World Suicide Prevention Day

Monday, September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. Because of this, I wanted to share a little bit about what brought me to blogging about mental illness. I never thought this blog would be so focused on mental health, but here we are.

A couple years ago, a mutual friend committed suicide. It was someone I knew and someone I had hung out with, but not someone I was close with. I may not have been great friends with this person, but it affected me greatly. It made me take on a new perspective in a sense. My goal became to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. If I could help one person view mental illness differently, that was an accomplishment to me.

He was a good guy. He was always nice to me; he alternated from making people laugh to making people think a little bit more.

When he died, it had been awhile since I had seen him. I had seen various Facebook statuses that were vague and all I knew was the someone who many of my friends knew had passed.. Some of the posts made it sound like a suicide. Later that night, I learned who it was and I was shocked.

I was past my first suicidal period at that time, but in some ways, I felt closer to it than I ever had before. It suddenly seemed much more real. Roles could have been reversed quite easily; some of the friends I was comforting would have been on the other side offering comfort and hugs to my family and friends. Some friends would be in the exact same spot. His death created a crack that would never be filled. On the contrary, it became a gaping hole with a beating, broken heart in its depth.

His viewing and funeral were the first – and for some, the only, – time I had seen some of my friends cry. And like I said, I was on the other side. At one point, it might have been very different.

In response to this death, I also became, albeit irrationally in some ways, angry.  That anger brought me here. To writing this.

Following his death, I saw several people post on social media how if they had only known he was feeling like that, why didn’t he reach out, they would have helped, he was loved, how didn’t he know…? Often, we try to find reason and understanding in death. Denial and acceptance are both stages of grief. There is no understanding behind suicide.

But I had a feeling.

I thought that feeling was gone forever. The darkness had returned.

My experience was not the same as his. No two individuals have the same experience. But I could, in a sense, relate.

It’s a battle. And thoughts of suicide would be the equivalent of a sniper’s laser on you and the motherfucking big guns ready to roll.

Mental illness is a battle against yourself. Suicide is the ultimate weapon, the ultimate threat. You, or a part of you that houses the disease, are your own enemy. And we fight. Humans, by nature, are fighters. Fight or flight. Survival of the fittest. This is the ultimate test. It’s not tangible. There isn’t a diseased organ to replace or remove. It is your fucking brain against you. Everything you are. You fight yourself. How does anyone fucking win at this? Everything about you feels toxic.

And it can get to a point where the only way to win the battle is to be gone. Death means that there is not a fight anymore. Fighting makes you exhausted. There is no more guilt for what you are putting others through, no more feeling like a burden. And sometimes, it’s about ending the pain. No more pain. No more. Just – nothing. In my experience, I felt such extreme emotions or nothing at all. I craved normalcy. I didn’t think I would ever get back to myself.

War can make people desperate. It changes who we are. This mental battle is no different.

But yes, there are many alternatives and treatments and even hope which can seem so out of grasp to suicide. But the person is freaking mentally ill. They aren’t thinking rationally. That’s the first thing we need to establish. When you’re mentally ill, your thoughts are NOT working correctly. And this can result in a myriad of consequences.

“But why not reach out?” Dude, that’s hard. That is still hard for me. Reaching out is ridiculously difficult. It can take me days, if not weeks, to reach out once something is bugging me. And sometimes I just let it fester. Hell, I know I’m doing it now. When I was suicidal, I told one person. And that person was not the therapist or counselor I was seeing at that time. I don’t even know if this person knows that I didn’t tell anyone else at the time. I think others were concerned that it was getting to that point.

There is such a stigma with mental illness. You really don’t know how someone is going to react to any of it. Fun fact, the same person I told that I was suicidal was also the first person I told that I had depression after my parents. And when things get bad, they can get really bad. I don’t think you can really be prepared for it. I sure as hell was never prepared for any breakdown I have ever felt. I know how to recognize signs now. I know what to do after to help myself and the horrible headache bound to come after. But in the midst of it, I have no control. How on earth can I expect anyone to be able to deal with that?

Here’s my favorite example. I have struggled to get my driver’s license because I have an anxiety attack whenever I take the test. You would not believe how many people give me crap for that. They either make jokes or tell me to get over it. These things do hurt. I tell myself it’s because people do not understand mental illness but that doesn’t stop it from hurting. That is one example.

The get over it happens a lot. I don’t understand why. It’s funny, I’d really rather not hate myself, have anxiety that paralyzes and nauseates me on a regular basis for at times seemingly no reason, have it take all my energy to just get up and shower, cut into myself with an actual knife, and so much more. Really. I didn’t ask for this bullshit. None of us did. It was the hand we were dealt. I don’t know why, and I probably never will. But don’t tell someone to just get over it. Go walk on your hands instead of your feet. Let me know how that works out for you. I just can’t get over it.

Some people feel awkward when you reach out. I totally get that. It is a heavy load to put on someone else.

Other people scoff and think you’re being dramatic or want attention. Trust me, I’d rather blend into the background and not feel as if I am known for being insane. There are infinitely better, easier, and more positive ways to get freaking attention. I can’t even fathom how people think others enjoy beating themselves up mentally and physically. Does not compute.

I would give anything to have my mental health back. Anything.

That is probably not going to happen. Instead, I am working on eliminating the stigma for mental illness. That feels like the right direction. You might be wondering how this relates to him. We’re circling back.

So, people were posting how they wished he had reached out to them and that they were there for anyone who was struggling. The sentiment is sweet and sincere. But I know that often, when I want to reach out, I can’t. I don’t know how they are going to react. A lot of the time, it’s really hard for me to put into words how I am feeling. Ultimately, I am much better at writing how I feel. But it’s still so hard. I’ve been burned before. My feelings have been invalidated. Sometimes it seems easier to just grit my teeth and go at it alone. Mental illness can be a very lonely battle.

I had never felt so alone.

It can feel like the rest of the world isn’t there. It is not as easy as just reaching out.

This, to my surprise, made me angry. None of us had been in his head. None of us knew why he made his choices. But asking for help can be hard in general. For something so stigmatized, asking for help takes a lot of courage. To ask why will provide no answers.

I still don’t know why this made me so angry. He was gone. All I did know was that he had to have been suffering in horrible pain. I saw a lot of misunderstanding and many questions. And I decided that enough was enough. I hadn’t exactly hidden my struggle but at the time, I really didn’t get into specifics. But that was going to change.

It was time to do my part in eliminating the stigma. For him. For those left behind. So that less people would feel that struggle alone, and so that more people would understand.

I decided to post a narrative on social media about my experience with depression and battling suicidal thoughts. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I posted. But for some people something got lost in translation and people thought I was suicidal in that moment. I wasn’t. That was a slight hiccup in my intention. I had to rectify that pretty quickly.

Some of the other reactions to my post were also unexpected. I had people messaging me telling me about their experiences with suicidal thoughts or losing someone they loved to suicide. It was a lot of emotion to take in, to be honest. But people told me they were glad I had shared my story. A commonly cited reason was so that more people could understand.

Even when you have experienced this type of pain from any side of the equation, it doesn’t mean you just are able to go out and tell your story. For some, it is too hard. For others, they can’t put it into words. Suicide creates an unbearable, unspeakable, and heartbreaking pain. I have loved writing as long as I can remember – and I do not think I can adequately describe how I felt when I was suicidal. I cannot fully capture its essence and the pain that goes with it. It’s a silent scream that you choke on in your throat. It’s a fire that fills your mind. And you want to be free from it. But it feels as if it has latched onto your soul. I’m still not describing it fully.

There’s a lot to learn from this. It is also really hard to understand how such an intense pain can be so invisible. For something so painful, it can be well-hidden. And how the hell is any of this supposed to make any sense? That’s why we need to talk about it, put what we can into words so that others can see what this illness means. Since this death, I have seen a former classmate commit suicide. The son of a former teacher. A myriad of celebrities. Too many soldiers and veterans. In 2017, more first responders died by suicide than in the line of duty. We say it needs to stop, we say that it is horrible and such a tragedy – and then we move on. We fall back into our lives, ignoring the issue until it hits our radar again.

Death, while a natural part of life, is one of the hardest parts of life to get through for those you leave behind. With a suicide, there is no explanation. There is no understanding. How can you believe that they are at peace?

Oddly enough, I think of a Muppet Christmas Carol (the best version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, in my opinion). Upon the death of his son, Kermit the Frog/Bob Cratchit looks to comfort his family, “It’s alright, children. Life is full of meetings, and partings; that is the way of it. I am sure that we will never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that was among us.”

He’s not wrong. Thinking that you had years left with someone only to have them taken away is heartbreaking. But trying to understand their suicide is pretty much damn near impossible, I’d say.

I don’t want to have to see anyone ever go through the pain of losing someone to suicide again. It’s a cycle, especially when it happens to someone famous. We saw that it is a shame, we need to erase the stigma, move on, and repeat. Nothing gets done.

There is still so much work to be done. Basically, when he died, I started talking about mental illness and never really stopped. I don’t think I will.

I know that it isn’t exactly practical to have a goal of completely eradicating suicide through education. But if I can educate one person who later makes a difference? That’s huge. Maybe they reach out to someone struggling. Maybe someone struggling learns that they are not alone.

Some might roll their eyes at me, especially because there is such a misunderstanding towards mental illness. But I’m stubborn here.

That December day, the world lost a great man. He was a unique soul; I can’t even think of anyone similar to him. His demons overcame him. The world suffers for his loss.

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To me, its twofold. The world needs you. The world wants you to please stay. The illness says differently, and that is really hard to fight against.  You think you are alone. You are not alone. I promise you.

