Saturday, January 15, 2011

On Metamorphisis: discovery of self, career/life passion, vision, village... (in that order)

Throughout my career, I felt an increasing need to do something more than simply impact a bottom line — something that I could be passionate about, something that empowered people, something that inspired change. In October, I hit another brick wall with my career/life pursuits, which sparked a re-evaluation out of necessity.

Long story short, I discovered that while I was in the correct arena as a creative professional, I was trying to force myself into the mold of the incorrect expression of it (as graphic designer) for 5+ years. Finally paying attention to the signals (though it took multiple head-on collisions with those brick walls for me to get the picture:), I took stock of my experiences and was able to identify my passion: giving voice to a cause; particularly one that empowers people and inspires change.

Now that I have a vision, things are falling into place quickly as I take steps to set the plan in motion. I'm transitioning to freelance writing; specializing in non-fiction, advocacy. I've realized that while everyone can write, not everyone is a good communicator or can tell their own story. My unique contribution to the world is to capture an engaging story about a worthwhile cause or life-changing experience; then utilize my previous experience as a designer/marketer to effectively broadcast the story to create awareness & spur action.

Basically, I've finally found a place where obsessions, talent and experience converge. I call it passion. I suppose it's the true 'definition' of career, however, I don't think 'career' does that discovery of purpose the justice it deserves.

There were several people who have played key roles in helping me to realize this vision... though they may not even know the influence they have had or the roles that they have played. Several had just provided the right words of encouragement that got me thinking of myself as a writer, something I had never considered before.

Even now, I find it foreign to think of myself as (and especially to call myself) a writer, but I've been doing it already and gaining recognition for it. As I reflected on the last year, I realized that I've been published 4 times already; once in print for the Pgh-based, eco-minded community magazine called Verdure and 3x online with articles that were syndicated from this blog. Fighting the tendency for conformity -- getting caught up in needed to take the traditional route of formal education as a personal barrier to my professional endeavors -- I realize now that I need to start embracing what I am already doing and what others are already recognizing in me.

So, until I can find a better term for it, I am a non-fiction advocacy writer.

Now that I have defined my passion and am discovering my village of like-minded thinkers, I'm beginning to seek the those creatives out; hunt them down, if you will, and become part of their tribe. I am also taking steps to refine the writing talent that I possess; especially for analytical interpretations of experiences. I have discovered Madwomen in the Attic through a recent article in Sampsonia Way; I begin their non-fiction writing workshop next Thursday. Finally, I have fleshed out some ideas for areas of interest that I can begin publishing immediately:

The Vision
I have three [five] larger bodies of work that I am going to begin tackling with blog articles and print publications that will act as stepping stones to larger publications (books... after many, many years of research and gathering enough personal stories through blogging).

All have an underlying sociological theme/model/process; oppression-empowerment-change. There may be a point where I eventually pursue a MA/PhD in sociology with a focus on East European studies (like from University of Pittsburgh). But for now, I'm making connections with Sociologists to form partnerships on these endeavors for their specialized scope of knowledge. I'll partner with anyone else who has a expertise in a subject that I require to accomplish the goals as well -- historians, psychologists, etc.

  1. Demystifying Depression
    Breaking the silence to dispel the myths & misconceptions of mental illness
    For those who know me personally, this is a subject that is near & dear because of my past 12 years of episodic experiences with anxiety+depression.

    While progress has been made to eliminate the prevalent stigma of mental illness from 30 years ago (like: 'you'll be locked up in an asylum, never to be seen or heard from again'), there are still negative, demoralizing messages and perceptions throughout our culture that 'in-between the lines' propagate the myths & misconceptions that a person is damaged, broken, chronically ill.

    Semantic meanings of words like anxiety disorder, mental illness and chronic depression, disenfranchise people who experience what I propose is a very common & natural fail-safe/signal system of the body; one that is trying to alert you of a problem. While the end result and physical manifestation of 'depression' looks very similar symptomatically in everyone who experiences it, the causes are exponentially varied -- to the nth degree. Unlike a physical body signals that can examine a problem with tests to 'see' it, ones of the mind & emotions are less tangible; more complex, multifaceted and unique to each individual's experience. Ambiguity makes it easier for people on the outside to misunderstand, assume that the problem is without a solution and hold near mystical beliefs about its causes.

    The current cultural messages have people falsely believing that they are helpless to do anything to change their situation; repressing them from ever exploring the causes/sources of the mental & emotional problems and making the necessary changes that will provide relief. Robbed of self-efficacy, people are left with few desirable options to simply numb the pain/distress enough to be able to manage through their everyday lives/responsibilities -- coping through self-medication (drugs, alcohol or... 'fill in the blank here') or through the mental health system which largely prescribes anti-depressants or tranquilizers as a first and only defense.

    Personally experiencing relief through learning how to become my own therapist as guided by a professional counselor -- specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) -- I have thus been empowered to make changes in myself that address the true problem (ie: real & sustainable changes). Through a blog (and eventually a book) I want to advocate for others experiencing the same struggles -- to bridge the gap between oppression and empowerment -- by pointing them in the right directions of help & providing hope & encouragement through personal accounts of successful change.

    Disclaimer: I am not a counselor or pyschologist -- though, I hope to partner with several to be guest contributors for these articles.

    Credentials: My story is that for 12 years (16-28) I experienced no less than 12 episodes of 'major, clinical depression,' which became so regular upon completing college that I was experiencing them cyclically every 4 months for a duration of 4 months at a time.

    Through writing as a means of analyzing, I have been able to identify my root causes which are situation-based, specifically in how I process emotions and how I interact with others inter-personally. More specifically how I wasn't doing either well, which are developmental & learned behaviors (ones I have the power to change) -- ones that medication (which I did try for two years, in multiple forms and still experienced upwards of 4 episodes) did nothing to break the cycle; my triggers are not biologically-based.

