Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Healthy Dose 006: SEX ARCADE!!

In which I preview an exciting new project that I'm working on with my colleagues at UMass Boston!

Welcome back to another school year, friends!

I’m excited to share a very cool initiative that myself and my colleagues at both Wayside Youth Coalition and Harbor Health, as well as the College of Nursing and a grant from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration have been working on all summer—we’re calling it Sex Arcade.

You read that correctly—Sex. Arcade.

We are gamifying the way you learn about, talk about, and interact with conversation about sex and sexual health. We are expansively including mental health in this game as well, but the name Sex Arcade is just too perfect to pass up.

The point of the Sex Arcade is, like in any arcade, to earn points!

You earn points by simply attending events that we have listed on our awesome website, These events are all related to either sexual health, sexuality, or mental health. Many of them are conversations, but there are also health fairs, guest speakers, performances, and random Q&A sex question tabling events that we will hold all semester.

UMB Sex Talk is the larger umbrella initiative for the Sex Arcade, so whenever you see a poster, banner, or social media post with our UMB Sex Talk logo on it, you know will know that’s us!

The points you earn go toward prizes of which you can redeem your points. The first prize plateau is merely 100 points. These 100 points go toward a raffle ticket that you can reserve for the semester-end event, Sex in the Dark on November 30. At Sex in the Dark, there will be raffles for sex toy vouchers, coupons, gift cards, and the grand prize, an iPad!

We know that some people might not be able to attend Sex in the Dark, which is why, starting at 3,000 points, you will be able to redeem your points for Amazon gift cards, with the top redemption being 7,000 for a $50 gift card! So you’ll have to put some time in, but you will have learned so much about sex and sexual health that it will all be worth!

But to get those points, you’ll have to attend some events—each week you can get 300 points just for attending a sex or mental health talk that will be led by me and one of my colleagues. These talks are on Wednesday afternoons at 1pm in the Point Lounge on the third floor of the Campus Center. These are open-air conversations in hopes of truly destigmatizing the conversations around sex and mental health.

You get 500 points by just registering on our website, And then you can get 10 points each day you log-in thereafter. Just for logging in! And you’ll get 500 points for attending any of our major events like You Gave Me What? on Sept 28, and Sex in the Dark.

You can also earn 300 points by attending any of the five health fairs will be putting on this semester! When we have our Sex Q&A table set up in the Campus Center, you’ll be to earn 100 points for each question you get correct!

You also get 100 points just for following @UMBSexTalk on Instagram or Twitter. And another 100 points for each meaningful post you send out with us tagged in it!

But that’s not all!

The absolutely biggest and best way to earn points is to get tested to STIs and HIV. You get 1,000 points JUST for getting tested. And you get an extra 1,000 points for simply taking a selfie with one of our “I Got Tested” stickers right after you get tested—thus, helping shatter the stigma of getting tested.

We have many testing dates this semester and you are welcome to check out those dates on our website as well!

So, you might be asking why is sexual health so important?

Well, that’s a good question. We feel it’s important to engage college students in conversations about sexual health because studies have proven that when young adults are properly educated about sex, that both pregnancy rates and rates of infections drop dramatically. And when people know their HIV/STI testing status, it is much safer and freeing than engaging in sexual activity without any knowledge of that information.

We also find that there is a lot of misinformation about sex and sexual health in our society, so we want to smash any of those myths and stigma with open, sex-positive conversations that are meant to educate and empower you sexually.

I hope you all will check out the Sex Arcade. We’ve already had a few events and folks are already earning points, so make sure to catch up by attending some events and by getting tested! Sex arcade!

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Rebellion of Loving Yourself - The Art of Survival

This is my first personal entry for my own nonprofit movement.

Last month I tried to write about my struggles with living with an addictive personality, but the piece got away from me after about 2,000 words. So I gave up. I might revisit that in the future—but for now, here we are.

I wanted my first piece to be something pretty personal.

So I wanted to share about the concept of self-love as someone who lives with depression and suicidality.

This month, we have shared so many powerful new stories, and some from previous months, that all focus on the struggles and triumphs of living with self-harming tendencies and suicidality.

One trope is common—living with these issues is very hard. It’s hard because our brains are at constant war with our body. In spite of that, I am here to shed light on something that which took me YEARS to become comfortable.

Historically, the conversation on self-harm has been centered on the idea that those who harm are selfish, simply looking for attention, or acting out. And that’s ridiculous.

Many individuals use self-harm as a way to get the release they need from their own anxieties, and I would never think to accuse a self-harming person of being selfish. Because living with an inclination to self-harm is not a joyous circumstance. People don’t wake up with the desire to just hurt themselves. It is brought on by any number of environmental, physical, mental, and psychological aspects.

