What Papa Taught Me

Everyone that lives eventually dies, and that is the way the world works. Some deaths are more tragic than others, which is unfortunate. But some deaths, while still extremely upsetting, are long anticipated, and observing the process allows you to grow as a person. This was my experience with my great-grandfather, Nelson Dembs.

I have had a great year so far, but certain emotions have been overwhelming me. I am at a point in my life where certain questions begin to form regarding who I am and what I desire, and not knowing the answers to these questions has been difficult for me recently. I have always been a very deep thinker, but my mind does not stop racing when certain thoughts come into my mind. Recently I have been attempting to cope with this overwhelming whirl of feelings, by minimizing the depth of my thoughts. By trying to go shallow. In my heart this felt wrong because I knew that my mind was capable of so much more than thinking petty thoughts. I spent many weeks on my phone and online for most of my days, worried about things like social media, Netflix, obsessing about things that really don’t matter, and never truly living in the moment. I was not unhappy; I was numb. I just did not want to feel anything. Maybe this was right for me at the time; maybe I just needed a break from always feeling things so deeply.

But when my Papa passed away, my whole perspective changed. I had a special relationship with my Papa, even though he lived in Florida. I always wished that I could be with him. It’s so strange, because even though I am still grieving over his death, I feel that now he can always be watching over me, and he can now guide me through my life more than ever. The distance between us was hard for me, but now I constantly feel his presence.

Talking with my family about all of the amazing qualities of my Papa, and putting my own thoughts regarding my Papa together in my eulogy, brought me to the realization that my Papa lived a meaningful, fulfilled life because of his morals and desire to live. My Papa changed the world, and he impacted the lives of many, many people. He didn’t do this by keeping himself distracted with self-doubt or fear of not being liked or obsessing about how he looked or what he ate. He chose to live in the moment. Because he chose to live this way he was able make difficult and life-changing decisions– for example–he decided to hitchhike from Rochester, New York, to here in Detroit to provide a better future, not just for himself, but for every one of of his family members. He wasn’t thinking about the “what-ifs”, he wasn’t thinking about what other people thought about his actions, he just did it, and this courageous move of my great-grandfather is why my family is here today, and why I have a good life today.

My Papa lived in the moment, and he did not dwell on the past or the future. He once told my mom and my uncle, “There is sunrise and sunset, and this, right here, is the sunshine.” He chose to live in the sunshine.

Now that my Papa is watching over me, I want to live the lessons he taught me. He taught me to be resillient, through all of the personal and financial battles he fought throughout the years. He taught me the importance of family, and how I should enjoy my time spent with them as much as possible. He taught me to think of the well-being of others as well as myself, and to live for today.

As I begin winter vacation, and head off to Israel, I have really been to trying to limit my time on Instagram and Snapchat. This is because I can be happy and have fun without having to publicize what I am doing everyday, and I also don’t have to spend time on my trip checking up on what other people are doing. I want to focus living in the present, and I want to truly enjoy my time with my family, and to figure out how I may be able to help others. This is how I want to live now—in honor of one of the greatest men I have ever known, my Papa Nelson.


Thankful To Be Me

Where in your life are you wasting your time? This year, so far, has been quite a puzzle. I am trying to figure out what to do with my life. Yes, I know I’m only fourteen years old, but I have let go of some activities through my difficult years of middle school, and initially, that is truly what I needed. I needed time to think, and to process everything occurring in my life. Now, I am in a much happier state (Thank God!) and I am realizing that what once was helpful and necessary to me has turned into me, laying around, wasting my time.

Experiencing depression and anxiety can feel like a viscous cycle. For me personally, this cycle consists of anxiety that makes me worry and tells me to do everything and don’t stop moving and you are wasting your life away….

…While my depression is fighting back, draining energy and not wanting to do anything but lay in bed and watch Netflix. And scroll. And scroll. And scroll.