I felt so helpless to my friends. I didn’t have much to offer outside of a hug.  They were hurting. I didn’t want any of them to blame themselves. That’s what makes it so important to understand mental illness. I didn’t want anyone to feel the pain they felt again.

People wonder what they can do. I totally understand that it can be really freaking awkward. I know in my own case, that, bless him, a friend and mentor of mine often doesn’t know what to do at all for fear of upsetting me more but just wants to try to help. I get that I am an emotional minefield. We know it isn’t easy.

But reaching out can make one hell of a difference. It doesn’t need to be any type of attempt to solve our problems. There isn’t any miracle answer. A mixture of drugs, therapy, and other methods can take years to make a difference. No one is expecting a text message to be life changing.

You know what reaching out does offer? Hope. They might feel less alone. It might make them smile when they don’t know the last time that they did.

I think that there is a misconception that when you reach out to someone suffering from mental illness, it needs to be “I’m here for you,” “how can I help,” or “you can always talk to me.” And I think people can be afraid of committing so directly because they have a fear of hurting rather than helping. And I get it. This can be some hardcore shit.

But here’s the secret. A little bit of good goes a helluva long way. Starting a conversation or asking someone to get coffee can mean everything in the world. Seems too simple, right? We, as a society, underestimate what good can do. We are bombarded constantly with horrible news stories. But how quickly do we move on, and they leave us? We are more likely to share the feel-good stories, to spread that warm and fuzzy feeling to others. It’s kind of the same thing.

Or look at it this way. Think of some water. That’s the bad; the mental illness. Drop a pebble into it. It ripples all throughout. That tiny, seemingly insignificant pebble can impact a lot of water. The pebble is the good. It spreads. Its reach is far and wide. You don’t need a lot to make a difference.

There have been stories of a stranger smiling or saying hello to someone suicidal makes that person change their mind. I know someone who, with a group, was able to help someone literally in that moment. That little bit of hope. It is truly powerful.

The one thing we can’t do is question what would have made a difference to others. We can’t change the past. Instead, we move forward to remember them. It might be too late for them, but we can help others for them.

Together, we can make a difference. We can erase the stigma behind mental illness and increase the knowledge of others. One day, talking about depression and anxiety will be as nonchalant as a broken arm. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

The world is ours to change. I have hope that we can.

 

One Day at a Time

I have had lots of great ideas lately. In fact, I have several blog posts in the works. I think they’ll be pretty good once I actually write them. But that drive hasn’t been there, the light bulb hasn’t really gone off. That is a pretty good summary of how I’ve been feeling lately. I am the light bulb, and my productivity is flickering.
With those flickers, my thoughts have been all over the place. Recently, I wrote about finding motivation in failure. While I still believe what I wrote, I am having a hard time with a lot of things. Falling back into that horrible routine of not being able to get out of bed, of convincing myself to get up and take a shower, and just doing everything I can to get by day after day.
As indifferent as I felt to most things, my lack of exercise was really bothering me. When it came to dieting and eating healthy, I had a goal in place. I started Invisalign about three weeks ago – I can only drink water with them in and I wear them around 22 hours a day. So it has really cut down on my Coca Cola addiction and my snacking…mainly because its too inconvenient. It has been small changes, but still change.
Unfortunately, this had no impact on the mental aspect of my health. The demons were there, front and center. It felt like any second my thoughts had quieted, they raged, reminding me that I failed. That I had never gotten this stupid fitness thing to work out before, what would be the difference now? These thoughts lit me on fire. Not in the sense that it reignited my passion to meet my goals, but in the sense it felt like a slow burn; that these thoughts were to leave a permanent scar on my mind.
I covered up the scar before with a tattoo. A daisy, a reminder that something beautiful can grow from pain. But it still burned.
The temptation was strong, it was there, it told me I deserved it. It was my failure. There was no point to keep trying. It wasn’t going to make a difference. I had not yet reached my goals when it came to working out. I fell off from Weight Watchers and never got back into it. I wasn’t liking what I was seeing. My struggle was apparent in more ways than just aesthetic and gaining weight.
It had led to me failing in a way that was painful to face, and I didn’t see a way to come back from that. I forced myself to face the conclusion that it wasn’t meant for me. It made me sick to my stomach but I told myself some realities needed to be faced, and they weren’t always what we wanted to see. It was breaking my heart, but I told myself I had to face this.
Some told me I had to do what’s right for me. Others told me it would make me miserable. And then there were those who said I wasn’t giving up, that that wasn’t who I was.
I’m still waiting for my Apollo Creed to show up, by the way.
Facing your failure and accepting it as a reality sucks. It was painful; I felt like I was being torn apart. And I’m pretty sure this drove me deeper into depression which didn’t help anything and continued the cycle. My depression only solidified my idea that this was it and I had to accept it.
I felt a lot of mental turmoil. I went back and forth on what to do. I didn’t reach out to anyone. I only told a select few that I thought I was slipping back, and even then, I didn’t give the entire scope.
When it came to this, I was afraid to reach out to anyone. Putting it in a blog post is still easier than telling someone directly. I felt like it didn’t matter. That I would be brushed off as overreacting. That it would be okay, even though everything in the past indicated otherwise. I also knew how emotional it made me and didn’t know how to get the words out. I’m still not.
I had plans, dammit. I had goals. I didn’t know what was holding me back. And the first person to tell me that the only thing holding me back is myself is most likely going to get slapped in the face because I’m fucking depressed and anxious all the time. I am what is holding me back. Or rather, the illness is. But I digress. The point is, I don’t know how to beat this. I know I have people in my corner, but it takes a helluva lot of build up to reach out or bring it up. Sometimes, it doesn’t let me reach out. And then I have never felt more alone.
It is a jumble of thoughts that I can’t untangle, even though I know the end goal. There is still part of me that feels like I can do this, that I can fight. But something still feels like its missing. I don’t know what that is.
I reached out, anonymously, for advice on a forum. It wasn’t so much reaching out for advice as it was to put it out there. I mean, I wasn’t totally specific but enough that I felt like it was out there. I really didn’t expect advice.
I also didn’t expect to sob. I just broke down. I realized how lost I felt.
I had made plans to go the gym the next day. Instead of going before work as I liked to do, I was going to go after work. I couldn’t do that all the time because it wouldn’t fit with my schedule. I really like to plan ahead and keep a routine; I had to tell myself more than once to take it one day at a time.
I was nervous to go to the gym. I have absolutely no idea why. Initially, I thought about taking a kickboxing class but that idea really made me anxious (would I be able to keep up, would it be overwhelming, etc.) so I decided against that.


I really love kettlebell. It’s good for endurance and I feel good from it. Also, it kicks my ass. So I decided to start with that. I took a 15 pound weight for the two handed exercises and a ten pound weight for the single hand ones. There were a couple times where I thought about upping my weight but ultimately convinced myself against it. Again, one day at a time. I think that was part of my problem before. I wanted to go back and go off running. In retrospect, I don’t think that was the best idea physically or mentally. I was setting expectations too high.
But today, my kettlebell workout? It felt good. I was gross. Like dripping sweat gross. But I did it. I was okay. My workout playlist on Spotify was on point today. I shuffled it, and it kept giving me songs from the Rocky soundtrack. Is there anything more inspiring? Win.
After kettlebell, I did the rowing machine. I hate the rowing machine. My cardio endurance sucks. I hate admitting this in some ways, but I only did five minutes. And I took a couple ten second breaks in there. I also haven’t worked out since mid-July. It’s going to take time. I guarantee tomorrow I feel it in my legs. But the next time it might get easier. I’ve thought about buying a cheap, foldable one. The rowing machine is like my nemesis. I hate that thing. But I really want to build up my cardio endurance. And, I’ll admit, it is a good workout.
I finished with yoga. That is a habit of mine. A few minutes of yoga to wind down and relax. I was still pretty gross. But I really felt like I did something in the right direction. I had a hope that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was slow, but it was steady and it was there.
When I was exercising, I thought of great things to put in this post. I felt motivated. I don’t think they actually made it into the post, but overall I think I got the point across.
My tank said “Just do it, don’t quit.” When I bought it, I sent it to my brother and told him I thought it was a sign. Seeing that reflected back in the mirror helped me today, I think.
Tomorrow? I’m probably not going to be able to workout. I did like working out after work, at least until I get my energy/sleep problems worked out. I told myself that it was okay. I’m just getting started back up. And I am probably going to be pretty sore tomorrow, if I am being honest.
I hope its a step in the right direction. I don’t know what kind of success that it’ll result in, if any. But it is something. A small step is still a step.
When I started writing this post, I turned on Spotify and shuffled songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda sang out that he was not going to throw his shot. Me too.
I have to still try.

Looking in the Mirror

Warning: This post is all over the place.

I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t like what I saw back.

I didn’t recognize what I saw back.

It wasn’t me, but I had seen it before.

I had hoped that more things would have changed by this point. When I opened my Facebook Memories this morning, it hit my full in the face how much things hadn’t.

A year ago, I asked my Facebook friends what weight loss programs they suggested. I posted about how I was struggling mentally and that was impacting my physical health which was hurting my mental health in a horrible cycle. I remember being optimistic about wanting to make changes in my life and wondered how different things would be a year from now and how different I would look. I was so excited to shed these horrible post-college pounds.

