donnelson, 55, was told that he was dying of cancer when he really wasn’t. This is what it felt like.

Sitting on the chair in the doctor’s office, I was told the test I had been given indicated pancreatic cancer and that I had less than six months to live. Pancreatic cancer is incurable 99 percent of the time and has a very quick death rate. I was 33 years old and I had five children.

It was 1994 and I was in treasurer school. I wasn’t eating normally. I had lost about 30 pounds in the last three months. I knew that wasn’t healthy. I came home and went to the doctor for a simple check up. I very quickly though received a phone call telling me that I should come in.

I sat down and as the doctor told me that the tests showed pancreatic cancer, a perpetual state of shock just came over me. I could feel the words “I don’t believe you” come out of my mouth. I asked for a second opinion right away.

The sterile, sickening smell of that doctor’s office as I got potentially the worst news of my life is something that I still carry with me. I told him that I knew it wasn’t the case that I had this. I rationalized, with him and with myself.

I always came back to believing that there was nothing wrong with me. Because how could this happen to me? I was in the best shape of my life.

Because of the limited time they had given me left to live my life, they rushed me to KU Med for additional testing. That testing showed that I didn’t have pancreatic cancer, but I had cancer of the duodenum, which is cancer of the stomach and small intestine. So they scheduled me for surgery to see if that’s actually what I had. The worst part was waiting for my surgery, for two weeks thinking I was might to die soon. I had a chance then to think about my life but I’m a believer in God and I knew I would live through all of it and have a normal life.

The nurses kept coming in while I was waiting, asking me “Are you nervous?” I kept saying, “Nope, because I know nothing’s wrong.” And they kept saying “Oh he’s in denial.” But that’s okay because I got the last laugh.

After waiting almost two weeks of thinking I had six to nine months to live, I went into surgery and had what’s called a freeze plug test. They took the part of my stomach out that they were operating on and tested it right there in the operating room. So when I came out, I got that bit of good news that not only did I not have any cancer but there was absolutely nothing wrong. They couldn’t find anything wrong; they just believed that it was some bug that my body overacted to.  Here I sit, 20 years later as healthy as I can be.

Heard on the Hill

4.06.2017

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  • Person 1: “So Tu served you at Dunkin’?”
  • Person 2: “What are you talking about, speak English.”
  • Person 1: “I can’t, he’s Vietnamese.”
  • “I think Great Britain is an anarchy. Maybe.”
  • “Dude I can’t even name five condiments.”
  • “I’m so high. At this right I’m never gonna have downs.”
  • “I smell like dirty clothes and baked potatoes.”
  • “Treating a nature valley bar like an ice cream cone does nothing for me.”
  • Person 1: “What did you do for Spring Break?”
  • Person 2: “Climb a mountain.”
  • Person 1: “Which one?”
  • Person 2: “Uh, I forgot the name of it.”
  • ” ‘Death by cheese’ the best way to go out.”
  • “Lasagna is a great pasta but a shitty horse.”
  • Person 1: “What’s your fetish?”
  • Person 2: “Respecting women.”

Kansas City Fashion Week F/W ’17

4.04.2017

By Mary Ann Omoscharka

Kansas City Fashion Week celebrated its 11th season last week, from March 26th until April 1st. The Fall/Winter ’17 showcase offered four runway evenings and an amazing total of 37 designers. The event that used to take place at the Union Station premiered a new location, the spectacular Grand Hall at Power & Light in downtown Kansas City, MO.

The celebrations kicked off at the Bubbly & Bowties event at R24 Studios, with a strict cocktail and black tie dress code, unlimited champagne and a fabulous Dior beauty bar that gave us a little make-up upgrade with bold lipstick and a fierce cat eye. Sponsors included R24 Studios, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant, J. Rieger & Co. Dior, Events with Soul and AUI Fine Foods.

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Thursday Night Runway Show at the Grand Hall at Power & Light

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ROGER FIGUEROA

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WIKI WANG

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AMANDA CASAREZ

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MADYSSEN JEAN

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LEE JEANS

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NOELLE DESIGNS

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CRYSTAL BRAKHAGE DESIGNS

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MORE THAN JUST FIGLEAVES & ERIN PAIGE

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Saturday Night Runway Show at the Grand Hall at Power & Light

Special thanks belong to the amazing designer Munelle De Vie who dressed us in her beautiful S/S ’17 collection that she presented at KCFW last season. You will be able to shop her entire collection on her website soon!