Recently, I had a very busy school night, which hasn’t happened in a while. I realized that I was so happy that night because it was filled with such amazing events, like my first debate on the debate team with my best friend. That night, I came to the conclusion that in order to feel happier, I needed to be busier, to add things to my life that make me feel good and take away things that don’t. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. Sometimes, I really don’t even know what I enjoy doing! I don’t want to get too busy, though. Been there, done that…

I started thinking about my phone: does scrolling through Instagram really make me a happier person? The answer was simple. Being on my phone has not made me a happier person, and if anything it has done the exact opposite. I have begun to shift my phone usage by leaving it in my backpack for the most part while I am at school, and participating in other activities such as reading, writing, or spending time with my family.

Around this time of Thanksgiving, I reflect on everything. This helps me remember how beautiful my life is, and I am realizing more and more that I shouldn’t be spending my time scrolling out of reality or laying in bed doing nothing when I want to be active and productive. This Thanksgiving I am remembering more of who I am and what I like to do in real time, not on a screen and not in my daydreams. And I am reminding myself that the most beautiful part of life is live (not on a screen) and right in front of me.

So call a friend, talk to that boy, tell your grandparents you love them, thank your parents for everything, hug people, kiss people, take up skiing, skip down the street, climb a tree, whatever you do, love your life to the fullest. Life is so precious and beautiful! Don’t let things that make you unhappy block your view of all the beauty and the goodness in your life. You only have one life! Live it!



Being YOU is the New Normal

“Why can’t I just be normal?”

This is a phrase that enters my mind a lot more than it should…

There are some times when I would rather stay home than hang out with friends and I think to myself, “Why can’t I be a normal teenager who ALWAYS seems to enjoy being around people?”

When I look into the mirror and I’m not loving what I see, I think to myself, “Why can’t I look like a normal teenager?”

When I don’t want to do anything after school because my energy is drained, I say to myself, “Why can’t I attend extra-curriculars, one after the other, like a normal teenager?”

There are so many aspects of myself that I have felt are “wrong”. For starters, I am an introvert. Being introverted does not mean I am “anti-social”, or that I hate hanging out with people. I did some research on the feelings I experience, and what I learned makes so much sense. I enjoy being alone sometimes, but I also love hanging out with people. I learned, however, that being introverted does not mean that I’m “shy”. In fact, many people I know might tell you the complete opposite (even though others do think I’m shy…) Being introverted simply means that my energy is depleted when I am with others for extended periods of time, and my energy is replenished when I’m alone. That is why it’s hard for me to go from school and straight to extra-cirriculars, or to hang out with friends for a prolonged amount of time.

In addition, I deal with anxiety and depression. When I do, I say to myself, “Seriously, Jillian, no one deals with this stuff! Everyone is always happy and chill, so why can’t you just stop worrying and start being joyful?”

Although all teenagers don’t deal with emotional issues at our age (I’m pretty sure everyone does at some point in their life time however), I am learning that there are many who actually do deal with them, and that none of us are as alone as we think we are. I’ve always felt different, though, as though I’m the only one.

When a big group chat is being sent out about plans and everyone responds something like, “Yeah, that sounds good”, and I’m just not feeling good to go out that day, I feel abnormal for saying, “No, I can’t today,” when I am actually physically able to, just not mentally.

I have often hated these things about me. Like seriously, Jillian, why can’t you just be NORMAL? Well, I now understand that these are the cards I’ve been given, and that my life is like this for a reason.

What even IS normal? I’m guessing that anything considered standard becomes the “norm”, but if you think about it, the concept of “normal” really doesn’t even exist. We are all original and unique…somewhere deep down beneath our desire to fit in and all of our insecurities, we are all our amazing, unique selves! There shouldn’t be a certain way that we should all act or look. Now I always try to remember that, yes, I am different… but so is everyone living on this beautiful planet. We are all different!

So, remove the word “normal” from the conversations that you have with yourself. Rock the awesome YOU that you are! I believe that embracing our true selves will guide us to self-realization, happiness, and confidence.

Forget about being normal. Just be you!



The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Have you ever felt as if you were stuck in a dark cave and that you would never be able to get out of it? This feeling could last anywhere from seconds to days to months, and it is not a fun feeling to experience. Often during these times, it feels as if it’s the end of the world, and it feels as though you can’t go on. Well, I have felt this way before over the time span of a couple of months. However, the months felt more like a lifetime. I felt like there was no reason to get out of bed everyday, and I didn’t know why I was here on this earth.