None of which, in my opinion, are selfish.

I live with suicidality. [Note: I've written about this before, here.]

I have a history of cutting, drowning, bulimia, and starvation in order to harm myself. My self-harm stems from a number of things—depression, anxiety, body image issues, being an alienating ADHD kid growing up/also as an adult, and from being queer.

It’s not an easy life whatsoever. But it is my life.

I often felt like an outcast among my friends growing up and even though they were nice to me, I never truly felt like I was accepted by any of them. My depression as a teen led me to attempting to take my own life, and I survived. Obviously.

I now have a tattoo covering the scars from the first attempt.

My second attempt came after a rough breakup during my third year of college.

My attempts did not make feel any better about my circumstances, if anything I felt worse. And if I was trying to get attention, it didn’t work because I still felt sad and alone.

However, I found myself able to push through the darkness to continue through my days and surely I would feel better and better. But even on my best days, the darkness creeps in and I break down. I have no idea how many plans I’ve had to cancel because my depression or anxiety was acting up.

Living with suicidality means confronting the darkness every day. I have to constantly repress the feelings of sadness and the inclination to hurt myself in various ways.

One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through practicing self-love.

Now, there is no Self Love Awareness Day, but I would argue that every day SHOULD be Self-Love Awareness Day.

Finding ways to promote self-love in your daily life is an important goal in which to strive. LifeHack has a wonderful piece on 30 ways to practice self-love and be good to yourself, in which the author writes, “Practicing self-love can be challenging for many of us, especially in times when we face serious challenges. It’s not about being self-absorbed or narcissistic, it’s about getting in touch with ourselves, our well-being and our happiness.”

Again, this is not about selfishness, it’s about literally taking care of yourself. Taking care of your happiness and wellbeing. To me, that’s the most important aspect of alleviating feelings of self-harm. Self-love is as simple as leaving yourself positive messages in your lunch box, or removing yourself from toxic mindsets of comparison and/or competition with others.

Much self-harm resonates from places of comparison and it is imperative for your health to focus on being the best you instead of trying to compare to anyone around you.

Our society often fuels these comparisons—you aren’t sexy enough (so buy this makeup, or get this surgery, or lose that weight), smart or motivated enough (so put yourself in debt with college, or buy a house), or cool enough (so buy these Beats headphones, or this BMW), or man enough (so get jacked, or takes these supplements)!

In a world constantly telling us that we aren’t enough, being proud of ourselves is revolutionary. Truly, self-love is an act of rebellion. To embrace our imperfections and inconsistencies as beauty is courageous and vulnerable. And vulnerability is a strength, never let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have had the hardest time with comparison and jealousy throughout my life—constantly comparing my life to the lives of my friends, never feeling like I truly fit in or fit anywhere. I was constantly lost, searching for some sort of answer to why I hurt so much inside, even as I would mask this hurt with seemingly unceasing happiness and exuberance.

But that’s exactly what it was—a mask.
The mask is now off and I rebel against my feelings of self-harm by loving myself.

In removing this mask, I have learned many things that are central to how I take care of myself and promote self-love in my every day life—

As much as I say “yes!” to life in many regards, I have learned to say, “no” more often. I have learned that taking time for myself is important. Saying, “no” is so empowering—try it!

I have prioritized eating tasty and healthy foods that don’t bog my down every day. I stay away from sugar and caffeine, and focus more on fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

That doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means, because my issues with food are long-standing and even a current struggle today. But I try to maintain an optimistic outlook on my diet, even when I’m not completely happy with how I look and feel everyday. I’m forever a work in progress.

I paint and make music, which are two ways that I am able to exercise my brain instead of constantly thinking of self-harm. Art has been so impactful for my mental health that I don’t believe I’d still be alive if it weren’t for my art. I get out a lot of my frustration and anger in my music, and it’s very therapeutic.

I make time to appreciate myself. Looking in the mirror is hard for me. But sometimes I do it just to give myself a pep talk. Like, “hey Craig—I know you’re not particularly happy with your appearance today, but you’re here. You’re alive. And you’re a fucking badass.”

And then, I can take a step back and think, “You’re right, I am a fucking badass.”

Only you can take care of you, but sometimes it is important to reach out for support. Which is why I also suggest making time to be present and vulnerable with your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—chances are that you’ll find more love than rejection if you are honest about your situation.

You are enough. I am enough. We’re all in this together.