Looking in the mirror, where am I now? Right in the same fucking place. I saw some pictures of myself, like full body length, and felt that I looked so gross. All I could see is the fat rolls under my clothes. All I was being reminded of was that I have gotten absolutely-fucking-nowhere. No wonder I felt like I aiming out of my league if I was viewing myself like that. I know that body image is weird. I know that it can get distorted. But that really have never been a problem for me. So now I was viewing myself like I was Jabba the Hutt? Because life wasn’t going towards my plan, because *that* has always happened before? Side note: It hasn’t, ever, that was sarcasm. But this wasn’t a curveball I ever anticipated to be my problem. I’ve had a few people tell me I often seem confident when I admit I’m not. I was told in a critique of a professional speech that I almost come across over confident and possibly intimidating, which was a firstAnd now my brain was going to bull this shit on me because I wasn’t where I wanted to be?

Talk about frustrating.

I don’t have time for this bullshit.

Guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that I feel like I’m falling into a depressive episode again. Shit.

It’s not like I thought it was going to be easy and like taking a walk through the park. In fact, when things were working and I was feeling the challenge and seeing some change, I felt pretty damn good. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy throughout but I appreciated the challenge. I was getting through it.

And then life kind of happened. Yeah, I know, life happens for everyone. But here’s what happened. I had a family medical emergency that definitely turned things upside down for a bit and one weekend of waiting for answers and a plan to go forward at the hospital was enough to kick me off of Weight Watchers and made it ten times harder to get back on track. It also started to get harder to go to the gym – I was just so damn tired all of the time; I’d go to the cafeteria on my lunch hour instead and nap. That should have been my first warning sign.

Then I got a new job and took some time from the gym because of hours changes and just getting adapted to my new routine. But, I was able to get into a new workout routine and things looked okay at least from an exercise point of view. I was going and making progress. It wasn’t bad. Then I broke my foot and that threw everything off. It took me a few days to even realize that my foot was broken, and then it was six weeks of nothing.

Which leaves us to basically now. A mixture of frustration, anxiety, and depression. Getting back onto the workout track has not been as seamless as I would have hoped. Before I broke my foot, I had settled into a routine of working out before work which I loved. I’m not a morning person, but working out in the mornings wasn’t a bad thing. I liked starting my day off with a workout.

My mental state during this time was interesting. Throughout the past few years, I thought overall the depression was the worst of it. Then, when I wasn’t feeling depressed (which was pretty great), I realized that the anxiety caused more problems on its own, much more so than I had thought. Now it was a different game to play. My biggest problem with anxiety in the past had been things like my drivers test. Now I was feeling it everywhere. It was much more noticeable. I didn’t realize how much it impacted me and how hard certain things were in everyday life. It was like that since I didn’t feel like I was drowning in depression, the sharp pains of anxiety were pricking me all over the place. The numbness was replaced by a constant stomach drop. And then it was, ironically, me worrying about how to take care of my anxiety. I was hyper aware of my anxiety and was beginning to really notice the difference between anxiety and stress. Like stress at work – I might feel hyped up for a bit but I see a solution. It is a specified worry. Anxiety is all over the place. I don’t know what the hell is going on or how to fix it. Guess that’s why they call it general anxiety.

I tried to start reading about meditation. By the way, I definitely recommend Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier. It gives a realistic spin to meditation. For awhile, the nerd in me was impacting my thoughts concerning meditation – I would pull my best Jedi quotes front and center. Yoda can hit the mark. Then even that didn’t work. It isn’t exactly motivating when the only mantra you can pull up to your thoughts is a bitter The legacy of the Jedi is failure! That should have been another sign when Star Wars wasn’t motivating me. I could write pages on the symbolism and impact of Star Wars.

But I just haven’t had the drive to go further. It’s like I know what I have to do. There’s books on my shelf about meditation waiting to be read. I know that I have to take action to try and help myself. But something is holding me back. In another turn of irony, that something may be the anxiety itself. I felt defeated, not necessarily depressed, but defeated. I didn’t feel strong enough to beat the anxiety down. And so it kept me chained. It’s like a constant rattling, a constant whisper of everything that could be but anxiety was holding me back. One of the only things I felt okay doing was writing, which continued to be my solace. But after a while, even that was.

The cycle began again. I couldn’t get myself to go to the gym. I had no drive to try and get back on a healthy eating pattern – and Weight Watchers changed, and I didn’t like the new system. This did not help. I would very, very tentatively step on the scale. I was trying to make small changes and it was a huge sigh of relief when I did see some pounds drop. But anything else – it just feels out of reach right now. And I don’t know what to do. There is part of me that wants to keep fighting but right now this other part is numbing it all.

I just don’t get it. I liked working out everyday. It got my day started. It cleared my head, which was nice because generally it’s a jumble of wires or multiple tabs open. Working out made my days better. And no matter how much I wanted to get up and out of bed and go to the gym, I just couldn’t. I can’t explain it, but I guess that’s what mental illness is. It makes absolutely zero sense. It is an unmovable force pushing against you. What is absolutely horrible is that you know what you can do to help yourself. You know therapy can help (if you find a good therapist that fits you, but that’s a different story), you know to take your medication, and you know working out can make a difference. That’s just for starters.

A lot of people shit on social media, but I love asking for recommendations on platforms like Facebook. When I told Facebook that I was having problems working out, the comments came pouring in on what worked for others and people sharing their story. The biggest takeaway was to start small…which, considering I am quite impatient is going to be fun. I’m ready to hit the ground running and get back into my 6:40 AM workouts five days a week. Apparently that shouldn’t be my expectation starting off.

What amazes me is that mental illness keeps surprising me. I don’t know why. I think depression is worse, and then its anxiety. Then it is back to depression. And then I don’t know what the hell to think or what direction I am going in. Mental illness is a real bitch.

I am lucky to have such great family and friends who respond on what might seem like a minor issue but really is grinding the hell out me. I still have a really freaking hard time reaching out when I need to talk to someone. It took me like two weeks to reach out to someone, one of my very best friends, that I felt like I was becoming depressed again. To most people, this might be coming out of nowhere. But I saw the signs and basically put it all together, but I just couldn’t tell anyone. And I know there are other things I wish I could talk about but I just can’t. And I know there are people I can. I’ve heard it a thousand times. But mental illness holds you back in so many ways. It might invisible, but it weighs a freaking ton. And I know that weight isn’t going to necessarily be lost just through diet and exercise.

It’s just amazing how you look in the mirror and your own self isn’t what you see back. You know all the great things going on. You don’t know what you are looking at though. The expression staring back isn’t reflecting what you know to be true. But that whisper in your ear promises the good is temporary, and that weight is going to keep growing and following you and bringing you down.

JK Rowling’s dementors in Harry Potter are meant to symbolize depression. While I love the dementor/patronus symbolism, I also think there is a better representative of what mental illness does to you: The Horcrux. What I mean by that is what it does to other people. It has a huge, significant impact on them. It makes them feel like absolute shit. It makes them question everything. It tears them apart. It literally makes them crazy. Do you see what I’m getting at?

I’m being torn apart.

Mental illness makes you feel like you are being torn apart.

I’m not a piece of paper, I shouldn’t be ripped in half.

Again, I know I am so lucky to have the support I do in my life. I am pretty sure that most people don’t realize how much they have helped me and how much I am thankful. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it easier to reach out or make it any less of a struggle.

But that’s what you have to remember when you are looking in the mirror. You can’t see them, but you have to remember all the people you got your back. That helps keep me going.

I have to find that drive again. I have to remember all those people who got my back. Somewhere is still that passion to fight. Somewhere is that motivation to beat the shit out of my mental illness with every run, with every rep, with every time I add more weights. Me against me. Somewhere is that stupid, goofy confidence with a wink. Somewhere is still me.

Just need to keep fighting and keep telling that to the girl in the mirror.

 

The Opinions of Others – They Don’t Matter

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” — Marcus Aurelius

We tend to let a lot of goofy things bother us far more than they should. Most of us are guilty of this. And I’m not talking about pet peeves or annoyances that we overblow. I’m thinking more internally. A little bit of soul-searching.

I would say a good majority of us are guilty of this at one point in time. What I’m talking about here is the weight that we give the opinions of others.

Like many things, the growth and popularity of social media has inflated this problem. We put our whole lives out there for others to see. Of course we want it to look good. Of course we want to look happy.

Why though?

Especially if we are distorting ourselves. What benefit is there to trying to impress people online?

I’m not saying don’t share good news like when you get a promotion or a scholarship or just think you look good in that selfie. I’m talking about when we try to make everything look perfect.

Here’s the problem with that. It is all smoke and mirrors. We control what we put up. And no matter how much anyone posts, that is just a small percentage of that person’s life. An online persona isn’t giving you the whole picture.

I started thinking about this when I saw that someone had unfriended me. First, I had wondered what I had done to upset this person. Then a light bulb, for once in my life, kind of went off. Why did I care? I totally know I am guilty of thinking too much about how people view me. But this damn light bulb finally went off. How was this a loss to me? Would I really want to change who I was because of one person, who I didn’t really talk to at all anymore? Would it even make a difference? Did I want it to?

It just really got me thinking in a way I hadn’t before. And I think it was very insightful into myself. I’m a people pleaser. I always want to make everyone happy. I want everyone to get along. These things are not possible. This doesn’t exactly stop me from trying.

But who I am now – its worked for me. I’m all about growth and development. I’m always aiming to be better. Part of that is the perfectionist in me which I do kind of need to tone down but otherwise, I think you know what I mean. Always be learning. Always try your best.

The person I am is flawed. I’m working on it. I’ve made mistakes. Some I’ve been rectified, some I haven’t been able to.

The person I am now has also had some accomplishments I’m pretty proud of. I don’t want to come off as bragging (I recognize the irony in this), but there are definitely things I wouldn’t have accomplished without certain aspects of my personality, for better than worse.