It was last year, in eighth grade. I started my year off on such a high note; it was right after winter break when I started to feel miserable. I believe this resulted from my relationship with food and my body, and also discovering things that I once thought meant the entire world to me, didn’t. After I slowly drifted away from things I thought I loved, like dance and hanging out with friends, I began to feel empty inside because there was no content to fill my soul. It felt as if there was nothing for me to live for. I felt empty. I came home from school, did my homework, and watched Netflix all night. I hated being around people that weren’t my family. I’m guessing that this was because I was so confused about my life that I didn’t even know how to present myself to others. I found myself hating school, because I hated being around people. When I look through the text conversations between my mom and I around February of last year, I see texts filled with sadness and desperation, begging her to pick me up from school.

This experience caused me to drift away from many friends of mine. I suddenly stopped seeing people, and my friends started to get worried. People noticed that I wasn’t as cheerful as I usually was in school, and I started receiving text messages from friends who were concerned about my odd behavior. It turns out that I was depressed. I will talk about depression in a further blog, but let’s just say it’s very hard to deal with because it can’t be seen unless you have the courage to open up about it, unlike a physical illness where you can obviously tell when someone is hurting. I felt like I was stuck in a dark tunnel with no light to be seen.

With help and support from my family, my friends, and others who I opened up to, I made it through the tunnel. I feel so much better. And I just want everyone to know that when you find yourself feeling sad and lonely and empty, there are people to talk to…family, friends, school counselors, therapists. There are so many people who care. I never thought I’d feel better, and I do!! I finally feel like my fun, crazy self again.

I remember on canoe trips, when I felt so challenged, exhausted, and at the end of my rope, my counselors reminded me that there is an end to every lake and to every portage. Well, it is the same case with difficult times. No matter how dreadful or long it may feel, the hard times will eventually come to an end. Not only will it end, but you will come out the other end as a stronger, braver individual.

In addition, since it is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I just want to apologize if you were ever hurt by me distancing myself from you. I went through a very hard time, and human contact was difficult for me to handle. Overall, I apologize to anyone, anywhere, who I have hurt in the past year. I had a hard year.

If you are going through a difficult time, just know that you are not alone. One good thing my hard year gave me was compassion for others going through a hard time. So I am here if you need to talk.

And remember, there is a light at the end of a tunnel. No matter how long it takes you to see it, happier, easier times are waiting for you with open arms. Don’t be afraid to talk to a trusted adult or friend (or me) about your difficulties.

L’Shana Tova! Happy and Healthy New Year to all!



Bittersweet Endings

Endings have always been extremely difficult for me. It started when I was little and attended a day camp, and I sobbed on the last day out of the fear of never seeing the people at the camp ever again. I didn’t even talk to most of them, but just the thought of the possibility that I may never see them again freaked me out for some reason. My mom convinced me that she had the list of everyone who attended the camp along with their phone numbers. This succeeded in calming me down and shutting me up and I never mentioned the list ever again. I imagine it was just the thought of knowing that if I wanted to, I could reach out to the people from the camp.

Another time, I attended a Traverse City Beach Bums baseball game up north, and I was playing with this sweet girl on the playground. We played for hours, and when the baseball game was over and we had to leave I started bawling my eyes out yet again. My mom convinced me once more that she had a list–this time of every single person at the baseball game. My gullible, 4-year old self believed her I never asked to see the list; it just made me feel better that I knew that she had it “just in case.”

More recently, different endings have brought me challenges, like graduating from middle school and leaving summer camp after almost eight weeks.

I really thought I hated middle school. It seemed to last an eternity. While I was there, I counted down the days for it to be over already. Then, all of a sudden, it was June of my eighth grade year. It began to hit me that I would be leaving the people in my grade, many that I had known since preschool, because I was starting private school in the fall. That thought was pretty hard for me to handle. I was so excited to attend my new school, but leaving people who I’d been with since kindergarten and pre-school made me feel extremely upset. This time, though, I had my own list (and it was real, not a lie!) and I knew I could contact any of my old friends at any time. I was still, however, very sad to say goodbye.