You can read the story behind the art that my partner, Katy Hamm, made for me, by clicking here!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Take a Breath

a Review of The Album Leaf’s new LP, "Between Waves"

It’s been four years since we last heard from Jimmy LaValle and his crew of atmospheric wunderkinds. For those unaware, The Album Leaf is LaValle’s nearly two-decades old mostly-instrumental brainchild, and Between Waves is the group’s latest offering of tunes.

Between Waves is a tight eight tracks with virtually no wasted space and absolutely no filler. The album is incredibly intentional with its approach to combining multitudes of layers of string arrangements, piano and synth leads, and both digital and acoustic drums patterns. This is a level of care that LaValle is known for throughout his years of manufacturing elaborate, yet chill and calming music.

The album starts with a lovely digital “False Dawn” provides an immediate comfort for the seasoned Album Leaf fan—as those familiar with the band are quite accustomed to the airy tones that LaValle tends to employ. Xylophones tease the listener’s ears as the song builds and builds into a multi-layered and satisfying post-rock blend of atmospheric ear candy.

Between Waves continues its build up with the energetic digital presentation, “Glimmering Lights,” which demonstrates how the group has made some upgrades in terms of its production and experimental detail. The track is complex, yet light, and upbeat, yet eccentric.

We finally hear LaValle’s gentle voice when “New Soul” lands at track three. This track was released nearly a year ago, as a teaser, and eventually as a 7" single a few months ago.

Something so rewarding about "New Soul" and The Album Leaf is how LaValle shows much restraint from overusing his vocals. When it appears, LaValle makes sure that his voice is not distracting from the overall presentation of the few songs he lends it to on each album. Yet, his voice, the instrument, is merely an accent to already sufficient songs. When in reality, LaValle could easily release an album full of tracks with vocals and it would be instantly accessible—but that’s not his game. This is expert-level understanding of one’s craft.

For those who have never listened to The Album Leaf, selecting “Back to the Start” as a first option would be a good choice—especially when studying or trying to focus. The track hearkens back to much of the calming elements that have made them so successful. And the subtle use of muted trumpet throughout makes this such an enjoyable listen.

“Wandering Still” is a lavish throwback to the sounds of the band’s decade-old, Into the Blue Again LP. It’s a lively, groovy exploration of all things the band has experimented with throughout the years. To me, it feels the most involved and intricate track on the album—constantly reaffirming why this group has commanded such attention in the post-rock instrumental scene for years.

“Never Far” has the feel of “On Your Way,” from the 2004 LP, In A Safe Place, which is the band’s most acclaimed album. Both are incredibly accessible tunes, and “Never Far” is certainly the most accessible track on Between Waves, but doesn’t shy away from the instrumentation feeling like it comes from Radiohead’s In Rainbows era—which is incredibly rewarding to hear from the group.

The penultimate track, “Lost in the Fog,” weaves an elegant and upbeat digital tapestry reminiscent of Tycho—with a salsa rhythm that brings a danceable feel to an album that carries nothing but good vibes.

The finale/title track, “Between Waves,” drones for over a minute until LaValle’s voice serenades with the ominous lines, “Moonlight fades from my sight/sunshine blinds my eyes / Nightmares run through my mind/sunlight—I’m still here.”

This is an incredible closing track, not only for it truly giving the sense of finality for the album, but because the lyrical structures. It’s important to go back to the earlier point about LaValle’s vocal restraint. This final track is incredibly important because for only the third time on the album, we are hearing LaValle speak and it isn’t until this final track that we are finally hearing the fullness of the group’s intent with the album.

The repeated lines, “Between waves, I take my breath,” echo a sense of drowning, and having to fight for your life—but the lines are expertly juxtaposed with LaValle seemingly calm and dry delivery because the urgency of the lines are not met with urgency in his voice. Yet, the lines are met with the triumphant sound of trumpets, which comes off reassuring instead of exasperating. And if there’s one reason to listen to The Album Leaf, it’s for some reassurance, comfort, and escape from the trivial nature of life.

Deluxe vinyl edition of "Between Waves," courtesy of Relapse Records

There is a deluxe vinyl edition of the album, which contains four bonus tracks and 5 remixes from the likes of Daedelus, Dntel, and Lorna Dune. This deluxe edition is available for streaming on Spotify. It is also available on CD and on vinyl with an alternate red album cover and a beautiful blue and silver merge pressing via Relapse Records. So if you feel like you enjoyed these eight tracks, know that there is much more to this wonderful return to form for The Album Leaf.

And if you have the hankering to check out this gloriousness live, check out Jimmy and the gang this Sunday, September 17, at the Sinclair in Cambridge. I'll be there hanging out!

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @CrigBididman!