Why would I let the opinions of others change that?

The biggest “opinion of others” that I get – and sometimes gets in my head – is my short hair. I have been told by so many people – friends, family, and total strangers, that a lot of guys aren’t attracted to short hair. So I should grow it out. Then I can snag a man. First of all, and I think this is important, we shouldn’t let any other one person define our worth. As an individual, you should define your own worth. Your self-worth should never in anyway be defined by another person’s opinion. Emphasize on “self” in “self-worth.” You define your worth. And why would I want to be a guy who will only be with me if my hair is long? Does this not sound absolutely ridiculous to anyone else? I don’t even think that this is even actually a thing.

Second, the fact that it takes me about five minutes to style my hair after showering pretty much outweighs anything else. I love that perk of short hair. I’m pretty positive that growing my hair for a guy would not make so happy that I don’t miss that benefit. Third, it’s the hair on my head. Why can’t I enjoy it? I’ll admit that I can be pretty self-conscious about my appearance. But I do think I can rock the pixie. It’s fun. It’s different. Think of Lydia in Beetlejuice,“I myself am strange and unusual.” It’s basically along those lines. Ultimately, to be honest, I’m not a patient person and probably don’t have the patience to grow it out. In case you were wondering. Whatever.

Tattoos are another big one. I don’t understand why people are so opinionated about something they don’t have to permanently live with. I also don’t know the point of telling someone how much they hate your tattoos. At that point, it’s really hard to change the tattooed person’s opinion on them. And it is also an expensive change of heart. Two of mine have serious meaning to me. And I have no problem telling someone the meaning of the one and why it is important and healing to me. The other two, I like books and writing. I also really like Star Wars,and you don’t get much more Star Wars than “May the Force be with you,” at least when it comes to quotes. In case you were wondering.

I am a huge supporter of loving yourself and accepting yourself. Be-YOU-tiful. That’s my favorite thing ever. I say it a lot. There is no one else quite like you. We all know the examples that society sets that are not necessarily obtainable. The idea that you need to check off all these boxes by a certain time in life to have it together. It happens from the time we are in high school and we tell these teenagers who have no idea where the fuck they are going to end up in the life that they need to meet an absurd amount of criteria to get the college of their dreams. Sometimes I think its too much. From this time on, we put so much pressure on ourselves that I think often we aren’t reaching our potential. We’re stretched too thin. It also starts us competing against each other. Competition is a healthy thing. But when it turns into comparing yourself to everyone else is what starts to mess with your head. We start in high school and never really stop.

I think the comparing yourself/opinions of others go hand in hand. You don’t know the full story of the person you are comparing yourself to. They don’t know yours. You are probably not going to change someone’s opinion of you. And really, most of the time, does it really matter? There are times when it matters; like in a job interview or meeting your significant other’s family. But the girl you went to high school with that you haven’t talked to since 6thgrade and looks like she has the perfect family? She might be looking at you the same way thinking about how you have a great job and she’s not using her degree in her job. When you’re traveling Europe and wondering if maybe you should have gone for that Master’s degree instead, he’s wondering if the degree is worth it. Everyone’s story and needs are different. Stop. Comparing. We don’t need the full story.

Life is too damn short to be this concerned with the opinions of others. I think a good example of this would be group fitness classes or really going to the gym in general. When you are wobbling in yoga or struggling with your weights, most likely, no one really cares. In yoga class, everyone else is probably too damn busy trying to hold the pose themselves and counting down until the next one to notice what the hell you are doing. At the gym, if anyone is negatively judging you for trying to better yourself and become healthier, they are an asshole. It is that simple. The gym is the last place anyone should be judging anyone and where you should be competing against anyone but yourself. Going to the gym or group fitness classes can be agonizing for people when it comes to their self-esteem! We don’t need assholes making it harder. Unless you are working with a trainer who you are payingto give their opinion, no one else’s matters. Full stop.

Individually, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We really do not need to add to that by worrying what Joan from Accounting thinks of your haircut. Sometimes, when someone gives their opinion they mean all the best. But your uncle Jack who was a hippie in the 60’s (and never left the 60’s) shouldn’t be talking you down for joining the military.

I am not saying that every opinion anyone ever offers you is horrible and should be ignored. I’m saying that we shouldn’t let the opinion of others drive our opinions of our selves.Not everyone is going to like your hair. Your political viewpoints (that’s a loaded one). Or, simply, you. And that is okay! It is not possible for everyone to like you or everything about you. Sometimes you are a pearl and they prefer a diamond. It doesn’t make one better than the other. Some people are going to prefer the pearl to the diamond. You aren’t going to like everything about everyone you do like, and you aren’t going to like everyone. That’s life. And there is no reason to be rude about it. Move on. Worry about you.

Really, we aren’t as important as we think we are. People don’t think about us as much as we think, or rather, notice us as much as you might think. Everyone is just trying to do their own thing, and all of our insecurities are the same. I think a lot of it stems from what we think about others. Somewhere along the line, we all decided that we have to put this façade up of having everything together and a picture-perfect life when none of us actually do. Who are we trying to fool and why?

I saw a quote that basically said she didn’t dress up for guys to look at her; she dressed up to look at her reflection in windows as she walked by. I loved this. You do you! It goes back to my short hair example; I don’t get it cut to meet the expectations of any guy I’m interested in. I do it because I like it, I think I look good in it, and it works for me. And honestly, who hasn’t looked at their reflection walking by a window and suddenly had a surge of confidence because they just looked good? Do you.

Another aspect of this is that any confidence issues you may face are definitely impacted by how you let the opinion of others affect you. Let it go. It isn’t your business to change their opinion. As Martha Graham says, “What people think of you is really none of your business.” You have to do what is right and best for you. Not for what someone else thinks of you. I think we do this subconsciously; back to the social media spin/picture-perfect lifestyle. None of these are doable. And striving for perfection isn’t healthy. It’s not good for you mentally. It can impact you physically.

Be real and authentic and you’ll know that you are giving people that what they see is what they get. I don’t see any benefit or purpose to being fake. That has to be exhausting. And sometimes, people are just going to see whatever the hell they want to see. You aren’t going to be able to change, so you might as well just be yourself. I really hope no one takes this as be an asshole to people you don’t like because that’s the opposite of what I think. It’s not an excuse to be a jagoff – there isn’t really a reason why your authentic self can’t be at least polite. I don’t think there is much benefit to rudeness either.

This “other people’s opinion impacting how I feel about myself” is hard for me to. It isn’t an overnight change. It is hard to not be self-conscious about everything you do, especially depending on where you are in life. I can’t imagine a sixteen-year-old girl just being able to adopt this attitude with no problem. I think that ultimately, we will be a lot happier for thinking like this. Everyone isn’t going to love you. But that should never stop you from loving your life. I feel like taking a deep, deep breath and exhaling all of the negativity. Just remember – beYOUtiful.

 

 

 

 

“Girl, Wash Your Face” Review

Everyone was reading this book. I kept seeing it all over social media. People were claiming it to be life changing. I don’t really know why, but I didn’t have much interest in reading it. Eventually, I gave into the online peer pressure and rave reviews and picked up a copy of Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.

It didn’t change my life.

There were actually times  that I really didn’t like Hollis or the message she was giving.

But the one thing you have to give her 100% credit on – that woman is totally authentic. Rachel Hollis is completely real, honest, and open and she has my complete respect for that. It is not easy to just put yourself out there. Especially in a freaking book which people are paid to criticize. And running a website and blog as popular as hers – we all know the internet is unfortunately filled with trolls and just plain mean-spirited people. Rachel says she got to a point that she no longer reads what people say about her or her writing.  I think the majority of us could benefit from the mindset. She writes to write. As a writer who cares too much about the opinions of others, that is definitely something I could benefit from adopting into my think tank.

There were parts of the book I loved. I don’t know if my expectations were too high, but I had anticipated that it was going to be life changing. Everyone kept singing its praises. I could relate to its messages for the most part, but there was just something I couldn’t put my finger on that bothered me.

I just feel in some ways she sang her own praises too much or that she was full of herself. But! At the same time, this lady had no problem identifying her flaws and that is a hell of a lot harder to do. Maybe it is just an awkward balance? Some of it I couldn’t relate to because I’m not married or a mother yet. I had heard others say they couldn’t relate to it because they past that stage in their life. So I’m wondering if the book as a whole is targeted towards a very specific audience – but that is only to get the full message. A few of the people who told me they absolutely loved it are in  similar spots in their lives and can relate to some of the situations more than I can.

The other part I was most uncomfortable with was her attitude towards drinking and how it related to parenting. She grows past her mindset, but it was kind of scary that she got to that point. What is scarier is wondering how many people have the same time of mindset; that they need to consistently drink to relax from their kids. Now, my parents still tell me I “drive them to drink.” But saying that and acting on it to the point it becomes a problem are two totally different things. However, this example also made me think about whenever I say I need a drink from work. It offered perspective. This wasn’t exactly an area of my life I thought I would reevaluate, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.

Another aspect of the book that I couldn’t totally relate to were the religion mentions. While I was raised Catholic, I’m not a super religious person and I would call my relationship with religion “complicated.” But if that works for her, hey, go for it. She also didn’t come across preachy, it was just another aspect of her life. Someone asked me if the book was religious and I kind of didn’t know how to answer. There are a lot of references to God, but it’s not like she is saying “the only way to succeed in life is if you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.” It is not that kind of book. It is more of a “Hey, God’s got my back and I’m going to trust him.” I never felt that she was pushing it onto her readers, which I think is a cool and effective way to explain what works for her. Because, let’s face it, the first thing ANY self-help or personal development book should admit is that not every method they suggest is going to work for every single reader. Might not be the best selling point, but I think readers would appreciate the honesty.