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MICHAEL DRUMMOND

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BARBARA BULTMAN

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christianMICHAEL & DOLYN BAGS

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GEORGINA HERRERA

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HOUSE OF COCHON

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LUCIA’S SARTO & DOLYN BAGS

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sHe by christianMICHAEL & GEORGINA HERRERA

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We would like to thank the organization team of Kansas City Fashion Week for having us and for creating such an amazing event and atmosphere. See you next season!

Photography by Maggie Russell

 

 

 

 

 

How It Feels…To be Severly Concussed

4.03.2017

By Scott Chasen

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Steve Carver is a Kansas native who played high school basketball at Shawnee Mission Northwest. In high school, Carver broke his father’s school scoring record. He then went on to play basketball for the College of the Holy Cross, though his time with that program was cut short because of a concussion.

I always knew my basketball career would end someday. I didn’t think, however, I’d be just months into my first season at Holy Cross when it all came crashing down.

I was in practice, scrimmaging under the fluorescent lights of Hart Center. I ran up and down the court, past the purple and white Crusader logo at its midway point. I’d tracked across the tan hardwood flooring tens of times that day and probably thousands more over the last three months.

I’d been running for hours, trying to stay composed and conserve what little energy I had, but as I watched the man I was guarding sprint across the floor ahead of me, I knew I needed an extra burst to catch up.

Josh Jones was a senior big man on our team. I was 6-foot-8 and had an inch or two on him, but he outweighed me by more than 25 pounds. He didn’t play a lot, but he was fairly athletic and strong, though I suppose that doesn’t matter much when the point of his elbow is coming at your skull.

I chased down the court after him, tracking him like a hunter. He stopped short at the free throw line, turning to position himself between my body and the hoop. I tried to stop, but his arm was already flying toward me. I saw it first in my peripheries. I didn’t have time to get out of the way.

I don’t remember the blow. I know his elbow smacked into the side of my head as he swung his arm back. I do remember what happened after.

My eyesight went black. I stumbled forward and then back a step. I never fell to the ground.

My vision started to return, but everything was wrong. My center of gravity rocked back and forth. I could barely stand up straight.

I shifted my eyes. The gym looked fuzzy. I stumbled to the sideline, over to one of the black folding chairs with purple padding that lined the court. The coaches sat me down as I tried to catch my breath.

“What’s your birthday?”

I looked up. Kevin Robinson, an assistant coach, was staring back at me.

“Your birthday.”

He wanted to know if I was coherent enough to answer the question. I was.

“November 19.” Coincidentally two weeks earlier.

But that wasn’t enough. Moments later I was crossing over the logo at center court again, not as part of the scrimmage but on my way out of the gym. The coaches were concerned. I was too.

Looking back, I probably had experienced several concussions before. But this one was different.

The trainers tested my memory, asking me to recall simple words and sentences. I failed horribly. They did it again days later. I failed again.

I wasn’t allowed to sleep through the night. My roommate woke me up every hour to check for brain damage.

And perhaps the worst part, my headache wouldn’t go away.  I felt the blood rushing to my head, the throbbing in my temples and sensitivity to light and sound for days. That piercing feeling eventually faded, but for years it kept coming back every other week as if it were required to keep to a schedule.

The corners of my vision would become hazy. When that happened, I knew it was starting. A minute later, everything would look sparkly, like when you rub your eyes too hard and then open them up quickly.

That was my new reality. And when I felt a headache starting, there was nothing I could do but deal with it. I’d feel helpless and then angry, but soon a nagging, excruciating pain replaced that emotion, precluding me from focusing on anything else.

The moment I got elbowed in the head, my basketball career was over. I wasn’t completely sure of it at the time — I stayed with the team for a while after that day — but part of me had a feeling. And even now, with most of the symptoms under control, I still haven’t forgotten that moment.

 

 

How it Feels… To Leap Through an Ice Hole

3.27.2017

By Matthew Clough

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A year ago while studying in Sweden, University of Kansas senior Emma Anderson went on an expedition with four friends to search for the Northern Lights at Lake Torneträsk and ended up plunging into water that was 14 degrees Fahrenheit. This is what it felt like.

The first feeling that hit after diving through a hole in the frozen lake in my bikini was a staggering sort of piercing, like brief, electric bursts against my skin. My feet were the only things that didn’t feel much initially – I was wearing socks because without them your feet will freeze on the sprint across the lake before you even make it to the water.

As the cold wormed its way up my spine I thought, “Wow, this is totally voluntary. This is insane and I chose to do it.”