After days of crying over the ending of my five great years spent at West Hills, I began to look forward to my summer at camp. I went to camp for almost eight weeks this summer, and I had the most amazing time. I built upon and strengthened so many friendships and had some really incredible experiences that I don’t believe I could have experienced anywhere else. As the last few days approached, I was convinced that I felt ready to leave camp after being away from home for so long. Well, I woke up the morning that we were leaving, went into the dining hall, and I suddenly remembered that I only have one more summer as a camper after this one. At that point, I started sobbing uncontrollably and the tears wouldn’t stop until an hour into the bus ride. And they continued throughout my first week at home.

I’ve learned a couple of really important things through my experiences. One is to really appreciate the present moment. When I find myself wishing that something is over, I will try to remember that, no matter what, I will be sad when it’s over so I will try not to waste my time wanting to be done. I want to learn to appreciate the present.

The other thing I have learned is that with an ending comes a beginning. Middle school ended. Camp ended. Now, I am beginning high school. I miss my old friends and my camp friends and my great teachers and counselors, but I know I will make new friends and have new amazing teachers and mentors. So far, my first few days at my new school have been great. If I stayed at camp, if I stayed at my middle school, if I stayed at that baseball game, or if I stayed at that day camp, I wouldn’t have had even half of the amazing experiences I have had. I realize now that sometimes I have to let things go to allow new, wonderful blessings to come in.

So, high school, here I come! I am so excited to get involved and to learn and experience everything that high school has to offer. And I look forward to the future–to see what other beautiful beginnings will come from my bittersweet endings.

No fake lists needed.

Best of luck with all of your own endings and beginnings,


Where Happiness Begins

How upsetting is it that so many people feel the need to change who they are to fit the expectation of others? I have talked about this a lot through various topics, but I’ve been wanting to talk about it straight up. First of all, there is so much more to life than how you look. If you really think about it, it truly doesn’t matter how you look, unless you only want people to like you for their opinion of how you look according to their eyes. But, do you really want that? Don’t you want people to like you for the amazing person you are, for your potential and capabilities, for your knowledge and wisdom, and for your humor and the joy you bring to others? Are you really okay with pushing aside your beautiful personality to act and look like what you think will impress others? It makes me extremely sad when I see people strive to be someone who they’re not, mostly because I have been in this situation many times before, and it is a painful one to be in. In this world, people are judged for how they look in pictures rather than the beauty of their souls. They are judged on how many likes they can get on a Instagram post rather than the amount of lives they have touched. We need to fight these habits, because if they continue, so many unique, beautiful people will experience pain daily. Beauty should not refer to what you look like, it should refer to how beautiful your mind is, and everyone’s mind contains so much beauty. Trust me, I am aware that this is much easier said than done, but learn to love you for your true self. Your true beauty comes from within, and your confidence should come from that. I am not saying that no one is physically beautiful, because everyone is, but it just shouldn’t matter as much as it does. Physical beauty shouldn’t be what we are focused on when meeting or judging a person. We are all beautiful, and we have so much to offer the world. I promise you, happiness begins when you learn to be yourself, so don’t throw away your beauty to try and be someone else. This world needs you, and no one else can fulfill the purpose that you are here to serve.



My Social Media Vacay

Well, I deleted social media for awhile. In our generation, deleting social media is pretty much like cutting off a limb. However, I won’t lie and say that it was that hard of a decision for me, because it truly wasn’t. While on social media, I was starting to see and feel some things that I didn’t like. I was beginning to realize that every time I went on social media, I was becoming really irritated by all of the fake-ness that I was scrolling through. And the worst part was, I was also being fake. I was looking for the perfect picture to post…judging others by their not-so-perfect-pictures…spending a lot of time seeing how many “likes” I was getting… my self-esteem drifting lower and lower…

I started to get a very empty feeling. I was becoming sad and frustrated that I rely on social media so tremendously, and that most of the time that I was spending with my friends was spent scrolling on social media, or posing for pictures to be posted on social media. I began to realize that social media promotes the opposite of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”, because very few people were showing  their real and authentic selves, including me. I was getting so caught up in all of it…thinking I could really get to know people just by looking at pictures of them, and that they could get to know me, too.  And that just can’t be the case….there is so much more to people other than how they look. I was losing track of what I already knew..that how someone looks does not determine who he or she is….it is simply one small aspect of a person. There is so much more to a person. It’s like reading one page of a book and thinking that you know the whole story. Everyone knows this on some level, but very few people seem to actually remember this when they are social media.