Honesty is my biggest takeaway from this book. Rachel shares a very raw and real version of herself with the reader. You see her at her best and at her worst. She admits to transgressions that pretty much all of us do – like wondering why someone won’t parent their screaming child in a public setting – but then acknowledging that we don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. There’s a million reasons as to why the kid is screaming and why the parents aren’t simply sweeping the kid and going back to the car for a timeout. Sure, sometimes it might just be lazy parenting – but it really isn’t our place to judge. I think that most important message I got from the book was to be honest with yourself and the situations around you.

Hollis gives great suggestions and outlines how to reach your life goals. I also like how she prefaced her lists with “Things that Helped Me.” It goes back to what I said before. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all on how to get your shit together. Her suggestions might work for you, or they might lead you to develop your own methods. Some of them might seem obvious, but at the same time it’s like a slap upside the head. If it’s so obvious, why aren’t you already doing it? Why didn’t you write the damn book?

Some people might take these lists as the most significant message of the book. Not me. Her honesty and the rawness of some of her stories really had an impact on me, such as the judging other parents thing. That led into hey, let’s stop judging one another. That concept went into women stop judging other women. To the women reading this blog, we know that we are all pretty much guilty of that. Oh, on that same note, Hollis then points out that we need to stop competing and comparing against each other. We all know this. But sometimes seeing it printed on paper helps get the message across. So we should thank Rachel for that. She puts uncomfortable truths out there. But sometimes we need that.

Another story that really got to me that I think everyone should read is Rachel and her husband’s struggle to adopt and their experience with the foster care system. Adopting is not an easy process. And, I didn’t know this until recently when a friend adopted a child, often you have to foster before you can adopt. As Rachel shares, this can be a brutal and heartbreaking process. My heart broke with theirs and my eyes were opened. I don’t know how the process can be improved, but there has to be something better.

Ironically, I think writing this review gave me a different opinion on the book. I didn’t love it and it didn’t change my life. However, I learned from it. There are lessons and tips to take away. Some stories stuck with me more than others. This is probably the most I have ever felt comfortable criticizing an author or book, so take that for whatever it is worth. It didn’t change my life, but I did enjoy reading it. I read it in less than a day. Hollis knows how to keep her readers engaged. Ultimately, I would recommend reading this. It might not turn your life upside down or sideways, but I think most women, although primarily in the 20s and 30s demographic could take something from it. Give it a shot.

 

Finding Motivation in Failure

I find inspiration in the Rocky and Star Wars movies. I can find motivation in a lot of movies and books, but those two in particular. Sometimes a simple quote or dialogue or monologue or movie scene can be just what you need to get out of a rut. Like Kenneth Branagh’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Henry IV. Watch it on YouTube. Super motivating. Makes you think you can take on an entire army. That’s the type of feeling I’m talking about. Give you that extra push, light the spark, whatever you want to call it. I keep a folder of photos on my phone of inspirational quotes and quite a few are from movies. Just something to call to when I need a little extra.

Lately, it turns out, I needed that extra. Probably more than a little bit. I need motivation and perspective.

I thought I had this figured out. I thought I had it beat. That I was going to come back stronger before and that I had overcome this mental battle against myself. I had hoped that my brain would stop fighting itself, that the torture of hating myself would end,  and I could live in peace.

I was wrong. Like, really wrong. And this time, when I fell I fell hard. Getting up took time. Falling, however, prompted some serious self-reflection. And I am pretty sure part of it was long overdue.

There’s a difference between surviving and living, managing day by day versus enjoying the world around you. I was getting by each day but not really gaining anything from it. I wasn’t drowning but I was just keeping afloat.

I thought I had experienced a failure. And it angered me, it upset me, and it broke my damn heart. I’m a perfectionist. When I set a goal, I’m pretty hell bent on achieving it. I’m fairly this certain this is how I ended up in a Master’s program at Penn State right as I started work full time. Perfectionist and overachiever combined with anxiety isn’t the best combination. It’s a dangerous combination.

I was told I hadn’t failed, and I totally can see that point of view. I get it. But damn if there isn’t part of me that’s still down. My logic is that anything but completion of a goal is failure. I hadn’t done what I set out to do. Incomplete. It was a failure.

I was very angry and disappointed with myself. I thought that I had disappointed others who believed in me when others didn’t. There is part of me that still believes that, and I have a hard time letting this go.

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm, but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. -Yoda.

But! Like I said. This led to some serious self-reflection. I was told that it isn’t failure until you give up, full stop. I’m also really stubborn so that wasn’t really an option on the table. But I realized then I could keep going. Hearing that failure doesn’t happen until you give up was like the light bulb going off in my head. I still had a chance.

I have some more Yoda thoughts to share. In The Empire Strikes Back, after Yoda lifts the X-Wing from the swamp using the Force, Luke says that he can’t believe it. Yoda replies “That is why you fail.” I have watched this movie literally countless times. Yesterday (when I began writing this post) it occurs to me that Luke failed because he didn’t believe he could complete the task using only what he already had, i.e. the Force. It goes back to “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s kind of a cliche; that the power or ability you seek is within you all along. It took me 26 years to make this connection. And that maybe, it applied to me too. That between my anxiety and lack of confidence, I was setting myself up for failure.

You had the power all along, my dear. Glinda, the Good Witch

I have thought a lot about myself and my mental illnesses and how they impact my everyday life. And I realized that I am not as well as I thought I was and I’m not living, I’m just getting by. My anxiety is holding me back in a lot of ways I hadn’t considered before but are definitely more obvious to me now. What I’m doing isn’t enough or working well apparently. I thought I was beating the depression and anxiety down, but now I’m pretty sure that I was just suppressing. And there is a huge difference between the two. When its suppressed, the darkness can still get out through the cracks. It’s like a shadow following the light. Eventually, the shadows eclipse the sun. But, as first theorized by English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller, as quoted by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and another version of which is attributed to Victor Hugo, It is always darkest just before the dawn. So, I guess I believe that there is still hope that I can beat this. Guess sometimes you need a breakdown to see what is really going on.

I had to take a good, hard look into myself and ask what bothered me about this failure. Not just this specific instance, but overall. What did failure represent to me? How did I think it defined me as a person? And then, where did my anxiety fit in? What was holding me back from all the things I wanted to do? Some things that I should be able to achieve? Why wasn’t I taking that extra step to do more, be better? And that’s how I found the problem with self-confidence too. As cliche as it might sound, I really think that by not believing in my own ability and giving myself a chance, I was setting myself up for failure. I was listening to the bitch that is depression and anxiety and letting it bring me down. Letting the bitch tell me that I didn’t deserve success, that these goals were out of my reach. That is was out of my league. Such a long way for me.

This was kind of a game changer. I was really close to giving up. As much as I would have hated it, I think I was going to walk away. But this little bit of self-reflection kind of allowed me to gain new perspective.. I thought I understood the hold that mental illness had over me. It’s been a six long years with it, but I thought I knew its tricks and lies. Apparently, I didn’t. Apparently, mental illness is something I have to obliterate the shit out of. Not just suppress or contain. I need to knock it out.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that, and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! Rocky Balboa.

So what was my big revelation? Fighting and beating this isn’t something I can do alone. Depression and anxiety might be attacking me in an internal struggle, but that doesn’t mean the fight itself can’t be external. It is so hard for me to talk about how I feel and my problems. It is much easier for me to write about it, hence this blog. It is so hard to describe but I am not exaggerating when I say it fills me with despair, hate and a restlessness caused by anxiety and nervousness. I am never calm and content. But I have to keep fighting.

I need someone to show me my place in all this. Rey

I am not really sure how to get better about talking about this to others. But I also know that I need someone on my side. I know I am not alone, but there are definitely times where I can’t imagine feeling anymore alone. It’s hard to know who I can reach out. And it’s not that I don’t want to reach out. I don’t know if I just need to do it and start talking? Still trying to figure this one out.

One thing I do know that I don’t want to do but that I have pretty much accepted that I have to do, is go back to therapy. I hate therapy. I know people that have loved therapy and therapy has changed their lives. That has not been my experience. For awhile, I did have a great therapist. Then she had to make a work change and left the practice I was at. Haven’t had a fit since, and boy that is frustrating, trying to find a therapist. It really left a bad taste in my mouth. Just getting an appointment can be a process in itself. But I don’t really see a route where I don’t end up in therapy again, so we’ll see. Admitting that I need to go back to therapy is progress for me, I think.

Your focus determines your reality. / Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think, use your instincts. Qui-Gon Jinn

There has to be a way to settle my mind. I have always wanted to get into meditation and practice it consistently, but it hasn’t happened. I need to get into that. I know that there are apps for it and I plan on using those, but I also think that yoga and just kind of being out in nature can help. This is definitely going to be a combination of things. Yoga, going for walks and hiking has helped clear and settle my mind before. I think I need a more conscious effort on that type of thing.

The nerd that I am, I am also going to read. I have read more self-help books in the past year or so than I ever have in my life, and I’m looking for more. I previously had reviewed Erin Falconer’s How to Get Shit Done, and I just picked up Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis because I was seeing it everywhere. But I’m always looking for more books in that area! I also want to pick up more books on meditation. That’s the best way I learn. It might sound weird, but I feel like I definitely have to rework and challenge my mind. Put the negative fire caused by depression and anxiety out. Knock it down.

