By: Perri Schwartz
Our mental health affects us at all times, even when we are feeling ok. What we see on social media is not real life, and when we’re constantly changing our looks to make us look “cool and pretty”, it actually makes our image look bad. When you’re on your own for the first time, it can be really stressful to manage deadlines and priorities, as well as your overall image. Mia Pearce is a college freshman from Maryland who is working to change the norms of how mental health is stigmatized and how we should properly normalize it in her blog, Life Beyond The Box. I decided to interview Mia Pearce because she is an alumna of my youth group who is highlighting a really important issue that deserves proper attention and should not be stigmatized.
Tell me about you:
“I am a freshman at the University of Maryland and I graduated from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. I was really into BBYO (a Jewish youth group) in high school. I also co-founded and was president of my school’s mental health awareness club, and was co-captain of my school’s varsity dance team. That’s kind of my biggest outlet for me, aside from writing.”
Tell me about your blog, Life Beyond The Box:
“Well, primarily it’s an outlet for me. I love writing, and I have never been able to hold myself accountable to keeping a consistent journal, and I found that sometimes I’ll be talking to a friend about something that was going on in my life and would be like “Oh my G-d, I relate to that so much and what you’re saying about it and how you come to think about it.” really helped me see it in a different light. I was like “Huh?”, maybe people give a crap about some of my own experiences. — I hate to sound cocky, but I know that I have an act for writing, and have just been really good about putting my own voice into writing. And so, I was like “You know what? If I do it, no one cares, no one sees it. You know what? It’s an outlet for me, it’s a space for me, and if by some chance, someone else enjoys looking at it or finding it, then even better.”
When did you want to start this blog and why?
“I actually never had any intention of starting a blog. I was in love with Tulane University when I was applying to schools. I was not intending on going to college after high school — I was planning on enlisting in the mental health division of the medical corps of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). I have a lot of family in Israel, I have a connection to the country, it was what I wanted to do. I was also raised Jewish. My parents were unopposed, but for their sake and sanity, we need you to at least do the college admissions process, just in case as a back up plan. So we did all the usual touring campuses, looking at schools, making a list, whatever. I had looked at most of my schools, and I was like “I see why people want to go to college, but it’s not for me. Why do I need another 4 years of sitting in a classroom and partying?” That was until I saw Tulane, and at Tulane, I had this realization that there’s so much more that I can get out of college and so much more I can do to an extent that I can start now and not enlist. Tulane was the school that made me start questioning “maybe I should get my degree now.” -
What are you majoring in now? “Psychology.”
Where did the name ”Life Beyond The Box” come from?
While Tulane ultimately didn’t work out, the reason being that it’s 75K a year and I applied for both of their scholarships and I did not get either. - “Life Beyond The Box'' started from a video that I made for one of their scholarships, the prompt is something like “make a project with this box that shows your academic interests, your creativity, and says something about you as a person, but you cannot be the main topic of it.” I was on Instagram and saw a screenshot of what old Instagram used to look like, and I thought ‘When I think square, I think box.’ I want to go into psychology and talk about the psychology of social media and its impact.
How can we find our own “Life Beyond The Box”?
“Biggest thing as cliche as it is is remembering what you see on social media is a highlight reel. No one goes and posts a crying photo of them being ‘I just had a panic attack after the worst day of my semester.’ No one posts that. That’s not what anyone puts out for the general public to see, but that does not mean it’s not happening. So I think just reminding yourself, and reminding others too - the amount of times I’m with a friend, and someone’s like “Oh my god, your body’s insane” and I’m like “Dude, lets just take like one look for a second at any of these actresses or influencers other photos’ angles, money, photoshopping, because they play a part in what you see. No one ever takes a photo being like “Huh, this is the one I don’t like the way I look the most, I don’t think my body looks perfect in this, let me post this one.” No one does that, and so you really have to remember to remind yourself and others about the outtakes and the things that you’re not seeing that probably goes on in their life and in their mind.”
How can we encourage our friends to find their Life Beyond The Box and how can we all support one another? - “I think the biggest thing is empathy. Trying to put yourself in their shoes and understanding that they’re struggling with something and how it might impact you. When you actually do that, it changes your mindset and how you address yourself and other people.”
As a college student, how are you managing a school-life balance?
“It’s not easy, to say the least. Virtual classes are not my thing, I have a really hard time with it. I have a lot of learning disabilities and they’re not adapting to that routine. What I’ve been doing to manage is giving myself a routine as much as I can and also a change of scenery really helps. At the beginning of school, I would have class at 11 and would wake up at 10:30, roll out of bed 10:40 hop on in my pajamas and after a week or two, I was like ‘this is not working for me.’ I realized I needed to get up and be in a classroom for school. I started getting up an hour before my classes, got dressed, got breakfast, and I came somewhere else on campus to do my work, whether it would be one of the libraries or one of the buildings. Going somewhere else gives me the separation between the dorm room where I’m relaxing and hanging out, and my school work. I also try to make sure to do the little things like text a friend and be like ‘Hey, wanna grab food with me?’ It’s easy to trap yourself in your dorm all day doing school work and not having any social interaction. I think pushing myself to get out and making a distinction.
What is the key to managing a healthy lifestyle?
“My most important thing is being in tune with myself. I’m a very self aware person.”
What are your favorite self care-necessities?
“This sounds so funny, but it’s important. Sometimes, I’m a really big fan of a good cry. As funny and ridiculous as it sounds, a lot of emotion is built up as you go through life and it’s really easy to push it all down.”
What is your most important advice to other college students who might be struggling?
“Reach out. Everyone is struggling right now. This is not a normal college experience. This is not optimal circumstances for this experience. More often than not, someone else is struggling. Knowing that you’re not alone can be really beneficial.
What do you like to do for fun? “Dance” - Do you like TikTok dancing, too? “Like, yes kind of sometimes. Good at it? No. I’d rather go to a dance class.” Do you like Zumba? “Yes”
What is your favorite food? “Sushi”
Where is your favorite UMD Study spot? “ESJ - Edward St. John’s Learning Center” (a building for interactive learning)
What is your favorite ice cream? “Ben and Jerry’s half baked”
Beaches, cities, or mountains? “Beaches”
What is your favorite Instagram account to follow? “@pubertyhit.s”
If you could use a subscription to a monthly item service, what would it be? “FabFitFun”
If you could be a social media app, what would it be? “Pinterest”
A link to Life Beyond The Box can be found here: https://www.lifebeyondthebox.net/