Sometimes I heard people criticizing others’ pictures or calling them ugly,  and it felt awful to me that we were judging people’s pictures. Social media also caused me to dislike myself because of my insecurities about my looks. It caused me to compare myself to others, which is always a dangerous thing to do. In a teenage girl’s world, almost everything about social media is just about the pictures. And there is so much more to life than how someone looks in a picture. So, I thought, why am I wasting so much of my life scrolling through pictures that cause me to compare myself to others and cause me to feel bad about myself? So, one day I just did it. I deleted all of my social media. And I will share with you what I learned from being offline for awhile.

Even after a few hours, I noticed I had far less negative comments about myself floating through my mind. I am very prone to comparing myself to others, so I would become self-conscious when I scrolled through pictures of people. Of course I still often hear those negative voices inside my head about myself  (remember, I am a 14-year-old girl).  However, I realized that when I was in the mood to do something, I began to do other things I hadn’t done in a long time. I rode my bike. I walked my dog. I hung out with my parents and actually talked to them. What I really rediscovered, however, was my love of reading. Reading books rather than going on my phone, I realized, minimized the amount of thoughts I had about comparing myself to others. Books, even though they were fiction, reminded me that people are so much more than their pictures. Characters in books are seen at all angles. You learn about their insides, their feelings, their flaws, their passions… There is so much more depth to them and so much more that I can learn and know about them than I can by only seeing a pretty picture. So, even though the books that I am now reading aren’t real-life, to me, reading feels far more real than social media. I am sure that some teenagers have a higher self-esteem than I do, so maybe seeing pictures of other people all of the time doesn’t affect them, but in the place that I was with my insecurities, scrolling social media was not helpful, and reading was a great substitute.
Also, I noticed how often people were on their phones. Whenever I would be with people, everyone was on their phones, constantly scrolling through Instagram, answering Snapchats, and watching other peoples’ “stories”. During these times, I looked around with nothing to do. I wanted to talk to people, but everyone was very preoccupied with keeping up their Snapchat streaks or deciding which picture to post on Instagram. Before I deleted social media, I was on my phone incessantly as well. Spending time offline made me realize how much of my life I was wasting staring into a screen that might as well be called a time-suck machine because it zapped away hours and hours of my life. This made me really sad, because life is so short; way too short to spend it staring at a screen, constantly comparing myself, and concerning myself with the lives of others.

Well, after all I learned, I did decide to download social media back. I know I just wrote about how amazing it was to live without social media, but I have made a promise to myself to use it differently. I use it much less. I now constantly delete it and re-download it only occasionally, so that I’m not tempted to go on it all of the time. I have also promised myself that I would spread positive messages, and not just post pictures.  I promised that I would be myself, and post whatever I want to post; I will not post what I think other people will be impressed with. I am also going to try to caption pictures with meaningful messages, so that it’s not all about how my life looks on the outside; I can show the world what’s on the inside. And I want to help others feel good about themselves, too. I think that is how I will be able to turn social media into a positive experience for myself, and for the others I am connected to.
I challenge everyone who reads this to try to portray your true life, what is real, on social media. Overall, social media is a wonderful invention that can be utilized to spread beautiful messages and connect us and remind us that we’re not alone, but many of us are missing these opportunities and using it to show our bodies and our prettiest pictures of ourselves. We could, instead , be showing the world the beautiful parts of us that may not be able to be seen in a picture…our kindness, our compassion, our creativity.  In the end, what truly matters is on the inside, so show the world what lays in your heart. Your real beauty is there.