If this is something you wanna do, and if this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight. Rocky Balboa

Another thing that I am pretty sure of is that this is more than just a mental battle. I am fairly confident in saying that there is a physical aspect to this as well. I know that I “feel better” after a workout, but I think I need to redirect my approach on it. What I don’t have from working is more energy; I am always tired no matter how much I sleep. That is definitely something that I want to figure out because I am going to guess if I feel rested, I might be at least a little more pleasant with the world (I really do try to be pleasant in day to day life. I am sorry to those who get the brunt of my attitude) and myself.

Post-college, I have gained a lot of weight. Much more than I am happy with. I had tried Weight Watchers, it worked for awhile, I fell off, tried again, and they changed the system and I didn’t like it. I think now I’m just going to go with the “eat less crap” method. Really start that moderation is key lifestyle, because I don’t see a reality where I completely cut out beer and ice cream forever.

See that look in their eyes, Rock? You gotta get that look back, Rock. Eye of the tiger, man. Apollo Creed

The benefits of a strong body shouldn’t be underestimated. As Thomas Jefferson once said, A strong body makes the mind strong. We all know the numerous benefits of exercise. But I feel like I know what Apollo is talking about here. That drive, that fight for something, whatever it is. Everyone’s reason is different. All that matters is you gotta keep going. I lose that look, that passion, and I need to get it back.

Working my body is going to be just as important as working my mind. I think gaining literal strength and endurance will be great for me mentally, it’ll be a more tangible way of seeing progress. Being able to see progress will give me motivation. I go to the Y now, but I am going to get a personal trainer through there. I also want to look at trying things like CrossFit and Orange Theory. I want to build muscles and endurance. Running is another habit that I want to get into. Before, I didn’t really have a plan and I think it is because I was holding myself back. I was listening to that diseased voice telling me that I didn’t matter and had no chance of succeeding. Again, I wasn’t trying to beat the crap out of this. I was letting myself be defeated by it by just suppressing it, kind of hoping it was going to go away. Maybe it, ironically, seems crazy, but it is important to actually have a plan. I really hope I don’t sound like a broken record. But I think it took this breakdown to look at myself and realize where I was and how much further I can be. Now is as good as any time to really beat the shit out of this. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? I don’t have any desire to push those limits anymore so I figure lets see how strong I can get from this. It is going to take a lot more self-reflection and some serious criticism of myself and some hard, physical work too. But at least I know that I don’t have to do this on my own and that things can, and will, get better. And I’ll be better for it. Thanks for reading my ramble.
It’ll turn out alright in the end. You’ll see. Mrs. Potts

Living with Depression and Anxiety

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in 2012 by a psychiatrist at my university and subsequently began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist at that time and began treatment, including prescriptions. At first, the primary issue was my depression. Back then, I was in a dark, dark place. Even reflecting on how I felt then now makes me feel sick. I didn’t think a person could ever feel so low. I didn’t know that the depths of despair could run so deep. I knew nothing about mental illness and had very little experience with it. It took me probably too long to get help. I wasn’t handling things in my life well, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, it got to the point that my parents believed that this was out of our hands or knowledge (they were right) and it was time to get professional help.

I am lucky in not only having supportive parents but also by attending a university that offered mental health services. I was also very fortunate in having professors who did not just shrug me off when I spoke to them about it – primarily my work study bosses who were also my professors that semester and one of the toughest (and fairest and probably best) professors in my English program who I had for two classes that semester. I have found it best to be open about it from the beginning.

There is really nothing you can do to prepare for an “invisible illness,” especially one with a stigma like mental illness. How do you tell your friends that you’re suicidal? We were 20 years old. How do you even respond to that? We were young and dumb. I definitely lost some friends during this time – and have lost other friends since due to my mental illnesses, but I have also strengthened friendships and realized who is really there for me. Regardless of what they might say, you cannot really repay that sort of debt; when someone who was there for you at your lowest. The ones who gave you hope when you had none. The ones who helped you realize that you needed to stay. No matter what after that, there will always be a certain level of gratitude.

Mental illness is not easy for anyone involved. I was overwhelmed dealing with one. Not long after my initial diagnosis of severe depression, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. Living with multiple mental illnesses just complicates things even more, including treatment. My brain was telling me on a regular basis that life wasn’t worth living while also informing me that I needed to keep going, going, going with no end in sight. Everything had to be perfect and complete. It was exhausting; and depression on its own was exhausting enough. Combined with the conflicting nature of anxiety, it was indescribable. It is a nervous energy, like a negative buzz, coupled with the weight of depression pulling you down as if it weighs a ton.

For a long time, depression was what kept me down the most and was the primary concern of my treatment. However, depression was easier to pinpoint and treat in some ways with more effective methods than just medication.* But the problem was that depression is a heavily layered disease. There was a lot to get through in order to fully treat it. I am pretty confident in saying that right now I am not depressed, but recognize that i am prone to bouts of it from time to time.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a whole different disaster. I still don’t have a handle on anxiety and I don’t know when or if I ever will. And yeah, I recognize the irony in feeling depressed over the fact that I can’t control my anxiety. I haven’t had the best luck with therapy. I don’t have the best level of patience to get into meditation, although I really would like to. I’ve also thought about trying to go to yoga at least once a week for a workout so that I can work my mind as well. It’s just a mess.

There are so many things that I never realized were actually symptoms of anxiety. I didn’t know until recently that it takes the average person less than ten minutes to fall asleep. It’s always taken me much longer than that. My biggest issue with anxiety is probably how it effects me test taking. I don’t think I realized it so much in college because I was an English major and wrote so many papers not like a traditional test. But I’ve noticed it definitely with firefighting and, of course, trying to get my driver’s license which is the bane of my existence, embarrassing that I can’t, and the most frustrating thing in the world. It makes me even more anxious when people make comments about the fact I don’t have my license. It’s not by choice. It is because my brain essentially goes on overload and I feel as if I am in fog and going 100 miles per hour at the same time. I feel nauseous just thinking about it. Of all the comments I get about my mental illness, people telling me that anxiety shouldn’t be an excuse or laughing that I don’t have my license because of it, hurts the most.

The awkwardness I have felt of getting up to use the restroom or really anything else during a meeting or training or some other setting because I feel as if I am being watched and silently judged or that I am doing something wrong. Now, logically I know that people aren’t paying that much attention to me or really care. But anxiety can make me feel like I am constantly being judged. And that is exhausting.

Another aspect of anxiety that I didn’t realize was anxiety is that I always second-guess friendships and if people want me around. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to make any type of conversation for fear of sounding dumb or that the person I am talking to doesn’t really care. Texting is even worse – I constantly feel like I am bothering the person. I just always thought I was weird but once I started reading up on others’ experiences with mental illnesses, I realized that this was apart of it and that these feelings were actually a symptom that I was experiencing. I mean I’m definitely weird, but this wasn’t one of the reasons why.

I also never realized the physical symptoms of anxiety. I get chest pain a ridiculous amount of time, even when I don’t think I’m anxious, I can get it. I’ve heard others describe anxiety as having too many tabs open in the brain, and that is a pretty accurate description. My own brain doesn’t know if it is coming or going. It affects every aspect of my life, and it is very frustrating that I have not figured out a way to tame it yet. Even when my depression is at bay, anxiety is still present. It can hit me at any time. I feel like a tennis ball in a tennis match. I’ve been a perfectionist forever, and now I realize that was definitely my anxiety beginning to manifest. I am terrified of being a disappointment. I feel as if the highest expectations are always present, and anything less is failure. I wish I would have realized this sooner.

It is important to remember that you are more than your mental illness. But it is also important to accept that your mental illness can impact all aspects of your life. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you can start really fighting this thing full-on. Denial is just going to drag it out further. Your anxiety will move faster and your depression will sink deeper. You also have to accept that there are going to be bad days. The bad days can sometimes make me scared as hell that it’s coming back. I’ve had a couple periods where I succumbed back into a deep depression. Obviously I am still here, but it is a terrifying feeling that you are going to lose yourself again and have to start from scratch again. It is also really important to build up a support system. It is much easier for me to write out how I feel versus talking about it. While I hope this blog helps people dealing with these situations, I also hope that it helps the loved ones of people with mental illness, including the ones in my own life. It can be very hard to put into words how it makes you feel. The despair, the nervousness, the guilt. The loss of self that can be all-consuming, wondering if you’ll ever find that sense of self again. I think one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give (not that anyone asked for it) is to not let anyone invalidate your feelings when it comes to your illness. You know yourself best. No one has a right to tell you how to feel. Don’t let them stigmatize you. Recognizing your symptoms and accepting it is one of the first steps to beating it. Keep on fighting.
*Note: I am very supportive of using medication if you need it. I struggled for a long time with the idea of taking medication for my mental illness. However, after several false starts and a variety of combinations, I have found a regime that I realized is the difference between me functioning and not. My treatment requires more than medication, but I have finally accepted that it is okay to use medication and recognize that it does work. It’s literally me getting out of bed or not. Don’t listen to those who say you just need to change your diet/go outside/work out and medications are bad. While those may work for you, I’ve realized it is usually a combination of treatments. I was working out long before I was depressed – although it can help now, I still got depression. Don’t. Let. People. Guilt. You. Into. Not. Taking. Your. Medications.

Be Better

In some ways, I feel as if I have lost all hope for humanity. That hate is winning out over love. I am sure social media and the ease of sharing (and manipulating) news are contributing to this illusion that, simply, everything sucks. But the worst place to go anywhere is the comments section of a post or Twitter in general. It amazes me how easily people throw out hate. It amazes me how easily people hurl insults and dismiss each other because of varying opinions. It amazes me we have a wealth of knowledge literally in the palm of our hands, yet no one can be bothered to fact check. What happened to our respect for our fellow man? I feel like we’re going backwards.