    I will say that I do think medication has its purpose. There are some who may actually suffer from depression as a biological imbalance of neuro-chemicals in which anti-depressants are needed. There are others who are in crisis and medication is an absolutely appropriate short-term, stop gap measure for life-or-death situations to help to restore stability so that introspective CBT work can be completed.

    The problem that I see is when medication is proposed as the only solution and when it's an indefinite one, which creates a dependency upon something outside of ourselves to 'fix' or 'save' so that many people never attempt internal change that produces long-term results. Their stories need a voice.

  2. You, me & the Cold War
    20 Years Later: The Second Cold War Kids are Alright

    This second body of work is similar to the first in that it takes an in-depth look at one specific sociological cause of depression that I am hypothesizing is the reason for depression's prevalence in our society/world today: the Cold War.

    2011 is the 20th anniversary of the official end of the Cold War marked by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In addition to a blog, I am pitching a 'timely' article for publication that I hope will kick-start my larger body of research. The article will explore the sociological effects of growing up in the Cold War's final days in a series of interviews with 4-5 women (late 20s - early 30s; bridging Gen X & Y) -- particularly from the co-incidence of it during our formative years. The interviewees will be a cross-section of perspectives, those:
    • living in the US
    • still living in Russia
    • emigrated from Russia & the former Soviet Block countries for political asylum
    • who have relocated to the former USSR for humanitarian work after the Cold War

    In the last 3 years, I met several friends while either in Siberia or as a result of the trip with whom I have formed an instant kinship (note: see retrospective blog article of my 'Lessons from Siberia'). I suggest depression is the unifying theme/experience that joins our friendships and our personal stories, which, in short, are due to circumstances that left us with a lack of/loss of/repression of identity through the impact of messages that mutate into harmful belief systems. Underlying causes are vast, but relate to the influence of the  Cold War and include: developmental & learned behaviors -- messages learned from family (First Cold War generation), community & society (touching on sentiments of feminism) -- and/or personal tragedy & hardship.

    Using the model/methodology of historian Orlando Figes in books like The Whisperers, I foresee the final Cold War book comprising many more interviews of a similar nature that include up to three generations worth of stories/accounts (grandparents, parents and children retrospectives); thus, becoming a tale of the discovery of self & the empowerment to change. For us 'cold war kids' it's been a journey to recognize and overcome an outdated & out-of-context fear-based existence that was a means of mentally/emotionally surviving the Cold War's threat of nuclear war & imminent destruction.

    I also propose that the end of the Cold War be the new generational marker that divides the ridiculously large 'Y Generation' (approximately spanning 1980 - present). As an 'in-betweener,' I neither fit in perfectly with Gen X or Y. I think the Cold War's influence & effect on our generation's formative years is the sociological basis for disconnect. Perhaps Gen Y can be redefined to span from 1980 - 1995 and be re-dubbed 'Second Cold War Kids.'

    The interesting generational conclusion that I have discovered so far is that after 45 years of being bitter adversaries during the Cold War, the shared experience has unified an entire generation of youth on both sides that lived through it. 20 years after the end of the Cold War, a common bond (once unthinkable) now exists between the people of both the US & former Soviet Union... a story worth telling.

  3. Break the Spell 
    Advocating the end of anti-Gypsy discrimination
    See full details in my subsequent article, Addendum: another body of research...

  4. Agents of Change
    Stories of everyday people effecting change

    The third, [fourth] again, is similar in the oppression-empowerment-change model, but is much lighter and is going to be easier to maintain and sprinkle in throughout the heaviness of the other topics and intensity of the research required for those endeavors. The blog will be a collection of personal accounts with the goal of inspiring others to recognize that they, too, can effect change... empowering them to look around and do something to improve themselves, their communities and beyond.

    In a model similar to, I want to tell the everyday stories of people who see a problem in their local communities, and, instead of waiting for someone else to solve it, they have taken the initiative to do something to effect change & help people. I've always been drawn to these kinds of stories and I have met many people locally and through networking whose stories have yet to be told. I want to give voice to their stories.
  5. re:Hashing History
    Some things change, some things stay the same
    See full details in my subsequent article, Vision for 5th OTV Publication...

Ways to Help

As I mentioned, I'm looking for partners and for stories to tell. You can help with with your expertise -- sociology, history, language (Russian & East Europe specifically), psychology & counseling, writing, publishing, etc. -- or through sharing you personal experience (which can be anonymously published, if that is a personal concern/barrier).

In either case, I have a vision, but I need lots of help to accomplish it. Your story or expertise may be the inspiration for change in someone's life... think of it like paying it forward:)

If any of these topics have resonated with you specifically, please email me ( to discuss how we can collaborate.


  1. Really hope we get to talkin' about #1 and #3 tomorrow - very, very much in my realm of interest.

  2. Yep, yep... those were my sentiments exactly. Looking forward to it! Glad to hear that you're interested:)

  3. This is all so very interesting! I can't wait to see all of your projects come to fruition & if you need any of my help..I'd be happy to lend a hand.

  4. Thanks for the kind works:) Great to hear that it has struck a cord with you! Please email me to follow-up. There's lots to do to get things kicked off.

  5. These are stories that must be told. I look forward to many great things. Just letting you know I've read your blog. Love Mom.

  6. Aww... Thanks for the encouraging words, mom:)

  7. This was a great glimpse into your world, Steph. Hope to hear from you again soon!

  8. Many thanks, Krissy. I'm so thrilled you read it and enjoyed it:) Looking forward to catching up soon!