Melissa Infurna was slowly losing the desire to fight for her happiness.

She said she experienced some rocky moments in her marriage and in other areas of her personal life.

"I did what many people do who are in my shoes: try to hold it together for the kids. But it wasn't working. My kids, especially my daughter, saw and heard too much. I knew it couldn't continue."


Her divorce was finalized in 2015. But even before then, Melissa's world was spinning out of control. Her self-esteem and confidence were shattered, and she had to grab the reins to be the mom her kids needed.

"I was a complete mess back then," Melissa told me. "I needed to change physically, mentally, and emotionally — and I took action."

Melissa's quest for happiness started as a simple way to get some exercise. Later, it became something else entirely.

A few years ago, Melissa started taking a Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes a few times a month as a way to improve her fitness, clear her head, and vent her frustrations. After a while, she was going five to six times a week.

On occasion, she would peek into the mixed martial arts (MMA) class in the adjacent room. She had a nagging desire to participate but didn't have the nerve to go in.

Real talk — it can be pretty intimidating to be a woman alone in a room with a group of dudes who are trained fighters and ask to work out with them. But one man in the room approached her to say that one day a woman will be standing at the door and will have the courage to go in because Melissa had the courage to do it first.

"After that, there was no turning back," she said.

So she put in the work to learn the craft.

A lot of work. Almost three years of training for up to three hours a day, in fact. Wrestling, grappling, takedowns, striking, submissions — all the types of moves you'd see in a grueling MMA match on television.

Melissa trained hard. Photo courtesy of Joe Harrington via Mass-MMA.com.

Keep in mind, Melissa is in the strawweight division, where fighters typically weigh in between 106 and 115 pounds. But it's not about the size of the dog in the fight, as the saying goes. It's about the size of the fight in the dog.

"I want to inspire other women to do whatever they want to do in life," she told me. "I wasn't about to quit. Some days, I literally would train until I threw up because I didn't want to stop before the guys did. Giving up was never an option."

Melissa (purple shin guard) had amazing training partners to keep her motivated.

Melissa enjoyed it so much that she decided to take it to the next level: a public fight against an opponent almost half her age.

Her name is Hilarie Rose, a 23-year-old experienced MMA fighter. A woman who knocked out another woman with a single kick in a recent bout.

Melissa (left) and Hilarie squaring off for a promo photo prior to the fight.

"Hilarie is young enough to be my daughter; she's a fierce striker, and she's bigger than me," Melissa said. "But I was ready for the fight."

Haven't we seen this movie before?

The bigger, stronger, younger fighter versus the scrappy, older underdog. It was like "Rocky IV" all over again. All we needed was Hilarie to channel her inner Dolph Lundgren while "Eye of the Tiger" played in the background.

GIF from "Rocky IV."

Fight night was here. The Plymouth Memorial Hall was filled to its capacity of 1,500 fight fans, and Melissa was ready to rise to the occasion and steal the show as Rocky Balboa did on the silver screen.

Melissa was focused moments before her debut fight.

But there was a problem: This isn't the movies.

"The fight started with me taking a kick to the leg before Hilarie came in with a hard cross that broke my face in three places," Melissa recalled. "In an instant, all I could taste was the blood pouring from my nose, but thanks to adrenaline, I wasn’t going to quit. I pushed through for just under two minutes, managing to get her on the cage and getting in some shots before losing by TKO" (technical knockout).

Props given to the woman who refused to quit.

After the fight, Melissa and Hilarie shared an emotional hug — not just because they're good sports, but because they both knew how much dedication and courage it takes for anyone to step into the octagon.

Even with a broken nose and her orbital bone broken in two places, Melissa (right) hugged her opponent. Photo courtesy of Joe Harrington via Mass-MMA.com.

Even her kids had to respect their mom for what she did — shattered face and all.

Five days after the fight, and with the shiner to end all shiners, Melissa was still smiling.

"Naturally, my kids don’t like seeing me with broken bones in my face, but it’s been important for them to see the dedication and hard work that goes into something that most people would say is impossible," Melissa told me. "It was critical for me to show them they can do whatever they want, but it’s not always going to be easy."

Melissa would be the first to tell you that a broken spirit is way more painful than broken bones.

Her advice to women who need a boost is to remember how strong they are. "Find something that makes you feel powerful and happy," she said. "It could be writing a book, starting a business, becoming an MMA fighter, or whatever. Just make sure that it's something that is uniquely yours. That way, no one can take it away from you."

So, will Melissa fight again?

"It hurts a lot to get punched in the face, but if the right opponent came up, I'd take another fight," she told me. "In reality, I'm always fighting, but this time it's for my happiness."

And that's a fight she doesn't intend to lose.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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via Pexels

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There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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A recent (and fairly insensitive) sketch from “Saturday Night Live” said it best regarding the widespread fixation many have on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial:

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

Schadenfreude, celebrity fascination and previously inaccessible information now being at our fingertips is a potent combination in this trial, making amateur lawyers and psychologists of all who feel compelled to unleash their hot takes. And though the right to converse and speculate exists, is it always in our best interests to do so? Especially when it means potentially spreading misinformation, or at the cost of empathy and compassion?

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