Regardless of your political affiliations, you would be hard-pressed to deny that there is definitely a divide in this country right now. I think people put far too much stock into their political party and conform too often to party lines. Myself, I am very moderate. Very moderate. There really is not a dominant party for me on the political spectrum. I refuse to vote simply by party lines. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned against relying too heavily on political parties, saying “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.” I would speculate that this “baneful spirit” has gotten worse over time. I know each side has extremists and those tend to be the loudest – that is really no reason to use insults to describe an entire group, especially when the majority of the country is represented by two options. I can guarantee that not every conservative is a religious zealot and not every liberal is a tree-hugging hippie, and I am being kind on those stereotypes; I generally see much worse.

Speaking of the two-party system, has anyone ever heard of a compromise? This stubborness is impacting lives in a huge way, across the board. I don’t understand how people can get voted into office to represent others, to serve constituents, and refuse to compromise. Or, my favorite, take money from donors and in return vote in ways that benefit those donors. Not cool, boys and girls. I don’t care who you are. The right thing is hardly ever an easy thing. A lot of problems our nation faces really shouldn’t be solved in a “this or that” matter, life is generally more complex than that.

I don’t think we’ve yet learned that the world isn’t black and white. Why do we keep putting ourselves in these containers? All it does is give us tunnel vision. The Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom. I see so many people sneering at anything other than Christianity.  The following centuries saw millions of immigrants searching for a better life. America was called a melting pot. Now, despite not having a federally-mandated national language, people scream “English only!” even when the conversation doesn’t involve them and it is literally none of their business and has no impact on them. My great-grandparents only spoke Russian, and another set only spoke broken English. I can’t find it now, but I saw a quote the other day that said essentially that America was the only nation founded with a distinct purpose – to have a better life. But we can’t even respect each other on anything. Respect? We can’t even tolerate each other.

Far too often, we use past actions as an excuse for behaviors now. That’s not how it works. Just because it was done before doesn’t make it right. Doing it before doesn’t excuse the behavior now. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat.” George Santayana (1905). Why are we okay with repeating our mistakes? We can be better than this. We should aim to be better than this. And too often, when others try to bring about change, they are ridiculed. The biggest example of this I can think of is the Parkland kids. These kids, some barely 18 and a good bit younger, are insulted and threatened daily on social media because they are trying to bring change after they saw their friends murdered while attending school. I can’t wrap my head around this. These kids suffered an unimaginable tragedy. And they are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

As being the alleged adults, what example are we setting for them? Even if we don’t agree with them, they are trying to make it a safer world! They are trying to bring change. Everyone knows the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” They are taking action instead of just sitting there letting the world go by. How many of us can say that? How many of us just talk a big game? How many of us are actively trying to make a difference, instead of throwing insults behind a computer screen, and yes I recognize the irony that I am typing this on a computer screen but you know what I mean. Mr. Rogers once said “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Maybe we should see it from their perspective, and maybe they should look at the opposing perspective as well. When looking at some of these problems, I think the best thing people can do is look at all sides. Maybe we’d learn from each other. Or find a solution. I have never actually found anyone who wants to fully repeal the Second Amendment, except one former Supreme Court Justice. Also, I don’t think any elected representative is going to put in the work to actually appeal an amendment or get the support it would need. Only one amendment has ever been appealed – the 18th. It ended prohibition. Absolutely zero surprise.

When it comes to school shootings, can someone answer me this? Why do we focus on the gun and arming teachers/guards, increasing security, etc. in case a school shooting occurs, instead of trying to figure out what the hell is driving a teenager to commit mass murder on his or her peers? Why not try some prevention instead of straight reaction? Why are we not investing in mental health and identifying these problems? I don’t think mental illness should be a get-out-of-jail-free card, but anyone who does that has some serious issues. I’m still jaded enough to believe most people are good and that very few are truly evil. Maybe prevention would help this. But we don’t even talk about that! It goes straight to the guns, which we shouldn’t blame, but solve with more guns. This is a multi-layered problem. Guns are neither fully the problem or solution. I don’t believe there is just one all-encompassing solution.

And now, the real reason I am writing this post. There are terrible things going on in the world all the time. There are terrible people out there. But like I said, I believe most people are good. Or at least, can be good. You have to choose good. Sometimes the right thing is the harder thing and not the popular thing.  But damn, man. Why are we so nasty to one another? It amazes me how people constantly insult and judge with no basis for their opinion, just face value or grasping at straws. You will accomplish so much more in the long run by doing good. Some people might argue that its thankless…but you’re not exactly going to get thanked for being rude either. And doing good can make you feel good! Time out – literally just saw someone on Facebook call someone a “dumb bitch” for having a difference in opinion. Dude. What does that accomplish? In my opinion, the second you start name-calling, you lose all credibility in your argument. We’re adults. We can do better.

Amy Schumer was quoted the other day saying that we need Mr. Rogers. I think she’s absolutely right. Mr. Rogers taught us to be good to each other and help each. Mr. Rogers would be so ashamed of the society we have created.  One of his most famous quotes is, ““When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” There are an awful lot of scary things in the news right now. We need those helpers.

Mr. Rogers also said “Imagine what real neighborhoods would look like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.” Could you imagine? It takes just one person to start it. Think about how often we hear that “pay it forwards” in a drive through go on and on? It doesn’t need to be a huge production of being kind. But the little things add up. They inspire others to be kind. Maybe I’m asking too much. I’d be happy with people not insulting each other when they argue. I’d be happy seeing politicians working together for the greater good, and not for their party agenda.

I am literally begging people to do better. Be kinder. Respect each other. Hate has no place in the world.

No one is benefiting from all of this division and hate and just nastiness. All it does is bring others down and spread more hate and anger. I kind of feel like Yoda right now, preaching about the dark side and the light side. Maybe he was right; “Fear is the path to the dark side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Maybe it is fear that led us to this. But we need to stop looking at the past to justify whatever the hell it is we are doing and look forward. Be better. Do better. This century has been pretty tumultuous and we’re only 18 years in. Our world completely changed on September 11th, 2001 and we are still fighting that war. We had the Great Recession. Things sucked. Hurricane Katrina. School shootings. It might take awhile to change the world and make it better. But we can make our little corner a little bit better. Maybe I’m just rambling. But I just don’t see any benefit to talking shit or insulting someone. We say how actions speak louder than words. That’s true. But words still matter.

Hope matters. I still have hope that we are a better people.

Final thought – I highly suggest reading The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham. It showed how we as a country have handled a variety of situations. I read a lot of American historical nonfiction (that’s probably 90% of what I read anymore), and I learned a lot.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” – Charles DIckens, A Tale of Two Cities

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Thoughts After Kate Spade

There are a few things that leave me speechless. The suicide of Kate Spade was one of them. For the past couple days, I have been wondering what I wanted to say. I have read many articles, posts, and, unfortunately, comments. It started a cycle that I’m afraid society is far too familiar with and I would say numb to. The sharing of suicide hotline numbers, the “you are not alone,” “#stopthestigma’, “that’s a shame,” “thought and prayers,” the list goes on and one. And then the questions, how could she do that to her family? How could she leave her daughter; she’s selfish, I could never do that to my child.

These questions often show a lack of understanding towards mental illness. I don’t want to say it is ignorance. There is such a lack of understanding towards mental illness. I don’t necessarily have the answers on filling that gap. I guess that is why I write these posts. I hope that by sharing my thoughts, it might help someone else understand a little bit more.

Kate Spade is an iconic fashion designer. I like to joke that her bags are either the most or least functional things ever. I downright adore Kate Spade. I own multiple bags, wallets, and jewelry. I got my grandma Kate Spade earrings this year for Christmas. My yoga-turned-work-bag (that I reviewed on this blog) was one of the best and most functional purchases I have made in awhile (probably behind my Honda Fit). Her style was simple, fun, classic, and chic all at once. It was light and airy. My phone case is of a Kate Spade design and says “Glitter is my favorite color.” Kate Spade brought fun into fashion while keeping a classic style with a feminine touch. Pinterest is filled with her quotes such as “I adore pretty things and witty words,” “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes,” and “She’s bright like glitter and bubbly like champagne.” Do you get the theme here? Kate Spade’s style was radiant and confident. I aspired to be the level of relaxed (which I have no idea how to be) and fun, not a care in the world, while still emphasizing that I had it altogether and a Jackie O air of class. I thought she had it together. I was wrong.

Dealing with mental illness, you kind of get intrigued as to who else is and how the hell they keep it together, keep going, and living successful lives. So I always found it interesting to learn about which celebrities suffered from mental illness and what they did to overcome it. I had no idea that Kate Spade did. Her death at 55 was shocking enough; the cause of suicide simply flabbergasted me. Like I said, it is not easy to render me speechless. This did. Of course, she was due her privacy. But it appears in some ways she suffered in silence; fearing what it would do to her brand and image. And that is absolutely heartbreaking. Anyone with mental illness will tell you they’ve felt the stigma. Just recently, I had two people in a week question the legitimacy of my anxiety (which, I don’t get, because I can’t figure out why anyone would want to use anxiety as a reason for anything because I’d much rather enjoy feeling like I can breath at all times instead of feeling suffocated by anxiety and chest pain as it happens far too often). In the end, I’m no one. My mental illness doesn’t matter. My speaking out is not making headlines. But I also have the availability to speak out without worrying how it will impact my livelihood. The New York Stock Exchange isn’t going to be impacted by me dealing with depression and anxiety and talking about it publicly. It absolutely tears me apart that Kate Spade felt that she couldn’t take certain options because of the impact it would have on her company.