My whole body was numb, except for the very top of my head, which was the last thing under and only for the quickest flash of a second. You can’t keep your head underwater or you’ll very likely pass out.

The water around me was only 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and as I was plunging into it I still wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do. We were in Sweden at the top of the Arctic Circle – my friends and I – and we’d originally come to watch the Northern Lights. But this ice hole diving business is a local tradition, and I figured, “Hey, we’re here, I might as well give it a go.”

I pulled myself back up out of the water. I could only stand to be in there for a couple seconds. Everything out there was iced over, except for these small square areas cut out of the ice for people bold enough – or just stupid enough – to give plunging a shot. I looked back down through the hole for a brief second. The water was dark blue, nearly black.

The water was miserable but the air back on the surface was worse. Somewhere around -4, -5 Fahrenheit. My completely drenched socks felt sticky against the ice as I began the 30-foot sprint back to the small saunas on the edge of the lake.

Still, this run was more enjoyable – if you can call it that – than the run to the hole. The whole process is just extreme temperature changes. You sit in the sauna first until your body warms up and you start to sweat. Then you run as fast as you can to the water. It’s only a couple seconds but it feels like minutes because the sweat literally freezes to your skin.

Back in the sauna, I caught my breath and got back into some more fitting winter weather clothes.

I’m glad I did it, but the experience was one of the most physically weird, exhilarating and challenging things ever, and it all happened in no more than a minute.

 

It’s Spring Break!!

3.21.2017

And to help you celebrate, we come bearing a dope playlist:

 

How It Feels…To Bring Your Newborn Baby Home

3.20.2017

As told to Cody Schmitz

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Twenty one years ago, professor of health and wellness Deb Monzon tried to bring her newborn daughter home for the first time. This is what it felt like.

Midnight. Two blocks from the hospital. I sit in the passenger seat as my husband drives through a flood. Another contraction. I can see the outline of the hospital through the downpour. Oh my god. I’m going to have to swim there, I think.

The car in front of our mini van hits a wall of water so deep that it laps at the windshield. I scream my husband’s name. He screams back, “This is fucking awesome!” The lead car splits the deepest of the floodwaters. We trail closely behind in its wake and pull up to the hospital.

I’m in the room by 12:30. My daughter is born within the hour.

We baby-proofed our new home before the birth. The last thing to do was seal our wooden floors, but my near-constant nausea prevented us from ever opening the can of finish. 

Once baby Courtney is safely in my arms, my husband gets it in his head to finish those floors before our daughter sees her new home. He leaves the hospital the next morning in order to pick up our older daughter and work on the home.

I get a phone call at 6 the next morning. My husband says, “I’ve got some bad news. We kind of had a house fire last night. Everyone is fine, please don’t worry.”

I go numb. I ask him how bad it is.

He says, “well… It’s not that bad.” 

I can tell when my husband is lying. I look to my left. Courtney is sleeping soundly next to me in the hospital room. I ask if we will be able to come home in a couple of days.

A pause. “Probably not.” 

The ground disappears beneath me. I feel completely alone. As I begin to cry, a nurse places my sleeping daughter in my arms. 

I have everything, I think as I look at her face. 

I have nothing, I remember as I hang up the phone.

The day that Courtney and I are released from the hospital, my husband tells me what happened. He says that my oldest daughter and he went to sleep after finishing the floors. He had thrown rags covered in finishing solution into a garbage can on our back porch. The mixed chemicals must have combusted, because my husband says he woke up to the sound of our smoke alarm. He grabbed our daughter and ran from the house wearing nothing but a trench coat.

“Do you want to see it?” He asks as we pull into town.

From the outside, my house looks as it did a week ago. The front door shines with a fresh coat of red paint. The cottonwood stretches past the second-floor window. It feels like I’m bringing my baby girl to her new home. Just like we had planned.

Instead, my mom follows closely behind us. She grabs Courtney from my arms in order to take my baby to her house — where we’ll be staying until we find a new place. 

We had painted the living room walls a crisp white before the birth. They are as black as tar. My husband says the fire started in the back of the house and worked its way up. If this is the least of the damage, I don’t dare step beyond the entryway. We manage to save a few boxes of photos from the wreckage. To this day, if I open those singed boxes, I can still smell the scent of stepping into our charred home.

Today we live less than two miles from our old home. Whenever I drive by, I thank God for reminding me to change our smoke detectors’ batteries the week before Courtney’s birth.

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