We got to talk about it more, guys. I have asked myself so many times why my brain is wired like this. I try to ignore the comments on how exercise and nature is all I need! Because I know that as much as I hate taking the medication every night, it can be the difference between me getting out of bed or not. This isn’t my fault. It’s not yours. It wasn’t Kate’s. There are a lot of things we can do for our health that we don’t, and we still don’t shame people the way society can for having mental illness. I have heard so many people say it’s okay not to be okay. But we need to help people learn how to acknowledge the not okay. And I know the mental illness doesn’t make it easy either. I am terrible about talking about what is bothering me. There are very, very few people – and I mean like two – that I really feel like I can talk to and let me tell you, it is a bitch when you lose that. Even if it’s not your fault, you’ll still blame yourself.

It is so hard for me to open up and really explain how I am feeling. I put a lot of it into my writing, it is a lot easier for me to have these conversations by some form of texting or even writing out what I want to say and either reading off of it or having the person read it. But honestly, I can’t imagine how hard it is to be on the other side. To want to help someone and not have a clue what to do. I have seen the look it brings into people’s eyes. Mental illness hurts more than person with the disease. Maybe it is so much harder because it is not something you can see, you can’t necessarily pinpoint a physical symptom that goes with it. It’s harder to comprehend than recognizing something like a cough. I know some people can tell when it’s coming back or when the bad days are. More than once, I’ve been told I don’t look depressed or anxious, or asked how can I do this or that if I’m really depressed or anxious? We have to talk about mental illness. It’s not the same in everyone. There is not a one size fits all solution.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it is really important not to invalidate how someone says their mental illness affects them. You wouldn’t question someone with a broken arm or a peanut allergy (God I hope not; I have heard stories of otherwise. People are morons). That is a huge part of whether or not someone will feel comfortable with you when it comes to things like that. I had someone who I care about very much tell me that I cut for attention. That downright broke my heart. I forgave the person for it, but I didn’t forget and that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt. And it really changed what I thought I could tell that person. Mental illness is a complex, dark thing. The surface hardly represents what is actually going on, and I know that it is not easy figuring out what the hell is going on. It will take time, effort, and understanding. But I can tell that it will mean the world to whomever you are trying to help. And, if they’re anything like me, they will never be able to adequately thank you for being there.

A really good way I can describe this is listening to the song “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. I think it is actually about a couple, but I have always interpreted it differently. I always listened to it as being there for someone. It is a really soothing song, and there’s an aspect of hope there. That someone, steady and strong, will be there with a shoulder to lean on when you need it.

Everyone has something to live for. I truly believe that. But life can be cruel. Mental illness blinds you from so much. Where there is a flower, it tells you it’s a weed. Suicide is not about transferring the problem to someone else or giving up or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I’m sitting here, and it’s honestly hard to put into words what I am trying to say. It is such a dark place. You feel like you’re the problem and solving it for everyone else; not that you’re leaving anyone behind. It is a combination of falling forever and suffocating and feeling like you are being crushed by a weight. It is a pain that I can’t describe. I’ve been there, and I pray to God that I never go back. I know what kept me going then. And I can’t judge anyone else. It was a variety of circumstances that worked in my favor. I have no way to know if it was just luck or anything more. One of those circumstances was that I joined a sorority, and that helped me keep going rather than doing nothing. I’m forever thankful that it worked. I just wish that no one would ever have to experience that pain. All I wanted was to be free of that pain.

Kate Spade appeared to have it together. Her brand represented fun. It will live on, and I hope that the style doesn’t change. Whether she knew it or not, her designs made countless women a little bit happier. None of us would have ever guessed that she struggled to escape this dark place, a contrast from the world she created.

When Robin Williams died, it was a very similar reaction. How could someone so funny, who brought so much laughter to others, suffer so much? That death left me speechless too. Robin Williams made people laugh. Kate Spade spread her fashion like confetti to brighten others. I know I’m a people pleaser. I will do anything to try and keep others happy. And I know now that in some ways, it’s because I will do anything to avoid pain. It is almost like a reflex.

The suicides of artists such Kurt Cobain and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park are – and I hate to say this – almost romanticized by society of the struggling artist trope, how they turned their pain into art. I’m starting to wonder if the pain into art thing is a theme because we don’t know how to say the words. Never thought of that before.

An acquaintance of mine, a friendly one, but more like a friend of some of my friends, died by suicide a couple years ago. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t know he was suffering. But I saw the pain it caused. And the world lost a lot when we lost him. His funeral was the first time I saw some of my friends cry. The questions and reactions to his death was what led me to really start to be vocal about my struggle, in the hopes that if one more person could understand then maybe one more person could be helped. We need to do more.

It never really leaves you. Recently, I had my scars covered up by a tattoo of a beautiful daisy. I absolutely adore it. Before, I would be transfixed by my scar, disgusted by what it meant. Now, the daisy is a reminder that it can get better. Even when I do get that urge to cut again, which I hate to even admit that it has happened, I look at that daisy and somehow it’s enough. I can’t ruin that flower. Flowers bloom. Sometimes under not the best circumstances. It can get better. I also know that I can end up back in that dark place. I pray that I can fight and for peace for others suffering and that they keep fighting. I am so sorry for Kate Spade, Robin Williams, and the countless others that have lost their lives to suicide. I wish I could snap my fingers and cure mental illness. We never talk about a cure for mental illness. Maybe it’s too much to hope for. 

Ijust hope that more and more people start to really talk about it. It’s not contagious. But it is an epidemic. And we need to fight it. We can only do that together. Even on my darkest days, I know that somewhere in me that I believe in hope and that it can get better. Hope can be powerful. Please take time to learn more about mental illness. I would be happy to talk to anyone about it. No matter how bad it gets, I believe that there is a chance that it can get better. The world needs you.

Learn CPR

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also known as CPR. We’ve all heard of it. Some of may know how to do it, or at least have a vague idea of how it works. But how many of us keep our certification up and feel confident in knowing what to do? How many of us have never learned, thinking we’d never be in a position to do it? Learning CPR doesn’t take much. The American Red Cross offers classes all over the place for a low cost. I know of volunteer fire departments that offer it monthly. Your certification lasts two years, and the recertification class is shorter than the initial course. I have been certified in CPR since I was 14, and I have been an EMT-Basic since I was 16. Even I have never had to do CPR, but I don’t doubt for a second that this simple set of skills can save a life and the importance of being prepared to do CPR and keeping up with your certification.

The American Red Cross has suggestions for those who are untrained, trained and ready to go, and trained but rusty on performing CPR. I would suggest taking the full class. A few hours of your afternoon could add years to someone’s life. It literally can be the difference between life and death. CPR can keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other organs when the heart stops, when a lack of blood flow can cause brain damage and death within minutes. Today, there are apps like PulsePoint that notifies you, who has indicated they are trained in CPR and willing to assist in an emergency, when someone in your vicinity needs CPR and also identifies the nearest AED. It aims to increase response and medical intervention before first responders arrive on scene; those minutes can be vital to the victim’s chance of recovery. The app is also free.

Why am I telling people to learn CPR? Because one year and a day ago, a good family friend of mine suffered a heart attack. He is alive and healthy today because of CPR – performed by his sons, no less. Everything worked the way it was supposed to. He is the president of my fire department, and on this particular Monday he was setting up for a meeting at the fire station when he began not to feel well. He went to another part of the station, where my younger brother was, and asked him to call 911 because he thought he was having a heart attack. Then he called his oldest son and told him the same. After my brother called 911, he grabbed our medical “first in” bag and AED to prepare for EMS to arrive. The older son called his brother, and luckily the two live only about five minutes away. I’m not sure how soon he collapsed after this versus when his sons and EMS arrived, but his sons were there to begin performing CPR. His heart stopped, and he was shocked four times via the AED. By the time they left in the ambulance, he was awake. He was transported to the hospital where he had stents inserted.

His recovery has been miraculous. He was out of the hospital by Thursday or Friday. The doctors told him how lucky he was. And today, in some ways, it’s like nothing but a memory but in other ways, sometimes I still can’t believe it all actually happened. Without a doubt, the quick application of CPR saved his life. Everything worked the way it was supposed to. It is honestly amazing, and only God knows why everything worked out. I’m definitely not going to question the end result. His sons are first responders, but this could have easily happened to anyone at home who has kids that learned to do CPR at school. On the flip side, in this case, he could have easily been at the fire station alone and we could have had an entirely different outcome. Just a couple years prior, we lost a member who lived alone and had a heart attack at home. He was only in his forties. 

I remember how sick and helpless I felt after I texted my brother to ask what was going on up at the station (I have an app that notifies me when we get a call, and for a medical call of this severity, we get dispatched) and received just the name and knew what the possibilities were. CPR isn’t always successful, but I sure as hell would want to be able to do whatever I could to help someone who needed it rather than be on the side, helpless. It’s like I said before. When it works, it is the difference between someone’s life and death. The amount of compressions and breaths may have changed over the years, but the general concept of CPR has not. It’s a skill set that will last you a lifetime. According to the American Heart Association, you are most likely to perform CPR on someone you know; someone you love. Please, go learn CPR.

Here are some facts about CPR (Thanks, American Heart Association):

 

  • Almost 90% of individuals who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest will die. If CPR is performed, especially within the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest, the rate of survival can double or triple.
  • 70% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen at home.
  • Only approximately 46% of people who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest receive immediate help before EMS arrives.
  • Chest compressions should occur at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute; the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” is perfect for this.

 

CPR works. I have a friend still here because of it. Learn CPR.